One of my favorite Millennials is graduating from college next month, and it occurs to me that he, like millions of others from the so-called Godless Generation, could benefit from some sage counsel before entering the workforce.
So while the world may view us crusty Gen-Xers as all but done, holding on for dear life while awaiting our sure and inevitable Millennial takedown (or is it shakedown?), I say “Bah! You’ve still got lots to learn from us, kids.”
Getting ahead at work is nearly impossible if you can’t follow instructions. I don’t care how much you know, how brilliant you are, or how much experience you have, following instructions is key to getting—and more importantly, keeping—a job. There’s a time for creativity, breaking the rules, and deviating from what’s expected, but most likely that’s not at the beginning of a brand new job in a brand new career. And if you don’t understand the instructions, PLEASE don’t pretend you do. Instead, ask clarifying questions. (And if you don’t know what a clarifying question is, do the research.)
Respect Your Boss
Offering respect to someone respectable is easy. Offering respect to someone decidedly NOT respectable is a real feat, but there’s not a whole lot to be gained by demonstrating contempt for your boss. So unless it’s a matter of psychological, physical, or financial survival, (1) don’t violate the chain of command, (2) don’t ignore directives, and (3) don’t talk fresh.
Now is as good a time as any to learn how to stick up for yourself as well as for what’s right. In addition to providing financial security, work is a source of satisfaction, purpose, and identity for many. Work is good. However, the workplace can be an incubator and a haven for all manner of human wickedness and dysfunction, so prepare to be tried and tested while resolving to gather from each trial additional strength, resilience, moral clarity, and emotional intelligence.
Practice Being a Good Judge of Character
How well you fare at work will in large part come down to how well you judge character. In whom will you place your confidence? Choose poorly, and you’ll pay the price. Choose well, and you’ll reap the rewards. Correctly discerning character takes time, patience, and a willingness to accept people as they prove themselves to be. Someone who claims good character but who lies, is manipulative, or appears uninterested in the Law of Reciprocity should be judged by his actions, not his words. And speaking of which …
Use Your Words Responsibly
Words have weight and power. Use your words to edify, educate, and entertain but don’t use them to hurt. Don’t engage in vicious gossip, don’t tell fibs, and don’t say mean and nasty things just because you can. And for God’s sake, use Spell Checker! It’s amazing how many employees don’t bother with that nowadays. Your work will stand out if you do.
Pay attention, and you’ll go far. Study people. Take the time to understand why most of us do what we do, and you’ll be an empathetic and inspiring leader, no matter your official title. On a more practical note, paying attention will also enhance your ability to quickly pick up new tasks, which any good manager will appreciate.
Do that thing other people won’t, and you’ll gain favor, self-insight, and new skills. And here’s the thing about skills. You can build on them, and no one—no matter how determined—can ever take them away from you.
Don’t Let the Haters Get You Down
The brighter your light shines, the more some joker will determine to take you down. Who knows what motivates these hateful spirits, and who cares? The point is to not let them cause you to doubt your ability, sincerity, or intentions. Smile, stay on path, and determine to let the haters choke on their own venom, if that’s what they want.
Never Trust HR
And, oh yeah … never trust HR. Right now the profession is in quite a flux, and it’s full of people who simply aren’t very good at their jobs. Sadly, they’re okay with that. So … if you ever find yourself on the wrong side of a workplace dispute, don’t go to HR expecting to be helped. Go to cover your butt or go to satisfy your curiosity, but don’t go hoping something useful will result, or you’ll be disappointed. And hey, if something useful DOES result, it’s all gravy! But even so, be sure and run everything by
Mom another HR pro (who doesn't work for your company) you
can trust, because she’ll always give you the real deal.