A recent post by Lucinda Sans got me thinking “How much is too much?” when it comes to work. What do we really owe our employers?
Most people I know would immediately say, “A good day’s work.” But what does that mean?
In an ideal world, we would all have clear job descriptions, good training, a person in authority who listens to us and believes us, cooperative co-workers, pleasant customers, convenient schedules and BIG PAYCHEQUES!
Pretend for a moment I have all those things. Now what do I owe my employer?
- I’m paid for my time, so I owe the use of my time. That means:
- Arriving a few minutes early and starting work on time
- Returning from breaks and meals on time
- Staying until the shift ends
- Understanding and accepting the employer’s expectations around overtime work
- In salaried or managerial jobs, putting in the time necessary to achieve the expected results
In my first professional job, I had issues with time-keeping. There was a small flex-time agreement whereby if I came in 15 minutes early, I could take a longer lunch break, which I liked. I found myself straggling in at the last moment and still taking the longer lunch. Why? I had some hidden resentment. We were expected to do 1-2 hours of unpaid overtime each week. I thought my employer should cut me some slack about lunch breaks.
When I became a supervisor, I assigned someone to be the Person in Charge at closing time. After a while I found out she left 5 minutes early every night to catch the last express bus – leaving a much-lower-paid employee to lock up!
Both of us should be assigned some blame because we didn’t communicate with our supervisors about our issues – we just forged ahead with our own solutions.
- I am paid for productivity – my effort, attention and output – and ultimately, results.
- I need to complete my work to the employer’s standards
- I need to work at an acceptable pace
- I need to focus on my job duties and avoid distractions
So much room for misunderstanding here! I remember being a cashier during quiet shifts. My duties were to be present, keep an eye on the store (i.e. prevent shoplifting) and accept payments. In my next retail job, I was expected to stay busy by cleaning the store and straightening the merchandise. The one after that: open shipments, stock shelves and make displays. It was probably my 4th retail job when I was told to chat with people and try to increase sales! I was paid minimum wage for all of these positions but the employer’s standards were different.
After leaving transaction-based jobs, it’s been harder to set my own pace and hold myself accountable. My employer cuts me a lot of slack. I could take advantage of that by slowing down, but I don’t – I would be bored, and I don’t want my workdays to seem longer – and of course I want to set a good example for my own staff!
I wonder how employers will manage the workforce of the future, especially new workers who are accustomed to checking their phones every two minutes, and those who are unable to speak to strangers and look them in the eye? It’s a different world out there.
- I need to communicate.
- To show I understand instructions
- To ask questions when I’m unsure how to proceed
- To voice my opinion, at least when asked
- To agree to my schedule or request time off
- To collaborate on work tasks with my co-workers
- To resolve moderate conflicts with co-workers and ask for help on major ones
I have had employees who questioned everything and offered their opinions on everything, to the point of refusing to accept any authority or instructions. I’ve also had meekly compliant employees who were easily trampled by their co-workers.
I’ve had staff who told me they were taking time off, instead of asking for it!
Serious situations have included a poor performer who was convinced her supervisor was bullying her when she was receiving legitimate performance coaching, and a bully who kept her behavior just passive-aggressive enough to fly under the radar.
- I need to understand the workplace culture and how I fit.
- Is it a teamwork-based environment or is everyone accountable for their own results?
- Does real work get done at meetings? Do staff do their homework for the meetings?
- Are staff allowed to socialize as long as they get their work done?
- Are socializing at break time and after-hours events more-or-less compulsory?
- Do people seem to show their “real selves” or do they set boundaries around their personal lives?
- Are there certain people I must defer to, or give priority service to?
Until recently, my work has been very individual. It’s been quite a culture shock, working as part of a team of 10. We each have homework to complete, and sub-committee meetings, and whole team meetings, all toward the same project.
Our priorities for the day or week can change instantly if a director walks into the room and makes an information request.
Most of us have semi-work-related lunches and chats with each other but don’t see each other outside of work hours.
- Where does my position fit in the organization and what is my career path?
- If I’m in an entry-level position, am I expected to do whatever is asked of me, or is the job clearly defined?
- Who can help me learn about the organization and how I can progress?
- Do I need more education, experience or specific skills to move up?
- Is there a known progression, or will I only move up at someone’s whim?
- Does someone have to quit or die before I get a promotion?
I had a job once in which someone would have had to quit or die before I’d get a parking spot, haha!
In my organization, there are no guarantees of being trained to perform a higher-level job. For that to happen, I would need to show interest, learn some of the skills on my own, and be prepared to take temporary assignments or work in different locations to get a “break.” Over the years, many of my co-workers have refused to work outside their own neighbourhoods or to try another job for 6 months, so they have essentially opted out of promotions.
- Finally, I need to know when to walk.
- If expectations are unclear, leading to criticism
- If a supervisor or co-worker makes life miserable
- If working conditions are unsafe
- If the schedule or location changes
- If I’m unable to perform the work any longer
- If the job changes and I can’t come to terms with the changes
Any of these can be resolved with good communication, but there must be a commitment to action and visible results. Larger employers will have formal processes to exhaust before reaching a resolution.
Someone I know was hired by a family business (a couple) to work evenings and weekends while the couple worked day shifts. After two years, she thought the shifts should be distributed more equitably. After being turned down for many shift changes, she started complaining. A lot. She was fired and now doesn’t have a good reference from the company. They hired her to work the shifts they didn’t want; she accepted the job. Eventually the job didn’t meet her needs and they wouldn’t negotiate. It’s too bad she didn’t start her job search sooner.
A lot of what makes me stay with a job is up to me. If I didn’t have to work Sundays when I was hired but now I do; if I am expected to take a service call every 2 minutes instead of every 5 minutes; if I’m exhausted from lifting and unpacking boxes all day…it’s up to me to say what I can tolerate. And if I can’t tolerate it, despite the paycheque, I may have to leave. Not many people are hired into a job that remains static for twenty years – or sometimes even two. Our employers’ needs change and so do ours.
Ultimately we are in contract with each other and we each have to uphold our ends of the bargain.
What are deal-breakers that would lead you to quit a job? How do you cope with a job you can’t quit for financial reasons?
On the flip side: If you had (or have) a job you like, what are the reasons?