To keep employees, listen to them!

The Human Side of Engineering case, "Angry? Count to ten -- more than once," (PE, April 1999, p 16) portrays a widespread attitude in management: That of being unreceptive to constructive criticism from the nonmanagement employees.
By Mike Swintosky June 1, 1999

The Human Side of Engineering case, “Angry? Count to ten — more than once,” (PE, April 1999, p 16) portrays a widespread attitude in management: That of being unreceptive to constructive criticism from the nonmanagement employees. This attitude deserves closer scrutiny.

In the Human Side case, the company loses employee Gerry Street: “Resigned, at age 36, with a seemingly bright future ahead of him.” We go on to hear that the department has a history of unwanted turnover, mostly due to the unchecked temper of the department’s supervisor. At this point, the supervisor is warned to keep his temper in check or lose his job.

Let’s look at the damage that has accumulated here. First, a number of employees have had their lives seriously affected. They have lived with a stressful situation until finally resigning to find new jobs, possibly uprooting, or even breaking up their families in the process. Second, the company has likely suffered reduced work performance on the part of these employees before finally losing them and their wealth of experience. Finally, after each loss, the company has the burden of finding and training replacement workers.

One might argue that some of the fault lies with the supervisor, who had been warned to change his behavior, but that isn’t going to undo any of the damage. What I don’t understand is why companies do not provide appropriate means to short-circuit this process. You can be sure that all the Gerry Streets out there would have preferred a quick and easy way to “nip the problem in the bud” so they could concentrate on furthering their careers.

Unfortunately, many employees are caught in a “catch-22” situation — if they report complaints, they jeopardize their careers. If they don’t, they suffer the consequences of stress and whatever it may lead to. Is there something I’m not seeing here? Aren’t we all suffering the costs imposed by this failure by management to attend to some very basic issues of human relationships?