You are the owner of a 15-person travel agency, and you have survived radical industry-wide changes, including the loss of commissions on airline tickets, the reduction in corporate travel accounts, and the general fluctuation and upheaval in the industry overall. It has been a tough six years, but you have restructured and built up a new portion of your business focused on high-end leisure travel. You feel that you can finally breathe again.
One of the reasons you have been successful is because of a key staffer who has been at your side throughout. Suddenly, the key staffer does not come to work for two days, does not call in or return phone calls. Within a week, the person has resigned, and you get reports that your clients are being solicited by a new travel agency run by your ex-employee.
How times have changed. New business formation is blossoming. Helping to grow the I-can-do-it-myself trend is the increasing feeling of employees that they are not valued members of the organization and will not be employed for long. There is no longer the feeling of being connected to a firm for life. For many workers, the job they have today is a way station on the road to the one they may hold tomorrow. “Their sense of fairness and loyalty to a company is not what it was even a few decades ago,” says Gilbert C. Osnos, a crisis-management expert in New York City. In the case of small companies, which often are run more like a family, officers and employees often interact socially. When a key person defects and opens a competing business, it is more than a challenge; it is also taken quite personally.
Changes in behavior patterns can be a dead giveaway that something is going on. Staying after hours but not producing enough work to justify the time is a red flag. It could be that time is being spent copying documents, planning the new business, or using other company resources in pursuit of personal goals. A sudden spike in phone calls or covert calls can be clues that things are not on the up and up. Being disobedient, sullen, or suddenly unhelpful is an indicator of trouble. When you notice this behavior, promptly talk about the insubordination. This gives you an opportunity to address the complaint if it is legitimate. If the person is unwilling to talk about it or if the behavior does not change after discussions, then the problem is serious.
What should be done?
Smaller businesses, particularly, should be cautious about what type of information is freely available. Certainly, it is important to keep people informed about how the business is doing and to be open and honest. However, do not share company secrets or personal information that can be misused. In small companies where there are close personal ties between owners and employees, keep in mind that business relationships that become primarily personal can lead to problems. Once the line crosses from being a boss to a friend, it’s difficult to go back to a more distant relationship or to do unpleasant things like discipline an employee or pull the reins in when necessary. This is not to say that one has to be cold, distant, or secretive, just discreet.
Guard confidential information. Information that can be used by a competing boss or new clients should be carefully considered before being made public. Files that are crucial to the survival of your firm should be stamped as confidential and kept locked. A manufacturing process, key operational procedures, and records and documents that are the heart and soul of your business should be restricted. So should personnel files, so that key information cannot be removed or home telephone numbers gathered for personal use.
Have employee agreements. Be sure that new hires sign employee agreements that address the issue of confidentiality and contain a non-compete clause. Although an agreement does not always prevent a bad outcome, it does give you a basis for moving forward if you need to choose a legal way to resolve a conflict.
You certainly do not want to create an organization where everything is under lock and key and employees are considered the enemy. One of the best ways to keep employees is to treat them well. Sometimes betrayal can be caused by employees feeling that they were first betrayed by the company. Staffers who know they are valued, appreciated, and well compensated are less likely to feel the need for revenge. Well thought-out written policies and treating employees well will go a long way to reducing the likelihood that you will be “ripped off.”
“Dealing with Angry Employees,” work911.com