Thursday, February 25, 2010

Newsflash: Treating Employees Well Is Good

by Professor Tony Wheeler
Assistant Professor of Human Resource Management 

My standard “go to” set of videos to show in my HRM courses come from The Office, but I will now add Undercover Boss to my video library.  In the event you haven’t seen the show, the title conveys its purpose.  A CEO from a large corporation sheds his corporate suit to go undercover as a prospective frontline employee.  Once undercover, the CEO gets firsthand experience of doing these jobs and also seeing how corporate dictates impact frontline employees. So far Waste Management, Hooters, and 7-11 have participated, and White Castle is on deck for this week (mmmm, White Castle).

A couple of notes before I get to the main point of this post.  First, the executive teams of the 3 companies shown look like stereotypical executive teams: almost exclusively white males.  If anyone is paying attention, it sure looks like the glass ceiling exists.  Second, the prevalence of on-the-job training in these companies disturbs me to no end.  Maybe this is for another post, but I’ll just state it simply here: on-the-job training is the least effective method of transferring knowledge from training to work settings. There are better, less expensive ways to train.

But I digress.  The great thing about Undercover Boss, aside from how much my wife laughs at me as I get all worked up watching the show, is that in a mere 60 minutes the show demonstrates a simple point: Treating your employees well is good business.  The CEOs are aghast to learn that managers who disrespect employees are in fact bad managers.  The CEOs can’t believe that when employees don’t have the resources to effectively perform their jobs, they in fact can’t perform their jobs.  The CEOs express shock that the pure outcome-based goals (productivity, financial) they set in lieu of learning or mastery goals lead employees to simply focus on hitting their numbers at the expense of focusing on quality.  The CEOs nearly weep upon hearing the personal hardships faced by many of their employees, from inadequate healthcare to the effects of stress and burnout from role overload to the family sacrifices that many employees experience.

If nothing else, Undercover Boss shows everyone that profit and treating employees well are not mutually exclusive.  In HRM, we’ve known for decades that treating employees well has a pretty healthy return on investment.  I know you’re thinking “Yeah, no duh treating employees well is good for business.” Too bad so many companies don’t know how “no duh” it really is.

1 comment:

  1. What a great piece. It seems so obvious that happy employees will work better and harder than those that are treated horribly. I enjoyed your observations. They are right on. As for watching stuff like this....having lived through working in less than desirable circumstances...I can tell you that I do not wish to watch this stuff (I am being nice here). I think it is so obvious that treating people humanely is the best way to get the most out of them. These bosses are out of touch. I also cannot watch the "office" which is another smack at employees, especially, females. None of this stuff inspires me to enjoy the past for the past is still the present.