Gratitude and Uncertainty

In August I was asked to speak to a group of UNC freshmen about life. Nothing brings home how far removed you are from your college days than when suddenly you are the expert… In any event, near the end of my talk, a young man raised his hand and asked me, “If you could give one piece of advice to a business owner what would it be?” So many potential answers immediately filled my head, but I finally said, “Treat your employees well, always with respect and dignity.” Not only do I firmly believe it is good business because it makes for more productive workers and means you are less likely to get sued or to get a union campaign, but it is also good humanity.

The uncertainty regarding employer regulation in the coming months will require many employers to put that concept to the test in new ways.

Now that we know we will have a new administration with new priorities starting in January, many concepts we’ve come to accept within employment law are very uncertain. Will the employer-mandate for the ACA go away? Will the new DOL regulations change? What will the NLRB look like a year from now? Will the EEOC’s budget be cut? We can all guess about the answer to each of these questions, but if I have learned anything over the past three weeks, it is that I certainly cannot predict what will happen next. So my guesses will do you no good. However, I want to provide a word of caution about how we respond to changes (some of them welcome by many employers, I know) that may come from the new administration. And conveniently, my word of caution ties right into our upcoming holiday season.

Employers must use caution in reacting to mandates that no longer exist, pay increases that may no longer be necessary, and a less-regulated workplace. Thus, I encourage you to remember these three things when making workplace changes in the coming months.

First, change is hard. Even good change is often met with questions, concerns and a feeling of insecurity.  When making changes, communicate with employees so they understand the reasons for the change. Help them see the benefits for them before making the change.

Second, taking something away has consequences. Even if health insurance or a pay increase are no longer required by the government, taking them away from employees if you have provided them will have significant effects on morale and potentially retention. Don’t react immediately to deregulation. Instead, consider all of your options and the effect the change may have on your employees and their families. If you need to make a change to keep the business viable, explain that to employees so they understand the need for the change.

Third, now that the election is over, whatever your politics, certain groups clearly feel more vulnerable at least for now with the new administration. Be mindful of the insecurity and vulnerability that the divisive tone of this election and the uptick in hate crimes thereafter have caused. Now is a great time to make sure that every member of your workforce feels safe and respected at work.

Perhaps those three points are best summarized in a mantra I use for many situations. For this one, I would say “Treat your employees the way you would like to be treated.” As Thanksgiving and holiday time nears, I encourage you to take the opportunity to let your employees know they are respected and valued. Turn your gratitude toward them. If your employees trust that you are making decisions considering their perspective, changes are always easier to implement.

And finally, speaking of gratitude, for almost a year now, I’ve participated in a practice with a woman I affectionately call “my gratitude buddy.” At least 4 or 5 times a week we text each other one thing we are grateful for during the day. Today and every day I am grateful for all of you, my readers and clients. You place a great deal of trust in this law firm and me in providing counsel to you regarding your most precious assets and in some of the most difficult situations you face in business and in life. On behalf of all of the attorneys and staff of McGuire, Wood & Bissette, we thank you for your business, your trust and your friendship.

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