I know a woman who has worked full-time at a small café in an educational environment in Chicagoland. We’ll call her Lucy. She prepares and sells food to students, employees and visitors to the café – something she’s done happily for the last half-decade.
Lucy and her husband work at the café – her husband primarily focuses on the catering to various visiting groups and clients. They both report to the Cafeteria Manager (we’ll call Cheryl). Cheryl reports directly to the owner, who owns 10 similar restaurants in Chicago. I’ve heard Lucy say the owner is very busy and may visit their cafe once a year.
In an embarrassed sort of way, Lucy told me she has not received an increase in pay since she was hired – that’s over 5 years without a pay raise! From what I’ve heard, Lucy regularly hears positive feedback from her clients. These comments are frequent – the employees at the facility maintain she’s customer focused and serves good food. Feedback also includes that Lucy is a pleaser – she’s happier when her clients and co-workers are happy. Other feedback includes comment cards – forwarded to Cheryl and other comments via email were sent directly to Cheryl.
From talking with Lucy, she feels strongly there’s a filter between her performance and what the owner hears. The owner may not be fully aware of how well Lucy has performed over the last few years. This dynamic apparently is not changing in the near future.
I’ve also heard Lucy say that Cheryl acts very possessive when the owner does pay them a visit. Indeed, for the majority of the visit, Cheryl acts a buffer to eliminate any one-on-one interaction Lucy may have with the owner.
Is that a good thing?
The big issue for Lucy is a lack of marketable skills – she has limited formal education and is insecure and nervous about taking any risks with this job, not knowing what else can she do.
Mind you, she’s professional, personable and will continue to excel being customer centric but feels Cheryl has betrayed her although Lucy’s timid and would never confront Cheryl. Does Cheryl know how Lucy feels but doesn’t care? Maybe the adage “leave well enough alone” comes into play in this situation?
Maybe the owner knows “the score” but won’t grease the wheel because it’s not squeaky. The café is doing well, regular positive comments are received and there doesn’t appear to be any major complaints by staff or clients so why mess with success. Is this an ethical way to run a business?
What to do if you are Lucy? Do some research on other opportunities with her skill set? Perhaps devise a plan to acquire more skills to have more bargaining power moving forward? Or maybe just leave well enough alone and be grateful that she has a job?