86. The Employee Arrangement
How Abraham Lincoln's horrible legacy is a lesson to us all
I sometimes wonder what Abraham Lincoln would think of our world today if he could get a glimpse in.
Keep in mind, this is the man who abolished slavery, he was the first Republican to ever be President, he created the national banking system, he established the Department of Agriculture and created our present income tax system which led to the establishment of the Internal Revenue Service.
Would he like our society? What would he say about the current state of our two party political system? How about our economy? Or the state of farming in the US?
You probably know that, in 1961, John F Kennedy challenged the U.S. to send a man to the moon. You may not know that 99 years earlier (on July 1, 1862), Lincoln challenged the US to build and maintain the first trans-continental railroad line. This was just as groundbreaking at the time. The coast-to-coast railroad would not only allow safer migration to the west, but also have a significant and positive impact on local economies.
In order to accomplish this, Lincoln created the Union Pacific Railroad company.
159 years later, I can pretty much guarantee that Abe definitely would NOT be proud of where Union Pacific Railroad has ended up.
U.P. Goes Down
According to a 2021 study by MoneyWise and Glassdoor, Union Pacific Railroad has the horrifying position of being considered the #1 worst company to work for in the United States. Oof.
Oh, and Union Pacific was also rated the #1 worst company to work for in 2020. And in 2019.
At least they’re consistent, you can say that about them - which might actually be the only positive thing you can say.
There appear to be a whole trainload of issues that Union Pacific Railroad has engineered into their culture.
According to the study, the work-life balance for employees is highly imbalanced, leaning heavily in favor of work and less in favor of life. There are also complaints about limited opportunities for employee growth, questionable ethical standards and little evidence of teamwork.
According to the study, only 12% of Union Pacific employees approve of the CEO and less than 1 in 4 of their employees would recommend the company to a friend. I’d consider that bad.
Abe may not be rolling over in his grave about this, but I’m pretty sure it’s not among the top 5 things that he would want to define his legacy.
It Takes Two Hands to Clap
When we talk about work and job responsibility, we mostly focus our conversations on the employee’s behavior. Is an employee responsible? Are they reliable? Do they get their work done? Do they benefit the company?
This perspective is the equivalent of only one spouse showing up for couples therapy. It doesn’t work.
As the novelist Chinua Achebe said, “If you only hear one side of the story, you have no understanding at all”
Whenever I’m interviewing a perspective job candidate, I always ask them what they think a company owes to it’s employees.
Most people can quickly rattle off what an employee owes to the company, but significantly fewer have an answer for what the company owes to the employees. That’s exactly why I ask it.
The Company’s Side of the Bargain
A job is a financial arrangement. The company agrees to pay you a certain amount of money and, in exchange, you agree to perform certain tasks and adhere to certain behaviors.
It’s easy to outline your responsibility in the arrangement - just rattle off your job description. But what of the company? What is their responsibility in this partnership?
In my opinion, a company’s responsibility to their employees can be summed up in one sentence: give a reason for employees to happily come back to work over and over again.
How can a company give a reason for employees to return every day? There are a variety of ways:
Fairly compensate the employee on a regular schedule and don’t be late
Provide a growth path for each employee
Acknowledge positive behaviors
Treat people with respect
Create a safe, healthy work environment
Encourage a positive life-work balance
Promote team-based problem solving
And I’m sure there are another 20 more, including but not limited to offering an unlimited supply of Pringles.
The company’s responsibilities can vary slightly, but they don’t really vary that much. Human needs are fairly consistent, regardless of whether the company is flying people to Mars or hauling freight on train tracks. The question is how well the company holds up their side of the bargain.
If one party does not live up to their end of the deal, the agreement falls apart.
As employees, we need to hold our companies accountable just as much as we do to ourselves. Similarly, we, as leaders and representatives of our respective companies, need to make sure our organizations are living up to their end of the agreement. Because if the company fails in adhering to what they owe the employees, the employees will fail in what they owe the company. In the end, we all risk ending up like Union Pacific. And nobody in their right mind wants to piss off Abraham Lincoln.
Other Random Things To Know
The Grandpappy of Culture Codes: Netflix’s culture document is recognized and regarded as one of the most important outlines of culture of any large company. If you haven’t seen it, it is here.
10 Marketing KPIs: For you marketing folks, here’s a great piece by MediaTool on 10 important marketing KPIs that you need to be tracking.
Top 3 Potato Chips: Because I mentioned Pringles (which are awesome), I need to make sure my potato chip preferences are clear: 1) Kettle Chips - Sea Salt, 2) Kettle Chips - Jalapeno, 3) Cape Cod Chips. Post your Top 3 in the comments.
Please let me know how you would rate this post on a 5 star scale