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You Should Have No Indispensible Employees

In many of my meetings with clients, I have been asked to help them get to a goal that seems a little odd. Once it was trying to implement a health benefits program at a ten-person shop. Another time it was setting up a 401k at a high-turnover retail environment. These are situations that, as a strategic partner, I’m a bit bemused by. They don’t stand to bring much ROI to the business, so I had to ask, why was it a priority?

Most often, the reason for these weird requests is a noxious combination of an employee who wears many hats and the business owner’s realization that they can’t operate the business without them. It’s easy to understand how this happens - the owner takes on many roles as the company gets off the ground, and as it grows, eventually needs to find someone they can trust to help out. When they hire someone with that trust, who does a great job with multiple aspects of the business, and is reliable - that’s worth gold.

Once a little time goes by and the business is doing well, Golden Employee begins to get some experience under their belt, some age, perhaps. They start to think beyond their paycheck, and if they’re keeping your books, they see if you’re doing well. They figure it’s time to offer a nice benefit to your employees, and why not start with the one they want?

This is where I come in and rain on everyone’s parade, and then cancel their parade permit so they can’t even hold it on the rain date. Firstly, you don’t offer a benefit because it’s time, or because it’s nice, or because someone asks for it. You offer it because you will get something in return for it. I know that sounds mean if you’re an employee reading this, but this is business.

But now I become nice, because progressive policies are great for business, too! Offering benefits can improve engagement, retention, wellness and absenteeism, depending on quite a few factors. You should sit with a strategic partner (moi) to discuss your particular workforce situation to determine the right time and mix of benefits to offer.

Returning to cancel that permit, that Golden Employee is a liability. No one employee in your business should be indispensable to you. Let’s leave aside for a moment the inevitability that they will eventually move on from your company. You can sort of plan for that. What if they get hit by a bus? Or win the lottery? Or take a sick day?

I have two suggestions for you here. If this person is truly that golden, train then up to take on a higher role. Make them a partner. Give them a reason to stick with you forever. Does that sound outrageous to you? Then start cross-training a promising employee from another part of the business who can cover for them as a contingency plan.

Time for your feedback! What do you do with Golden Employees? Leave me your comments below.

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