How to run off your employees: A tutorial

I used to work for a huge, multi-national media conglomerate that treats its employees as if they are disposable. The Company sees employees are a means to an end, and if there were a way to write, edit, produce and publish the news automagically, The Company would fire every single employee without much, if any, deliberation just to save on health-care costs.

That’s why I was amused to find this article called, “5 ways to drive your best workers out the door”, on last week. I’m sure the article was meant to help managers — specifically those who manage computer nerds, considering the publication’s audience — keep from losing good workers, but having worked at The Company, I suspected that its managers might instead use it as a tool to drive away experienced (read: “old” and/or “expensive”) workers.

Then I read the article, and I was floored. During my time with The Company, all of these five mistakes were made by my managers. Here are the mistakes from the article:

1) Keep the creative juices bottled up. If there is one thing that The Company likes more than the bottom line, it’s every newspaper looking as similar as possible. That means that unless your newspaper has won a Pulitzer Prize — news media’s highest honor — your creativity playground is small and may have only an old, rusty see-saw to work with.

2) Micromanage your staff. Nearly every manager I reported to in my six years with The Company micromanaged me nearly to death. There was absolutely no trust. In some cases, the top editors would even come back into the office late in the evening to sign off on the front page. I always thought, “If they don’t trust us, why don’t they just fire us and hire someone they do trust?” One manager had us write out daily reports with hour-by-hour explanations about how we spent our time. Each week, we compiled the daily reports into a weekly report. At the end of the month, we compiled all of the weekly reports, and at the end of the year, we compiled all of our monthly reports. It felt as if we spent more time writing reports than doing actual work.

3) Deny new opportunities and challenges. The Company would say that there are always plenty of opportunities and challenges if only we were all savvy enough to recognize them. But between constant cost-cutting and a news focus that changed annually, most of the challenges and opportunities were us doing the work of those who had already jumped ship in addition to our own work. There was hardly any time even for meetings unless you were a top dog, at which point all you did was go to meetings.

4) Don’t listen to your employees. Right before I left The Company, they had this big song and dance about how they were changing with the times, how they were becoming more flexible in their decision-making, how they were going to better listen to their employees. At that point in my career, I knew they were lying through their teeth, but I gave the last one a go anyway. I wrote and sent to the new employee feedback e-mail address a huge report detailing the way my newspaper was working now and the way that it should be working. I discussed new technologies, new ways to make decisions, new ways to communicate, new ways for practically every facet of the newspaper business. A week passed, and I heard nothing. Two weeks. By the third week, I had found a new job and gave my two-week notice. Five weeks passed, and I was gone. Twelve weeks after I sent the report, my wife (who still works for The Company) brought me a letter from The Company. It said, simply, “thanks for sharing your ideas. We promise to read each one. As a reward for helping us out, here’s a company coffee mug.” I used the mug to store used cooking grease before throwing it out in disgust.

5) Change the work environment without considering the impact on employees. This is the big one, the one that The Company will never understand, and frankly the one that it doesn’t want to understand. As I mentioned earlier, The Company doesn’t see its employees as important to its business. Employees cost money in payroll and health care. They want to take vacations. They get sick. They get training (from somewhere else, but never from The Company, which talks big about it but never offers substantive training) and realize that The Company is screwing them over all of the above and jump ship. The Company sees employees as a disease, so why would it ever consider changes’ potential impact on said employees? It wouldn’t be worth the effort.

I’m sure you have your own stories about your own The Company. I would be curious to hear them, so leave a comment or shoot me an e-mail. Also, I would like to point out that despite my lengthy rant, there are certain managers (some of whom still work for The Company) who gave me a job right out of college, promoted me and let me test the artificial boundaries of The Company. I will always be grateful to them.


~ by amarvin on Tuesday, August 26, 2008.

One Response to “How to run off your employees: A tutorial”

  1. Thanks for the entertaining post.
    I worked 7 years for The Company, the same “The Company” as you. And I have to say my current company treats employees way better. Maybe I will take your list and do a comparison.
    I had to laugh at the mug you received. How lame is that?
    Oh, the micromanaging. And the sitting next to me while I worked design of Page One. So annoying! There was one editor who actually did trust us and let us do our job. That was so great. Even on a super big news night he left at his regular time and trusted that we would do our jobs correctly.

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