Tips for Being a Successful Employee

Tips for Being a Successful Employee

Except for some part-time, intermittent teaching, consulting and wedding officiating, I have always been someone else’s employee. Sometimes as line staff, sometimes as a middle-manager and sometimes in upper management, I have opted for the security of a guaranteed pay check and benefits over the higher risk and potentially higher earnings, of self employment. This is who I am and I know it. How well do you know yourself?

Being a successful employee is not simply a situation defined by the lack of having your own business. It is a choice and type of work well suited to some and a painfully poor fit for others. I have found that to be a successful employee – to work for someone else – to not be the person in charge making the decisions – requires certain mind sets and understandings. I offer the following list of criteria apt to enhance a person’s success at being a good employee.

To be a successful employee, one must come to grips with the following realities:

  1. You are always entitled to your own opinions. However, they are not welcome in every work situation and being asked for input should never be confused with the responsibility for making the decision. Sometimes, opinions that are at odds with those of the ‘boss’ are considered insubordinate, inappropriate and cause for either discharge (“You just don’t seem to fit in here”) or being frozen in a non-advancing position (“We think that so-and-so is better qualified. S/he thinks more the way that we like to see in our senior people.”)
  1. Eating crow may need to become a regular diet. Deferring to decisions you feel are mistakes are not uncommonly aspects of being able to survive a work environment – especially one where, particularly in public service, it does not appear to be the ‘cream’ that has floated to the top.
  1. You need to develop comfort and attain satisfaction from what you CAN accomplish given the constraints placed on you and your authority by the people you work for.
  1. There will be times when other people will claim (and be rewarded for) ideas that were actually yours. This is particularly irritating to creative types whose need for security keeps them in the employee group.
  1. You can’t always tell everyone (or sometimes anyone) how you really feel about things. Your feelings are apt to be regarded as signs of weakness and may reduce your value to the company.
  1. It is not reasonable to expect that you will like or be liked by everyone you work with. Figuring out who is who -and quickly – is a key element in planning an achievable career path iwithin an organization.
  1. Security, though likely with ambivalence, is a higher priority than risk-taking and higher earning potential, and finally,
  1. Regard no job as the ‘last’ job. Sometimes, as an employee, differences, much as they sometimes do in other human relationships, become irreconcilable. Leaving a job on your own volition in recognition of such a situation looks a lot better and is probably easier to explain than is being fired or ‘discharged’ by the employer. Like most other things in life, changes are generally preferable at your own initiative.

These are but a few of what might be a much longer list of guidelines. A lot of them are hard to swallow but working for others is just that, working for others who usually put their own priorities and values well in front of your own. This is reality.

Working for yourself is entirely different. You make the decisions and are responsible for what goes well as well as for what fails. There is no one else to blame. If you do well, you succeed. If you don’t, you fail. Self-employment brings a higher degree of risk and personal responsibility. There is no one else to blame if things don’t go right. There is no insensitive manager to hold responsible. It requires a higher degree of self-confidence and, simply, gumption!

Unlike some paid employment, you cannot continue to earn money if you don’t do things right. Sadly, the obverse is likely best personified in the public sector where actual performance and longevity or promotability seems to have little if anything to do with actual competency.

The old saw of “To thine own self be true” applies when it comes to how you decide to choose to make a living.


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