Over the years of being both an employee and employer, there here have been particular instances of employee unhappiness that have caused me to deliberate.
They have been times when the employer has been seen to do all the ‘right’ things. They pay above-award wages, are clear about all employee entitlements, create a supportive and caring work environment and personally acknowledge the efforts of the employee. But then something seemingly minor happens – for instance the employee requests time off that is outside what they are entitled to and the request is denied, or the employee starts arriving 10 minutes late most days and is spoken to respectfully by her superior to rectify it – and the employee exhibits feelings of disappointment, hurt and sometimes anger.
On the surface, the employer is complying with workplace laws and upholding business standards and fair work practices so it therefore seems unreasonable for the employee, in such situations, to get upset.
But there is upset. There is something I was not getting here. So I deliberated…
I came to the conclusion that the issue is the ‘currency of employment’. Let me explain.
The arrangement everyone agrees to is clear. The employer and employee agree to exchange money for performance. Problems arise when there is a perceived disparity in this trade.
Consider a square table separating an employer and an employee. The employer places a stack of cash on the table, and slides it to the middle of the table. This is the employer’s currency. There is a definitive and finite value to it. If it is $1,000, then it is $1,000 – no more, no less. The employee, in return, places their performance on the table. They start to slide it in to the middle. They see their years of experience and know-how in this, their currency. They see their blood, sweat and tears, their triumphs, and their weaknesses. What value is there in this? If it’s not $1,000, then what is it?
While the employer is satisfied with the trade of cash for service, the employees in the above examples are upset because they are trading their currency which has an infinite value. Yes, they are paid the cash, but they are left expecting more. They are worth more, aren’t they?
So how do we work with this reality and all still be happy?
For starters, being aware of the underlying mindset is powerful in itself. But the solution is to reassure your employees that you ‘see’ their talent and commitment to your practice. Acknowledgement and praise are vital to ensure employees feel valued, and to ensure they know when they are meeting expectations. But during any situation where the employee feels they are treated unfairly when they consider how hard they work, discussing the value you see in them and highlighting what you see as their strengths goes a long way.
The currency for employment is not just money for performance. It’s the human element too. It’s a package deal.