It's Not Your Idiot Staff, It's You Stupid!  

5 simple steps to have your employees want to come to work to help you and your business thrive...

It was my first job in 29 years. As a new casual seasonal farm worker, it was an opportunity to step completely out of my comfort zone. My lifetime career was far removed from now driving seventy tons of loaded machinery around a farm.

My new job was exciting and rewarding learning about the farming industry while developing new skills. But as a new employee, I soon came to realize how overlooking just some of the most basic and simple management skills can significantly impact the frustration and stress within a working environment. I had spent most of my working life in people management and leadership from large multinational organizations to small businesses.

I’ve been there as a new manager feeling drained and frustrated with despair. Unfortunately, it’s more often than not, not the fault of the idiot employees, but rather it’s the stupid things we as managers of our people do and don’t do with our most valuable resource, our people.

Whenever you hear or experience a company with a don’t care attitude of its employees, you can almost always look straight to management for the cause. Working with employees is challenging. That’s because they are humans like you and me. We’re complex creatures. For a start, we all see the world differently, even if we are looking at it in the same direction.

But the good news is, just shifting our approach and applying even the most basic management and leadership skills as to how we treat our employees, can have a profound impact on work relations. Getting the basics right can be one of the most rewarding experiences as a manager, such as when employees tell you they love coming to work.

“Train people well enough so they can leave, treat them well enough so they don’t want to.” — Richard Branson.

Here are 5 simple steps that can transform your workplace. I say simple because that’s exactly what they are. Each step is no more than our attitude to our employees…

1) Create An Inclusive Social Culture. Make your employees feel like they belong part of your work social community. We are all social beings. We all have different social groups which can be family, sports groups, or hobby clubs. Your employees need to feel accepted, to be part of your work community, beyond just their immediate work role.

Because work forms a large part of our lives, it is important as an employer or manager not to neglect this need. Making employees feel part of your work community can be as simple as celebrating birthdays. Why, because it recognizes individuals as important. Putting on a few drinks at the end of the working week. Why, because it’s a token way of saying thanks and provides an opportunity for social interaction. Extending the social inclusiveness outside work times with a home or park BBQ or restaurant outing. These all show you value your people and are small ways of saying thanks for their contribution.

2) Be Respectful. Above all, don’t be authoritarian. Drop the idea and attitude you are better than them. You may have superior skills in your line of work, but do not let that become arrogance. Treat your people with respect and as equals. Ask, not tell. The bottom line is people will do what they want behind your back, so you might as well respectfully ask them. That way it treats people with respect, not as a servant. The only exception to this is in the case of an emergency where immediate action requires more direct instructions.

I have heard employers say they prefer not to employ young people because they lack responsibility, particularly when it comes to operating expensive equipment. I beg to differ. As a manager or employer, it can be easy to have a superior attitude over a young person. While more guidance may be applicable, a common stereotype of young people lacking responsibility can be misguided.

Rather, empowering them and asking them to accept responsibility instead of giving them the feeling they are being monitored and not trusted can be an opportunity to develop a long-term loyal and trusted employee. Manage them with respect and their youthful energy will become your biggest asset. They’ll love coming to work rather than needing to come to work. They will be more motivated to go beyond the line of duty, they’ll be more inspired to want to make a difference. Why? Not because they have to, but because they want to.

The feelings of how a young person responds can be no different from an older person. It’s just the intensity that can vary.

3) Celebrate Mistakes. Don’t shame. Learning new skills inevitably means there will be mistakes. There’s a saying that says if we are not making mistakes, we are not trying hard enough. We learn best from our mistakes. We’ve been doing this ever since we first started to walk. Were we shamed and criticized every time we fell over? Our best successes come from learning from our mistakes. If we can accept that, then that’s a good reason to celebrate. It means we’re getting smarter at our job.

So, expect mistakes. Respectfully celebrate them. If an incident occurs, most likely your employee will feel bad, disappointed, and embarrassed in themselves about what’s happened. They may outwardly dismiss it to protect their pride, but inside their pride has inevitably been hurt. Their self-worth has taken a hit. They do not need you to put them down, no matter how subtle.

Instead, work with them so they can resolve the cause and take corrective action. Shaming or putting down your employees only has one benefit. It makes you feel good. But for your employee, you’ve just driven them away. They are no longer on your side. They are in work survival mode. Doing what they have to, to be seen doing what’s required. They are now in defensive mode.

