leadership and employee management

What do you feel you owe your employees?


I remember having a conversation once with a superior officer, we were discussing leadership demands between the military and Air Canada and the question came up, why must we, the military, do this and Air Canada doesn’t, but both organizations are mission and operationally focused?

My response was that the military positions itself and views itself as a leadership organization, so we must hold ourselves to a higher standard.

That’s it.  If you want to be a thing, or call yourself a thing, you need to actually be that thing.


I feel like I see this a lot in the business world.  Business owners and managers want to be the feel-good company that has a strong company culture and engaged dedicated employees, but these same people seem, to me, to have a complete disconnect with what will actually develop and create those things.  They’re forgetting, in their business focused mind, that employees are people and that this is entirely a conversation around emotions, relationships and how you treat people.


This all breaks down, at the most basic level, to asking yourself, “What do I owe my employees?”.  Not what are the labour rules and HR policies I need to follow to stay legal.  Not, what can I ask of my employees because of what I pay them or what I’m doing myself.

What actions do I need to take to get the result I want?  If the result you’re looking for out of your employees is an emotionally engaged and committed workforce?  Going above and beyond yourself, caring and investing time and effort into how you treat your people is critical to yield that result.  This will take a huge amount of effort on your part as a business owner or manager.  And it’s not up to you to decide what’s enough, your employees will let you know, through the way they react to your efforts and the way your company culture develops.

This isn’t a condemnation of choosing to pursue a different course if you’re basing your business off of a purely money for labour model.  There’s absolutely nothing wrong with that.  There is a problem if you’re focused solely on money for labour and then acting confused why your employees don’t care as much about your business as you do.


This post isn’t meant to attack your employee management style or to convince you to do things differently.  It’s meant for those managers and business owners who are confused about why they’re not getting the employee engagement results they say they’re looking for.

Maybe after reading this post you decide you’re not interested in putting in the effort and making the changes required to get what you said you wanted, maybe this post convinces you to change what you want.  That’s fine too.  It’s great even, you’ll stop spinning your wheels and to your employees you’ll stop looking like you’re talking out of both sides of your mouth, which will always be a net benefit when dealing with people.


Because when you’re dealing with people and demanding a personal relationship, engagement and buy-in, you need to be focused on building that relationship.  That looks like asking yourself “what do I owe my employees?”.

If you’re willing to look clearly at what you’re currently offering, listening clearly to what your employees actually want and making those changes you’ll get the results you want.  You just need to be willing to put in the work and make the changes.


I’ll give an example: I saw an exchange on Twitter where the wife of a company owner was shitting on and shaming employees who weren’t willing to work a holiday long weekend.  The complaint was the business just couldn’t find employees willing to work.  The underlying factor was that her husband has worked every holiday and weekend for years while building the business.  And I just couldn’t believe that there was such a disconnect in what she wanted to see happen and what her rhetoric produced.  Needless to say, she was dragged in the comments and ratio’d to oblivion.

It’s fine if you just want to find employees to pay to work holiday long weekends.  But you need to understand that people have lives and want to spend time with their families.  Of course they’re never going to care as much about your business as you do.  They’re not building anything.  They have nothing to sell or pass down to their kids the way you do.  Why on earth would they work the same hours and give up time for their kids for you?

Any rational person would see that they wouldn’t.  And that’s fair and fine.  It just means, in the marketplace of labour, you need to find the dollar value to pay people to make it worth their while to give up that time.

This is a hugely, and incredibly ironically, overlooked aspect of business by business owners.  Many understand “the market” in terms of setting prices for products and determining what the market can take.  Understand and treat the labour market the same way.  If you’re interested in treating labour as a purely transactional relationship you just need to find the dollar value that gets you the labour you want.  Get over it.  Don’t hate the player, hate the game.

If you want to have a relational transaction, attempting to shame an employee for not working in not going to work for you, at least not long term and certainly not if you want to have an engaged workforce and friendly, caring company culture.

This is what it comes down to – business owners and managers say they want emotion from their employees, they want people to care.  You can buy caring, it’s usually expensive and offers a lot in terms of career advancement and professional development.  And the labour market will decide what is fair value for an employer to buy that “buy-in”.

Or you can develop a culture that builds in caring.  This will be done through relationships and demonstrating caring.  You can’t do that by shaming employees.  People don’t like being shamed that they’re “lazy” or “not working hard enough” or “not willing to work”.


Think about what you owe your employees to get them to care about your business.  This will be different things for different people in different industries.  If getting employee buy-in and engagement is important to you and the way you run your business, look at the relationship critically and evaluate your actions against the results they’re producing and be willing to change to get the results you want.

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