Most of what I’ve learned about the working world has come from my own experience or the experience of my colleagues and friends. None of what I know today came from a classroom and to be honest what I got from my family early on was a bit murky. Many of the principles about workplace dynamics are passed on through tribal knowledge and if you don’t find yourself as part of the tribe, you only learn with time or from your errors.
I was very fortunate at the beginning of my career to have a close network of people who were invested in my growth and development. Colleagues who were transparent and gracious enough to provide me with the feedback that I needed to advance in my career. I still feel extremely grateful for their guidance to this day. There is much that I learned but an area I find particularly interesting and difficult to navigate is the half-truths around how we navigate our careers. Here are 3 half-truths that you can overcome by adjusting your mindset.
You’re Company Doesn’t Care About You
If you’ve been in your career for a while, you’ve heard this statement at some point, “we care about you and your development and we want you to do well here.” You’ve also probably heard this one as well, “I know you were looking forward to - a promotion, an assignment, transfer - but the BUSINESS NEEDs won’t allow that to happen right now.” Unfortunately, Business Needs and Employee Satisfaction are often presented as mutually exclusive and opposite ends of a spectrum.
A business’s priority, by and large, is keeping the shareholders happy and profit. Their top priority won’t ever by keeping Theo happy. It probably won’t be keeping you happy either. That being said every organization recognizes that value is created through their employees and that’s where the lie comes in.
Most organizations have a Human Resources department. They often spend quite a bit of money on hiring and recruitment and occasionally spend even more on retention. If you want to know what a company values look at where they spend their money. And, companies spend a lot of money managing, recruiting, retaining and developing their collective people.
Well, this all means that companies do care about their employees collectively, even if they don’t necessarily care about everyone as an individual. Therefore, it’s your job to figure out how your company invests in its employees and ensure that you are benefiting from those investments.
Just Keep Your Head Down and Work hard, You’ll Get Rewarded
Growing up, one memorable piece of advice that my parents gave me was that I should outwork everyone else. They made it clear that I may not be the smartest person (they weren’t wrong) but I could work harder than everyone else. But here is what happened when I arrived in corporate America, I realized that it isn’t always the person putting in the most hours that get the best assignment or promotions. So, what’s going on?
Working hard has become the status quo. Companies spend a lot of money to hire the smartest and most capable people that they can find…mostly. So, hard work has become a bare minimum. It’s now an expectation that everyone in the office will be hardworking, capable employees.
The results you’re able to accomplish is what will drive differentiation a lot more than putting in extra hours. On top of that, soft skills and engagement outside of your immediate scope responsibilities have become critical. So, are you a leader? Do you find sustainable ways to solve problems? Are you self-directed? Do you create meaningful connections within your organization? These are all aspects of your work that are being considered when you’re being evaluated.
So, always ensure that you’re putting in the work to accomplish great results. And, be a proactive leader in your organization. Figure out the chronic problems and provide sustainable solutions. Create connections.
You Have to Sacrifice Your Personal Life to Get Ahead
Well, on one hand, it’s become popular to encourage employees to use all their vacation days, rest and recover when sick, and not send emails at 2 AM. At the same time, it’s still common to hear statements such as, “you need to put in your time,” and “you’re working bankers’ hours.” So, which is it?
Business tends not to operate at our convenience. Things often seem to break, get delayed and go wrong at the most inconvenient times. At some point, there is going to be a late-night, an unplanned weekend or a vacation call that’s going to happen. This has become an expectation - that there are circumstances that will require employees to flex their schedules or make concessions to support some business activities.
While there are absolutely cases where it’s reasonable to be flexible in your personal life for work, this shouldn’t be a rule of thumb. Even in the most demanding and stressful environments, key players are occasionally unavailable and what happens? Problems get resolved. Decisions are made. It’s much more a question of your values and being clear about where you are willing to be flexible. I once had a manager who never took calls between 7 - 8 PM because that’s when he ate dinner with his family.
Acknowledge that there will be times where you have to make adjustments and sacrifice some of your time. Equally important, establish your boundaries. Decide what you are willing to give up and what you’re not. Communicate these expectations, get alignment, make adjustments where necessary.
At the end of the day, it’s difficult to establish hard and fast rules. Companies operate differently. Cultures will even vary on different teams within the same company. However, you can create a structure in which you can strategically navigate your career. Recognizing code language being used will help you to be proactive in managing your career and getting your best work done.