My boss gave me a big smile and thanked me profusely.
I left her office with a sardonic chuckle of disbelief. I had just made a copy of that month’s publication in manuscript form and brought it to her with a routing slip. She was thanking me – for making a copy.
I wasn’t hired to make copies.
I was an editor for this publication. I read and chose submissions, copyedited them, wrote headlines, wrote news briefs, selected and edited photos, proofread, picked stories for the website, updated the website, talked and schmoozed with readers, gave talks about the organization at events, and more. And of course, I occasionally made copies.
Why did she feel the need to thank me at that moment?
Who knows? Maybe she’d just read some management advice about engaging with employees more often. Maybe her boss had suggested it. Maybe it just popped into her head and was completely random.
Mine was often a thankless job, which is why her words of gratitude for something so petty amused me and stuck with me. She must have praised me at one point or another for a good headline, but what I remember far more often was the haggling back and forth over headlines the day we were due to go to press.
I had the feeling she didn’t trust the staff to put out a good editorial product, or to represent the company well (we were a non-profit organization and most of the staff were strongly tied to this group’s mission).
When I spoke to outsiders about our company, I said I was proud to work there.
My job meant a lot to me, and I felt that my work helped others. I often wondered if my boss realized that. I often thought that she believed she alone represented the company.
I would have liked to hear more often, “The website looks great” or “I loved this headline.” You know, praise for real work. When someone thanks me for a meaningless chore, it sounds meaningless — and then I don’t trust that any praise is real.
As someone whose creativity was directly tied to my company’s success, I didn’t want to be told, “Thanks for making the coffee” or “Good job on the collating!” I wanted to be acknowledged for something that mattered.
Jan Arzooman, a periodic contributor to the Leadership Almanac, offers leadership insight from the point of the “end user”—a person who has worked for a variety of managers. She is a freelance writer and editor with many years in publishing. She currently focuses on fiction, memoirs, blogging on a wide variety of topics, social media marketing, and health and medical writing. Her website is http://arzoomaneditorial.com/.