10 ways employers give their employees a "bad hair day"

Have I missed any?

A recent poll of 2,000 American workers said that people have an average of about 60 bad days a year.

(People actually keep track of such things? And, define "bad.")

Of those 60-some bad days a year, 80 percent are reportedly due to work-related stress. Maybe the other 20 percent fall on the weekends. Or holidays . . .



According to the article, work-related stress arises from bad sleep, being sick, bad hair (would you believe 1 in 4 respondents cited bad hair? they did!), loss by one's favorite sports team, and "having plans unceremoniously canceled."

I was happy to see that none of these reasons for a bad day at work have anything to do with employers. It's all just personal junk that spills over into the workday.

But, unfortunately, employers can do some things that make their employees miserable. Here are my top 10 ways they do it: 

1-Play favorites. Employers should avoid favoritism in all forms. It can lead to allegations of discrimination and harassment, and even if it doesn't get that far, it's going to make the people in the "out" group feel very ungratified.

 

2-Break the law. Don't do this! Comply with all employment laws and also with all laws of any sort that apply to your business. An upstanding, ethical employer is much more likely to be respected by employees, and will also set a good example.

3-Fail to show appreciation. Everybody likes to feel valued at work, and appreciation doesn't necessarily have to cost money. When employees do a good job, thank them. Maybe even in front of their co-workers. Don't take the credit for their good work. Treat them as the valued partners they are. And, if you have an opportunity to reward them in a more tangible way, then by all means do so.

4-Keep mum. Employers should communicate regularly with employees about company news, how the business is going, and even bad news ("If things don't pick up soon, we may have to make some reductions in the next few months"). Better to be prepared than to be blindsided.

5-Hog the wealth. When times are good, don't keep it all for yourself -- share. I love the way so many employers immediately announced bonuses to their employees after the tax reform bill passed. That's the spirit!

These next ones are my own personal pet peeves about things that some employers do:

6-Call yourselves a "family." Sorry, employers, you are not your employees' parents, children, or brothers or sisters. You are their employer. I hope you all get along and work well together, but you're still not a family. Would you RIF your mother? Didn't think so.

7-Impose rules on your employees that you aren't willing to impose on yourself. I'm not talking about rules that may legitimately vary depending on the type of work done (such as limiting telecommuting to exempt employees only). I'm talking about rules that should apply equally to all "similarly situated" employees. Nobody's special. Either that, or everybody is. If you can't follow your own rules, then maybe it's time to scrap the rules for everybody.



8-Pay the bare minimum when you can afford to do more. Of course, many small employers, or larger employers in highly competitive markets or in troubled industries, may not be able to pay generous wages to their employees because it would drive them out of business. But if you are better-endowed, you should do your best to pay a fair wage and provide decent benefits to your employees. Don't try to get by with the least you can do.

9-Provide a wellness "benefit," but don't lift a finger to help your employees actually benefit from it. Maybe you want to reduce the number of out-of-shape employees in the workplace and get your health care costs under control. You encourage them to exercise, eat right, and get fit. Yeah! You can do it! But we still expect you to work 65 hours a week, stay involved in the community, and squeeze in your family (family, not "family") while going to the gym to do Cross-Fit for an hour three days a week and growing your own arugula instead of sending out for pizza. Sorry, employers, but that $50 a year "wellness" bonus just ain't worth it, and the stress is raising our blood pressure! 

10-Fall for the "employment-at-will" deception. Yes, almost every state in the Union is an employment-at-will state, meaning that -- theoretically -- most employees can be terminated at any time and for any reason, good or bad, or for no reason at all. That's the principle, but here's the reality: The reality is that every termination occurs for a reason, and a good reason is better than a bad reason. Nothing gets my heart palpitating faster than an employer who tells me, "Well, I didn't have to have a reason to fire her! This is employment at will!"

(Not that any of my clients say this, mind you.)

There are so many exceptions to employment at will that it's almost worthless as a defense to a termination. If you can't explain why you terminated an employee, then people will assume you had a bad (illegal) reason. The employee will be free to accuse you of all kinds of things -- race discrimination, retaliation, sex discrimination, termination in violation of the public policy of your state, protected concerted activity, you name it. It may not be true. But if you don't have some good "alternative facts" that you can prove, then government agencies, courts, and juries are probably going to believe the employee.

Even if you're in an employment-at-will state, fire only for "cause," and you'll be much better off.
 
Image Credits: Video clip from National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation (1989). Still photos from flickr, Creative Commons license: Bad hair Barbie by Shawn Rossi, bad hair dude by Scott Granneman.

Robin Shea has more than 20 years' experience in employment litigation, including Title VII and the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, the Americans with Disabilities Act (including the Amendments Act). 
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