Making the Personal Impersonal


As a manager, one of my favorite days of the week is payday.  When payday rolls around people always seem to be in a good mood.  They have some money in their bank account or their pockets and usually have plans to have some fun with that money – maybe a night out with the boys, a date, or a trip with the family.  Some people may just need the money to pay bills.  Either way, making money is why we work.  And payday is something we all look forward to.

I know when I worked for my Dad, I always looked forward to getting that paycheck on Friday.  I would go to the bank and deposit most of it in my savings account and keep a little bit for something fun like a night out with my friends or a date.  Getting the paycheck at the end of the week was the reward for a job well done.  I remember going to the office on those Fridays and either the office manager or my Dad would hand out the paychecks to myself and the other workers, and he would say two very important words to all of us – “Thank you.”  It was his way of showing his appreciation for all of our hard work that week, and we all appreciated it.  It was a simple gesture that made a great impact.

When I became a manager of lots of people (about 70 or so) at the ripe old age of 27 years old, I looked forward to getting that bag filled with pay stubs for the folks that worked for me each week.  I would sit down and sort them by shift and then put them away for safe-keeping.  When Thursday and Friday rolled around, I would walk around the plant and try to personally deliver the pay stubs to everyone that worked for me.  My goal in doing this was to make sure that I personally thanked everyone for all of their hard work and efforts that week.  I felt it was important to make that personal connection just like my Dad did when I worked for him.  I even did this, at times, when I managed managers.

So, when I found out that my company was moving to an automated system for accessing pay stubs, I was not happy to say the least.  Although, I no longer hand out the pay stubs, the managers that work for me still do, and some of them take that time to thank the people that work for them.  It’s a good way of making sure managers and hourly associates interact each week in a positive way.  Getting paid is a good thing, right?  Now the avenue for making that happen is gone – all in the name of saving money.

Printing pay stubs each week and separating for delivery to the plant costs money – more than we all realize.  But how does the cost of printing and sorting these pay stubs compare with the cost of making something that should be personal seem so impersonal?  I realize not everyone cares about getting a pay stub from their boss each week.  The money is already in the bank so why do they need this piece of paper?  But the majority of people that I’ve dealt with through the years seem to appreciate it.  That 30 seconds of one-on-one interaction makes a difference.  Now it’s gone.  Now the associates have been given a login and a password so that they can access their pay stub on a computer.  Is the computer programmed to say “Thank you for a great week”?  I don’t think so.  Is the computer going to listen to the concerns that the associate wants to share while he/she has the full attention of that manager for the moment?  Nope.  The human interaction has been replaced with the computer.

What does this say about society today?  Kids sit in rooms together and text each other instead of talking.  People I work with sit in rooms and send instant messages to one another instead of communicating verbally.  I interview young men and women for management positions that can barely carry on a conversation, but they send wonderful thank you e-mails.  The notion of real human interaction is disappearing.  But why does it have to be this way?  Why does the need for automation and efficiency supercede the benefit of building relationships?  Is the almighty dollar the root cause of these changes in our behaviors?  I’m really starting to think so.  Employees are referred to in some organizations as human capital.  I don’t refer to my family as human capital.  I don’t think my wife would appreciate being treated like an asset instead of a person.

So, how do we solve this problem?  How do we find other ways or opportunities to say “thank you” for that job well done without making it seem awkward or forced?  How do I teach those that work for me that this is important enough that they need to set aside time to do this each week or before a group goes off shift?  Showing sincere appreciation for someone’s efforts sends a powerful message.  It not only shows the person that you care about how they perform while they are at work, but it also shows that you care about them as a person.  Those two simple words make a world of difference – especially if someone isn’t feeling appreciated.  Hearing those two words after someone has had a rough week can really lift a person up.  I’ve seen it happen, and I’ve been told that it has an impact by the person I’ve thanked.

It’s called building social capital.  Working collectively and in a trusting environment helps build bonds and bridges across different groups.  This concept has been studied by sociologists and psychologists since the start of the Industrial Revolution.  So, it has been around for centuries, and it appears to have worked.  How do you think companies became successful?  Different groups of people from all walks of life working together to make something happen.  That’s how.

Ultimately, I believe this change will have an unanticipated negative impact on the morale of the associates on my team – both management and hourly.  Building relationsships and trust is critical to maintaining good morale in an organization.  Numerous studies have shown that a happy employee is a productive employee.  If we keep doing away with what I call the weekly “rituals”, then finding ways to build relationships in a natural setting or through normal interaction, like handing out a pay stub, are going to be harder to come by.  There are certain “rituals” that need to be carried-on – no matter the monetary cost because the underlying cost of not doing it may be more costly in the future.

I’ll let you know how it works out.  Until then, I will continue to find ways to say those two simple words to the folks that work for me.

I hope that you do too.



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