Memo to CEOs: Your Employees Just Aren't That Into You

Bob Rosner
February 26, 2009

Bob Rosner

Employee Retention Expert, CNBC Contributor

A few years ago Workplace911 did an online poll. It asked, “Which movie title best describes your relationship with your boss?” Sure, the question was light-hearted, but the results weren’t:

little shopwonderful lifeLittle Shop of Horrors: 20%

It’s a Wonderful Life: 24%

But the #1 movie title describing the relationship between employees and bosses?

House of Games: 56%

To all the bosses out there, I have some bad news. In the “good old days,” your people didn’t like you that much. Given today’s economic meltdown that occurred on your watch, I’m sorry to say, it’s really hit the fan.  

Welcome to “Velcro” management. Where every stupid statement uttered by the former Merrill Lynch CEO John Thain, sticks to YOU. Where every corporate jet sticks to YOU. Where every million dollar bonus payment sticks to YOU. Think about it, who was the enemy in the last movie you saw? Odds are it was a corporate villain. Is it fair? No. But populist anger against you is growing exponentially.

I discovered how angry people are on a recent flight to New York City to appear on OTM. I asked my seatmate if he minded if I practiced some of my observations on him. After doing a riff on the $35,000 executive commode, I paused and asked if I’d gone too far. He said, “NO. That is exactly what I’m feeling and so are most of my friends. Please speak up for all of those of us who don’t have a voice.”

Wretched CEO excess isn’t reserved for just “a few bad apples” anymore; it’s the norm in the eyes of most of the people that I hear from today. I’ve got six words to help any CEO who is ready to lead and wants to really escape being tarnished by other CEOs: “One dollar a year in salary.” Only truly bold action will separate you from the tawdry norm that has become the CEO standard operating procedure.

And you ain’t seen nothing yet. According to a recent Associated Press poll, almost half of us now fear losing our jobs. And almost two-thirds of us are now concerned about being able to pay our bills. And more than seven in 10 of us know someone who has been laid off.

Mr. and Mrs. CEO, it’s time to smell the coffee. This economic mess didn’t happen despite your best efforts. It happened because of them. Same-old-same-old layoffs and lecturing everyone about tightening their belts won’t work anymore. You either need to lead, or you need to leave.

As more of us lose our jobs, I think we’ll start to see this anger spilling out into the suites, and the streets, if for no other reason than people suddenly have time on their hands to make their feelings known and little left to lose. It’s our job to speak out. Start with your next corporate proxy statement. That’s safe and won’t threaten your job. Anonymous blog postings are next. Look for every opportunity to add your voice of displeasure about our current crop of leaders.

However, there is a white knight out there for all of us: Donald Trump. When the peacock and The Donald are done with celebrities, the Apprentice needs to take on CEOs. Imagine the huge ratings as Trump says, “You're Fired!” to executives from the banking and auto industries. The people are ready for someone to say those two magic words that you’re famous for to corporate leaders across the land. You go guy!

Bob Rosner is a best-selling author, award-winning journalist and contributor to CNBC's On The Money. For info on booking Rosner for your next event, visit www.premierespeakers.com/bob_rosner.

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