People: They’re your first, your last, your everything

‘You’re the weird one who actually likes his job, aren’t you?”

Whenever we get together with our neighbours – which is quite often, they’re a lovely bunch, the conversation will sometimes turn to the world of work.

Some of my neighbours don’t exactly set off for their workplaces with a spring in their step and joy in their hearts.

And they think it’s strange that, for the most part, I do.

But for all that they resent their jobs, they carry on doing them.

It might be a generational thing, and it’s probably got a fair bit to do with those jobs being reasonably well-rewarded.

But that willingness to put up with a job which no longer ticks all your boxes is far from universal.

Fifteen months in my current role have taught me an awful lot about how people view their jobs as well as confirming some of my own long-standing instincts about leadership and management.

I’ve been doing a fair number of exit interviews in recent months, and two things have struck me time and time again.

The first is that there are identifiable triggers or points of no return in people’s relationships with their jobs.

It’s extraordinary how trivial some of these can appear at first sight.

But to the person concerned, they are symbolic of a lack of care, respect or value.

And they’re almost always right, underlining the eternal truth of one of my favourite Sherlock Holmes quotes.

“It has long been an axiom of mine that the little things are infinitely the most important.”
Arthur Conan Doyle, The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes

My second key conclusion is how quickly people move from career contentment to the employment departure lounge.

In a week when a UK Press Gazette survey found that nine out of ten journalists still enjoy their jobs it’s time for all of us who manage editorial staff to think about how we calibrate our priorities.

In an industry which is increasingly target-driven and process-heavy, where deadlines bear down on us and the phrase ‘can you just do one more thing?’ rings in all our ears, we can lose focus on what is really important.

And that’s the people.

In management courses, I paraphrase the words of the late, great Barry White: that your staff are Your First, Your Last, Your Everything.

And here’s the thing.

Process problems won’t necessarily get worse if you leave them for a few days.

People problems always will.

I seethe when I hear managers say they haven’t got round to talking to one of their staff about a problem that that employee has identified, or when I hear about cackhanded communication over rotas.

Making people feel valued, generating energetic team spirit, listening to concerns, communicating quickly and honestly, developing talent, and policing the fault lines between work and family life aren’t the icing on the cake of leadership.

They are the basic ingredients.

As I drifted off to sleep last night, my 16-year-old daughter returned home from her shift as a hotel waitress to report that – despite her pleas that she only wants to work at weekends as she begins her A-levels – she had been rostered to cover shifts on each of the next four days.

She hasn’t got the experience or confidence to assertively point out that a) she’s on a zero hours contract and so has no obligation to do any of the shifts and b) her studies are more important than their short-term staffing crises.

Later on today, I think I’m going to have to offer her employers some human resources leadership advice.

I don’t want her to give up a job that is giving her life skills, confidence – and cash. And I’m certain the hotel doesn’t either.

But by failing to see the importance of playing the long game, of treating staff as people rather than numbers, and of rising above short-term crisis management, they risk losing her altogether.

Our people are the most precious asset we possess. We forget that at our peril.


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