Being an essential or superfluous employee

My daughter cries when I leave for work. The fact that she is sad because of me makes me feel horribly guilty, but I also have to admit that I like knowing I’m important to her. Guilt versus ego. Of course I’d rather she didn’t feel that way and avoid the guilt, but I know that a few minutes later she will already feel comforted by a teddy bear and that it’s an obligatory, indispensable stage in the normal development of children, and that she will get over it. This stage starts around 10 months and lasts a few weeks.

This is a normal phase in our ‘job’ as a parent, and you shouldn’t question this situation. But our function as a parent could be detrimental if we make our children dependant on us for certain situations for which they don’t need us when they’re older.

And if at your other job, the one outside the house, you could choose, would you rather be essential?

Over the years, we can accumulate personal examples that explain this choice as well as counter-examples that show that in 99% of cases, of all the people who thought they were essential or were considered as such, very few actually were. However, our survival instinct pushes us to make others dependant on us. Consequently we share only a minimum of information, we train others as little as possible and we don’t share our knowledge to avoid being replaced.

I don’t have a miraculous solution, but I did experience two very concrete examples where I became superfluous and disadvantaged because I did my job too well. I would still rather avoid trying to keep my job no matter what, because that’s not like me.

The first example goes back to a time when I was a university professor. I’d started as a teaching assistant for an optional course that I’d really liked as a student. Shortly after, the professor that gave the class moved to another country leaving me and my friend Jorge with the responsibility. We changed the content of the course and the way in which it was produced, and that change brought on a significant increase in attendance: the number of students went from 5 to 70.

The class became very popular and the university administration understood that they had to make it compulsory for all students. But it was a poisoned gift: once it was obligatory, one of the university departments took charge of the organisation of it instead of two independent professors. We were invited to join that department, but because of our very different working methods we decided to turn down the position. In short, we became so essential that we were cast aside from one day to the next.

The second example happened recently. For a year, we strived to make the entrepreneurship centre in which our offices are located more dynamic. We realised that the entrepreneurs and employees in this centre had no contact with each other and so were missing out on important professional opportunities. We therefore organised exchange activities, got exclusive advantages for the centre’s members, established a mailing list and encouraged its use to help each other, etc. Consequently, the members were more active and stayed longer, and the new arrivals were better integrated. But today, there is no longer enough room and as a ‘reward’ it will be harder and/or more expensive to have our offices there.

What can I conclude from these experiences? Doing your work well can be a boomerang that will turn against you. But either way, I know that doing things as best I can is part of my personality, my motivation, my passion and I don’t want to change just to avoid the consequences. I also know now that the line that separates indispensability and superfluity is sometimes a very thin one. Since then, I’d rather give things my all without thinking about the consequences. And maybe what we call a ‘punishment’ is actually a ‘reward’ that leads to other adventures. For someone who has entrepreneurship engrained in his soul like me, that’s a very good thing.

 

What do you think? Are you scared of possibly losing your job? In what order of priorities would you rank stability, challenges, interchange, transmission, safety…? You will find the answers to these questions during our career coaching process’ self-awareness phase.

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