Dec 22

Typhoid Mary-types need not apply

I enjoy reading employee e-mails saying they're 'sick as dogs' and will be working from home. Mind Typhoid-mary you, I'm not a sadist. Instead, I'm proud of the fact our employees know enough to stay home, take care of themselves and, critically, not spread their germs like some latter-day Typhoid Mary.

According to the fine folks from HALLS cough drops, though, my POV is unique. A survey they've just released says most Americans will still consider showing up to work when sick. A staggering 44 percent will go to work with a fever while almost a third will show up no matter HOW sick they get. (Ugh. Stay away from this blogger.)

Fear is driving this maniacal work-at-all- costs mentality. One in five HALLS survey respondents feel pressure by their boss or supervisor to head into work when they're ill. One in three say they wouldn't get paid for taking off for a sick day. And, more than 10 percent thought they wouldn't receive their next pay raise, promotion, or worse, if they stayed in bed (how positively Dickensian).

This is insane!

We make a big deal about worker health and productivity, and sometimes have to force people to go home if they're sneezing and hacking. We've actually had to stage interventions with certain maniacal workers who felt it more important to work than rest and recuperate.

I'm not sure if the HALLS results reveal a false perception on the part of employees or a genuine 'work at all costs' mentality on the part of management. If it's the latter, it's shortsighted, destructive and, ultimately, counter-productive. And, it will also adversely impact an organization's image and reputation (“Boy, those people at Moed Pharmacy show up for work even if they've got walking pneumonia. No way I ever work there.”).

So, send your sick employees home ASAP before they can infect the entire workforce. Communicate a stern message that employees who show up sick at work will be summarily turned around and sent home. Or, simply post a sign in the reception area and web site that reads: 'Typhoid Mary-types need not apply."

Dec 20

I bet no one’s yodeling at Yahoo these days

Today's guest post is by Peppercommer Danielle Rumore.

Sad-yahooWhen I read that Yahoo! had once again done another round of holiday season layoffs, I couldn’t  help but be reminded of Robert Fulghum’s “All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten.” You remember the basic messages in that poem – play fair, don't hit people, say you're sorry when you hurt somebody. That type of thing. In today’s fast-paced, competitive world, I think it’s easy to forget or even dismiss the core point of kindness/do-unto-your neighbor in Fulghum’s poem. If you think about it, it really can be a template for how global business leaders should – but too often don’t – do business today.

I don’t pretend to know a single thing about what’s going on inside Yahoo (or at other companies beside my own), but it seems to me that when you lay off 5 or 10% of your staff around the holidays on a somewhat regular basis, something isn’t quite right inside your house. Worse still, companies that are perceived as quick to swing the ax (especially around the holidays) can get a reputation as being heavy-fisted and dismissive of their people without ever really fixing the underlying issues that plague their firms. When my firm represented Yahoo!, we experienced this iron fist mentality first hand. It’s a surefire way to bleed the good talent you do retain (it has happened at Yahoo!), and that leads to worse productivity still, and so on.

Well, maybe that’s just how I see things.

What I do know is that employees don’t respond well to fear or threats. It destroys morale, and scared or unhappy employees translate to poor-performing employees. This post isn’t intended to pick on Yahoo!, but the timeliness of its announcement couldn’t have come at a better (worse?) time.

Now, I’m not naïve nor am I a modern-day Mary Poppins. I’ve worked through two pretty significant recessions – the Dot Com bust and of course our most recent, ugly downturn. I understand (but definitely don’t like) the necessity of needing to cut costs and conduct lay-offs when these dark times come.  But even with these harsh realities and all the attention paid to cost cutting, being “lean” and global competition, I think leaders have lost sight of basic courtesy, kindness and respect for their most important assets – their employees.

My first boss in the PR world, John Bliss, was not only a savvy communications professional and a great teacher, but also a good man. He always said that an agency’s most important asset is its people – which he reiterated to his staff time and time again. He also said goodnight to each and every one of us every day before he left for the night. Every day. It was the little things that made us feel appreciated and also created a loyal and productive staff. That kind of mentality is about as common today as a landline, and it’s kind of sad actually.

To me, there simply is a right way of doing things and a wrong way. Do your lay-offs, streamline your business, reorganize the hell out of the place but then focus on cultivating, breeding and respecting the talent you do have. Treat them nicely, say thank you, recognize and reward good performance, ask them about their families and their interests. Some cookies and milk in the kitchen helps, too.

Most importantly, though, allow everyone to have a voice. Encourage your people to bring some outside thinking to their jobs. You never know where the next great idea will come from – and that great idea may just be the thing that sets your business apart. Then when the tough times come, your employees may just rally around you if they believe you have always had their backs.

Feb 27

Fear is innovation’s mortal enemy

Lots of us work, or have worked, for people who made us afraid to fail. They scared us so much that weYelling
became paralyzed with fear. One of my bosses routinely screamed at me and others. Another took his cigarette and lit one of my newsletters on fire to show his displeasure. A third would surreptitiously undercut many of my moves behind my back.

Beth Comstock, president of NBC Universal Integrated Media, recently addressed the subjects of fear and risk-taking at an Institute of Public Relations audience. During her address, she asked: ‘Is there anyone here who hasn’t spent a sleepless night anticipating the next day’s big story, having quite confidently told our boss or our client we knew the outcome and then living in fear of being fired the next morning for not delivering what we promised? I’ve been fired in my imagination at least a couple hundred times.’

While I can totally sympathize with Beth (a former client, btw), I’d like to think the draconian work environments I knew in the 1980s and early ’90s (and she apparently knew until quite recently) are the exception, and not the norm.

Managing by fear may be a sure fire prescription for Six Sigma-type compliance, but in today’s rapidly-changing world, businesses desperately need risk takers. To her credit, Comstock says she encourages risk taking at NBC. I sure hope so, because staying awake nights worrying if a failed media placement might cost a job, is no way to inspire out-of-the-box thinking. Come to think of it, it’s not much of a way to live either.