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Employee Mentality?

Don - May 15, 2007

I know business owners and employees have two different perspectives about their business/job. As a business owner for lots and lots of years in lots and lots of different businesses I have found recently that employees have changed.

When I was growing up a job was a job, you went to work everyday got a paycheck and hoped you stayed long enough to get a gold watch. Most people didn’t think too much about liking or disliking their job, or changing their “career”. It was a job!

As years have past employees have become more pro-active, more involved and more demanding. Now changing jobs/careers is common place.

We have a fairly constant turnover of employees. Part of it is the nature of the jobs we offer. Selling wedding dresses doesn’t take a college degree, it pays $8.00/hr plus commissions and like I tell the girls at our hiring meeting the benefits we offer with the job, is you’ll get a paycheck, no medical or dental etc.

What has surprised me lately is the attitude of our employees. Many of them seem to think they know how to run the business better than we do.

We are open to suggestions and incorporate employee ideas when they are beneficial. But here’s the one that got me. One employee gave me an 8 page report boldly telling me what was wrong with the way we run the business. She made statements like: our return policy is based on Don’s mood at the time; we should spend money advertising on bus benches; we should give 100% refunds when asked to keep the brides/customers happy and more.

It partially gets to me that she is so bold as to even present this to me and secondly that she is so stupid as to have not thought through any of her suggestions or criticisms.

Our employees lately think they could run our business better and don’t seem to be afraid of saying so, either to our face like this girl, or behind our back – amongst themselves.

Is this common? You who are employees, do you feel the same about the business you’re in? Is this just a common feeling that’s now coming out more than before? Have your suggestions been implemented, or does your boss listen to you?

What’s up with this?


  1. I think you’re fortunate to have employees who write you long memos on how to improve your business.

    Comment by gst — May 15, 2007 @ 3:53 pm

  2. I’m my own boss and I don’t have any employees.

    Nyah, nyah.

    Comment by Seth R. — May 15, 2007 @ 5:52 pm

  3. Don,

    This sounds like Generation Y in the workplace.

    There have been a number of articles about this recently and most of them suggest that employers aren’t too excited about the new attitudes but resigned to the fact that they’ll have to work with the Gen Y kids so they might as well try and figure them out.

    Comment by WaterCat — May 15, 2007 @ 6:22 pm

  4. Don – with the exception of my early career working for small firms, much of my career in the private sector has been with large organizations. I can tell you that my feelings have always been that hard work, long hours and dedicated service didn’t really get me very far. My immediate supervisors were often people who had a financial stake in the business but were not necessarily the owners. My perception was that an employee’s personal relationship with the boss (I mean are they buds, do they have a beer together, etc.) had more to do with getting ahead than my dedication to the job. And what really drove me nuts (and ultimately to a job with the government) was the fact that EVERY DAY….EVERY DAY there were rumors of lay-offs “because we didn;t get that one specific job.” And then in the early 90′s, when the economy was soft and times were tough, and after surviving several previoous lay-offs, I finally got my walking papers.

    I found it interesting that when I worked for small, local fimrs (architecture) the money wasn’t very good (it wasn’t great in the larger firms, either) but at the smaller firms I never felt that threat of lay off. Anyway, since 1994, after a ninth month period of “self employment” I took a job, first with the state government and now with the federal government. I KNOW I could run things better than many of the upper management does but I really don’t get in their face about it. I try to do my job but I’m more than happy to go home at the regular time every day and enjoy other aspects of my life. That is a far cry from the 60-70 hour weeks I used to put in private practice.

    Comment by Lamonte — May 16, 2007 @ 6:33 am

  5. I confess to being one of those employees with ideas on how things could be done better. I’m not Gen-Y, though I am borderline, and I don’t expect my employers to take my ideas, so long as they listen. I’d appreciate it if they’d explain why things would or would not work or why decisions are made so I can learn.

    As a important note, the moment I stop making suggestions is the moment I stop caring about the company. If I don’t care about the company, the company doesn’t get my full engagement. If that’s what my employers want, great, but I don’t want an employer who doesn’t want me to care about my job. Part of that is probably my “artistic sensibilities,” but it’s true all the same.

