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Positive Business Habits that Will Get You Fired

Updated on March 25, 2011

There are probably a great many people sitting in front of their computers right now, jobless and wondering what went wrong? You showed up to work on time; you never called off of work; you did your work to the best of your ability; still you find yourself exiled again! Thinking deeper into the time you spent employed, you can definitely say that you contributed to the team, you were able to prioritize tasks effectively and adapted to change as well as anyone. Well... stop beating yourself up! Maybe you didn't do anything wrong! Maybe you did everything right! That's right! You did everything that the bloated Business sections of the warehouse bookstores told you to do! What those books failed to mention is what happens when you take an idealized intepersonal approach into a real-life, jacked-up work environment!

Most of us are familiar with the staples of being a good employee; flexibility, efficiency, responsibility, professionalism and loyalty. To Hell with wondering if you showed those traits in the workplace! The vast majority of us show these traits everyday; they are ingrained into us by our parents, our schooling, our own sense of ethic. So why have you failed? The answer to this question you must consider that you failed because you exhibited these good business habits; you just didn’t use them correctly.

Let's explore five basic positive business traits and concentrate on what really happens when they are put into use within the modern place of business. Take a look around; employees are increasingly afraid to take responsibility for their actions. Lying and cheating has become a way to preserve a reputation. Employees now aim to skip from company to company with their references in tact before a past responsibility comes back to haunt them. If you do manage to rise above the nonsense and remain true to your business ethics, then congratulations, you have just become the perfect Scapegoat!

Whether you sit in an office or dig ditches outdoors, chances are that your employer expects you to extend a certain amount of flexibility with your task priorities, work the hours that are in the best interest of the company and pick up the slack when team production begins to falter. Everyone should pitch in and do their fair share of flexing. In real life, the more flexible you become, the further you will be stretched. Rearranging your schedule to accommodate the needs of others only leads to opening the floodgates and allows your boundaries to far surpass your professional capacity. Leaving flexibility unchecked quickly grows out of control and often leads to perceived rigidity. At the very least it leads to insanity. The lack of planning by others will always affect you in some way. Everyone else’s life is always more important to them than yours. What may have started as an altruistic attempt at helping your fellow teammates or volunteering to take the late shift was actually a non-verbal green light to everyone around you that you have time to burn. Every time you take on a task that is out of your scope of responsibility you are advertising the fact that you need more work to do. So what can be done to ensure this situation does not continue to repeat itself? Most self-proclaimed experts in the field of Business Management would have you to believe that establishing structured time-frames with built-in time to handle interruptions is the answer. The trouble with this approach is, if you had planned those events to happen at a certain time, then they wouldn’t be unexpected. How about just closing your door or finding a special place where you go to get real work accomplished. Although closing your door helps (assuming that you have a door or even that you have an office), it does not take long before people catch on to why the door is closed and then it takes them exactly two seconds longer to bug you each time. Not to mention the never-ending questions concerning the reason why your door is closed. Experts will also have you believe that setting clear boundaries is the way to go. You just need to learn to say “No!”. Tell your supervisor that you do not have that task on your agenda and you are unable to find an open time slot to place it. Tell your friends that just because they are chummy with you does not give them the right to come into your office unannounced and eat up your time with their stories of their kids and how their weekend went or what they had for lunch. Or my personal favorite, let the people you do not like know that they are a waste of space and are sucking up all of your oxygen.

It is needless to expand on how the above suggestions would work in real-life. Let’s just say that saying “No” seldom works out. So what is the answer? Be flexible but do not be a doormat? Be firm with your coworkers but stay in tune to their sensitivities? Tell your boss that you just do not have time for his blustering? The best I can offer is that being too flexible is one positive business habit that will eventually get you fired!

Undeniable Truths

1. The more flexible you become, the further you will be stretched.

2. Your life is always far less important to others

3. Having an open door policy invites guests

4. Lack of planning by others will always affect you

So you want to do a good job at work…right? When you are given an assignment it goes without saying that you are supposed to complete the task to the very best of your ability and in the least amount of time possible, taking into consideration the quality of the work you are presenting. Okay…so can you remember back in grade school? You were given an assignment. Even at an early age you were bright and you always seemed to get done with your work before the others. You would proudly exclaim to the teacher and the class that you were done. I would wager that almost every time you did this, you were either told to place your head on your desk and remain quiet while the rest of the class finished or told to pull out a book and read quietly. So even in second grade the reward for completing your work quickly and accurately was either punishment (any second grader I know thinks sitting quietly is a punishment) or more work. The other children did not say a word when they were finished (some did not even finish) and they were all either fiddling with the items in their desk or passing notes to each other. All the while you were stuck reading an extra chapter of how early American settlers cooked their food. I suppose it never dawned on you while in grade school that, twenty years later, the reward for a good job would still be more work. It probably also never crossed your mind that, twenty years later, there would still be those other people that take their time completing tasks at substandard levels and appear to be rewarded with time to socialize at work and an actual lunch hour.

