Employment Do’s and Don’ts
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Several years ago we had an employee at one of our companies who was extremely intelligent. This person was older and had worked at several jobs before coming to our company. Although he’d never excelled at any of these jobs, he’d done well enough. He was hired as a writer to assist with various tasks for our companies. His abilities were not bad, and had he simply kept his head down and done his job I am confident he would still be here. Instead, this person was our company’s worst nightmare and still is to this day. The characteristics this person exhibited hurts more companies and careers than I can count. There are people like this person in every company and you need to know what to look for and how to stay away from them in order to be successful in your career.
Before this person ever took a job at our company, he was very angry at, and critical of the world. While he didn’t make his criticisms known directly to management of our company, they ended up finding their way back. Most of the criticisms were things that really undermined the company and the people in it. This person seriously disrupted his superiors, the company, and others. It was as if this person’s greatest skill was undermining the company and those around him. For that reason, I refer to this particular employee as “the Underminer.” There are under-miners in most companies. I am sure you know one where you are working now, or have known one in the past.
The Underminer would tell other employees things such as:
His list of criticisms could fill several pages. What was most alarming about this particular person was the pattern we started to notice. The Underminer would often attempt to become friendly with our best employees. If any of them became friendly with this person, in a very short time, formerly enthusiastic employees would change right before our eyes. They would no longer be as enthusiastic about their work, stop completing assignments on time, get a “depressed” look and feel about them, and stop consistently showing up on time for work. If these employees were not fired, they would often quickly quit and leave the company. Sometimes the Underminer would affect the employee so negatively the person would quit and leave the company without having secured another job.
In less than one year I noticed this pattern negatively affect the careers of at least 10 people. People who otherwise could have had excellent careers with our company left or were negatively influenced by this individual. This individual eventually was let go from our company and, incredibly, to this day is still trying to undermine our company and the people in it by spreading negative information. Am I upset by this? Am I hurt? Of course I am. However, you need to understand in every organization you will find people who try to undermine the company.
The most alarming thing about the Underminer is the people this person approached and influenced are still floundering years later in their careers. They have moved from job to job and many are unemployed. Before learning to think negatively about work and the company, these people had been incredibly enthusiastic and talented. It was as if the Underminer had planted so much negativity in their impressionable young minds they were permanently affected.
Over the years I have noticed patterns like this one repeat themselves in our company. Looking back, I’ve even seen this pattern repeat itself in law firms and other companies in which I have worked. It is often not just one person negatively influencing others, but several. What I am about to share with you could be some of the more important career advice you ever receive.
You need to stay away from negative people inside companies. There is something called “guilt by association” that is easy to pick up and that can negatively affect you. If you are spending your time with people who are known as troublemakers or who are hostile towards the company, the implication is you may share these sorts of opinions as well. Once a company picks up on this and associates you with this behavior, you will be marked as someone who is not a friend of the company and is, instead, an enemy.
When I was practicing law I saw many careers stalled and/or ruined in law firms because of the associations people made inside the office. When you associate with the wrong people a firm will view you as someone who is unlikely to be looking out for the firm and, consequently, will avoid promoting you, advancing you, or protecting you. Choosing to associate with the wrong people in the office will create huge problems for you.
You are at work to make a living. Your job at work is to go there, be professional, and leave. You are not expected to go there to make friends or be a participant in various forms of gossip. You can choose to get involved in the social side of the office and watch your career stall, or you can choose to be removed from it.
Not all social activity in companies is bad. In fact, a lot of it is good. However, you want to be removed from the social side of the office because you cannot be viewed as a supervisor by people with whom you’re friends. The further away you are from people in the office socially, the closer you are to being their manager. In addition, the closer you are to colleagues in the office, the more you are going to be affected by their negative behavior.
None of this is to say you can’t be friendly with your co-workers. You need to be friendly with everyone in your company. However, you cannot become too chummy and you do not want to participate in the social network of the office too much.
When I was in high school, one of my best friends got into serious trouble. He was on his way to lacrosse practice and was eating a giant bag of candy while sitting in the passenger seat of a car. He asked a couple of kids walking by if they wanted some of his candy because he noticed they were looking at him. The kids screamed and ran. My friend thought the whole thing was very strange (although he realized they may have misinterpreted this as a kidnapping attempt) until a SWAT team began fanning out on the practice field where we were playing lacrosse and threw his face in the dirt and arrested him.
The entire thing had been a giant misunderstanding; however, the misunderstanding was serious enough he was suspended from school for three months. He would have been kicked out if his father was not an extremely influential person in Detroit who donated a lot of money to the school. During my last year of high school I asked my math teacher to write a recommendation for me for colleges and he agreed to do so. This math teacher had been very close to the parents of the children who had mistakenly believed they were about to be kidnapped.
There were two sides to my friend’s scandal. One side thought the arrest was ridiculous because the offer of candy was genuine and there had been no kidnapping attempt at all. There had been other passengers in the car and they all testified the candy offer was legitimate. The other side thought the mere words were evil and my friend should be expelled.
A few months after my teacher wrote the recommendations for me I was interviewing at a college, and the interviewer said to me, “What’s the problem with this math teacher? Why did he write such a horrible recommendation for you? It is so bad and there is so little substance to it we were actually going to call your school about it.”
I think the math teacher may have gotten in trouble for the recommendation. He sought me out and apologized and one of the deans of the school took me into a meeting and told me the reason he had written the recommendation the way he did was because I had been friends with the kid who was suspended. The teacher actually withdrew his previous recommendation and wrote another. It was a strange episode. In fact, I do not think I ever spoke to my parents or anyone about it. Now that I am thinking about this I am wondering if this had an impact on the colleges I did and did not get into. The more I think about this the more I believe that it probably did.
You need to realize guilt by association can hurt you with companies and other organizations. You also need to realize it is incredibly important you keep your distance from people in the workplace if you want to be considered for supervisory and other such roles. The social side of the office can be a great deal of fun and can also be entertaining. More often than not, however, the social side of the office will cause you far more problems than it is worth.
Filed Under : Employment Do’s and Don’ts
Tagged: associating with the right people at work, career advancement, career advice, criticizing, enthusiastic employees, excellent careers, focusing on work, hired as a writer, job search guru | a harrison barnes, law firms, math teacher, practicing law, professionalism, several jobs, social activity, social network, social side, social side of the office, socializing at work, undermining