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Boss, You're Fired: What to Do When Your Employees Quit on You

Shirley Tan
Shirley Tan

These days we talk of brands. A lot brand building, brand value, brand reach and it is sometimes easy to forget that there are people behind a brand.

At the end of the day, a brand can’t care. It is the people behind the brand who provide that human element of caring.

Why is caring important?  Because it is essential to have that connection for people to be motivated about their work. Those who care, tend to hire people who care, they can reward people who care, and they can do work that demonstrates that they care.

What we find is that the more people care, ironically, the better they do compared to the industrialized systems of folks who don’t care and are just doing it for the money or ego.

A brand that is backed by people tends to thrive while one which is efficiently managed usually has longevity problems.

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Critical Assessment

In this article, I want to address the issues that we deal with when an employee stops caring. The cost of holding on to or replacing an employee who has stopped engaging with your company can be steep. So, while building your brand, never forget to keep the caring yardstick as your guiding principle in working with employees.

We are all aware of the famous reality show tag line of "You're fired!" And for all the drama of that situation, we forget that there are times when an employee can, and does, fire the entrepreneur/boss. I'm talking about the reality of the situation where employees quit way before they actually leave the premises/your business.

I cannot repeat this too often: the boss/owner needs to be attuned to employee morale and their engagement. It is easy to ignore the obvious signs as we can be pre-occupied with the other  thousand tasks of running a company. However, ignoring the people doing the work can be a very costly mistake, one that is sometimes hard to quantify and so this nebulous task of keeping a pulse on the feelings of employees has to be a high priority. Other times, it shows up in decline in revenue, lost in brand reputation or customer and employee churn.

The Symptoms

How can we tell if an employee is getting towards the critical state of giving up? Well before they hand in their letter of resignation of give notice, they usually start sending other signs. They may stop showing up to work, they could stop doing their job, they don’t try very hard to meet their set agreed goals, and they may even they call in sick a lot.

They can also affect the work environment by  goofing off during work hours, being disruptive to their coworkers and by wasting other people's time. They may make irresponsible choices such as ordering the most expensive ream of paper because they are not invested in making wise/prudent choices. The self-justification may be along the lines of, "Why not, the boss is a jerk and I don't care if I spend his money frivolously."

You can recognize the signs when they stop contributing ideas, speaking up or offering up solutions. It can also be an indicator if they become ardent clock watchers about the time they spend at work and if they seem very zealous about not communicating after hours like they used to.

While we all want work-life balance and should encourage every employee to strive for it, there is a danger that an employee who sees a strident demarcation between the two does not want this job to be a part of their life for very long. Those who love their job may find it easier to smoothly straddle the two worlds even when acknowledging that all choices are not easy. That kind of motivated employee can be a real strength in any organization seeking to grow.

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The Triggers

One of the main reasons many employees reach the point of disengagement is the feeling that the company does not care about them. This may be the message if there is no investment in employee development, especially if finances are tight and training gets push down the priority list. It is important to budget enough to ensure that employees feel like they are learning and that there is the possibility of growth.

Bad bosses also do a lot of harm. We all had our shares of bad bosses. You know the ones: the know-it-all, set on making subordinates feel stupid, expecting colleagues to take initiatives, but then micro-manages every step of the way. Then there are the bosses who have a hard time delegating but want you to take over.

It can feel passive-aggressive to an employee to be told that they will not be trained but they should deliver. If someone claims they are too busy to train and they may as well do the job in the time it takes to teach someone else to do the job, that person is not showing long-term vision in growing the company.

Being a boss is as much about nurturing each employee as it is about getting the job done. It can hardly come as a surprise if an employee with such a boss decides to throw in the towel and look for other opportunities.

The Solution

To retain employees in their job and to keep them highly motivated, you need to find out what keeps your employees working there other than the paycheck. Their personal goals and ambition should be in alignment with your company goals for it to be an easy fit. Communication with the intent to truly listen to each other and to emerge stronger is not an easy process. There are always preconceived ideas and the feeling that there can be nothing really new.

This is a major pitfall in personal and professional communications. The most frequently voiced  complaint of employees and bosses is that the other person isn't listening. Someone invariably  feels unheard. It's human nature in that we all want to valued, heard and respected, and listening and being heard is the vehicle that makes this happen.

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So here are some possible ways to ensure employee engagement:

  • Understand each of your employees' goals, even personal ones, as what drives them goes beyond your company  walls. If you find a passion of theirs that you can actually support, you have ensured their loyalty in a way that merely increasing their paycheck may not achieve.
  • Don't take them for granted. As in any relationship, family, your spouse or your employees, no one wants to feel taken for granted. A clear thank you, a recognition during a group meeting for a job well done or a small token gift card after a completion of a hugely difficult project can all go a long way.
  • Remember that as owners/managers it is your job to provide the tools for your employees to do their jobs. Avoid being the manager who throws up unpleasant surprises and  creates an obstacle course or maze that makes the job even more challenging.
    Never forget that  your employees are watching you and you need to lead by example. They want to see if what you say and what you do are in alignment and are congruent. If they see discrepancies, it gives them cause to question your leadership and debate whether it is worth following your vision for the company.

While all this can feel like a lot to keep in mind, entrepreneurs can train themselves to keep their radar alert to employee morale by just making it a part of their daily habits. A successful entrepreneur is one who makes it an integral part of all company decision making. There is a misnomer that entrepreneurs have to go at it alone (it’s lonely at the top thinking), that couldn’t be further from the truth. The truth is you can’t go at it alone, not if you want to scale and grow.

Image Credit: Prostock-Studio / Getty Images
Shirley Tan
Shirley Tan Member
Shirley Tan works at Aabaco Small Business from Yahoo. Aabaco operates Small Business platform that provide resources for entrepreneurs. As Director of Product Support, she is responsible for growth initiatives & product planning. In 1997, she took a mail order business online. She went on to form several successful ecommerce websites on the Yahoo Small Business Platform. Eventually a publicly traded company acquired her businesses. Shirley is regular speaker at conferences, worked as a consultant on various projects, she also authored an Amazon best rated book on ecommerce called "Ecom Hell" Joining Yahoo brings her full circle with her passion in helping small businesses succeed.