Line of Questions.jpgThe Detroit Free Press released its fifth annual Top Workplaces to Work finalists of Metro Detroit employers. Congratulations to all the 2012 finalists.

One point that jumps out from the results of the employee surveys submitted (my understanding is that these surveys are submitted anonymously) is the critical value employees placed on cultivating a meaningful “connection” between them and their company. Specifically, employees placed high value on feeling appreciated at work and confident about their future. They also value work that makes them feel like part of something meaningful.   

It is noteworthy that these concerns received higher priority by employees than pay and benefits, managers, and work expectations. 

Based on my employment law and trial experience, however, these results are not entirely surprising. Even in bitter litigation where one side is fighting “tooth and nail” for monetary damages, it is common for a scorned former employee to simply want to “tell their story” about being mistreated at the hands of management. And it is equally common defending such claims – with all the benefit of hindsight – to see at any number of points how a particular lawsuit could have been avoided or, at least, the chance minimized if some degree of common sense or attempt to meaningfully resolve an issue by management.

In this regard, one of the best business books I’ve read was by written by Ari Weinzweig of the Zingerman’s family of restaurants in Ann Arbor. In it, Mr. Weinzweig included his view on the proper management of employee relations:  

Here at Zingerman’s we’ve always taken the approach that we were going to treat people who choose to work with us as if they were volunteers … Ultimately people want to feel that their work makes a positive difference, that their extra efforts are noticed; that they can improve the quality of their lives and the lives of those around them through their work … If you want the staff to give great service to customers, the leaders have to give great service to the staff.

A Lapsed Anarchist’s Approach to Building a Great Business. It is apparent to anyone that has been to any of the Zingerman’s restaurants that the business practices what it preaches.  

I’m not naive enough to walk away completely from an employment law and litigation mantra of “planning for the worst, while hoping for the best.” But as employers and employees head into the Holiday season, especially Thanksgiving, adding Mr. Weinzweig’s approach to employee relations to your employee relations toolbox might be a good thing for the bottom line and for managing employment law risks in the long term.