You are a Pawn in your CEO's Game

Companies have a number of resources at their disposal: patent resources, real estate resources, IT resources, and of course, human resources.  Any CEO has at least mouthed words to the effect that “people are our most important resource.”

But, every so often, a momentary lapse that some executives regard their employees as being on the same level as their furniture.  We are game pieces on their board.

Take David Siegel, the CEO of Westgate Resorts.  They’re a privately held company that builds timeshares.  He recently sent an email to his employees, telling them in part:

The economy doesn't currently pose a threat to your job. What does threaten your job however, is another 4 years of the same Presidential administration. […] If any new taxes are levied on me, or my company, as our current President plans, I will have no choice but to reduce the size of this company. Rather than grow this company I will be forced to cut back. This means fewer jobs, less benefits and certainly less opportunity for everyone.  So, when you make your decision to vote, ask yourself, which candidate understands the economics of business ownership and who doesn't? Whose policies will endanger your job?

Nice job you've got there… it would be a shame if anything should happen to it…

As employees, we've come to terms with the fact that our boss controls how much we make, when we show up to work and go home, and what we wear.  What kind of God-complex does it take to think that you should also be telling employees how to vote?

(Answer: the same kind of God complex that says you need a 90,000 square foot house)

And, does anyone want to go work for this guy?  Or even continue to work for him? (If you read the rest of his letter, you'll also discover that his employees are lazy and less motivated than him.)

Or take Darden Restaurants, the company that ow

ns Olive Garden, Red Lobster, and Longhorn Steakhouse.  They've identified the loophole in health-care reform: it only applies to employees who work more than 30 hours per week.  So Darden is now publicly experimenting with keeping all of its employees below 30 hours.

So, let’s say you’re the top performing waitress at the Olive Garden.  All of your tables order wine and dessert, and you cover shifts whenever asked.  In other words, you’re a great employee and make Darden a lot of money!  I’m sorry, but at 29.5 hours, you need to go home.  It’s not worth it to us to shell out $5K a year for your insurance; we’ll just have someone less qualified take your tables when you go home.

For a good case study of what happens when you start treating employees as replaceable commodities that don’t need incentives for performance, duck into your nearest Circuit City.

I understand that companies that don’t currently have group health insurance are worried about the costs.  If you regard your employees as a giant cost to be managed, then you’ll threaten their jobs and cut their hours.  Eventually, your employees will give you a level of performance consistent with that amount of respect.  But there are better, more employee-centered ways of approaching it.  Papa John’s Pizza was less willing to throw their employees under the bus.  Instead, they've announced that healthcare reform will mean an extra $0.15 cost to their pizzas.  I think we’ll be OK with that.

Our job as Human Resources professionals is to help get the best possible performance and results out of the humans who are our company’s resources.  That’s going to be much harder to do when your employees discover that corporate management’s overall distaste for them.  We human resources like to think that management sees us as more than chess pieces to be moved around and directed.


FOT Background Check

Steve Gifford
Steve Gifford, MBA, SPHR, is the Director of Human Resources for OEM America, a PEO of more than a hundred companies and more than two thousand employees. His company gives small businesses the buying power and HR expertise of a big company, but without the bureaucracy! In the past, he’s been the HR guy for marketing, manufacturing, retail, and government organizations. His first HR job was in the US Army during his second tour in Iraq, where every employee in his client group carried an automatic weapon. It helps him keep the problems of employees who show up to work late in perspective.


  1. D2 says:

    I enjoyed the articles, Steve. Its a breathe of fresh air to have an article that talks of the problem and also shows practical solutions, real world solutions and not a puffery of ideals.

  2. Josh Tolan says:

    This is a great article! When companies see their employees as commodities, workers in turn are less motivated, productive, and happy. After all who wants to work for a company that sees them as a chess piece? Companies should instead be sure to look at the actual human being coming into the office, whether it’s implementing an employee appreciation day or just getting more personal in the hiring process through video interviews. People are not commodities and companies that treat them this way will be the ones losing out.

  3. Scott Beck says:

    This article has several flaws. The main flaw is yes the price of pizza may go up 15 cents, but think of everything you buy going up 15 cents or more to cover the cost. Healthcare reform has not proven to decrease costs for people, actually it may raise the cost. I do not understand how the government can have a Health care plan that is supposed to decrease cost have taxes associated with medical devices. Yes, if you need a medical device such as a instrument for chemo thearpy–guess what it will be taxed. So, how is this decreasing the cost of Health care? Moreover, insurance companies are going to get their cut by raising costs, doctors will be pressured to decrease costs (and many will decide to go out of business). While the people of the United States of America will end up paying more! Has anyone, especially new patients, tried to get into a Medicare provider lately? As a Vice President of Human Resources, I struggle everyday in trying to balance the best interest of my employees, the company’s abilityto remain in business, and the government’s regulations so that our employees will have a strong, stable future and a “healthy” paycheck.

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