The story you're about to read is true. The names have been changed to protect the innocent. My purpose for writing this is so that by reading it, people might learn what not to do.
Zoe is the departmental director for a 45-person department. Her employees are highly-trained and regulated. Working two different shifts in three locations, they're responsible for making highly-sophisticated components.
Although for years the department was tightly knit with high morale, it wasn't due to Zoe's leadership; she was known as a task master. It was her department supervisors that kept the gears of teamwork well-oiled.
Scheduling people to cover two shifts at three locations is rather tricky. Fortunately, the locations are within fifteen miles of each other, so if one location is short-handed, it's easy for someone else to be there in just a few minutes.
The first crack in Zoe's dam occurred without notice about three years ago. A supervisor who had been with the company for 20 years came down with a debilitating disease. He eventually took a medical retirement, but during the long ordeal of treatments before that decision was reached, other supervisors had to cover his shift. That was the initial strain.
The rest of the cracks also happened without notice. One of the more competent assemblers transferred to another department. Another got pregnant and left to raise her baby. Still another moved back east to be closer to family.
One-by-one people left, but always for valid reasons. Never was it because they didn't like their work or the work environment.
Zoe correctly viewed these departures as normal attrition, but they were also quite helpful for her. A budget crunch was occurring at the same time, so Zoe saw their departures as "gifts" that prevented her from having to make drastic cuts. She told the department that budgets had tightened, and asked them to "step up" to cover the workload.
Nobody but Zoe was keen on the idea, but the supervisors were dedicated. They believed that going the extra mile would be appreciated by Zoe, and that after the crunch subsided they could get back to normal staffing.
Eventually, most of the employees adopted a similar attitude, but it wasn't long before problems appeared. First was production itself. Fewer people doing the same amount of work placed a lot of stress on everyone.
Then there was scheduling vacations. Many employees had been there long enough to have four weeks of vacation each year. During the first year of their lean staffing levels, a lot of compromising occurred for everyone to get their vacation time.
That was last year. This year scheduling vacations was so difficult that several people couldn't get all the vacation time they had coming – they had to sell it back to the company. "We don't staff for vacations," Zoe said. The workforce was so thin, one person getting sick wreaked havoc with everyone's schedule.
Then came the department's policy on mistakes. All mistakes are documented and put in an employees file. As stress levels rose, quality checks got missed and more people were getting written up.
Zoe's department gradually deteriorated to the point they were barely able to keep up with production. People from other departments were losing respect for them. Morale was at an all time low. About a year ago, department personnel began whispering that they couldn't keep this up much longer.
Then, in an act that shocked many, Zoe hired a consulting firm to analyze her department's efficiency to see how she could save even more money.
Amazingly, one of the firm's findings was that the department was overstaffed – especially the second shift. Turns out they gave one location total credit for work that had been accomplished mostly at the other two locations. They made it look like one location produced a lot while the other two were slacking off.
Their assumption was that all three locations should produce at the same levels – hence the determination that the two "slacking" locations were overstaffed.
Supervisors tried talking to Zoe about it, but she believed the consultants. The final blow came when Zoe announced they would not be hiring any new people; that the department was meeting production goals for almost two years at current staffing levels, and she believed they could continue to do so.
That announcement broke the dam.
That very day, people started openly making plans to leave. Even the supervisors were wondering why Zoe was pinning them to the wall.
In just three short years, sky-high morale shifted to plans for a mass exodus.
Like I said, the story is true. What can you do to prevent turning into a Zoe? If you're a supervisor, what can you do to prevent this kind of tragedy at your workplace?