On finding a workplace you belong to

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Finding a workplace you belong to is hard. Even more when you’re treated as a disposable seat filler. Not a valuable contributor.

When this happen, switching workplace is probably your best option. Unless you think your butt can take a little (if not a lot of) unnecessary pain. Here’s why.

Show up on time”, “Be patient”, and “Listen to direction. If you are told to move somewhere, do it ‘swiftly.’ ”. These are three (3) instructions, among a few, that all seat fillers are given to ensure they do their work in the most appropriate way possible. So reported Haydn Watters in an article about the world of seat fillers in televised award shows – like the Oscars, Grammys or else. [Read Haydn’s article here]

Simply put, seat fillers are temporary workers. People hired to make sure the “show goes on”, even when someone decides to leave her seat. In a business context, it would be “to make sure work keeps being done as expected” with as few problems as possible, when someone quits her job.

In a way, seat fillers aren’t hired as potential contributors. They’re not asked “In what way hiring you would add value to our team?” during a job interview. Or “What is it you think you can bring to this position that others can’t or couldn’t?” Questions are more about what have you done, for how long, and how good were you at it (compared to your colleagues, for instance), and what are your wage expectations. Why? Because there’s an empty seat and the longer it takes to put someone in it, the harder it gets to “keep things going as usual”. So pressure is put on the recruiter or the hiring manager to find someone ASAP. You’ve probably experienced such job interview. They’re not the most pleasant ones.

The same for these moments where, once in a job, you’re being disrespected, ridiculed in front of others, or deliberately ignored when your team is asked for suggestions. Worse, when you’re being told “Your idea suck” (or something close enough) every time you put forward customers’ comment or colleagues’ insights to improve a product or process.

It’s hard then to find that seat at a table that feels like “yours” then.

But what happens when you’ve been in a position for a while and problems arise or opportunities present themselves? Like a more affordable or efficient technology than the one your teams has been using? Should someone expect you to come forward? To give your input on “how to do something about ‘X’ ” atop the one of others? Not so.

That’s when you know a hiring process has failed: when the problems a team experiences aren’t addressed by all those who – given the opportunity – would otherwise chip in. That is all those seated at the table, in the team.

It’s like in some family reunions. Ones where an uncle, who otherwise is usually vocal, goes completely quiet every time a certain topic or issue is brought back. You know something is wrong. When you feel like such uncle on a regular basis at work, you know the seat you’re in at work isn’t for you.

Moreover, because you’re a seat filler doesn’t mean your boss will go easy and put less pressure on you “to show up on time, be patient, follow direction and do what is expected of you swiftly” as onto others. Often times, it’s the opposite. “Because”, as the classic comment goes, “if it doesn’t make you happy, you can always go look for work elsewhere.

On the other hand, pressure to perform or to make suggestions for improvements comes more naturally when you’re taken into consideration. When someone values your opinion or else you can bring to the table.

Being a contributor doesn’t feel the same as a seat filler, or a disposable resource.

The outcome isn’t the same neither. As the contributor seeks to help make something better (let it be a service, a product, a process, etc.), and actually gets rewarded for it in different ways. While rewards never come near the seat filler. Even though she might have been very clear on her desire/intention to “help her future team the best she can” during the job interview and once hired.

As mentioned earlier, pressure to “keep on shipping the goods or delivering a service” pushes companies to go for the cheapest solution: hiring seat fillers. On the long haul, though, it tends to hide much higher costs. Like people not acting on growing or recurring issues. Experiencing an increasing number of sick leaves (for burn out, etc). Worse, having employees quitting their job within 12 to 18 months after they’ve been hired. Because all the benefits they expected to get “for doing that type of work” or “being managed by that kind of person” (like a higher pay check, more vacations, etc.) aren’t sufficient anymore. The price to pay exceeds the return.

And that’s one of the core problems with finding a workplace we belong to, or a seat at the table that feels like “ours”. It’s not so much about the seat itself but the people we are surrounded with and the way we are treated; as a seat filler that can be disposed of whenever someone feels like it, or a valuable contributor.

No butt gets rewarded for having endured unnecessary pain or pressure. Yet, many people receive life achievement awards “for having worked their ass off” in making their company, industry or community better.

When was the last time you felt being in a team you truly belonged to?