I wrote a couple of blogs recently on the value of doing hard things. One of my readers agreed with my premise but also went on to share a different take on this theme. Here’s what he said:
“I worked very hard when my kids were little. All of them have commented as adults about how they learned to work from me. I am very happy about that. But as my career progresses I’m not setting the example I once did. I feel overwhelming frustration and a sense of hopelessness because today’s upper and middle management try to squeeze out more profitability by “doing more with less,” and it has taken a toll. I never wanted to be a grumpy old man, but that is who I am becoming.”
I have to agree (not the grumpy old man part). I’ve watched this phenomenon in my consulting business and I’ve heard a lot of family and friends share the same lament. Companies are automating, improving their processes, and downsizing their workforces. Upper management has learned that they can run lean. This has paid off in greater efficiencies and record corporate profitability but, in many cases, has placed an increasing burden on the backs of employees.
I asked this gentleman if I could interview him and he agreed. I told him to tell it like it is from his point of view. Here is an abbreviated and edited version of what he had to say, quoted with his permission.
“Although I only know my own experience, I think that my company is like many who are increasing their profitability but at the expense of their employees. In my case, I started twelve years ago in my home state with eleven accounts. Then it started growing and I now have over a hundred accounts that I’m responsible for in several states. I’m on the road almost every week and yet I can’t call on all of my accounts because there isn’t enough time. I’m dealing with calls and complaints every day and it has become overwhelming.
“Besides more accounts, I’m continually getting demands from corporate people who don’t travel. They come up with things for me to do so the company will look better in the eyes of the customer and they’ll look good in the eyes of their bosses. They say ‘this would be good for you to do.’ Maybe so, but they don’t realize this is just the latest in lots of initiatives coming from many different sources that don’t coordinate with each other.
Here’s a recent example. There’s a new program in which I’m supposed to send a nice email to a customer the week before I visit them. When I visit, I’m supposed to meet with the general manager (besides the service managers who are my customers) and ask if there is anything I can do for them. Then I’m expected to follow up with an email a week after our visit thanking them and telling them what I’ve done.
“One request like this might be okay but I’m getting lots of them from corporate people who either have no idea the work load I’m under or simply don’t care. Then they follow up, ‘have you done x, y, and z?’ All their uncoordinated demands put triple the workload on me. I end up spending hours on my computer every day just responding to their requests instead of visiting customers. And I end up being on the computer all night when I should have time for myself or my family.
“Technology makes things worse. Because everyone has cell phones, tablets, or computers we can’t get away from one another. These devices have become a 24/7/365 electronic leash. Plus everybody thinks they deserve an immediate response which disrupts my normal work day, wears me out, and over time decreases the quality of my work.
“I’m convinced that the pay of corporate staff is based on a grid—how many texts or emails they can send in a day along the left side of the grid and how many people they can copy along the top. It takes an average of an hour and a half every day just to look through my emails, plus another two and a half hours to do my follow up and paper work. I get up early and get to bed late most days.
“I know my customers are in a similar boat. I used to do their job before I started consulting. Their companies have combined what used to be three jobs into a single role and then wonder why customer service is not as great as it used to be. The owners get upset and then guess who gets punished? The service guys who are already overworked and underappreciated.
“Like so many businesses, we had to cut back employees in 2008. We lost about a third of the people doing my job. Guess who picked up the slack? Plus we have sales guys that are generating more business than ever. So we’re setting revenue records all the time but the company tells us they’re not going to hire more people to service the accounts. I literally feel like a Jew in a concentration camp. They’ll work me to death and then get rid of me when I can give no more.
“I’ve tried to talk to my boss and he says he didn’t hire me to work 8 to 5. Neither did he tell me that he hired me to work 5 to 8. He wasn’t honest with his expectations. He’s pounded the crap out of me for the last twelve years and still expects more. He doesn’t respond well when I tell him I have a personal life, family, church, and community responsibilities. He tells me my number one priority should be work. He actually said to me once, ‘The new guy that would replace you won’t know or care – he will just be happy to have the job. So you better make a big boy decision.’
“It reminds me of when my youngest daughter got married. I was in another city in a neighboring state for her wedding and got a call from my boss that I needed to call on an account in this city on this day. I told him I could not, it was my daughter’s wedding day and he had already approved my vacation time. Besides, it wasn’t even in my territory. He said he didn’t care to hear my whys and wherefores and that I had to do it anyway. He told me the wedding was in the afternoon and I had time before all of the festivities began. I said “no” again so he ended up flying some other guys in from other states. My boss told them they could thank me for this disruption to their schedules. Fortunately, they were my pals and so they covered for me.
“Bottom line is that I feel hopeless in the face of everything management asks of me. Nothing is ever enough. Those who work harder get even more put on their plates. I’ve tried giving 110% but know that it won’t be enough. Eventually, I stop caring. Why put out so much just so my superiors can look better to their superiors? They don’t care about me and my personal life. So why should I care about the job I’m doing?”
Now I’m not going to claim all employment situations are as demanding or bosses as merciless as my friend’s. But I have heard a similar refrain from many employees around the country. Many employees are feeling seriously overworked and underappreciated. Verifying this perception is a good body of research showing that around 80% of all employees are disengaged from their jobs, some actively hostile, others simply putting in their time until a better opportunity comes along.
So my question is, have you had a similar experience? How have you handled it? Or what thoughts do you have about how to remain upbeat and productive instead of becoming the dreaded grumpy old/young man/woman? (Comments welcome.)