As I See It: He Loves Me, He Loves Me Not
April 18, 2016 Victor Rozek
The sheer magnitude of the math first caught my attention. It was an article I came across called 19 Signs Your Employer Doesn’t Care About You. Nineteen, mind you! Not the usual 3 or 7 or even the venerable Top 10; someone actually dredged up 19 different indications that a stranger–who they only glimpse professionally–may not be their most ardent admirer.
OK. Just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they don’t dislike you. But let’s face it, you have to break a sweat to think up 19 tells that prove someone doesn’t give a rat’s thumb drive about you. Most people get the idea after the first 15. Maybe if employees spent less time being suspicious and more time–you know–doing their jobs, employers might actually grow to like them. I’m just sayin’.
Given that what you pay attention to determines your reality, you can be sure that if you’re on constant alert for any of the 19 clues that your manager dislikes you, you’ll be certain to find at least one.
But peer beneath this exercise in rejection monitoring and something softer if more desperate emerges: The urgent and overwhelming desire to be liked.
Expectations have changed. Hiring people is no longer good enough; companies are now expected to like them, too. And not just because they are qualified to perform certain tasks, but like them in a way that would bring managers joy to be marooned with them in an elevator. Call it a digitally empowered version of the Sally Field syndrome. For Millennials who guessed Sally Field is an airport, she’s not. She’s an actress who was so incredulous at receiving an Oscar she spontaneously blurted out: “You like me, you really like me.”
Well, sure, pretty much everybody wants to be liked. The barista who makes the foamy heart on your latte wants to be liked. The guy hauling your garbage wants to be liked. The dentist sticking the needle in your gums wants to be liked. Genghis Khan probably wanted to be liked. Hell, Mark Zuckerberg makes a tidy living betting on people’s bottomless desire to be liked.
But social media has fed that desire to unnatural proportions. The need for public validation, coupled with the addictive nature of feedback, has turned being liked into a national obsession. But here’s the problem: telling someone who is misunderstood to repeat the same thing only louder will not make the message more clear, only more annoying. Yet that’s what social media invites: Don’t just post one thing to make yourself appear likeable; knock yourself out, take all the bandwidth you want.
On Facebook, people will regularly post 14 items each day, and 13 of them will be pictures of, say, horses with little bromides about how wonderful they are: “They may break my bones but not my heart.” Really. That’s the choice? The problem is, after a while, sharing too much looks a lot like either marketing or desperation, whether you post horses, dogs, or nauseatingly adorable montages of cute cats doing cute things as only cute cats can. Okay. We get it: you like cats, or horses, and your relationships are so crappy you’d rather become a virtual cat lady or have your bones broken by a 1,500 pound beast than risk being vulnerable again. That may make you brave, but not necessarily likeable.
And God forbid you’re one of those people who post the same political opinion day in and day out. We get it. You like Trump and think Clinton is a lying, mercenary bitch. Or, you like Clinton and think Trump is a violence-advocating fascist. Your well-reasoned name-calling will no doubt be appealing to all 12 of your closest friends. Vitriol as a measure of likeability is probably overrated. Except perhaps in politics.
But I digress. What makes someone likeable at work is not endless self-disclosure, or expressing political leanings, or sharing hobbies; and it’s certainly not pinning their value as a human being to how much their manager likes them. Employees are liked because they do their job capably, complete assignments on time, with as little drama as possible. And if that doesn’t work, bring donuts.
Here are some of the warning signs the article identifies:
“You’re not compensated fairly.” Probably means you’re a woman. If African Americans were constitutionally 3/5th of a person when this country was founded, women are economically 78 percent of a man. Hey, it’s only 2016, just how much progress can you expect? (Ouch! My barefoot wife just snapped me with a dishtowel.)
“They never ask you for input or ideas.” And the corollary: “They don’t include you in any decisions.” Well, sure. Because making decisions is a management prerogative. If they valued your brilliant ideas and decision-making prowess, they would have made you CEO.
“Your boss isn’t interested in your personal life. . . at all.” It is an employment contract, not an adoption paper. Yeah it’s nice if your manager inquires about your kids. On the other hand, if my manager inquired about my kids, I’d immediately doubt her sincerity because I don’t have any kids.
The thing is, what you pay attention to not only creates your reality, but also determines what you miss. Obviously it’s nice to be liked. It’s a blessing. But so is the mere fact of having a job. A job with benefits that allows you the privilege of living indoors. And having a fridge full of food. And a car. And a smartphone growing out of your ear. It’s easy to take all of that for granted until it’s lost. Ask anyone fleeing Syria.
Where work is concerned, it’s far less painful not being liked than not being wanted in the first place. It’s a reflection of the prosperity and plethora of choices we swim in that gives us the license to worry about being liked. The majority of the world’s people just work. Every day. Without complaint or expectation of special treatment.
Look at it this way: When you get laid off, as eventually you may, it will hurt less to be fired by someone you hardly know than someone who purports to be your friend right up to the time they introduce you to the burly security guys who will escort you out of the building.