Invisible Employee

WHILE MANY people may think senior executives are the most important employees in any organization, I know better.

It’s the staff. It’s especially the staff who are the lowest paid, but spend more time at their jobs than perhaps the executives do.

Do you see these employees? Or are they just part of your surroundings?

When I arrived at my first dean job about 20 years ago, I spent several months meeting individually with each person in the business school. This included professors of all ranks, department chairs, program directors, administrative assistants and associate deans.

I remember having several of the administrative assistants question me. Did I really want to meet with them? Yes, I did.

And then I remember one of them saying to me, “I’ve been here eight years. The previous dean never knew my name.”

Come on, folks. Staff are the backbone of any organization. In higher education, especially, they are the ones in the office when the faculty are not. In my book, they keep the place running efficiently and effectively.

Typically these folks are paid lower rates and don’t have glamorous jobs. Maybe their titles are janitors or technicians. Perhaps they are college educated, but probably are not. It really doesn’t matter as to their education level. If they can do the job, we should treat each person with the dignity they deserve.

How do you treat the staff in your workplace? While a first-time dean, I thought we’d invite faculty and staff groups to lunch with the dean. You know what I learned? Many of the faculty ignored the staff. Even when the staff was not ignored, many of them felt intimidated, so they wouldn’t speak up. So the next year, we held lunches just for the staff. You can imagine the difference in the atmosphere when everyone was engaged.

Another thing I did in two different places was invite the staff to paint pottery after hours. No one had ever held bonding activities for this group, and they were thrilled.

I hear in some organizations that staff feel invisible. Worse, sometimes I hear they are treated as second-class citizens. If you have employees in your unit who do that, say something. If you know there’s a problem and don’t address it, you’re culpable. Don’t be part of the problem. Be part of the solution.

You may not be able to pay people the way you’d like, or add benefits to make their lives easier. What you can do is create a workplace that respects everyone. It starts with learning names, but that’s just the beginning. What are you doing to actually see and hear them? Managers have to create a safe space so that each employee, from the lowest- to highest-paid, can come to share ideas, concerns, or just to chat. It won’t just happen, so what are you doing in your organization to be intentional about creating this environment? I’d love to hear from you.

Get our FredBiz Newsletter

* I understand and agree that registration on or use of this site constitutes agreement to its user agreement and privacy policy.

Lynne Richardson is the dean of the College of Business at the University of Mary Washington.

Load comments