I own a small hotel and have problems with staff who get their salaries and then bunk the next day. I’m thinking to get them to sign legal contracts to stop them from doing this. Also, friends who run similar businesses suggest that I withhold their salary until the middle of the next month to discourage them for leaving suddenly. What does lam think? 

ND, Thimphu

Well, to be honest, I am not a strong advocate of tying people down through legal contracts. Furthermore, I feel that if someone has done their duty then they deserve to be paid on time. This is a basic respect.

Of course, legal contracts offer security to staff and prevent unfair dismissal, and so from this aspect they play an important role in the structure of society. In reality, however, business owners should strive to create trust between themselves and their employees and not rely on legal stamps to bind a relationship. If a person does a job merely to fulfil the terms of a contract, I don’t imagine that they will do it diligently and with passion. Instead, it is for the proprietor to create the conditions whereby an employee will want to keep their job and will take pride in their work.

In this regard, you should ensure that you pay your staff well and on time and also treat them with respect. To show that you appreciate their efforts, maybe you can even take your staff out on a picnic or perhaps buy them a T shirt or something once in awhile. Obviously, you should not have to beg or bribe your staff to do their duty properly – in fact you should be strict with regard to the quality of their work – but, at the same time, you should look after their welfare and treat them well. If you do this, your staff are very likely to be loyal employees. It is a win-win situation.

Furthermore, I suggest that you don’t obstruct an employee who wants to leave your hotel in order to further their career, but instead encourage them to move forward. In reality, everything is impermanent and trying to prevent change is like cleaning a room and then sealing the windows and doors to keep things static. This not only creates a lot of stress for everyone, but is suffocating. Think of your small hotel as a minor league football team. Obviously, your ambitious players will at some time want to move to a higher league. You cannot prevent this from happening, but you can prepare your team to adapt to change. Also, you should take pleasure in the fact that you helped someone to progress in life. This will bring you more contentment than merely increasing your bank balance.

While on the subject of legal agreements, I personally believe that people over use them these days. Even mothers commonly reach for a legal stamp when they want their son or daughter to follow house rules and wives often present agreement letters to husbands as a means to stop them from having an affair. In reality, if the trust has gone in a relationship, no amount of legal documents will repair the damage. Instead, families need to talk to each other and rebuild their relationships through trust and understanding.

In reality, it is very unlikely that people will cheat or take advantage of each other if there is mutual respect between them. And, even if one partner does cheat on the other, then what is the point of threatening legal action to pull them back? Basically, for a relationship to be healthy, both sides need to stay together out of feelings of trust and love, not out of fear of legal action. If this basic respect is absent, then why stay together?

Perhaps we should think of a relationship like a tree. When you want that tree to be strong and to produce healthy fruit you have to ensure that it has fertile soil and receives enough moisture and heat. You cannot force it to be healthy. Instead, it needs careful nurturing. Similarly, a marriage or an employer-employee relationship cannot be held together through force, but needs to develop due to the right causes and conditions being in place.

To recap, I suggest that rather than trying to hold on to your staff through force, try to create an environment whereby they will want to stay in your service. At the same time, understand that you cannot hold young talent for ever and so create a system that allows for a certain amount of staff turnover. In short, for a healthy relationship to develop, you need trust and respect, not legal agreements.



Shenphen Zangpo was born in Swansea, UK, but spent more than 28 years practicing and studying Buddhism in Taiwan and Japan. Currently, he works with the youth and substance abusers in Bhutan, teaching meditation and organising drug outreach programmes. Email to jjwangchuk@gmail.com for any queries