Getting to know the personal side of your employees can have a very positive result.

Let’s talk about item No. 13 on theSeptember 2006 “Just Say Yes”checklist (available in the archives; free registration required). It deals with treating every employee as part of the family by getting involved in his or her personal situations - without interfering in those situations. All of you who said “yes” to this commitment will certainly agree what a great atmos-phere this creates in your entire workplace, along with effective recruiting and retention of good employees.

There is no question that you have a business deal with each individual employee that clearly assures both sides the following: eight hours work for eight hours pay. You are not required to give anything more, and neither are your employees. However, with almost all good individuals, if you give a little more than what is owed or expected, they will do likewise. You should also consider a very realistic attitude: If the company doesn’t care about me, why should I care about the company?

Back in the good old days, most employees stayed with one company. Large percentages of them were actually blood relatives of the owner or the other employees. Contractors got involved in employees’ personal lives, and generally hired their kids for summer jobs and as permanent employees.

These loyal employees would earn the proud title of “company man” and were literally treated as part of the contractor’s family. They knew that when they needed help of any kind, their boss would always be there. The contractor enjoyed the same benefit.

This is what we mean by “getting involved in employees’ personal lives without interfering”:

    1. Contractors would lend money for short-term emergencies. They would also assist an employee in bargaining with a bank for home mortgages or vehicle financing. They would give advances on payroll checks whenever they were needed.

    That small amount of money meant very little to the contractor, compared to the production dollars generated by the loyal employee, but it meant the whole world to that employee. Unfortunately, very few contractors today will lend money to their employees. I don’t know why!

    Some of those loans were never repaid, but those losses were very minimal. For today’s contractors, I guess it’s that old “mass punishment” practice of punishing good people for what a few bad people did wrong.

    2. We had a very effective mentoring program where one of our seasoned employees would counsel, help train and motivate new employees. In Pennsylvania, we proudly called them godfathers, because their role was parallel to what we practiced in our religion.

    3. Contractors would always visit a sick or injured employee at his or her home or in the hospital. They would attend weddings and funerals, and were generally invited to their employees’ celebrations of birthdays, anniversaries, christenings, etc.

    4. All of our employees helped each other with building their homes, additions and repairs. I’m not certain what they called this generosity in your area, but we called it Amish barn building in Pennsylvania.

    In addition to helping each employee, this created a very close family relationship between all of the crews. As many of you readers have experienced, the other trades will volunteer their specific skills, knowing that you would reciprocate whenever it was needed.

    5. Contractors coveted and appreciated the company-man attitude in their employees, knowing they would always produce a quality product and a proud company image and reputation. Most company men were rewarded with a company truck to drive to and from their homes, which saved them from owning and insuring another vehicle.

    It’s too bad that jealousy and negative peer pressure changed “company man” into a dishonorable term, signifying that the employee was on the company’s side rather than with his fellow employees. It is difficult for an employee to be proud without the respect of his peers.

    6. Company Christmas parties topped the list of company-sponsored social events. Most of the Christmas parties were an evening affair for employees and their spouses. Typically they were held at a fancy restaurant with dinner and dancing. Some companies invited the children and would give wrapped presents to celebrate the season.

    7. Summer family picnics were next on the list. They were normally on Saturdays, Sundays or holidays and would last most of the day. Some were held at the contractor’s home, some were at local amusement parks, and some at a lake or stream with fishing access.

    8. We had contractors who celebrated the completion of each project with all of the employees who participated in that venture. Some of these were stag, but most of them included spouses.

All of this “involved-without-interfering” employee family effort was fun as well as profitable. Why did it end?

The Evolution Of Company Social Events: When Prohibition ended in the early 1930s, alcohol (beer, wine and whiskey) became a vital ingredient in America’s social world - especially with construction personnel. A couple of drinks would help one relax, forget his woes and have a good time. Having a contractor social event without booze was never even considered.

I’m not sure when MADD (Mothers Against Drunk Driving) was organized, but I do know how effective they became. Drinking booze is still legal, but driving under the influence is prohibited and very costly. In addition to fines, suspended driver’s licenses and jail terms, a convicted DUI offender faces horrendous civil lawsuits. Contractors who participated in furnishing booze at a social event naturally provided the “deep pockets” that attorneys go after in big settlements.

Fortunately, some contractors did not stop these fun-filled, company-sponsored family events. With cooperation and guidelines from their insurance agents, they initiated reasonable controls to eliminate their liability:

  • They issue two alcoholic beverage tickets to each employee to prevent exceeding the legal limit.
  • They send a taxi or limousine to employees’ homes to pick them up, bring them to the party, and take them back home again.
  • They rent a room at the hotel where the party is being held to eliminate any need for anyone to drive under the influence.
  • They hire an off-duty uniformed police officer to monitor and prevent anyone from driving under the influence.
  • They assign a designated driver for any known offender.
In addition to the alcohol problems, many of the Christmas parties were discontinued because December is such a busy month for mothers, as well as hotels and restaurants. By far the most popular and effective company-sponsored family gathering today is the summer family picnic.

Contractors also got involved in each employee’s children’s activities. They helped sponsor sporting events and various fundraising missions, as well as bought uniforms and equipment. They also sent home pens, pencils, T-shirts, jerseys, ball caps and jackets, etc. - all with company logos so the children could show off their pride in their parent’s company.

One very effective benefit for your employee’s family is No. 1 on our “Just Say Yes” checklist: Flextime and other work-hour options are made available to every employee. It’s easy to understand how saying “yes” to this option allows your employees to attend and participate in all of their children’s activities without losing valuable wages. We never even considered providing flex-time or makeup hours back in those good old days.

I’m sure some of you are wondering how you could possibly find enough time to get to know and associate with each individual employee. This is why checklist items No. 11 - the owner and entire management team respect and follow the posted chain of command - and No. 12 - each working foreman and jobsite supervisor receives positive team-building, human-relations training - also need your “just say yes” commitment.

This assures that every single employee has direct contact with your trained supervisor, who has the time and compassion to convey your feelings toward your employees.

Isn’t that how you would like to be treated?