Work Daze: When You and Your Work Are Not Working Out

By Bob Goldman

Ding-Dong! Ding-Dong!

That’s the sound of the bell ringing in your head.

Yes, you frequently hear strange sounds at work: the rattle of chains, ghostly screams, not to mention the constant sniggering as you walk through the cube farm, but this bell is different. This is the bell that rings when you finally decide to throw off that cloak of misery and passivity and actually do something to make your job better.

“Improving your situation at work will most likely require some proactive attention,” is the opinion of Kevin Granville, the author of a recent article in The New York Times on the provocative topic of “Improving a Job You Like.”

Not to be a negative Norbert, but I’m sure you can see the dangers of trying to improve a job that you like or loath. Being proactive could raise your visibility, which goes against the prime directive for job survival:

If they can’t find you, they can’t fire you.

Not rocking the boat has kept you on the crew, but should you get it in your silly head that you want to rise above your position as corporate galley slave, here’s what Kevin Granville says the experts say you should do.

Your first step is to complete a rigorous self-assessment. This requires an inventory of your strengths and weaknesses, your skills and limitations, your accomplishments and shortcomings. This sounds daunting, but before you crawl under your desk for your mid-morning nap, consider how few strengths, skills and accomplishments you really have. This should leave you plenty of time to come up with a few positive negatives, like “I care too much about my job,” or “I’m so lucky to work at this company, I don’t cash my paychecks.”

You know, the same bushwa you came up with in your initial job interview.

The experts also recommend that you undergo a professional psychological examination as part of your self-assessment. As Granville writes, “critical here is becoming aware of your own natural strengths and interests.”

You could go to therapist, of course, or take an online quiz, but if spending money and time immersed in psychological mumbo-jumbo are not your “natural strengths,” I recommend that you get a frank and free assessment from an ex-spouse or a former roommate. You may not want to put their opinions word for word on your resume, but, at least, you will know where you fall short in critical areas, like picking up your underwear and putting them in the hamper, instead of throwing them on the floor like the inconsiderate slob you are.

Once you have completed your self-assessment, and you can honestly tell yourself, “Damn, I’m one of the best workers here and nobody knows it,” it’s time to take the next step, “raising your profile.”

That’s right. Instead of sitting in the corner at major meetings, mumbling to yourself, make sure your voice is heard loud and clear. Ideally, you will be able to offer a solution to a problem that is vexing your manager. The experts say that you should volunteer to execute your solution, but to give yourself time for more high-level problem-solving, it’s better to recommend an unsuspecting co-worker to implement your plan. You can always take credit if it works and slough off the blame if it doesn’t.

If you are not one to put yourself in the spotlight, the experts suggest a truly radical strategy—start doing better work. You are supposed to make this extra effort without fanfare, or calling attention to yourself in any way. The idea here is that “good work truly blooms when it is discovered, rather than being placed under the boss’s nose.”

There is one compelling reason why you never ever want to place your work under the boss’s nose.

It stinks.

The final suggestion for improving your job is to improve your salary. You should ask for a raise, but “be prepared, and don’t ask for a gift.”

Start shaping your non-gratuitous raise request with research on the salaries other companies pay for other people with your skills. This may have to be a guess, since the Bureau of Labor Statistics, with their research on over 800 occupations, have somehow missed tracking compensation metrics for lazy malcontents.

If improving your work sounds like too much work, don’t forget the easiest and best possible way for you to improve your job and the jobs of everyone with whom you work.

Quit.

Bob Goldman was an advertising executive at a Fortune 500 company, but he finally wised up and opened Bob GoldmanFinancial Planning in Sausalito, California. He now works out of Bellingham, Washington. He offers a virtual shoulder to cry on at bob@bgplanning.com.