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Fairness is a good policy

I’m not usually too much of a complainer (well, professionally anyway).

But, the more I read about how businesses treat their people, frankly, I’m angry.

I understand and agree, that, if the business is up against a wall, and has to make cuts, then redundancy and pruning are needed.

That’s not what I’m on about.

What I’m on about is outright lying, cheating and poor conduct.

I’ve been on the receiving end of this myself, so I speak from experience.

Let me explain:

When things are going well, companies recruit people, tell them all the great reasons you should be working for them, and hook you with promises, let’s say of bonuses, extras and how much fun it is to work for them.

That’s all well and good. But, when the going gets tough (hold that thought), they re-neg, lie and cheat.

As I said above, I’m not on about belt-tightening, the odd layoff or reduced hours; not if it means the difference between life and death of the company.

I’m on about those businesses that lay people off, reduce redundancy packages, cut hours and treat people badly when things are going great.

For many businesses, the global financial crisis has made not one bit of difference. For some, their revenue and profits have increased. Many of these companies are doing the same things – laying people off, cutting packages, reducing salaries and getting rid of bonuses too.

And worse, they are doing so in the name of the recession. To repeat, in the name of the recession when their business has not been troubled by it.

As a case in point: the software business, outside of general productivity software (which is not innovating as much as it used to) has seen sales increase – the security software business in particular.

There are many reasons why such businesses are doing well; one is fear (people don’t want to have problems with their PC that needs to be more expensively fixed), another is the number of self-employed is increasing (as people are left with no choice but to run on their own for a bit), and hence people are still investing in the necessary software to undertake such work.

When your revenue is up, and your profits too, cutting deeply, asking people to take a pay cut or reduce their hours (while leaving them the same or more work to do) is, frankly, dishonest. Laying them off especially so.

Look at it from the other side for a second: go back an read what I said about the recruitment stage. Those same guys and girls have worked their butts off to make sure the business has grown, in fact got your business to the point where revenue is growing and profits too. And now you want to thank them in these hard times by lying, and saying the economy is bad (okay, it is), but it’s not bad for you?

Looking after your people and they looking after your business is a fair trade. If you are doing well, why are you therefore cutting back on bonuses and pay? Is it because you’re seeing this as a way to save money (even though you don’t need to), because you know and your staff know that it is currently a buyers market when it comes to staff?

That’s not only dishonest, it goes against the grain of the fairness game you try to balance with your staff during the good times.

Worse still, it’s using the current job market as “blackmail” to make extra profit at the expense of the people who got you into the strong position in the first place.

Fairness has always cut both ways, except the balance has tipped, often badly, in favor of companies, and that is not good for the future of business.

When things are back to normal (and in some jurisdictions, they are already heading that way), guess what happens to companies who treat their staff badly? They get the best staff leaving, and the rest of the staff feeling less secure, less inclined to dig in and usually out of pocket.

What message do you think that gives? (Hint: it’s not a good one).

There is an old saying in HR, that people aren’t just at work for the salary – that money makes up only part of the compensation that people want. A good trusting company, a great workplace, and benefits usually make up the rest.

You just took two (maybe three) of those away. Now you’ve got people only caring about the salary and/or benefits. Is that really what you intended? I’m guessing not.

Fairness is not optional, unless you want to turn working for your company into a game of getting only salary and benefits. Most great employees won’t work for such companies. All good ones will at the very least consider working elsewhere when things pick up.

Was that worth the small saving, ill-will and lying and cheating?

I’m hoping most decent employers will really, truly think not. I’ve a horrible feeling I’m wrong.

When you’re company is not performing so well in the future (your great staff have left, your good staff are leaving slowly but surely), try to recall that you caused the problem, and maybe you’ll understand that there are better ways to behave.

We learn lessons from our mistakes. Will your company?

Picture Credit: Money Hand by Neubie on Flickr (under creative commons use).

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