You Salute the Uniform Not the Person in It

Rank Has Meaning in An Organization and Should Be Respected, But A Jerk in A Position Is Still a Jerk.

McFerrin was a tough old military nurse.  She was the supervising nurse at the Veteran’s Administration Hospital where my father worked for a time as an orderly. She expected everyone in her charge to work.

That was not a problem for Dad. He was accustomed to work and believed he owed his employer a full day’s work for a day’s pay.

At a point, the VA sent down a dictum that its employees were to dress in a military fashion on the job. To Dad that meant spit and polish and a crisp white uniform. To that end, he polished his shoes and belt regularly and wore fresh clothes every day.

One summer day, in the then non-air-conditioned wing of the hospital, he was cleaning out bathtubs. The place was hot, especially in the humidity of the bathing area.

As Dad told it, he was standing on his head cleaning a tub, was wringing wet with sweat, and was thinking about the way Mrs. McFerrin had, in his opinion, mistreated a coworker earlier in the day.

Sweat had soaked Dad’s shirt and run down across his belt, leaving black streaks on his white pants. Mrs. McFerrin happened to walk up behind him and began to “dress him down” for the condition of his uniform.

Dad took the assault without comment until Mrs. McFerrin came to a pause. Then he asked, “Are you finished, Ma’am?”

She snapped, “Yes.”

“Then, as of right now you have my two-week notice.” He said.

Two weeks later over protestations from hospital personnel, including Mrs. McFerrin, Dad was done with that job.

He never failed when talking about that to emphasize to me that when you do your job to best of your ability and follow organizational rules, you do not need to, in fact should not, allow yourself to be mistreated by anyone in the organization.

More than 20 years later, I found myself in a situation at work that harkened back to that lesson. I worked for a publishing company when the company moved one of its editorial operations from Boston, MA to Iowa City, IA. The move created several openings when people chose to leave the company rather than move to what they perceived as nowhere in the middle of the country.

I transferred from a regional office to a Senior Editor position. Ed, who would be my direct supervisor, was the only transferee from Boston. The new Department Director was from Iowa City and brought a lineup of his cronies into the newly formed department.

I had a pretty good time in the editorial job for a couple of years, got some great experience hiring and working with professional staff, and in working with a variety of high-powered authors.

There were a number of things that transpired over that couple of years, though, that made me happy to have Ed between the Director and me.

Then there came a December day, when I was called into the Director’s office along with Ed, to discuss a performance review I had given for a relatively new editor that reported to me. I had been very pleased with her productivity and with the accuracy of her work; and I had rated her relatively highly.

In the meeting, the Director told me he didn’t want to have ratings go in that were “too high” and he wanted me to change my rating of the editor.

I suggested that I had followed the personnel review directive from headquarters and was not inclined to change my evaluation.

As the discussion continued, Ed suggested that we submit two evaluations, one that represented my assessment and another that represented the Director’s. That solution was not acceptable to the Director and he said he was going to alter my evaluation before submitting it to headquarters.

The meeting ended under those terms and as we walked back to the suite of offices we shared, I asked Ed, “If I resign today will I get my bonus for the year?” His answer was that I would have to be employed at the end of the year to qualify. I said, “Then, I will wait until after the holidays.”  When I returned to work on January 3rd, I presented Ed with my resignation letter, giving 30-days notice.

I later accepted an extension, agreeing to work until the end of February. Some 26 years later that same company rehired me and gave me employment credit for those early years, much to the inconvenience of the personnel manager who dug through long-warehoused paper documents to verify that employment, but that is another story.

The Point of this Story.

It is easy for some people to take on the role of being trapped in a job. When a person in a position of authority abuses that position, fails to give you reasonable respect or demonstrates that they are not worthy of your respect, you need to think about what you will do.

Feeling that you have no alternative but to stand there and take it, is detrimental to your need to do first, what is right. That, in turn, is detrimental to the organization in which you go to work dispirited, and to the potential organization you would better contribute, but where you don’t work.

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