Do you treat your employees like property? Stop!

controlling employees The idea of ownership of an employee has always intrigued me. At a former company of mine the idea ran rampant and inhibited the workforce from actually producing on any meaningful level. When a manager would refer to his staff as “my people” it drove home the message that these are “his toys” and you’re not allowed to play with them. Very few things create stronger silos than such strong words of employee ownership.

When a manager acts as if he owns his employees he’s telling other departments that they must have permission from the manager himself before they can approach the employee to solve any problems.  What if your sales staff weren’t to be bothered but you had a big lead on a possibly large account?  You’d have to go through the manager and in today’s deluge of emails, phone calls, and texts can you be certain he’ll get the memo?

Perhaps you take another approach and go directly to a salesman, and he goes after your big lead…which ends up being a bust.  You’re then admonished by the manager for wasting “his peoples” time and it’ll be a long cold day before you share ideas with your sales team again. The sharing of ideas and creating communication between departments can be the difference between a successful company with a driving vision and a company that stays in a rut with stagnant growth potential.

We also don’t want to be mistaken.  A manager’s staff does, in some sense, belong to him. A manager is tasked with getting certain goals met and to drive different tasks within a company, or else he loses his job. From that aspect, a manager needs to be sure his or her employees aren’t chasing ideas or small tasks all over the landscape and that they’re focused on the goal of the department.  He shouldn’t let him lose sight of the fact that his employees work for a much larger organization with much larger goals in mind. Like all things in life, a balance must be struck and employee empowerment, trust, and a decided lack of strict “ownership” is key.

How do you know if a manager feels as if he owns employees?

– Listen to the language: “my people” shouldn’t be used when having conversations with employees in other departments that are junior to the manager. It not only creates silos, but it makes the employees both inside and out of that managers department feel belittled. “I’m just one of a larger group of plebes” rather than being a member of an important team.
– Refusal to let other employees speak to a managers staff. Departments are busy and employees must stay focused, but a healthy amount of conversation within your work force will only work to help the company overall. Ideas can be shared, issues one department is facing may be helped or solved by ideas from another, and so on.
Teach your team to focus and prioritize so that if a request comes in from another department they’re enabled to decide if it’s a quick fix or something that needs to be put in the project queue. Enabling employees to speak for themselves and communicate outside of their department will help drive the mission of the company as a whole and create a much happier and more engaged workforce.



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