    Comment by SilverRain — May 16, 2007 @ 6:45 am

  6. I also have plenty of ideas about how things should be done, which I’m always sharing with my bosses. I understand when they have their own agendas, though, that don’t necessarily correspond with mine. I also am happy to let my bossed make the decisions related to money, how much we spend on what, and how much we charge. It’s very hard to guide a business so that it makes money (as I found when I had my own business). The boss is the one who needs to make those decisions, because it’s his or her money at stake. I’m just there to help in whatever way I can be useful, in exchange for my salary. I do consider supplying all my ideas and suggestions to be a big part of my usefulness to the company.

    I agree that treating employees who make suggestions with gratitude and respect is the right approach. If you don’t implement their ideas, then a discussion about why is also welcome. If you treat them as collaborators, you’ll get more of their mind and spirit involved, which is only for the good. I agree with SilverRain in that.

    Comment by Tatiana — May 16, 2007 @ 7:07 am

  7. The question I’d ask is, “How long did it take you to write this, and did you write it on company time?”

    Six pages sounds more like blowing off steam than sharing constructive advice. Anything more than a page and a half, and you’re in Ahmadinejad incoherence mode.

    I always have ideas on how my company’s services and performance can be improved. Some have been implemented, some will never be. I also understand that there are cost/benefit tradeoffs, and some things just are not feasible.

    Comment by Eddie — May 16, 2007 @ 7:26 am

  8. I agree with posts 5 & 6 (silverrain and tatiana). If you want to really make those $8/hr. employees go a long way, listen to their suggestions and then sit down with them and explain why their ideas won’t work or how you might tweak their ideas and make them work or applaud them for coming up with a great idea when indeed they come up with a great idea.

    I’d be thankful that you have such bold employees (as the one you’re describing). Don’t resent her boldness, rather embrace it and turn her into someone who will “row the boat” with you … someone who will sincerely help the business. Educate her about the return policy and advertising strategy. Perhaps you’ve even tried her ideas before (before she joined the sales force) and those ideas did not work. The more you educate her in the business, the more bright ideas she may come up with and the more money you make when those bright ideas are implemented.

    I work for a HUGE, multi-national company and I am impressed with how they manage us employees. Yes, they’ve made mistakes before, but in general they are willing to listen to the people on the ground and make changes as they are deemed prudent. I’ve been promoted to a position where they welcome my input and even expect it.

    Sounds like you’ve got motivated employees who want to make things better … now you just have to balance that enthusiasm with wisdom and education (which is easier solve than a motivational problem).

    Comment by dp — May 16, 2007 @ 7:41 am

  9. When I worked at a large bank, if an employee made a suggestion on how the bank could save money, and they implemented it, they gave the employee a percentage of what the bank saved from their suggestion.

    Comment by Susan M — May 16, 2007 @ 7:45 am

  10. I fully agree with silverain and Tatiana and we try to do that. We have implemented several employee ideas. This girl however was out of control. 8 pages…give me a break! I won’t go into the details, but she was soooo aggressive that she wrote information on the price tags that are not meant for the bride…she thought is was easier for her that way…without asking if she could, she threw out bride’s information cards without asking, I could go on. S

    She was one of the most “aggressive” we’ve had!!

    Comment by Don Clifton — May 16, 2007 @ 2:33 pm

  11. Was she “let go”?

    Comment by Cheryl — May 16, 2007 @ 2:41 pm

  12. Reccomend this management training podcast. It is only a few minute long but directly adresses how to deal with employee complaints. Seriously, you have go to check this out :-)


    Comment by Chris Rusch — May 16, 2007 @ 5:41 pm

  13. Cheryl, she didn’t give us the chance, she called on a Thursday morning and said she got another job and wouldn’t be coming in for her shift in 2 hours “sorry”.

    Comment by Don Clifton — May 17, 2007 @ 10:43 am

  14. I had a similar experience, where an employee, two levels below me, turned the diatribe into my boss (who thought it was hysterical) with his resignation.

    I got a similar generation Y feel from it (even though this guy was actually older than me).

    I had hired him in spite of a iffy work history. His approach to employment was not one that would ever lead him to success. Because some of what he mentioned was directed at me personally I was tempted to ask for his personal email so that I could ask him how things were going for him in 10 or 15 years (too cruel).

    I have about 25 permanent reports along with a rolling group of 100+ new university graduate hires that I get for a 2 to 3 month each. I see situations similar to this several times a year. My experience is that unless they change their attitude about their employer/employee relationship, they will be chronic job hoppers. For some this is not an obstacle to personal success but for most it will be a hard row to hoe.

