Editor's note: Inc.com columnist Alison Green answers questions about workplace and management issues -- everything from how to deal with a micromanaging boss to how to talk to someone on your team about body odor.
A reader writes:
I care about my employees. A lot. I pay people significantly higher-than-average salaries. They get treated to generous benefits, bonuses, random gifts, and I've even paid for employees' honeymoons. Several times throughout the years when someone had a personal emergency, I gave them money -- sometimes thousands of dollars. I do it because I grew up near the poverty line and saw my parents endure horrible, manipulative employers. I feel like I have a moral responsibility to look after the people who work with me.
I've established a strong personal friendship with many employees. A lot of other times, though, people don't seem to care. The most recent example is an employee whose daughter had a medical condition. I gave him extra paid sick leave, reduced his hours to part time but continued to pay full-time wages, and paid for all expenses not covered by insurance. At the time, he was moved and grateful. Then as soon as his daughter recovered, he resigned without notice. As he quit during the busiest season of the year, I pleaded with him to work his notice period at least. He declined, saying he would miss out on cheap fares to go overseas. He then later went to work for a competitor, even though that's against his employment contract.
I don't expect somebody to work for me forever because I gave them extra money. But this hurts on a personal level because I've treated my employees far better than the average employer. I know every business owner experiences staff problems. Would it be less of a pain in the neck if I simply stopped being kind to my staff and have no expectations? I've been told I'm overly generous and I should be more calculating. I wonder if that advice is correct.
That's really tough. You sound like an incredibly kind employer. I think, though, that you're expecting certain things in return for your kindness that might not be reasonable to expect.
Here's the thing about being generous with your employees like this: It will make many people much more loyal to you and invested in doing a good job -- but not all. It will help you retain some people and generate significant goodwill with them -- but not all. You've got to be comfortable with the idea that not everyone will respond the way you're hoping they will; humans vary widely in their reactions, and everyone brings their own baggage and assumptions to interactions with their employers. But if most of your employees seem to appreciate your efforts, focus there.
That said, if you're seeing widespread evidence that people don't care about the generosity you're showing them, it does make sense to pull back on some of it. Just make sure that it's truly widespread, not just the responses of a few. Sometimes a bad reaction from a few employees can sting so much that you start to feel like it's more widespread than it really is.
Aside from that, though, it'll be better for you and your employees in the long run if you remember that these are still employment relationships, not personal ones. Your employees need to be able to put their own interests first, which might mean leaving at an inopportune time or right after you did something especially generous for them. You don't want people staying out of a sense of guilt, or turning down a truly great opportunity out of obligation. (To be clear, it's not OK for someone to leave with no notice or violate an employment contract -- but I'm assuming that most of the time when you feel unappreciated, it's not so extreme.)
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