Lab Manager | Run Your Lab Like a Business

Employees don’t quit jobs. They quit managers.

Poor management leads to poor morale, which leads to lack of focus, which leads to failure

by Pamela Ahlberg
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One of my guilty television pleasures is a reality show called “Restaurant Impossible,” in which chef/restaurateur Robert Irvine fixes failing restaurants in two days with only ten thousand dollars. Sounds unbelievable, which it sometimes is, but what I find fascinating—besides the usual Cinderella-type transformations—is the recurring theme of dysfunctional management. The food might be great, the décor good, and the finances in order, but the restaurant is failing because of poor management, which leads to poor morale, which leads to lack of focus, which leads to failure.

In this month’s issue we devote many pages to the subject of improving management practices in order to improve employee job satisfaction. “Whatever your company values, you have to be sure your managers are executing on it. Teach them how to empower employees to succeed and grow rather than just drive performance,” says Steve Miranda, managing director of the Center for Advanced Human Resource Studies, Cornell University ILR School in this month’s Leadership & Staffing article, “Cultivating Long-Term Loyalty.”

In Science Matters, Mark Lanfear says, “Data indicate that career potential and development, along with opportunities to be involved in new experiences on the job, are high on the list of concerns for the best employees. Micro-management and a lack of communication are also seen as the antithesis of the long-term health of a company’s talent retention plan.”

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No surprise that communication is front and center when it comes to employee satisfaction. “Communication is a huge part [of] our daily activities that makes us all successful,” says Stephanie Ford, lab manager at Glacial Lakes Energy in Mina, South Dakota in this month’s cover story.

But the loudest message for improving employee satisfaction is also the simplest—recognition. “Recognition (whatever form it takes) is systematic, simple, immediate, and packs a punch. People who feel recognized will care more about their work and produce better results in the long run,” says Lanfear. “Being recognized makes you take pride in the work you perform, even if it’s just being complimented and patted on the back by your boss,” echoes Janet Garcia, lab director at the city of Tucumcari in New Mexico, in the cover story.

Which brings me back to “Restaurant Impossible,” where more often than not it turns out the best way to save a failing restaurant is to recognize, empower, and communicate with every member of the staff often and well. Something too many managers seem to forget.

If you currently run or are considering starting up an environmental lab, this month’s INSIGHTS article on that topic is a must read. Here author Angelo DePalma provides the skinny on the challenges you will face and the obstacles you should be prepared for. “Due to heavy consolidation within the environmental testing business, starting a lab from the ground up is expensive and time-consuming.” For more, go to the bottom of the INSIGHTS link above for the eight facts to consider if running an environmental lab is in your future. Forewarned is forearmed.

For those of you working in an academic lab, I hope this year’s crop of undergrads, grads and post-docs are a brilliant and happy bunch. If not, perhaps some of this month’s management tips can change that.


Pamela Ahlberg

Correction: On page 63 of our July issue, we credited J. Calvin Giddings, in 1964, with enunciating the theoretical platform upon which supercritical fluid chromatography (SFC) rests. In fact, SFC was first conceived and demonstrated by Ernst Klesper in 1962. J. Org. Chem., 27, 700 (1962).