How Not to Treat Employees

Author Peter DeHaanBy Peter DeHaan

After spending the prior summer relegated to working a smattering of part-time odd jobs, Dan desired a different outcome for his summer break from college. He learned it was important to start his search early to beat out the competition. Through networking, he developed a list of prime prospects. Four opportunities emerged, each with an inside contact to guide the process, offer advice, and provide feedback. Dan’s summer employment prospects seemed bright.

During spring break, he met with each company, submitting resumes, completing applications, and going through interviews. Each opportunity looked promising. Soon he begin to analyze their respective merits and desirability as his ideal summer job, ranking them in order of preference and suitability. With all these encouraging opportunities, it was hard for him to pursue new leads or less desirable options.

Dan maintained contact with them throughout the remainder of the school year and made plans to meet as soon as school was out. During those follow-up meetings, things began to unravel. Due to unforeseen events, two prospects backed away during that first week. Two weeks later, a third bowed out and eventually the fourth fell through. Now Dan was a month out of school and had to restart his job search. Fortunately, the area high schools were still in session, so at least he could get a jump on their impending onslaught on the job market.

In the midst of desperation, or perhaps inspiration, he did an Internet job search. The job site allowed him to conduct his search for businesses within a specified radius of home. He put in five miles and – although in a rural area – he got a match.

What follows is a sad saga of how not to recruit, manage, and treat staff. Within it are lessons on how to churn employees.

Hide Key Information: The help wanted ad lacked tangible detail. The specific type of work wasn’t given, providing only vague generalities. The verbiage was along the lines of exciting and rewarding position, working with other professionals at an established and successful company.

It was hard not to get excited and draw the conclusion he stumbled onto the most wonderful career opportunity available. As it turned out, this was not the case.

Misrepresent the Facts: Dan responded to the ad and had a phone interview. An in-person meeting was the next step. It was in another city, over thirty miles away. Given the high price of gas and his limited funds, this was a discouraging development for a job represented to be within five miles of home.

Believing that only this initial meeting would be at a distant location, he proceeded. After three hours of a preliminary group interview and subsequent one-on-one conversation, he was offered a job. He would be selling knives! Then he received more disconcerting news. Three days of training would be held – at that distant location.

After training, twice-a-week sales meetings were mandated. Not surprisingly, they were also in the faraway city. Twice-a-day long distance phone calls to his manager, BJ, were also required. It was adding up to be quite expensive for this “local” job. On top of that, he had to buy his demo knives at a cost of over $100.

Have Purposeless Meetings: Not deterred, Dan proceeded. He made a sale as soon as his training was complete and headed off to his first sales meeting. So as not to interfere with selling, it was scheduled for nine in the evening, too late to make appointments. The meeting was not what Dan expected. BJ seemingly did not have a definite plan for the meeting and meandered through it. There was no apparent objective or purpose – other than perhaps to see how many staff would comply with his attendance mandate.

Generally the meetings would start late; often they had little substance. Other times BJ would not be able to locate his materials or handouts would not be ready. More than once Dan and his cohorts waited while BJ made copies, talked on the phone, or left the room. Once he got mad at the people not present – and chewed out those who were.

Waste Time: During these meetings, BJ put off questions for afterwards. If Dan waited around to have his questions answered, he might not get home until after midnight. More often than not, he was frustrated with the response to his inquiries, receiving a cocky retort or another delay.

The twice-a-day phone calls were also frustrating. Dan would alter his schedule to make these calls at the prescribed time. Although these calls were required, BJ sometimes wasn’t available or he might respond with irritation at the interruption. During these calls, sometimes Dan was encouraged; other times, chastised for not doing more, with his questions dismissed.

Undervalue Staff: Another problem was BJ’s focus on hiring more sales staff. He gave priority to recruitment and had little left to give his existing charges. From Dan’s original group, the attrition rate was at 90 percent after two weeks. It seemed BJ viewed staffing as a numbers game. It was quantity over quality; people were expendable and he needed to hire many in order for a few to stick.

Make Unreasonable Demands: The twice-a-week sales meetings and twice-a-day phone calls struck Dan as unreasonable, especially since he could see little reason for them and experienced no benefit. Perhaps most telling, however, was BJ’s insistence that they work seven days a week – for a job advertised as part-time. More infuriating was BJ bragging that when he was in the field, he would only sell a few days a week.

Give Bad and Inappropriate Advice: When the sales staff would complain about the cost of driving to sales meetings and long distance calls, BJ would dismissingly respond that it was all tax deductible. He claimed to be aggressive in filling out his tax forms and boasted that he generally paid no taxes. He implied that his staff should follow his example.

Don’t Pay What You Promise: BJ promised Dan a minimum guaranteed amount on every appointment, regardless of the results. Never once did this happen, with no reason revealed. It could be that there were many loopholes and exceptions in the policy, allowing ample wiggle room to avoid paying the minimum reimbursement; possibly BJ exercised discretion over this facet and abused his power; or perhaps it was merely a false promise.

Arbitrarily Refuse Training: Dan’s initial training covered product knowledge and how to do a demonstration. He was instructed to ask for referrals after every presentation, regardless if he made a sale. Dan was accumulating leads but awaited training on how to follow through with them.

He asked BJ what to do. BJ’s response was that he’d cover it at the sales meetings. Except he didn’t. Dan had pretty much given up on the sales meetings and asked BJ directly for assistance. BJ’s unexpected rejoinder was, “Since you’re not coming to the meetings anymore, I’m not going to tell you!”

Despite this, Dan did well selling knives. He enjoyed making presentations and doing demos. This resulted in a high closing ratio, and he quickly earned a boost in his commission rate. Soon after Dan embarked on his knife-selling adventure, another job opportunity availed itself. It was part-time – mowing lawns and doing landscaping – and only expected to last for three weeks.

Wanting to keep his options open, Dan balanced both jobs. He soon realized that not all bosses were like BJ. His landscaping boss was easygoing and flexible. He and Dan quickly established a rapport and worked well together. Although the job was never more than part-time, it continued for the rest of the summer.

Dan continued as a knife salesman, though it became so part-time as to be negligible. If only he received the additional training he needed and been treated with a bit of respect, the outcome would have been quite different.

[Epilogue: BJ later notified Dan that the office would be “temporarily shut down” and the sales reps reassigned to other offices; BJ would go back to being a field rep.]

Peter DeHaan is a magazine publisher by day and a writer by night. Visit www.peterdehaan.com to receive his newsletter, read his blog, or connect on social media.