Big things matter. Ask an employee what he wants from his employer, and you'll likely—and rightly—hear about salary, benefits, and a workplace that is physically and emotionally safe. He probably won't think the little things are worth mentioning, but businesses need to be more aware that small investments in employee relations often have a disproportionately large impact.
Back in the days when long-distance telephone charges were a significant item in a family's budget—I know that for many people that sets the time back in the Civil War, but it wasn't—one of the benefits we enjoyed from Porter's job with AT&T was a $35/month credit for long-distance services. In strict financial terms, it was a pittance, and hardly could have made much of a difference to the bottom line of such a big company, but what it bought in feelings of goodwill toward AT&T on the part of its employees' families made it one of their better investments.
When corporations start feeling a financial pinch, however, those whose job it is to find ways to save money do not always see the whole picture.
I'm currently reading Highest Duty (by Captain Chesley "Sullly" Sullenberger and Jeffrey Zaslow; thanks, DSTB!), the book on which the movie Sully is based. This is not a review, though I will say that so far I'm enjoying the book. But one incident haunts me, unexpectedly.
Captain Sullenberger was a pilot for USAirways, but I've no doubt that with all the financial problems of the industry, other airlines were and are no better. Indeed, the financial story is true for industries across the board, and mirrors the experiences we had with AT&T and IBM. Pilots' salaries were slashed, and their pensions gutted—but that's not what haunts me. It's the peanut butter and jelly sandwich.
Airlines once provided their pilots and flight attendants with free meals on long-haul flights. A small enough service, surely! But that, too, was cut, and Sullenberger began brown-bagging his lunches. Ask a pilot his priorities, and safety, salary, and benefits will top the list. But we should never underestimate the corrosive power of eating a peanut butter and jelly sandwich whilst inhaling the scents of beef tenderloin that waft in from First Class. Providing a few extra meals on long flights would seem a prudent investment in employer-employee relations, with the potential return in good will and good feelings disproportionately high compared with the cost.
I can't change corporate culture, but I wonder: What small investments of our time, money, and attitudes can we, as individuals, make that carry the potential for high return in someone else's life?