Respect your employees’ obligations outside of work.

When you “just say yes” to teambuilding item No. 13 - treat every employee as part of the family - you create profit-producing, company-man loyalty. (For more on this and other team-building items, look for Paul's September 2006 column in our archives at Free registration is required to view the archives.)

Since your employees feel like part of your family, they also feel obligated to pitch in or volunteer for any extra time or responsibility that is necessary to keep your company successful:

1. You need someone to work late one night, or over the weekend, at your office to:

  • Help estimate a job.
  • Prepare a monthly pay request.
  • Check critical-path shop drawing submittals.
  • Interview a new employee.
  • Incorporate new computer software.
  • Etc., etc., etc.
2. You need extra help in your warehouse to check inventory or load trucks for a job.

3. You need extra help in your fab shop to get a job finished on time or to break in new help.

4. Naturally, your most re-occurring needs for extra time or help happen on your jobsites:

  • We’ve got to backfill this ditch before it rains.
  • We are behind schedule.
  • We need to finish this before the inspector comes.
  • Our customer needs this work done after his store closes.
  • They are going to pour this floor slab tomorrow.
  • We have to finish unloading this truck.
  • We need two men to run this job 200 miles from here. They will be there for eight months, and will only be able to come home on weekends. We will pay for travel and subsistence.
  • Etc., etc., etc.
All of you know that these are not rare or unusual incidents, and you could easily double the list. You also know how nice it is to count on Mike, Mary, Tony, Joe, Susie, or whichever employees believe their company needs help.

I’m quite sure that you have all heard, “If the company doesn’t care about me, why should I care about the company?” But the fact that you do care, and treat your employees as part of your family, does not relieve them of their own personal family needs and commitments.

The Right To Say No: What I’m leading you into is your employees’ right and obligation to “just say no.” The best parallel example I can give you is the time you personally stayed late at the office to complete a critical task. You had dinner reservations for yourself, your spouse, and two other couples for 7 p.m. But you got involved in your project and forgot to call home, and the office phones were set to go straight to voicemail. You finally came home at 8:30 that night, very proud and happy to have completed that critical business task.

Can you finish this story? Can you even imagine how many disappointments occur every day because a devoted “company man” broke his or her promise to a spouse, loved one, good friend or, worst of all, to his or her children?

As harsh as it may sound, a broken promise is a lie. You told someone you would do something with them or for them and didn’t do it. Is that not an outright lie? I came from that “old school” where a man was only as good as his word. If your word was no good, than neither were you!

The really tragic part of this entire scenario is that we’re talking about your very best employees who have absolutely no ill intentions but do not realize the consequences of saying “no.” Put yourself in your employee’s place when his child says, “But Daddy, you promised …” Why couldn’t he just say no to you? You cannot expect your employees to tell you “yes” every time you ask. He will have to tell you “no,” knowing that you will understand, so he can keep promises such as these:

  • We are definitely going fishing on Saturday.
  • I’m coming to your ballgame tomorrow. I may be a little late, but I’ll be there.
  • Next week, we’ll go to Disneyworld.
  • I’ll pick you up after school and we’ll go shopping for your new bicycle.
And a thousand other promises.

Children have to believe their parents’ promises, or who else can they believe?

There Is Always A Solution: Many contractors are not even aware of these consequences with their loyal, company-minded employees. Some feel that it is not their problem and there is nothing they can do about it.

Let’s look at some feasible solutions:

1. Communicate! Upward communication will always be difficult. It is uncomfortable for any employee to discuss personal situations with their boss. Downward communication is both easy and effective.

You can talk with a group of employees or one-on-one and explain your appreciation for their willingness to give that extra inch. You need to add your concern for their personal obligations, commitments and promises. You also need to instruct your entire management team to do likewise with their subordinates.

2. Whenever you or any of your supervisors need extra hours, always ask each individual employee if he or she already has a personal commitment that might conflict with your needs. You may be able to compromise on a feasible solution.

3. Encourage each of your employees to maintain a written or computerized calendar to remind them to fulfill every personal promise, obligation or commitment.

4. Flex-time will not resolve every critical problem, but it is certainly the best alternative for your business needs, as well as employees’ personal commitments.

5. Plan ahead! That is called being proactive rather than reactive. This will definitely minimize your business-related emergencies. Learn how to delegate!

6. Use your computerized skill inventory of part-timers’ abilities and availability to guarantee your obligations are fulfilled.

7. Call for temporary skilled or unskilled labor from your local rental labor agency.

Keep in mind that many of your employees want (and deserve) all of the extra hours they can get simply because of the extra wages. This is especially true when it involves overtime pay. Here again, simply ask employees to check their calendars to be certain that they do not already have a conflicting obligation. They need to be reassured that you are sincerely interested in their personal and family situations and obligations.

More To Life Than Work: I hate to tell you how many really good employees I’ve known and worked with who have gotten on the wrong track trying to earn enough extra money so that their families could enjoy better things in life.

Many ended up with a divorce and the sad parting remarks, “His job meant more to him than we did.”

I can personally relate to all of this with my own family. I always loved my job and worked as hard and as much as possible to give my wife and children a proud and happy living. Naturally, I love my family much more than my job, but that was not always evident, especially to my children!

They were often disappointed because I was not there when they needed me. They are all grown now and have their own families. When we all get together, they will remark about a school play, sporting event, graduation, awards banquet, etc., that I missed because I was working.

They never complained to me at the time, possibly because my loving wife defended my ignorance. I know I could have done better if I had only realized how painful this was for them.

I was always proud to be a truly devoted company man, even though I was always in the position to “just say no.” I only wish that I could have read this article back in the 1950s so I would have been a more devoted family man.

I hope you share this wisdom with your diligent, hardworking, company-minded employees to help them realize that there is a time when they should definitely “just say no!”