Do nice guys really finish first?

Yesterday morning, I tweeted a thought-provoking article by Travis Bradberry in Forbes on “Why Your Boss Lacks Emotional Intelligence.” According to the article (and no big surprise), a study found that people in higher management and executive level positions have less emotional intelligence than lower-level managers because in those upper-level positions, “warm and fuzzy” isn’t what is being sought.

The managers with the highest EQs were the middle managers and frontline supervisors, who were often promoted precisely because they were good with people. Even “individual contributors” (who I always thought were in their positions because they were talented but lacked people skills) had significantly better EQs than the executives.

(I couldn’t tell whether HR people were included in the study. They weren’t listed as a separate category, but they may have been combined with the other categories.)

But even though the honchos had lower EQs, the article says, the few who did have high EQs tended to be more successful* in their jobs. So, I guess, if you have a high EQ, it may be harder for you to climb the ladder, but if you get there, you should do great. Very interesting!

All of which got me thinking, along with this debate we’ve been having about whether an employer should aggressively fight all unemployment claims, about the importance of employees’ feelings. Years ago, I spoke at a conference with an EEOC director, who said that most charges had no true legal merit but that many were filed because the employees felt they weren’t treated right by their employers. I’ve heard the same thing from a number of plaintiffs’ attorneys.

Employee surveys back up the importance of treating employees with dignity. Surveys show that, at least past a certain minimal level, money is not the main reason that people love or hate their jobs. Oh, sure, nobody is going to say no to money, but what really keeps people coming to work every day and not wanting to quit, or to file EEOC charges, or to sue, or to sabotage the employer’s computer system, or to bad-mouth the employer on glassdoor.com, is less tangible (and more affordable).

Here are a few things that employees say they appreciate:

Fairness. No favoritism. No selective enforcement. No discrimination. No retaliation. Employers can be tough and have high standards (within reason), as long as the same standards apply to everybody. Minor variations to fit the individual situation are fine, and will even be appreciated.

Communication. Let them know what’s going on in the company, and give them the opportunity to let you know what’s going on with them. Make sure they feel that they can share concerns and get an answer, even though the answer may sometimes have to be “no.” (And when the answer is “no,” be sure you explain why. Respectfully.)

Flexibility. This will vary depending on the nature of the job and your business, but to the extent that you can, be flexible and accommodating to child care, school schedules, illnesses, other family needs, and personal interests.

Being seen as human beings. If they’re having personal problems, do you care? Do you even know? If you’re freaking out about how the work will get done while your right-hand man takes two weeks off to get his sick mother adjusted to her new nursing home, try to focus on what he and his mom must be going through. (You can scream about the backlog of work when you get home at night.)

Being appreciated and being given the tools they need to do their jobs well. This demonstrates respect and shows that you consider your employees and their work important.

Job security and loyalty of company to employees. Sad to say, job security and employer loyalty to employees are disappearing. Before the economy took a dive in 2008, employee loyalty to employers had also declined, especially among younger people. (I perceive that employees are more “loyal” since 2008, if only because they have fewer options.) But do the best you can, and it may help you save some good people if the economy ever picks up.

OK, and then money and opportunities for advancement. Team-building activities — staff retreats, Cinco de Mayo day, jeans day, casual Fridays– didn’t even make the list.

So be the warmest and fuzziest employer you can be, given the nature and demands of your business, the size of your work force, and your environment. Treat your employees as human beings rather than as “means to an end.” Be fair and reasonably competitive with pay, but don’t worry if you can’t afford to pay top rates. If you take care of these intangibles, you will probably have the best work force you could hope for and will minimize your risk of turnover and litigation.

Old Irish Blessing: May all your employment lawsuits be frivolous ones.    :-)