Ross Cameron

The tall poppy syndrome is alive and well among SME employees.

After all that effort…

Tall poppy syndrome is alive and well in Australia. But much of it comes from a corner of society from where it could be least expected – employees of SMEs.

“There’s this perception that because we’re a company, employees think we must have lots of money. We’re rich! ‘Oh you’re a company, you must have a bottomless pit of money, you must be exploiting the workers and you must have a hoard of cash’. We had an interesting experience recently where we took all our people to a decent hotel, and opened the tab up. We thought it was a nice thing to do for the guys. And a couple of staff approached us and said ‘actually we wanted to go to dinner next door’, which would have cost us $150 a head. It was like ‘well you’re a company, you can afford it’. It’s very much a big company idea. Especially our European employees — particularly our British employees who never stop whining. Almost invariably, they’re the ones asking for a pay rise after 12 weeks.” (Business services, 51-100 employees, six years in operation).

“Employees don’t want to see employers have a good life. You drive your worst car to work, you cry poor and you wear the same shirt. You don’t look like you could … People are jealous, people are greedy. We’ve worked hard for where we are today, we’ve given up a hell of a lot. Both my parents and my husband’s parents were refugees out of war-torn Europe in 1956, we share the same baggage, we came from nothing. We never had it as children, never had holidays, and we gave up a lot to get where we are today.” (Nursing homes, 51-100 employees, 12 years in operation).

Whenever I discuss this issue with SME operators they laugh knowingly. Most accept it as a part of running a successful business, but they find it annoying nonetheless. Do your employees secretly resent the success you have earned? Do they know what it took for you to achieve what you have?

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