Most of us work… a lot. According to a recent study by The Gettysburg College, the average person works 90,000 hours in their lifetime. That’s a lot, and so one would hope we’d be remembered long after we’ve left our working days behind us.
But therein lies the challenge — whereas my paternal grandfather only ever worked for two organizations and my father only three employers, the average tenure according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics now is just over four years.
I guess this is why I shouldn’t be surprised that no one remembers Jamie or Deborah. Both of them worked for different clients of ours — Jamie for nearly eight years with one client and Deborah, about 12 years with another. I’ve changed their names for the purpose of this story but the tale is oh, so common.
Surely eight to 12 years should count for something? We hadn’t served Jamie’s past employer for about three years, mainly due to a turndown in activity during COVID-19. During that season Jamie chose to retire. Deborah’s story is almost identical. When I checked in recently with the individuals who’d since taken over the roles of the original successors, crickets could be heard when I mentioned their names.
Why did Jamie and Deborah not leave a legacy? Why were they not remembered by those who took over from their successors? I believe it’s something to do with character and competence.
Jamie was a nice guy but he never struck me as being that good at his job. He always seemed to be “behind the eight ball” as the saying goes — he didn’t seem to stay on top of new ways of doing things. Yes, as I think about it: Jamie was a nice guy — he just wasn’t that competent.
On the other side of the trust coin, it always occurred to me that although highly competent, Deborah wasn’t well-liked by her coworkers. I got the sense she was a gossip. She would put her colleagues down to me as a vendor partner — tittle-tattle that always made me feel a bit awkward. Deborah was always climbing the ladder and not too concerned about who she’d have to step on to get further ahead. High competence, low character would be my summation of Deborah.
I remember some of my coworkers and bosses from decades ago because of two factors — firstly, I recall how good they were at their work and secondly, what a good person they were to work with, or for. Conversely, others I don’t recall, or just have vague recollections of — either because their competence was mediocre at best, inept at worst, or because their character was dubious.
I believe we only have one life on this Earth, so why not make the very best contribution you can in all aspects of life and especially in the workplace. If we work an average of 43 years (according to the same study cited above), that’s a lot of time to be mediocre, inept or to lack character. Imagine carrying all that burden home each evening in your empty lunchbox and setting that down on the kitchen table.
One of the wonderful aspects about humans is that our tomorrow doesn’t have to be the same as our yesterday, as we have freedom of choice to change today. We can shift our perceptions and behaviors to get better results for ourselves, our co-workers and our customers.
Hopefully people will raise a toast to you when you clock out for the last time. At best, your successors will remember you and the contribution you made based on your competence and your character long after you’ve exited.
I’m not sure whether I’ll see Jamie or Deborah again — I just hope they’re making a different set of choices in their final quarter.
Paul Butler is a Santa Clarita resident and a client partner with Newleaf Training and Development of Valencia (newleaftd.com). For questions or comments, email Butler at [email protected].