Ahhh. Labor Day weekend.
A time to reflect on the blessings of our current employment situations. A pause in the schedule when we can offer thanks for meaningful work that utilizes our God-given talents. And, um, a day off.
Maybe unlike others, and definitely in contrast to the ‘70s-era Johnny Paycheck country music ditty which brazenly encouraged the “shoving it” of one’s job, I choose to feel more warm and fuzzy about all of my jobs that I’ve had thus far (well, almost all of them).
And since I am female (hear me roar!), I tend to focus more on the friendships I have made at each career-stop more so than the actual work. I know it’s wacky, crazy, out-of-this-world-ness type of thinking. But that’s just the way I’m wired. People first. Job responsibilities a VERYCLOSE second. (Somewhere, in the giant cosmos of the World Wide Web, my boss has just sighed with relief after reading that.)
So, besides the friendships, what has helped me to feel the love at each workplace on my nearly two-decade career path? What have I learned along the way that has helped me to embrace each job and try to make the most of every opportunity? Well, it’s not rocket science, but I have picked up on a thing or two. And perhaps you have learned some of the same lessons as me. …
To have friends, you have to be a friend. We’ve all been there: the new person in the office. It can be an awkward time for the first couple of weeks or so. Everyone is staring at you as you walk down the hallway, but looks away quickly when you make eye contact. No one invites you to sit with them at the lunch table in the break room. Or you don’t have anyone to whisper with during the weekly staff meeting. But here’s the deal: I have found that if you make the effort (even as the geeky new person!) and go out of your way to stick out your hand and meet others, you will generally be welcomed. You’ll find your group of friends more quickly than you think, if you just try and say “hi.” A friendly smile can help, too.
Zip it. Especially if someone tells you something in confidence. You know how this kind of conversation starts: “I shouldn’t be telling you this, but. …” There have been so many times I have heard this from coworkers (even bosses!) who have told me information that I a) had no business knowing and b) did not want to know. What did I do with this information? I learned quickly that it’s best to file it away and not repeat it. Ever. Unless it is something underhanded (going the way of law-breaking or criminal) that is going on or that could severely jeopardize the company and its success or profitability. But in most cases, it’s best to conveniently forget what you were told. Don’t become known as the coworker who specializes in information propagation. It will get you nowhere. And fast.
Pranks, pranks and more pranks! A little levity anyone? I have loved working for companies that understood that it’s okay to laugh and pull a harmless prank every once in a while—especially if you’re a dedicated worker for the majority of the workday and have the output to show for it. One of my favorite pranks ever pulled involved two other coworkers and literally hundreds of McDonald’s Happy Meal toys. Let’s just say that the target who collected said toys and displayed them in his office’s bookshelf began noticing their decreasing numbers as the months of autumn went by one year. By December, all of the toys had vanished. Buh bye. “Miraculously,” though, they were returned when hand-delivered by a Dominoes Pizza guy in several boxes at the company’s annual Christmas party. It was a Christmas miracle, for sure. “God bless us, every hundredth one!”
Your boss is not the enemy. I’ve found that the better the relationship you have with your boss, the better your job will go. Why hide your weaknesses? Why not admit them and ask for help in improving in these areas? Why not ‘fess up when you’ve messed up or made an error in judgment? Chances are, your boss already knows your flaws. If you discuss them together, it’s so much healthier and will promote more unity between the two of you. The majority of my bosses have wanted for me to succeed and have not been threatened by my abilities or my opinions. And when I became more transparent with them, there was increased mutual respect and our working relationships only improved.
There will always be a weakest link. After about my fourth job, I finally figured this out. “Why do I keep getting stuck working with people who don’t shoulder their part of the load?” “Why are there ALWAYS thorns in my flesh at each of my jobs?” I realized that this will probably always be the case, and that (gasp!) I might be a “weakest link” to someone else. (It also occurred to me that I was the common denominator in all of these situations. Hmmm. Something more to think about.) It really all boils down to the point that we’re all imperfect. And we’re all blind to our blindness. Amen? After that clicked, I began to see my “weakest links” in a different light. I can’t change them, but I can change me and my attitude. And I can try to maintain a standard of excellence in my work and not be someone else’s “weakest link.”
Shocking but true ... you are not always right. Here’s another lesson that it took me a loooooong time to get—partly because I like to be right. And partly because I think my ideas are genius (well, some of the time). When someone else has a great idea or a good solution and you don’t agree with it, take a breath. And then take a moment. Perhaps you are initially reacting this way because you are not the one who came up with the great idea or good solution. Think about it. Are you easily threatened? Or do you have a hard time seeing others in the spotlight (thereby taking away from your “time to shine”)? Even though you may think you are right (and you may be), your idea or solution may not be the best answer for whatever the situation may be or requires. Take time to consider what your coworkers or boss have to say, before running your mouth and trying to take over and “be right.”
Clarity is your friend. Don’t assume. And don’t think that everyone knows what you’re thinking or planning. When you start functioning like this, it’s just a misunderstanding or a potential train wreck waiting to happen. Make the extra effort to make sure that you and your coworkers and your boss are on the same page. Ask questions. And be communicative about what you’re doing. For the most part, people are not mind readers and aren’t checking in with their Magic 8 balls every few hours to figure out what’s going on with you. So help them out by keeping them in the loop.
Do what you say you will do. Making promises or having good intentions just doesn’t cut it. You have to be a person of your word. And if that means your word needs to be very small on a particular day, then so be it. At least make good on it and do what you say you’re going to do. We’ve all worked with someone who promises the moon and delivers … well … next to nothing. Don’t be that type of person for someone else. Your reputation is fragile and valuable. Do what you can to protect it. It goes before you and matters more than you think.
Don’t burn your bridges. Ever. I don’t believe in karma. But I do believe that the world is smaller than we think it is. It is highly likely that you will have some type of business interaction with someone you have worked for or with once again at some point in your career. That could mean needing a referral for a job from a former co-worker, working for the same boss again, or hiring someone you worked with before. There are many ways this can play out. So, don’t think it won’t happen to you. Expect that you will walk across certain bridges again. And whether you have left a company of your own volition, have been laid off or have been fired, try to exit gracefully. Agree to disagree and when you walk away from a job or a business relationship, keep it as classy and as dignified as possible. You never know when you will meet or work together again.
All work and no play makes you a dull worker. In my first job, I chained myself to my desk. Well, not really. But I worked a lot of extra hours because I thought I was supposed to “pay my dues” as a new college graduate. I was at the bottom of the totem pole, and I looked to the examples of other new hires to see how many hours they were logging. Pretty soon, I was zapped. I had no energy and no life, because all of my extra time was spent in the office (even many weekends). I understand that you may need to do more of the grunt work in the early days of your career and put in some additional hours. But do try to find some balance. Engage in some extracurricular activities that speak to your passions and interests. These outlets will fuel you, give you other ways in which to express yourself and you will return to the office each day a more refreshed—and interesting!—worker.
This article originally posted September 8, 2008.