Friday, May 3, 2013

I Was Laid Off, And I'm Grateful

by Drew Goodman

While losing a job can be difficult, it can also be a relief.

I haven't posted here for a few days.  I've been a little preoccupied, because a few days ago, after 10 years at my job, I was laid off along with several others.  Rather than being devastated by the loss, I actually felt a huge sense of relief.  A weight was lifted from my shoulders.

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.

Conclusion

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.


14 comments:

  1. Well stated drew, well stated. I totally agree, having worked with you there for several years.

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  2. Drew, I am so sorry to hear you were laid off. But at the same time, for all the reasons you stated here and more, I'm glad you have the opportunity to move on from a toxic environment. The boss is never going to leave or change. It's a shame, as there is so much potential in The Store. I wish you the best in all your future endeavors!

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    1. Thanks, I appreciate that. But, it's all okay. The world is a big place with lots of opportunities and I plan to take advantage. There is a lot of potential the in The Store and I hope my friends who are there can realize it with the changes that are just over the horizon.

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  3. Drew, your hammer hit the director squarely on the head.

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  4. Sounds like to me you don't know how to be grateful for being employed for 10 years and receive the benefits and salary. Think about all of those who haven't had those PRIVILEGES for 10 years. Get over it, life sucks and you have to role with the punches. Maybe you should have made the most of the job you had and looked for opportunities to make it better. If you were in the fact so miserable maybe you should have quit and found, what you might think a better job. All I can say is best of luck to you finding the perfect job you are looking for.

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    1. You can be grateful for a job (which I was) while still being unhappy that you and your fellow employees are seen as replaceable cogs in the machine and treated as such. The fact that quite a number of people have echoed and supported what I said (publicly, privately and anonymously), should be an indication that there truly was a fundamental problem with morale that started at the top.

      I strongly considered leaving a number of times over the last 3 or 4 years, but due to the overall economy I had to make decisions that while not optimal, seemed like the best option at the time. We all do it- it's life, and sometimes it does suck.

      And who said I didn't TRY to make the most of the job? A lot of people in the store did (and do). The difference between trying and succeeding is often the willingness of leaders to be willing to step out of the safety zone and take chances, try something new, especially when the old is obviously not working.

      Honestly, your comment sounds a lot like the director, whose response to criticism was often in the same vein. "If you don't like it leave. They'll be a line of people applying for your job." Perhaps true, but it's still a crude way to let employees know they had little value in his eyes.

      I can roll [proper spelling-btw] with the punches and have done so before working for The Store, while I was there, and I'll keep doing it now, thanks.

      We all want to find a job that we enjoy doing, but nowhere did I say in my post that I was looking for the "perfect job." I'm not naive enough to think there is one. Even working for myself wouldn't be "perfect." What I believe most people want is the opportunity to work somewhere where they are valued, where they can contribute their talents, and where a leader understands that good morale contributes both to the well-being of their employees and to the bottom line.

      Regardless, thanks for wishing me luck on the journey that lies ahead.

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  5. Sounds like to me all of your buddies who have responded should join you in the job hunt for the perfect job.

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    1. Let me refer you to my response to the comment above (May 3, 2013, 4:57 pm), particularly the part about the director's response to criticism.

      Don't you think that all the positive responses affirming what I said in my post indicates the actual existence of a problem? I'm not the only one who saw it.

      Your response reminds me of leaders who, knowing that they've been exposed, try to cover it up by just telling everybody to cover their eyes and go away rather than owning up to the problems they've created.

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  6. Thank you Drew for sharing this - I've learned a lot from you. I am grateful for my employees and I need to make sure I am communicating it effectively to them. I know I can get caught up in the chaos of my enviroment/job. I am committing to listening more, encouraging more, and making sure I give them my time when they need it. I want to be the orchestra leader of a great concert every day: making sure my staff have the instruments they play the best and the music that makes sense for our environment, and making sure to give the applauses where they are due. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

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    1. Thanks so much for your thoughts Amy. It's exactly people like you who understand how working together with your employees make things better even when we know things can't be perfect. That's exactly what I hope to speak on write on to businesses around the country.

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  7. Thanks for sharing! Leaving my teaching job in CO was equally liberating! The principal is finally moving on, so all that toughed it out will hopefully be rewarded! AS for me, you know I am rocking it out at Space Camp. It is the most fun I have ever had on a job. I do have co-workers who struggle with the environment, management and job challenges, so attitude is a definite game changer. Hope the next door that opens for you brings much joy to your life!

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  8. Thank for you comment. Unfortunately, this kind of situation can be found in a lot of different work environments. It's sad that 1) These kinds of bosses don't understand/don't care what they are doing, an 2) That they get away with it for so long in some cases.

    I know you're having the time of you life at Space Camp and I'm so happy that you've found someplace that it a great job and a fun environment to work in. Keep rocking it!

    Thanks again for your comment and your well-wishes. There is so much for me to look forward to, and I'm excited for the experiences ahead.

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