Don’t treat your Employees like Cattle

As the year has progressed our firm has been fortunate make some additions to our group and one of our new consultants, Marianne, also has a cattle farm that she runs.  Prior to running the farm she was the director of recruiting for a large research-based medical center in the mid-south region.  Marianne explained to us that there are two types of cows on her farm, those who receive names and those who receive numbers.  When we asked why get numbers instead of names the answer was that the numbered cows don’t stay long while those with names are “keepers”.   

Your workplace is not a cattle farm, but I would argue that many workplaces treat their employees in much the same manner as what Marianne described.  When I heard her tell this story and it immediately made me think of all the times I have heard people say “I am just a number here” or “I don’t really matter”.  There is a significant amount of irony in the fact that human beings have described themselves for years as only being a number in various circumstances.  None of us really exist in the eyes of the government unless we have a Social Security number, a sobering fact.

You may not be sending anyone to the slaughterhouse, but the fact that employees feel like a number versus being part of the family should be a big concern for you and the rest of the leadership at your firm.  While many firm leaders feel fat, dumb and happy knowing that many employees have stuck it out during this economic downturn, I can tell you from my work there are more people with their eyes open and their resume fine-tuned than I have ever seen in my career.  While there is no doubt that those losing work during the downturn have been severely disadvantaged, many who were the “survivors” had to take cuts in pay and lose benefits while doing ever-increasing amounts of work.  If that has gone on without any kind of support, thanks or encouragement, the long term effects will be disastrous.

There are many things you can do to make sure your employees don’t feel like the numbered cattle versus the keepers.  Here are just a few of the easy ones:

  1. Say “Thank You”-How often do you thank people for what they do in the workplace?  I have heard many managers say that people get paid, that should be enough.  I just cringe when I hear that attitude.  People want to be recognized and thanked-Just do It!
  2. Recognize top performers-all of them!-Too often we wait to give feedback and this is worse than criticizing their faults.  People know when they are doing well and if you don’t see it also it will only lead to resentment.  Make sure this recognition is done publicly also, in front of their peers.  Don’t make them “Employee of the Month”.  Set high standards and recognize EVERYONE who meets the grade.
  3. Ask employee for their input and feedback-You might never ask a cow how they are feeling, but you can tell when things are bad.  Employees are the same way.  Take the time to ask and you will be MOOVED (sorry!) with their responses.

Raising cattle is a tough business.  Leading others is tough business too.  Don’t treat your employees like cattle.  Don’t make them feel like a number.  Make them feel wanted, like part of the family.