By Mark Carey
If you have been around the workplace as long as I have, you can definitely separate out good and bad employee behavior. I have litigated both sides of employment cases for the past 25 years and currently act as a manager in my office for the past several years. I offer the following tips to keep you moving in a positive direction and becoming a great employee.
Treat Every Work-Day Like it Was Your First Day on The Job
Do you remember the first day of any new job you started? Yes, the feeling of newness, new colleagues, escape from the old rigid culture of your last job; it was a new relationship and the honeymoon just started. You went “all in” and you were generally excited about the new gig. You felt you belonged in this company and you walked around like you owned it. Fast forward two or three years later, now you are settled in and comfortable in your new surroundings at work. You have new work friends and your employer is acknowledging your positive performance. But then something unexpected/expected happened, “you’ve lost that loving feeling” about your job and it has turned into just another job where you look forward to time off away from work. Overall, you are doing just the right amount, in comparison to your work colleagues, and you are just getting by. What happened? Where did the mojo go? If you are not careful, your ambivalence may get the best of you as employers do notice; it’s the employer’s job to take notice of all employee behavior. I suggest you do a reset and figure out what made you so happy about your job when you first started working for the company. Are you falling back on bad habits from your prior work history? Take a fresh look at your advancement opportunities within the company and how you can create more equity and more compensation for yourself. If you cannot, then maybe it is time to move on.
Bad Habits and Practices Are Always Discovered
I have this superpower, I can determine exactly why an employee or executive client was terminated from the last position, regardless of the explanation offered by the employer and the client. When I receive a new case from a client I request a detailed factual narrative about their employment leading up to the termination. Although I only ask for facts and not conclusions, we get a one sided emotion filled story from the client. When the facts are compared to the employer’s version of the events, you can sparse out the clients with good claims and those clients who maintained bad work habits that eventually got them fired. Bad work habits can be anything from being argumentative, tardiness, insubordination, lack of attention to detail, conducting personal affairs on business time, only doing the bare minimum, not seizing opportunities to market the company’s services, etc. The worst habit is not knowing you are following your bad habits. Why do employees self-sabotage and why can’t they see the warning signs in advance? I can only offer a partial answer as part of the problem lies in the psychology of the employee which is outside the scope of my pay grade. We all have habits, good ones and bad ones. Accordingly, good habits are formed over 21 days (Steven Covey- The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People). But bad habits are formed over a lifetime and can be changed or unlearned. Try reading Covey’s book. I would also suggest the book Designing Your Life by two Stamford University Engineering Professors, which is based on the number one class at the university.
It’s Still a Privilege to Work for a Company
Until you are financially well off and lucky enough to start your own business, you have to work for someone else. When you apply for a new job, you are applying for the privilege to work for a company. That privilege is controlled by the employer, who can take it away at a moments notice. Notice, I did not say you are “entitled” to work for your employer because you are not. But when employees start a new job they begin the psychological disconnecting process veering away from respecting the privilege to work for the company to an entitlement mentality. I think we all know what I am talking about. I see it all the time, especially when the ax falls and the work identify is severed from the individual. Some say, “that job was my life” or “how can they do this to me after twenty years of dedicated service” and on an on. Now do you see the entitlement ideology that many employees create. It is still a privilege to work for the company, even after twenty years. Some employees seem to have forgotten this very basic element of the contractual employment at-will relationship they have with their employers. It was the same when you started and it was the same when you were fired. Wake up and respect the privileged situation you have and throw out the other garbage in your head that confused you that your job was no longer a privilege—that it was yours and no one could take it away. As an employment attorney/part-time armchair psychologist, I see this pattern and behavior in many employees. If you heed this simple consideration, you will improve your overall performance, receive more respect amongst your work colleagues and your boss, your individual attention to your job will be enhanced and you may just begin to enjoy your job at a much deeper level. Don’t ever lose this focus.
Need I say anything more? Unfortunately, this issue boils down to human nature. I am constantly thinking about this issue and why some employees engage in unlawful discriminatory behavior. Aside from the existence of real discriminatory bias, this is what I have concluded over twenty-five years of practicing as an employment attorney. Employees are hard wired for “fight or flight” at work and everywhere else. I call it the “crazy brain mentality”. Part of your brain is rational, empathetic and thoughtful, but the other wild side of your brain only seeks to self-promote, judge others who appear different than you, acting selfishly, reacting in a defensive posture, etc. This protective layer is cast out in an effort to protect employees against some form of “harm” they believe may come to them. What is the solution here? Simple, “audi alteram partem” which is a Latin phrase for “listen to the other side”. Listening means giving respect, even though you do not agree with the other person. But the more you listen, learn and digest how the other employee views the same reality, it will cut off your crazy brain from activation and allow your rational side of your brain to become more empathetic, sincere, understanding etc. even though you maintain a polar opposite point of view. The smartest and most successful position to attain is the one that truly reflects both positions with rationales for and against both, with a little bit of the right amount of humor to defuse the hostility. Right now in today’s workforce, and as a society as a whole, listening to the other side is altogether absent or is intentionally ignored in favor of drama and destructive ideologies based on the color of your skin, your gender or your age! Remember, listen more and react less. Throw a little bit of the golden rule on top of that and you should be good to go.
When your boss gives you a goal, don’t assume it is the ceiling- it may be the floor
Goals are important and carefully crafted goals are critical to how and if your team follows those goals. I see many employees only seek to hit the bare minimum and forget that they actually can over achieve a goal. A goal is only a floor and not ceiling. Do not ever forget that your employer is watching you and does take notice of slackers, team players and overachievers. Which one are you? Remember, working is a privilege, not an entitlement.
You’re An Adult, Act Like One at Work
You would be surprised how ridiculous grown men and women act in the workplace. I personally view the American workplace as a cesspool of maldeveloped psychologies that come together everyday with unbridled umbrage over people, internal fiefdoms, status, money etc. Remember the playground antics and bullies when you were in grade school? Yes, those memories! Well, all those nasty malcontents are now adults and no one ever told them to grow up nor trained them about how to be an adult at work. Do me a favor, please follow the golden rule, it will save your job, your career and your sanity. It will also save you from hiring an employment lawyer like myself to undo what you created all on your own.
If you need more information about this article or want to discuss your employment with an employment attorney in Connecticut and New York, please call Carey & Associates, P.C. at call (203) 255-4150. Thank you and be safe and well.