The Dishwasher’s Tale
During a recent conversation, a friend–General Counsel for a large listed company–mentioned that she does not feel appreciated by her CEO for all the work she does; and that feels disheartening.
How often do we hear this? Is this a gender issue? Do females need to feel workforce appreciation more than males?
A Little Appreciation
One of my biggest lessons in life came 30 years ago. I had time between University semesters. I wanted to travel to the country nearest Ireland, where I was studying, where they didn’t speak English. After getting a bus, boat, and train…I arrived at my destination: Belgium, where Flemish is the first language and French the second. Because of the language barrier, I had to work in a position that did not require customer contact.
Hence my job: dishwasher.
Day in and day out I washed glasses, dishes, pots and pans. I think it was the hardest job I have ever completed. Only one of the waiters would come up to me at the end of a shift to say ‘thank you.’ This simple, genuine ‘thank you’ was so warming to my soul that it would make me feel motivated enough to come back into work the next day. Luckily this was a summer job to fund my holiday travels and I only had to work there for one month. I cannot begin to imagine what it must be like to have that job long term.
A Question of Perspectives
I walked away with from that job knowing what a huge difference it makes if someone feels appreciated. Ever since, I have tried to make a point of showing my appreciation–from my client, to the person in the office emptying the rubbish bins, to the lady in the bathroom at the airport cleaning the cubicles, to the tram driver when I get off at my stop and I leave via the door beside the driver.
Recently, I have become more aware of how many others do not do this. I asked colleagues in the office why they do not say ‘thank you’ to the person cleaning their rubbish bins. The answer was almost always, “It’s their job, why should I thank to someone for doing their job?” Maybe this is the perspective of the CEO at my friend’s company.
A Little Less Self-orientation
Imagine if we all proactively practiced genuine appreciation–what a wonderful world we would live in. It reminds me of one lesson of the Trust Equation; that as we empathetically reach out to others by giving them a sense of importance, we simultaneously reduce our own self-orientation.
An old Chinese proverb says it all “Flowers leave some of their fragrance on the hand that bestows them.”
When we make people feel good about themselves we elevate ourselves to greatness as well.
You are so right Hazel and I think your diagnosis is correct as well. If anyone does a variety of jobs it makes them appreciate what it’s like to do all sorts of work. And yes, I’ve heard that one about, “They get paid for doing that so why should I have to thank them?”
In my time I’ve met and worked with all sorts of famous (and infamous) business people and held some pretty nice business jobs. But I’ve also been a London double-decker bus driver, mixed concrete and mortar for builders, been a barman, sold encyclopedias, and been a rock musician. (And no, they weren’t holiday jobs.) Having done some pretty hard, boring jobs in my time, I can tell you I really appreciate everyone’s work. But I know plenty of people who haven’t had the opportunity to have fun driving a bus or working on a building site, for them it’s just been a straight line onward and upward and they regularly tread all over those who help them.
Perhaps it’s worth remembering ‘what goes around comes around’ – and it’s wonderful to watch it happen when it does. (I know; I’m so ungracious laughing at some rude colleague getting their just desserts! But it is funny.)
Years ago I came across the teaching of a Jesuit Priest. His summary of a good life was, “Be kind.” It’s at the very heart of having good relationships with everyone. I don’t think being kind is something you can turn on and off at will. When someone is rude or careless with a subordinate, it tells you quite a lot about that person and their core values.
I’m sure it must sound strange to all the genuinely kind and “less self-absorbed” people in the world to read about the necessity of being appreciative to others, regardless of rank and position. That said, it is necessary to point out being aware and kind isn’t just for our clients.
Perhaps today we have too many overly entitled, overly educated and unappreciative people out there that have never had to “dirty their hands” w/ manual labor, perform a low level type of job and / or choose to forget what it was like to be the entry- level low man on the totem pole. As such, many are blind to those little tasks that are performed (and expected) daily which impact their lives or make their jobs easier. Yes, I know, I’m generalizing and there are a lot of employees that do recognize & appreciate those folks.
