Thursday, March 05, 2009

Are You Being Treated Fairly?

Chris Shaw posted a question on his blog and tagged me:

Do you feel like you are being treated fairly at your current or past employers? The question stems from the fact that very few people today stay at a company 20 to 30 years like they did when I was growing up. Do you feel like the company feels a loyalty toward the employee or do you think that they look at you just as head count? No reason to get yourself in trouble, so you can refer back to past employers.

My first job was right out of College. It was kinda a sweatshop for developers. But we were all glad to work nearby the school we had just left. We were all happy to be in the real world. I learned a lot of things at this company. Not all of them good. One of my team leads would typically pack up everything he needed between 430 and 5pm, and sit quietly at his desk. I noticed this once, when I turned around, he was just sitting there, staring at a blank screen. His machine was off. He awaited that 5pm bell; and as soon as he heard it, he stood up, and walked out. This was a habit I learned I didn't want. Amongst all the habits that I learned there, some where good and have helped in my career, but I was fired from that place. Not exactly sure why, but I was. This let me realize that no matter how hard I worked, or how I thought I worked harder than others, I was always expendable.

This has left a rather large scar on me that has been with me for a long time now. I don't know if I will ever truly be rid of it. But from this scar, I have tried to make myself stronger because of it. (did you know that wood that is glued together with a wood glue, is often stronger than the rest of the wood surrounding it). I realize now that no matter what the employer says, it can change at a moments notice. My second job was with a small company, a family run business. My boss once stated that I had a job for life with him. 5 years into working there, this was no longer true. It happened on a Friday afternoon, and I no longer worked there, with very little explanation as to why. I recently ran into him (10 years later) and asked him why. He could not remember. We had a great chat, I got caught up on the company, his family, it was like it was when I worked for him. Cozy, friendly, and familiar. But he had fired me. Was I treated fairly by him? By the company? I did learn a lot there, and some of the skills were used elsewhere to better myself. So, remember, no matter what the employer says, it can change at a moments notice.

This is the same for me. I may be entirely loyal to one employer, and in an instant, this can change. I have to be true to myself. I have to be true to the employer too, but ultimately, I am the only one that truly wants to keep my best interest at heart. For short and hopefully long periods of time, both you and your employer will have your best interest at heart. But this will not be an absolute. So, beware of the signs. Set yourself goals. Realize the direction you want to head. If you and your employer can go there together, than you are truly blessed. If not...

This leads me to another point. I worked for a small group within a large at one time, where I was the most technical person on the team. Since it was a semblance of an IT shop, I stood out with knowledge that most others didn't have. This lead my manager to treat me differently. You would think it would be well, but it wasn't. The helpdesk people were treated often above all else. And this endeared them to the manager. I say 'helpdesk people', not in a derogatory term, but in this case, they were the lowest paid people in the group. I don't expect that since I made more than them, that I should be treated better. What I did expect was that we would all be treated with the same respect, regardless of our position or station. I do not consider myself better than another. Regardless of pay rate, years experience, job title, etc. We are all along this path of life and career, and are at different, rotating stations. One day, I am the noob, the next, I have more experience than most. But in either station, I deserve respect, just like the others on the team do. Long story short, I ended up leaving this job of my own will, because of the lack of respect I received, and lack of growth I currently perceived. In retrospect, I could have sat back, gotten an office, and chilled in this job for many, many years. But it didn't satisfy me. Did they treat me fairly?

So, in this last example, I was the highest paid employee. Yet, I didn't get treated fairly in other areas. In my first job, I didn't get treated fairly in areas other than money; I was a noob and made little money. It's not all about title, money, whether you have an office, and so on. There arealways many facets that make up a job, and you can be treated unfairly in or many of them.

Unfortunately, each time i have felt i have not been treated fairly, I have had to really dig in and look. Sometimes, it is entirely my perception. Other times, its entirely my fault. Other times, it is the employer's fault. But these are rarely absolute across time as well. They peak and valley.

Its important to review your station, position, demeanor, mood and so on, on a regular basis. Not too often, but often enough to make the slight course corrections needed to get back to where you need to be. And realize that no matter what it feels like, it may be your fault. I often wonder why the guy on the road cut me off. But in looking at that statement, I am attributing intent and foreknowledge to a complete stranger. Why would they cut me off? It has nothing to do with me, it just happened. But I feel slighted. This same scenario holds true often in the workplace. You may feel slighted, but are not, its just you think you are. So, be honest with yourself.

Have these little one-on-ones with yourself from time to time, and evaluate your place in life. If its time to move on, then do it. If you can fix some small habits or even large ones, then by all means, work on these and get them fixed. But its rarely as cut and dried as "I'm not being treated fairly". Get all the variables in the open and evaluate them. You may be surprised at what you find out.



Work hard for your employer, be loyal, develop your skills, but always keep a Machiavellian streak.

Brent Ozar said...

The "change in an instant" thing really resonates with me. You can work for years at a company, and then something small happens and your whole perspective changes. It doesn't have to be as big as a firing: it could be something smaller. I distinctly remember hearing my manager drop a casual comment once that made me say, "I never wanna work for this clown again, because as soon as I'm on his bad list, I'm completely screwed."

Christy said...

I liked this one. Very introspective.

Anonymous said...

Wow, Very well said. I am impressed. Thanks so much for the answer TJay.