It might just be the profession I chose, but after leaving Uni I often felt like the only one who didn’t ‘get it’, didn’t understand how to get where I wanted to be, or impress those I thought (at the time) needed impressing.
At Uni having a difference of opinion was a good thing, sticking your hand up and asking why? Or simply being vocal with your thoughts – it took me a long time to realise that’s not always the case in an office.
Friends who do similar jobs to me would argue I came up against some incredible bad luck, even by the usual below-par PR agency standards. I was picked at for having an opinion, made to feel nothing I did was ever quite good enough and generally shunned for standing up for myself against senior people who I thought were quite frankly, arrogant arses who took pleasure in belittling people. Was I alone in this experience? I often wonder.
Overall it made ‘progression’ a lot harder at first. Occasionally I’d meet a Director I could really look up to, learn from and work happily with – but they were often the ones who moved on quickly, getting snapped up for bigger and better things – leaving me behind. Finding a champion to have my back felt hard to come by, most days I’d feel completely adrift.
I couldn’t understand how some people had such a honed ability to use everyone around them to their own advantage, shifting their language, behaviour and personality to suit the boss or colleague they were trying to impress at the time.
The communications industry is known for bitchiness, backstabbing and a general dog-eat-dog mentality, but even taking that into account I was still sometimes taken aback by how little I could trust others. It amazed me the lengths some people would go to get that promotion, pay rise, team swap etc. The term ‘thrown under a bus’ was a term I became quite familiar with, not just for myself but for whole groups of people I worked with in different agencies, everyone at some point seemed to have been a scapegoat for someone else…someone who should have known better.
It wasn’t all bad, some of my best friends today came from those early days as a junior, crying together in the stock room and then collectively drowning our sorrows in wine when it was all over. I have some of my fondest London memories from work, but also some of the worst.
These experiences taught me the following things about how to survive an environment like this, how to observe office politics and come out the other side. So I thought I’d share these tips, for anyone else entering into the same world I (unwittingly) wandered into after Uni. In the hope that you won’t beat yourself up about it like I did.
- Keep your friends close, and your enemies closer
I wouldn’t recommend anyone sucking up to a manager or colleague in general, it’s not something you should feel you have to do. However, as I learnt (after a while) – there will be someone you don’t like at pretty much every place you work (maybe several people), and letting that dislike get the better of you professionally or personally can be costly – especially if that person will have a say in any potential promotion you may be due. So don’t buddy up if you don’t want to, but keep your communications with them ‘light and polite‘ in order to preserve yourself, not stroke their ego!
2. Your work / life balance is just as important as your bosses
Working late is something I did for a very long time because I wanted to be a diligent worker, wanted to pitch in and get the job finished. Someone once told me, the job is never fully finished – and would I regret not spending more time at my desk on my deathbed? the answer is no, but sometimes having the courage to stand up at 5.30pm is harder than sitting there until 9pm. You’re often made to feel you need to stay to get something done, and sometimes you do, but try to take those situations on a case by case basis and not get into bad habits. Often bosses look at the last person in the office and see someone who’s struggling, not succeeding – if they actively encourage it then that’s just bad management.
3. Focus on yourself
This is not meant in a selfish way, and it’s certainly not to advocate screwing anyone else over – but rather looking at your objectives, your goals and your path and not being distracted by anyone else’s. Friends may get promoted before you, may get the projects you wanted and may seem to get all the perks you work so hard for – but don’t let that cloud your goals or make you resentful. Be happy for them, support them, and let that be completely separate to the person you are and what you want out of your job.
4. Don’t play games
Lots of people do it, but it often makes you come out looking petty and immature. I’m talking about going into a meeting and telling your boss you’re thinking of leaving, or even that you have another better paid offer on the table that you’re considering – in the hope that they will beg you to stay, sing your praises and give you what you want. That job offer may or may not exist, and it may or may not be something you are considering, but as my Dad once told me – never put yourself in that situation unless you’re prepared to hand your notice in and leave, because you never know how the person on the receiving end might react. It’s possible they might just say, ok thanks for your time – off you go! In which case…you’ll look like a right muppet if you don’t actually have anything on the table. It’s a gamble, and even if you do stay, chances are the boss will respect you less because of your tactics. If you want to leave, hold you’re head up and do it.
5. Work to live
At the end of the day, your job pays the bills, allows you to be clothed, fed and watered – so it’s important. However, if you don’t get to the top of the tree – does it really matter? Will it make you happy? Sometimes its worth evaluating whether that promotion or pay rise really is essential right now or if it can wait? Of course more money and rewards for your hard work are desirable things to most people, but don’t feel you should have to sell your soul to get there.
More to come on getting the work / life balance readjusted very soon.