Everyone has a few things that really, really piss them off.
Some people are rendered incoherent with rage when confronted with unsafe drivers.
Others get apoplectic upon discovering food waste.
There are those who have no tolerance for bureaucracy.
Everyone has ‘trigger points’ that swing them emotionally, whether they are large issues or small, seemingly inconsequential, or far reaching in their impact.
One of mine has to do with a certain word.
A word that in some contexts is beautiful, empowering, and a guidepost for word and deed.
But that in other contexts is a sledgehammer, beating down the bridges you build between yourself and the people you work with, and sometimes battering them directly.
That word is grateful.
In the wrong context hearing or seeing that word (or others that imply it) makes me see red and usually, start swearing.
A Problem with Gratitude?
Let me explain a little more.
I will never take issue with anyone who calls themselves grateful, or makes practicing gratitude a part of their daily lives. I do it myself – considering things I am grateful for in my life is how I like to begin the day, before even getting out of bed.
But when you start trying to apply the idea of gratitude to other people – thinking, believing, or even saying that THEY should be grateful for X, Y, and Z…
Yeah – that it makes me feel a little punchy.
This holds true across most instances – no human ever knows another human well enough to be able to say exactly what level of gratitude they should have for any thing or situation in their lives, but what I want to focus on today is the particularly problematic habit that many business owners and managers have about the people they lead.
That they should be grateful:
For a job…
For a benefit of that job…
For an opportunity…
For access to things or people…
For their pay…
Nope. Nope. Nope. Nope. Nope.
It is not 1342. Your team members are not serfs. You are not doing them a favour by paying for their labour. They do not owe you anything other than the contracted work during the agreed upon timeframe.
Is this really a thing?
Oh, you betcha.
This is generally not as obvious as someone saying in a meeting “the customer support team should be grateful they have jobs at all” (although I’ve seen it happen). It’s often more subtle. A baseline assumption that you are helping your team member more than they are helping you. That whatever you are paying them for is something they should be delighted to do, in the conditions under which they do it. That they shouldn’t complain or ask for more money, less work, or additional benefits.
Don’t they have ENOUGH already? Shouldn’t they have to prove LOYALTY before asking for more? Shouldn’t they be GRATEFUL for this opportunity?
Yep, there it is, I want to hit something.
But let’s break this down a little before I break my coffee mug.
One of the reasons you might feel good about yourself as someone who creates or leads jobs and work is that you, well, create jobs and work so that people can earn money and the economy can continue.
That’s a fair thing to feel good about – I’m not taking issue with that, and it IS small business owners and entrepreneurs who create the vast majority of work-for-pay in North America. (No one here still believes in trickle down economics, right? Good.)
Currently the working world is tenuous. More people lack jobs and the way to earn a living then there are jobs available for them.
This is scary. This is damaging. And when someone GETS a job, especially one with any kind of benefits like flexible hours, health insurance, the chance to learn and advance – yeah, they might experience the feeling of gratitude.
But that’s not for YOU, job creator, and you shouldn’t imagine it is, even when it’s directed towards you personally.
Why you think people should be grateful for their jobs
There is already a power imbalance inherent in employee/employer relationships. Employers and managers have power, and in the absence of effective collective bargaining and effective legal protections, employees, subcontractors and other team members do not.
As someone in a position of power, you also inherently overvalue your own contributions and undervalue the contributions of others. (Not really your fault, we all do it.)
For entrepreneurs especially, you’re also likely to place HUGE value on the growth and development of your company (which you should) and feel like the psychological benefits YOU get from helping your baby thrive apply to others as well (which you shouldn’t).
It’s also very likely that you’re watching your budget carefully – and that salary or hourly wage you’re paying to someone feels like a line item that is directly taking away from your profitability… and should be kept to the bare minimum, or return many, many times its value to you – immediately.
All of this combines into a toxic attitude that puts you at odds with the people you’re managing.
And that is not tenable in the long run.
It will get to a point, it always gets to a point, where you begin to disagree with team members about how their contributions should be valued. And that’s when you start to rationalize to yourself about how they should be grateful for what they already have and not constantly pester you for more, more, more.
That’s what all of this is really about.
You finding reasons to NOT pay someone more. Making yourself feel like the benevolent, logical, rational actor who can see much more clearly than someone else what their work is worth, and how their time and expertise should be acknowledged. Deep down, this comes from a place of ignorance or guilt or fear – and if you don’t address THOSE issues, you’ll pay the piper eventually.
Or you might just be an asshole.
It’s okay if you do. I mean, it sucks and it will hurt your business, but it’s understandable.
But you need to cut it out. Because even if someone starts a new job practically on bended knee for the income and opportunity you’re providing (and isn’t that kind of fucked up to begin with?) eventually resentment is going to grow on both sides, and that doesn’t do wonders for productivity or environment.
Repeat after me:
I have contracted with a professional to do a job that, for whatever reason, I cannot. This is valuable and important. This is a position deserving of respect. Whatever the difference in our roles, this is a contract between equals.
I don’t care if you’re talking about your CFO or your assistant. It doesn’t make a difference.
What do you think? Should someone ever be grateful for a job?