There are the classic over-achievers and the classic under-achievers. The Ying will always piss-off the Yang. What is important to take away from this, is the fact that the more work you do the more work you will get. Duh…if you finish a project you are going to get another one. That is the point of a business…to do stuff. As a fellow over-achiever, I advise you to learn to pace yourself. When your boss asks how long it will take to complete a project do not tell him how quickly you can do it if you were to only focus on that project and work on it at home; give your boss an estimated time that takes into account your lunch breaks and only working during the time you are being paid. For those of you who have OAS (Over Achiever Syndrome) real bad, this simple re-estimate of efficiency will be difficult. You must learn to smack yourself around a bit and learn to under promise. I am not saying that you cannot still run home and work on that new project until 2am; I am saying that you do not immediately shoot your hand into the air and tell the teacher that you are done. Learn to keep some in reserve. I would also keep one project in a constant state of flux. Learn to throw one project out there that your boss can rip apart. Appearing more together and efficient than your supervisor only begs for punishment. I am not suggesting that you dial down your efficiency. I am suggesting is that being too efficient can lead to over-extending your perceived capabilities. Once you set the pace, it is difficult to explain why you need to slow down without looking as if you have failed. Being too efficient will get you fired!

Undeniable Truths

5. Never appear less busy than your boss

6. If you do not look busy, people will assume that you are not.

7. Learn to under promise so that you may over deliver

8. The more work you do the more work you will get

And so begins…the topic of responsibility. Winston Churchill was once quoted as saying,” The price of greatness is responsibility.” and Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote, “There are always those who think they know what is your responsibility better than you do.” When it comes to responsibility there are two distinct groups of people; ones made of rubber and ones made of glue. Some people naturally deflect responsibility while others are doomed to have every last bit stick to them. The better you do a job, the more likely you are to become the new owner of that job. Once again, a business has one goal in mind; to make money. If it were your business you would give the vital projects to those who perform exceptionally, rather than leave them in the hands of those who are mediocre at best. So the best advice to the glue-covered people of the world is to learn to recognize the behaviors that make you appear sticky to others around you. (1.) Actively participating in conversations during meetings. The second you open your mouth to express an opinion on the subject matter being discussed you have just painted a big bulls-eye on your chest when it comes time to delegate responsibility. Learn when to say things and when to let others shine. (2.) The better the quality your work is, the better your boss looks. Remember...when your boss is sitting in front of his/her boss discussing the exceptional job done on the last project, it is highly doubtful that he/she will give all the credit to you. You are part of a team. Be prepared ahead of time by knowing that your efforts will be summarily lumped in with the efforts of the team and that the team is lead by a boss. It is very rare that the contributions of any one team member will be recognized over the contribution of the team, as a whole. Unfortunately, failure does not work in the same way.

Every good plan has a back-up plan. Every bad plan has a Scapegoat. The Scapegoat is the person or group that is referred to when "it" hits the fan! (3.) The Scapegoat is an endangered species. The Scapegoat is the elusive and short-lived Ungulate of myth; with its proud stature and unrelenting need to ram head-on into immovable forces. Each project needs one to take point on every decision made and to sign their name in blood. If all goes well, the Scapegoat is handsomely rewarded and its reputation is hailed. The Scapegoat is released into the wild and allowed to roam freely into the next project of its choosing. The Scapegoat is welcomed with full creative rights and a place at the head of the table. Unfortunately, if things do not go so well, the Scapegoat is ceremoniously slaughtered and served as the main course during an evil root-cause analysis. Each party member is encouraged to take turns roasting the Scapegoat and jabbing daggers into its back. Do not befriend the Scapegoat or you will be burned at the stake next to the Scapegoat. Beware of responsibility; too much will get you fired!

