ROANOKE, Va. — As I write this article, the world is still in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

The one thing I am sure of is that at some point this problem will pass. An effective cure will be developed, and a vaccine will eventually be available to eliminate this problem. It will then be a time for reflection and a time to celebrate.

I learned many years ago in Memphis, Tennessee, that if the goal is to make as many employees as possible happy, and you have a choice between several different activities, the best way to make your decision is to ask the employees.

This may seem to be obvious, but in the day-to-day world of a busy manager, which activity to choose to do seems like a small and trivial decision. Surely this is a decision that can be made quickly and easily. This is the trap so many managers fall into.

The event that sparked this life lesson was the annual summer picnic put on by the three-hospital system I worked for in Memphis. Food and beverage would be made available at each hospital for a period of time on a designated day. Each hospital had its own day and since the laundry was an off-site operation, we were able to choose which facility we would attend.

The laundry was equally located between the main hospital (700 beds at the time) and the North hospital (175 beds at the time). Travel time to each location would be about the same. Crowd size would be much smaller at the North hospital than the main hospital. The laundry had been located at the main hospital for many years before it moved to its new location.

My logical manager’s mind said that the ease of getting the food and participating in the corporate activities at the North hospital was the logical decision, and so when I met with my management team, I proposed that we plan on using that location.

My supervisors voiced concern that the employees might not like that decision. I was reminded that the purpose of this event was to increase employee morale and to thank them for their hard work.

I agreed to survey the crew giving them the choice of all three locations and predicted that my choice would be the one the employees would select. This was the first of many such predictions I would make about employee preferences, and I am proud to admit that I have never been correct.

When the votes can back in, it was an overwhelming decision to go to the main hospital.

When I asked several employees why they chose that location, they all said that the chance to meet up with friends from other departments they had known for years was the most important factor in their decision.

From that point on I learned that my point of view and my thought process was not always compatible with my line staff—that if I wanted to know what they thought or worried about I would have to ask.

In our busy life as managers we are trained to deal with a decision as quickly as possible and move on to the next task. In the case of employee relations, we must learn to slow down and ask our employees what they want.

I encourage you as we come out of this current crisis and decide it is time to celebrate our efforts and success be sure to find out what your employees think would be appropriate for that celebration.