As we developed the topics for these insights, my spouse/business partner and I obviously based them on our experience as small business owners. While it is the topic of other posts to discuss who created or operates small or large businesses, suffice it to say that if someone has started a business or is running it, there is usually a reason why they are “in charge.” Some businesses seem to go on despite the efforts of its operators, but generally, if someone has gotten a business off the ground and has operated it for a time, he/she knows more about the business than any newly hired employee. The fact that I have had to state what should be obvious, including the fact that the business is the business of the owners, is astounding. We have experienced several situations when the employee(s) seemed to have forgotten who works for whom. This has been evident in seemingly small details like washing one’s own dishes in the communal kitchen. But, in other situations, employees have refused to do tasks both my partner and I have done, such as taking out the trash or clean up messes they created. In still another situation or two, employees refused to work on certain types of cases or with other employees. This has never been about anything the employee was asked to do which was illegal, immoral, or unethical, but rather, tasks crucial to the operation of the business. As one might expect, the employee’s tenure is dramatically short after such an action though a few have been surprised that they were fired for these actions, or inactions. Employees should realize that unless they are being asked to do something improper, refusing to do what the boss asked them to do will have career implications. Even those little things, like not washing one’s dishes, add up and multiple warnings may well result in a change of employment status. Fortunately, I think most employees have learned to correct themselves on these smaller items, the surprise has been those who thought they were too valuable to let go. As stated in a prior post, bosses should know when to cut their losses and move on to prevent the bad apple from creating other problems.
My spouse/business partner and I have had the good fortune to have many wonderful employees over the years. We have had numerous long term employees and have also had the pleasure of working with several vendors for decades. During the over 20 years we have owned and operated our business, however, we have also had our fair share of toxic employees, as well as others who were just incompetent. I am direct, open, and honest in all my dealings with employees. If someone does something wrong, there will be no doubt in his/her mind that I am unhappy. I start all new hires’ work experience by informing them “I am the owner of this company. If you and I have a problem, for whatever reason, you are the person who will be leaving. I am not going anywhere. So, even if everyone else likes you and thinks your work is good, but I don’t, you will not have a job in my company. And, if you think this is unfair, when you own your own company and I work for you, then and only then will you be able to tell me what to do.” I know reading this makes me seem rather harsh, even mean, but I have always believed in telling the whole truth to the employees, so that there are no surprises and no uncertainties about the conduct I require of everyone who works for me. (Although I know that, in order to foster a team spirit, the employees work WITH me, in the end, I am the boss, such that they really do work FOR me. The difference between these two prepositions is important!) We have had two particularly bad periods in our company, one many years ago and one recently, in which the employees banded together and refused to do certain aspects of their job. Evidently, they thought adopting a “strength in numbers” approach would overpower my partner and me. Needless to say, they were quite surprised when they were fired for insubordination, all of them, all at the same time! One of these toxic employees even told my partner he never knew he could be fired for yelling at the boss! The point of this writing is that the lines between employees and the employer always need to be clearly defined.