Undeniable Truths

9. Learn to be rubber and not glue

10. The better you do a job, the more likely you are to own that job

11. The Scapegoat is an endangered species

12. The better you do a job, the better your boss looks

How many times have you sat in front of someone who is completely clueless, while they call your professionalism into question? So what is Professionalism? The common defininition of professionalism suggests an adherence to a common list of positive and constructive ethics while attaining a level of excellence that surpasses those of normal considerations or legal requirements. While that definition encompasses the ideals of professionalism on a large scale, it is what makes up the “common list of positive and constructive ethics” that seems to drive what is considered professional behavior within today's workplace.

Honesty is often regarded as a professional behavior. As anyone can attest, there is the truth, and then there is the truth that is spoken. There is a recent push within the Business Community to encourage employees to speak their minds. Althought there have been several spins put on this school of thought, it basically boils down to letting your boss know exactly what you think of him/her and the company in a constructive manner. I can tell you right now, no matter how constructive your criticisms are, you will pay! Your honesty will most likely land you more work, longer hours, or the disrespect of others. Modern workplaces often tend to build this invisible wall of aptitude. When the boss asks how things are going you know that he/she wants to hear that things are going well (whether they really are or not). Sooner or later, everyone has to participate in the lie to keep things on an even keel. In order for the truth to present itself, everyone must now stand up and admit that they have been lying. This is the single largest contributing factor for many bosses losing grip on what is really occurring inside of their teams.

Duty and respect are also often synonimous with professionalism. Unfortunately, the definition of what constitutes respect is often dictated by those who demand it and duty is more commonly a term used to coerce others into doing things they do not want to do. We are all too often held to varying degrees of these ethics based on the interpretations made by those in authority.

As children we are reminded not to judge the book by its cover. We are convinced at a young age that Cinderella was a princess despite the tatter of her dress and that Pygmalion would have succeeded in life based on work ethic alone. We grow into young adults and enter the workforce only to find that the fairytales lied to us. Your appearance is actually far more important than your actions; honesty is not always the best policy; and no matter how hard you work, it will never amount to anything unless someone takes notice. We begin to become hardened and cynical as we slowly realize that wearing a suit increases your IQ; your upward mobility is inversely proportional to the size of your butt; and that what you do is far less important than whom you do it to. Professionalism has suddenly become completely different from integrity.

After coming to the conclusion that professionalism has been reduced to one person’s perspective of what being a professional looks like, it becomes clear that displaying ethics contrary to what is percieved as professional will most likely get you singled out for finger-pointing and exploited as a weakness. Being the consummate professional may have just gotten you fired!

Undeniable Truths

13. Most books are bought on account of their covers

14. It's not what you do but who you do it to

15. Never confuse professionalism with integrity

16. There is the truth and then there is the spoken truth

Proactivity is the business equivalent of a double-edged sword. While challenging the status quo is normally considered a good trait, you must stop and think about what you are actually trying to say when you attempt to find a solution to a problem that does not yet exist. Does the act of exercising proactive behavior suggest that the current plan is doomed to fail and that you just want to make sure that you have a solution when that time finally arrives? Can proactivity be characterized as pessimism’s good-intentioned twin? There will be a lot of people that will fail to see the fine differences between the two. Suggesting that measures should be put into place to counteract the eventual failure of something, such as a machine, is normally categorized as proactivity. For example, having the oil changed in your car every so often to keep the engine from destroying itself. The engine is not flawed. The very nature of the engine is to tend toward destroying itself. By proactively changing the lubricants inside of it I am greatly increasing the chances that it will continue to work for a much longer period of time. On the other hand, while proactively suggesting counter-measures in regards to someone’s thoughts follows the same basic principle, suggesting that an idea is flawed and it is merely a matter of time before it veers wildly out of control, is usually taken a direct criticism, or at the very least, an act of pessimism. While I believe the Pessimist holds a very important role in the world of business, it has been my experience that the world has yet to come to the same conclusion.

As the blade of the proactive warrior reaches apex, now begins its dark, downward swing. Your keen sense of forward-thinking just landed you heaps of additional work. Heaps of work that you have just become responsible for efficiently and professionally flexing into your already busy schedule. Pointing out issues often leaves you responsible for correcting them. This concept is often referred to by children as, “Whoever smelt it, dealt it”. If you are not prepared to take responsibility for something, you should probably not draw attention to it. Be careful what you ask for. Be also forewarned that sometimes the time it takes to prepare for a disaster is much greater than the time it would take just to clean up after the disaster. If you are not careful, being too proactive will get you FIRED!

Undeniable Truths

17. Forward thinking makes others look backwards

18. Be careful what you ask for

19. Pointing out issues is the same as pointing blame

20. Proactivity shares the same coin as pessimism



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