During my high school years, I tried to mix a little extra curricular with my academics and home/farm responsibilities. Along with my involvement with the musical department (choirs, musicals, and a little pep band), I tried my hand at wrestling. My wrestling career lasted about two and one-fourth years.
During this time, I watched a steady stream of fellow wrestlers who for one reason or another decided to throw in the towel. The pattern was always the same. When our coach heard the news, he would take that wrestler into his office and close the door. Thirty minutes to an hour later, the wrestler would emerge with the coach’s arm around him, giving him some final words of encouragement. Usually the wrestler remained on the team and all would be well.
I knew that my abilities as a wrestler wouldn’t merit this same treatment when I finally decided that wrestling wasn’t as important to me as doing my fair share back home on the farm. But as I slowly came to this decision, I didn’t say anything to any one about quitting. I only said that I was needed at home on the farm for a few days. Two days later, after I was sure that I would drop the wrestling, I went into the wrestler’s locker area to get my things and to tell the coach my news.
Most of the wrestlers were already upstairs in the wrestling practice room when I arrived. The first thing that hit me was that the contents of my locker were on the floor in the corner. As I looked closer, I could see that my locker had a different lock on the door. As I stood and stared, and tried to figure out what happened, our manager (a fellow student) filled me in.
“That locker has been reassigned. Since you were gone for two days, we figured that you quit.”
There have been a few times in my life since, which I have thought about that experience and the lessons it has taught me. The coach wasn’t interested in the young men on the team. He was only interested in who could give him the most wins. I knew at the time I was no great loss to the team. But I will always remember the tactless way they sent that message to me. The image of my wrestling clothes strewn on the floor is still bright.
So here I am at a point in my life when I can relate to that high school wrestling experience. My work has become like my wrestling experience. The long days at work leave me many long hours to wonder, “Where is the support from Corporate? Why are the corporate lawyers so slow to respond to our requests? And when they do respond, why do they only tells us what we CAN’T do to solve our labor problems, and never tells us anything we CAN do?
Sunday evening we were still struggling to finish a very long miserable weekend of processing. My crew was overworked and tired. Some were sick but trying to tuff it out, because we needed the help so badly. After sending one more person home, who had worked far too long and hard on that weekend, I had to slow down the production line and shut down part of the machine. We simply didn’t have the personnel to run the whole plant. This was demoralizing to the rest of the crew. It meant the workday/night would go even later. I couldn’t do more. Tomorrow would only be more of the same. Finally something snapped.
I stopped the production line and went in to make some calls. Of course being a Sunday evening, I couldn’t talk to anything except a voice mail. My message on that voice mail was loud and clear. “I NEED HELP OUT HERE, NOW!!!”
It’s now five days later. I have visited at length with three of my bosses, including two corporate officials who flew out here from back East. Today I will get another manager, on loan from another location, for almost two weeks to help with the work load. We are still talking about what those corporate lawyers will let us do to remedy our labor shortage. (At least those lawyers are really good at talking.) I hope some good will come of all of this feather ruffling (That’s a pun if you know the business I’m in.)
But I have also had some very frank conversations about whether I want to stay and work for this company. My salary and work hours have been discussed, and are still being discussed in the corporate circles. It has been a very S-T-R-E-S-S-F-U-L week for me.
So this morning, as I approached the processing plant, I thought of my wrestling days back in high school. And I wondered if I would see my personal things from my office dumped out on the side of the street. As I approached the door, my key in hand, I wondered if it would work, or if corporate had changed the locks. There was no one out there to tell me “We figured you quit.” So I came on in to work as usual.
Today I have met the same problems, and performed the same duties. Everything seems to be business as usual. We are still running the plant with an inadequate crew. And corporate is apparently still talking about what they will do to help us.
But they have said nothing to me personally yet. They still have me wondering, what is my worth to them? Do they think of me as a trader for asking for more money for my crew? Are they busy finding someone to take my place? I will be here again this weekend. (At least unless I come in tomorrow morning and find that my office was cleaned out during the night.) But I will be wondering now, until they get back to me on our negotiations from earlier in the week, what is my value to this company? Will they take me into “the coach’s office” and give me a pep talk and make an offer I can’t refuse? I half expect to see a new lock on the door instead. WHAT IS MY REAL VALUE? I’m not sure I want to know.