This essay first appeared in This Singaporean Life (subscribe!), a newsletter I sent out every Sunday (SGT) where I share my weekly musings on work and life in Singapore.
Have you ever felt like nothing you do makes any difference in a company?
Do you still feel the same now, especially if you’re just starting out in your career as a salaried worker in a company where efforts are not rewarded?
“I’m just a junior employee with little or no experience anyway. How much impact can I have on the company?”
“As an intern, I’m just here to do all the small little things that no other full-time staff is willing to do.”
Let’s face it. It’s impossible for everyone to have a huge impact on any company. There can only be that many “big” decision makers – the few C-suite executives and senior managers.
But does that mean we’re redundant or insignificant if we’re just holding a junior position in the company?
Friends, family members, and some colleagues (or bosses) will tell us that every single employee in the company is valuable. Pfft. How many of us actually believe that?
Let me share a story a middle-aged man, whom I’ll refer to as Mr Wong (not my dad), said to a group of other listeners and me recently.
He was touching on the topic of work performance and how everyone, regardless of our seniority or job scope, can create immense value for any company, and get recognised and rewarded for our efforts.
Sounded a lot like the usual advice an old-timer (he’s 64 this year) would share with a bunch of youngins.
He knew he would lose us without a real-life example, so he recounted one of his assignments during his time as a consultant at a tuition centre.
“What kind of key performance indicators (KPIs) would an admin staff have?” Mr Wong posed. All of us were silent for moments before Mr Wong continued.
“No answers? Don’t worry. She (the admin staff) looked at me dumbfounded when I told her even admin work has KPIs to meet. Namely, informing parents and students about class commencement dates, issuing invoices, and ensuring timely payment collections.”
Simple enough. However, as we all know, getting people to turn up? Tough. Getting people to pay up? Even harder. Don’t trust me? Do you like receiving phone calls about paying bills? There you go.
It might seem like administrative work is low-skilled, simple, and therefore, anyone can do it. That’s true – anyone can do it. But how many can do it well?
And without some form of performance metrics, how do we know if everyone is pulling their weight in the company?
For the admin staff in the tuition centre Mr Wong was consulting, it might seem like her job is insignificant – just send emails, make phone calls, and record-keeping, right?
But if the students don’t turn up for classes, the centre would have to arrange make-up classes or even take the blame for not reminding the parents.
And if the parents don’t pay up for the classes, the centre would have cash flow problems.
On the flip side, when the administrative matters are in order, classes will be full, cash flow will be healthy. The centre can then reinvest surplus funds into growth, which means more significant increments and bonuses to employees (hopefully).
And you guessed it, after the centre set KPIs for everyone, even for the admin team, productivity increased and growth accelerated.
Of course, not every company or boss will recognise and reward your efforts. As mentioned at the start, junior position holders don’t have much of a say or impact on directions, and therefore, are usually overlooked.
It’s entirely reasonable to ask, “why should I work more if I’m just paid a salary?” But we can only blame ourselves if the promotion or significant pay increment never comes.
I think what Mr Wong says about “just doing your job” versus “adding value to the company” makes a lot of sense.
“If you can’t think of anything you’ve done or achieved for the sake of the company, you’re just doing a job. So don’t expect your boss to give you promotions or even raise your salary by more than the minimal standard of 2-3% per annum.”
The truth is every “big decision maker” had to start from the bottom. Some just get up there faster and earlier than others.
Because those at the top understand despite how little impact they might have during the earlier days, the continuous efforts will surmount to significance one day, and surmount they did.
Call to action
Everyone starts somewhere. Some people are just lucky with a head start while others have to work their way up.
Although we’ll always feel insignificant, we should never underestimate what we’re capable of in the long run, even if others belittle us because of our junior status.
Constantly find ways to add value to the company and even if your current company doesn’t value you, there are many out there that will.