Work: Janitor Lessons on Why Yours Matters

What is your work? Whatever your answer—whether you’re a CEO of a company or its janitor, the work you do does matter!

Work: Why does it matter?

I don’t care if you’re selling things, number crunching, moving boxes, sweeping floors or leading a Fortune company, what you do matters. What you’re doing is impacting other people. Just three of countless examples:

  • Salesperson. Someone relies on you for quality service and a product that solves a problem or meets their needs.
  • Accountant. Someone depends on you for accurate information to help them navigate personal or business financial decisions.
  • Janitor. Someone has confidence in the fact that you will keep the workplace clean.

If you can think of one type of work that affects no one, I’d like to hear it.

Work: Two janitor tales that moved me

My firsthand inspiration:

When I was about 16, Neil Armstrong became the first man to walk on the moon. To say it was a big deal is an understatement. Like others, I was glued to the television. It was prolonged coverage, and included a series of interviews with NASA employees. One of these had a journalist talking to a NASA custodian. She stood behind her clean-up cart in full jumpsuit uniform. When she was asked by the broadcaster, “What do you do at NASA?” Her answer without hesitation, “I am putting a man on the moon!”

Many years ago, I heard a story that has resonated with me to this day. It goes like this:

John, a conscientious college freshman was taking a pop quiz. He sailed through the questions; then halted at the last one. “What is the first name of the woman who cleans the school?” The student thought this a joke question. He had seen the woman many times. She was tall, dark-haired and probably 50ish. How in the world would he know her name though? He handed in his quiz with the last question blank. Just before class ended, one student asked if the last question would be counted toward the grade. “Absolutely,” said the professor. “In your careers, you will meet many people. All are significant. They each deserve your attention and care; even if all you do is smile and say ‘hello’.” John never forgot that lesson. He also learned her name was Dorothy.

Work: How it might look

Though you may not always observe firsthand the impact your work has on others, here are some lenses to help you see:

  • Straight. This one’s usually easy to spot. You teach, advise, present or coach. Direct interaction is the simplest way to see your impact. You see others flourish from your influence.
  • Resolutions. Your work produces solutions. You make products better, fix clogged drains or computer glitches. You are a solver of problems.
  • Roundabout. A little bit tougher to visualize and this work is often overlooked. Back to our janitor example, with related work—that of hotel maid. The maid sweeps, dusts and vacuums. She puts out little soaps and coffee packets. There may be no direct interaction between that maid and the guests. But that weary business traveler or family of five arrives. The room is organized, spotless and inviting. Of course there was a positive impact from that work.

It’s easy to get pulled away from your purpose in work by thinking you have no impact, no voice, no choices. Yes you do. Yes, your work matters. The NASA custodian—regardless of her position in the organizational chain—was instilled with that sense of purpose.

Whether you’re chief executive officer of a grocery chain, cleaning its stores and offices, or carrying bags out for one of its thousands of customers, never underestimate your work. True story: My young client, just graduating from high school, was a “carryout boy” who helped an elderly woman transport her bags to her car. He commented on the weather; he opened her door; he said “thanks” with a big grin. That customer happened to be a well-respected philanthropist in town. It was her first visit to that store. She told many people of her experience; they became customers … well, you get the gist.

The work you do matters; oh yes!

Do you have questions about the work you do? I can help!


Photo:  ttarasiuk