Chronic Poor Performance

Question to Ask the Workplace Doctors about being sub-par: a) I cannot do anything well and b) I have always struggled to no avail to meet the level of performance of the majority of my peers. I have no physical or mental ailments to speak of. So I’ll ask the Dr. Phil question to you: Am I the only one like this?

I recall a recent Dr. Phil episode where guests ask the question – “Am I the only one who ______ ?” I feel that way about myself in regards to the following: I am 42 years old and am at a loss. It seems that regardless of what work/job I do, I always under perform. I’ve worked in a factory making bails out of materials, and found that someone doing the same work has 150% greater output than I do.

I’ve worked in several fish processing plants cutting fish, and have found that the majority of other workers have 200%-300% greater output. I’ve delivered parcels with a van, finding that others with a similar run always finish before me. When I worked as a dishwasher, I would always clocked-out early to give management the impression that I was doing the same work in the same amount of time as my co-workers.

It seems that when it comes to these kinds of jobs, my 100% effort equals only 60% of most others’ efforts. So I decided to get training and change my work environment . . . I’ve done bookkeeping and am slow at that. Worked in a call center in an administrative capacity and my performance reviews have been sub-par.

I could continue, but I think you get the point. All these examples, I’ve provided have been assessed after I’ve completed the learning-curve; and they all scream out the same conclusion– a) I cannot do anything well and b) I have always struggled to no avail to meet the level of performance of the majority of my peers. I have no physical or mental ailments to speak of. So I’ll ask the Dr. Phil question to you: Am I the only one like this?

Signed, Below Average?

Dear Below Average?:

Congratulations. Why? Because you have asked the first question of this kind. Congratulations. Why? Because you have composed a well-written question, free from grammatical mistakes and with supporting examples. That’s above average for the questions sent us. Congratulations. Why? Because you are middle-aged and that is average. Many people rate them selves as above average even when the fact is that they are not. You don’t have that problem. Congrats, some of us don’t live to be middle-aged without physical or mental ailments. You indeed are fortunate. Congratulations, because you have the courage to look in the mirror and assess your job history.You report shifting to or being pushed from job to job in different fields; from varied physical tasks to information processing. You say your output was noticeably less than most coworkers no matter what the work. If you were eased or pushed out, did you suffer emotionally, short of depression?

After a series of jobs in which you performed less than others in meeting standards, it would be understandable if you accumulated a low estimate of your abilities. Your summary conclusion “they all scream out the same conclusion– a) I cannot do anything well and b) I have always struggled to no avail to meet the level of performance of the majority of my peers” tells us that you are suffering.Have you analyzed why? Are you mentally slow? The composition in your note denies that. Are you overly particular and careful in what you do? Probably. Do you strive to meet expectations of the job? Obviously.

Have you learned from these various kinds of work of any that you really liked? Probably not, if you didn’t do as well as was expected. We tend to like that which we can do well. The important thing for you is not so much what has gone on in the past or is currently evident in your job performance, but will the future be more of the same or might it be significantly better?

You strike me as a bright and I predict it can be better. You don’t say, but have you really worked with your superiors to collaboratively understand why you are below average in output. Remember average means some are above and some below. So accepting where you are can be ok especially if you are learning on the job even after being at it for a long time. Perhaps the only way you might find a job you really like is to acquire the specialized training and experience for work that is measured in quality rather than quantity.

Sure numbers matter, especially at low level paying jobs, whereas jobs the produce a life-saving vaccine, time saving invention and innovation pay better for quality than quantity. Such jobs as cable television maintenance and plumbing also in some respects are more quality than quantity. However rare, there are quality-centered jobs. Even at 42, you might explore that possibility. I don’t expect you to have a quality-centered job fall into your lap, nor do I predict that you can transform your output to average or high quality in your current job. But even in if you continue in the series of types of work you’ve had, it is possible that you can change the way you see what you do. Rather than evaluate your self as compared to others, might it be possible to see what you do as valued?

After all even though our modern kind of job is not a matter of artisan and craftsmanship, we can focus on delivering the reasonably “good enough” and as hopefully increasingly better quality goods and service. Also while having some kind of employment that keeps the wolf from the door, one needs to realize that work is not all there is to life. I know this sounds like a sermon, but you might benefit from a conversation with your self about that. Ask the kind of questions a counselor or I might a ask you? Are you generally happy with your life? It appears you are frustrated in being an under performer, both by those who have told you are and by your own self-assessment. But are you also unhappy with the rest of your life?

After all a life is more than work. Do you have family and friends? Are there outside of work activities you enjoy? Are you giving of your self in other ways; helping the world to sing through a choir, appreciating your library, volunteering tutoring a child, raising a garden, playing forward some of the good things others have done for you? I will be interested on whether any of these thoughts prompt you to see where you are and where you are headed differently.

We all need psychologically healthy workplaces; ones that are communication rich, ones in which we think, what I call, WEGO. Working together with hands, head, and heart takes and makes big WEGOS and from your query, I don’t see that you have sensed you did what you might to make that happen for your coworkers and bosses. Not incidentally, my associate workplace doctor Tina Lewis Rowe has much to say about what makes for good working relationships, careers and personal success. Click on her name on our home page to access her site.

William Gorden