Knowing Your Employees is more Important than You Think

by Michael Haberman on March 6, 2013 · 9 comments


Failure to know your workers as well as a union organizer may result in a union representing your workers.

Failure to know your workers as well as a union organizer may result in a union representing your workers.

I have written on the importance of knowing your employees beyond their company existence. This means you know the communities the employees live in. This means you know your employees families. This means you know their wants and desires. You may ask “Why do I want to do that?” The answer lies in what I heard from a former union organizer who made it apparent that knowing your employees is more important than you think. Read more here and here.

Why do I want to do that?

The answer to that question is because union organizers do it. Former union organizer Dina Cordiano, now with National Labor Consultants, said that she would spend up to a year getting to know the employees of a targeted company. She would learn this information:

  • Their names and the names of their family members
  • Their favorite places to shop and eat
  • Where their kids went to school and what church they attended
  • What they enjoyed doing
  • Who they were friends with
  • Their wants, desires, aspirations and fears.

She did this because she wanted to be able to promise them whatever they needed or wanted; to play on their fears; to unite them with others or to cause divisions, even amongst friends and family members. Her goal was to strike fear into non-union supporters and to make management make mistakes. The ultimate goal was to win a campaign.

Fewer campaigns, more wins

Cordiano said that a good union organizer knows more about the company and its employees than you do and they know it before you ever know they are there. By the time management hears about it they are deeply seated with your employee group, including by-the-way, with some supervisors and managers. And these tactics are working. Unions today file for fewer campaigns than they used to but they are winning about two-thirds of those campaigns. They are going after smaller groups in hopes that it will lead to larger groups.

Supervisors are the lynchpin

Which member of management is the closest to the employee? Those of us in HR might like to say we are, but the truth is that the line supervisor or line manager is the lynchpin in effective employee relations. That is why training in effective employee relations is absolutely critical. Good employee relations also includes training in knowing the warning signs of union activity. Supervisors, managers, HR and even upper management need people skills because how you deal with people on a day-to-day basis is what makes or breaks a union effort and for that matter any potential lawsuit due to discrimination or lack of “fairness.” As Cordiano said employees are only looking out for what they perceive to be in their best interest. If that best interest is provided by the company union campaigns and lawsuits never have a chance.

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{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

Mary Wright March 6, 2013 at 9:38 am

I think an employee would consider it weird if their boss directly asked them these questions. A union organizer has no such impediment because they start from the position of an assumed employee advocate. The “trick” for an employer is to get to know their employees in an organic, non-invasive manner. That requires the passage of time and a commitment of time from the top down. It takes an effort to overcome the natural reticence inherent in the employer/employee relationship. You have to get to know people pretty well before you hear about their “wants, desires, aspirations and fears.” But, as you point out, well worth it.


Michael Haberman March 6, 2013 at 9:55 am

You are correct Mary, you don’t ask those questions and you don’t do it all at one time. The point was that many managers go through the workday and don’t pay attention to the person, they just pay attention to the worker. And that is a mistake.


Mary Wright March 6, 2013 at 9:59 am



Greg Morris March 7, 2013 at 8:37 am

Seems like I used to run into managers and supervisors who had a very purposeful philosophy of steering clear of their employee’s personal lives as a kind of liability-limitation strategy. That seems to be less common recently, but I still see it from time to time.


Michael Haberman March 7, 2013 at 3:01 pm

Greg M. you are correct, many people have thought it best not to get involved with the personal lifes of employees, just to be on the safe side. Unfortunately that has the effect of duhumanizing them and you.


Greg March 7, 2013 at 8:39 am

Great post Mike. As a labor relations practitioner for several companies I have been able to observe behavior at numerous facilities. The facilities with the lowest risk, on our scale, for organizing were the ones where the supervisors connected with their teams. For example, at shift start up huddles not only would they talk about the days goals and challenges but the supervisor would talk about the things they had heard the employees talking about during previous days, sporting events, community things and so forth. Those supervisors and managers who listen during the day can pick up a wealth of information to relate to employees. Of course the opposite is true as well, you can pick up information and use it negatively and further divide management and labor.


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