When I was a kid growing up in England there was a TV show titled, “Upstairs Downstairs.” Set in a large Belgravia townhouse in central London, the series depicts the servants — “downstairs” — and their masters, the family — “upstairs” — between the years 1903 and 1930, and shows the slow decline of the British aristocracy. Only certain members of staff were allowed “upstairs” and others were never to be seen by the masters of the household — they were the invisible employees.
I worked for nearly 20 years in the hotel industry and always thought it a strange turn of phrase to hear fellow hoteliers talk of the “front of house” and the “back of house.” Some employees were intentionally visible to the guests and some were rarely if ever seen by the guests. It was the housemaids, the maintenance staff and most of the kitchen staff who were often the invisible employees.
My wife has a heart for helping adults with disabilities and she assists one young lady as a job coach for her very early morning shifts at the local Super Walmart. Traveling in the wee hours to go and help her, my wife often comments on the people she sees working while most of us slumber. She tells me of police officers patrolling the streets protecting us in the deepest dark of the night. She mentions street cleaners who spruce up the sidewalks before the sun rises. She mentions workers most of the world will never see — the invisible employees.
The workplace is a wonderful web of interdependency — it’s you, me and all of us working together to provide products and services to each other. Sometimes, some of us are the worker and at other times we’re the consumer. As a worker we may be upstairs or downstairs. We may be front of house or back of house. We may be visible or invisible. The customer may see us or they may not. Either way, our work matters.
My parents always told me to do everything to the very best of my ability. As I entered the workplace one employer trained me to have a “spirit to serve” whereas another had a motto of “together we care.” In hindsight, I see within those three stages an inside-out approach. It has to start with an individual’s commitment to work to the very best of their ability. It’s the realization that our work is ultimately about being of service to others. Collectively, we’re only as strong as our weakest link and so we must all care about the work we do for and with each other.
Therefore, I always think it’s sad when people only bring part of themselves to work. It’s as if part of them is present and part of them is absent. What do I mean by that? Well human beings are four-dimensional — the body, the heart, the mind and the spirit. The physical body comes to work and if it didn’t, human resources would soon stop sending the paycheck. The heart is the passion someone puts into their work. The mind can be used to contribute ideas — how could the work be done more efficiently and effectively? The soul or the spirit in the workplace is the longing to leave a legacy — to lead a life well-lived and to make a difference in how we work and how we serve.
It’s heartbreaking to me to see partial people at work — yes, they’re physically there but the other three aspects of this wonderful creation are turned down, turned off or tuned out. Great leaders within superb organizations know how to get people firing on all four cylinders by how they attract, hire, engage, reward and communicate with their human resources to produce organizational results.
So, whether you work downstairs or upstairs; whether you’re back of house or front of house; whether your work is invisible to many or observed by all — let’s all ensure we’re firing on all four cylinders and that our work is always done to the best of our ability, with a spirit to serve, believing that together we care.
Paul Butler is a Santa Clarita resident and a client partner with Newleaf Training and Development of Valencia (newleaftd.com). The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The Signal newspaper. For questions or comments, email Butler at [email protected]