    I think that alot of the “what color is your parachute” and “you have to love your job” speeches these kids get do more damage than good. I know that some people will land primo academic careers with 30 hour work weeks supervising graduate students while they count reef fish and receive housing and per diem, but for most “work” will not be emotionally fulfilling or mostly fun. To not prepare kids for this is a big disservice.

    Comment by MAC — May 17, 2007 @ 2:23 pm

  15. I find this post very interesting. Many things have been said and written about the Generation Y mentality –heck, even the Generation X mentality –of work, or basically, the lack thereof.

    This may not relate completely, but bear with me. When I was a teenager, I babysat. A lot. My mother was also a babysitter when she was young, and so I learned the “tricks of the trade” mostly from her; she was quick to point out that if I left the house and the children “cleaner than I found it/them” I would be well paid and never lack for a job. She emphasized being focused on the job at hand, and even if I was bored/tired/sad about the kids I was watching or dishes I was washing, the job was more important. I was being given a responsibility and I should live up to it. So, I did. I had great success. I never lacked for a job and I got paid well (in teenage terms :) ).

    Fast forward to now. Utah, Idaho, California (I lived in them all) and it doesn’t matter –I have the hardest time finding someone who works like I did just 12 years ago. Not only has the cost of a babysitter gone up (which, of course, was expected), but finding a girl who will clean up after herself, let alone follow my instructions for bedtime is nearly impossible.

    Now, why? Why is it hard to find hard working youth, even amongst church members?

    This post makes me think about how hard work is so “passe” to the rest of the world. People are looking for instant gratification, instant praise, instant joyful careers and then quick, young retirement.

    Of course, this isn’t limited to the world, since I’ve seen this among LDS people, but it always make me wonder what is going on. How can I teach my children to work hard and do it for more than selfish reasons if everywhere they turn they are bombarded with this “me” mentality?

    I apologize for going off, but I’ve just been thinking about this lately (as I ignore the laundry and dishes in favor of blogging, while I wonder why my kids aren’t cleaning their rooms and instead watch their mother sit at the computer… ;) )

    Comment by Cheryl — May 17, 2007 @ 5:42 pm

  16. Oh, and Don, her behavior (quitting before she could get fired) is so predictable and immature. I’m sorry you went through that…

    Comment by Cheryl — May 17, 2007 @ 5:43 pm

  17. Cheryl, I think you’ve hit the nail on the head!! My wife and I were talking about this and find part of the problem is the parents who have “taught” this generation. The kids were not disaplined…don’t spank, don’t yell, don’t do anything that might hurt their self-esteem. Don’t put them in something where they might loose, or their egos might get damaged. They were given everything, worked for nothing at home and now they expect the world to do the same for them.

    Comment by Don Clifton — May 18, 2007 @ 10:11 am

  18. Thanks, Don. It’s hard to teach kids to work if their parents weren’t taught to work and so forth. It’s a vicious cycle.

    I was thinking more about this issue and had this thought, too: For sure, technology has created this lack of work. If you factor in email, cell phones, computers, blogging, wikipedia, google, GPS, dishwashers, washing machines/dryers, roomba vaccuums, TV, shower cleaner sprays, paper plates, fake grass, local grocery stores, frozen dinners, fast food, etc. and so forth, then one can see how easy it is to become lazy.

    So, how do we bridge the gap between convenience and working?

    It’s hard. I’m still trying to figure it out –but President Hinckley did a great job talking about it in his “Standing for Something” book. Maybe I should go re-read it…

    Comment by Cheryl — May 18, 2007 @ 10:31 am

  19. Cheryl, I hadn’t thought of all the “things” we have now to make us lazier, but you’re right they do. I remember doing dishes every night, working in the garden, picking rasberries, fruit and vegetables, collecting eggs (200 chickens) cleaning the chicken coop of poop, picking wild blackberries for extra spending money, helping to clean the house, my room, the bathroom and then I got to “watch” my younger sibblings too! A whole different world in more ways than one!

    Comment by Don Clifton — May 18, 2007 @ 1:40 pm

  20. The problem Don is that our generation has so much potential, so much freedom, so much opportunity to chart any course we wish, and so little old-fashioned authoritarian guidance, that as a group, we are darn-near in a state of existential paralysis.

    Comment by Seth R. — May 18, 2007 @ 7:20 pm

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