In the world of managing staffing companies, I imagine the last few years are up there amongst the hardest ever.
Anyone who runs a business will be well aware of the challenge of morale, engagement and staff retention right through the downturn, but a little scenario played a couple of years ago, close to home for me, that still resonates when it comes to the question of engaging staff.
I have a daughter, who at the time of this story was just completing second year of a Bachelor of Business in Marketing at University in Sydney. (I will call her ‘M‘ here because mentioning her name on my blog will provoke World War 3 at home). Being a true child of her generation, ‘M’ can’t envisage life without a car, massive mobile phone bills, and a not inconsiderable social life. Equally, I can’t imagine a world where I pay for these trappings of her good life.
So ‘M’ had a job. And a good job too – on the surface. For reasons soon to become clear, I won’t mention her employers’ name, but she had a retail role in one of the flagship outlets. It’s well paid too, and with Sunday overtime, it kept her in the style she feels she deserves, while enabling her to complete university as well.
Having a father in the recruitment industry is a double edged sword for ‘M’ however, because I encouraged her (vigorously) to also look for experience in a field closer to her career goal. And to her credit she secured “work experience” with Pulse Communications, a successful PR company, which is part of the STW Communications Group in Sydney. This arrangement is like an internship, and she worked every Friday at Pulse for three months. Great experience, but unpaid.
Now this is where it gets interesting. ‘M’ detested her well paid ‘real’ job. People were cold and disinterested. They operated in cliques that excluded newcomers. Her boss did not work the days she did, so she has never met her! On one occasion the supervisor left at 4 pm and all five of the other employees working on the same shift as ‘M’, moved out back into the staff room and stayed there until closing time. The fact they had left a trainee to handle a long line of irate customers, while they smoked and joked, apparently caused them no concern at all. The culture is such that when she arrived for work a cheerful “good morning” is met with stony silence more often than not. When she leaves maybe one person out of five will say goodbye. The tiniest error is met with derision and scolding. I was saddened to have her tell me she goes to work with “a heavy feeling of dread in her stomach”.
But Pulse was so different. As I warned her she would, she stacked boxes and stuffed envelopes, but they have also gave her interesting research and included her in client meetings as an observer. On her second day she was invited to lunch with the team celebrating a big win. People knew her name, included her in all goings on, and the CEO asked her how things are going. She loved going there, and learned so much she was totally re-enthused about a career in communications.
I was stunned and delighted be told by ‘M’ that during her (obscenely long) Uni vacation, she has volunteered to work at Pulse three days a week. And she is not paid one cent.
So what do we learn from this? ‘M’ hates her paid job and only turns up for the money. She does her best, but no doubt her unhappiness must show in her customer service – or at least it will eventually. She is looking for a new job and will leave as soon as she can. But Pulse, where she is not even paid, brings a sparkle to her eye. She looks forward to going there. She speaks in awe of the people who work there, and has taken a renewed interest in her university studies as a result.
And so I reflected on this lesson.The importance of creating a culture and an environment where people want to be is clearer than ever. Commercial success is important, but so is belief in the business and a return on our efforts that are to measured in fun and self-respect, as well as dollars
- Posted by Greg Savage
- On December 14, 2009
- 5 Comments