Your Boss Wants You to Do…WHAT?

I recently got back in touch with an old friend who went to school with me. She was still at work when I called. As a part of the conversation, it came out that she had been in the process of vacuuming her office when I called. My knee jerk reaction was to yell "WHAT???!!! They have you vacuuming the floors?!!!" The reason for my outburst is, my friend is one of the smartest people I have known! She received her Ph.D. in a little over three years with some excellent publications in world-renowned journals. Naturally, I thought she was out there inventing something that made the world a better place! Not, vacuuming floors!

Turns out the company she works for is a start-up. The "bosses" are paranoid about cleaning staff walking out with their secrets. Any form of Intellectual Property theft could be devastating for a small company of their size, especially in her competitive niche. So they decided to dispense off the cleaning staff and vacuum the office themselves. Including the Founder (who is also the CEO, CFO and Marketing Chief), her immediate boss (who is a CTO/Project Manager/Architect), two other engineers like her and a lady who handles HR/Sales/All-other-misc-tasks, the company has a grand total of 6 employees. And between the six of them they take turns to vacuum the floors, in addition to running a myriad other errands. They seem like a tight knit group that enjoy doing the little chores required to take an idea and build a company out of it. When she explained this to me, it all seemed to make perfect sense.

Long after I hung up the call though, I still was feeling very uncomfortable about my initial outburst when I heard what she was doing. Why was I so rattled when I heard her say she was vacuuming the floor? It was against the core values taught to me by my parents – to find dignity in work, no matter what the task at hand is. At the surface, it seemed as though the problem was that having gone though years and years of schooling had turned me into a typical white collared worker, with an automatic aloofness to any form of physical work. While that is true to a certain extent, I don’t think that was what caused my reaction. I personally don’t mind physical work. I am very conscious of how little exercise I get throughout the day, because of my “desk job” and whenever possible, I volunteer for physical activities. And I do all the chores around the house. I never think twice about that. So, why did it bother me that she was vacuuming the floor at her work place?

The next morning, as I navigated the morning rush hour, and was feeling extremely frustrated about how far the stupid work place was, I finally seemed to piece together the puzzle. I think my reaction would be similar if she told me she was at a neighbor’s place vacuuming their floor. It was not the fact that she was vacuuming that was a shock, but where she was vacuuming was what surprised me. The problem with most of us is that we work for much larger companies. We no longer have a sense of belonging. If we find a speck of dust on the table at home, we will likely wipe it. But at work, it’s some else’s job. We go to great lengths’ to trim a few dollars off the utility bill at home, but at work, we don’t bat an eyelid if all the lights are on in the conference room with no one around. At home, we will willingly go the extra mile to improve the quality of our life, but at work, we limit ourselves strictly to what needs to be done, and try to get out of there ASAP!

I have no clue when this “it’s not my job” mentality got into me, but it can’t be good! And sure enough, I see signs of it already! My motivation to go beyond what is required of me is slowly diminishing. Agreed the company is big and it is hard to feel a sense of ownership. Also agreed that most of the time we are treated as “resources” that can be dispensed off at the first sign that the company is not doing well. But that is no excuse to lose track of why I go to work. Being able to put food on the table is only a part of it. Equally important is the desire to learn and grow, both technically and personally. With the sense of “me” and “them” starting to creep in, I am starting to focus only on what I see as “my responsibilities”. I don’t seem to care what is beyond that. That severely cramps my ability to learn. To grow. Slowly, I am turning into yet another rat in the never ending rat race.

I have only been working for 6 months now. The realization was scary and frightening. I had to do something about it. So on Monday, I met with the “go to” person in another group and learnt a few things about his job. Throughout the week, I looked on the net and found a few resources to continue educating myself more on that. I don’t know yet how it is going to help, but I believe that nothing you learn is ever wasted. At present, it gives me a sense of relief. At least, I am learning something new and different. At least I am starting to think beyond my 8X10 cube. That’s a start.

And I am trying to unlearn the sense of entitlement that seems to have somehow gotten into me. A good education should form a foundation for learning more stuff, not a pedestal to sit on and denounce all that you deem beneath you! So hopefully, next time instead of squawking “Your boss wants you to do… WHAT?”, I will be saying “Wow, that’s cool!”

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cindy@staged4more said...


i really like your post. it gave me a lot to think about, especially what is valued as "important work" and consequently how we segment our society.

i am a small business owner myself (i am a stager and my company staged4more's primary focus is on staging for sale but we also do staging to live and work, etc.) and i have to get my hands dirty all the time in order to save costs. i lug furniture with my staff and i clean and sweep along with my employees. i think your friend's company, because they take parts in every part of running the company, including cleaning, it improves their morale and make their bonds stronger than just being co-workers. it's quite a nice philosophy. i bet your friend loves her job!



ispf said...

Hi Cindy,

Thanks for stopping by. And the compliment ;)

Yes, my friend really loves her job. She takes so much pride in her work and enjoys every aspect of it so much! From your comment above, you sound like one of her bosses :) I guess the fact that you, as an employer will work alongside with the employees, is what really makes small companies so unique!

PS: I really enjoyed looking through the gallery on your site! I am a big HGTV addict, and looks like your "work" is similar to some of the shows I love watching!

Yan said...

I enjoyed your post, thanks.

In the first company I worked for we used to unload computer equipment from trucks (which the firm sold) after hours. There is no such thing as dirty work in a start up.