Entrepreneurs

The Dumbest Thing You Can Say to an Employee


I was on a Zoom call when a company founder who shall remain nameless (and his company unwritten-about, because dude, seriously?) yelled at the end of a rant to an employee struggling to share his screen, “You’re lucky you still have a job!”

Your employees may like their jobs. They may enjoy their schedule flexibility. Be excited by the developmental opportunities. Be thrilled to work with great colleagues. Feel fulfilled because they make a meaningful difference in the lives of others. 

They may even feel lucky they have a job that is both financially and personally rewarding.

They get to decide whether they feel lucky to have the job.

You only get to decide if you feel lucky they work for you.

Take the young man struggling to share his screen. Unless his name was picked out of a hat, he wasn’t lucky to have a job. His boss decided to hire him. His boss pays him. (Although clearly not enough.)

Theirs is a simple transaction conducted millions of times a day by employers and employees: pay for expected output. 

If an employee’s output meets expectations, feel lucky and try to keep them. If their output exceeds expectations, feel lucky and start thinking “pay increase” if you hope to keep them.

Your employees shouldn’t feel lucky to have a job, even when they fail to meet expectations.

If you’ve done everything possible to bring them up to speed without success, they aren’t lucky. You’re making a mistake for continuing to employee them, especially since, according to a 2015 Harvard Business School study, removing an underperforming or even “toxic” employee saves a company three times the value of a superstar employee. Underperforming employees cause other employees to leave an organization faster and more frequently. Underperformers negatively impact the productivity of those around them. Underperforming people can even turn good employees into bad ones.

You owe it to your business, and to your other employees, to let them go.

So no: Luck has nothing to do with it.

You only get to decide if you feel lucky. So feel free to tell your employees you’re lucky you hired them. Feel free to tell your employees you’re lucky to get to work with them. Feel free to tell your employees you’re grateful to be surrounded by so many hardworking, dedicated, flexible, and professional people.

Do that often enough, and they might even start to feel lucky that they get to work with you.

But never say an employee is “lucky to have a job.”

Because it’s not just insulting, abusive, and disrespectful.

And makes you — not them — look foolish.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.

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