Keeping ’em happy, even when they’re gone

Jan 29, 2009 by

As I’ve noted before, we live in a networked and networking world. In fact, as “Net Gen-ers” and organizations who employ them, we can’t avoid it. Beth Kanter recently put together an excellent review of some research that suggests that “Digital immersion may [encourage] a new form of intelligence…sharing content and interacting with others… heightens intelligence through collaboration with other people and with machines.”

What does this mean for your nonprofit? Almost anything you or your organization do has the potential for huge impact, whether good or bad.

One example in particular: disgruntled (former) employees. When employees feel unhappy, have bad managers, are not appreciated, etc. and then they leave, they take all of that baggage with them. In a socially networked world, that means that they can and will let everyone know. How are you going to attract new people to your organization if you’ve pissed off the ones that have left?

Now don’t get me wrong – I’m not saying that you have to coddle an underperforming and/or incompetent staff person just to make sure they leave happy. But before you get to the point of firing them, sit down with them and go over your concerns. Lay out a plan of action with goals and a timeline and make it clear to them that they need to meet these goals in the time alloted…or else. Then, if they don’t accomplish those goals, they have no one to blame but themselves (that might not stop them from complaining of course, but at least you tried). Also, if you’re going to let someone go, have the common courtesy to tell them to their face. Despite the way ‘young people these days’ communicate with each other, firing them by text message is cowardly and wrong.

By the same token, if you’ve left or been fired from a job, its not right to go around bitching about that place just because you can. There are plenty of legitimate reasons to complain about a workplace (i.e., bad pay, poor treatment, meaningless work assignments) and you just muddy the waters when you whine about the lack of danish provided during staff meetings. I also think there is a more professional way to ‘complain’ – and I consider it a common courtesy for (young) professionals to help each other out in this regard. Remember the old commercial: “Friends don’t let friends drive drunk”? Well I believe that friends don’t let friends work at places where they will be taken advantage of and/or professionally abused.

When talking about a past job and why you disliked it, try to be clear about the cause(s). Were you just not cut out for the job? Were you not experienced enough to handle it? Then maybe its not a systemic problem with the organization and your friend should apply. Did your boss degrade you? Was there a really high turnover rate? Were younger staff treated as gophers and data entry machines despite their job descriptions? Then it could be an overarching problem that your friend shouldn’t have to suffer through either.

As I think about this more, I realize that all of this flows uphill as well: burning bridges can be dangerous. If you’re like most nonprofit employees and do not belong to a union (I could go on and on about this, but won’t right now) you are an ‘at will’ employee. This means that you can leave an organization at any time for any reason or no reason and you can be let go for same. So, when you put in your resignation, hold yourself back no matter how much you hate the job. Spending an hour yelling at your boss or coworkers about how much they’ve abused you might be temporarily satisfying, but losing each one of them as a sympathetic friend or potential reference will last forever.

My conclusion? Keep in mind, at all times, that talking trash and pissing people off can have a far-ranging impact for you or your organization. And if you do choose to talk trash, at least do it in an informed and constructive manner.

Anyone have stories about the consequences of trash talking your job or employees?

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