My girlfriend’s little sister is moving home, to Tuscaloosa, Alabama, from “The Beach,” which is the generic term Alabamians apply to the entire Gulf Coast region – which Jimmy Bufffet also calls “The North Shore of the Caribbean.”
Although she doesn’t work in trucking, I think the reason she’s moving back home is an instructive one, given today’s growing economy and the tight labor market we’re in.
The Gulf Coast has a strong pull on folks. It’s not quite paradise. But it’s pretty darn close – especially for Alabama. And a lot of people pull up stakes and move down there. The economy bustles most of the year. Jobs are plentiful. And hey – you live at the beach! How bad can that be?
Well, as it turns out, visiting the beach and living at the beach are two very different things.
For starters, there are a lot of jobs down there. But most of them are menial in nature – cleaning up condos, waiting on tables, that sort of thing.
The second problem is that because it’s a tourist destination, the beach is expensive. Very expensive, in fact. And so the reality for most folks who move down there is that they end up working all the time to make ends meet and never have time to go to the beach – which was the whole point of moving down there in the first place.
As it happened, Susan, my girlfriend’s sister, has a pretty decent job down there. She is (for a few more weeks, anyway) the estimator and bidder for a small construction company. They posted record numbers last year – and Susan deserves a lot of credit for that success.
But, late last year, the owner of the company made a mistake – although he doesn’t know it yet.
Christmas rolled around, and for her yearly bonus, Susan got a knock-off Yeti cooler. A small one. When the new year rolled around, the owner pulled up to work in a brand-new Ford Super Duty pickup. A few days later, when the weather was clear, he wheeled in on his new Harley.
And that was the final straw for Susan. “It was a slap in the face, after all I’ve done for him,” she told her sister. She started reviewing her options that very night. In a few more weeks, the guy who owns that small construction company is going to be trying to find someone to replace Susan and her 12 years’ experience in that position.
Don't Make This Mistake With Your Employees
In our culture today, we give a lot of deference to the “job creators” out there. And we should. People who take risks and go into business for themselves absolutely deserve to reap the rewards of their hard work.
But, as we’re seeing here with Susan, the optics on this can be tricky. Because no matter how big a risk someone takes going out on a limb and starting a business, the truth is that very few people get rich and find success all by themselves.
This is particularly true for trucking fleets both big and small. Good help is invaluable. And, given the way this job market seems to be heating up, talent and experience are quickly becoming highly marketable commodities in the labor pool today. I don’t know how much money Susan’s soon-to-be-ex-boss is going to have to spend to fill her position once she’s gone. And I don’t know how much of a hit his 2018 bottom line is going to take because he’s losing her. But I’m willing to bet it’s going to be a hell of a lot more than a $150 knock-off cooler. Hopefully he won’t have to sell his new truck or motorcycle because of all this. (I’m being sarcastic here, just so you know.)
Susan wasn’t expecting a Super Duty or Harley of her own. But she works long, hard hours for this company. She’s watched first-hand as it has grown from a struggling start-up to a highly profitable enterprise. And she’s been a key part of the that growth. But now she’s had enough. Her house is on the market, and – not surprisingly – she already has a couple of companies that want to see about hiring her in Tuscaloosa. So I don’t think this guy down at the beach is going to be able to walk this back.
Admittedly, this can be a tough dynamic to get right. And I don’t have any Golden Rule to give you on how to handle this sort of thing, other than to tell you that optics matter. So does context.
I don’t know anyone who begrudges someone who took risks, worked hard and wants to reward themselves for doing so. But if you don’t take care of the people who helped you get to that level of success – whether it's drivers, technicians, salespeople, dispatchers, the chief of maintenance or office staff – you might suddenly find your hard-earned success slipping away with surprising suddenness.