How to Create Workplace :)ness

This month we’re looking at three common workplace difficulties, and what you can do about them.

As usual, there is no magic solution and the things we offer below won’t be appropriate or useful in all circumstances.  Our purpose in offering them is to get your mind oriented toward a frame of reference that asks, “What can I do?”, rather than remain stuck in “This stinks and I’m unhappy”.  If we can accomplish that, then we probably have done you more of a service than the advice below will do.

1) “I worked a lot harder but he got promoted.”
Allow some hurt and/or anger; then step back and really think about what’s going on. Among numerous possible explanations, it may be that:

A) You’re skilled but you make it difficult for others to like you and work with you.

Studies – and common sense – show that people would rather work with someone who is likable and incompetent than with someone who is skilled and obnoxious. Not only that, but as Tiziana Casciaro of Harvard Business School says: “How we value competence changes depending on whether we like someone or not.”[1] If we drill down a bit deeper, we find that being liked is linked to our level of social skills – a lack is correlated to behaviours and habits others find disagreeable.

In part, better social skills can come from identifying disagreeable behaviours and taking action to change them. You could begin with something as simple as this: during or after a conversation or meeting, track how many times you: Ÿ • interrupted  • inauthentically agreed  • didn’t offer your real opinion  • inwardly criticized someone.  It is probably also worth assessing your personal hygiene, mode of dress, eating habits and the way you treat public space.

You can’t change your personality in an instant, but a commitment to change and concrete action can make a lot of difference over time.

B) There’s a lack of diversity.
If there is a lack of diversity in the company’s leadership team and board of directors[2], and you’re female, a person of colour, lgbt, or disabled, you can: 1) Talk to a trusted HR person about your lack of advancement and ask what they believe the cause is; 2) Ask to meet with your boss (and depending on circumstances, the boss’s boss) to discuss the company’s Equitable Talent Development Plan and whether/how you might fit into it; 3) Take action by forming a powerful alliance; Millennials and Boomers (who’ve been working to change the diversity landscape for years) are potent combinations. With your alliance members, arrange a group meeting with the head of HR, saying you’d like to discuss the ETD Plan.

C) You are not a good fit for the position you were seeking.
It may be that although you had your sights set on something and were working hard to attain it, others might see clearly what is hidden from your own view: you aren’t suited to that job. There may be other jobs within the organization you are suited for, which you could direct your attention and efforts toward. Remember that the reason you don’t get a promotion isn’t always a bad one. Sometimes we think we know what we want while we fool ourselves about what we’d really be best at and happiest doing.

2) “My boss doesn’t like or support me.”
It may be that the points in A) above will uncover the reasons you’re having trouble with your boss. However, the primary reason may rest in the fact that you don’t like your boss or an influential co-worker who has their ear. And if you don’t like someone, chances are they’re not going to like you. (A colleague of ours who really disliked her boss recounts the time she saw the devil incarnate at a company Christmas party “Slow-dancing with his wife like a love-struck fourteen-year-old. I was shocked,” she said. “It changed the way I saw … and approached him from then on in.”) So, pay attention to what you like about that person. It has the capacity to shift your perception and the whole relationship.  We often put our focus on “the bad stuff”, but the good stuff is there too if we’re willing to look.

Also, talk to a trusted colleague, mentor, friend or family member about the impact it’s having on you and your work. They can offer new and helpful perspectives. Choose people who have the courage to give  you their honest opinion – especially if it’s difficult for you to hear.

3) “I don’t like my job”.
As stated in this month’s Founder’s Message, “The good news is that you don’t have to like your job in order to be happy.”  However, you can make the job better, which is a worthy endeavour.  If you’d like to try, set a period of time in which to do that – six months to a year is reasonable – and during that time, take these steps:

  • Stop complaining and stay away from the complainers.
  • Make a list of the tasks you like and don’t like. Take the least burdensome, write down how and why it could, in fact, be making you a more-rounded employee/better person, and move it onto the ‘like’ side. Do this monthly.
  • Eat your spinach, Popeye; e.g., do your disliked tasks first. It’ll free-up your energy
  • Find out how other people make less than satisfactory jobs work for them.

And above all, count your blessings regularly. You have a job, a place to live, good food, warm clothes, friends, family, meaningful activities, and the intelligence and freedom to change.

Remember that “what’s wrong” is always present, but so is “what’s right”. Don’t forget to give that some of your attention – in all areas of your life.


[1] Casciaro, T., & Sousa, M. (June 2005). Competent Jerks, Lovable Fools, and the Formation of Social Networks. Harvard Business Review, Vol. 83, No. 6.
[2] The 2013 Fortune 500 CEO list contains 18 females (3.6%), 21 people of colour (4.2%), and no one identified as being from the lgbt or disabled community. Interestingly, however, diversity is not lacking among US business owners: people of colour own 22.1% of all US businesses, women own 28.8%, and people from the lgbt community own 5% of all US businesses.

Additional Reading

  • Emotional Intelligence by Daniel Goleman (Bantam, 2005) will help you assess relationships and show you how to build them.
  • Leading Up: How to Lead Your Boss So You Both Win by Michael Useem
  • Fuse: Making Sense of the New Co-generational Workplace by Jim Finklestein
  • Turn the Job You Have into the Job You Want by Amy Wrzesniewski

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