Greatest Asset

My son, if you accept my words
    and store up my commands within you,
turning your ear to wisdom
    and applying your heart to understanding—
indeed, if you call out for insight
    and cry aloud for understanding,
and if you look for it as for silver
    and search for it as for hidden treasure,
then you will understand the fear of the Lord
    and find the knowledge of God.
For the Lord gives wisdom;
    from his mouth come knowledge and understanding.
He holds success in store for the upright,
    he is a shield to those whose walk is blameless,
for he guards the course of the just
    and protects the way of his faithful ones.

  • Proverbs 2:1-8

I have heard the statement made by many over the years, too many to count: “Our employees are our greatest asset.”

A television commercial that is running now is for a cashback credit card.  The story is about a dog treat manufacturer (part-owner) that received tens of thousands of dollars in cashback benefits.  The part-owner of the company then announced that they used the money to purchase larger equipment so that they could feed more dogs.  They then cut the image to the proud part-owner who is standing between two employees and one of them gives a shrug and a fake smile.

I wonder what the employee was thinking!  “If I am an employee and your greatest asset is your employees, why would you not give me a raise or a bonus?”

The answer is simple.  The old cliché is a lie.  The employee is the most ‘expendable’ asset.  Giving the employee a raise would cost money down the line.  Giving the employee a bonus is simply money lost.  Sure, in the long run, showing that you love your employees and thinking of them in such times will lead to large benefits to the company in the long run, but that is “the long run” not now.  See how I put “long run” in that sentence three times?  Bosses rarely think of long runs, unless they run marathons in their spare time.  And bigger equipment means the same number of employees doing the same work but making much more money.  Ah!  Now there is an asset!

Funny how the part-owner says that he wants to feed more dogs.  If he said make more dog food (a statement saying the same thing), you grasp the greed immediately.  But feeding more dogs makes it sound like the dogs might starve without that equipment purchase and you did a totally altruistic thing.  Sorry, it was far too transparent for that.

But when I mention the most ‘expendable’ asset, I am thinking of my nearly twenty years at an engineering company.  The business model is that when times are good you hire enough to get the work done.  When times are not so good, you lay off the people that you just hired.  When times get worse, you should have a pecking order in mind.  You keep key people that can train the new hires once you sell something.  You keep the sales staff to sell something.  And you keep the bosses.  Everyone else is expendable.  If there are two people that do the same type of work, one is expendable.  If the boss has done that type of work within the past five years, you are both expendable, even if the boss is lousy at it.  Sadly, if times are terrible, you even have to let some of your company knowledge go, hoping you can restart with retirees.

And when you purposefully lay-off employees after a buy-out, you hire them back as consultants at roughly the rate that they made while working, but a little less.  But that rate does not account for any benefits.  I was even required with one contract to provide liability insurance for myself and any lawsuit that might arise over something that I said to the customer (since I was on contract to teach the customer’s employees).  I refused the contract, in that few insurance companies would touch me as an individual and the others required premiums greater than what I would have been paid.  Some of these customers place clauses into the contract that say that if they follow what they “think I said” and something goes wrong, I must pay for all the lost production while the equipment is getting fixed, plus the cost of the repairs.  That could be in the millions, easily.  If I were an employee, it would be a simple part of business, and it gets absorbed into operating costs, but an individual does not have assets to cover such a loss.

I ran the numbers on my first contract, and, considering the benefits that I would have to pay out of pocket, I was going to be paid about 60 cents on each dollar, not even counting the insurance costs.  When I showed the numbers to the guy who offered me the contract, he flew into a rage and said that I obviously never wanted to work again.  We negotiated a lower hourly rate than what I asked for and the company paying for the insurance, but higher than the first offer. Yet, probably less than a third of what they charged the customer for each hour that I worked. (Hey! I had been the one who made those estimates when I worked there. I ought to know!)  The company then designed contracts over a few years so that they would never need me again.

I would like to say that when an employer says that you are the greatest asset you should run in the other direction or laugh.  But they all seem to do it these days.  They cannot help making false statements to their employees.

But you can rely on God.  When God says that you are His greatest asset, He has already backed up that statement as true.

God sent His Son to the earth to die for our sins so that we might become adopted sons and daughters of God and live with God for eternity.

Now that is the definition of someone’s greatest asset.

Soli Deo Gloria.  Only to God be the Glory.

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