Being Thankful for the Thankless

When people ask me what I do at work, I usually just respond with “I do computer stuff for a university.” For most, that is more than enough detail. Let’s be honest. If you’re talking to a firefighter or a pilot, a police officer or a nurse, the details of their job might be intriguing. But it is hard for us cube-or-office drones to make what we do sound interesting – sometimes even to ourselves.

I recently attended  a “meet and greet” our office was hosting for faculty members. I was chatting with a very nice professor, and she looked at me and gave me the dreaded “so what do you do?” My “computer stuff” answer wasn’t going to do the trick for her – she already knew that much. So I plunged in and tried to explain.

“Well, I’m sort of the go-between for all of you who use the system and the developers who work on it. I take your suggestions, spec them out, work with IT to make changes, test things, and write documentation.”

She gave me a truly sympathetic smile. “Well, I bet that’s thankless work,” she said.

Her honesty floored me. She had hit on something that had been bugging me for a long time. I could tell from her mischievous smile that she wasn’t talking about my actual work. But because she’s a professor who also works in our university environment, she knows our culture as well as I do. She knows that no matter what we “system types” do to try to make things better, a favorite passtime for some of our colleagues will always be complaining – sometimes loudly – about the things they don’t like.

That’s the nature of the beast in many IT type jobs. When things are running smoothly, users aren’t likely to seek out their system gurus and go “thanks for an easy workday!” They don’t understand all the hard work that goes on behind the scenes. But when something goes wrong, or they don’t like how the system works even when it is doing exactly what it is designed to do, you’d better believe that IT folks hear about it. And hear about it. And hear about it some more.

The professor’s full-of-candor words really stuck with me. They explained a lot, like why I have to do most of my writing in the mornings or on the weekends, because after a day in the office I am often too raw and drained to write anything other than vents and rants.

Thankless. I didn’t like that description, true though it felt. Who wants to admit they spend most of their waking hours doing something that even a relative outsider can accurately describe that way?

Sure, there’s lots to be thankful for about even having a job in a tight economy. On top of that, I have loads of cool co-workers, a great boss, and a mighty fine leave package. So even if my work itself – or at least others’ response to it – could be described as “thankless,” I do have some good things going for me.

But there’s also a less obvious silver lining. I can rant and rave all I want about the lack of love office environments give their IT folk. But that doesn’t make my workday any worse than anyone else’s. Whether your job is front-line or behind-the scenes, you’re going to have to deal with difficult people. Some irate person is going to blow off steam at you even though their problem isn’t your fault. Somewhere along the way, you might even deal with workplace bullies. Only those with big trust funds or winning lotto tickets are exempt from the possibility of “workplace meanies.”

Being on the receiving end of this has made me more sensitive to what other workers deal with on a daily basis. I like to try to find ways to spread a little sunshine when I can. I’m thankful for opportunities to heap an overdose of nice on someone who just got a supersized helping of mean for no other reason than that she needs a paycheck.

Here are a few things that can brighten someone’s workday:

– Tip well.

– When calling a customer service line remember that the person who answers the phone most likely did not cause your problem. Treat him or her with the politeness you hope would be extended to your son or daughter if their job was to answer your call.

– Say a random “thank you, I appreciate what you do” to the unsung heroes in your office or workplace. Let the people behind the scenes who may never hear the compliments of customers know they contribute to your success.

– Don’t just tell the unsung heroes they rock. Tell others – share stories of jobs well done in meetings with higher ups or other departments. Everyone is quick to point out what goes wrong, so be the one who puts as much effort into talking about what goes right.

– Bosses are people too. At work, compliments tend to “trickle down” from the top. We often assume supervisors, managers and bosses don’t need our thanks and compliments. But they do.

– When you see a cashier, bartender or waitress dealing with a difficult customer, share a smile and a sympathetic laugh when you get to the front of the line or she can finally extricate herself from Mr. Whinypants to come to your table. Let her know that not all customers think she should be treated that way.

– Ask a co-worker who looks extra frazzled if everything is ok, or if they need help with something. Surprise a colleague who is on a tight deadline with a cup of coffee or their favorite afternoon snack.

– If someone goes above and beyond to help you out – whether it is the cable guy, your insurance agent or your college-aged son’s financial aid counselor, ask for their supervisor’s contact info and write a letter of praise. We’re all trigger-happy when it comes to firing off angry emails, but don’t often think about taking the same 60 seconds to send a compliment.

