It might sound like a cliché, but being the best employee you can be is guaranteed to net you an elephantine amount of boons and bonuses.
Below we’ve listed 8 ideas to make you a better employee, not just from the perspective of your boss but also your fellow colleagues. Not all of the ideas will be relevant to every work place and situation, but incorporating even one has the potential to speed you up along your career path.
#1: Team players embrace mutual accountability
There’s no room in the dugout for lone wolves. Regardless of your intelligence, if you’re in hot pursuit of career ascendance you must have the tickets to excel as part of a team.
But what does successful teamwork look like? Business authors Katzebach and Smith came across a compelling characteristic while writing The Discipline of Teams, an article for the Harvard Business Review, back in 1993. They concluded that teams excelled when they exercised mutual accountability. That means owning the successes and failures of teammates and reacting accordingly. It’s not about doing other people’s work; it’s about jointly tackling a threat to your team’s goals.
Compare that to setting up a “team” in which members are allocated tasks then sent off to their own hermetically sealed cubicles. There might be information sharing over a difficult issue, but by and large the team holds individuals accountable for “their” objectives.
What’s wrong with that? Isn’t it practical? Not always. Walking away to wash your hands and tag colleagues as incompetent might be tempting but it won’t yield results, nor will it make you popular.
If the situation merits it, encourage your team to share responsibility. Not only will achieving results when confronted with difficulty demonstrate value to managers, it will earn the respect of your peers.
#2: Stay on the right side of the thin brown line
No one likes a brown nose. Crawling all over your boss’s every wish screams that you’re a mercurial sycophant, your head obsessed with promotion, your loyalty to colleagues worth a buck a pop.
That said, there’s a risk you can go too far the other way and assume the relationship with your manager is adversarial, engendering a me-versus-them mentality.
Striking a balance between these two destructive extremes is vital. Forget being a “yes” man or woman, and develop an environment where you can amicably discuss issues with your boss without coming across as either condescending or blindly supportive.
We’d also suggest you offer assistance to your boss when they have their nose to the grindstone. You weren’t hired to walk around with your job description ironed onto your shirt. You were hired to help the business operate and develop. Being useful in times of difficulty instead of slinking off to the cafeteria will be appreciated if done in the right spirit. And there’s nothing brown-nosed about it.
#3: Own your work space, own your schedule, be productive
World-class film director Steven Soderbergh has a saying regarding a director’s arrival time on set – “If you’re on time, you’re already late.”
It’s a sentiment related to earning a sense of control over a space by virtue of arriving before everyone else. While we’re not advocating working 25-hour days, there’s something powerful about starting your day ahead of the pack. Commencing the day too early, however, will get your colleagues offside. Limit it so you have just enough time to view your schedule, check your emails, and arrange your day.
Speaking of which, your schedule and the priority of your tasks is often the key to your productivity. Many business writers suggest you tackle the day’s toughest task first rather than go for the low-hanging fruit, or delay reading email until later in the morning. Here are 5 Tips for Creating the Ultimate Study Space.
#4: On being proactive: canvas, don’t go off half-cocked
It’s true that managers appreciate you taking initiative and discussing creative solutions for problems, but don’t present any new-fangled suggestions until you’ve done the proper legwork.
Management are constantly analysing employee contributions, considering if they have any quality or merit, and evaluating how much thought has been put into a suggestion prior to it being presented.
Don’t sound off from the hip to try and earn cheap brownie points unless you’re in the middle of a formal spit-balling session. Instead, canvas management to see what sort of issues they’re facing, get some insight into why the issues are proving so difficult to solve, then conduct research and present a brief document with a few alternative courses of action.
Don’t hand in War and Peace; management may or may not look at your suggestions in the end, and if they do, they’ll want to quickly get the gist of your idea in the first few lines. But if you’re diligent and logical about your suggestions then you’ll increase your chances of being brought into future strategic discussions.
#5: Don’t be a gossip
Don’t talk negatively about your fellow employees. Workplaces can be a little dull but that’s no excuse for shredding your professionalism and having a dainty chinwag about Cathy from sales.
Gossip is tacky in life, but it’s toxic in the workplace. Joining in with such banter indicates a lack of moral fortitude but starting the ball rolling with a verbal jaunt about another employee will peg you as petty and incapable of keeping issues in confidence.
The last issue is particularly salient. If you’re known as a gossip management will find out and label you a liability. If it gets to the point that your boss is keeping you in the dark on new situations and challenges longer than your peers, you’ve crossed a line and have potentially precluded yourself from promotion in the short term.
#6: Fit in with the culture or bail
There are as many types of working spaces as there are types of people. If you’ve completed a Diploma and scored a job at a creative agency your environment is going to be considerably different to someone who’s earned a different qualification, and is working in a different environment. \
You may prefer a calmer environment to concentrate on complex tasks or perhaps a space with greater intensity to keep you on your toes.
The time to work out what sort of a culture you’d prefer is prior to applying for a job, or ideally, before you select a course of study. If you land a coveted position at an architectural firm there’s no point remonstrating when you’re expected to work until 11pm.
Ensure you can excel in your company’s culture, riding its perks and wrestling with its troughs, or look for something more suitable. You’ve been hired to join a corporate body, and that body has a set way of moving. Provided they’re not doing anything illegal – and if they are then legal recourse is always an option – engage with the culture instead of working against it or leave for greener pastures.
#7: Presentation, Presentation
As shallows and vapid as it sounds, a well-presented employee can have a significant impact on business relationships compared with someone who plays blind darts to coordinate their clothing.
We’re not suggesting you book in a facelift, have fat sucked out with a straw, or buy a yearly Cosmopolitan or GQ subscription. Few of us have been blessed with the pulchritude of Jennifer Hawkins or the physique of ex-Bachelor Tim Robards, constantly pictured with his shirt off, his buff body resembling a skinned horse. That’s all luck of the draw.
It’s not about being good looking as much as it is about looking good. Make the best out of what you have. A good starting point means being well groomed at all times and buying properly fitted clothing. We’d also suggest you jump online to stay abreast of the latest fashion trends while keeping your wardrobe up to date if your occupation doesn’t require a uniform.
You never know. A subtle improvement might see you move from the back office to the front, get you a coffee with your stuck-up fashionista boss, or entice a client to arrange a second meeting. From little things big things grow.
#8: Be Your Best
The suggestions above aren’t about being a super employee and relentlessly caving to the whims of those more senior to you. It is about living up to the fair expectations placed upon you by management.
Undoubtedly there are numerous companies and businesses that make achieving such a balance nearly impossible. Part of the challenge – perhaps the biggest part – is to find the right environment to help you make that balance a reality. If you really want to improve your prospects at work, try one of Upskilled's Short Courses to kickstart your future career.