Rethinking respect

Unhappy workers ultimately hurt bottom line

Published: Sunday, December 1, 2002 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, November 30, 2002 at 11:11 p.m.
All Georgia A. Kraff wanted was some respect, a boss who appreciated her and an occasional recognition of a job well done. The 55-year-old receptionist enjoys answering phones. But only since going to work in March at Office Suites Plus in Raleigh, N.C., could she say that she loved her job.
Technically, her job description hasn't changed: She still answers phones. The difference, she said, is that she finally has bosses who value her contribution.
They compliment the way she handles the phones, they recognize when she goes out of her way to get a message to someone, and they even include her in business meetings.
"You have to respect the people you are working with, but you need to get the same in return," Kraff said.
Only half of U.S. workers say they are satisfied with their jobs, compared with 59 percent in 1995, according to The Conference Group, a not-for-profit research business group. Which means that approximately every other employee spends most of his or her day looking forward to quitting time.
Job insecurity, corporate scandals, 401(k) losses and rising health costs can all be blamed for some of the ill feeling toward work.
But experts say the dissatisfaction can stem from other causes as well. Failing to say "thank you," "please" and "good job" might be costing employers more than they realize - anywhere from $50,000 to $100,000, in fact. That's what it costs to replace an employee, said John A. Challenger, chief executive of Challenger, Gray & Christmas, a Chicago executive outplacement firm.
Carol Lohrenz of Fuquay-Varina said she has left jobs she loved because she felt her work wasn't valued.
"I've had some bosses who were real jerks, who only saw you as a workhorse and didn't see you as a human being. . . . If you made one mistake, it's like the end of the world."
Lohrenz said she started to think there were no supervisors who valued their employees until last year, when she started working in the father-daughter chiropractic practice of doctors George Case and Betsy Case-Luca.
"They never leave (the office) without praising us," Lohrenz said. "Everybody is treated with the same amount of respect. They just bend over backward to make sure that you are a happy employee. You just don't find bosses like that anymore."
But it works both ways, Lohrenz said. Because her bosses care about her well-being, she said she works hard to help further the success of their business. And her hard work, she said, is not tied to her paycheck.
"I would work just as hard if they paid me minimum wage. They are just so doggone nice."
Experts say more employers are starting to rethink the role they play in making workers feel good about their jobs. They know that unhappy workers lead to low productivity, which ultimately hurts the bottom line, Challenger said. Production quality decreases, which leads to more defective products and loss of customers.
"It's hard to measure," Challenger said, "but when morale drops, there is a great risk that future sales will decline, too."
To avoid such problems, companies are starting to acknowledge that it takes more than perks and a paycheck to keep employees happy.
This has been true even in the downturn. Many expected that the perks created during the boom times would fade away as companies looked for ways to cut costs.
But companies have also found, as they have cut jobs and benefits, that they need to come up with new ways to keep their remaining employees happy.
After all, these are the employees who will lead the company through the recession.
Some cash-strapped companies opt for low-cost incentives such as flexible work schedules, telecommuting, award programs and leadership training, and they encourage supervisors to compliment workers.
Telecommuting has been especially popular, and the number of Americans who telecommute at least some portion of the week jumped 43 percent from 19.6 million in 1999 to 28 million in 2001, according to reports from the International Telework Association and Council.
Companies that can spend a little more might offer more expensive programs such as providing long-term care insurance, nursing rooms for new mothers and on-site day care. The Family and Work Institute found that 12 percent of companies with more than 100 employees provided on-site day care, and another 12 percent were considering new child-care options.
At Office Suites Plus, where Kraff works, corporate officials encourage managers to reward employees.
"If you keep employees happy, then they will work harder and feel more ownership and do a better job for the company," said Martha B. Card, general manager at Office Suites Plus. "We treat them to lunch once or twice a month, take them to dinner and give bonuses. But even more important than monetary bonus," Card said, "is the personal thanks we get, and we get that a lot."
Distributed by Scripps Howard News Service,

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