The reality of moving ‘backwards’

Working part-time in a front-line job recently has allowed me to reflect on the dynamics of previously senior people working alongside ‘unskilled’ workers and others just entering the workforce. With so much flux and uncertainty in the economy this has become a growing reality for people from sectors affected by the coronavirus pandemic, as well as others in sectors suffering structural decline. 

I personally have worked in health-care and logistics. My experience has been enlightening in a great number of ways that I shall share over the coming months. I’ll start by considering some preconceptions about status, behaviour and responsibility.

My experience in the casual and low-skilled sector (which has rapidly expansion during Covid) is that, in the rush to make up managerial numbers, corners are cut, leading to the rapid promotion or appointment of friends and connections (in other words nepotism), many of whom have very little prior experience of management. This does not mean, of course, that they will be bad managers but sadly many feel that leading equals going on a power-trip. It is interesting just how many people equate having a job title to actually having the skills to do a job. This happens at supervisor level and continues up through the hierarchy. A feature of such weak management is the feeling amongst managers that they know best, even when compared to their peers: leading to in-fighting and lack of consistency.

So, what’s it like being an underling in such a scenario? Pretty grim some of the time. Stereotyping is rife and egos are fragile. More positively, working to assist people directly at such a historic time genuinely makes me proud. Pragmatically, I would say that it is probably best to grin and bear it in the short-term with the hope that learning of management best practice improves – that is if you find yourself in this situation through necessity.

Another interesting point that I’ve been pondering is the expectation of hitherto senior professional people that moving to a job with far less responsibility will be less stressful. I’d caution against such a blanket assumption. Moving to a job with less responsibility can be a relief in that you can switch off from the job at the end of the day in a way that is not possible with an executive or professional role. However, the stresses associated with seniority in my view are sometimes overblown; even self-indulgent or even a clever way to justify exorbitant pay. In roles low down in a hierarchy they are replaced by other stresses such as bullying, lack of autonomy and the frustration of seeing poor leadership. 

Of course not all experiences in taking a step or two back are negative: some will be fantastic. However, my advice to people stepping back in responsibility: be sure to understand the reality of life further down! Oh, and do something you enjoy (negatives melt away if you love what you do).