As a newly hired procurement manager in a large capital equipment manufacturing company, I inherited a staff of a half-dozen company veterans, each with a different personality. My first few weeks were spent getting to know my staff, meeting with key suppliers and developing cross-functional relationships.
Things were going smoothly until one morning Gus, one of the more senior buyers on my team, walked into my office with a cigarette and a large hot cup of coffee — and a test for me.
"This place rots and I hate it here," he said, settling into the visitor’s chair adjacent to my desk. "I’m too busy, I don’t like my commodities, my suppliers don’t care and my office is too small."
Lighting up a second cigarette, Gus implored me to make his life better at the company, insinuating that unless things got better for him, he’d "start to look around."
Gus held me responsible for his job satisfaction. My immediate reaction was to say "Sorry Gus, but you own it," and point him back to his cubical. But on second thought, I let him speak his mind, thinking his issues may also be the issues of his less forthright colleagues. When our impromptu meeting ended, I felt Gus indeed had to take responsibility for his job satisfaction. But the company, and I, had roles to play as well.
According to a study from the University of Southern California, job satisfaction is highest with engaged employees who feel they are well compensated, respected by management and colleagues and have some level of job security. They have a higher level of job satisfaction when they are confident and determined to meet reasonable work goals, have an opportunity to grow professionally and maintain good relationships with their management and co-workers.
I was confident in managing the job satisfaction elements under my control. Our department was high performing and had good morale. Metrics were good, suppliers were happy and others in the company were complimentary with our service levels and supplier performance.
The company was a clear advocate for the employee. In fact, its reputation as a great place to work drew me to apply in the first place. Gus' poor attitude concerned me.
I hear many procurement professionals lament about the tactical aspects of their jobs, thinking the daily problem solving or firefighting is beneath them.
I speak with many supply management professionals, in seminars and individually, and I always ask about staffing, burnout, unreasonable expectations, supplier relationships and management support. Sadly, some shake their heads and claim that things cannot get much worse for them. Yet others are upbeat, challenged and raring to go, reveling in their work.
Why the difference? For the employee, it can come down to personal responsibility, passion for the job and a clear understanding and acceptance of your role. Seinfeld’s neighbor Newman, the iconic New York City postal worker, often complained that "the mail never stops."
In our profession, the problems never end. I hear many procurement professionals lament about the tactical aspects of their jobs, thinking the daily problem solving or firefighting is beneath them. Their goal is to be strategists, making policy and having others carry out their directives. They are far removed from the front lines or yearn to be. And it seems as if they are the most unhappy ones.
The most active employees are the ones with the highest job satisfaction. They look at their role as critical, shepherding a global supply base to support their business operations. They are passionate about what they do and get great satisfaction out of knowing how to solve problems and overcome obstacles.
As one recent seminar attendee told me, "I feel good when I can make a call or two to a supplier and solve a major customer problem." That’s our value.
After several more conversations with Gus, I realized he was reaching out for help. He felt burned out, frustrated with being passed over for promotion to manager and bored with his commodity assignments. Gus even made me realize there were other job satisfaction issues brewing on my new team. We were able to realign the workloads, change commodity assignments and allow my team to take a greater role in managing the department.
As for Gus, those changes, as well as my recommendation that he be added to a newly formed project team, helped him overcome his job stress and improve his performance. The last time I saw him he had a smile on his face, a spring in his step and no time for a second cigarette.
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