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What happens when we lose sight of our customer and the customer experience? Customers may stop purchasing our product or service and stop referring us. By the same token, managers should never lose sight of the employee and the employee experience.

That appears to be what happened with American luggage company Away, which built its brand through excellent social media branding and an ethos of being “customer-obsessed.”

The company was obsessed with the customer experience, but apparently neglected the employee experience. And it paid the price.

An investigation published last week by the Verge revealed messages exchanged between management and former Away employees.

Away, created in 2015, used communication tool Slack to largely replace e-mail. Messages from co-founder and chief executive officer Steph Korey in particular indicated a “cutthroat culture,” not to mention poor management of people.

Ms. Korey used offending words such as “brain dead” to describe employees. Exchanges in Slack also show that customer experience associates repeatedly worked extended hours and, according to testimonials, without being paid overtime. Away has since changed its overtime policy and made those employees eligible for overtime pay, though a commencement date was not specified.

Furthermore, employee requests for paid time off and working from home were repeatedly put on hold due to what was described as “business priorities.” Not surprisingly, this company’s people had a bad case of employee burnout while trying to keep up with customer demand. Ms. Korey later apologized through Twitter but the damage had already been done, forcing her to step down as CEO. The Wall Street Journal reported Dec. 9 that Lululemon COO Stuart Haselden will take the reins on Jan. 13.

This is an example of a company that developed a negative culture and fostered a workplace that disempowered employees from performing their best.

A survey from polling company Gallup found that burned-out employees are 63 per cent more likely to take a sick day and 2.6 times more likely to be actively seeking a new job. Even if the staff stay, they have 13 per cent lower confidence in their performance and are 50 per cent less likely to discuss performance goals with their manager. All in all, this is a recipe for disaster.

So, how can you avoid a scenario like this? Here are few steps to take:

1. Provide overtime pay to qualified employees.

Not every role in your organization might be eligible for overtime pay. However, if an employee is eligible for overtime, pay them. If they are not eligible but put in the extra time, it is empowering to recognize this contribution. The recognition could come in the form of additional time off, remote work, flexible hours or a recognition gift. But it should be something that reflects the company culture.

2. Provide employees some personal space for venting.

Encourage your staff to share their grievances, but come up with solutions. It will serve you and the organization well. And, by doing so, you will provide a space for employees to express themselves. The key is that they remain considerate with others and what they say is never defamatory.

3. Don’t call your employees names because you wouldn’t like it either.

Frustration can happen when we manage a team or an organization with tight deadlines. But just as you expect your employees to respond professionally with clients, even difficult ones, you should also “walk the talk” by communicating with them in a respectful manner.

4. Don’t wait for burnout before hiring new people.

Monitor company growth and estimate the number of hires you need to provide a great customer experience, but start the recruitment process before it’s too late. Here is an example: If the number of client inquiries has increased, determine the average number of cases handled by each employee during their regular shift and then increase staff accordingly.

5. Don’t condemn your staff for going on vacation. Instead, encourage them.

Taking time off will help employees recharge and come back energized, and help them reduce the risk of burnout, which is very prevalent in the workplace today. This is a huge cost to organizations.

How you address all these points will help you optimize the employee experience while also serving your clients and continuing to grow the organization.

Carine Lacroix is founder and CEO of Reneshone, a Toronto-based human resources company.

This column is part of Globe Careers’ Leadership Lab series, where executives and experts share their views and advice about leadership and management. Follow us at @Globe_Careers. Find all Leadership Lab stories at

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