BUSINESS
12/21/2015 03:50 pm ET Updated Dec 21, 2016

Are You Treating Your Employees Like People Or Processes

Stephen Covey, business author and successful entrepreneur, has said that businesses must "always treat your employees exactly as you want them to treat your best customers."

If we accept that this is true, that treating employees well drives great businesses forward, then it's crucial that we hold ourselves accountable for how our employees are treated. There are many moments in every day when we make choices to treat our employees like people or like replaceable cogs. By making sure that our employees feel like people at work, we increase their engagement and involvement in the workplace.

Let's look at some simple ways to make sure we're treating our employees well.

Simple, human policies win the day

When you're looking at the employee handbook, what do you see? Is it a laundry list of things that your employees shouldn't do at work, or it is a simple guideline for your expectations of the workplace? Employees don't like to feel like children.

Too often, employee handbooks read like legal documents, listing out hem lengths, pocket requirements, and prechosen acceptable email subjects. Ask yourself: if you can't trust your employees to be professional, why did you hire them in the first place?

To keep your policies reader-friendly, focus them on what you want to see, not what you want to avoid. Say: Our expectation is that all employees are dressed appropriately and safely for work, in a way that contributes to a professional environment. Say: To foster a collaborative and people-positive environment, we ask that everyone monitor their speech and use inclusive, appropriate language at all times in the workplace, including breakrooms.

Discipline people, not protocols
Even the best employee occasionally gets something wrong. As a good manager, of course you need to sit down with that employee and educate, retrain, or revisit the policies and protocols that were missed, which led to the error.

Before you sit down for this conversation, ask yourself: How serious was the mistake? What were the consequences, or what could they have been? How should the employee have handled the issue? Put yourself in the employee's shoes, and see if you can understand how the mistake was made.

When you sit down with them, approach them from this human, understanding perspective and be a person that is open to changes. Sometimes, managers are concerned that if they don't come down hard on the employee, they will be taken advantage of. If you really believe that about your people, again, you need to reconsider the decision to hire them.

To make sure that your response to a mistake is appropriate, ask yourself: How would I feel in this situation, if I were the one being disciplined? After your meeting with the employee, ask yourself: Does the employee know how to handle this situation the next time it arises? Have I done everything I can to communicate my expectations to them?

Appreciate the work your employees do
One of the most frustrating jobs I ever held was one where I was a salaried employee. I regularly got into work an hour early, and often stayed as much as half an hour after my team had gone home. I provided support to other team members during that time, completed work that was hard to do later in the day, and generally did my job. I didn't ask for comp time; it was a salaried position, and it was my expectation that I'd do so.

And then a medical situation arose for me, and I needed to be out of the office for an hour every week. Even though I was regularly working 50 hours weeks, I was expected to "pay" for that hour out of my vacation time.

When companies take back frequent flyer miles, nickel-and-dime salary employees for appointments or small schedule shifts, or refuse to thank employees for the extra work they put in, they leave themselves open to resentment from the same employees that they rely on to get the work done and keep the company looking its best. This type of ruthless policies will kill a business in a hurry and leave a reputation of being a place of immorality.

Stephen Covey said it right when he suggested that employees should be treated the same way we want our very best customers to be treated. With every employee policy, it pays to ask yourself:

• How would I feel if this policy were applied to me?
• Does this policy respect the fact that my employees have lives outside of work?
• Has this policy received fair and balanced criticism from those it will most directly affect? Has that feedback been considered by those putting it in place?

Treating employees as people isn't hard, and the positive benefits for companies that get it right are huge. Engaged employees are more productive, contribute more to the bottom line, and generally create a more satisfied, exciting work environment. As the work environment becomes more positive, you gain the ability to recruit more engaged, excited, awesome employees.

Start by treating the employees you have as human beings, and watch just how far your company will climb!