We could start with Tesla, but instead let's look at a post from my colleague, Suzanne Lucas, about interns and non-compete agreements. She was discussing a practice that is new to me (and apparently to her): requiring interns to promise not to work for a competitor, even though these aren't even entry-level positions. Often, they're not even paid. As Suzanne wrote:

Any non-compete for someone in a temporary job (which internships are, by definition) are unfair. Yes, she [a student mentioned in a Wall Street Journal storhy] could have turned down the internship and found one elsewhere, but she undoubtedly wasn't expecting to be bound by such an agreement. I would have never thought to warn interns about non-compete agreements.

Who would? The whole thing seems ludicrous, even when a business owner argues that to prevent the release of "intellectual property and confidential business information." That's what a non-disclosure is for. A non-compete, especially for low-paid workers, is a way to twist arms because someone at the top wants to and can thinks he or she can get away with it.

Now for a slight jump to Tesla. The company announced a record quarter for car shipments. That's the sort of news that should make backers of the company rejoice. Just one little problem: More executives are reportedly leaving the electric car manufacturer. This year that's supposedly included the head of the European division head, vice president of interior and exterior engineering, and the vice president of production.

If correct, and Tesla doesn't appear to have confirmed this to anyone yet, it wouldn't be unusual. Last year, 41 executives left as of September 2018. So many are bailing out that you should be able to hear the crack of parachutes 20,000 feet over Tesla's headquarters.

There is a big difference between being an executive and an intern. But the two cases have a similarity: workers you can assume are unhappy. How many people at the top of a company that is going places leave just as the business is about to turn the corner, as the shipment numbers might suggest? And how much good will does a company lose if it forces interns to take jobs in other cities for fear of legal action?

There are many ways that people-;customers, business partners, and investors-;judge a company. It might be financials, product quality, branding, or corporate responsibility. But one that is hard for many to ignore is how a company treats employees at all levels.

Poor treatment of lower-level employees, who are often the face of the company to customers, is a way to leave a bad taste in their mouths. When many executives leave a company, particularly when it comes around apparently good news, that makes business partners nervous and competitors pleased. Investors don't like either example.

Everything about a company speaks loudly to those who pay attention and know how to understand the signs. Employee treatment, concern, or dissatisfaction can be one of the most obvious and potent signals of problems.

Running a company, you should see this long before anyone outside does-;if you're looking. If you're not, you may be constantly communication to everyone who might matter to your business that they should think twice before being associated with it.

Published on: Jul 5, 2019
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