ROANOKE, Va. — As a youth, I played a number of team sports. I found that we succeeded the most when the players worked well together as a team. Individual talent was important, but team spirit and unity were the most important factors. I carried this lesson into my career as a laundry manager.
Early on, I tended to downplay my role in the organization. I always thought my employees were looking to the corporate leaders or my immediate boss as the key representative of the company.
During my time in Milwaukee, Aurora Health Care did a number of surveys of their employees. These surveys gave me great insight into my employees, and the lessons I learned stayed with me for the rest of my working career.
The first lesson I learned was that when asked questions about leadership or those in charge of the direction of the healthcare company, they only focused on my performance. I was the top level of management. This lesson made me realize how important it was for me to personally keep my employees informed on everything that was going on, not only in the laundry, but also with other developments in the corporation.
The second major lesson I learned from the surveys was the reluctance of my employees to ask questions of management. They wanted to be informed and kept abreast of important developments but would never ask questions. This reluctance to ask questions was a part of their natural fear of authority.
I had always told my employees that I had an open-door policy, but this policy did not meet my employees’ needs. The door to my office was an insurmountable barrier to the majority of my staff. So, I looked for ways to find opportunities to improve communication with my employees.
I started eating lunch at the same time and place where my employees ate their lunch. I would talk to the employees about the weather or local upcoming events. I felt the need to break down that unnecessary barrier between my employees and me.
I made a habit of walking through the laundry every morning and saying good morning to the staff. I could tell from their broad smiles that they really appreciated the gesture.
Every summer I would personally cook the majority of the hot dogs and hamburgers served to the employees on Employee Appreciation Day. I tried to build a strong relationship with my staff.
When winter came and the snow made driving hazardous, my staff would show up for work because they knew they were an essential part of a healthcare team. I made sure to thank each and every employee for their efforts. My official policy was to forgive tardiness on snow days, but only under the worst of conditions would I forgive absences.
As the years went by, I was convinced that the respect I showed to my employees, the open and honest communication, resulted in a lower turnover rate and a more productive staff. Each laundry employee felt like they were an essential member of a team.