Nancy Roman

On The Job Training

I was commenting about work on a friend’s blog, when it occurred to me that I have been working for forty years. (And it would have been even longer except that I stretched out college for absolutely as long as my parents could stand.)

Well, forty years of work life has provided me with some insights.

And although most of the readers of this blog are as old as I am – which is why they want to read about wrinkle cream and bunions after all – I will share my  vast accumulation of job advice.

So this post is for all my young readers – all three of you.

1.   If you are like the vast majority of human beings on this earth, you will always have a boss. This boss might be dumber than you and less competent than you and sooner or later will even be younger than you. I have a chance to have one more President of the United States older than me (if Hillary runs and wins) – but that will be my last time. I am now used to people in authority being younger than me.

But here’s the thing about bosses. No one likes to be told what to do. But unless he or she is a real prick (pardon my language, but it is the right word here), it is up to YOU to get along with your boss. If your boss asks you do something that is even remotely connected to your actual job description, you say “Sure.” And you do it. Try to make your boss’s life easier. The last thing you want is for your boss to think that one of his problems is YOU.

2.  When you are new at a job, you will not like it. Look at it this way: You just left a job where you knew what you were supposed to do (to the point of boredom…that’s probably why you left) and now not only are you unsure of what you are supposed to do, but you don’t even have any friends, or know where the mailboxes are or when to have lunch. OF COURSE you hate it. But you did not necessarily make a mistake taking the job. Give it six months. You might eventually make a friend and be able to transfer a call and even find the copier toner.

3.   Speaking of competence, we all make mistakes. When you make a mistake, own up to it. Apologize, accept responsibility, and move on. If you don’t dwell on the mistake, your chances are better that no one else will either. But here’s an interesting caveat. I made a pretty big mistake early in my career. I felt horrible. When I told the boss about my error, I also said that I was really, really sorry and very disappointed in myself. And he said, “I should be really mad at you myself, but I haven’t got the heart to yell at you. You already feel bad enough.” Hmmm, I thought. This could be a pretty good strategy for fucking up.

4.   Take your vacation time. Take all of it. I offer this advice as someone who never did. And now I see that the company and the world will not fall apart if you schedule some deserved relaxation. You need a break. Take one. 

On the other hand, be careful about sick time. Learn to work sick. I’m not saying you should drag yourself in and infect everyone else with Ebola. I’m saying that as much as good sense indicates: Suck It Up. Taking planned, expected time off makes you look reasonable and responsible. Unplanned, unexpected, and inconvenient absences make you look unreliable.

5.   Don’t complain about your job. (except to your spouse or your best friend – with them, you have permission to bitch a little). No one likes his job every single minute. You are always going to have good days and bad days. Don’t complain constantly – especially at work, but also in restaurants, on Facebook, at the gym… you could be overheard. And when someone asks you about your job: If overall you like it well enough, you say, “It’s pretty good.” And if it is terrible, say, “I’m learning a lot” – and keep quietly looking for a better one.

6.   Try, whenever possible, not to go to HR with your issues. I’m not dissing HR folk – after all, they hire us, they make sure we have medical benefits and training and shit – but if you go to them with a problem, they have no choice but to make it a big deal. And you may be very sorry later when things get blown out of proportion. I do not mean that you should submit to workplace abuse or sexual harrassment or that you should turn a blind eye to unethical conduct. But if you have complaints about a coworker or you think your boss is unfair or you think that you should have gotten that stupid promotion – try to take it directly to the person you have the issue with. And leave HR out of it. Address the problem yourself. Face people. You will have better results.

Let me reiterate that I am not talking about illegal behavior. But sometimes the direct approach can even nip that in the bud. Many years ago I had a co-worker that was a little too “hand-sy”, if you know what I mean. He couldn’t seem to talk to me without giving me a back-rub too. I was worried that eventually it would be a front-rub. One day I said, “Charlie, I don’t think you realize that it makes me uncomfortable when you rub my back. You are a nice guy, and I am sure that now that I have told you how I feel, you won’t want me to be uncomfortable with you any more.” And it never happened again. We even went on a business trip together and he was respectful and businesslike – and nice to be with.

7.   Last, but not least – (until I think of more, anyway) – learn the value of coffee or tea. And perhaps a good piece of chocolate in the afternoon. As an accountant, I speak from authority when I say that staring at numbers plus a nice little lunch equals a very sleepy interval about 2:00 PM. And I am also speaking from experience when I say that once you fall asleep at work, it is very hard to live it down. Especially if it happens more than once. In the same week.




  1. Absolutely the best, most succinct bit of advice for people starting their careers. Seriously.

    My boss, who is 73 and going strong has a habit of scheduling presentations from 2-3. She falls asleep each and every time. And then she asks pointed questions referencing slide numbers and footnotes. It is amazing and annoying simultaneously.

    • I once fell asleep in a big regional meeting, with the senior vp in attendance. Someone slapped the table when they made a point and I jumped. Everyone laughed, and then my boss made matters worse by saying to the SVP: “Don’t take it personally; she does that all the time.”

  2. Amen, especially on the vacation time.

    • What an idiot I have been to have unused vacation time at the end of every year… for 40 years!

  3. Very good advice: all 3 of your younger followers need to heed your advice and consider it the gold standard. Experience in the school of hard knocks is very, very valuable.

    • I’ve noticed that the level of bitching and resentment of the boss seems to be increasing among old and young workers alike. The boss is the BOSS – they are SUPPOSED to tell you what to do.

