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It’s OK to be a Worker Bee

Jan 25th, 2013 | By | Category: Nick Kemper's Blog

One of the tow companies I work closely with is a large company with multiple divisions, troche including two towing divisions, a dispatch department, a vehicle auction, a lien processing department, a towncar service, an automotive shop and a salvage and parts company — as well as a large accounting pool that serves all of the divisions. With my background managing a tow company, I volunteered to be a member of their education committee, thinking that I could help with developing training materials and troubleshooting training issues within the different divisions. I’m still trying to figure out what my role is on the committee, as well as what the committee is all about. There’s a strong push within the company, and within this group, for continuing education for employees, including learning management skills, cross-training and self-improvement. I’m all for it. As long as “strong push” doesn’t evolve into “shove.” You know the difference. “Strong push” is when your mom makes you go out for little league. “Shove” is what your brother does to knock you off-balance when mom isn’t looking.

I’m worried a little about it because years ago when I first worked for this company as a tow truck driver, I spent 11 years at one division, doing one job, and though I was going to college part-time for most of those years, I never gave much thought to moving up within the company. A couple of times I was considered for a management position but both times it would have resulted in an increase in hours and responsibility as well as a decrease in pay. That doesn’t work for me. I ascribe to “win-win,” and making a sacrifice to move up (beyond the expected sacrifice of working harder and often more) is “lose-win.” I think even Stephen Covey would have agreed with me on that.

Now, if I had chosen to take one of these positions, and one of the expectations would have been that I engage in some kind of continuing education or formal self-improvement program, I would have been okay with that. Similarly, if I had been interested in one of the positions but was told that I would need to engage in some kind of continuing education or formal self-improvement program to be eligible for the promotion, I would have been okay with that as well. What worries me is when the strong push trickles down to all levels of an organization, even to those who are not interested in more than earning a paycheck.

Yes, I am going to go out on a spindly limb here and state that it’s okay to be just a worker bee. As the saying goes, the world needs ditch-diggers too and it does. And there is nothing demeaning about being a laborer, or an entry-level worker, or even a burger-flipper. Maybe, heaven forbid, the focus of your life is family or friends or personal activities or going to school to learn skills that will take you into a different profession.

In the movie The Big Chill, there is a funeral scene after a suicide. The priest or minister wonders what led the deceased to take his own life. He talks about how the deceased was “a brilliant physics student who paradoxically chose to experience life through a series of seemingly random occupations.” Translation: he had a lot of crap jobs that a lot of people probably told him were beneath him. Then he asks, “Are not the satisfactions of being a good man among men great enough to sustain us anymore?”

Is being a tow truck driver, cab driver, construction worker, administrative assistant or a ditch-digger not great enough to sustain us? How about being a stay-at-home parent? What is more important, learning the latest business strategy fad, or making a living so you can raise a healthy and loving family?

I’m not anti-education. I just think that continuing education and self-improvement must be a voluntary activity, and that while you can promote it, and even make it a condition of moving up within an organization, it’s not appropriate to saturate all levels of your organization with it. When I was a driver during those 11 years, I just wanted to come to work, do my job well, make a lot of money and go home. I had a life outside of work. I was getting my own continuing education. I was starting a family. I read a lot of non-business books. In fact, I often sneered at management and gossiped about them behind their backs with my co-workers (it was good for morale.) If you have 18 different classes going on every month, and you’re pressuring the lube man to complete his “dream board,” you might want to take a step back at some point and ask, “who’s collecting for service rendered?” Make sure the front lines are sufficiently staffed, and that obstacles to serving the customer are removed from their path, including obstacles you put there.

Have a safe and profitable week.

Nick Kemper