Management

I Am Not A Millenial

But this open letter to management from a millenial makes some excellent point, starting with a bang with “You tolerate low-performance.” Now, there are reasons this happens more than it should. As a former manager said regarding being able to get rid of a poor employee: “There’s too many laws.” And this isn’t even a country where you’re really stuck with a person once you have hired them, so it’s best not to hire if at all possible.

Missing the Point

I work part time for a pretty large company. I’ve been there almost two and a half years, which is forever in terms of their retention, if hardly the longest in my location. It’s a bit like human mortality, in which infant mortality drags the average down, but if you make it past the early days, you’ll probably last a while.

They have two big concerns: retention and safety. They like people to stay as long as possible, because you get better at the work and can be more effective, more than outweighing the higher pay. On the other hand, the last pay increase you ever get as a part-timer is at the three year mark. Raises a refront-loaded at rapid intervals, then annual, then end. I’m not sure anyone there knows the term, at least at my location, but retention affects institutional knowledge, which has a meta effect on how well operations run.

They also prefer people not to get hurt, which makes sense from both fiscal and humanitarian perspectives. Retention even factors in, as you presumably work more safely as well as efficiently. It costs money. It costs efficiency. It makes life harder for the people who aren’t injured and have to cover the load.

If there have been no injuries in the previous month that required seeing a doctor, we get pizza. Mind you, the shift starts between 2:30 and 4:00 AM, depending on expected volume, largely but not entirely a seasonal thing. There are no pizza places open at 2 in the morning, unless you count a nearby convenience store that happens to offer a limited selection of pizza. So when we get pizza, it is cold, having been picked up by the manager on his way to work late the night before. The pizza is extraordinarily popular, though it works better if we are told the day before we are getting it that day and can eat accordingly in anticipation. If there is one problem, it’s that they get not quite enough of it.

One time, months ago, a day manager was covering and ran to McDonald’s instead, so we each got a double cheeseburger and fries. It was fresh and warm, but it wasn’t pizza, but she was filling in and meant well, and we at least were sitting down for a meeting before work proper started, making it easy to eat. Another problem with McDonald’s, to me, is ketchup. I always put extra ketchup on a burger, since they don’t come with enough, and use it on my fries. There was none.

We have a new manager, and I don’t believe we have had pizza since she started. We knew we’d finally made an injury-free month again, and would be getting pizza soon, but nobody warned us what day. Usually it’s a Wednesday, and they let us know on Tuesday (we work Tuesday through Saturday). Saturday morning we walked in to find bags of McDonald’s waiting for us. The fries were cold and soggy. The burgers were thinking about still being warm. Maybe.. Not sure when the manager got the food, but it clearly was no time close to when we started our shift, even if it wasn’t on her way there at 11 PM or midnight.

Missed the point.

It felt like the manager did it as an obligatory thing she just had to do and didn’t care about. It felt like she went for the option and timing that was convenient for her. It made employees make fun of her behind her back (or in full view, going entirely over her head) even more than usual.

After maybe a year of monthly meetings with a few employees to talk about retention, what makes those who stay do so and what would make people inclined to stay longer, there was a major thing that came of it, company-wide. Benefits for part-time people. Starting this year, if you had worked enough hours – basically a year worth – you could opt into any or all of a reasonably decent medical, dental and vision plan at very low cost as these things go. Later in the year there will be vacation days and holiday pay. That’s a sensible, direct, and surprising thing to have done to encourage retention.

There was also a minor thing.

Apart from it simply being a hard job at crazy hours, sometimes being held or kept by people only because they need something until they find a real job in this economy, or because their other job isn’t a real job either, the biggest reason people choose to leave is abrasive managers. The guy who runs the overall facility used to sometimes come in during our shift and irritate people so much they’d quit. He learned from that and improved dramatically. There is a part time manager who can be similar, but who has also improved. I think highly of her, yet if I’d had the wherewithal to do so, I’d have quit due to her. Nobody wants to say this in the retention meetings. They hovered around it when the meetings were run by the old manager, widely respected and not a retention killer himself. Now that the new manager is even worse than the part-time manager at being imperious, abrasive or otherwise off-putting, and she runs the retention meetings, it really doesn’t get said. The meetings are kind of strained and uncomfortable, not aided by the manager seeming not to have ever run meetings before.

So what has kept coming up, over and over, is coffee.

As in, free or really cheap coffee for the employees as a benefit. Traditional at some companies or in some industries.

Well, they’d tried having a coffeemaker a few years ago, but apparently one employee would steal all the sugar packets or such, and it was a mess. So there was discussion of getting a vending machine for it instead.

And they did. With all kinds of fancified coffee options, all at a dollar a cup. I saw it and thought it seemed too expensive. Apparently so did other people, and I haven’t seen anyone buy any yet. Oops.

Missing the point, they put in a coffee machine at full price, using the water hookup that used to go to a cold and hot water dispenser that allowed people to bring in and make instant cocoa. Appropriately, near the bathrooms, as that’s another factor, at least for me.

You see, coffee is a diuretic.

My wanted-to-quit fight with the part time manager was over going to the bathroom, using my judgment to run in, from close by, while everything had come to a stop for a minute or so. What made me so mad was I’d just been thinking that retention shouldn’t be a problem, because they were treating us increasingly professionally, so we could use our judgment in many situations like that. That’s the real answer to the retention issue: learning to trust your employees (and which ones you can trust, and how far) and treat them with some professionalism.

Yes, we are lucky to be allowed to go to the bathroom at all… and they gave us a coffee machine? That nobody will have time to use… or to relieve themselves from? Which brings it back to the coffee suggestion being half-joking on the part of the employees who kept making it, and the sweet spot for it actually going over being free or very cheap.

The company missed the point of the “benefit” entirely. And in a way the safety pizza is a benefit, too, as well as an incentive unrelated to retention, so it’s a case of missing related points.

Coffee Perks

Shocking, I know, but free coffee is a disproportionate perk. So are other, similar things…

The sarcasm comes from firsthand experience. When I worked at the original incarnation of Corporate Software, initially there was not only free coffee – good free coffee, if nothing gourmet like the article mentions – but also hot chocolate, tea, and even Crystal Lite. It was one of those places to work. They also had extremely low cost soda.

The primary business there was software sales, and they pioneered what would become common ways of selling software licensing packages. I was in their secondary business of tech support, which they’d gotten into with great success and massive hiring, if not high margins.

One thing led to another. Corporate Software became Strean International became three companies, of which Stream was the one that sold tech support only, without the higher margin elements.

Fewer things were free. The good coffee became awful, but lower maintenance and more likely to be available on demand, coffee. Then there was no more cocoa…

Not the same as free coffee, but there was near mutiny when the free hot chocolate went away. That for people there at the time was the dividing line between the cool company and the company that just didn’t care about its people anymore. Such a little thing. Yet I’d swear it was the beginning of the end of the business. Not that it ever 100% ended, but it changed hands and eventually emerged as a company that doesn’t seem to have any connection with the past, at least from a long since outsider’s perspective.

Clearly the linked article is touting results promulgated by a company with a vested interest in self-promotion and sales of coffee. Certainly there are company cultures that aren’t as tied to expectations of certain kinds of perks as, for instance, ones employing tech workers may be. The basic point remains: Surprisingly minor ways in which you treat employees can mean a lot, all out of proportion to the cost.