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10 Things Employment has Taught me

Updated on April 12, 2020
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Robin Olsen has lived for half a century. No experience is a bad experience unless we learn nothing from it.

First, I would like to clarify that I am a career employee in that I have worked steadily in one industry or another for well over 25 years now but I have never held any management position within any organization I have worked for. At the start of my working life I was very confused on how to act and what jobs were good, bad, indifferent or whatever. I was unsure of my direction or even what I would be happy doing. Over the years those fears smoothed themselves out and I learned some things about the world and myself. I was contemplating what I learned in a general sense about the world and decided to start writing some of them down. That turned into ten rules of employment that I feel are generic enough to apply to any job yet specific enough to be relevant to the average employee.

1. Your skillset is not as important as your profitability

Regardless of how skilled you are or how much your employer heaps praise on you for a ‘job well done’ or some other unique initiative you may have come up with you will be gone as soon as it is no longer profitable to keep you in your position. Profit drives business not ability.

Your skill set is not unique to you
Your skill set is not unique to you

2. Doing a great job will not get you promoted.

If you think all you need to do is perform well at your job and show dedication then you will most definitely get promoted then you are probably wrong. In a union environment promotion is based on time in regardless on if you know what you are doing or not. In non-union environments promotion is extremely political and if you don’t know the right people or are liked by the right people you will not get any promotions. In my experience hard work brings about a type of almost abusive work place environment as they heap more and more work on the ‘good’ one without any pay raises or promotions to go along with it. Work hard, but remember to always look after yourself first and foremost. It is just as easy for an employer to burn you out and replace you as it is to promote you. Your employer does not have your back.

Be careful how your employer rewards 'hard work'
Be careful how your employer rewards 'hard work'

3. Be aware of the informal political hierarchy that exists in every workplace.

Every corporation has it’s ‘official’ chain of command but, unlike the army, the official chain can be over ridden by political considerations. Be aware that the guy sitting next to you may be babysitting the boss’s kids on Friday night, or be someone’s old drinking buddy or any other of a host of reasons why a specific co-worker may have the boss’s ear when you don’t. Not properly recognizing the informal political hierarchy may just get you fired.

4. Be aware of petty jealousies.

When I was a unionized IT professional my job was still the same, I was to find ways to use technology to streamline processes and cut costs as well as save time. Unfortunately this makes you an enemy of the union that is supposed to represent you as most of the IT enhancements I came up with would result in a cutting of staff at these locations. I was referred to as a troublemaker, I was not a ‘team player’, etc. All for simply doing the job I was hired to do. Perhaps you were given a job that someone else was hoping they would get, or that they were hoping would go to one of their relatives. Petty jealousies can erupt by simply showing up with a new car. Such small minded people can cause huge problems for you if you are not on your guard for them.

5. Never dip your pen in the company ink.

This was an old saying a boss I had used to use. It is a discrete reference to avoid having sex with co-workers. Another favorite of mine is ‘Don’t fish off the corporate pier’. Having sexual relationships with co-workers can be disastrous for the work environment as a whole and your future at the company in question as well. Never mind the personal problems this can cause people. To me, one of the best ways to avoid even the possibility of this is to avoid becoming too emotional with your co-workers. Remember you have a job to do and that job usually does not involve listening to co-workers tell you about their personal lives or complain about their spouses, children, parents, schools, bills or anything else of a personal nature. Also, try to not be too free with your own personal life, only share what you feel is crucial for the employer to know and then restrict this info to your direct supervisor and human resources people only. The person sitting beside you does not need to know that your wife or child is sick or dying. Chances are they won’t care anyways and will only use the info to either promote themselves over you or to cast you in a bad light.

What is preferable to you?

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6. Don’t be afraid to retrain and retool.

The world is in constant flux nowadays. In the old days, the days of my father, you could rely on the fact that if you were hired and did a good job you would have a job for the rest of your life at that same location. Not anymore. We should be teaching our children to expect to change employers regularly and that it is highly unrealistic to think that you will only ever need one job in your life. We should also be teaching them to not fear change, change is growth and it is required. People should not cling to one ‘career’ in the face of technical changes that may make that choice obsolete. You should not support the idea that change should be slowed down or prevented all together just so a couple of jobs (or even a thousand jobs or even a million jobs) can be spared the ax. Change is required to move forward and not changing equals stagnation, for you, the corporation you work for and society as a whole. No one in this world is assured a job forever.

7. Take everything with a grain of salt.

Employers lie constantly, they will lie about impending layoffs, lie about expected pay raises, lie when those pay raises don’t come true, lie about projects. They do this to protect info from being released early or to preserve over all moral within a company. It is not something you need to fear or rant against, but it is something you need to be aware of so that your own expectations can be kept in order.

8. Do you job.

Seems pretty straight forward but a lot of workplace frustration comes about because of that one guy in the organization that feels he/she should be able to walk around the place and be critical of everyone else’s job performance. You are only responsible for your own job. Managers exist to govern the performance of others and no one assigned you the job of walking about making sure everyone else is doing their job. Focus on your own duties.

perhaps we shouldn't speak like this in interviews either...
perhaps we shouldn't speak like this in interviews either...

9. You are not going to be everyone’s friend.

So don’t bother trying. Do your job, socialize when you feel it appropriate but remember that you don’t ‘live to work’, rather ‘you work to live’. What this means is that even though you are going to spend a great deal of time in the workplace in your life you are not required to be everyone's friend. Most of us do not work with our families or friends, some of us do but most don't. We like to make friends but remember at the end of the day your family is the most important thing and you should not risk that stability for a workplace that will cast you aside as soon as you are no longer profitable. In the end, how popular someone was never prevented a single layoff.

Are you happy in what you do?

See results

10. Never stay in a job you are not happy in.

Unhappy or negative attitudes will affect all aspects of your life. It will affect how you interact with your family even when you are not at work. It will affect your general mood and, eventually, your physical health. You have to look after yourself or you are of no use to the ones you love. If you are not happy with your current employment then rather than worry about that car payment when you leave the job worry instead about the impact of your negative attitudes on your wife and children and close friends should you choose to stay unhappy.

In the end you, as a worker, are no different than the bosses you work for. An employment contract is just that, a contract. It has a start date and an end date and you should only be signing into the contracts that are a benefit to you and you should not fear taking on a new contract if it is in your benefit. Would a profitable company sign a bad contract? No. In the end the employer does not care about you all that much beyond what you can provide for the organization…you should treat employers as they treat you. Only do the jobs that add value to your life, make sure you get good pay and look after your own health

this contract is really no different than most other contracts...
this contract is really no different than most other contracts...

© 2015 Robin Olsen


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      4 years ago

      Today we must be so careful on any job as to who we talk to and work with. I find it better to do your job well and follow the rules. You are not going to be liked by everyone but you must get along with all. Good thoughts here to work by!


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