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PROMOTING EXCELLENCE IN NYC MULTI-FAMILY BUILDING OPERATION AND MAINTENANCE

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Porters, Handymen, and Doorman, or PHD's Blog
 
  How Others See Us  
  by Glen Stoltz -  this article appeared in January 2007 issue of SUPER!  
 
 
 
   

On a ride break during a Sunday scooter group get-together last summer, I was sitting at the table with a bright young woman and her boyfriend.

During the course of our conversation I mentioned that I'm a building superintendent, after which our chat over food took a very fascinating turn. It went something like the following:

She: “So, you're a super, huh?”

Me: “Yes, I am.”

She: “Can I ask you something? Do you have a company that does pest control in your building?”

Me: “Of course I do.”

She: “And do they come once a month?”

Me: “Yes.”

She: “And there's like a signup sheet for each month and each apartment who wants the service will let you know and you send the exterminator to those apartments when he shows up on the appointed day?”

Me: “Yes, something like that. Sure.”

She: “And there is a window of time when the exterminator will be in the building on that given day? Like 10 to 2 or 11 to 4 or something similar?”

Me: “Right.”

She (somewhat tense but inquisitive smile forming): “Let me ask you something: why are so many supers such… jerks?”

Me (laughing, because by then I knew where this was going): “I was thinking of another, stronger word.”

She: “Yes, I've known some who would deserve a name worse than 'jerk'.”

Me: “Yep. Me too.”

She: “And why IS that?”

Me (somewhat defensively): "Look, there are jerks - or worse - in any group. "But there are also lots of really good people who are supers out there. "I agree with you that some supers are a bit of a problem, some are worse. And I am not trying to make excuses for bad or incompetent supers.

"There are some really awful ones out there. Those individuals should find another line of work.

"Supers, even good ones - besides the fact that many are hired in the lower income buildings because they don't know anything about the job so that they also don't know what kind of pay they deserve and what a good, normal super should or should not be expected to do, there are many supers who feel trapped between residents - with whom they must live and get along on a daily basis - and management, whose focus is narrowly on the bottom line and is at times at odds with the demands, even the needs, of residents.

"Feeling that tension of “what residents expect” and “what management expects” can visit chaos on a super's stress level. We're human beings (surprise, surprise!) and when stress levels get high we often don't react well to what's thrown at us.”

She: “So, if your exterminator is scheduled for extermination between 11am and 1pm, and at 11:01am he hasn't arrived yet, do you call the exterminating company and yell at them about why the exterminator hasn't shown up yet? (She said this with such feeling that it was easy to believe that this had actually happened to her she swore it did!).

Me: “No, of course not. They have a window of time, as long as they show up within that window it's all good.”

She: “I work for a fairly large pest control company here in the city, in customer service. I get calls from supers all the time, deal with them daily. Why are so many of these guys so hard to work with? They have bad attitudes, they complain a lot about everything, they have completely wrong expectations. They are often quite impatient, have no idea how to talk to people, they often have no idea what they're talking about yet insist they do it goes on and on...”

There was more to the exchange, but you get where I'm going. I recount this partial conversation not to dwell on extermination companies or their customer service reps, but to once again bring up the notion of customer service by supers and the image we project to the public.

Like it or not, we are in the customer service business. Not only are the building's residents our customers, but to a large extent that's also true of the contractors and vendors who do business in the buildings we serve - like that monthly pest control technician, your heating / cooling maintenance guys and your cleaning supplies vendor (including the guys who deliver those supplies).

I don't know about you, but to me it's always embarrassing and sometimes discouraging when someone first finds out I'm a super and immediately stereotypes me as a bad guy simply because of what I do in my day job. He's never met me before but already he doesn't like me, wholly based on his past experiences with others in my line of work.

At the risk of sounding like I flog this idea endlessly, I believe that collectively we have an image problem.

We DO need to work on it. Both as a group, and for many of us individually, we need to work on our people skills and learn how to deal with stress more constructively. This is one of the main reasons STA was formed, to provide a forum for supers (and all other building support workers), both to learn from others and to help others learn, to encourage and be encouraged, share our individual expertise with others in the group and allow others to share theirs, and much more. (See STA's Mission Statement on the website for details).

No, we cannot reach perfection one hundred per cent of the time. No one should continually demand absolute perfection of you, nor should you expect it of yourself without mercy or letup.

You can always be pushing and prodding yourself, and even encouraging by example those around you to do better, to improve, to be becoming a better person in the future than what you see in the mirror now. Spiritual growth, emotional development, call it whatever you want. Personal growth and maturity must be a focus of all our lives, no matter what line of work we're in or to what we aspire.

If not, we shrivel up and slowly die, from the inside out. Individual growth is always a part of what community is about; I hope it's the main reason most of us became involved in STA in the first place, not only to learn about the tools of the trade but also to grow as a human being.

The Supers Technical Association is a community of building support workers. If you're a member, why not get involved in helping others to improve their possibilities as well as your own. On the other hand, if you think that you already are the best you can be, or if you see no reason for self-improvement, or do not care about the public image of supers and resident managers and other building support workers, AND you feel you have nothing worthwhile, meaningful or valuable to share with others, thanks for not joining, or calling, or showing up to meetings.

But if you're a residential building support worker of any kind, and you care about your personal development in life and you're not yet involved with us, think about joining the association and helping yourself and others to grow in whatever ways are possible for you. We welcome your involvement - those of you who are open to self-improvement for yourself and those around you.

Our collective image could use a facelift as well as a new perspective from you. It is conceivable that only you as a foot-soldier in our industry can help provide to our group that one perspective we all need to hear, and from which we can all grow. Come join in, be a part of this exciting, growing, evolving learning community of encouragement, support and development.

We all need each other's input and backup; we can learn from each other and together accomplish what we've never dared dream we can attain. An old saying goes: "One hand washes the other."

Let's work together, helping others in the group get the tools each one needs to move on and up, and in so doing transforming our collective image from an overall negative to an absolute positive. It has to start with individuals.

Let's allow it to start with each one of us.

 

 
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