We have been tracking Richard West's career since 1976 when he was 29 years old. After a tour of duty in the U.S. Army, Richard worked as an engineering trainee for the federal government, but soon realized his opportunities were limited without an advanced degree. He and wife decided that he should get the advanced degree. Richard received the best grades in his class and fine recommendations from the faculty.
Early challenges. Richard was graduated during the worst recession since the 1930's. He had a family, considerable debt, and his former employer had no openings.Yet, he soon accepted a position with a fine company in a good location.
The challenges of learning the business and performing useful, important work were significant after so many years of preparation, but he soon realized that his supervisor made the decisions while the other "engineers" more or less operated as technicians. Eventually, Richard logged his daily eight hours at work and no more. He stopped discussing work. He sometimes daydreamed about opening a restaurant.
Richard's supervisor left the company, and another took over. When this supervisor treated employees as responsible professionals, the work environment improved, and so did Richard's attitude.
By 1980, Richard's outlook changed again. Still with the same company, he was second in seniority among his department's 15 engineers. However, he believed that his income percentage would remain fixed unless something drastic happened. A 34-year-old engineer with a master's degree and engineering license, he also had the expenses incumbent with a family. He was happy in his work, but he thought he deserved better pay.
Richard moved to a small firm that specialized in his technical area. He was promoted to project engineer and then to project manager, where he supervised other engineers. He enrolled in an MBA program
A few years later, Richard left the company with John, his partner, to start their own engineering business. They mortgaged everything they had in the process. The company broke even financially within the first nine months, and by the 1990s, they had three engineering subsidiaries in their group and were were planning to start a fourth. Richard also completed his MBA.
Though the partnership did well, Richard and John differed significantly about the business' future. In 1994, John purchased Richard's share of the business.
Epilogue? Now in 1997, Richard is faced with a whole new challenge: survival. Richard had joined a large firm with a division in his specialty. He enjoyed the stability of work and adequate remuneration. Then his division was eliminated without warning. With two children in college and a third in a private high school, Richard is again facing another employment crisis.
A subsequent article will describe how Richard handles this situation. Send your responses to Richard's situation to my attention at Design News. If appropriate, they may be published in future columns.
Ask the Manager
Q With some fanfare, I joined my firm about six months ago. I was led to believe that my education and previous work experience made me well qualified to contribute to the organization's goals. However, many of my efforts have been disrupted and some of my positive contributions have been negatively distorted. Even my personal integrity has been questioned. This is my first major job, but these pressures may cause me to resign. Do you have any suggestions for me?
A Without a great deal more information, I cannot give you a definitive answer. However, there is the possibility that you are facing workplace envy. Dealing with workplace envy can be a challenge for new employees and old timers alike. Envy occurs when a person begrudges another for having or receiving something that he or she does not have. The initial fanfare you received when you were hired and your strong qualifications might have caused those who work with you to feel professionally threatened, especially if in your eagerness to make a positive contribution, you showed them up in some way. Consider these few helpful steps:
1. Be a strong team player. Respond modestly to praise or compliments, never boast and downplay your accomplishments.
2. Don't talk too much about yourself. Avoid comments about your strengths or weaknesses.
3. Don't boasting about property and avoid displays of wealth or prestige. Achievements like these often generate envy and not admiration, even among your friends. These suggestions may sound like common sense. Yet, if you do not practice them, the result could be workplace problems such as the ones you have described. Good luck.