Over the years, as I moved from organization to organization, whenever I could I would stop to say a final thank you & goodbye to the cleaning / cafeteria / mail room / security staff, etc. They always said, “THANK YOU” in return and told me I would be missed. I can’t tell you how many times I was told that most of the employees never even acknowledged them, let alone said hello / good night / thank you or knew their names. That always made me feel a tad sad that something that appeared to be just common courtesy and not out of the ordinary…was to so many.
Chris, you have certainly worked in a wide range of contrasting roles! Thank you for your story, perspective and the way you have connected ‘appreciation’ to ‘kindness’. I went through to your website and also enjoyed your story on how your love of music and an early career mentor led you to perform gigs with a number of future rock legends.
Barbara, thank you for your sharing and perspective. You are right, and it is very sad that it is often only when someone like you leaves an organisation and says the final good byes to the forgotten and overlooked employees/contractors that they open up about how they are treated by the majority of employees/managers. As you say it can be a simple acknowledgement like a hello / good night /thank you that can brighten up their day and make them feel less invisible.
I can’t help but think about Leona Helmsly’s pejorative, demeaning, dismissive reference years ago to “the little people” with whom she couldn’t be bothered.
Unfortunately, we live in a society where one’s obsessive need to be seen as “somebody” results in their choice to do so at the expense of those they have to “step over,” ignore or disregard in order to feel like somebody.
It used to be they could get that sense of being somebody if they were “comped” or had their parking vaidated. But, now, it’s taken the tone of a more inhumane and impersonal affront towards others that somehow makes them feel, what?, important? Interesting times. More’s the pity.
Thank you for the lovely post, Hazel. (And keep writing them! It would be great to see more of you around here.)
I’ve long thought that if I were made Queen of the World I’d decree that everyone needs to work in a minimum wage job for a week, preferably one with customer contact. It’s much harder to dismiss or ignore other people when you have literally experienced their jobs.
I’ve had a fair share of low-status jobs in my working years, and I always appreciated the people who made me feel human rather than invisible. It’s amazing how much a real human connection can be a gift.
Hazel, great story and important conversation. Our own research showed 98% of respondents said they could do with more appreciation and recognition. It’s a basic human need to know we are noticed and our efforts are valued.
As to bosses who say, “Why should I thank them for doing their job?”
How about this reason? Doing so can increase productivity by 31%. Quoting from research discussed in an HBR blog: “If managers just increased their praise and recognition of one employee once a day for 21 business days in a row, six months later, those teams as opposed to control group, had a 31% higher level of productivity.”
Research citation and additional info available here: http://bit.ly/kHcKUd
Thank you so much Peter, Shaula, Derek for your stories.
Peter, I had forgotten about the Queen of Mean and if I remember rightly it was her unhappy contractors and staff that led to her downfall.
Shaula, love your Queen of the World rule of law.
Derek, thank you for providing us with some research evidence on the benefits of appreciation. In business we constantly hear about the need to increase productivity through stream lining business processes, training, use of automation, technology and innovation. Here we have a cost free solution that can potentially add a whooping 31% !
What timing: I came across this article today, Hazel, and it reminded me of your post: Devaluing Hospitality Workers. Ouch. There are certainly some trust issues going on there–among many other problem areas.
nice post ! Thanks you !
The issue I have about saying, “If you treat people well you get more work out of them,” is that it really misses the point. It still has a sub-agenda about self, self interest – to get what I want, I need to treat them well. So how does that work? Until I get what I want without having to bother treating them well?
Treating people well is just the right thing to do. The way we create a wonderful World – or could create. Like many of these attributes, if you do it naturally, you’ll probably not give it a thought, it’s the way you are. Like honesty – robbing my neighbour’s house isn’t a consideration as part of how I might increase my income. I really don’t do a risk / reward analysis before counting it out.
Treating people well should be a natural thing we just do. But I suppose getting everyone to do it out of self-interest is a good aim – but after that I think we are really talking about a basic change of heart, a real life-style change. Maybe acting out being kind makes you natuarlly kind after a time.
It’s an extremely deep and philosophical issue.
You are so totally right. Another way to put it is that when you try to justify ethical decisions based on their profitability, you strip them of their ethicality.
Trust should indeed be a matter of civility, of social ethics, of interpersonal respect; something you do because that’s what you do, rather than because you benefit from it financially.
Thanks for nailing it so concretely.