The big picture: What goes around comes around

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Bill Gleeson was my first boss. He was classic "old school." Tough, gruff and a hard drinker, Bill was a stickler for getting stories first and getting them right. He also gave me some of the best advice I ever received about being a manager.

Always treat others fairly and as well as possible, he preached. When I asked whether his take on the Golden Rule helped develop employees' abilities or made them more productive, he said he didn't have a clue. But he added that practicing basic decency toward others had probably saved his skin more times than he cared to remember.
"No matter how busy people get, they'll always make time for revenge," was one of his favorite phrases. I must admit that at the time I thought it was a pretty cynical viewpoint. Experience has shown me repeatedly that he knew exactly what he was talking about.
Bill had an innate curiosity about people – and what makes them act as they do. Sadly it's an interest not often seen in leaders today.
Here in the Midwest, there is a nasty management-labor war festering at United Airlines. Like many carriers, United is looking to reduce employee expenses in an effort to undo some extremely unprofitable business decisions that were made in the past. A federal bankruptcy judge recently allowed United to cut 120,000 employee and retiree pensions. The company is now back in court proposing additional cuts to labor contracts for mechanics and baggage handlers.
Needless to say, the rank and file are hardly thrilled. They are upset that management has used the courts to break earlier promises. But what they find especially galling is that United has decided to keep the pension plan in place for top officials.
Certainly the company is in dire fiscal straits, and there are very legitimate actions needed to prune all unnecessary costs. But for members of management to demand concessions from workers that they are unwilling to take upon themselves is not just unfair. It reeks of hypocrisy. I'd caution other troubled carriers to avoid repeating this same mistake. Because the complaining made by offended employees will be but a small part of the overall fallout.
If you plan to fly United in the near future, don't be surprised if the ticket and gate agents seem a bit less pleasant than normal. Or if the in-flight service fails to meet the usual standards. Or if the plane seems to be emitting new, unsettling noises. Or if your luggage gets to the carousel later than normal -- or not at all.
The fact is, these employees are working harder than ever while promises to them are being broken. But no matter how much extra they are asked to do, you can be sure they'll make time for a little payback.
That's worth keeping in mind as you contemplate employee relations at your facility.

John O'Connor is vice president  of McKnight's Long-Term Care News.
john.oconnor@mltcn.com