Her name is Karen and she is a certified nursing assistant at a nursing and rehabilitation center.

No matter what situation she encounters or what nasty task she is called upon to do, she maintains her upbeat, cheerful personality.

I'll tell you right now, I think a competent, cheerful CNA is one of our unsung heroes.

The head of nursing at Karen's hospital says people don't realize how vital CNAs are to patient care. "They are the ones at the front line the ones who deal the most with patients. Often, how a CNA deals with a patient determines that person's opinion of the health facility," the nursing director said.

She agrees that Karen is extraordinary. She is so good, in fact, that patients clamor for her instead of the CNA to whom they are assigned.

I know because I was once one of those persnickety patients who insisted on having Karen.

What that means is she works doubly hard, handling her patients as well as others who specifically ask for her.

"If only that meant I got double the pay," Karen lamented. Like a lot of places, hospitals pay by position and length of employment. There is no such thing as extra pay for those who excel at the job. There should be.

The more I see of life, the more I believe it's not true that we are all created equal.

Well, OK. We're created equal, but we don't stay that way.

When it comes to employees, it seems a shame when all are treated equally when it comes to a paycheck.

They don't all perform equally. So why should everyone get paid the same? I've often wondered about that.

I'm told it's just the way the system has to work.

One time I talked with a business owner about that issue. He, too, had one special employee who kept the place running when he wasn't there. She was the only one he trusted to lock up and make all the nightly money deposits. He also knew she did way more than her share of the work.

But when that valued employee asked for a raise, he told her he had to treat all employees equally, or there would be bedlam.

Dispirited, she left there because she knew she wasn't valued for the extra work she did.

Just today I talked with a teacher who had to deal with a school secretary who was surly to everyone. She complained about the secretary, and so did many others.

"Eventually, the secretary with the bad attitude was transferred and was replaced with a pleasant woman who did her job well," said the teacher.

But when staff cutbacks were enforced, the good secretary had to go, replaced with the sourpuss previously booted from that position.

"It was all about seniority, not job performance," said the teacher.

Ironically, as a teacher backed by a union, she said she believes "seniority has to count for something."

But she also believes there should be a better way to reward extraordinary employees like the secretary who was bounced from the job.

While I am powerless to do something about our notion of treating all employees like identical cans of peas, there is one small thing I do.

When I encounter those who go out of their way to be nice, I make sure I tell them how much I appreciate their work.

I like those places that have customer survey cards where we can cite any employee who goes above and beyond. Karen's hospital does have that system, and I made good use of it, documenting Karen's extraordinary performance.

I don't know what will come of it, but I was glad for the chance to give input.

On the other hand, there is another hospital in our region that can lay claim to the "employee from hell." I've lived a lot of years, but I've never encountered anyone as uncaring.

When circumstances found me alone and leaving the hospital at 3 in the morning, I tried to leave from the emergency department. That's the way I came in, and my car was parked near there.

"No, no, it's after hours. That door has to be kept closed," said a male nurse. He insisted I had to walk all the way around to the other side of the hospital. Pointing to my walker, I told him I just had surgery and was incapable of going the long way.

"I absolutely can't walk that far," I insisted. "Every step I take hurts."

I couldn't believe his response?

"That's your problem," he said, refusing to bend.

Finally, a very pregnant and compassionate nurse who had listened to the exchange came up behind me with a wheelchair and wheeled me to my car.

See what I mean? All employees are not created equally.

I'll bet you also have had plenty of encounters with both kinds of employees those who are cheerful and competent and those who are sour and surly.

In Sam's Club the other day, I asked to see the manager to tell him about the extraordinary service I got from one employee. He thanked me and said that's the kind of customer service they encourage.

I also make it a point to tell restaurant managers and store owners about exceptional employees.

Yes, they should be paid more. But barring that, the least we can do is give them the accolades they deserve.