When I was recently teaching a night class at Upper Iowa University, a student of mine mentioned that her boss told her that she didn’t want to hear my student’s idea to improve a procedure in the department because she was “just a clerk!” I was amazed. I actually had to do a double take. Do senior leaders actually exist that have that backward or a thought process? This student is bright, articulate, hard working and incredibly dedicated to the organization. Now, she is also hurt, angry and far less willing to bring up ideas because of a comment like that.
Any leader that makes a comment like this should themselves be fired for gross stupidity! If most of you are like me, I realize as a former HR Director that “the clerks” are usually the glue that holds an organization together. Without them, the place would probably grind to a halt in very short order. They know where everything is, who to call, and how things truly get done. From personal experience, these people saved my bacon more times than I care to admit.
Instead of comments like this senior leader made, you need to treat these “clerks” like gold because they are worth their weight in gold. Not only is it a matter of simple respect, it’s good business! When I probed further, it came out that this leader has lost, or driven out, over 50% of their staff in the past two years. The cost to the organization of replacing those people, projects that were delayed, tasks that were not completed or opportunities that were missed has cost the organization thousands of dollars.
As an employee retention expert, I can tell you comments like this spread throughout the organization like wildfire and it becomes a mantra for all of the people and not just the clerks. “You’re just a clerk” You’re just a clerk.” It’s repeated in the halls, in the bathrooms, in the lunchroom. People talk. It’s repeated everywhere in the organization by the very people who are instrumental in helping drive the success of the organization; the “clerks.” Resentment builds and the organization is soon looked at in disdain by their people. One comment like that by a key leader can have that type of impact. What happens then is that people start listening and watching for better places to work and applying or putting their resume up on Indeed.com or other job sites. Once that happens, the organization will begin to hemorrhage talent.
In the meantime, my student will do her job, and probably a bit more because that’s the type of person she is, work on her degree and then leave as soon as the right opportunity comes along. Ultimately, she will go to an organization with a leader that appreciates her contributions and sees her as an important part of the organization’s success because…she’s not “just a clerk.”
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