Working is an important part of our culture, and the work you do is important, no matter what it is. The fact that someone pays you to do a task, and you reliably show up to accomplish that job is significant.
With all the complaints about our current workforce being lazy, under-skilled and entitled, what are we doing to elevate the status of people who work? It starts with communicating the right messages to them about the work they do and the purpose for it.
Observed at the Grocery Store
I choose to use the staffed checkout counter at my local grocery store which always has someone stationed at the end of the conveyor to bag the groceries. I was raised in a world where we did not bag our own groceries, and I appreciate that my local store carries on this tradition. I also understand that I have a part to play in the checkout process going smoothly.
When I approach the counter, I put my reusable grocery bags up first and then sort the items in my basket to facilitate easy bagging. The heavy items roll toward the register first while I hold back bread, eggs and other delicate fare until last.
In addition, I make an effort to engage with the person bagging the groceries. Sometimes I issue a challenge to fit all the groceries into two bags, implying the bagger is the expert at this task. And, I always praise a job well done. After all, I am happy that I don’t have to bag the groceries myself. This person is performing a service that is important to me.
The Breakdown in Communication
Last week, despite all my efforts to aid and encourage the person bagging the groceries, the job was not done well. More importantly, what I noticed was that the bagger was not engaged in the task. He was looking around the store, talking to a friend walking by and generally not concerned about the performance of his task.
I realized as I walked away with a bottle of olive oil precariously perched, on its side, on top of a bag of chips in my grocery bag, that there was a breakdown in communication at a higher level. As the customer, I could not express how important the task of bagging the groceries is to me (any more than my participation would suggest). But someone should have explained how important this job is to the person doing it.
How Important is Your Job?
If I didn’t think my job was important or that my boss valued my contributions, I’d take on the same attitude that the person bagging my groceries had. No matter what the job is, if it doesn’t feel important, it doesn’t seem to warrant our full attention or our best efforts.
We can all claim that workers who perform entry-level tasks are important to the continued functioning of our society. We saw what happens when we don’t have enough people to bag the groceries, wait on tables at restaurants, deliver food and other items to our homes, etc. But, what do we do to communicate their importance to the people who actually do these jobs? By not acknowledging their importance, we contribute to the erosion of our workforce and our collective work ethic.
The people who bag the groceries at my local store are mostly young, just entering the workforce. How are we training them to develop a work ethic and respect the value of working when we don’t express these values to them explicitly? Perhaps they are getting the opposite message from working a menial jobor encouragement.
The Importance of Communication
By not making the messages explicit, we are at best leaving it to chance that entry-level employees (or any employees for that matter) will understand. Until the mind-meld is actually invented, you have to tell employees what you want them to know. Then, repeat that message in multiple formats to help them learn and internalize it.
For every manager complaining about the state of our current workforce, there is a person who is under-communicating with employees. More words would help in most situations. Better communication solves most problems when humans are involved.
While you’re at it, make those messages positive. There is nothing glamorous about entry-level work, but you can sell it as the foundation for building a work ethic and a strong, upwardly mobile career. Remember that any task you are willing to pay someone to do is important. Help them see the importance of the work and how you and your customers rely on them to do it effectively and efficiently.
Communication matters. Work matters. People matter.