When Kelly Clarkson belts out this haunting tune, my heart breaks. I can honestly feel her pain. Allowing someone into your life so that he/she can just rip you to shreds…awful. Sometimes, however, you don’t really get to choose who gets to be in your life…like your boss. The person you interview with at a company seems lovely and (if there is one) the RJP – real job preview – goes swimmingly as everyone is on their best behavior to try to impress you. It’s like a first date, really (I am trying to remember that far back).
Over the summer, I read some unbelievable statistics. The World Health Organization stated that it costs American businesses $300 billion per year in employee stress-related medical issues, including increased healthcare insurance costs (http://www.who.int/research/en/). On top of that, USA Today reported that 75% of employees surveyed stated that their immediate boss is the most stressful part of their job (http://usatoday30.usatoday.com/money/workplace/story/2012-08-05/apa-mean-bosses/56813062/1). Ugh! What a horrible indictment of management. How can such a truth not be more addressed in the workplace?
But my focus on this is not for the manager, but for the employee. When I was very young in my professional career, I was tasked to create a culture of learning in the organization for which I was working. I studied up on what a learning organization is like, what kinds of strategies should be used to roll that out and surveyed employees to find out how some deficiencies could be addressed. The roll-out was better than I could have hoped, and even better, after 90 days of initial implementation, there were real metrics that showed improvement and cost-effectiveness. I was super-psyched! And that all came crashing down when my direct supervisor caught up with me at the end of a workday to let me know that he did not approve of the style of font used in some of the internal marketing. Excuse me? Did you just say “font”?
Well, needless to say, I was sick. Worse yet, the supervisor documented his comments on my performance review. Now the word “font” was on my permanent record. But, to remind you, I was young in my career. I was so stressed by his critical nature that I made myself sick, to the point of contracting mono due to how worn-down I had made myself. So, now, I got to spend three weeks resting and stewing over how much criticism I would receive when I returned to work.
So, why do I tell you this? Because of him, I allowed myself to get sick. My employment contract had become my life contract. What it did to me was rob me of professional growth in some areas, but it also robbed me of my life outside of work. I allowed it. I gave power to that manager that he did not deserve. You see, I finally realized that I was to do a great job at work for me. I needed to impress myself first. That manager was allowed to mess with my head, and I let him do it. I allowed font styles to override metrics of success. Opinion overruled fact. And I let it happen.
As an employee, there is no denying the need to learn. You’ve got to know what you don’t know and find a way to learn it. Seek out experts, watch the good habits of those who’ve been at the company for a while, ask a manager for suggestions for improvement, be vigilant in excellence. You have the power to be successful in your role and it can be measured.
A Human Resources professional can work with management and their teams to enjoin appropriate expectations to output. The HR manager can help employees understand how their work ethic and effort should align to corporate mission. Management can be trained in developing performance indicators to share with their team. These tools will help to balance preference with data.
Opinion does matter and it should be given some consideration. You do want to perform well and meet expectations, but be sure to know how much of it is to meet someone’s esteem issues or fear. The manager I described was threatened by the success. A 22 year-old kid should not have had such a winning roll-out, but I did. My manager was not ready for that, but it didn’t change the truth of what had happened.
For those of you struggling with your managers, take a step back and figure out why. Is the answer as simple as “well, he’s a jerk” or something similar? Even if he/she is a jerk, what does that do to you? Can you really not do your job because of it? Couldn’t the people in the organization I was with still be set up for success in learning even though my manager was a jerk? You bet. My job was to do a great job. I had to answer to myself first for the work I was doing.
And in my experience, when you answer to you first (not only), you will meet, if not surpass, the expectations of management. Then, those who’ve benefited from your work will share their success with you. And they might even tell you it happened because of you.