As with most idioms, “The squeaky wheel gets the grease,” is far too often completely true, especially when it comes to managing employees. This is not a good thing. One reason is people are not wheels. Noise does not necessarily mean there is a problem and quiet certainly doesn’t mean there are no problems.
A Parable for Our Time
I remember a team with which I worked several years ago that was moved to a new building. We were all quite excited. I was finally going to have an office with windows and my employees would all get bigger cubes. The managers who were squeaky wheels managed to get a look at the new area before it was officially open and laid unofficial claim to their areas. This did not affect me as my team was took calls and required a phone room. It did affect a few of my peers. I asked one, who was by far the smartest, hardest manager on the team, why he just stood by while others got asked for the good offices. He said he figured the VP would make the decisions regardless of what we said. As usual the squeaky wheels got their choice and the quiet managers took what was left.
Another difference between wheels and people is that grease usually doesn’t quiet squeaky people. As time went on the squeaky wheels increased their teams far more than the quiet wheels did, they got all the best equipment and managed somehow to get a lot of credit for work other teams did. After a while even the quietest wheels noticed that though they did most of the work and never complained they never seemed to get the thanks or perks the squeaky wheels got. True to their nature they said nothing but one by one they left, leaving the VP with a bunch of squeaky wheels that couldn’t really take him anywhere. I managed to find another department myself.
And the Moral to the Story is
I understood how it happened. The VP wanted a happy office. What he didn’t understand is to have happy office you must employ happy people. Giving the unhappy people everything they want doesn’t work, at least not for very long.
I’m not saying managers shouldn’t get out the grease gun when they hear squeaks. What I’m saying is, listen to what people want. If it is reasonable and will help productivity then make sure all your wheels get the grease and give those with the best results just a little more, otherwise you might find yourself stuck in the muck.
For tips on how to handle problem employees, squeaky and otherwise, check out the Practical IT Manager Gold Series. It’s a great resource.