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?”