I recently had occasion to read the script of “The Matchmaker,” the very droll play by Thornton Wilder from which the musical “Hello, Dolly” was created. And I was surprised to find a great passage that speaks to every employer who will listen.
Here’s the setup: Malachi Stack, a wandering rogue who never sticks with one job for very long, has just been hired by the play’s leading man, a penny-pinching merchant from Yonkers, NY. He’s in New York City doing a sort of muscle job for the merchant, and he’s begun a conversation with the driver of a horse-drawn cab:
MALACHI: I can see you’re in business for yourself because you talk about liking employers. No one’s liked an employer since business began. No sir. I suppose you think your horse likes you?
CABMAN: My old Clementine? She’d give her right feet for me.
MALACHI: That’s what all employers think. You imagine it. The streets of New York are full of cab horses winking at one another. I’ve had about 50 employers in my life and this one is the most employer of all. He talks to everybody as if he were paying them.
CABMAN: I had an employer once. He watched me from 8 in the morning until 6 at night – just sat there and watched me. Even my mother didn’t think I was as interesting as all that.
MALACHI: Yes, being employed is like being loved. You know that somebody is thinking about you the whole time.
A wakeup call
I don’t want to suggest that no employee has ever liked an employer, but this trenchant exchange ought to remind managers that they’ve got an uphill battle on their hands if they want employees to trust and respect them.
You may be eminently trustworthy and respectable, but you’re probably dealing with a fair number of employees who have had encounters with managers who aren’t, and whose view of managerial authority has become, shall we say, somewhat tarnished. And even the newest, brightest, least jaded employee will occasionally wonder whether you’re pushing an agenda.
The passage from the play ought to remind employers, as well, that if you’re suspicious about your employees’ commitment to the enterprise, they can feel it. And even if they joke about it, they don’t like it.
So if you want your employees to really engage with the work, and be willing to go above and beyond the call when necessary, you need to make them feel that you believe in them. You can’t do that by “thinking about them the whole time.” Despite what Malachi says, that ain’t love!
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