While losing a job can be difficult, it can also be a relief.
The reason the layoffs were happening, I was told, was that The Store needed to make some tough financial decisions due to declining sales. The largest controllable expense in nearly any business is payroll. I've managed retail stores for nearly 20 years, so I've made these kinds of decisions myself. Over the last 4 or 5 years, many businesses have had to do the same.
Unfortunately, these layoff didn't need to have happened. True, the economy hasn't been great, yet this wasn't solely an issue with the economy. While I could point to a number of mistakes The Store made, I'll focus on an element which I believe was one of the bigger factors in the declining sales of The Store: poor morale.
I never saw morale at The Store reach soaring heights, but in the last 2 or 3 years it had reached new lows. "In the toilet," or "six feet under" would be apt descriptions. In fact, morale problems at The Store are why I started writing about low morale and its effects on sales, productivity, and profits.
When morale is low, employee engagement levels fall. Employees do only what needs to be done to keep their jobs. Sometimes less. When morale is low, most employees are unwilling to go the extra mile. They're just punching the clock.
And customers notice. Several of my best customers made comments such as: "What's changed? No one here seems happy anymore." Customers can tell when morale is low, because low morale affects employee demeanor and customer service. Naturally, when customer service falls, so do sales. When sales fall, you make cuts, and most often that means letting employees go.
From my forthcoming book, "How to Destroy Your Business in 6 1/2 Easy Steps" here are a few chapter headings from the book, with some examples of what caused low morale in The Store. It gives you an idea of why morale was low and how it may have affected sales.
Be A Jerk
There's an old saying, "Shit rolls downhill." Morale starts with the person in charge because they set the tone for a business. This was the case at The Store. The director is a person whose ideas of management are 30 years out of date and his attitude followed. Here are a couple of his actual statements and one from his employees:
"Everybody steals." Employees, constantly felt as if they were viewed as a thieves, lowering their morale, and studies have shown that when morale is low, internal theft goes up. That's a self-fulfilling prophecy.
"I could do your job on my lunch hour." Insulting employees with your supposedly superior knowledge and abilities (especially when it's not true) is an instant morale killer. Why would you do your best for a boss when treated like that?
And one favorite that we used to repeat about his lack of gratitude, "If he ever says 'Thank you,' or 'Good job,' write it down. It may be years before you hear it again." Not expressing gratitude to employees for doing a good job is a good way to make them feel as if they don't matter, and that reduces morale a few more notches.Treating people poorly, like cogs in a machine, like they should simply be grateful to have a job, is a surefire way to reduce morale.
Trust No One
During one meeting, the director asked for a raise of hands to the question, "Do you trust me?" Every hand went up in the affirmative. He then handed out slips of paper. When he left the room we were to write down whether we trusted him or not. The slips were filled out, gathered and counted. Nearly every slip said, "yes." "See," he announced, "people trust me." After the meeting I talked privately with others who'd been in the room. Nearly everyone wanted to say "no" but had been afraid that if they wrote "no" he would try to figure out whose handwriting was on each slip of paper.
He didn't engender trust from his employees because we felt he didn't trust us. His actions spoke louder than words. The lack of trust in the store was rooted in the fact that we felt being honest and open would more often than not get us in trouble rather than truly address a challenge or opportunity.
Trust, in large part, is built through open and honest communication. Hardly anyone in that room wanted to be honest, out of fear. The same applied to most people in the store. When open, honest communication breaks down, morale quickly follows.
I'm More Important Than You
One of the assistant store directors was famous for postponing, moving, or canceling meetings. Five minutes before a meeting was to start, he'd change it to the next day without regard for how the rest of us had arranged lunches or other meetings. One week, he moved a particular meeting 6 times. Several times he just never showed up. We began making bets on if and when meetings would happen.
Having to reschedule meetings happens, but it doesn't need to happen constantly. Schedule a meeting when you know you can attend, or don't schedule it. Most often, his explanation was that he had important work that needed to be done. Which meant, our time was less important than his.
We all have work to do and it all contributes to the success of a business. When you devalue your employees' time in comparison to yours you devalue your employees and that lowers morale.
These are just a few examples of the environment where I spent my last 10 years. It was filled with stress, ever increasing amounts of work, and ever decreasing support. The low morale was acknowledged by nearly everyone there except the director and his assistants, and we tried to encourage one another, but in the end, hardly anyone was happy walking through the door each morning. Had some attitudes been different, changes been made, and morale raised years ago, sales may still have declined because of the poor economy, but not to the extent that it ended up causing several people to lose their jobs.
In the end, getting called to the director's office and being told my position was being eliminated was tough to sit through, but as I walked out the door, knowing I wouldn't ever have to go back, my morale was at the highest it's been in years. At least I can be grateful for that.