Work Engagement: Do You Take Your Job Personally?

5 min read
Dec 14, 2015
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Work engagement

Many people claim that work isn’t personal but I think that work is as personal as it gets.

After all, you spend the greater part of the day working than on any other activity. The money you make, the effort you put in your tasks, the time you spend away from your family. What’s more personal than that?

For me, taking your job personally means that your work engagement is high and that you care about what you do. But, here’s the thing. There’s a difference between taking your job personally, and taking personally all the things that happen at work.

A customer service job gives you a great opportunity to separate these two.

Work engagement: taking the job personally

I remember when I was working in a technical call center for a convenience store. Sometimes, customers asked me about things not related to my job. Luckily “what are you wearing?” wasn’t one of them. They asked about things that were out of my duty, for example a broken AC. And whenever they did, I turned to my superiors with a question: “How can we help them with this?”

Unfortunately, my superiors always got annoyed with me. They responded “Just stick to your job and say there’s nothing you can do. We’ve told you already!” Yes, maybe. But I couldn’t agree with that. And obviously I still can’t.

I know that my superiors were just doing their job, which sometimes means saying no to the customer, but what bothered me the most was that they were annoyed that I wanted to do something more than my responsibilities.

If we treat our job personally, we don’t care if something is not our responsibility, we just want to help. And do a little more than is required. And that is OK.

What about taking work too personally?

Sometimes, when customers can’t accept that you are not able to help them, like I couldn’t help mine with the AC, they start to show their anger. They shout, hang up, or even call you names. It looks something like this:

How to say no to customers without making them angry

At this point, it’s easy to take things too personal, especially if you’re a beginner in customer service. You can’t stop thinking about the stressful situation and that one customer that called you stupid. “Am I?”, “Is she right?”, “What could I do differently?” – thoughts like these are rushing through your head.

You need to know that customers tend to cross the line and throw their own problems and anxieties at you. That’s the part of the job but it has nothing to do with you as a person. So when it gets tougher, just remind yourself – the words they say have nothing to do with you and everything to do with them.

My advice to you is that whenever you find yourself in a stressful situation with customers, show them that you value the relationship with them more than the result of the fight. You can do that by claiming your rights in a respectful way and knowing when to stop arguing. Because, if you fight with a customer, even if you win, you lose.

When customers cross the line, you need to distance yourself from them. If it takes admitting the mistake and apologize – do it. The more you know you did the best you could, the better you sleep at night. At the same time, you create a shield against customers’ rudeness. You can read more about it in Justyna’s post.

What happens if we stop taking work personally?

What happens after a few years of working with customers is that you’re less burdened by emotionally challenging situations. But does it mean that you stop taking your work personally and your work engagement drops? Do you care less about customers, just like my superiors did?

I hope not, because it’s hard to explain situations like the one that Seth Godin experienced.
He went to the bookstore and this is what happened:

The store was empty and I asked the clerk, "Do you know where I can find Yertle the Turtle?"
He walked over to the computer, typed a few keystrokes and said, "I don't think we have it, do you know who the author is?” Stunned silence. I found the section myself – they had three copies.

Seth was wondering: was the clerk hired to only keep people from stealing, type the things into the system and read them out loud? “If that's the case, this store, like all stores staffed by clerks who are taught to be merely clerks, is doomed.” I couldn’t agree with him more.

Whenever something similar happens to me, I feel like I’m left all alone in the store. If I have to look for everything by myself, what’s the difference between a store and a website? I mean a website without the human touch.

Seth was also wondering, what if the clerk starts taking things personally? He could be interested in a customer, notice him and care. There are a lot of stores where you ask for something and the clerks guide you – they literally go with you to show you what you’re looking for – even if they’re busy with something else. That’s caring. That’s helping. That’s personal.

Sometimes, you can’t do much to help customers. But what’s important is how you make your customers feel. After all, they will remember that you were running with them all around the store looking for a book. So what if they found one first? They will probably forgive you. But they surely won’t forget you. They will also appreciate your help. If so, isn’t it better to be engaged and care for them?

Customer service paradox

If you take your work personally, you add value to what you do. You help customers and you do your job a little better. But on the other hand, when customers get angry and don’t respect you, you need to know when to distance yourself from them.

I think that’s a little paradox of customer service. You need to know when to disconnect and not to take things personally but also know when to engage and do a little more than required.

You might also want to read: Teamwork Quotes that Make Your Team Really Work Together