How to Be a Better Employee

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Spartan_Warrior
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Post by Spartan_Warrior »

I agree that there are two components to financial independence--decreasing expenses and increasing income--and that the latter is an important, sometimes overlooked factor. The problem is, it does not always follow that "being a better employee" will lead to increased income, which is all that really matters when being a better employee is not an end in itself. (Raise your hand if as a kid your dream was "being a good employee".)
Furthermore, the shorter the timeframe for financial independence (and the lower the expenses), the less impact a higher income will have, introducing opportunity cost in the pursuit of higher income.
Dragline put it very well. This is an okay list if your goal is to be a corporate drone playing the chutes and ladders game over a 40 year career. For those of us with our eyes on the door, I've compiled a counterpoint list, entitled "How to Be a Better Human Being (while Maximizing Income* in the Corporatocratic/Careerist System)":
*With income being defined as dollars earned per hour/quanta of life energy.
■Do not arrive early or leave late unless compensated. In fact, work as few hours as possible/permissible in order to achieve your assignments. Do not give away precious time for free.

■Do high quality work and let the work speak for you. Focus on Pareto techniques and the 80/20 rule to maximize your efforts toward the projects that will most benefit you/your employer. Ignore or half-ass less interesting/important/visible assignments. Never be a perfectionist.

■Dress to the dress code. Do not overdress as it is an unnecessary effort/expense and also rather obvious.

■Be friendly to everyone, but do not mistake anyone at work for your friend.

■Be on the job hunt at all times. Keep your resume updated. Be constantly on the lookout for more profitable arrangements--your employers are.

■Develop an identity outside of work. You are not your job.

■Get motivated by LIFE, not a corporate mission statement. Develop passions and hobbies outside work, monetize them if possible, and work only to support your lifestyle--never live to work.

■Take initiative in your own work but don't make yourself the go-to person/doormat for every crap assignment no one wants. You'll put a target on your back for all such assignments in the future.

■Learn to strategically say "NO".

■Be honest when something isn't working.

■Demonstrate effective conflict resolution.

■Avoid compromising your quality of life for the sake of your job.

■Shut up, smile, and avoid standing out. Cultivate an appearance of affable incompetence.

■Use teamwork to your advantage--diffuse responsibility, but never carry anyone else's water.

■Your boss's job is easy enough; make your own job easier. Increase efficiencies in your work to minimize precious life energy spent.

■Document everything.

■Act in your own interests and let the company act in its own.

■Demonstrate only as much loyalty as you are demonstrated. Replicate the culture.

■Learn continuously, but do not specialize.

■Avoid non-productive meetings wherever possible.

■Understand your benefits. Do not be afraid to use these benefits, including any time off ("sick leave" or otherwise). It is part of your compensation package.

■Invest in an early retirement plan.

■Invest in an early retirement plan.

■Invest in an early retirement plan.


thebbqguy
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Post by thebbqguy »

So are you saying increasing income 25% is not worth the minimal effort it would require and a few more hours of work per month on a sporadic basis?I have never worked an hourly job so my perspective may be different. But I am amazed that some people won't do it.


Spartan_Warrior
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Post by Spartan_Warrior »

@bbqguy: Admittedly my list was partly satirical (only partly). Of course "increasing income 25%" is worth "minimal effort", but those quantities are arbitrary. What about increasing income 3-5% (closer to the average raise) for significant effort (personally doing much of what you said and embodying that "living for my corporate overlords" mentality would not be minimal effort IMO).
Employers certainly want to foster the idea that you can raise your income by 25% with just "minimal extra effort". My point is that... well, that's often a massive lie. A carrot to compliment the stick of termination. Hard work is not always rewarded, and for many of us here with low expenses, short timeframes, and jobs we want to escape, the opportunity cost involved in putting in that extra effort really isn't worth the casino-like chance of a substantial raise. I know that is the case for me personally.
In today's economy, if you want a significant increase in income, you don't work harder for your employer. You change jobs.


thebbqguy
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Post by thebbqguy »

Admittedly, I have been fortunate in my current career. I agree that my circumstances are different than many others.
Prior to my 18 year stint with my current employer I was self-employed off and on between a series of commission only jobs. I left a stable job to "take a chance" for something better. During those years of commission based pay, I endured periods of high increasing debt load. I'm sure I'd be more financially secure today if I had simply stayed put. Compared to many people that I know, I am quite secure even now.
I am not aware of any positions at my company that would only provide a 3-5% wage increase with a promotion. We don't always get merit increases (i.e. COLA raises), but when we get a promotion it's a pretty healthy increase.
There are passionate views on both sides of the debate. Most of those values are deep rooted and strongly held based on personal value systems and beliefs.
I'm not saying everyone should do what I chose to do, but for those that do choose that path there are things to be done which can help with advancement. I work in a white collar job, so maybe these techniques won't work in other types of work.


