Episode 5: Workplace Hazards

You know, sometimes it gets difficult getting by in the Canadian workplace (or any workplace for that matter).

I won’t go into detail about the particulars of what drives our current tangent, but suffice to say that I’ve become frustrated at one of my two jobs, and feel the need to use my commentary of the modern workplace to unburden my chest. And you’re welcome to disagree at any time (I actually welcome differing views, so please feel free to use the comments to start a discussion), but this is based on my own personal experiences. I’ve been working for about 9 years now. I understand that doesn’t make me an expert. I doubt if even after 50 years that anyone is truly an expert. But I’ve watched, listened, and learned in my 9 years. I’ve seen past the superficial both in people and businesses, and I’d like to think I’ve gotten a pretty good handle on the general facts of both now.

The first and most important fact? Try as you might, there will always be customers who look down on you because you are serving them. The best thing you can do is treat them politely and hope like hell that your own bosses know the true calibre of their employee. Oh, and pray to every god you know that they leave quickly. But that’s usually not the case. That’s when I actually enjoy being on the lowest rung of the command ladder. There’s always someone I can pass a raging rude asshat over to, so that I don’t have to deal with it anymore. But what happens when you’re the one in charge? If you even try to treat these people the way they deserve to be treated (like say to be turned around and be treated to a good old fashioned paddling), then you become the one in the wrong. You have committed some heinous act, unbecoming of a representative of customer service. And to a certain extent, I agree with that concept. Physical violence won’t make these people any smarter or more compassionate. It might actually even make it worse. But the fact that those of us in the customer service field have to almost literally tip-toe around these ticking time bombs has caused a lot of them to believe themselves to be elevated above our stations. To somehow be more righteous, or better. And they’re not. But there’s not a damn thing you can do about it, so you’d better get used to it.

Secondly, 8 times out of 10, the employees who get promoted to management are the ones least suited to it. Why is this? Because the ones who would do a good job aren’t ambitious enough to aim for it. Because the amount of stress they’ll be putting themselves under (due to their own desire to excel in their duties and bring success to their chosen careers (or summer jobs even)) might just kill them. That is, if the raging customers don’t do it for them first. And because they know that the job itself, stresses and all, isn’t worth the extra 25 cents per hour they’ll be making (okay, so I exaggerate a little for dramatic effect – sue me).

So when the good management material bows out of the race, what are you left with? The same kind of trash that becomes your representative in the government: the power-hungry, self-absorbed, completely insensitive and socially inept bag of hot air and bluster. They don’t take the time to understand their job or the jobs of those that work under them, they under-appreciate and under-value their employees (or constituents as the case may be), and treat them almost as slaves, tools that serve only to improve their already over-inflated ego and public image. And just as the customers do on occasion, if you make them look bad, even just through some unhappy accident, they’ll fly into a rage, spittle flying everywhere. Oh sure, work will probably get done, or an election might be won, but at what cost? If your hardest workers don’t feel appreciated, they’ll quickly abandon you for someone who will appreciate them. It’s called brand loyalty, and you are your brand.

Now, don’t get me wrong. There are good managers (and even good politicians). I’ve been blessed enough to be working under a few of them. Perhaps they were forced into it. Perhaps they were one of the rarest kind of manager, that actually wants to be one, and does a good job at it. But they’re few and far between indeed. Their voices drowned or silenced by the drivel coming from the usual fare you receive as a manager. It’s a sad, sorry fact, and I wish I could believe otherwise about it, but considering the accusations made against me by managers, and all the times I’ve been held responsible for the mistakes of others (including but not limited to the manager’s own mistake), simply because they’re either too lazy or too ignorant to check their facts has given me a rather bleak outlook on the type of person that becomes a manager.

All of that being said, what with the doom and gloom predictions, I still believe that you should try to go into work every day with a smile on your face (hopefully a real one) and to be as polite as any situation allows. Because one day it will pay off, and people will take notice. And even if nice guys finish last, they still get a lot of help along the way. But if you don’t want to finish last, then learn the difference between being polite and being a doormat.

I’m a veteran doormat, and only recently have I learned how to trip up those who would walk over me. It’s not easy but both jobs have taught me this valuable lesson, because when you’re a doormat, people enthusiastically use you for that purpose. And I’d finally had enough. That being said, I can still be a pushover depending on who you are. But even I have my limits before the dam bursts.

At any rate, I think that’s enough for today. I’m feeling much better now, and you should have a good long read (and hopefully it will be inspiring, or well-written, or at least get you thinking about your own life and experiences). Tune in next time, for whatever strikes my fancy.

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