Several years ago a friend of mine who’d spent the early part of his career in radio stopped me cold one day when he said, “Ty, you’re local scum.”
We had been talking about an upcoming career move I was about to make. He added, “You need to be the weasel. That’s the way to get ahead.”
I didn’t know what he was talking about either, so I’ll explain. In a nutshell, “local scum” is an individual who lives in the area, probably has a family, isn’t really interested in moving to another city, is reliable and can be depended on to do his job well. Often, very well. Because of all that, he is often taken for granted. Local scum is a known commodity — and management knows they aren’t on the lookout for the next opportunity.
Weasels are different. They are usually from a smaller market and want their current gigs to be a stepping-stone to the bigger market and the bigger job. They feel no loyalty to their current job or employer. They want to move up to the “big show.” They are likely very talented, but they don’t necessarily do a better job than local scum. Management knows they need to keep them happy or they’re going to move on to the next big thing sooner rather than later. They get all the breaks. They make more money. And they’re treated with more respect. Management never takes them for granted. They aren’t local scum.
Do you see something wrong with this picture?
Unfortunately, this scenario isn’t relegated to my friend’s experience in radio. It exists in a lot of industries — although “local scum” and the “weasel” are more dependent on the attitude employees take to their jobs rather than whether or not they happen to be “local.”
I recently learned that it only takes three and one-half years for the average individual to take a spouse for granted. That started me thinking, if the average employee only stays on the job four and one-half years, how long does it take for an employer to take an employee for granted and vice versa. A month or two? Once the honeymoon is over, how long does it take the average employer to start looking at employees as if they were all local scum?
Just in case your knee-jerk reaction is, “I don’t take my employees for granted nor do I consider them local scum,” you should know that 65 percent of Americans would choose a better boss over a raise. In other words, maybe you should do an honest evaluation of how you treat your employees — including your best employees.
Even though my friend labeled me “local scum,” I don’t want you to think this is defensive. Nevertheless, over the course of my career I’ve noticed that “local scum” are the folks that actually do the most work. They show up on time. They seldom complain. They work late when needed. And they are real team players. The “weasel” is usually a self-absorbed “what’s in it for me” person, who despite being very talented, is a horrible employee. Of course there are exceptions, but I haven’t seen very many.
I’m convinced this attitude is a problem for most businesses, small and large.
“The notion that highly engaged workers will continue to work tirelessly for their boss or company despite diminishing resources — a situation the recession may have produced — just isn’t true,” says Ray Williams, a Vancouver-based consultant who mentors and coaches executives.
He continues, “According to Clemson University professor Thomas Britt, whose research is published in the Journal of Occupational Health Psychology the recession has shown that withdrawing resources from highly engaged employees affects their level of commitment to the organization, and employers may end up losing their most talented people." The real danger, he argues, "is employers demanding highly engaged, productive workers to go above and beyond to the point of burnout.”
Of course, I’m suggesting that some of the employees that might otherwise be considered “local scum” are often some of the most engaged — at least that’s what I’ve observed over the course of my career.
A few years back, following a management change in the company I was working for at the time, I decided to see if being the “weasel” would make a difference — even though I really am “local scum.” As a result, I was successful at elevating my position in the company. I earned more respect from the boss and was even paid more. But the truth of the matter is I wasn’t a better employee than I was when I was “local scum” and disrespected.
Maybe it’s time we look at the employees that complain the least, work the most and don’t get much recognition generally, and do something to make sure they aren’t being taken for granted. At the business development company Lendio, recognizing employees who consistently perform well is part of the culture. What’s more, every month employees are encouraged to recognize the contributions and achievements of their peers. I can’t think of anyone I’ve met over the years who doesn’t appreciate a little recognition for their accomplishments now or then.
Are you “local scum” or the “weasel”?
As a main street business evangelist and marketing veteran with more than 25 years in the trenches, Ty Kiisel writes about leading people and small-business issues for Lendio (lendio.com).