Saturday, June 23, 2012

Do I matter or have value?

It occurs to me that the economic times, not just since 'the crash' in '08, but maybe for years or decades earlier, has taken the love factor out of the employer/employee relationship.  

It has been some time since the employee was beloved by a company.  The employee represents the face of the company and the quality of the employee is a large factor in repeat business.  How inclined are you as a customer to go back to a business where you were treated poorly?  That feeling is based on your interaction with the one person you dealt with, not with the business owner.  But, I'm thinking it has been a while since you heard of an employee who was treated as if they were one of the family.  

I think there are a lot of contributing factors.  Financial cost of business goes up, but what consumer expects to pay for product does not rise as quickly.  

Myself, I have never wanted to be a business owner.  I am able to find contentment in putting in my hours, doing my shift, and going home.  I have learned by necessity I can get by on very little, my needs I am well versed in minimizing.  I just want my family and to be creative, and I find my creativity limited if I have to focus on the paperwork.  Paperwork zaps my soul power.  I don't think my soul functions when it spends a lot of time focused on paperwork, my nightmares usually have to do with a lost note.

However, I am empathetic.  I have been someone's employee for about 35 years, never anywhere for very long.  As someone's employee, from behind the counter you do hope to put down some roots.  You hear all the pros and cons of your company and the longer you are with the company, the more you defend them, the more your heart breaks when you decide to leave, even more so when asked to leave.

So, when I mention an employee being part of the family, I am trying to depict employees who are cherished, encouraged to grow, cared for when down or mourned when lost.  I don't mean the low kind of people, who would steal from the company or expect what they hadn't earned, but the ones that showed up for work early, skipped breaks or minimized lunches, stayed late and went out of their way and invented new ways to contribute to the business.  The humane person would want to make sure that employee had what we all need for benefits ~ the assurance that when something catastrophic happens, things will work out, because steps were taken to minimize the impact and to prevent them from happening in the first place.  In this way, insuring that the face of the company always greets the public with a smile as well as a great product.

In the Self Storage industry, being an employee is a very lonely business.  You almost never see your co-workers, because you actually work miles away from each other and when you do, it's most usually in a training forum.  Personalities are never learned.  The time you spend with your supervisors is also for training and/or discipline.  The supervisors I've had have been unable emotionally to attempt to bond with me for fear that they'd have to let me go, someday, and it's hard to fire a friend.  

Another factor is communication. Not everyone has the same level of desire when it comes to offering customer service.  It's really hard getting to know your co-workers when they can't understand why you are going out of your way to offer their information to someone you are communicating with about their property.  With supervisors there is a huge amount of time is consumed 'putting out fires' but when a message isn't returned or a proposal takes months to acknowledge (regardless of acceptance or denial) alienation between employer and employee is an ever widening chasm.

When we left the last company, it was a huge effort not to do so with any bitterness.  We showed up to give our notice with an afghan I made for the new grand-baby.  She expressed a shocked disbelief.  It was heartbreaking to realize later that it was an effort wasted to attempt to tip-toe away, but really, we had been existing in a 'low state' for a long time.  Partly because we'd been led to believe this would be a family atmosphere, where we could be a contributing factor and partly because our attempts to contribute were so ignored and rebuffed.  

We are now with another Storage company and in some ways it's better, but in others it much worse by far.  We are getting answers to questions for the most part, so that's a good thing.  The company has been passed down to someone who only expects the negative outcomes, so the answer is most often 'no'.  The kinds of communication that keeps everyone on the same page is lacking, so confusion flourishes and is a massive effort to fix problems.  Gossip is also a massive problem to the extent that the men are the major spreaders of misinformation, which was a surprise to me to see.  Usually guys have better things to do!

The reason this all comes to mind is because we have a company, non-training but for social, gathering coming up.  My husband and I are having an unproductive discussion about attending as we always have.  He doesn't tolerate insincere-ness very well, and I have a problem with crowds that has triggered panic attacks in the past, so he uses these as reasons not to go.  My feeling, however, is to shelve those reasons, to go and be as friendly as I can make myself be, hoping that sitting on the edge of the crowd, smiling and waving at those I can make eye-contact with, is enough to let everyone know that we hope to be here for a while and that we sincerely are striving toward good things for everybody we meet.

Whether or not that helps anyone in the long run is hard to tell at this point.  In the here and now, is the only place it seems to matter, so we take the warmth to remember in future.  In the meantime, we all matter to someone.  It may not be at work anymore, unless it's to make a customer's day with a laugh, but as a means to an end, you matter to you, first, and to me, next.

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