Lessons in Appreciating the 'Underdog' Workers & Employees
For some reason, I often associate May 1st with being a day set aside as 'Workers Day'. It's probably due to my Nigerian background where that day is a public holiday set aside for workers. And that's why I thought it'd be a good reason to publish this post that's somewhat related to work & workers. It's is one of those posts that I really couldn't think of a straight title for. But it's one I wanted to write; one I think I had to write; and I hope you see the point!
It started from random thoughts - and then progressed to "aha! There's actually quite some sense in that"
If you had to leave your current organisation or work place today, who would you miss or remember the most? It's okay if you won't miss anyone, and it's also okay if you'd immediately respond with "my friends / colleagues ofcourse!"
Or maybe you'd even miss your bosses / superiors.
I'm just going to assume that many people will fall into the category of missing their colleagues / bosses. And that's such a wonderful thing. But maybe, just maybe if we gave it an extra five minutes of thought -some additional people that you may not have thought of will crop. Try maybe?
Just before I resumed at a new place of work a couple of years ago, I read a cheesy easy read romantic happily-ever-after novel. You know, those ones that you could easily skip every three pages and not miss a beat. Even though you may not have read this exact novel - if you read any sort of cheesy romances, you're likely to have come across something similar.
First, the main character female meets main character male in the elevator of a large multinational company. Their eyes meet, sparks fly and butterflies too. But he's dressed in blue collar work clothes, construction helmet and boots. Totally doesn't look like the boss. But then plot twist (or not really because we knew already!) he's the boss of the company. If she was rude to him, she wishes the ground would open up and swallow her. If she wasn't she thanks her lucky stars!
This situation is somewhat similar to my experience. Where the underdogs so to speak became the heros & the faves. While they may not exactly turn out to be the rich mogul in the story, they are still very much heros in their own right.
It was interesting when it hit me. I had now left this place of work and weirdly enough, my experiences with these underdog heros constantly replayed in my mind. I realised I actually had fond memories of them - and they had shaped my thinking and made my work experience memorable in several little ways.
And so here's some of the experiences I had:
it must be the foodie in me, but I had such a great relationship with the chefs! First, was the one who seemed to think the name "angel" suited me better than Kachee. So he'd call me that. To the full hearing of everybody. And then he was very generous when serving my food portions and would often go the extra mile to make me happy. Next was the one who was black African, and thought it right that I include the word 'aunty' before her name, as she was old enough to birth me. But at least she knew when my hair was a weave or braids, and often complemented me on it, even if no one else noticed. Then the younger trainee chef, who told me where I could get free movies on the internet (legally!) and then the ones who knew exactly how I loved my eggs & meat - very well done! Save for chef one who was often grumpy - and no matter how hard I tried, insisted on giving me only seven pieces of prawns and no extras - the rest of the chefs almost made me look forward to meal times as they made the cafeteria a happy place.
the cleaning lady:
Being Nigerian, I can almost tell a Nigerian when I see one. And so when I ran into this lady cleaning out the kitchens, I wasn't surprised that she was Nigerian. She told me she was from Edo state and hadn't been home in two years, but was looking to go asap. She was probably working two or more jobs, and though she didn't know it, she taught me a lesson in gratitude and contentment.
For the times I'd complain about late nights at work, i'd think of her and note that I could def have had it worse off. She was probably doing much more hours, manually intense work, and yet earned a fraction of what I got paid. We never really spoke at length, but when we came across each other, we'd nod and smile - and that connection felt genuine - unlike the fake smiles one often had to give in the elevator.
the facilities supervisor:
She was in charge of handling incoming and outgoing mails, amongst a few other things. It's weird that I wasn't quite sure what her name was despite the fact that we had a number of interactions - thanks to my impulsive online shopping and subsequent returns - which she helped handle. And also the times I forgot my ID card & had to get a temporary one.
