I’ve only been fired from one job. But I’ve had so many jobs it’s difficult to remember. I was attending the University of Utah and I found a position working on computers at a hospital.
My job was to send bills to patients that were partially covered by insurance. I had to look at one computer system to see how much the insurer covered and compare it to the total amount owed. My employer said the job would take 20 hours a week. But a couple of weeks into the job I’d automated the entire process by connecting both computer systems. I never asked anyone. I just did it. My employer didn’t like paying me to spend 10 minutes booting up the computers, pressing a few button and then kicking back to read Car & Driver and Sports Illustrated for a few hours each day. Had I had internet access on those computers I imagine I could have looked busy enough keep my job. Minesweeper, where were you when I needed you most?
One day I showed up to work and my boss asked me to show her what I’d done to the billing system. She had this raspy smokers voice that would have passed for Roz on Monsters Inc. I proudly showed her how I’d connected the billing systems. Instead of rewarding my ingenuity, she said I needed to find another job because this position was a 20 hours/week position that was partially funded through the school. Anything short of 20 hours and the position could be yanked.
Basically, I was penalized for creating a more efficient billing system. The lesson I learned from that job was that I shouldn’t rock the boat. No need to make suggestions because it could result in losing my job. Just show up, do what I’m asked even when it doesn’t make sense. Keep my mouth shut.
Over the years I’ve learned there’s a fine line between offering suggestions and being a pain in the ass. I’m surprised I’ve not lost more jobs on account of making suggestions or questioning why a certain process is in place. Many companies are like that billing department that needed to fill a 20 hour position even when it could be completed in a fraction of the time.
Most large companies include a layer of employees who spend much of their time making sure their job will will be needed in the future. They create wacky processes that contribute nothing to the bottom line. I’m reminded of these positions every time I drive through Oregon. If you pull over for gas in there you are not allowed to pump your own gas. Instead a station employee does it for you. This makes no sense, but I’m sure those meaningless positions are nearly impossible to do away with. Some economist has probably created an economic impact report that shows devastating repercussions if the positions were dissolved.
So I’m left to wonder if I keep my mouth shut or try to speak up when I see inefficiencies at work. Maybe I should push the envelope further and see what I can change. Then again, I need my job. Maybe I’m playing it too safe unless my job is occasionally on the line.