Monday, October 13, 2008

The Woodwork Employee

If you've ever filled out a job application created by Unicru, you know that at the end there are a bunch of questions that you must answer. One of those questions I have always found interesting.

"Is it your belief that business are supposed to take advantage of their employees?"

When I first came across it, many years ago, it took me by surprise. I answered, and will always answer, "Yes." This may not be the right answer for the application, but it's the only answer that makes sense according to the free market system.

Businesses must compete to be successful in the free market. In order to do this, they must cut costs, attract customers, make a profit...etc... One way that they do this is by balancing quality of workers with the pay that they give them. You can see this most readily in the sports world, where experienced and talented players are often traded for more, less qualified players that may one day develop into championship-caliber people. Similarly, in the business world, companies must balance having talented, well paid workers and green workers that are less paid, but have the potential to grow.

In fact, the overall goal is to get as much work out of your employees while paying them as little as possible. This sounds cruel, but it's the only way to attain a profit over the long term. Of course, you have to balance the pay scale with the quality of workers that you expect to have. It's a delicate game, but one that must be played in order not to go out of business. Winn-Dixie, who my brother and I worked for, paid their employees very well. They are now gone.

The best way of doing this is, of course, to evaluate each of the employees, see what work they are capable and willing to do at what pay scale. This scale goes with the amount of responsibility that any one worker is willing to accept.

This goes into what I call "The Woodwork Principle." Frankly, the ideal worker is someone who cares very much for the company, is loyal to a fault, will take on a ton of responsibility, but is willing to be paid very little for it.

A hiring manager is taught to locate these people, because they are essential for the success of the company, even if they are never promoted or given the status that the amount of work that they do would suggest that they have. Again, this seems to be a cruel way of handling business. For after all, why would you promote someone that accepts responsibility and works very hard for the company that they are hired for? But this is a good business practice, and every manager should be on the lookout for such "Woodwork" employees.

And frankly, I come from a line of "woodwork" employees. My dad was one of the top sprinkler engineers in the Southeast, especially on working with the CAD system on the computer, but he was never promoted to a supervisory role. My mom and grandmother were excellent secretaries that did most of their bosses' work, but were never promoted above their stations. They were all paid very well, but never achieved the status that should have come with the work that they did.

And I think it should be easy just not to care. But that wouldn't be me. If I were to do just what was required of me, and not expand beyond my horizons, to stretch as far as I could go, it would go against every fiber of my being. I have to be more than what I have been expected of. And maybe I don't get the credit for it now, but I will....someday.

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