secretwealth
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Post by secretwealth »

I'm not sure why a vicious debate has spawned from a clearly tongue-in-cheek satire of the pitfalls of work life...
I do think bbqguy is right to point out the importance of office politics in working life. People who assume the private sector is efficient apparently has spent little time in meetings with middle managers...


ffj
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Post by ffj »

@SW
Your perspective is certainly one employed by many people with mixed results. While it's true that hard work isn't always rewarded (my cue to switch jobs), I think we can also say that affable incompetence is never rewarded. Unless you are related to the owner of the company of course. :)
I don't understand why one would handicap themselves on the chance that the company may not reward them for their efforts. A five year time frame may not be that big of a deal but over a longer haul every promotion that you have passive-aggressively not competed for has huge financial ramifications. Why would you shut up, smile, and avoid standing out in these situations? To me it is more self-defeatist than sticking it to the man.


FarmOne
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Post by FarmOne »

@bbqguy
My understanding of what you're trying to say is to maximize your employment time so that you can minimize your time employed. I'm with you on that, and to an extent that strategy worked for me.
I read a book years ago that really influence my attitude as an employee. It was titled "the Sin of Wages". It was about the entrepreneurial spirit that made America great in the first place. It was about acting more like an independent contractor than an entitled employee. It was about working for the big picture success, not just "doing time".
There is always a few disgruntled employees that don't get that. They are against "the Man". They are against anybody working for "the Man". They think if you're not biting the hand that feeds you, that you are a "suck-ass!". They've got it wrong, because it is business and numbers that makes decisions - ultimately.
I good friend told me long ago, "There are three ways to do things: the right way, the wrong way, and the company way. We get paid to do things the company way." And it was that simple...


secretwealth
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Post by secretwealth »

"I think we can also say that affable incompetence is never rewarded. Unless you are related to the owner of the company of course."
Indeed! Eventually, incompetence will get punished, but the keyword is "eventually." Some people can ride the wave for years, even decades. The London Whale Trader and Bernie Madoff are great examples of people who survived several years hiding incompetence. I'm sure there are a lot of small fry we don't know about also milking their connections with slick talk.


Dragline
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Post by Dragline »

The best advice I have read recently on this topic is in Robert Greene's book Mastery. He devotes a whole chapter to the idea of developing social intelligence about your workplace/career and acting accordingly.
The book recommends approaching your workplace in an objective and anthropological way. Study the people, what is valued there, what the culture is and was is expected and rewarded. Don't make the mistake of imposing your own values or judgments when you are not the boss. In fact, try to maintain a neutral countenance until you know the lay of the land.
Greene points out that this was one of the great secrets of Ben Franklin's success and references the parts of BF's Autobiography where he describes how he adapted himself to the printer's shop in London, where he first refused to contribute to the beer fund because he didn't drink, but then realized people were sabotaging his work because he made himself unpopular. He resolved after that to study the people around him as carefully as the substance of his work.
One of the contra-examples was Ignaz Semmelweis, who discovered that cleanliness and sterilization were key to successful medicine, but managed to piss so many people off that even his supporters couldn't stand him personally and he died a broken man.
Greene identifies four broad recommendations: Speak through your work, craft the appropriate persona, see yourself as others see you, and suffer fools gladly. I think you'll find that most of the laundry list items fit under one of these categories.
He also recommends minimizing your exposure and damage caused by people who display one or more of the "Seven Deadly Realities": Envy, Conformism, Rigidity, Self-obsessiveness, Laziness, Flightiness, and Passive Aggression.
Well worth reading if you have not read it yet. Lots of other good stuff in that book.


secretwealth
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Post by secretwealth »

FWIW, I've had two careers. I think I've been equally competent in both. One career stalled and nearly died because of my lack of social intelligence. Having learned that, I've tried to use social intelligence to my advantage in my second career. So far (knock on wood!) it's working.


jacob
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Post by jacob »

Somehow the Gervais principle (as per ribbonfarm) comes to mind again...


