10 things your boss wants…

…you to do that’ll screw you over
1. Put 8 hours down on your timesheet, but work 10. Or 12… This is where the most common guilt trip is placed – after all, you’re ‘not a team player’ if you’re not willing to put in a little extra effort now and then to get things done. But that ‘one-time fire’ turns into a never-ending string of crises, and if you’ve designated yourself as a pushover with no life, you’ll be expected to be one forever. And if you’re paid by the hour, well, the company needs to cut back on the budget, so can’t you just work more and not charge for it to help ‘the team’ out – meaning you get the short end of their poor planning.

2. Train on your own time, on your own dime. It’s important to be up-to-date and continue to learn and develop your skills no matter what you do. But training can be seen by the boss as overhead and a burden, something to get around to ‘when there’s time’ instead of an investment in personal growth and professional development that ultimately benefits the company and its people. And when there are mission-critical deadlines looming, that ‘time’ always seems to find a way to get pushed further back. If your organization doesn’t encourage and facilitate your learning, you should of course take the initiative and do it yourself. But if you find that a lot of your free time is turning into learning time (for information to help you do your job), negotiate for credit for the hours spent, dues for a professional association, or some other benefit.

3. Talk about your weekends and your social life. It seems harmless enough; your boss comes by and asks, ‘so how was your weekend? What did you do?’ But being buddies with the boss (and sharing personal details with them) means that they stop asking for work – they start asking for favors. And it’s hard to not do a favor for a friend, right? And then those favors will start to be based on personal information – ‘well, since you live down the street, you can pick up this package for us.’ Your personal life will be open for office gossip. You’ll be volunteered for that extra assignment because ‘you don’t have a husband/wife/family.’ Now sometimes this can work in your favor if you do have lots of personal obligations that your boss is empathetic to, but if you’re the only one in your department without a ring on your finger or a nest of yunguns, your unique social status will be seen as an opportunity for the buck to always be passed to you.

4. Stop sending emails and pick up the phone/swing by. It’s an obvious CYA move to want to document everything in e-mails, but when your boss wants to be more casual, chances are good that the conversations won’t ever be recalled the same way they transpired. And when it’s your word against theirs, guess who wins? The best thing to do in this situation is to be accommodating – but immediately afterwards, send a follow-up email outlining the details of what was said.

5. Agree with them. Bosses really like yes-persons and that hive-mind mentality, and it’s easy to get in their good graces by being agreeable to anything they say. But when they have bad ideas that you have to execute, they won’t get the blame. Following orders is not the same thing as mindlessly following orders. If your boss comes up with a stupid idea, suggest another approach (and back it up with facts). Even if they decide not to heed your advice, it’s better to be seen as someone who has ideas once things inevitably start to go wrong.

6. Have a meeting with no agenda other than ‘we should have a meeting.’ No one will decide to push back a deadline because you got called into a bunch of pointless meetings that kept you from being productive. And when you can’t plan your time well to perform your main job duties, you will get trapped into putting in more hours (see #1) or failing at your job, neither of which is ideal. Meetings are not evil by default, but they need to be structured, brief, and remain on-topic. If an agenda hasn’t been made, ask for one. Ask to be sent any materials to be reviewed in advanced. And when topics come up that aren’t on the schedule or are getting long-winded, ask to get them tabled for another meeting.

7. Chip in for the office… Everyone has a cause they want you guilt you into supporting; so-and-so’s birthday cake, engagement party, charity run, cookies, etc. But over time, those little costs add up. And it’s easy to have this kind of activity snowball into resentment when one employee starts to get favored or one feels snubbed. These causes also tend to reveal personal details about the staff that might isolate or discriminate against other staffers. Popularity contests and causes don’t belong in the office, no matter how well-intentioned they might be. If you want to help a cause, invest time in it or donate to it directly.

8. Stay off of those personal emails/calls/sites. We all need to have a life outside of work, no matter how great our jobs are. And sometimes to be able to achieve a decent work-life balance, people need to be able to make doctor’s appointments, check on dinner plans, or do ‘personal business’ on company time. While many people will argue that this is theft (as the company is paying you to work), taking care of those things actually helps you do perform your job better by freeing your mind and letting you plan your time more effectively. Just don’t let it interfere with your productivity.

9. Ignore the process ‘just for now’ and fast-track to get things done. It’s a vicious cycle of circular logic; there’s always a fire to knee-jerk react to and put out, which keeps you from being proactive and documenting things or planning ahead, which means that there is always a fire. Why bother having a process at all? if you find that you’re in a situation where the boss loves ‘crisis mode,’ try to make some recommendations for ways to automate things or reduce inefficient processes. Suggest doing things in pilots or small tests to get buy-in and make it easier to implement. If you get a lot of resistance here, then you may have to decide if you’re okay with working this way forever, because this is one thing that will be nearly impossible to change if it’s the corporate culture.

10. Work through your vacation. You have a cell phone, a laptop… and as a result, you’re expected to be reachable ‘in case anything happens’ any time you’re away. This ties into #1 and #3 as well. A vacation (from what I have heard, not from first-hand experience) is supposed to be about reconnecting with all of the non-work things you miss out on, about making time for people that put up with your crazy hours and work rants, a chance to do all of those things that you work to make money for but don’t get to do (because you’re working to make money to do them). Bosses tend to think that we live to work instead of the other way around. But even if we love our jobs and enjoy them immensely, we need to step away from them periodically to recharge ourselves. Ignore the calls, don’t check the emails, and have some fun. Nothing is more important than that, no matter what your boss says.

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