Employees are as valuable as they choose to be.

For this post, I am mostly considering the “Management Principles and Practices” discussion on pages 59-68 in Spilka.

Now more than ever it is important for everyone to demonstrate his or her value as an employee, regardless of the industry or professional field. Our company has experienced an over 50% cut in our workforce in the past 18 months. Before the layoffs, I was our quality management system director. After the layoffs, I am still responsible for the quality system, but I am also taking care of all contract administration duties and some production management and executive assistant tasks with no raise in pay or any added benefit other than not having to join the unemployment line. I have taken on this added responsibility with a big freaking smile on my face because all four of those titles are considered “overhead” positions, meaning that financially they only cost the company money rather than make it money. People in these kinds of positions are easy targets for the chopping block, and being able to afford to hire individuals for these positions can be seen as a luxury when executive management is getting desperate to cut costs and ultimately save their business. However, just because the position is considered purely an overhead cost doesn’t mean the individual doing the job is doomed to provide no added value to the organization.

One recurring question in the Technical Communication bachelor’s degree program here at Stout was, “What is technical communication?” There is no single correct answer. The ambiguity of our profession really puts us at an advantage if we know how to present our answer when asked what exactly it is that we do. While simply going to work and doing one’s assigned tasks is widely accepted as a sufficient work ethic, it does not allow someone in an overhead position to add value to him- or herself as an employee. So how do we add value to ourselves? A value-added employee is always thinking of ways to do things smarter, more efficiently, more effectively. We need to always be on the lookout for areas in which we can apply our skills, even if it is outside of our comfort zone.  If attending college has taught me anything it’s that I, and everyone else, is capable of much more than we assume ourselves to be.  Our chosen field is something that can be applied in any industry, and it is difficult to think of a document we can’t generate from scratch or improve if we understand the intent and the “big picture” of the company and its goals.  The more we learn about our employer as a whole, the better we can do our job and the more work we can find for ourselves to do within the company.

The only person that can make an employee valuable is the employee him- or herself.  It is not always about learning the most up-to-date technology, but it is always about demonstrating a concern for the company and its needs and acting upon them.  With a little extra effort, technical communicators have unlimited opportunities to do so.

Posted on October 5, 2012, in Workplace. Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

  1. It almost sounds like we work for the same company. I don’t know how much is just the general suckiness of the economy and how much is related to our profession, but the cuts have been pretty consistent for the last several years.

    You make a good point about how important it is to find ways to add value. A few years back I had a boss whose favorite saying was that, “We need to be an advocate for the customer and a steward for the company.” Most technical communicators, in my opinion, embrace only one of these roles, which hurts them when the cuts come.

    It isn’t an easy balance to strike, but we can’t just ignore business realities and spend as much time and money as we would like to make the perfect information solution for the customer. We also have to consider how we can do it faster or cheaper.

    While writing and editing are still valuable skills, Stanley Dicks explains that, ” . . . they are increasingly being viewed as commodity activities that business considers questionable in adding value and that are candidates for being outsourced or offshored.” (p. 54) So, if the value of these activities are declining, then we, as technical communicators, need to look for the areas that are increasing in value. And, we are back to social media.

    We outsource a lot of what we used to do to India, Poland, and the Philippines now. We used to spend a lot of time reviewing and editing content when I started, because mistakes could lead to scrapping an expensive print run of manuals, but now that we just have to regenerate the pdf, the value of editing and writing ability have plummeted.

    Now, the people that are left in Europe and the U.S. are focused on more complex interactive content that involves animations and narration. Or, we are working with tools like CMSs and standards like DITA to increase efficiency even further. I don’t know where TC is headed either, but I agree with you that we should use this ambiguity to our advantage and define something amazing.

  2. Great point, Laura. Now, more than ever, it is imperative that technical communicators (and all employees) demonstrate their value. I think a big part of that is flexibility (which is often the willingness to learn new technologies) and unwavering support for the organization, as you mentioned. I also think that as technical communicators, we have a certain skillset that can be pretty unique. It comes down to demonstrating a skillset that adds value and cannot be easily be eliminated or replaced—like the symbolic-analytic work explained by Stanley Dicks in this chapter.

    • Yes, we have a unique skill set, and even within technical communication we each have an even more unique set of skills based on our work experiences. For example, I know many of our classmates have extensive experience writing technical manuals, and while I would feel comfortable writing a technical manual, I’ve never actually had to do so. My work involves a lot of technical document interpretation – taking something complicated and “translating” it into something more simplified and situation-applicable. We have the advantage of presenting ourselves either as wide-ranging or specialized, depending on our situation. Hooray for flexibility!

  3. Your final paragraph, and your comment above, is great! It’s true that versatility is a great attribute to have, especially these days. I currently oversee the portfolios submitted by students wanting to earn “life experience credit” and be waived from the Tech Writing course, and can attest that none of those sets of documents have looked the same!

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