There are a lot of topics that I tackle when I speak with people every day, and the theme that comes up again and again is the concept of human dignity at work. I speak with a lot of people who are just about to quit or have just quit their jobs. No surprise there; that’s precisely when most people connect with a recruiter. The reasons why people leave jobs are as unique as the people themselves. One person recently shared a reason that really stuck out for me, and I wanted to share it with you.

The conference delegate

The company they (now formerly) worked for was sending them to a conference. Sounds like a great opportunity, doesn’t it? A trip to another city, making connections with industry colleagues, a chance to learn and to expand your horizons. What could be problematic about that?

A few things, as it turns out.

It started with the question of a room. The company planned to send two people to the conference. The manager expected those two people to share a room. Just to be crystal clear: this wasn’t a question. It was an expectation, and a directive. To be even more clear, the two people going to the conference weren’t friends. Sure, they worked well together as colleagues, but they didn’t hang out outside work hours. If you’re wondering, yes, they were the same gender, but that is immaterial.

There are so many things wrong with this that it’s difficult to know where to begin. The fundamental issue is dignity. Or, more specifically, a lack thereof.

Human dignity

Let’s get real for a moment. Human beings do things that we’d rather keep to ourselves. When we’re in a relationship, we may share those things with our partners (to a degree, at least). But they’re not things we particularly want to share with our friends, let alone work colleagues.

Some people are prone to bad dreams and restless sleep. Some people snore. Some people have digestive stuff going on that they’d rather keep private. Some people aren’t especially comfortable with their body image in office attire, let alone sleepwear. Some people have long and complicated morning routines when they’re getting themselves ready to face the day.

I could go on, but suffice it to say that we all have our ‘stuff’. And a lot of that stuff is stuff we’d just rather not share with someone else, unless we’re already in an intimate relationship with them.

Millennial Entitlement?

As you might imagine, the employee who was asked to share their room with a colleague wasn’t especially happy about the idea. As it happens, they’re in the early stages of their career. This was, in fact, the first time that any company had sent them to a conference. They weren’t sure whether it was commonplace to split a room, and whether they were overreacting.

The thing was, there was more than just the room. This person also has some relatively strict dietary restrictions that limit their options when they’re eating out. This was the other reason they decided to bring up their questions with their employer.

It didn’t go well.

With respect to the room, they were told – perhaps not in these exact words, but the meaning was the same – to suck it up. Hotel rooms are expensive. Money doesn’t grow on trees. We’re sending you to this conference, you should be grateful. What’s the big deal, after all? You’re only there to sleep.

And when they asked about the food options at the hotel, and whether their restrictions would be a problem? Well, the word ‘dismissive’ would be an understatement. To paraphrase, ‘I’m sure you’ll find something to eat.’

It didn’t quite end there. Like I said, this person is in the earlier stages of their career. Which is why the manager chose to characterize their questions as those of an ‘entitled Millennial’.

Which is why they quit.

A duty of care

Moving away from this specific example, there’s a larger point I’d like to make here. When you send one of your employees away from their home – to a conference, to meetings, wherever – you have a duty of care.

Duty of care doesn’t mean:

  • putting them up in a five-star hotel costing hundreds of dollars (or more) per night for the room,
  • unlimited room service and an open bar, or
  • business class airfare and limousines.

Duty of care does mean respecting, and protecting, your employee’s human dignity. Anything that compromises that – forcing someone to share their very personal space or causing them stress about what they can eat – isn’t fulfilling your duty of care.

I know, money doesn’t grow on trees

Just as much as anyone reading this, I understand that every company has to watch their bottom line, and that means controlling expenses. But there’s a right way and a wrong way to do this.

Controlling expenses well means budgeting adequate funds for what you want to do. And if you don’t have adequate funds, you don’t do it. That’s my issue with the employer in the situation I described above. Bottom line: they didn’t budget adequate funds.

Sending an employee to a conference is expensive, I get it. A company might want to send two people, so that they get double the benefit. But appropriate accommodations are part of the cost of sending an employee away. The potential ROI has to be balanced against those costs.

Consider also that the employees sent to represent companies at conferences are walking brand ambassadors. It is in the company’s best interest to treat these employees well so that when they do network and position your company for success, they do it whole-heartedly. Imagine what they can say to other colleagues when they feel dismissed or mistreated. So, although hard costs are important to consider, opportunity costs and intangible costs may be just as costly – if not more-so.

If they couldn’t allocate the funds needed to send two people, they should only have sent one. Period, end of story.

The question of dietary restrictions isn’t just about money (although that’s certainly part of it). That speaks to the broader duty of care. Your employee is going somewhere on your behalf. They’re representing and adding value to your company. They’re leaving their own home & comfort, and possibly their family, behind. You have a responsibility to make sure that their basic needs are looked after, and what need is more basic than food?

There are other options

If you’re a business owner or leader, you might think I’m being unfair. Companies do need to keep an eye on the bottom line, after all. Everybody has to be flexible, and take one for the team every now and then. Well, yes. But there are other ways to do this.

A business acquaintance of mine used to make arrangements for crews of technical employees to be on client sites for days, sometimes weeks, at a time. Naturally, putting a group of people up in hotel rooms for that many nights, plus meals, can get really expensive. In just about every town and city, there are reasonably priced accommodations. They probably don’t offer room service, they may not have little chocolates on the pillows, and they certainly don’t have essential oils scenting the bathrooms. But they’re clean, they’re comfortable, and many of them offer a complimentary breakfast. My friend would book the crews into those properties, and send more business their way if the reviews were good.

In some cases, there was an even less expensive option. One that, ironically, made the crews feel even better taken care of. They’d be put up in an AirBnB. A whole house to themselves, with shared spaces where they could hang out together if they chose, kitchens where they could cook simple meals if they wanted to do that. (A few clever folks had realized that if they used their per diem to buy a frozen pizza, they’d have money left over.)

Most importantly? Everyone had their own bedroom. Always. No exceptions. Their dignity remained intact.

Your turn …

Do you have a conference horror story? Or maybe you’ve found a creative way to save a bit of money while still giving your employees the opportunity to attend events? I’d love to hear about it. Oh, and of course, if you’re considering leaving a job like the person that inspired this blog, I may be able to help with that, too. Get in touch with me for a resume re-innovation.