Bagging Groceries Taught Me Everything I Needed to Know About Being an Executive Part 2
“Work. Don't Think. Relax.” Ray Bradbury
“Everybody needs a relaxation place to gather his strength now to give a better fight in tomorrow in the arena of life!” Mehmet Murat Ildan
Lesson 2. Give 100% commitment to your organization, but make sure you take advantage of what the organization offers you. All the organization owes you is what is in your benefits package, so don’t be a patsy!
My first “real” job was at Piggly Wiggly Southern®, a grocery store chain that was primarily based in Georgia in the early 80’s. This is the second in a series of posts describing the Executive Leadership lessons I learned in that first job.
Having mastered the basics of the job, I fell into the rhythm of day to day work. It took on a daily cadence that was both comforting and predictable. My work schedule was several nights a week from 4 to 10, and on the weekends as needed. I got out of school around 3:30 and had to be to work at 4:00, so I would pack my lunch and dinner and eat in the car during the drive from school to work. Then after my shift I would go home and do homework for a few hours.
Rinse and repeat!
I was entitled to two 15 minutes breaks during my 6-hour shift, and for the first couple of weeks I didn’t take those breaks. I didn’t see the point! I was excited about my job and wanted to be the best I could be at what I was doing. After a couple of weeks one of the managers called me to the office over the store intercom, and when I got there he asked if I had taken my break. I told him “no”. He explained that it was a requirement and I had to take it. He told me that if I got in the habit of skipping them I would be in trouble and could get fired.
He could tell I was a bit perplexed by the instruction, so he told me something I never forgot. He said “The company gives, and the company takes. It will darn sure take where it has the right to, so you take advantage of what it gives. Working hard is important, but don’t be a patsy.”
And I learned to not be a patsy! I worked very hard in that first job and there were many times when I sacrificed time with my friends or family because the company “needed” me to work. I always volunteered for the day before the holiday, inventory, etc., and I did this because every hour I worked meant more money for me!
But I wasn’t a patsy. I took my breaks, never worked off the clock and made sure that I maximized the benefits that were available to me. The reward for all that hard work was the pay I received, nothing more, nothing less. That was great perspective because the company eventually went out of business and I was unceremoniously laid off. And that was OK because I was paid for my work while I was there and that was all I was owed.
Did anyone ever sit you down and tell you to not be a patsy? I think many people did not get that lesson. Here are some warning signs:
Do you routinely donate or forfeit their time off because you “have too much to do”? Really? You would rather spend time working than with your family? You may be a patsy.
When you travel, do you routinely travel on your own time so you can get in full day’s work when you get there? You may be a patsy.
Do you routinely work nights, weekends and holidays because you are in a state of perpetual crisis at work? Always too much to do and too little time to do it? You may be a patsy.
Have you missed children’s award ceremonies? Family events? Sporting events? If you make them, do you sometimes take work calls or find yourself checking work email on your portable device? You may be a patsy.
Do you define your work relationships by the current project or problem, or do you take a longer-term view to how you interact with your colleagues? If you burn bridges over a specific fact pattern, you may be a patsy.
We have all had projects that needed to be completed. We have all had emergencies that trumped personal plans. We have all taken an awful flight to get somewhere we needed to be. And we have all taken that extra assignment to impress the boss.
But if you routinely find yourself modeling these behaviors, I suggest that you need to reevaluate your priorities. The company gives what the company gives, and it takes what it takes. Be loyal and work hard, but remember that you aren’t owed any more than what is defined your benefits package.
Before I get lambasted about the need to be totally committed to your job, note that I make the point that you should work hard and give your employer everything that you are required to do. I also make the point that there are times in every career where you intentionally forsake your personal life because your job requires it. There are also jobs that do require you to be "on" 24/7, but most of those jobs come with huge stock options and access to the corporate jet. If you have a job like that, good on you! If not, don't be a patsy.