Don’t Be That Employee

I’m approaching the one-year anniversary of the job I took when I moved back to my hometown. I went from a fast-paced, sales-driven job in publishing to a slower-paced job in nonprofit communications. It’s been a big change, and I’ve had a bit of job transition whiplash.

I was thinking about the various jobs I’ve had in the 10 years since I graduated from college. I’ve made some big mistakes and learned a lot about how to be successful in the workplace. Here’s some advice on not being that person at your place of employment.

1. Give yourself a year to learn the ropes and become proficient in your job. Give yourself grace for when there’s something you didn’t know you didn’t know, and don’t expect to have it all figured out until you’re a year in.

When I first started my job in publishing, it felt like drinking from a fire hose. I was way in over my head, and for the first month of being on the job, I feel asleep on my couch every evening at 6:30. There was so much to learn! It wasn’t until I had been there for the very beginning of the publishing process to see a book go from an idea in a meeting to on the shelf at Barnes & Noble that I really understood how it all worked.

So be realistic in your expectations for yourself, and remember that part of a new job is learning what you don’t know.

2. Pay your dues before you start asking for special privileges. I once worked with a girl who started at an entry-level position, and within three months she was asking to accompany the department head on business trips. She was upset when she didn’t get to go, but it wasn’t because she wasn’t capable. It was because she hadn’t proved that she was capable.

Want to work from home one day a week? Start by working hard every day and earn that privilege. Need to leave early for a doctor’s appointment? Be willing to come in on a weekend or volunteer to stay late and help finish a project. Prove to the older generations that you aren’t just an entitled millennial.

3. Don’t take it personally. Work can feel incredibly personal, especially if you really believe in the mission of the company. You might spend weeks on a project only to have your supervisor dismiss your idea. You might land a really big client and share your happy news with your co-worker, but find out he doesn’t share your enthusiasm. Or you might get blamed for something that wasn’t your fault. Those things might make for a horrible, no good, very bad day, but remind yourself that it’s business, not personal. Your worth and your value do not depend on your job performance or how quickly you get a promotion.

4. Respect the breakroom rules. Remember that the breakroom is a shared space. It’s probably not the best idea to eat someone else’s lunch or to leave your oatmeal-crusted bowl in the sink every morning. Be cautious about heating up fish, curry, or other stinky food. Microwave popcorn is a delicious afternoon snack, but burned popcorn will permeate the office and won’t make you a lot of friends.

What have you learned about being a good employee? What should you avoid so that you’re not that guy or girl?

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