On The Level
April 1, 2007
Not only is surveying a small business occupation, it is one in which there is a migration of employees from firm to firm. Some surveyor/proprietors are well aware of this fact as they continue to search for qualified personnel.
The question is: Why are there so many apparent “journeymen” surveyors? Why do some employers experience so much personnel turnover in our business? Many have thought it is because of a fierce competition among employers, or because of pay issues, or because of constantly changing opportunities in our business. We have been surprised to learn from studies published in recent years that job satisfaction is the single greatest motivation for employees--even above salary satisfaction.
Now, a new study scheduled for publication in the Fall 2007 issue of The Leadership Quarterly, a premier leadership journal, offers more focused attention on the issue of job satisfaction. Wayne Hochwarter, associate professor in the College of Business at Florida State University (FSU), has found that “employees don’t leave their job or company, they leave their boss.” In other words, it is the relationship between employees and their supervisors that determines job satisfaction for many workers.
The FSU study examines than 700 people working in a variety of job situations and includes some startling findings. Almost 40 percent of workers reported that their supervisors failed to keep their promises and failed to give credit when due. Nearly a third of the workers claimed their supervisors bad-mouthed them to other members of the company, and nearly a quarter of workers said their supervisors blamed others to cover their own mistakes in order to avoid embarrassment.
It is easy to see how all this translates to a surveying company, even a small company of a dozen or fewer employees. (Note that the emphasis is on supervisors, not necessarily employers.) A typical small surveying company consists of a licensed land surveyor/proprietor with two or three field crews and someone acting as office manager who schedules daily crew assignments. As a result, a field technician may be two positions removed from the employer and be less than happy with the crew chief or the office manager. Perhaps when things go wrong in the field, the chief has a tendency to blame the technician. Perhaps the field crew personnel are unhappy with the office manager who tends to give the “monkey work” to certain crews while assigning the best jobs or tasks to a favorite crew. Perhaps workers are not regularly given credit for their extra efforts, like when they stay at a jobsite for an extra hour on a Friday afternoon to finish a project, or when they exceed expectations in the performance of their work (in which case the office manager takes the credit). Distrust, poor morale and “attitude” are often the result, and the employer may never understand why her people don’t put in that extra effort to perform, clean equipment at the end of the day or volunteer for weekend work. There are many symptoms of employee dissatisfaction and the ultimate expression comes when a good worker goes somewhere else--perhaps to work for a competitor (sometimes at approximately the same pay scale).
Given the fact that much of this unhappiness is taking place out of the view of the employer, what should the surveyor/proprietor do to identify the source(s) of discontent? What should she do to discover that there is justifiable discontent among some or all of her employees? Human resources specialists (the people we used to know as the personnel department) stress the importance of the annual employee review, a vital component of management. But the annual review may occur too infrequently to catch a bad situation in time to save a valued employee. And if the annual review is conducted, not by the employer/proprietor but by each employee’s direct supervisor, the employer may never know what’s going on in her own company.
The answer, of course, is for the employer to be close to all the people working for her. It is true that the beleaguered surveyor is probably working a 60- or 70-hour week making decisions, writing reports, checking the books and marketing services, and would prefer to leave daily personnel management to the manager. But that’s the way it goes for an owner of a small surveying business: there are few short cuts. Needless to say, the employer herself must avoid creating those same conditions leading to employee distress. Nearly a third of respondents in the FSU study claimed that their supervisors gave them the “silent treatment.” Intelligent workers (do we employ any other kind?) want to know what is going on in the company. Field technicians want to know what the prospects for work are this winter; they want to understand why pay rates are limited; they want to know that their efforts are appreciated and that their work is good (assuming it is). They also want to know who their employer is, what her values and ethics are, and what her business philosophy is. If the surveyor/proprietor is a person of advanced years, key employees will also want to know what opportunities they may have in an ownership succession plan (if there is one).
An employer wants to keep her best people, and having a reasonably good head for business, knows there are limitations on how much she can pay her employees. But perhaps she recognizes only the pay issue as the major cause of employee dissatisfaction. Perhaps she should examine other elements of her own office culture to discover why some of her best people leave for better opportunities. It may not be the climate or the location, or the salary or the company; it may simply be the boss.