The Live-Wire's Guide to Holding Down a Job

Published: 1st February 2010

A problem I have — have always had — is reconciling some of the more, er, colourful aspects of my personality in the workplace.

I'm generally of the opinion that it's best to be the same person in every situation (be who you are), rather than modifying your outward personality to suit the environment (be what you have to be); and in a broadly philosphical sense, I stand by that tenet 100%.

However things are not always equal, and sometimes it is necessary to ... shall we say, re-organize your character in order to fit in to a particular situation. That doesn't mean betraying yourself, it just means reconciling your natural instincts with what the situation will bear, and a prime example of this is going to work.

In every job I've ever held, I've faced exactly the same situation — they love my work, respect my abilities, embrace my ideas and encourage my professional initiative. But they hate my bad timekeeping, how I'm frequently late, scruffy or smell bad, and have an incongruous sense of the appropriateness of how I behave and what I say.

So, from personal experience, here's a short list of tips I've acquired over the years, that might be helpful to you if you're anything like me:

  • Going to work is a performance: Just like when you play in a band or act in a play, you're putting on a performance. The character you portray is still essentially you — nobody can help being who they are — but it's a remix, in which some traits are exaggerated, others reduced, and others suppressed entirely. I love Iron Maiden, but I wouldn't be able to listen to them out-loud in an office, because most people hate them.
  • Your employer is bribing you to accept things: You might not like something they ask to do, or not to do, but they are effectively bribing you to accept it, whatever your personal feelings.
  • Be on time: I've generally taken the view that when I arrive and when I leave is irrelevant, as long I get my work done to a good standard, which I do. And indeed, many employers are quite flexible about work hours, especially for parents (who are generally given more leeway about such things, quite unfairly so in my view; but that's another story for another day). Nevertheless, flexibility has its limits, and the vast majority of employers prefer you to keep normal office hours, the same as everyone else. Even if you're never actually told this, try to stick to it anyway, because ‘face time’ makes you look like you're taking your position seriously — and appearance counts.
  • Remember that you have an effect on others: By behaving in a particular way, you implicitly give other people permission to do the same. If you're always late, smell bad or look like you just got out of bed, others in the workplace may look at that and think why does he get away with it?. And in fact this is especially important in workplaces where the atmosphere is quite informal — informal working environments are particularly sensitive to individual abuse, and the response to that will often be to clamp down and reduce the amount of informality that's acceptable.
  • Don't flirt with colleagues: However nice it is, and whatever the extent to which it's reciprocated, never flirt with people at work. There's a fine line between flirtation and sexual harassment, and the target of your affections might have a very different idea of where the line is. If it goes bad, it might turn to animosity, or even open hostility, which can have a seriously detrimental affect on workplace morale. The smaller your team or organisation, the more important this is.

And if you really can't stand to live with such restrictions, you're probably better off self-employed  (big grin)


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