ROANOKE, Va. — Have you ever wondered what your employees think of management? Do you think they are impressed by your educational certificates and degrees, or do they think you lack common sense and the ability to properly lead your operation? 

Top management puts a very high importance on a college degree, but line employees feel that common sense and learning the business from the bottom up is more important. 

If you are going to be a leader in your operation, you must command the respect of your employees and be able to effectively direct them to get the job done. What impresses top management will not help you with your line employees. 

If you want to understand your employees’ needs, then you must be prepared to talk to them about their needs in an environment that is comfortable for them. Do not call them into your office and ask them questions; under those circumstances, they will not tell you what you need to know. 

The best way to learn about a job in your laundry is to do it for a day. The best way to get to know what an employee or group of employees think is to work with them for at least a day, but a week is better. 

Always tell them the truth when you are talking to them. When you have to quote the company line, tell them the company has told you to tell them this or that. 

Many rumors float through a laundry every day. Some are work related, some are simply gossip. The employees deserve to know the truth about work-related rumors, and this information needs to come directly from you. If you have taken the time to get to know your employees and they trust you to tell the truth, many problems can be avoided. 

In my current part-time job, the drivers believe that the company requirement for a college degree in order to be a manager is ridiculous. What does a college degree teach a person about moving cars in the summer heat from point A to point B? Where in their college education did they learn how to clean and detail a car? And most of the managers are clueless as to how to relate to or motivate a part-time staff composed mainly of retired workers. 

Many of my fellow drivers were managers in their regular careers but now enjoy working 20 hours a week and earning some extra money. The fellowship with the other drivers and the ability to get out of the house and do something different is what is most important to them.

During my 44 years in the laundry industry, I always believed that the ability of the staff to work together to achieve a common goal made the work satisfying. The laundry had a weekly rhythm to it, and an experienced employee knew where we needed to be on any given day. They knew if we were ahead or behind and they often looked to management for confirmation. 

Perhaps they were testing management. If we were behind and the production manager or the director said we were exactly where we needed to be, then they quickly decided we were not smart enough to understand the laundry business. 

When management made their job harder to do while telling them the change was to increase production, they just shook their heads. They would tell themselves there was no sense trying to help them run the laundry, they are too stupid to understand the basics of production. A laundry expert is someone who does the same job day after day. Serious improvement in procedures or product quality will more likely come from them than from a college degree manager. 

So, I encourage you to take the time to develop an excellent working relationship with your employees. Your first step will be to walk through your entire laundry upon arrival and say good morning to each and every employee. Take the time and show interest in their work by spending time working in each area of the laundry. 

Always tell your employees the truth and never ever assume you know what they want. Always ask them if there is a choice to be made between two equally good outcomes. I learned this early on by writing down on a piece of paper what I thought the employees would choose and then asking them and comparing their answer with mine. I was wrong about 75% of the time. 

One way to evaluate the quality of your communications is to watch your employee turnover rate. The higher the turnover, the poorer the communication. 

Building good communications is not a program that can be started and then set aside because something else has come up. Effective communication that meets the needs of employees is an ongoing need that must be constantly worked on.