That seems to be the sentiment in many companies these days. I heard it once when I approached a VP about a problem my entire team was having with a certain procedure. “If they don’t like it, they can leave.” A friend of mine heard a variation of it once when he expressed dissatisfaction with the management style of another manager, a dissatisfaction that was shared and voiced by many before him. “If people don’t like him, why don’t they leave?” And I’m not talking here about one employee’s personal gripe or moral viewpoint. I’m talking about big issues that if remedied could make quite a few people happy and the company more efficient.

I guess, on the surface, to those with the golden parachutes, leaving is a clear-cut option. After all, there’s no gun to our heads to make us stay in any job. Not in the literal sense, anyway. There are symbolic guns–the house payment gun, the car payment gun, the kids’ education gun–but, in reality, the only fingers on those triggers belong to us.

I’m not sure what school of thought the “don’t like it, leave” statement comes from. It’s not exactly Management by Fear. It’s more like Management by Apathy. Maybe if you make your employees feel expendable, they’ll be so grateful to you for employment that they’ll buckle down more? I really don’t know.

Would you offer that statement to your spouse if you were having problems and wanted to strengthen your bonds? I would hope not. I know that marriage and your relationship with your company are not the same but don’t both benefit from some nurturing and tweaking? And we spend more waking hours at work than we do with our spouses.

What does that attitude do to the integrity of a company? I know that employee loyalty and motivation can’t be measured in ROI, like a wireless implementation. But I think somewhere along the line, its neglect will start to show in more serious and irreversible ways, maybe even in product degradation. I know it’s no longer my father’s day, when people often retired from the first company they worked for. Because of company relocations and buy outs and layoffs, I’ve seen my long-term careers plans derailed more often than I care to think about. The cosmic job forces all seem to want to send the same message to workers—You are replaceable.

“If you don’t like it, you can leave.”

The statement is dismissive and not conducive to positive change. It’s like trying to correct unruly behavior in your teenager and hearing “Well, I didn’t ask to be born.” It simply becomes a mechanism for avoiding the work it will take to correct a problem.

So what do you think? Is good employee morale just a corny and outdated notion? Or is it just something that takes too much work to ensure?