The higher you go in an organization, the harder it is to see what life is like way down there on the front lines.
And heaven help you if you ask someone, because you never know who’s going to tell you the truth.
The longer you are at the top, the more likely you forgot what life is like lower down, if you ever really knew.
It’s a very different existence, even for the frontline folks who love their jobs.
You don’t think so?
Here are 8 reasons you might want to think again.
1) They Still Punch A Clock
With all the innovations of the modern workplace, it’s a marvel that three in five U.S. workers still punch a clock!
Sure, the feds require you keep track of hours. But punching a time clock becomes a state of mind for those who have to do it. It’s more like a caste system.
When an exec guns it down the exit ramp during the morning commute, he’s airing out his Jag. When an employee does it, she’s trying to make the 8:09 cutoff or get docked the full 15 minutes.
Tick tick tick.
If VPs had to punch in and out of all 124,800 minutes it takes to be a full-timer every year, they’d have a better appreciation of why some frontline folks are clock-watchers.
If you can control the clock, you control the game.
2) They Don’t Get Mental Health Days
You can have the best job on the planet, and there will still be days when you just can’t bear to get out of bed to go to work.
For the CEO, that’s not a problem. Just shoot them all a text saying you’ll be tied up in a by-invitation-only power breakfast.
But for the frontline worker who awakes and finds herself facing the same kind of morning, she’s losing money before her feet ever hit the floor and she knows it.
She’ll probably still have to get up to get the kids off to school, and then she’ll have to muddle through that dreaded phone call.
She doesn’t really want to lie to her supervisor. But if she ‘fesses up to taking an unscheduled mental health day, she’s not only likely to lose the day’s wages, she’ll risk getting written up, too.
Which brings us to the next pain point…
3) They Get Written Up
Nothing’s more demeaning for a good, long-time employee than getting reprimanded by an incompetent manager. Yet it happens
It’s said that if you live long enough, you’re bound to develop cancer. Well, if you are a frontline worker long enough, (which probably makes you a good worker) then you’re bound to face the threat of getting written up once. And you’ll probably have no recourse but to grin and bear it.
There’s a handbook full of rules for frontline workers to follow, and too many different people interpreting those rules. So, sooner or later, a rule is violated and someone needs to be made an example of.
The savior in this situation is often the frontline supervisor who came up through the ranks and has the savvy to know how to nip these sort of things in the bud without the manager losing face, or the employee losing a day’s wage.
4) They Get Fired For Being Difficult
Many good leaders are assertive, direct, arrogant, tough and demanding, meaning they are really difficult. But in reality – we are told – they are greatly loved and admired by their people because they’re just trying to make everyone better.
Now, if you’re a frontline employee, try your hand at a few of those traits and see where it gets you. Go ahead, be difficult. I dare you.
The higher up you go, the rules are yours to interpret, a fact not lost on frontline employees.
5) They Have To Manage Upward
When you want something done and people resist, you just pull rank.
But that’s very different for frontline people trying to build consensus.
Ever work for someone who resists every new idea you have? It can be demoralizing and frustrating, especially when you know it’s the right thing to do, but you just can’t budge him.
Most people avoid confrontation, and who can blame them? It’s unpleasant. Voices get raised. If you’re not the ranking person, you can only take it so far. It can be embarrassing when all the boss has to do is simply say “NO, because I said so.”
If it’s an issue that affects your team, you can bet they’re all watching and waiting to see what will happen. Your ‘cred’ hangs in the balance.
Workplace self-help experts say people need to learn to “manage up.” But the very idea of managing up seems a lot more risky than simply pulling rank.
6) They Know Better Than To Really Speak Their Mind
What would life be like if you never had to worry about fallout from voicing your opinions at work? What if you never had to fear that your honest feedback might lead to a pink slip?
If you don’t know that fear, then you’ve been a top-level manager for a very long time.
For people in the trenches, speaking out openly can mean biting the hand that feeds you. And such habits of survival are hard to break.
That doesn’t mean frontline workers don’t sound off. Oh, they do, in ever increasing numbers, and on websites created just for that purpose.
Bitching about work is so popular that there’s an app for that, actually a few dozen apps.
7) They Build Widgets
Good managers know they need to build-up people. They talk engagement, collaboration and onboarding.
Unfortunately, those terms don’t often resonate so much to the average frontline employee trying to build widgets with the fewest defects, and without facing any pay penalty for not reaching the day’s quota.
Exactly what does employee engagement mean to a frontline worker who will only get four 8-hour days this week instead of five because there’s not enough work?
It’s a good question to put to the CEO when he makes his cameo appearance on the frontline. (Maybe that’s why CEO love to be photographed wearing hard hats and ear protection.)
Which bring us to the last item.
8) They Are Watching You
Leaders should never underestimate how often they are being judged by their actions, even when it’s just an involuntary action.
“Did you see him sneeze right on her without even turning his head? What a pig!”
And then there are the unintended slights. For instance, you’re late for a meeting and juggling four ideas when you sprint right past Nancy Smith and call her Janet.
Now that’s gonna leave a bruise.