I’ve been meaning to refresh my memory on a couple of things because apparently I’m neither dark enough nor drunk enough. I’ve had my share of close encounters with the common human social practices, they’re oozing from my every
orifi… pore and I’ve always wanted another reason to drown my sorrows. So here goes, the only practical cheat sheet for the newly employed adult, as if I needed one. It’s hard enough for me to take myself seriously, therefore I gotta make it impossible for you to do it. After all, I’m not a drunk and also not a scientist, though I am willing to take a bribe in either a good whiskey or an old, dehydrated wine to stop using logic, common sense or science. Temporarily. Like, about 48 hours worth of pause. Wait a second, that came out wrong. Still, the wine has to be demanding water or it’s not worth my full attention. Ahem, let’s continue..
Let’s say you’re young and full of enthusiasm, a fresh cog in the machine – a new employee. You notice a few things you can improve and ask to be allowed to improve them. Your boss: a. Lets you do your thing, provides feedback, praises your ideas and promotes you. B. Lets you do your thing without supervision, says it was his idea if it succeeds and blames you if you fail. C. Tells you to mind your business and do what you’ve been hired to do. D. Gets another employee to do it and tells you to mind your business. Pick one. No, it ain’t either a. or b. Never. You’re new therefore unreliable – so there’s no reason to trust you. Hell, if he didn’t think about those issues before, he will now and he’ll hate you because in his mind you’ve just said you’re smarter than him. Welcome to reality.
Let’s say you work in a team but manage to find a way to do your job faster and better than anybody else. A. Your co-workers praise you. B. Your co-workers are unhappy with you so they find reasons to undermine your work. C. You get promoted team leader. Pick one. No, it’s neither A nor C. If you disturb the status quo, you make your co-workers unhappy because you’ve just proved them you’re better than them. You won’t get any praise because you undermine their value, they appear less useful and to them, their self-esteem just took a bullet from you. They chose to work that way, either because they can’t do it better or they won’t do it better and you managed to prove they made a mistake. Nobody wants to know they made a mistake. Ergo, they hate you and if you continue on this path, they’ll be happy to report you for every little mistake you make – just to bring you to their level. Welcome to reality.
You got promoted to management, leading a small team that’s been working together since before you’ve joined. A. They’ll give you the benefit of the doubt and work together with you to achieve all the team’s goals. B. The ones who thought they’d be promoted will undermine your work on the short term just enough to get you fired but still work together to achieve the team’s long term goals. C. The senior employees who wanted to be promoted will sabotage everything to get you to quit or get fired, even if everybody gets fired because the team’s goals aren’t done. If you chose A., you’ll be in for a hard fall – they’ll either go with B or C depending on your age. If you’re younger than them, they’ll get you broken by any means necessary, even if it kills them. If you’re older than them, they’ll go with B. A quick advice to you, never lead established teams – either pick your team or stay put, if you pick your team you might at least get a chance to sidestep the issue of “this team worked well without you, we don’t need a new boss to ruin things”. Or not. Anyhow, at least you’ll get a chance you won’t have otherwise. Welcome to reality.
All the above happened to me, and more. Let’s just say that’s just 1% of the tip of the iceberg. Yup. So let me give a bit of advice and my reasons for it, if you want. If you’re new employee, don’t stick your head up with advice on how to improve things right up the start. There may be objective reasons for how things are organized or there may not be, but think about it, it’s the wrong way. To make things better, you don’t want to look smart, you want to look reliable. You’ll want to ask your boss for more assignments, for more work and that way you’ll appear reliable, confident and hard working. You build trust and that’s the only thing you’ll get in exchange. After your boss trusts you not to screw things up, you get to suggest improvements to him, but make them appear as if you’re certain he noticed them too but somehow they must have slipped his mind on account of how many things he has to keep track of. You’ll want to make sure he knows the improvements come from you, but somehow it was their idea. You don’t want to seem smarter than your boss and you certainly don’t want to do the perfect job only to be told you can’t be promoted because they can’t find anybody to do your work as well as you do it. At least, if it seems to be their idea, you get to plant a “scary” thought in their heads – they are better than you and you’re just a tad better than the rest – so you could be promoted and the benefits of promoting outweigh the small loss in productivity that comes with somebody else doing your job. Learn to plan. Everybody likes to feel elite, to feel superior to others – if you somehow hurt that feeling they have, they’ll come down on you with guns blazing and they have all the ammo.
If you work in a team, don’t be that guy that does twice the work in the same amount of time. You’ll either make your co-workers appear incompetent, dumb or lazy. Instead, try to do about 10% better than them. They won’t hate you even if they won’t like it – but you’ll avoid uniting them against you, and you’ll still look good in performance reviews. Then again, choose your fights carefully, having one enemy is more than enough, having everybody you work with as an enemy might prove… a bad choice. Never give them the opportunity to gang up on you, they can sabotage everything and get you fired in a heart beat. Then again, if you’re a close relative of the boss, you can do whatever you want. Oh, there’s the small print.. Well, this one’s also the exception to my other rule (you’re never ready for management so have patience and only demand to be promoted if you’ve got the experience to back it up, unless your arse is armored, that is)..