Let it go where they feel shamed, and they’re heading straight into an “I don’t give a f***” (IDGAF) state. This can fester where the only thing that will keep them there is either the money or while they hang out for another job. In the meantime, they can become the biggest threat to your business. But chances are you won’t be aware of it. Simply because people are smart enough to be seen to be doing the right thing. Plus, as a manager, you would probably be disconnected from how they feel. If they feel like they’ve been screwed over, they’re in silent payback mode. You now have a potential liability. They are a silent threat to your clients and your business. Why? Because they no longer care. At best they will have enough responsibility and maturity to avoid any threat to your business, but they are no longer motivated to your cause.

Instead, when a mistake occurs, your job is to get their self-worth and confidence back up. Recognize the problem and how they may be feeling and give them the confidence each problem can be resolved. Arrange a time with them as soon as possible after an incident to chat about the issue. Work with them as a coach to help them resolve the issue and seek their input on how to avoid it from repeating.

Importantly, it is not ok to lose your temper as an employer. But if it does, we are human, you should respectfully apologize. Then start working with them as above to resolve the cause and determine the preventive steps.

4) Feedback. The worst type of feedback is no feedback. This can be particularly stressful to new employees or when learning a new task, by being left completely in the dark whether or not expectations are being met.

Negative feedback, often in the form of “I’ll tell you when I need to” can be painful when it is given. But at least it offers some corrective direction.

Positive feedback however can transform. People want to know their efforts are worthwhile. So, recognizing what people are doing right, in the form of positive and constructive feedback, along with ongoing feedback to track their improved progress, reduces stress and anxiety and leads to higher motivation.

Investing the time in supporting an employee to learn a new skill pays both ways. It maximizes your business productivity in the long run while helping your employee more quickly achieve a higher level of job satisfaction.

View your role as a coach supporting the employee to develop the skill. Use the opportunity to ask the employee for feedback, then respectfully interact to share your experience and expectations.

5) Gratitude. Express appreciation for what your people are doing, no matter how small. Give your employees a sense of worth so they know what they are contributing is valued. A key point is, it’s not just the money. And it’s more than the job. It’s the people whom we work with and in particular how we are treated by a manager or employer that makes an employee look forward to coming to work… or desperate to leave.

It’s easy for the big achievers and successes to get all the accolades. But the quiet introverts who do the routine work are just as critical and deserve your recognition. I once set up a recognition system in our workplace where a daily email would prompt people to vote for a fellow employee whom they observed did something positive. It may have been something as simple as the pleasant way they spoke to a client. The employee received an anonymous message noting their feedback. Each month, employees with the highest votes were recognized with a small presentation. It was simple but so extremely effective. We all love being appreciated.

Gifts, bonuses, or perks beyond expectations, along with an expression of appreciation, offer an excellent way to express gratitude and appreciation. Telling someone they are valued for what they do, and as a person, genuinely, is a very powerful work relationship builder. Often, it’s not the value of the gift, but the thought that goes with it.

Above all be genuine. How you are perceived as a manager and leader will only be truly effective if there is a foundation of credibility and trust.


‐ It’s very time-consuming hiring the right people. It’s also an expensive investment. It takes your time to train people and get them familiar and confident with their roles. While they are doing this, it takes time to build their productivity. All this becomes a wasted investment if you can’t retain your employees, permanent, casual, or seasonal.

- Happy staff talk. You want them raving about how good your workplace is. This helps attract other good employees.

- It makes your life easier and less stressful, but more importantly, it makes working with your people so rewarding

- Confidence knowing your business assets and business are being looked after, not quietly sabotaged by an IDGAF employee.

- You get to enjoy greater autonomy knowing that your employee tasks are being well taken care of.

Leading your team of employees by applying these five steps, 1. Social, 2. Respect, 3. Mistakes, 4. Feedback, 5. Gratitude, can create one of the most rewarding opportunities of your life.

I wrote this article based on my personal experience and feelings as a “new” employee while reflecting on my management experience. It was written with the hope that even if just one small tip, it may help you with a more rewarding relationship with your employees. If you have any thoughts or have gained some value from the article, I would very much appreciate your feedback… Sincerely, Chris.

© Chris Herrmann 2023