The thin red line

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Not too long ago I was re-entering the country with a co-worker. As we were going through U.S. Customs my co-worker was delayed by a customs official. I noticed she appeared a bit flustered speaking to him. When she finally came through the station and met me at the baggage loading area I asked what was up. “I crossed the red line,” she answered.

When you’re waiting to see a customs official you have to stay behind a red line. My young co-worker apparently had placed one of her feet on the line, a major breach of security apparently. This made her the recipient of verbal abuse and ridicule by someone who was doing his part in keeping the hatred for the United States growing.

A couple of weeks later we were again standing behind the red line. As luck would have it my co-worker was standing at the same station as before, this time her feet firmly planted well behind the red line. Fortunately for her she was not greeted by the same customs official. We agreed that he was probably getting his teeth sharpened. It didn’t matter. It was the same as if he was there for my co-worker. She had stressed about going through customs all the way to the airport. That guy had really gotten under her skin.

Why is it that some people believe authority is only displayed in aggressive insolence? I guess we have all worked for someone like this. I have. After a few months of torture I decided to take another position. When I gave my resignation this man cursed me for several minutes, assigning the vilest profanities to my kin and me. I was 22 years old and made a little over ten grand a year. I was easily replaceable. But this was not about me; it was about his enjoyment of the pain and disgrace of another. People like that do not deserve anyone’s service. Boss or client, I have pledged to never work for a jerk again.

One prerequisite we use to determine prospective clients is that they are professionals who deem kindness and respect as good business practices. There was a time in my recent past when I became extremely jaded at the prospect that such clients just didn't exist. Today my partners and I first determine the client’s personality then we look at their budget. We don’t let the desire to grow condemn us to serfdom.

My partner's willingness to walk away from abuse has resulted in a roster of clients that are very respectful and friendly people. They treat us as they would like to be treated. It’s refreshing. I can testify from previous experience that agency abuse is much like spousal abuse. There is a syndrome in abused wives that causes them to perceive themselves as the cause of the abuse, actually validating it as normal behavior. They actually believe they are responsible for their black eye. Likewise an abused agency is one that soon loses its self-esteem and the work spirals down and good people leave our industry to find relief.

When interviewing prospective employees many have told me a big reason for their interest in working with us is they’ve heard we are an employee-safe zone. We value an enjoyable work experience as much as profits. In fact it states this in our agency credo written by Steve McKee. It says the agency exists for the benefit of its employees. Its job is to serve our clients with effective marketing services, but its purpose is to be a wonderful place to work. That’s what we partners desire in a job, so why shouldn’t we have it?
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