I wonder sometimes where we’re heading in America. What do we, as a country, want to do? I’m not sure we really know. I often think, especially over the past few years, we’ve become too greedy. I suppose Capitalism could do that to a person. We’re all about making money in this country, it’s the American Dream after all, isn’t it? I can’t watch television or open a newspaper or magazine or walk into most any retail store without being inundated with pitches for products I just can’t live without. And, many of us seem to believe it. The ideal situation that companies froth at the mouth over….competition among users….is the pinnacle of consumerism. The Smith vs. Jones struggle for one-upmanship is more ruthless now than it was back in the day. Seems so, anyway. People change $400 phones like they do their $500 pants. But, I digress. What does this have to do with being a good employee?
Used to be, when a person did their time at a company, worked hard, were dedicated, productive, worked their way up, became a team leader, they were rewarded. These individuals are the face of the company, interacting with customers, making angry people smile, getting the job done, greasing the wheels, taking pride in their work and taking up the slack of the slackers.
Rewarding doesn’t happen much anymore. Well, it does to a point. Corporate conglomerates are only interested in the bottom line and when that bottom line begins to creep up, guess who tends to get the heave-ho? Yeah, the productive ones. Why? Because they’ve worked their way into increased bonuses and raises, surpassing their slacker (or less dedicated) brethren to the point that they’ve become not a nuisance but a liability. They are making too much money. When push comes to shove, the best workers get bumped because the bottom line cuts right across their necks. It doesn’t make much sense to me when one person can do the work of three slackers and gets kicked to the curb. But, I suppose I can understand when a company is trying to stay afloat something’s got to give. Slackers are a dime a dozen and most conglomerates just need “butts in chairs” to make the operation work below the executive level (well,…but that’s another story). Eventually, one of those slackers may rise up and at some later date get their legs chopped out from under them as well. But, the conglomerate will go on, customer complaints and downturns in employee moral are but miniscule bumps in the road. I saw it happen in a tech company I worked at. When times got rough, it was the highest paid people who got laid off. The slackers still had jobs while those people that were probably planning to retire with the company got the Big Sayonara.
This was brought to my attention again today when I was reading the December 10 issue of High Country News. In this issue is a great article about Jim Detterline, a 21-year veteran National Park Ranger at Rocky Mountain National Park. Over the years, he’s rescued hundreds of people off the various mountain peaks in the park. He’s an important asset to the visitors of Rocky Mountain National Park, and with his years of mountaineering and rescue experience he is an important asset to the operation of the park as a leader, mentor, and trainer of new generations of park rangers. You don’t get to be where he is overnight.
In 1999, the National Park Service initiated a new set of physical standards for law enforcement park rangers and Mr. Detterline was put on light duty as a result (it’s difficult to be fired in the government, but this is amounts to the same thing). Oh, did I mention that Jim Detterline is hearing impaired? That’s right, he needs to wear a hearing aid. Apparently, years of successful and beneficial service weren’t enough to save him from the wrath of a blanket policy. He fought it (wouldn’t you?) and was granted a waiver to return to ranger duty. But, he has to reapply each year for the waiver, killing his chances for any hope of career advancement. He’s spent $100,000 on his case and continues to battle the Park Service, but despite being disappointed in the way he’s been treated, still has a passion for his job. I wish him luck in his struggle against the government, which can be the absolutely most uncaring employer on the planet. I respect his perseverance and passion. Luckily, for him and park visitors, he didn’t get the boot.
So, what does Jum Detterline’s story have to do with getting fired because you make too much money? Nothing, really. It’s just a story to illustrate my point that in many cases in today’s job market it doesn’t seem to matter how good you are or what benefit you provide to customers and the business as a whole. The respect companies have for employees is almost non-existent and this spills over to employees as well who tend not to respect employers who don’t reward for work well done. In the end, quality and productivity, creativity and innovation suffer. Who wants to put out for someone that’s just going to stab you in the back?
Where do we go from here? How far down the hole does it have to go? There will be a point at which things turn around. The pendulum has to swing all the way over before it can come back. Companies will remember what (and who) keeps them in business and will begin treating employees less like frontline troops and more like money in the bank. I don’t know the statistics for the growth of small businesses, but my inclination is the growth of small businesses is on the rise. People are just tired of being used and and hung out to dry.
Good luck to you all out there struggling to make a difference in corporate land (and on your own). It’s a jungle and the only one looking out for you is you.