Seneca
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Post by Seneca »

"Learn the rules, so you know how to break them properly."


jzt83
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Post by jzt83 »

I'm currently a low-level loser in the restaurant business and as long as I do the bare minimum (even doing a little less is fine where I work), I can sail along forever. I have no intentions of getting promoted, but if I wanted to, all I'd have to do ask and get trained for promotion. However, becoming a manager would cause my income to drop, as I wouldn't be making any tips. To maximize my income via tips, I have to concentrate on finding ways to induce the production of happy brain neurotransmitters in customers' brains. So it's more vital for me to "go the extra mile within reason and with discretion" with customers but not with co-workers.


bluejoey
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Post by bluejoey »

In today's economy, if you want a significant increase in income, you don't work harder for your employer. You change jobs.
Yeah, I think this is on the money. And yeah, that list seems a bit too Type A for me. I'd rather just clock in and clock out and get back to the stuff that really matters.


dot_com_vet
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Post by dot_com_vet »

"In today's economy, if you want a significant increase in income, you don't work harder for your employer. You change jobs."
It typically takes five years to vest in a pension and three years in a 401k. You have to job hop intelligently, otherwise you're potentially leaving big money on the table. I know people that have switched jobs to make more money, that actually took a nice haircut.
This is tax advantaged cash that can make up the top rungs of your ERE plan.


jacob
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Post by jacob »

Assume a typical 3% employer contribution on a 401k. Maxing out at 17k, that's $510/year, so that's only leaving a maximum of $1500, albeit tax deferred on the table. Job-hops can exceed that for sure.
A bigger downside is only getting to join the tax-deferred plans "next year".
On the flipside, many employers only offer really bad mutual funds as part of their retirement plans. Better than nothing, but sometimes it almost makes sense to roll into an IRA ASAP.
Golden handcuffs ...


dot_com_vet
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Post by dot_com_vet »

Jacob, on the flipside, some employers put in 15%, with a Vanguard 401k. That's something to be careful about leaving on the table. That's easily $100k+ for an engineer or middle manager.
I agree, there's a lot of crappy plans out there, most people aren't lucky to get a Cadillac type plan.


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C40
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Post by C40 »

I'll try to make a few points here...
1 - Good EMPLOYEE vs good WORKER... There is a difference between being good at the work you do and being a good employee. Most of the original list are about being a good employee. Most workplaces have a few people that are excellent technically or very good at their jobs, but that cause problems which are a pain in the ass to deal with.
2 - Politics... As you get promotions, your 'work' transitions from doing things yourself to leading and influencing others. The higher you go, the more your performance depends on many of the things listed (plus politics and other things)
For myself, I've gotten a few promotions and I am now in a position where I do not want to move up a level. I currently spend about half of my time doing things myself, and the rest in meetings or talking to other people (often asking/telling/convincing them what to do, giving advice, etc..). Although I have that 50/50 time split, success in my position depend much more on the people/meeting part of my job. If I get a promotion, the people/meeting time goes up, and the importance as well. Personally I have more fun during the solo work time.
Another factor for me at the moment is that if I get a promotion, (in addition to the above) I'd have to either start traveling a lot (which would help reduce expenses but I think I'd hate it) or I would have responsibility for a lot more problems than I currently do. I'm pretty sure how much of a raise I would get, and I'm damn sure it wouldn't be worth the money.
I still do well at work and specifically try to do many items on the list (certainly not all of them). Now that I'm not trying to get promoted, It allows me to:

- Work fewer hours than I would have.

- Be more comfortable saying no

- Not worry as much about problems or conflicts.
It's probably a bit like having fuck you money. You sort of get into your Shangri-La (as much as a job you want to quit can be!) and its easier / less stressful. The thing that concerns me more about missing out on money is missing out on good practice at making small talk and bullshitting people. (making friends/allies quickly.. influencing quickly.. manipulating people.. getting them to tell you what they want... etc.. - all of which are nice to be good at)


buzz
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Post by buzz »

@Spartan_Warrior: Satirical or not, your list seems right on target.
I have really been trying to work on this one recently: "Develop an identity outside of work. You are not your job." It has been far more difficult than I would have thought before actually joining the workforce. How do you achieve this when socialization only occurs with coworkers and family?


KevinW
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Post by KevinW »

Eh, IMO there are first-, second-, and third-order arguments both for and against expending energy on being a "better employee." It's a nuanced issue and it's possible to do the right thing for wrong reasons and vice versa.
At the level of bald pecuniary self interest, it is true that playing the game and working the system a little can improve the cost/benefit proposition of a job. And also further your political standing within the organization which has a snowball effect on future cost/benefit improvements. E.g. it may be true that

■Dress the part

is rational purely because the ROI on a professional wardrobe is greater than the risk-free interest rate.
Personally I have a sense of integrity, and per the Golden Rule feel a certain duty to avoid creating unnecessary problems for my peers, which dictate a baseline level of professionalism, for lack of a better word. So I can't disagree with

■Be prepared

■Be honest

■Be realistic

Really that kind of stuff applies to all aspects of life.
However IMO a lot of this kind of advice is informed by the asymmetric power dynamic that exists in the corporate workplace. For example

■Be flexible

is a notorious euphemism for silently accepting degradations in wages, benefits, or working conditions. Management perpetuates them as norms in order to squelch worker empowerment --- switching jobs, union activity, citing FU money, or general outspokenness. I find this objectionable both in principle and as someone interested in FI.


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