On January 25, 2011, I had my sweet baby boy, Rigel. Up until that day, I had been working full time at the AICPA, and had been, ironically, since January 25, 2007. When Jad and I knew we were going to have a baby, we started discussing what should be done.
|Very pregnant me in January 2011|
By January, after much contemplation and prayer, I was pretty sure I would not be returning to work after Rigel was born. I planned to start working from home a couple weeks before my due date to avoid going into labor at work, which was a good excuse to clean out my desk and cubicle very well just in case I wouldn’t be back. I also was going to have three months of maternity leave, and wanted to give paperwork to the right people, and effectively train the two individuals who would be doing my humongous workload when I was gone.
After Rigel was born, and I held him and cuddled him, it wasn’t long before I knew I really wanted to stay home with him and my older son, Casey. I wanted to be a full time mother, to see my children grow and be there for every special moment.
|Rigel and I right after he was born.|
|Newborn Rigel and I at home.|
I sent an email to my senior manager a month into my leave, expressing that I would not be able to return full time, but that I was willing to come to work part time if there was an opening. I don’t have a copy of the reply, but it wasn’t what I was hoping to read. I was denied the opportunity to come back, and I don’t recall any warmth or appreciation being expressed either.
This was my Facebook status after I got the reply. I was crushed, but I was so appreciative to my friends who commented on that status, helping me know that I would be missed.
April 11, 2011 was the day I went to the AICPA as an employee for the last time. That was the longest elevator ride I had ever taken,this time with my husband and infant. It was the day I would have to clean out my laptop and the rest of my desk, say goodbye to all my friends and associates, and turn in my badge. The exit interview was very emotional, and I felt a part of me was missing when I walked out of those doors to my car, knowing I would never go to another meeting, QA another call, write another page of documentation, or laugh (very loudly) with the people I had grown to admire and love so much.
|My team decorated my cubicle the day I found out I was having a boy – 8/30/10|
I have been gone from the AICPA for four years, the same amount of time I worked there. When I see pictures of my old coworkers at work, I truly miss the conference rooms, cubicles, and the giving, fun-loving nature of my coworkers.
|Christine, a friend and member of my team, threw me a work baby shower at her home – 12/4/10|
I miss walking with members of my team during their 15-minute breaks. I miss sitting in the diner eating lunch, though sometimes I would only be there for a few minutes until I had another meeting. I miss team meetings, the birthday parties we celebrated, the one on ones. I even miss the meetings with management, from my department and others (except for the QA meetings. I never liked those).
I learned so many things from my time at the AICPA – nine months as a specialist doing inbound calls, and over three years as a supervisor of different teams. I went from Phone Response supervisor, to Phone and Email Response supervisor, to Outbound Service and Retention supervisor, consisting of three groups doing three very different functions. It was challenging. At one point I had 13 specialists reporting to me. In my last supervisor role, I also worked very closely with the IT department and the Member Value department. I was constantly writing and editing documentation too.
During those four years at the AICPA, I learned so many valuable lessons, many of which I continue to incorporate on a personal level:
Always be kind to members/customers, even if they are unkind to you.
I remember once a member was so mean to me that I started crying. My supervisor got on the phone and took over for me, defending me, saying I was doing all I could, and the member should not take his frustrations out on someone who was only trying to help him.
In this job position, I was always taught to stay kind and respectful regardless of how I was being treated on the phone. Phone and email specialists are the face of the AICPA, and our professionalism weighs heavily on the perception people have of our organization.
Ironically, the members and customers who got the angriest usually got what they wanted – something they didn’t deserve. At what cost, though? Crushing a specialist’s self-esteem, bullying your way to what you want, and being talked about in the office as a difficult member?
Kindness and courtesy go a long way on both ends.
If you hold yourself to a high standard of excellence, you will be asked to do more. As you take on more responsibilities, and do them well, this will lead to greater opportunities.
