Last but not least in my BBC binge review is the sweet, slightly sad sitcom The IT Crowd, which can serve as a cautionary tale about what happens when you neglect the very employees who keep your business up and running.
The show centers on two socially inept best friends - Roy and Moss - who, along with their socially proficient but technologically and managerially deficient boss, make up the IT department at their large London company. The show plays up the guys’ lack of common sense and failure to grasp social norms for laughs, but makes it clear that they have the requisite IT expertise to handle the company phone and computer systems.
However, Roy and Moss are totally unappreciated and taken for granted. Although they’ve worked at the company for years, they are marginalized and separate from the rest of the company. Just the mere fact that the IT department office is relegated to a windowless dump in the dingy and hazardous basement of the building makes it clear that they matter little to those in power. It’s no wonder these guys don’t jump to answer the phones when coworkers on the upper floors call for help!
The basic setup for the show underscores one of the most damaging and widespread problems in businesses large and small. The people who work in internal support and operations are often viewed as an afterthought, only taking center stage in response to a crisis. When everything is running as it should, operations are invisible, which makes it easy to take for granted. But this leads to a vicious cycle:
- Operations and support staff are taken for granted and treated as less important.
- Morale among support staff sinks, and staff become less motivated to perform at their best.
- This low morale causes them to withdraw socially, siloing them off from the rest of the company, and to pay less attention to detail in performance because they feel like no one cares.
- To outsiders, this withdrawn attitude and lack of attention to detail reaffirms their low worth and poor performance, and the support staff are further written off.
- And lather, rinse, repeat.
Achieving consistent smooth sailing is hard work, and any smart manager or administrator should know, appreciate, and recognize that.
Read on for how to avoid the demoralization cycle.
1. Don’t wait until crisis strikes to take advantage of skills and knowledge! Take time to understand what it is that your support staff does and how they support broader company functioning. They may have expertise and strategies that can help with some of the day-to-day challenges you are facing.
2. Beware of optics! Sure, maybe the IT department needs to be located in an interior office space to be closer to the server. Or it might make sense for administrative assistants to get in earlier in the morning than everyone else to set up for meetings. But these superficial disparities in working conditions can quickly be internalized as inferiority and can send the wrong message to the rest of the company. Make sure everyone understands the rationale behind these decisions, and make an effort to acknowledge the value your support players bring.
3. Don’t silo and departments or functions! Although not every person in your team directly interacts with everyone else, they all make essential contributions to the overall mission. Make sure that different teams and divisions get to know one another regularly and understand each other’s role. Broadcast accomplishments from one team across the whole company. Publicly highlight a new software or skill a support staff member has.
4. Recognize the individuals! Your office may have two tech support workers who work as a team and have nearly identical responsibilities and skill sets, but they are two unique individuals. Don’t just refer to support staff by their team or function and treat them as interchangeable. Learn their names. Use their names when mentioning them to others.
While The IT Crowd would have been a far less entertaining show had their company taken these precautions, Roy and Moss would have had much more satisfying professional and personal lives. Just because support staff may not directly deal with client engagement or revenue generating activities doesn’t mean their contributions are any less vital.