I’m not going to say I’m thankful for cranky people or workplace bullies. But I am grateful that experiencing them in relatively high doses myself has made me more eager to be kind, fair and complimentary when I’m the customer instead of the server.

What about you? Are there negative things in your life that have taught you positive life lessons? What’s your favorite way to help keep someone else’s day from feeling “thankless?”


About hawleywood40

Writer, Steelers Fan in Baltimore, Frequent Visitor to the Shot Fairy
This entry was posted in Finding Thankfulness, Office Life, Personal Development Mumbo-Jumbo Stuff, Work and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

10 Responses to Being Thankful for the Thankless

  1. My kids tip well and thank people; no wonder you make friends with them. Personally, the best jobs of my life were supporting IT people — and in one or two places, becoming one of them. (I think that was the result of the bosses’ not wanting to be bothered; I became the go-to person for Microsoft Word and certain other applications we used.)

  2. Jeff says:

    Wow, that was a great article. My wife works as a “Relationship Manager” in IT, and she comes home frustrated every single day. They get treated like crap, and then they keep laying people off, but not decreasing the work load.

    I agree about when you call someone on the customer service line. That’s one that I struggle with. I have to remember that they, like you said, are not the ones that caused my problem, and they’re just doing their job.

    I am also a generous tipper. Unless I get just absolutely horrible service, I always tip well, and it pains me to be at a table with someone who, in my opinion, stiffs a waiter or waitress.

    We could all stand to be a bit more gracious in this world.

    See you later,


    • hawleywood40 says:

      Thanks Jeff! I can definitely relate to your wife’s frustrations, including how the workload doesn’t decrease with staff. We haven’t had layoffs but we’ve had a freeze in place that means it is very difficult to re-hire when someone retires or moves on to another job, and so their work just gets redistributed among people who already have overflowing plates. I hope your wife has co-workers like mine – we do try to keep each other laughing and remind each other that even if no one else seems to that day, WE appreciate each other and what we do : ).

  3. tsonoda148 says:

    I come from an IT career background, so I completely understand and concur with that part of your story.
    How do I like to make someone’s day? I try to give anyone who is providing me any kind of service (waitress, store clerk, mailman, etc) a cordial smile and greeting. And I think it’s important to look at them, in the eyes, and acknowledge them. I am a very observant person and I have been in restaurants and notice that most people never look their servers in the face. I have heard that they really do appreciate it when you treat them human. Just a thought, and a small way to make someone’s day.

    • hawleywood40 says:

      Excellent points – I try to do the same, although I admit that when I’m off in my own head (which happens way to much for writers who are running around leading busy lives) I probably unintentionally seem aloof and disconnected. Something to work on : ).

  4. “Whether your job is front-line or behind-the scenes, you’re going to have to deal with difficult people. ” True.” I like to try to find ways to spread a little sunshine when I can.” A perfect , optimistic attitude in any environment, work place or not. I’m always fascinated with computers and the IT job. My weakness is computer and technology does I always admire people who are gifted in this aspect. I notice you mentioned “nurse.” It’s a challenging job but we do get our doses of verbal abuse sometimes from angry/stressed clients and their families. And like you, I try to be an positive example for others, live in gratitude, be helpful, bring humor , being generous and make others feel good about themselves. At the end of the day, it makes me happy that I made someones day better. Wonderful post…Have a fun weekend…..

  5. Catie Rhodes says:

    We always tip well. Waiting tables looks like a hard job on this side of the table. That they can smile and be personable amazes me.

    When I had a day job, I did what people now call Administrative Assistant. I refuse to call it that. My title was secretary. I billed myself as a underpaid flunky. Bummer of a thankless job, and I’ll be thankful if I never have to go back to it. So I do sympathize.

    Keep at it. That you’re sane enough to write as well as you is testament to your resilience. 😀

    • Catie Rhodes says:

      that should be “write as well as you do.” Ugh, ugh, ugh.

    • hawleywood40 says:

      Thank you Catie! This week has been a real struggle in terms of just feeling beaten down and defeated by the day-job life – I think because it has been so busy it has eaten away both writing and gym time, and I just don’t feel like me. If there’s anything positive about disliking a lifestyle so much, it is the motivation you have to do your best to get out of it and write your way into a life with more freedom and flexibility. TGIF : )!

  6. Aurora, HSP says:

    You rock and so does your blog. I always marvel at your ability to produce material that is not only engaging but helpful while doing all you do so well in the world. Thanks for the inspiration to keep on keeping on. 🙂

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