I was thrilled to be promoted to supervisor after only nine months of being a specialist. It was such an honor, and I think one of the reasons I got promoted was because I was constantly asking for special projects to do. I expressed interest in learning more and doing more, all the while doing my best in my required functions.
To be most efficient in a work environment, you must also have fun.
This was something I feel I did well. I always had names for my teams. My first team was the Phunny Pharm. We had a Pheel Good Jar where we wrote kind notes to each other before every team meeting and passed them out. It really did lift spirits. We also had snacks at every team meeting, and a game, along with business. I often brought treats to work and passed them out to anyone who wanted them. We celebrated every specialist’s birthday on my team, and I did superlatives and other recognitions. We also talked socially as a team, and just had a good time. I held everyone to a high standard, but tried to make work fun too.
Take a break. If you work too hard, you will be too stressed to be productive.
There would literally be days when I was a supervisor when my entire Outlook calendar was filled with meetings and other responsibilities from 8-5. I wouldn’t even had time for lunch, so I would just wolf something down at my desk. Those were terrible days, and I would always go home in a bad mood. Taking a walk, eating a lunch without distraction, and having some breather room, makes so much of a difference in the quality of your day, and your capacity to give.
Laugh a lot. It’s contagious.
My team, and others, used to always tease me for my very loud, bell-like laugh, a laugh that They always knew when I was coming.
Smile and speak kindly to everyone.
Sometimes management can be intimidating, and seen as all work and numbers. If management is kind to everyone, it levels the playing field, and also builds relationships among teams, who often tend to be competitive.
In contrast, as you are always friendly with your superiors, they know you trust them and would go to them for guidance and advice. That helps them feel that you like and respect them, but also that you want to know more and be more than you currently do and are.
Even if you don’t like someone, do your best to be friendly and show appreciation. This will greatly improve collaboration and cooperation.
There were a couple people here and there over the years I didn’t like very much at work. There was one in particular who annoyed me a lot. One day, I decided to implement a new strategy, which was showing interest in her interests, complimenting her, being kind and talking to her socially, and not just in meetings. That really improved how we worked together in the future, and my respect for her grew.
When someone comes to talk to you, stop what you are doing, and give him/her your full attention. You should not multitask when someone is speaking to you about an urgent/important matter.
One of my managers taught me this, and though I had so much work to do, that it was really hard to take my fingers off the keyboard, I tried to implement that advice. I can’t say I was always successful, but I do know that when I did, I got the full message the first time, and did not have to clarify a question or concern.
Respond to requests as quickly as you can. This builds trust, and helps those you serve know you are their advocate.
Because I had had experience with a supervisor who was not timely in answering emails, and a manager who answered emails but didn’t always answer the question, I realized the value of reading and responding to my specialists’ emails as quickly as possible. I also encouraged them to just come to my desk and talk to me personally. I tried to be as helpful and positive as possible.
If you care about those you supervise and make their success a priority, they will be more motivated, work harder, and enjoy work more.
I really feel strongly about this. As a supervisor or manager, you have a responsibility to make sure your team performs at a high level of efficiency and quality. Sometimes it can be easy to concentrate only on numbers, and put individuals down when they don’t perform exactly right. When you change your approach, show them individually you care about their success, ask how you can help them every day, and work with them on a regular basis, while listening to their ideas and concerns, it makes so much of a difference.
Provide feedback in a constructive manner. Always start with positive feedback and then move on to the opportunities. Let the person know you want to help him/her succeed.
As a supervisor, I did one on ones with each of my specialists either bi-weekly or monthly, depending on their positions. Sometimes, I had to give feedback on performance that was less than satisfactory. That is hard and intimidating. I learned, though, that if I concentrated on what they did well first, it softened my tone enough that I could give the constructive criticism in a way that wasn’t offensive. I always expressed a desire to help my employees succeed, and offered , as well as asked for, suggestions to do so.
When someone is performing at a very low level, you work as much as you can to help him/her start meeting expectations, rather than just turning your back.