It’s ok to be smarter than everybody if you’re the CEO. It’s ok to be smarter than the team you’re leading. It’s ok to be harsh and strong willed. It’s ok to not accept crap from anybody who’s at most your level. Help but don’t promise. Defend yourself against gossip. Remember, if they don’t know crap about you, they’ll make it up but that’s always better than giving them the bullets they can use to shoot you in the back. Keep your mouth shut and your ears open. No gossip. Don’t accept the role of scape goat for the team, ever. No good deed remains unpunished. If you screw up, chest forward and accept your fair share of the responsibility but always provide a solution to a problem. You can cry at home where nobody can see you. I know I have. Say this: “I know I screwed up, I should have done it this way, I accept my fair punishment but for the record, is that the way I should have done it? You know, anybody can make mistakes, but I want to learn from them so I won’t make the same mistake twice.”. Look your boss in the eyes when you say this. Let him know you’re smart enough to know you did something wrong but also willing to improve. Let them know you’re willing to accept your punishment without any hard feelings, because punishment is a consequence of your behavior and also a tool to improve your behavior. I haven’t met any good managers who’d rather work with a slippery employee than with one willing to take responsibility for their own actions – though I may be wrong. Regardless, for you, any kick in the arse is a step forward if you learn from it. Just don’t accept blame for things you didn’t do, even if the person who screwed up is your best friend. You see, doing a friend a favor is a sure way to be remembered the next time they need another favor. And no, that won’t usually work the other way around. You know why?
Everybody is trying to make the best decisions for themselves – those decisions may appear to have the noblest of reasons, but look close enough and you’ll give yourself nightmares. I’ve seen a weasel of a co-worker doing favors left and right only to get promoted and then turn into a draconian manager who managed to force half his team to quit and directly fire another quarter before being canned himself. And boy, did that hurt his previous “friends and close team mates”. Another one posed as the best of friends only to find out he only did that to get inside a girl’s panties. After that happened, he changed, overnight. Actually, there’s something you ought to know about people – they rarely change. People only change when it suits them, not those around them. They only change to deal with events or problems that directly hurt them, and even that happens over long periods of time. If you see somebody change their behavior for the worst overnight, they didn’t change – they’re just showing you who they really are. You might find this out after years of working with them – a small bump up in pay and title is all it takes for them to turn from friends into McCarthy era inquisitors who’ll use everything you ever said to them in private, against you. You don’t have any friends at work – you have acquaintances. Don’t ever work for or with either family or your closest friends if you don’t want to know what they really are about.
Everybody makes the best decisions for them, using the tools and information existing at that time. Don’t ever believe otherwise. You could slack off and brag about it to a co-worker only to have him promoted and then your slacking off on the job becomes his responsibility. You think he’ll risk his income for you? 99% of the time you’ll find out that’s not how things work. If you slack off, keep it to yourself. If you get promoted, it’s exactly the same. Your friends will take advantage of you because they know they can get away with it – which leads to lower morale to your other members of the team you’re leading and you’ll soon find out it’s your job to make them work at their peak efficiency or you get fired. No, there’s rarely a demotion involved. Think about it. Also never assume the advice you get from those you lead is a good advice – for instance, after I got promoted manager we had to do some overtime for our company, and one of my senior employees suggested we file for that overtime. Naturally, I got off easy only because my boss was smart enough to know a set up when he saw one, though I did get some mighty nice phone calls from our CEO because the company I used to work for had a policy of assuming overtime was like the Easter rabbit – it didn’t exist and if it didn’t exist, they couldn’t pay for it. Did I mention that employee also once called head office to complain about working conditions while I was at the company’s head office meeting with senior management about the same working conditions? Nah, that’d be to scary so I won’t even mention it. The big shocker was no shocker at all – she wanted my job, she did everything she could to get it but I got it, lil’ ol’ me who was 10 years younger than her so she felt she had to work up her resentment. I never fired her. We got fired together when our office went belly up, after more than 3 years of working together. And all that crap happened in my first 4 months of working there. Shit happens. If shit didn’t happen yet, it will and now’s too early a time for it.
I made many mistakes early on so I managed to get over them. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it. But the biggest blunder I ever made was to feel entitled to my work. I didn’t work hard for something, I didn’t work hard to achieve my own agenda – I work hard without a specific goal in mind. I sometimes worked for free. I sometimes worked 18 hours a day because I loved my work, because work was my goal and got only debt to show for it. So here’s my lesson for you – work hard to get paid, work hard to get experience, work hard to improve yourself, but never, ever, work hard because you’re passionate about what you do or because you love your work. Love of your work is not your reward, it’s your hobby. Unless you are actually self-employed, either work for money or to gain experience. It’s usually an either/or thing, but get both and you’re in the clear. You’re not an asset for your employer, you’re an expense and you should act like one. You’re a good investment if you make them more money than they pay you so bloody tell them that. Improve yourself, learn, adapt but once that’s achieved never work for free. It’s your time and it’s their money. Work hard to prove them you’re worth the money they pay you. But work for your own agenda – for money to pay for your house, your car, your health insurance and your retirement package. Work hard for money to support your family. Love can’t feed your family. Passion can’t feed your family. And let me tell you just this – the happiness of you and your family should always come first because, and I can’t believe I’m quoting Fight Club, you are not your job. Your life is not about the shit that happens to you, it’s about how you choose to deal with it, it’s about the choices you make and how you deal with the consequences of your choices.
Of course, just because I’ve got the bruises doesn’t mean a damn thing.. Statistics point out that even a dog sometimes gets a warm, sunny piece of the sidewalk of his own (can’t remember where that quote comes from, but it feels… right). Therefore, you may find the stars aligned in the right configuration and everything going on perfectly for you. Have faith, I guess..