She was definitely sort of Caribbean - rather plump with streaks of grey hair. Guess what? Her grand-child was my name sake! How super cool was that? And one time, when I had an excessive amount of deliveries, she handed me her Louis Vuitton paper bag to put all my bits & bobs in. I think her son used to work there - so she had quite a few.
When I told her I was leaving, she smiled and said "awww, now who will I lend my carrier bag to?". I smiled back, thankful for that pleasant memory with someone who I just may never see again. But someone who was always always kind and pleasant.
the mail room delivery lad
I say lad, because it's quite difficult to place his age. Or maybe I just never looked closely. But while you may not know his age, you couldn't miss his high pitched voice and the fact that he seemed to forever be in a good mood - notwithstanding the fact that he had the task of hand delivering mails and parcels to no less than 500 persons who worked in the building. Thus, he knew the office & name of arguably almost everyone in the office.
Thanks to his role, he was in the elevator quite a bit! Not once did I see him sullen. He couldn't be in an elevator, and it'd be a quiet ride. He was sure to say hello & ask about your day (in his high pitched voice). If you were gracious enough to ask about his plans or day, he'd be happy to go into detail and not provide a general response, like most of us tend to do.
And while his appearance often looked like he could have made a little bit more effort, this didn't seem to bother him in the least or affect his happiness. He re-emphasised that happiness comes from within - and it's that kind that we must seek!
While I don't recall at this time particular experience with one secretary, collectively for me, they made me think of loyalty in some way. You see, a large number of them had worked with this organisation for more than 20 years! But that was not exactly the wonder. Many lawyers, start their careers as a trainee - at the bottom of the ladder. And in most cases they get assigned a secretary.
As trainees, they are often so lost and rely on their secretaries for everything. In fact, at the induction, you're often told how you should take your secretary to lunch / coffee and be in their good books. Now, on the average a trainee lawyer who works hard could become a partner in 10 years. Technically, they've become the boss. And many a secretaries had seen this change. The little trainee who was timid and lost on day 1, suddenly calls the shot on day 3650. Many may tend to feel slighted at this. But a lot of the secretaries were happy to be in this position - telling funny stories of the early days of their now bosses. While I as a person might be bored in the same role and organisation for 20 years, again, it made me think of loyalty and maybe truly enjoying what you called 'work' and the place you called 'office'.
These people might have been the "support staff" while the lawyers are regarded as "fee earners" and rightly so. But they provide such an incredible level of support and so much more!
I think it's important that in our work places, we take our time to appreciate the under dogs. Because without them, a lot of organisations would fall apart. It's much more important to be aware of these, in societies where there isn't particularly dignity of labour - and such employees are looked down on. Let's not be part of those. Let's remember that these people are really super, and without them a lot of organisations would fall apart.
In my other places of work, there are others I remember as well. Like the elevator guy. He seemed to sleep quite a lot - but you couldn't blame him. His role was to sit in an elevator and all he had to do for the entire day was lead people up the floors they were going - by pressing the buttons. He had a radio to keep him company. God knows he needed it.
There was also the tea lady who looked after the kitchen. I liked that she had big dreams. She was saving up to open her own bakery, as she had gone to culinary school. She made me want to think bigger.
Recently on holiday, the concierge had the broadest smile I'd seen in a long time. Friends who had lodged at the hotel for a while said they'd never seen anyone so happy and eager to help.
I can go on and on. But I hope you get the picture. And in case you missed it. The food for thought in black & white: How do we carry out our daily tasks no matter how tedious. With joy? Will people think we leave a positive impact?
What's your experience like? Please share some of your fave underdog workers who you think deserve some credit - what you liked about them or how they made you a better person, even in the slightest of ways.
And if you could go the extra mile, appreciate such person today. I still feel a bit bad for the trainee chef I promised to get an iPhone case for - as she had said she liked mine. But then it skipped my mind, and I didn't get around to doing that.
Finally if you think someone may like this post, please don't forget to share!