Okay, I’ll be up front—I didn’t break my back. I simply severed part of a vertebra.
Let me explain.
I was your average 19-year-old student home for summer break. With real life looming ahead, I made the same choice many college students make: I got a summer job. I was in the prestigious position of working at [NAME REDACTED], a movie theatre that seemed to cater exclusively to the centenarian set.
I enjoyed it. I was a movie nerd myself, so it was nice to have a job that surrounded movies, and for a minimum-wage position, I figured I was in pretty good shape.
Until I broke myself.
My theatre had a rather rudimentary system for providing ice for behind the counter. Workers like me were given a legitimate snow shovel to dig into the solid ice block to separate the cubes for our ice containers. I’m not sure what the problem was with my shoveling method: my form, my luck, the fact that my 5’2” frame put me way closer to the ice than originally intended. Whatever it was, I developed a clay shoveler’s fracture. Simply put, I had broken off a tip of my vertebra in a manner most often occurring in laborers digging in hard Georgia clay.
I told my current co-workers about this, laughing, but they – wide-eyed – pointed out why I probably shouldn’t have stayed as silent as I did. I told a shortened version of the story to my movie theatre boss at the time, who looked a little dead behind the eyes herself, and I learned to shut up about it. I didn’t want to run the risk of losing my minimum wage summer job. I didn’t want to seek help because it would most likely work out.
What was that attitude about?
There has to be a line somewhere. When big, profitable companies like [NAME REDACTED] expect you to live, breathe, and bleed their company culture, they’re setting themselves up for workers to burn themselves out. I certainly did. My work suffered because of my injury, and while the theatre and I parted on good terms at the end of the summer, my attitude towards the entity as a whole changed altogether. I haven’t set foot in that particular brand of theatre since that day.
But their attitude is not unique. Many companies are stopping just short of selling your identity to promote their business practices. I’m not demonizing them by any measure. As a person in marketing and HR, I know the importance of branding yourself and your company. But there has to be a certain level of slack given to the individuals within those companies, because we all have to remember…they are people.
Unexpected problems come up. If employees are too scared of repercussions to address them, the business could suffer.
Who knows if I was the only one who hid an injury that summer? What if the theatre had worked with me to rehabilitate my now aching shoulder?
Branding is a tricky business.
We want to show what our company stands for, and personally, it’s important for me to actually care about where I come to work (what up, Kinetix fam!). With that being said, I honestly feel there is room for improvement in big-name businesses with a lack of communication and caring for the workers who keep the business running. You run the risk of each person feeling like a number. Worse than that, you run the risk of employees feeling like they might turn into a casualty if they speak up.
How can you expect your business to innovate and progress if your workers aren’t comfortable enough to share new strategies? How can you move forward if your employees are taking off for the first job that will listen to their workplace woes?
Thankfully, I’m in a new place now—both literally and metaphorically. The community I work with actively encourages stepping out of the box and thinking of new ideas, and having that safety net allows me to work hard to break new ground for our team.
They are shocked at the idea of me swallowing the pain and keeping up appearances, and that’s how I knew I was in for the long haul with this company. If I were in pain, these people would want to know. And because of that, I am willing to break my back for them.