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Every Job is Important

(August 2000) posted on Mon Oct 23, 2000

Tway explains how to boost morale and quality in your workplace.

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By Patricia Tway

If you want to operate a quality organization, you and your employees need to realize that every task performed in the company is important, from order taking to shipping. Each and every job your employees perform affects the bottom line. That's why you need to be concerned with how employees view their jobs and remember that the way they view their jobs is a reaction to how you view them. If you consider a particular job to be of "low status," employees will too. Whether you do it consciously or unconsciously, you set the standard with the significance you assign to every job. Job status and new employees During an interview, if you ask a job applicant to define a good job, the applicant will probably say, "a job I can enjoy," or "a job where I can feel good about what I'm doing." The status you identify for a given job when you first discuss it with applicants will determine how your applicants feel about performing the job. The status of the job may even determine the type of applicant you hire. For example, if you assign a high status to a job, you will probably hire a better-qualified person. The person you hire will also have more respect for the job and be more apt to want it and, ultimately, work harder at it. You also give status to a job through your expectations and requirements for the position and the money you're willing to pay the employee who fills it. But money isn't everything. In fact, some people earn a lot of money in low-status jobs, while others earn less money performing high-status jobs. For example, a steelworker or dock worker will often make twice the salary that a university professor or librarian makes. So how do you raise the status of every job in your organization to make it important? When we owned our china-decorating plant, we learned quickly that if we talked about a job in a positive way and emphasized the requirements necessary to fill that job, it had a positive effect on the applicant. For example, when we wanted to ensure that we hired the best person to fill a decorator position--an entry-level job--we said we were looking for someone who had good hand-eye coordination and enjoyed arts and crafts. We even asked that they bring something they had made to the interview--a painting, sculpted piece, article of clothing, decorated cake, or similar item. We admired what they showed us, treated them with respect, and made them feel good about themselves and what they could do. After this initial interview, applicants automatically viewed that entry-level job with more respect and saw that it could be a rewarding experience for them. They weren't going to be "just an entry-level decorator." They were going to be doing something they enjoyed, expressing themselves in an artistic way and feeling good about themselves and their job. We used the same approach earlier in the hiring process, when we were advertising positions. When our ads said we were looking for someone with good hand-eye coordination who likes artistic things, the quality of applicants who responded was better. Consequently, we discovered that we were automatically interviewing and hiring better-qualified people who saw an opportunity to have a career. In fact, throughout our conversations with new employees, we explained that we wanted people who looked on their jobs as careers, not "just a job to get by." We also cross-trained our employees so that they learned different jobs and could perform each of them well. Because we treated each of the jobs as important, employees didn't mind moving from task to task. This helped protect us from periodic lay-offs because we could move people from a department that was not busy to one that needed more help. The amount of training you require for any job in your organization and the care you take during training contribute to the status of the job. For example, if you hire a person on the first interview, say very little about the qualifications or positive aspects of the job, and then say to the new employee, "you'll pick it up as you go" or "Mary or Don will show you the ropes," you automatically assign a low status to that job. If the job wasn't important enough for you to insist on an employee with certain qualifications or describe the position's positive aspects, why should the new trainee view the job as important? And if training is treated as an afterthought, why should they do a good job? If you interview correctly, require certain qualifications to fill a position, talk about that position with a positive attitude, and point out how it can lead to other positions in the company, you'll inevitably find better candidates. And if you also have a good training program for each job, you ensure that every position is filled by qualified people who respect the job they are doing, whether it is an entry-level position or one that requires more skill, training, and experience. Raising the status of existing jobs How can you raise the status of jobs you currently have in your organization? I'll give you an example. When I became the manager of our production facility, I noticed that the status of jobs in the kiln area (where workers fired the china after it had been decorated) was lower than in the decorating area, where employees applied decals or painted gold lines on the ware. This puzzled me because all the jobs required hand-eye coordination, attention to detail, and a great deal of training. The jobs in the kiln area required that workers have an ability to keep accurate records, make decisions, and solve problems with little supervision. Workers in the kiln area had to be able to think ahead, because if they made a mistake, the product could be ruined and all the efforts of others would be lost. It seemed obvious to me that the additional abilities and responsibility should give more status to the jobs in that department. Instead, the status was lower and it was harder to get workers to apply for kiln-area positions. The major reasons were the working conditions and the way employees perceived that department. The kiln area was hotter, involved more physical labor, and was a high-pressure job. It was the final stage of production, where all the efforts toward successful completion of the order rested in the hands of a few people. Workers viewed this added responsibility as job pressure, rather than job importance or job prestige. It was important for me to do several things to raise the status of jobs in that department. First, I required candidates to take additional tests when interviewing for jobs in the kiln area, and I told everyone we were going to be very selective about hiring people for that department because of its importance to the organization. I also provided a structured training program that clearly defined pay raises in relation to acquisition of job skills. The supervisors and I also began pointing out the additional talents that were required to work in that department. We did this formally at a general meeting when awards were given and informally during lunch and coffee breaks. In a short time, employees were asking to be moved to the kiln area. When we told them they had to pass tests, they studied and eagerly took them. We were careful to point out that jobs in the other departments were still important and offered opportunities to learn, grow, and make good money.talking about the basic abilities workers had to have and the training, knowledge, and responsibilities involved with positions in the kiln area, we raised the status of jobs in that department. We accomplished this even though the working conditions hadn't changed. It was still hotter, required more physical labor, and involved more job pressure than in other departments. Interestingly, the physical labor inspired some employees to ask for reassignment to that department. They saw it as a way to lose weight, firm muscles, and improve their physical condition. Status is everything As managers, we must remember that each of us reflects the status of our jobs and each job is valuable to the organization. If you did away with any job or expected less quality from any job, your product and your company would suffer. From that standpoint, each job is as important as the next. If you have departments with jobs that are difficult to fill because of low status, find out why. Remember how important you make those jobs is how important they will be to your employees.


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