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Employment Lawyer’s Thoughts on How Businesses Can Remain Union-Free: Part 2

by D. Michael Henthorne

In this second part of a two-part series, I examine the unusual figurative relationship between union-free policy statements, the human nature of employees and employers, and a neglected utility closet.

In the first article, I described a large utility closet located on the carport adjacent to my house. Once an ideal and highly utilitarian storage space, its usefulness has diminished over time as ordinary clutter has yielded to abject neglect. As a result, my utility closet is no longer useful but instead has become a problem that I simply avoid. It’s not the clutter’s fault; the blame rests squarely on my own shoulders.

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Some employees are like closets
Some employees are like that. Not all, but some. Once promising and productive, their usefulness and productivity have steadily decreased over time as a result of indifference or even neglect. But why? More important, could some of these “fading stars” be susceptible to the promises readily offered by labor unions seeking an inroad into their organization’s industry?

“It’s their own fault,” you may say as you ponder the decrease in productivity in some of these employees. And there’s undeniably some truth in such an observation. Employees clearly have to decide for themselves whether they value their employment with your company or organization and conduct themselves accordingly.

In turn, if you, as the employer, have stated your desire to remain union-free (and perhaps even established a written policy to that end), you will need to determine how you’ll respond to any union-organizing efforts undertaken by those you employ.

As we observed in the previous article, however, the underlying premise of any union-free policy is that unions have very little to offer your existing and prospective employees because you already provide them with fair compensation, good benefits, and favorable working conditions. As a result, if your employees feel they’re being treated fairly and reasonably, they should have — at least in theory — little incentive to join a union or seek to be represented by an outside party. Nevertheless, despite that apparent logic, union campaigns remain alive and well.

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Just tell me what you want!
In 2006, a survey conducted by Harris Interactive and commissioned by Kronos Incorporated titled “Working in America: What Employees Want” revealed that many employers still don’t grasp the link between their employees’ satisfaction levels and their companies’ performance.

The study, in which more than 1,000 U.S. workers were surveyed, determined that only 36 percent of employed adults work for organizations that invest in programs or activities that create a satisfied workforce. The survey also revealed that employees who are satisfied with their current employer said that satisfaction actually motivates them to go above and beyond their daily job responsibilities.

When employees were asked what they want from their employer, the top three responses were (1) competitive salary, (2) 100 percent of health care coverage paid by their employer, and (3) company-matched 401(k) investments. Other responses included bonus programs, flexible schedules, and condensed workweeks.

Similarly, when employees who indicated they were satisfied with their employer were asked why they were satisfied, the top responses included “I like my boss,” “I am treated with respect,” and “My employer pays me well.”

On the other hand, when employees who indicated that they were dissatisfied with their employer were asked the reasons why, they predictably stated that good pay, being treated with respect, and recognition for a job well done could very well improve their job satisfaction.

Notably, more than half of them acknowledged that these issues discourage them from going the extra mile at work. Nearly four-fifths of the “dissatisfied” respondents stated that if their employer started to implement some of the programs they want, it would provide motivation for them to do more at work.

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Sharing the responsibility
Certainly, you must carefully examine the costs associated with implementing any employee benefits or incentive programs. By the same token, an employer interested in boosting the productivity of its workforce also must recognize a shared responsibility in creating interested and motivated employees. As noted by the responses to the survey, one size doesn’t fit all.

Wages and fringe benefits will motivate some; respect, recognition, and meaningful engagement by the employer will motivate others. The prudent and productive employer will take the necessary steps to know what motivates its workforce. In sharing the responsibility, you may discover opportunities that were previously unknown to you or your employees.

Open the closet door and get started
To remedy the problem with my utility closet, I ultimately had to do two things: open the door I had neglected for so long and simply start clearing the clutter and debris. I soon discovered that the job was neither as daunting nor as difficult as I had imagined. Within an hour or so, I began to see an appreciable difference. My wife asked if she could help me. Soon, we finished the job, and our utility closet was functional again. More important, it could now serve the purpose for which it was created in the first place.

Share the responsibility for your employees’ satisfaction with their jobs. More often than not, you will recognize a demonstrable difference in your employees and perhaps in your bottom line as well.

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