If you are at or near the top of the chain of command in your workplace (say, senior partner or Department Chair)…you’ll probably want to skip to the last paragraph. Nothing to see here, move along.
For the rest of us, unaccustomed to professional autonomy (or perhaps having tasted it in the past but no longer so blessed…including those who thought they were running their own healthcare businesses but have now been disabused of that notion by insurance companies and the government)…I am here to offer you a panacea for your workplace worries. Repeat after me: “I just work here.”
You may have heard it before, perhaps in a fast-food joint when the teen behind the counter is getting verbally reamed by an irate diner who doesn’t like the menu offerings or the way his burger turned out. Or when a receptionist is being accused of holding a waiting-room full of people hostage. In such instances, the employee is reminding the unhappy customers that s/he is unable to do anything to remedy the situation.
“I just work here” can carry a more subtle message, however, and real therapeutic value. Alter the tone and a word or two, and it no longer is merely an expression of powerlessness. Rather, you are siding with the unsatisfied customer and asserting that, despite your lack of authority to fix things, you know what’s wrong with the entity that’s signing your paychecks. If only it listened to you, things would run much more smoothly.
You don’t even need an unhappy customer to make use of this. Fellow employees, even those senior to you, are just as opportune audiences to hear about how it’s not your fault that your shared workplace is so screwed up. A properly-tweaked “I just work here” can even be used to get out of hot water when a supervisory-type is darkening your door, looking for someone to blame for the latest snafu. Highlight how you were never given the authority or tools to prevent the mess, and you’re not only in the clear, but you’re also simultaneously delivering a very satisfying “I told you so.”
Perhaps the most important audience for the “I just work here” mantra is you. Especially if you frequently try to improve the place, demonstrate your value for future responsibilities, titles, etc., above those you currently hold – and are repeatedly marginalized or ignored. The more of a go-getter you are, the quicker such an environment can get you frustrated and angry. So, give up such grand aspirations! Breathe deep, relax, and remember: You just work there. The place can go down in flames, but you’ll move on.
Shh! We’re just about at the last paragraph. The bigwigs I dismissed at the beginning might be looking in. Act natural, and pretend you’re blindly-loyal underlings again.
…so, to sum up, remember: Your job will only be there for you as long as you maintain your value to the organization. Do your part to keep the place running smoothly, improve it where and when you can, and you’ll surely be noticed, appreciated, and rewarded for it. After all, the leadership is in this together with you, and they have every interest in keeping your morale strong.