Which Level Employee Are You?

My hobby of using and collecting fountain pens has given me a lot. A wonderful world of pens, inks, papers and all the fascinating accessories that go with it and a sense of satisfaction that only comes from using something that is analog in a majorly digital world. Out of these many things that I have come across, the book ‘The Bullet Journal Method’, which describes the method developed by Ryder Carroll has had a significant impact on the way I plan my daily life. But, the one book that I would recommend to everyone, over the above, is – ‘Atomic Habits’ by James Clear. The book basically espouses the idea that “tiny changes yield remarkable results”. If you want to make significant, big and lasting changes in your life, start with small changes, so tiny that perhaps they may seem atomic. But the habits that are developed through this process are lasting and ultimately have lasting effects that help you achieve your objectives.

This article is not about the above two books but the role of an employee in any organization and how effectively the role is essayed can have an impact on that employee’s career. Every Thursday, the author of ‘Atomic Habits’, James Clear sends an email newsletter, in which, he shares 3 of his own ideas, 2 quotes from others, and 1 question for the readers to ponder. In one of his recent newsletters, he shared the following as one of his own ideas:

The 3 Levels of Employees

Level 1 — You do what you are asked to do.

Level 2 — Level 1 + You think ahead and solve problems before they happen.

Level 3 — Level 2 + You proactively look for areas of opportunity and growth in the business and figure out how to tap into them.

(The credit for the above definitions of the 3 Levels of Employees goes entirely to James Clear.)

I found the idea of ‘3 Levels of Employees’ to be quite intriguing and made me wonder about how these would apply to the present situation of economic turmoil created by the COVID-19 Pandemic. It is a time of extreme uncertainty and I have found that it is in these times that little things matter to employers. Perhaps, what James Clear puts forth is neither new nor unique. But he has put forth these ideas in such a succinct and lucid manner that it immediately rings a bell. In such a situation as we are in today, how do we prepare for the future and how does the idea of ‘3 Levels of Employees’ apply?

I do not know whether it is fortunate or unfortunate, but I have survived through the 2 recent recessions that the world faced. The first one was in the USA in 2008 and the second one was around 2011-2013 in Europe. It is unfortunate that I had to go through these two recessions when I was in the job market and experienced first-hand, the struggles of looking for a job in a different country. Both times, in 2008 and in 2013, I had graduated with my respective Master’s degree and was looking for a job in an alien country, hoping for a Company to sponsor my work visa. However, times were difficult and jobs were not easy to come by. Although I succeeded in securing a respectable placement each time, what I realized was, be it whatever stage of your career, you should always find the answer to this quintessential question – why should someone pay you money? In due course, you realize that the better is your answer to this question, the better are your prospects for succeeding in life and easier does it become to earn your keep.

In the times of economic upheavals, when I was studying and thereafter working, I was safe to a certain extent, because I was not the highest-paid member of that organization or even a very highly paid member. I was a fresher and starting my career. Luckily for me, those organizations where I was working at, thought that the employees on the lower rungs of the ladder were necessary for the proper functioning of the organization. But my safety had continued only because the economy had begun to improve. The actions that the Governments were taking, were healing the economy. Today, however, the situation is something that nobody has ever faced. The basic principles of economics tell us, that for an economy to grow, there has to be economic activity. To improve economic activity, there are several methods that the Government can adopt. All of these methods, however, require the essential ingredient; that is the human being. Economic theories take the human being as a given and do not postulate any theories in a world where there would be no human involvement in the economy. Unfortunately, due to the exigencies of ‘social distancing’, human involvement has reduced and in too many instances to be comfortable with, it has been brought to nought. How then does the economy see an upswing? How does the curve swing upward?

Alas! That is a question that does not have an immediate answer. Stabilizing and then improving the economy while trying to control the Pandemic is what every Government in the world is attempting to do right now. Today, according to some statistics available by doing a simple search on Google, there are over 5 million COVID-19 positive cases and about 328,000 deaths. The situation is grim and does not bolster any kind of confidence. There have also been losses to the world economy of several hundreds of billions of dollars and I fear that we have not yet come close to even starting to recuperate that. We are only still trying to stem those losses.

I have written above, that in these times, little things matter to employers. It can be argued that large corporate houses are indifferent to the employees as the decision-makers are sitting afar from the front-line employees and do not really know or understand the contributions that every employee makes and in smaller organizations, perhaps, it is much easier to recognize each employee’s contributions. Without getting into the debate of whether your contribution is recognized by the top-level management or not, it is my firm belief that for every employee, what should matter is that their immediate manager/supervisor is recognizing their contribution if they are making any. I am also staying clear of situations where there might be biases and partiality against any employee. So, to begin with, let’s take a situation (probably a bit too ideal for some) where there is no bias or partiality and the manager/supervisor recognizes each employee’s contributions, however big or small.

In several conversations before this lockdown period had started, there was a general appeal amongst employees for the concept of ‘work-from-home’. In a country like India, with terrible traffic conditions and sometimes, even terrible public transportation systems, the concept holds tremendous appeal. The employees in these conversations would very much support and plead for this flexibility and the employers would be wary of allowing this, not because they didn’t want their employees to have any flexibility but they feared a decrease in productivity. As I keep on having these conversations, I am subject to a myriad of opinions about ‘work-from-home’, where there have been quite a few challenges in ensuring productivity from the employees, some employees saying that their productivity has increased significantly and some employees fretting about the fact that their employees are shirking from their work.

Bear in mind; whatever may be the size of your organization, your immediate manager/supervisor might be an employee, who has another employee above her expecting results or it might be the owner of a smaller organization; both are trying to survive this downturn and still remain in a position to make a success of their lives, professions or businesses.

Do ponder about the 3 Levels of Employees and figure out where you are. When every person is going through stress, they shall remember those who have supported them. An employee shall remember the employer who supported her and vice versa. I believe that this is basic human nature of appreciating the support that we are extended during tough situations.

People in the 1st Level of Employees do what they are asked to do. The quality of the performance will also determine whether the job is done or not. It the task is not performed as per the standards, then it is simply not complete.

Those in the 2nd Level of Employees do not just complete the task but also think ahead and anticipate the possible problems and take steps to avoid them or put in place such steps that shall help resolve those problems when they arise.

And, those who are in the 3rd Level of Employees, go above and beyond and act like the business owner, proactively looking for growth opportunities and tapping into those to improve the business.

The traits of an employee from the 3rd Level is what, I am sure, every manager/business owner shall hope to see in every employee. In the world that we knew, many now believe that it is now history, although these traits were valued highly and sought after, I do not believe that they were attributed so much importance as I believe would be now.

With businesses struggling to remain afloat, there are hundreds of thousands of people getting fired from their jobs around the world. They were let go because it was not possible to retain them. I wonder if while deciding who to let go, these considerations of their attributes were made? And those who are retained, are they all exceptional employees? The answer to both these questions is dicey. I think that there may be reconsiderations in the future and at that time, I strongly believe that those who exemplify the qualities of the 3rd Level of Employees shall be preferred. Of course, these beliefs are based on some assumptions of an ideal world, without any ‘office politics’ as they say. Words like initiative, proactiveness and ownership, have assumed more importance now. In legal language, ceteris paribus is a Latin maxim, which means – with other conditions remaining the same. With this changing world, when shall we be able to now use ceteris paribus in a sentence?