The recent issue of 850 Magazine featured an article by the title of Wilting Engagement, by Todd Patkin, in which he offers twelve simple actions which can help reinvigorate employees’ commitment to their employer and productivity. He addresses none of the requests that large swaths of hourly-wage employees have been making over the past few years (decades, even), such as minimum wage increases, acceptance of collective bargaining rights, or more stable retirement options.
As a perfect topping, the only image in the article features a fairly nondescript woman holding a unicode smiley face in front of her own face, seeming to represent the way an employee should appear to an employer—happy and interchangeable. It would be unfair to assume that Mr. Patkin chose this image himself; a reverse image search shows it originated on ShutterStock, making me think this was likely an editorial decision (although still a poor one).
Patkin’s twelve points are not the principal issue I take with this article. They are, at the most basic level, all great ways in which to engage employees (and coworkers, and people in general) and begin to treat us as we would like to be treated. They’re also basic steps toward treating anyone in a working environment as a real, live human being.
While discussing his points, he assigns them such titles as: “How is your family?”; “Thank you”; “What would you like to do here?”; “Here’s how our company works and where we stand”; and the most patronising, “You deserve a reward”, in which he briefly mentions that “nobody wants to work for a Scrooge!”
The advice to be found underneath such titles? It is exactly as patronising as one might expect: “Your employees will be more loyal and more motivated if they feel valued as individuals, not just as job descriptions.”; “praise and acknowledge your people in a positive way more often than you criticize them.”; “check in with each [employee] periodically to ask what they’d like to be doing.”; “Helping your employees make connections regarding how your company works from top to bottom will…promote team spirit.”
While there isn’t anything wrong at the surface with any of Patkin’s points, it’s an indication that there are business owners and managers who aren’t doing these things. With sentiments like, “the age of rule-with-an-iron-fist, top-down leadership is fading fast”, it’s hard to disagree with the article on anything other than semantics. (Top-down leadership has been challenged in various forms since slave insurrections and peasant revolts in ancient cultures, but, apparently, its age has just now coming to an end—and quickly—if we’re to trust Patkin’s authority.)
What is more worrying than the patronization of the simplistic employee is the brevity with which he dismisses the desires of the employee for rewards such as bonuses, benefits, vacation time and the ever-coveted prime parking spaces. There’s no mention of permanent wage increases, paid sick leave, or employees having a greater stake in the success of the company; it all pales in comparison to a parking space closer to the door.
The real answer here, for those who may be wondering, is to recognize that your employees are human beings, just like you, with families, aspirations, long-term and short-term goals. Each one of your employees is a unique, autonomous individual who really wants to be able to spend their time doing something they enjoy. What we want for working towards your goal of having a successful company will vary from person to person.
If you are not doing what Patkin has suggested in his article, you are not even treating your employees like human beings. If you are not listening to what we want to improve our lives, collectively and individually, while we work to improve your company, you are treating us no better than glorified serfs.