Sticking Your Neck Out For Employees

by Risa Sherman

Paul Levy of Beth Isreal Deacones Hospital

Paul Levy of Beth Isreal Deaconess Hospital

In today’s Boston Globe, columnist Kevin Cullen wrote about a magnificent move by Beth Israel Hospital CEO Paul Levy. Levy asked higher-wage earning employees to think creatively about how they could collectively shoulder some of the cost-cutting burden to save the jobs of the hospital’s lower-wage earning employees. Levy reported receiving hundreds of emails an hour and his bold request and gesture generated a rousing round of applause from the employees gathered. We think this is leadership at its best, at the time it is needed most.

The fact is, and it’s no surprise, employees all over America are hurting. And we’re not just talking about those who have recently been laid off with the massive cutbacks rippling across corporate and nonprofit America alike.

Those who are thankful to still have jobs are ping-ponging between “survivor guilt” and worrying they will be part of the next round of cuts. Amidst the palpable insecurity, though, there is an undeniable undercurrent of optimism that if we stay strong, demonstrate value to our companies, and focus on short term goals with a long-lens view, that we will survive this…hopefully with our jobs in tact.

As members of cause nation, we collectively recognize that employees are one of the greatest corporate assets and a primary stakeholder to whom we listen and respond.  But when times are such as they are today, we need to reinforce the importance for managers to keep our teams focused and optimistic and to do so with candor steeped in reality. We know there are no promises and no sense of how long it will take to turn this mess around, but committing to an organization-wide spirit of honesty, openness, and respect, especially in the face of layoffs, will speak volumes and go an extraordinarily long way.

Case in point is Adobe Systems which went from number 40 in 2008 to number 11 in 2009 on Fortune’s Best Places to Work list despite, and even due to, their compassionate handling of the layoff of 600 workers late last year. How’d they do it? By training managers in compassionately and respectfully delivering the news and waiting to report it publicly until every laid off employee had been spoken with.

Other companies, like Fidelity Investments and State Street continue to invest in the growth and training of their employees and, at the same time, local community organizations through “skilled-volunteerism engagements.” They pair employees in need of project management and leadership development opportunities with non profits that need these employees’ specialized skills in marketing, technology, and human resources.  With the “marriage” facilitated and managed by Boston-based nonprofit Common Impact, these companies are bolstering their employee base and contributing to the sustainable infrastructure of critical community programs.

Incidentally, we’ll be speaking on a panel along with Common Impact and ARAMARK about the power of skilled volunteerism at the upcoming Cause Marketing Forum Conference in May.

We’re curious about other companies that are taking unconventional approaches to nurturing their employees while cutting costs and trying to gain financial stability.  What are you seeing?

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