The Snitch

Just a little of everything HR

Love them or risk them leaving… In style.

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Over the past few months, I’ve sat comfortably at my desk and watched with bemusement as the world tripped over itself trying to find new ways to quit – and leave a mark.

Let’s face it – the economy isn’t really rocking right now, so to quit a job in certain industries takes courage as it is. But when you top that up with an open letter published in the New York Times, jumping off a plane or getting a marching band playing your resignation, then you’ve got a winner – and the attention of the world.

Greg Smith, a Goldman Sachs executive director, made headlines this week after publishing an opinion piece in The New York Times, declaring that after 12 years, he’s had it with Goldman Sachs’ “toxic” culture.

“To put the problem in the simplest terms, the interests of the client continue to be sidelined in the way the firm operates and thinks about making money. Goldman Sachs is one of the world’s largest and most important investment banks and it is too integral to global finance to continue to act this way,” Smith wrote. “The firm has veered so far from the place I joined right out of college that I can no longer in good conscience say that I identify with what it stands for.”

The piece, which was published the same day Smith handed in his resignation, revealed intimate details of what Smith claims happens in the corridors of one of the world’s easily recognisable investment banking and securities firm.

“It makes me ill how callously people talk about ripping their clients off. Over the last 12 months I have seen five different managing directors refer to their own clients as ‘muppets,’ sometimes over internal e-mail,” Smith said.

But while Smith’s dramatic – and extremely public – exit got heads turning, a personal favourite of mine is Steven Slater’s resignation. (Granted, when I said he jumped out of a plane, it was already safely on the runaway and not 30,000 feet in the air. Now, that would be something.)

In 2010, Slater, a JetBlue flight attendant, was so fed-up with his job that when a female passenger refused to stop unloading her carry-on luggage from the overhead compartment because the passengers haven’t been given the green light to do so, the luggage falling on his head was the last straw.

The passenger refused to apologise and instead hurled a couple of vulgarities at Slater, causing him to react accordingly. He promptly got on the plane’s public address system and said, “To the passenger who just called me a m*****f***er, f*** you. I’ve been in this business 28 years, and I’ve had it.”

He then grabbed a couple of beers off the aisle (you know he means business), released the emergency exit slide and made his unforgettable departure from the plane – and his career.

And who can forget Joey DeFrancesco, a Marriott Renaissance hotel employee, who was done with the “horrendous” working conditions that he ambushed his boss, announced, “Jared, I’m here to tell you I’m quitting,” and walked out of the hotel as the marching band started to play triumphantly behind him.

Oh, and did I mention the whole thing was caught on video and promptly uploaded onto YouTube, garnering over 3 million views at last count?

I call him the pied piper of disgruntled employees.

Which leads me to the point of all this. Employees these days need you to care – fair and simple. There aren’t really two ways about it, especially in current business climate where a bit of TLC can do a lot more than an extra couple hundred dollars of pay.

Speaking at the first Ogilvy Do debates in Singapore last night, So-Young Kang, founder and CEO of global leadership development and experience design firm Awaken Group, said the one thing missing from the workplace today is love.

But while I won’t go so far as to agree with her and urge you to give your employees a hug right now (you can if you want to), I will say that a bit of recognition and a lot of listening to make sure they’re happy and fulfilled is critical.

Businesses these days cannot afford to be focused on just the bottom line. With employees often more than eager to jump ship at the next best opportunity (fellow Gen Y-ers, I’m looking at you – but I’m generalising), leaders need to step up and make sure they’re not just bosses, but colleagues.

Many have waxed lyrical at the near-magical effect of employee recognition, but as a captive audience of the HR world, I have to admit I’ve seen it do wonders. So go ahead, ask about your employee’s day, take an extra minute to listen to them and find out what drives them in the morning and keeps them awake at night, and who knows what that emotional investment might bring you in terms of business results.

It’s worth a shot, and it’s definitely easier to manage than a public embarrassment should they pull a resignation stunt.

Written by Sabrina Zolkifi

March 16, 2012 at 11:30 am

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