Dear Crucial Skills,
I am a middle-aged, part-time worker by choice and work very hard while I am here. I have a great attendance record, and I’m dedicated, very meticulous, and take initiative without drawing attention to myself. I try to do everything I can to make my coworkers’ jobs easier. Per my supervisor and coworkers, I am “a great team player.” However, I am still bothered by some comments along the lines of “she’s just a part-timer,” and I don’t get the same treatment as the full-time employees such as perks, raises, etc.
What can I do to help my employer and coworkers understand that I am part of the team and contribute just as much as they do without causing hard feelings?
Dear Part Time,
There are three different levels of crucial conversations that can be addressed. They are: content (a specific problem or issue), pattern (a repeating problem), and relationship (the way we work together, the way we relate to each other). Issues of respect like the one you raise are relationship issues. Instead of solving a single problem, you want to change aspects of your relationship with your coworkers. These are especially difficult conversations that often involve roles, responsibilities, emotions, and perspectives.
The key to your situation seems to be developing a mutual understanding with your coworkers about your role and contribution. I would recommend starting with your supervisor. Begin a conversation with your supervisor by factually describing the things that are happening and being said which you believe show disrespect.
Share your example, then tentatively share your interpretations of the behavior. Finally ask for your supervisor’s view so you can understand his or her perception. For example, you might begin as follows.
“Yesterday Robert, referring to me, said, ‘She’s just a part-timer.’ He seemed to be implying that I wasn’t really a member of the team. Is that how you see things? I’d really like to understand your view.”
Now is the time to listen. Perhaps your boss agrees with your coworker. This would be important information for you to know. Perhaps your boss is unaware of how you feel and why. Knowing the boss’s perspective is critical to knowing what task awaits you. If the boss is surprised, you may want to share additional examples of disrespect or unequal treatment such as perks and raises. If the boss knows what’s happening and believes that your role is second class or that you are a “quasi” team member, you may want to renegotiate your role. Explain how you have contributed, how you want to contribute, and how you want to be treated. Change usually begins with awareness. As you both become aware of each other’s views and assumptions, misunderstandings can be addressed, attitudes can be changed, and expectations can be negotiated.
Once you and your supervisor are in agreement, you are in a good position to talk to your coworkers and have your supervisor support you. Now, use the same approach to address the issue with your coworkers. This time, compare what’s happening with what you expect or desire to happen. You might say, “Robert, yesterday you said I was just a ‘part-timer’ as if you don’t think I’m really a member of the team. I would prefer to be treated as a team member who adds value and helps the team be successful. How do you see me as a member of the team?”
You now have a chance to understand your coworker’s view and influence it either through creating mutual understanding and setting new expectations or by changing perception through consistent performance over time. Never let the way others treat you be an undiscussable. Skillfully, respectfully address the issues in your relationships and create better relationships and better results.