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By Terry Wall

“A monkey could do your job.”

A boss actually told me that once. It was a part-time job I had while I was in college, and the boss was a couple levels above me. But that’s what he told me. Without any pretense, or apology, or any attempt to water it down, he just said it: “A monkey could do your job.”

My job was to call people on the phone, tell them that their credit cards had been canceled, and ask them to cut up their cards and mail them to us. And most of the people did just that.

Seven or eight of us did this during the evenings and on Saturdays. We represented all the major oil companies, and Mastercard, and Visa. And we called people all across the country.

You had to be good on the phone, able to put up with a lot of abuse, and willing to listen to some pretty crazy stories.

But according to this high-up guy in the company, “A monkey could do your job.”

His name was Al, but behind his back people called him “Smooth Al,” because he could be pretty smooth when he wanted to. He was complaining to me about what a bunch of jerks worked here. He said they were all, present company excluded, a bunch of lazy jerks.

I disagreed, and said they’d probably work harder if he treated them with more respect. Al was notorious for treating the employees with utter disdain. (Except for the young, pretty women employees, with whom he constantly flirted. With them, Smooth Al was at his smoothest.)

Smooth Al said, “Terry, you’re just giving me a lot of psychology nonsense you’re learning in college. The truth is, a monkey could do your job. So don’t talk to me about respect.”

I think of Smooth Al whenever I hear managers complain about employees as being lazy, or incompetent. True, some employees ARE lazy or incompetent, but I really believe they represent a tiny minority.

Other employees are not lazy, but receive such disrespect from their managers, that those employees just don’t work as hard as they should. And the fault for this is shared by the managers.

When managers regard employees in general as being lazy, or incompetent, or as malcontents, or as people whose jobs are so simple that “a monkey could do it,” this attitude comes across in those managers’ actions, words, and facial expressions.

And employees are smart enough to recognize this, even when the managers, like Smooth Al, talk a good game. Treat the employees with enough disrespect, and you shouldn’t be surprised when they don’t perform that well.

Managers get the kind of employees they deserve. Treat them with disdain, and they’ll perform poorly. Treat them with respect, as individuals, and they’ll be engaged in their work, committed to company goals, and more productive in what they do.

But employees will see through all the fluff. Even when a manager talks a good game in public, employees can see the manager’s real attitude.

It was the same with Smooth Al. One time he was taking some prospective clients on a tour of the office, and when they got to my desk, Smooth Al paid me a very nice compliment.

That was the “public” Smooth Al. Underneath, I knew he thought a monkey could do my job. And other employees knew he felt that way, even if he never told them. As someone once said, “Your attitude is showing.”

A leader’s attitude is always showing. We as leaders need to recognize that. Even if there’s only one employee we don’t like, or don’t respect, that attitude will come across to that employee.

As leaders we need to look at our attitudes toward employees in general, and as individuals, and remember that employees can read our attitudes. What is your attitude showing? Does it show a genuine respect for the employees? If a monkey could do their jobs, what do they need you for?

Terry Wall is owner of T.G. Wall Management Consulting of Washington Township.