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An asset at risk

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in Leaders & Managers,People Management

Charlie, a manager at a cosmetics firm, discusses the changing nature of his relationship with his employees during the economic slowdown.

Each week, I find my relationship with my employees fraying more and more. That’s because I’m forced by the economic realities that we’re facing to make tough decisions.

Yesterday, one of my direct reports told me, “You used to tell us how people are the greatest asset this place has to offer. Now it seems like we’re a pretty worthless asset.”

That really hurt.

I realize I’ve had to make lots of unpopular moves, from eliminating some people-friendly policies and perks that everyone had come to expect to asking employees to accept temporary pay cuts (as I did).

But when I’m accused of treating people as if they’re “worthless,” that’s cutting below the belt. Frankly, I’m getting tired of explaining to my employees that this isn’t personal and I wish they wouldn’t take it personally. We’re in a severe downturn and conditions require that I cut, cut, cut. If I do nothing, all of us might lose our jobs for good.

There’s a saving grace in all this. At least I built a high level of trust with my staff during good times. That’s the benefit of trying to befriend people sincerely and showing interest in them beyond just seeing them as cogs in a wheel.

Had I been a rigid, impersonal boss from the get-go, I’m sure the current situation would be far worse. Morale is bad—and people are definitely angry with me—but we can still talk things out as reasonable adults.

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