Meaningful Live Lessons from Meaningless Jobs:
People Work Better Together When They See the Human in Each Other

Photo by Devin Avery

Published: August 6, 2020  

All my jobs have taught me something. When I turned sixteen and rushed into the service industry as a hostess, I didn’t realize that I’d be setting myself up for a lifetime of lessons serving other humans. Being a part of any customer service job can be enlightening. I have a soft spot for restaurants, as you all know,  I’ve been in the industry for 12 years! And I personally believe that your serving job you took just  to pay the rent is a little lesson sent from above. Or below. Whomever you worship or praise, they send you the most meaningful life lessons from meaningless jobs when you least expect it.

Today we have our fourth post in the five-part series. Today’s lesson: People work better together when they see the human in one another.

The Job

I was a server and bartender in good ole’ Muncie, Indiana while pursuing a degree in psychology. I later switched majors but my psych courses helped me with interpersonal relations, a benefit that is intertwined in today’s topic.

For four years I bartended on weeknights (I made more money tending the bar solo than I did on busy weekends with a partner) and served tables on the weekend at Johnny Carino’s. The entire time I attended Ball State, I was servin’ up goodness at Carino’s.

I loved this job. Honestly, I did. I cried on my last day and still keep in touch with some of the best friends I’ve ever made. Why was it so special? Why is this post full of butterflies and good vibes and my other ones are kind of bitchy and filled with vitriol for all my bosses? It’s not because I meditated or did yoga (I do those things and I’m still a bitch sometimes. Alexa, play “Human”).

Photo by Priscilla Du Preez

“I don’t like that man. I must get to know him better.”
― Abraham Lincoln

The Lesson

The reason I loved this job was the people, whom I grew to know. Almost 10 years later and I still keep up with one of my bosses and, of course, a few of my best friends. We worked together, drank together, smoked together (sorry Mom, but those were college days, you know?), and cried to each other when we got too wasted. We went through break-ups together and bar hopped from Cleo’s Bar to Brother’s for free t-shirts on Tuesdays.

And after we nursed our hangovers at McDonald’s and Starbucks, we’d hit the floor ready for the Sunday church lunch-rush. I didn’t care that Luke was bitching at me to get more ice for the wells; I knew he was hungover and upset about an upcoming internship requirement. Josh didn’t mean anything by stealing my table; he was just still drunk. He could have the old geezers anyway—they liked him.

What usually pissed me off about people, I didn’t mind in my coworkers. Why? Because I cared about them and we shared a connection. I knew about their families and their pets. I saw their dirty houses and helped them clean before their parents got there for graduation.

Since then I haven’t worked with such a well-oiled team. I bet if you asked prior managers of Johnny Carino’s which employee group they liked the most, they would say the group of 2014–2016. I’m willing to wager that the restaurant had higher revenues in these years. And what made all of the difference was that everyone understood one another. They shared common ground. Like the phrase namaste, “The soul in me sees the soul in you.”

Photo by John Schnobrich

What to Take Away

Yes, this is a nice story. But what can you learn or take with you? Managers, introduce team building exercises where your team members swap personal information with one another. Although you shouldn’t force your team to disclose that information, you’d be surprised at how willing people are to open up with one another. Also managers, try leaving the room during the exercise. None of your teammates will bond if their supervisor is listening. Your staff members are not machines; they have hobbies and opinions outside of work that you may not agree with. Does that hinder Christian from setting up your floor perfectly? No, so butt out and let them talk.

You can also open up the floor for a discussion with you and a coworker. Getting to know someone outside of work can be beneficial for your work relationship. You don’t need to ask your team members out for drinks, but you should ask them questions like where they are from, where they like to vacation, and what is their favorite restaurant. This can open both of you to sharing further information about your families and ethnic backgrounds, for example. Such aspects of people’s lives shape their behavior, which you can then further understand and will be more likely to accept.

You’ll be more understanding of a coworker’s bad attitude if you learn that she doesn’t have a grudge against you but that her mother isn’t planning on attending her wedding because the person she’s marrying is of the same sex. As a result, she has been ridden with anxiety and hasn’t been very tolerant of other people lately. You’ll realize she has real-life problems, much like you have.

When you have a bad day, don’t you expect others around you to adapt? You don’t want anyone to talk to you or you ask your manager to be sent home early. Remember when Eddie asked to be sent home early and you got all mad? Yeah, don’t do that anymore. He’s got his own things going on.

Closing Thoughts

Test my theory. Watch how your team’s productivity and communication changes once you get to know your team a bit. My hypothesis is that once each member of a team sees the human in the other, the team will function better. Try a virtual happy hour or something along those lines. Don’t cross any lines that people aren’t comfortable with you crossing! I’m relying on all of you to use your common sense here and not ask the ladies in the team out for drinks, for example, under the pretense that it’ll make your team more revenue.

So, what are your thoughts? Do you disagree with me? Share your comments below so that we can have an intellectual conversation on the internet and prove all the trolls wrong.

Stay tuned next week for our final blog post in the series, Meaningful Life Lessons From Meaningless Jobs.

Cheers!

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