Chalkboard Paint, Fake Christmas Trees, and Knowing your People

How well do you know your employees?

I recently learned that a former colleague, a father of two, made the decision not to purchase a Christmas tree this year. Recently unemployed and just returning to work, he did the math and decided that he couldn’t afford quality presents for his kid and a tree. He explained this to them and while they were a bit sad (the younger one going so far as to offer her father the money-all $5 of it-in his piggy bank towards its purchase) they were okay with it.

He then had an idea. Having planned on painting the kid’s playroom while off from work he decided to use chalkboard paint instead of regular paint. So after the kids went to bed on Christmas Eve he and his partner covered one wall of the kid’s playroom with the chalkboard paint, drew a Christmas tree, then placed presents underneath. The surprise was a big hit. The kids were super-excited, spending the morning “decorating” their tree and playing with the gifts they received. The grown-ups enjoyed the day as well. Christmas was saved!

Facing tough financial choices, my former colleague was able to come up with a creative solution. This is not always an option. 

The US Census Bureau reported in September 2011 that 15.1% of Americans (over 46 million) were in poverty, an increase from 14.3% in 2009. Consider as well the fact that many employee wages, when adjusted for inflation, have remained sluggish. This, along with the high rate of unemployment, coupled with the fact that just 7% of job seekers gain employment where they earn as much, if not more than what they did at their previous job, means that it’s a very real possibility that someone in your organization is struggling, economically-speaking. That likelihood is higher in the retail industry, traditionally known for being an entry level field.

What this means for leaders is that the people you rely on to help the organization fulfill its mission have a lot on their minds. It means that just because they’re working and productive doesn’t mean things are a-okay. It means that money is a motivator, but so are flexible work place policies which allow people to take care of their personal needs. It means having programs like Employee Assistance Programs (EAP) readily available to anyone who needs them. It means knowing your employees as people, first and foremost. 

How well do you know your employees? 

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