January 16, 2003
Owners, what do employees want? Employees, what do owners want? I know what I wanted when I was a shop and field hand, and I know what I expected when I was a boss. Now more than ever we need to strengthen the employee-management relationship.
I recently read that a bachelor's degree now is expected to take five years instead of four. I was glad to hear that, seeing as how I earned my bachelor's degrees on the 20-year plan. I started college but dropped out to go into the service. I used the G.I. bill upon my return only to drop out again.
Later in life I decided to go back and finish my education. (Actually, the doctor and my wife made the decision for me after I was hurt in a fall.) When I went back to college, I loved it, perhaps because I was older and wiser and already had sown my wild oats. This time I learned a lot, including a thing or two about different management styles.
I remember a business professor talking about Theory X and Theory Y management. If I remember correctly, Theory X came from Freud, who figured that workers basically are lazy. Freud believed people had to be coerced into work and rewarded and punished by a boss who continually told them what to do. The boss must watch his employees constantly, because most people are lazy and work for security only. He has no people skills and dislikes the workers. The workers dislike the boss, but both coexist, basically, because they have to.
This business professor actually had a boss at an auto plant who introduced himself the first day on the job by walking out and exclaiming, "You're working for me, you're going to work harder and faster. You're going to be here every day. Now get back on the line!" With that he turned around and went back to his office.
I recall a couple of bosses I had who were similar. On one job, a small contractor was forced to have safety meetings once a week. He would call a meeting right after lunch, have us sign a sheet, then holler, "Work safe, now get to it!" It was obvious to everyone that he couldn't have cared less about our safety.
A guy named McGregor came along with the belief that people like to work and want to learn all they can - Theory Y. He believed that people enjoy challenges and want to do a good job. A boss with this mindset works with his or her employees, listening to their ideas, sharing, and compromising as they work cooperatively. He or she lets the employees work things out by themselves whenever possible and is not watching constantly. Just the thought of this management style sends shivers up the spines of Theory X managers.
And if you really want to get into heavy theory, look up Abraham Maslow's Theory Z style. It's far too deep for my shallow mind, and I believe I took a nap during that lecture.
Hopefully by now most Theory X managers have gone the way of the dinosaurs, but I'd be willing to wager that plenty of them are out there still. I've had to work for the Theory X guys, but you can bet it was only because work was hard to find. If work had been plentiful, I would have been dragging up (getting my tools and hauling!) and looking for a job run by a Theory Y manager. You'll get a lot more work out of me if you treat me right, let me in on what's happening, and give me some respect.
If I'm respected and made to feel that I am a good and valued hand, you will earn my loyalty, which means that I gladly will give you 110 percent, eight hours work for eight hours pay, as we say in the Iron Workers Union. If someone is riding me all of the time, I am going to continue to work responsibly, but my morale will be crummy and will affect the workplace negatively.
So what makes me happy on the job? Mainly, the simple things. Tell me when I do well. I find myself constantly having to tell my students how good they've done after getting on them for doing something wrong. (Oh my gosh! I'm accusing myself of being a Theory Xer!) I'll scold a student or the class for something, and then on the way home, or in bed that night (I try to leave work at work, but sometimes it creeps in and haunts me at home), I remember that besides making some mistakes, or goofing off, the students also had done some really good things that day. Maybe they went that "extra mile" cleaning up the shop or conquered undercut on a vertical 7018 fillet weld. I didn't tell them what a good job they did, but instead, got on them for something else.
Everyone likes a pat on the back now and then. It just feels good when the boss recognizes that you've done something right. For that matter, it is good for the boss just to shoot the breeze with you, maybe ask how things are going from time to time.
There are all kinds of things bosses and owners can do to make an employee happy. One excellent idea is to make a team project out of designing a cooker. Come up with plans and materials using different input. There's no telling what that cooker will look like in the end. After it is built it can be broken in at a company party. How about combining the party with another team activity? One Friday, hold a clean up day to get the shop in top-notch shape. Everyone cleans up in the morning, uses the team-built cooker for a company lunch, and then goes home early to make the weekend a bit longer.
A bonus every now and then-and it doesn't have to be cash-is always appreciated. Movie tickets given out of the blue; gift certificates to a restaurant, along with a note saying "nice to have you on our team"; or similar tokens of appreciation go along way toward making an employee feel that he or she is more than just a worker showing up every day.
Right about now some owners and bosses are saying, "Yeah, and what about me? I have the headaches of overhead, paychecks, and making sure everything is running properly! I'm putting bread on the tables. What thanks do I get?"
When's the last time you said something nice to the boss? Maybe said thanks for something he or she did? Or maybe just asked how things are going? Cooperation is a two-way street.
It's easy for me to sit here and write about Theory X, Y, Z, and whatever other styles are out there. And it's easy for me to criticize the bosses I've had. But in all fairness, I know they have a difficult job also. Not every employee gives those eight hours work for the eight hours pay they receive. The slackers out there think the company owes them a job and that they don't have to work hard for their pay. They're the ones who drive the boss and any hard working craftsperson, for that matter, crazy with their sorry work ethics.
To get the boss's respect, you have to earn it by being a good craftsperson. I love a quote from former Navy Seal, Richard Marcinko, who said, "If you aren't doing your best, you are a salary-stealing punk, standing behind the real men." If you are not doing your best at work every day, then you don't have any right to gripe no matter what kind of boss you have.
With all the layoffs, jobs going overseas, and companies shutting down, we've got to find a way to strengthen the employee-management relationship in the companies that have survived. Working together, we can be the best fabricating shops, and field erectors in the world!