The secret of success is constancy to purpose.
A few years ago, I remember reading about a "forward thinking" office that allowed employees to bring their pets to work in the hopes that the animals would help to motivate their human counterparts. Today, most office environments have gone from carefree to quietly cautious. While navigating the political scene at work is never easy, the current economy makes it even more perilous. Across many fields and industries, there are behavioral traits that are shared by successful professionals. Here are some tips on keeping your professional polish.
Look the Part ~ Dressing for work helps you distinguish between your time and the company's time. Additionally, people do generalize ability based on appearance. You should make the best impression possible by always looking polished and professional. This holds true, even if your office is still "officially" business casual.
Watch Your Watch ~ While no one wants an employee who watches the clock -- counting down the minutes until quitting time -- keeping your eye on the time is important. Arrive for work and meetings a few minutes before you are due. And, for meetings, be sure to bring any necessary background paperwork and a means for taking notes.
Take The High Ground ~ Not only is it less crowded, but you won't have to regret something you say or did. While a colleague might make you want to scream and yell, don't. Take some time, cool off and reassess the situation. Organizations have long memories for bad behavior and outbursts. Diplomacy is the better part of valor.
Complementary Colleagues ~ Sure, feel free to praise your co-worker's work, but what I mean here is find someone with strengths or skills you do not possess and work closely with that person. Not only will you learn from them, but together you will produce a much higher quality work product.
Be Your Boss' PR Person ~ Regardless of your feelings towards your boss, it is important to make him/her look good to other members of the team and to clients. Part of your job is to make sure your boss is informed of important matters and is never caught by surprise.
Networking Versus Idle Chatter ~ While being known as the office gossip is not good for one's career, hiding in one's office is also a mistake. It is important that you are aware of what is happening in your office. You should know who the important players are and be sure they know you. Get up from you desk, make plans with colleagues for lunch and volunteer for cross-functional projects.
You Are The Company ~ Any time you make contact with anyone outside of the office, you become a representative of the company. For telephone calls, e-mails, letters and in-person contacts, you should be as polished as possible. Watch for slang, misspellings and remarks that may be a bit too casual for a business interaction.
Few offices still advocate pets as a perk and the concept of spending one' career with a single company has also faded. While these seven tips can help your career, they are not guarantees of a permanent position. The best you can do is to keep current in your chosen industry and always, always, always keep your resume up-to-date.
Q: Dear Mannersmith ~ I have a co-worker who takes my ideas and presents them as her own. The first time it happened, I thought it was an accident, but it has happened two more times. We talk about issues as a team and then during the department meeting, she tells everyone that she has found a solution and presents my idea as her own. I have thought about not speaking with her and just bringing up the idea at the department meeting, but that just does not seem right. What can I do?
A: This is a complicated issue, with no easy solution. You will have to take action keeping in mind the personalities and culture in your office. There are some steps you can take to make sure you get credit for your ideas. The first is never to share any thoughts with her unless there is a third party present to witness whose idea it was originally. You can always approach the boss to see if he/she has noticed this happening. And/or you can create back-up documents for your ideas with your name on them. Then, when the co-worker speaks up in the meeting, you can pass out your handouts a background documentation. You may also want to talk with a trusted colleague to learn if maybe there is something you could improve upon to insure your ideas are heard (i.e. presentation skills).
Q: Dear Mannersmith ~ My manager goes through my desk, drawers and files when I (or any of my co-workers) am out of the office. Can he do this?
A: Actually, since it is company property, it is permissible. However, for employee morale it is not advisable! Be sure never to leave anything that is personal or private at your desk. This does not sound like a healthy work environment; a boss who is that suspicious can be dangerous to your psyche and your career. You may want to update your resume and begin exploring your options.
Q: Dear Mannersmith ~ The field in which I work is very demanding and we put in very long hours. This translates into very little time outside the office to socialize and there have been some romantic overtures starting between a co-worker and me. Is it still considered taboo to date a co-worker?
A: The old saying "Never get your honey where you get your money" still holds true. While it may seem easier to find a significant other at work, the dangers are great. You will have to endure the office grapevine and gossip while you are dating. If the relationship continues and becomes serious, one of you may need to leave your job due to company policies. And if the relationship turns sour, at best you will need to endure continued professional contact and at worst there may be a harassment complaint. All told, it is better to date outside the office and avoid unnecessary and unpleasant complications.