A Good Worker Is Hard to Find

20 Dec

We can all talk for hours about bad workers.  The Starbucks barista who rolls her eyes when you made a special drink request.  The waiter who spills your food on your lap.  The mechanic who attempts to convince you that your car is in much worse shape than it is.

As kids, those of us lucky enough to have parents who cared, were taught about being good workers.  Honesty.  Efficiency.  Politeness.  Careful auditing of our work. Respect for those in authority above us.  Patience with those we are training.  Respect for those doing jobs we wouldn’t care to do or simply don’t know how to do.

And, as a kid, you begin to understand that being a good worker is what parents call it.  When the truth is that being a good worker is really just part and parcel of being a good person.  But sometimes it is easier to ease into this concept – to believe that these behaviors are required from 8-5 Monday-Friday rather than 24/7/365.

Yesterday, a colleague commented that I have the patience of a saint.  I don’t.  What I do have, finely honed from years in HR and often sorely tested (often, I fail) is the ability to distance myself from the issue.  To distance the other person from the issue.  To take care of the issue without showing my true feelings/frustration for the individual.

And the ability to walk away when I need a break.  After 4 straight hours correcting other people’s mistakes yesterday (and receiving email after email pointing out that I made mistakes, and resisting the urge to scan these people’s forms and return them to them so that they can see the mistakes are all theirs) I knew I had to walk away.  I didn’t have time for a lunch break but I did have a meeting that required an outdoor walk.  I chose to walk slowly (thank you, painful IT band) and breathe deeply (thank you, yoga lessons) and try to clear my head of all the finger-pointing and blame I’ve been receiving.

Blame is rough.  Especially when it is wrong and therefore unfair.  When you feel like people think you can’t do your job but you know the truth is that when people spell their name wrong or miswrite a number or check the “Cancel” box instead of the “Add” box and you aren’t inside their head to know it was wrong and faithfully act upon what you’ve been given, you look bad.  When really you’re doing a darn good job.

I forget that every year this happens.  That my holiday season includes a 3-4 week window where I feel like a loser.  Where I spend 8-10 hours a day fixing problems for other people and accepting the blame for the problems (even though I want to say things like “What? You had a child 6 months ago and I was supposed to just KNOW that so you didn’t bother to write the child’s information on a form.”)

Every year I am tested.  And every year I walk a fine line of wanting to fail, wanting to give up, wanting to stop fixing things for others.  Even though this is my job and I am paid to do it, I can feel the selfishness crop up, the desire to walk away from this mess and let someone else handle it.  Because it is not fun.  And it is painstaking work.  And your back and hands and wrists hurt and you very rarely get a thank you.

But being a good worker means acknowledging the bad parts of the job as well as the good.  Being willing to take correction as well as praise.  Being willing to “take one for the team” or “many consecutive ones for the team” and it means doing a good job with every task we are given, especially the ones that seem below us, insignificant or a complete waste of time.

Good workers are hard to find. Probably because they are squirreled away, busy at work, not loitering by the water cooler shooting the breeze all day long.  And at the end of the day, thanks or no thanks, they know they are a good worker.  The pile on their desk from other people that trust they are good workers speaks for itself.

That’s the horrible truth that parents don’t tell you.  Good work is rewarded.  With more work.  Always.

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