Sometimes you will have an employee who is just awful, either with a bad attitude or really poor skills. You can’t just give up and throw in the towel. You have to be patient and work with that person in every way you can, with specific, documented steps. Sometimes people will be let go, and if that happens, you should be perfectly satisfied that you did all you could, and that you stayed their advocate until the end.
If you are annoyed or offended, do not send that nasty email. Save it as a draft, and go back to it later, after you have calmed down and gained some perspective.
I never got in trouble formally at work, but once, when I was still a specialist, I had taken on an additional responsibility of writing a training quiz. I got some feedback on it from a manager, that offended me, and I felt wasn’t correct. I sent a passionate email expressing my feelings. My supervisor had to speak to me about it, and I promptly apologized. From then on, I always took a breather before responding to an email that I didn’t like, or I just spoke to the person in person.
Another point about nasty emails: I had a manager that would periodically sent me a rude email asking why something was done or wasn’t done, or why it was done in the wrong way. It would inevitably upset me, but mostly annoy me, as he was almost always incorrect in his accusations. In my management role, I tried not to do that, but rather talk to a person one on one if I had a concern.
Be passionate, but not too passionate; don’t sweat the small stuff; and look at the bigger picture.
That was one of my biggest faults at the AICPA as a supervisor. When I saw injustices, especially in QA, I was very passionate about defending my cause, or the cause of one of my employees. There would inevitably be tension in the room, and often, I still didn’t get my way. You need to be passionate enough to care that things are done fairly, but also see that there are other perspectives out there other than your own. Sometimes I would sweat the small stuff by being mad that others were sweating the small stuff. That really isn’t productive.
Don’t be afraid to express concerns, but always be respectful and provide proof to validate them.
There were so many occasions, especially in my last supervisor role, when demands were made that just could not realistically be met. I had to speak with my senior manager often in his office about these things. I usually had reports to prove my concerns, many of which were made by one of my awesome employees. I strived to be respectful of what upper management said, but I still expressed my concerns rather than keeping them inside. I had my team to advocate for, and if I said nothing, and simply bowed down to every command, my specialists would not have respected me, and would not have wanted to come to work, knowing they couldn’t accomplish what was required of them.
It isn’t us against them. We are all working together for a common goal.
I was in the Service Center during my whole four years. There would often be annoyances from my department toward the IT department, and mostly the Member Value department. I had to learn to give the benefit of the doubt, realize every team has pressures of their own, and train myself to really believe we were all working toward a common goal. I made it a priority to just communicate better, and stay kind.
The most profound truth I learned came after I left the AICPA, and that is that I was replaceable.
It really hurt to know I put my heart and soul, and blood, sweat and tears into my job at the AICPA for years, and when I left, everyone moved on. Someone else took my position, and business continued as usual. I don’t know what I was expecting – management to beg me to stay perhaps.
No matter how well you do at your job, no matter how many awards or bonuses you get, no matter how many policies and procedures you implement, no matter how many documents you write, no matter how many meetings you go to, no matter how many problems you identify and help fix, no matter how many people you train, no matter how much you are trusted to get the job done, you are replaceable in the workforce.
It was like a punch in the gut to realize that. Now, though, I have found that truth to be a remarkable blessing. It has really reaffirmed and validated my husband’s and my decision for me to stay home and raise my children.
To them, I am irreplaceable. Only I know what they desire, what they need, how to calm them down, what to sing to them, which books to read to them, what their favorite toys and blankets are. Nobody can kiss their boo boos like I can, or teach them that Jesus loves them like I can, or love them and cherish them like I can. They need me, they love me, and they miss me when I am not there. I am irreplaceable as their mother as long as I teach them in light and truth, show them love, and care for them body and soul.
I will always cherish my time at the AICPA, especially the friendships I formed, and the lessons I learned. I will never forget any of you, and I love keeping up with you as best I can. Thank you for your examples that help me be a better person and mother.