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.