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
She: “So, you're a super,
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
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.
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?”
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
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
At the risk of sounding like I
flog this idea endlessly, I believe that collectively we have an image
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
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
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.