October 1, 2021

Prospero: Pick 2: Crappy boss, bad pay, awful work

If you employ people to do hard, messy work, and you pay them poorly, you better be a great boss or you will probably fall victim to the great resignation. No one wants to do awful work for little pay while working for a jerk.  If you have these three variables at play in your company, this is a cautionary tale with a happy ending.

As an entrepreneur, I know it’s not easy to pay people more.  I’ve made payroll 241 times (but who’s counting), and cash flow has kept me up at night for a number of those. There are dozens of external and internal factors that drive what we pay our employees.  I’m not going to ask you to pay your people more.

And some work is just not energizing or pleasant. We can’t avoid that some of our jobs are just not fun to do and probably not work that we ourselves are likely to enjoy. I don’t want to do repetitive work or lower-level tasks. We need people to do this work. We can’t eliminate this variable either. Unfortunately, crummy work usually comes with terrible pay.

We, as leaders, can’t always change the type of work or the pay.

But we can control our culture and how we treat our employees. 

You have this control. You can be a great boss and have a great culture despite the other two variables being uncontrollable. If you have a revolving door of people coming into your organization and then resigning, it’s a sign that you’re not a good boss…yet.

Being a good boss is not hard. It starts with you caring for staff members. Treat them like you would treat a new neighbor (that you like). Be hospitable, warm, curious and kind. Ask them about their weekends and their kids and what they like to do. Your employees are humans and bring their whole person to your jobs. The more you care about them, the more they will accept the other, not-so-desirable, parts of their jobs.

To take it further, commit to learning how to be a good manager, which is a skill that anyone with a propensity for leading can learn. If you have people reporting to you — regardless of your title — you’re a manager, and you owe it to everyone who works for you to be the best boss possible.  

I have two new clients whose stories I want to share to give you both sides of this.  

A new client had a mass exodus on a Friday back in April. She ran her company like a militant football coach calling plays from the locker room. The employees were treated awful and they finally all called it quits on the same day. They weren’t paid well, the work was not fun, and the boss was awful. It was a devastating day for her, and her company was about to go bankrupt because of this.  She ended up getting fired by the board, which subsequently brought us in to help. 

We have another client who operates eight retail shops along the Front Range. Typically, the client saw a lot of turnover because the pay was minimum wage. Once the leadership team connected with its behavioral values, started hiring to those values, and ran all its managers through our management training, it has seen turnover reduced by double digits. It has a long-term commitment to making sure all managers are trained, and it’s paid off.

In both cases, you could argue that the work is not great, the pay is not a livable wage, but in one case the boss was someone who inspired the employees, and in the other case, the boss was someone who terrified the employees.

You can’t control much, but you can control how you show up as a boss and the results will be tangible.

Which boss do you want to be?

Kendra Prospero is the CEO and founder of Turning the Corner, a Boulder-based organization that does recruiting the way it should be done for job seekers and companies. 

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