As I wind things down with my soon to be former job, I keep hearing the word “appreciation” tossed around in its various forms. “You don’t appreciate what you have until it’s gone.” “They didn’t appreciate you.” “Maybe now they’ll appreciate everything that you did.”
Here’s the thing, I have never said I was looking for work because I didn’t feel appreciated. I was looking for work because I need significantly more income and I need a much better career path. Administrative work is a dead end job, management is much better. So the appreciation thing didn’t come from me. However people have pointed out to me the fact that I am leaving for the reasons that I am leaving is indeed a sign of a lack of employee appreciation.
In a recent meeting, I felt as if for the first time in four and a half years my two directors were really beginning to grasp just how much I know and just how much I do. I think they always thought I did a lot of the conference work– it was, after all, my job, but I don’t think they understood I pretty much did every single aspect of the conference. It was never done like that before. The conference was a shared responsibility.
Younger generations in the workforce get a lot of crap from older generations. They say we want gold stars for everything we do. We want to be acknowledged and appreciated for the smallest thing.
Obviously, I disagree.
What we want is to be appreciated and what I am starting to understand is that maybe the generational gap is sometimes large enough between management and employee that they simply can’t appreciate the work because they don’t understand it.
At least, in this case and in prior situations that’s what I ran into. I make a lot of things really easy for people. I have really fast turnarounds. I make complex things look easy to do and because my bosses simply don’t know or care to know how to do the things that I do, they don’t fully understand what an asset it is to have someone on their team like me.
My co-workers did. My co-workers did because they knew they simply lacked the skillset I had. My co-workers knew that what would take them hours to do on Microsoft Word I could accomplish in a few minutes. My co-workers would watch me work and constantly say “Wait, how did you do that? What was that? What did you just do there?”.
My bosses simply didn’t get that invested. They asked for things and I’d give it to them. Asking me for a demographics report on the most recent conference was the same as asking their secretary to get someone on the line for them. Sometimes I’d be faster with the report than the secretary with the phone call.
I am not a computer whiz. I can’t hack anything and my coding knowledge is super basic and super rusty because I just don’t practice it. But at the end of the day, I have been in front of a computer for most of my life. And for many years I have worked on Office software. I have used the internet for so long, I remember there was a time where you would go to the Yahoo! search engine and look something up and NOT find an answer. It just wasn’t there. So I am really good at searching the internet when I’m stuck. I couldn’t afford fancy computer classes so I just taught myself to do whatever it was I needed, or wanted, to do. And because I come from an era that understands computers are meant to make life easy and fast, I always strive to learn the faster and better way to do something on it.
My co-workers aren’t like me. They are more comfortable with typewriters than with computers. One co-worker is pretty much scared of computers and hates having to learn anything on them. And because they had been doing the responsibilities I took on the old-fashioned way, they were able to really appreciate what I was bringing to the table.
Unfortunately, my co-workers don’t make decisions on things like compensation, performance reviews, or any other form of employee appreciation. That job falls to our bosses and they just don’t get it. More importantly though, the general feeling is they don’t want to get it and that’s where you sow the seeds of discontent.
A couple of years ago, things hit rock bottom in the school and my co-workers saw their friends, their fellow loyal co-workers of 20+, 30+ years pack their things and leave. If ever there was a demonstration of how little their loyalty was appeciated, that was it. It’s gone downhill since and it saddens me.
Here’s my thought– if you’re in a position where you are truly responsible for employees, make sure that you understand their function in your organization and I don’t mean what’s on paper in a job description. You should be able to review every employee you make major decisions about and consider what impact there would be on your organization if that employee was struck by a car on their lunch break. Morbid? You bet, but it works. Good luck getting anything from an unconscious employee to help you transition their responsibilities to someone else, you know?
Oh sure you hired that sophomore in college to answer the phones, no biggie, but it turns out her helpful personality and her comfort with personal computers has made her everyone’s go to person for help when they’re stuck with a computer problem. She’s the one everyone begs to help fix the copier. She’s the one people call in a panic when they accidentally deleted something important. She’s the one that knows how to install the printer on a new computer. She even knows some cool tricks with Excel and there was that one time she made the really cute PowerPoint presenation for the Holiday Party.
Maybe it’s the Patriarchy, maybe it’s ego, maybe it’s just being really busy but there’s something about a receptionist or an administrative assistant that is hard to be taken seriously by upper management and in a lot of cases, what a mistake that is! In an organization, anyone can be the one who goes above and beyond the call of duty. Sure it can be the hotshot Sales Manager but it can also be the file clerk. The lower down the totem pole, the higher the risk for upper management to lose touch. When you lose touch, you simply can’t understand a person’s true role in a company. And when you can’t understand that, you are ill-equipped to make the important decisions you are tasked to make regarding promotions, transfers, annual increases, bonues, etc.
You know, I don’t think I’m alone when I say I don’t like changing jobs all the time. I would love to be able to work with the same people for years. But to do that, I need to grow. I can’t stay stagnant. I have a family to support and I have a brain that likes to run constantly. I like challenges. I like problems. I like finding solutions. I like helping.
For a while, I’ll do it anyways. I’ll help around with extra work and I’ll do things for other people. I’ll fix people’s computers and teach people tricks on the program they’re using. I will walk the office manager through the process of reserving a room on the new software every single time she needs to because I care for her and understand her frustration with a technology she just doesn’t feel comfortable with.
But, I have responsibilities. Maybe because I’m a lowly admin that doesn’t really occur to the people “up there” but it’s true. I have a young family that needs me. When the annual increases are less than the rate of inflation, you’re punishing me financially for working with you.
I sat in meetings where big decisions were made. I was there as an admin to take notes and to manage the spreadsheet. I saw in black, white, red, and green the numbers game unfold. That experience forever changed me. I saw what most people feel– at the end of the day, we are all just numbers on a big spreadsheet. There are no names. There are no stories. There are numbers. And so I have learned to look at my jobs the same way– it’s a numbers game. I am losing money staying in a position or in a department because someone who can, won’t fight for me to get the compensation I deserve most likely because they don’t really feel it’s deserved because they just don’t understand. And it’s not just me, it’s everyone.
You’ve seen the headlines about stagnant wages. This isn’t a problem I have with my bosses in this division. It’s a problem the American people have with each other. I hope that it will change. I hope that as my generation keeps ascending the corporate ladders, we will remember the sting of being reduced to a number on a spreadsheet. I hope we will re-insert humanity into significant processes and decision-making meetings. I hope we will make an effort to really understand our employees and their actual roles and contributions in our organizations that often go way beyond their job title. I really hope we take back the idea that hard work pays off and that loyalty should be rewarded so that as our children and our grandchildren enter the workforce, we know we have created something worth working hard for.