It was late Friday night at O’Hare airport in Chicago. The plane was a little delayed and all the passengers were tired, crabby and eager to go home, including me. As we entered the aircraft, we were greeted by the first class flight attendant, who had a personality that filled the aircraft! “Welcome aboard, and how are you doing tonight?” he would ask each person as they boarded. I took my seat in first class, delighted that I could observe this flight attendant take command of his aircraft, greet each passenger personally and welcome them onto his flight. When a young mother with a crying toddler came on, he greeted the young girl with, “Honey, it’s your lucky day – you get to fly on my airplane tonight!” As we pulled away from the gate, he continued his banter during the safety briefing announcements, making jokes and wisecracks, and encouraging the other flight attendants to do the same. I was surprised, amused and impressed with this unusual behavior.
I have noticed that since 9/11, flight attendants and other customer-facing employees at this and other major carriers are demoralized, de-motivated and tired. They have faced salary cuts, longer working hours and higher stress, due to the established possibility of terrorism in the skies. They feel stuck in their jobs, victims of a seniority system that makes it impossible to take a new job with another carrier. All of this made the performance of the flight attendant that Friday night unusual and noteworthy.
What was remarkable was how much pride, energy and ownership he put into his job. I come across people from all levels in the org chart who are in similar employment situations to this flight attendant. Because of the economy and the current job shortage, many people today feel stuck and unappreciated in their jobs. In fact, according to Talent Smart, only 15% of all workers, including managers and executives, feel respected and appreciated in their jobs. Rather than complain about a less-than-perfect job situation, it is the responsibility of each worker, from the CEO down to the lowest-paid employee, to take pride in their job and do it to the best of their abilities.
How can you take pride in your job? Here are a few suggestions:
- Decide to give it 110%: What your mother told you is true: if a job is worth doing, it is worth doing right. Do it to the best of your ability. Own your job output and put your good name on it. You don’t have to love your boss, have the perfect co-workers or the best working conditions to take pride in your work and go the extra mile to ensure high quality results. Notice, however, that we are talking 110%, not 200% percent. I meet many over-achieving executives who have exhausted themselves trying to be all things to all people in a difficult environment. Pace yourself, set priorities, identify the areas that you can exert the most influence and delegate or defer the rest.
- Exert control over what you can: You may not have control over all aspects of your job, but you can identify areas that you do control and focus on them. The flight attendant had control over the airplanes he flew, and he focused on how he could influence the atmosphere of that environment. You may not be able to influence the performance targets the Vice President sets, for example, but if you are a manager or director, you do have control over how you communicate them to your workgroup. Concentrate on supporting your group so they can do the best work possible. Then try to let go of the need to control what you cannot.
- Make it fun: We spend too much time at work not to have a little fun at it! The flight attendant customized his safety announcements, using his own talents, to make it fun. Although not everyone is a comedian, we each have a unique approach to humor and having fun. How can you give your co-workers a smile and make their day? How can you lighten up your workplace?
- Speak and act positively toward co-workers: If you change your attitude and behavior, often other people will change, too. Sometimes people get locked into a negative relationship with a co-worker or manager because of personality differences, miscommunications, annoying personal habits or past affronts. If you find your self in this position and the other person is basically an OK person - not a bully and not acting illegally or unethically - try this experiment for two weeks and see if it makes a difference: Speak and act only positively to that person. Compliment the person when it is warranted. Notice the good things they do. Support them in their job. Do not speak disparagingly about that person to anyone, including your spouse or partner. If you are able to do this for just two weeks, it is highly likely that you will notice that the other person responds in kind, and that you have repaired the situation. The result: a happier, less stressed YOU.
- Practice extreme self-care: If you are in a high-stress job, take good care of yourself. Self-care is highly individual and dependent on life stage, financial resources and time constraints. Seek ways to manage your stress and balance your energies in ways that make sense for your situation. Simple self-care can include taking time to walk outside at lunchtime, talking to a good friend and having an active social life. Self-care might also include massages, regular exercise, and, ironically, community service. Community service can broaden your perspective by getting you out of your normal environment and can fulfill the human need to serve others.
If successful in applying some of these guidelines, an amazing thing may happen: You may find that by changing YOUR attitude toward work, the work atmosphere changes. Take a lesson from the flight attendant, and you may find that the job you thought was less than perfect is actually pretty darn good!