There’s one feedback item that has haunted my career: You are never at your desk! Because the word never is an absolute, my first response is to remind them that no one is ever at their desks 24/7 but that clearly doesn’t appease them. Between bathroom breaks, networking/mentoring, design reviews, community building, family crises and hurricanes, my entire career has centered around problem solving with tight deadlines. I get up and go at it! It didn’t occur to any of my critics to time me, or provide proof that I wasn’t pulling my own weight at work. My stellar time management skills were wasted om them, especially since finishing jobs early to go tackle something else in Corporate America is frowned upon. A true loyal servant asks to be rewarded with more work, aka desk time, even if they are at capacity. Taking a break is taken as a sign you have excess time. Really?
I can understand the apprehension of my Boomer coworkers. Many weren’t trained to work autonomously and had to deal with despotic micromanagers and credit stealers. The entire generational block had to compete to stay employed. Today, the workplace caters to the collaborative Millennials that like to independently achieve with authority and autonomy. This “leave after your boss leaves” management styles do not impress us since working to live makes not being at our desks is a necessity. I am sure people envy my confidence while secretly condemning my position. Wish I could help having to decompress or take a walk to stretch and steel my nerves between negotiation meetings. Between the aches and pains of typing all day and moving a mouse around since age 4, my body craves movement and excitement beyond the screen and some alone time to recharge the introvert batteries.
My unique work ethic gets stuff done in spite of being chained to my desk. An early adopter of wireless technology in the conservative and technologically inferior manufacturing world I was hired into, my ability to connect people and answer questions on the move made me very popular with our support organizations. Being in the know and close to the action was paramount to solving problems on the fly which earned me a reputation as a sharp quick study and miracle worker. The Gods of Engineering, or the skill team, clashed with me on the value of being a big picture integrator in a workforce that needed more piecework experts because what I saw as perks they saw as an excuse to not be present and ready at my battle station. It didn’t matter that I had earned my colleagues and executive leadership esteem. The chaps caught in middle management had no use for the likes of me.
Ironic, isn’t it? Even as I write this I get stared down on my way to wherever it is I am going. My greatest strength became my weakness. People wonder why I am afforded the luxury of coming to work after 8 am (even though the Co’s policies state we can start as late as 9) or why I am compensated at the particular level and pay scale when “they do more than me”. Again, no one but me us counting how much I am doing, and managers are floored when I present mountains of data record to prove them wrong. Maybe being a performer that doesn’t cause waves has given them the wrong impression. I am more on the preventative side of the house than a firefighter or my own fires. Seldom does my stuff go up in flames! To this is day I still get calls to explain projects because the experts pointed them in my direction since I am the only one that knows the whole story and the key players.
Inertial forces are an interesting phenomenon. My career has come across a lot of immovable objects that have taken away the energy of my momentum. Having to prove myself, over and over again, has taken a toll especially when new teammates make snide remarks about my relationship with the high level leadership, as if that somehow made me a traitor. I am caught between two worlds, the subject matter expert everyone relied on and the old mentor who trained and served with the leader while they were in the low ranks. The perennial drill sergeant, proud of her maggots, but never able to follow in their footsteps. Some claim that running to my family’s aid in times of need was detrimental to my career, since it made me seem ungrateful of having a job. What they don’t realize is that my peeps come first, as the layoff proved, and any company would be ever so bless to have me at the helm. My life experiences have made me resilient and open to change. I am more than the work put in front of me.
There is no reason why as salaried employees we must stay chained to our workstations. At some point the day ends and we go home to celebrate wins and failures. We should all feel empowered to explore our worksites, to freely connect with people and collaborate away from our assigned work environment. Bell Labs did all this and it made ATT a power house of innovation. So do Google, Microsoft, Accenture and Amazon. How you make people feel is an integral part of office politics. Having careers stall when the chaos of our lives and of the business intersect hurts everyone involved because past performance is not an indication of future capability. The leaders who lack compassion and long term vision remove people like me from the spotlight because we don’t fit their outdated version of success: head down, do as the masters tell you and you will be compensated. We all know that system is meant to exploit and not breed talent. Sadly, most corporations stateside are shareholder value driven, stakeholders be damned! They will not look out for you, only for their bottom line.
If you think you are just a number in your corporation, find a smaller division or site. If after this move the culture and work do not engage you, seriously consider finding another industry or company that matches your personality and style. As much as I try to be what the manufacturing world needs, there are cultural norms and rules that will hinder my progress or thwart my efforts at modernizing workstatement management, recognition and rewards. Adapting to their way of thinking and operating does not add benefit. The original plan was to enable me to change the environment, not let it change me, since they don’t need any more grumpy disgruntled employees wreaking havoc and discord from within. Maybe these are all signs pointing me in a different direction and I should not take their warnings lightly.
I sincerely hope the Gods of Engineering and Science have a bigger plan for me; a mission that recharts my progress and clearly derives a path to move forward. Riding a desk is not for me, and I deserve a chance to prove that I am worthy of the challenge. Bring it on life, this MBA better make magic happen!