  4. Absolutely excellent advice! I hope your younger readers take it to heart. It could save them a lot of grief.

    • And maybe even realize that the world doesn’t necessarily revolve around them?

      • So very true!

        • Susan

          “The world doesn’t revolve around them?????” Want to come give a lecture at my work? Not only do they think the world revolves around them, but they also believe that NOBODY else can possible know what they are doing but them…… Maybe I should post this on the break room board? I don’t think anyone would know we are cousins?

  5. :-D :-D :-D All good advice and soothingly laid out.
    My experience has been the young kids out of university expected the top jobs right way. None of this getting to know the company inside out and working your way up. The question came up, “What do I have to do to get your job?” Huh?

    • As VP of Finance at ESPN several years ago, I interviewed a young man for an entry level finance position. He was a recent graduate without any work experience. “What do you see yourself doing?” I asked. And he said, “I want to be in a position where I can make strategic decisions for the company.” My response: “Would you really want to work for a company that would let you make strategic decisions?”

  6. Great advice and I hope your three young follower take it (but don’t count on it :(). One of the reasons I took ‘early retirement’ from my 40 years college teaching job was the growing sense of entitlement of the ‘younger generation’. They wanted high marks without doing the work, accolades where they weren’t warranted and constant ‘stroking’ by instructors, parents, and classmates. When I presented information to first year students on ‘expected starting salaries’ most of them laughed and said they ‘wouldn’t work for peanuts’; they expected to be offered middle management jobs right out of college and to earn $70,000 a year. It was discouraging, to say the least. I talk to people who hire recent College grads for all sorts of positions (from retail sales to computer programming) and they tell me they encounter maybe 10% who are willing to work hard, do what they’re told, and go that ‘extra mile’ (that we saw as a challenge and a requirement for success); the rest either don’t make it through their probationary period or they quit (or are fired) within the first year (and then they whine about how ‘unfair’ it all is). Former colleagues (and my husband, who still teaches college) say its only getting worse. We (society) have raised a generation (or two) of young people who think they ‘deserve’ whatever they want without actually working for it. So sad. (P.S. I also didn’t always take vacation time – I’d teach ‘extra’ classes or do project work in the summers; I consider my ‘early retirement’ my own personal payback for that mistake!)

    • Not too long ago, a job applicant came here with his MOTHER. And said mother wanted to come into the job interview with him. The HR manager had to gently but firmly remind her that if her son is old enough for a job, he is old enough to handle the interview alone.

      • In my last couple of years of teaching (College!) we had parents calling and/or turning up in the office to complain about instructors and/or to argue about grades their ‘children’ had received. They didn’t like being told that their ‘children’ were considered adults and we couldn’t discuss such things with them (generally, they then sent notes in with their ‘children’, indicating that it was okay for us to talk to their parents!) YIKES!

    • I am applauding your comment, Margo.

  7. June

    /Another piece of advice for your 3 young viewers. The workplace is NOT a democracy. The boss is just that: THE BOSS. So suck it up and realize that everything you think is NOT that important.

  8. The young ones will do well to live by these suggestions. Especially, #1 and #4…oh…and #7. Oh, heck, all of them. All of them are pearls.

    • Maybe I should just sum it up as one rule: Do your job without falling asleep.

  9. Great advice :) I tell our boys the same = unless you start your own business you will always have a boss, often times the boss has been promoted above their competency, your job is to do your job and to do what the boss tells you to (within reason, nothing illegal or immoral). Not everyday is a Friday and it will be years before you’ll see a marked increase in pay – get over it!


    • You can resent the boss all you want, but she’s still the boss. You’ll get along much better if instead of fighting her, you make her look good.

  10. This should be required reading for anyone job hunting. As an HR person (and I agree with your comments on solving your own problems) I did a lot of coaching along these lines. I had people come and bitch about a problem. Then when I asked what they wanted me to do, they said nothing. I told them you can’t solve a problem if you don’t do anything. I had someone work for me in an entry level HR job. She wanted an office with a window. At that point, even I (the head of HR) didn’t have an office with a window. It was the way the building was. She also didn’t want to file and wanted to hire a temp to do that. Yep, I did the snoopy dance when she left. I often think back on how I was when I started working. I was so damn grateful to have a good paying (relatively speaking) job that I would have done anything they asked. That attitude served me well.

    • I thought about you when I was writing this, hoping you wouldn’t disagree, as I respect your expertise. I am glad to know you agree that you should face the people you have a problem with and not go crying to HR.

      • Your post inspired me to write one of my HR posts for tomorrow. Anytime you can resolve a problem yourself, it’s better than getting anyone else involved and that’s true with family and friends too.

  11. Wonderful and informative post. Forwarded it to my daughter who has an assistant (daughter of a close friend of the Office Manager). Need I say more? I told my daughter it would be great, if your post, and the comments here, should be required reading for this girl.

    • The kid would probably not recognize herself in this.

      • Probably not. She has a very high opinion of herself. Sounds familiar?

  12. I think this should be mandatory reading given to every “newbie” before they start a job! Funny but so insightful! Those of us who have “been around the block” were all shaking our heads I’m sure!!

    • Thanks. I don’t like my job every single minute, but hey, they pay me for all the minutes.

  13. I. too, have been working as long as you, and I agree with your points whole heartedly. Unfortunately I didn’t learn most of them until the last 10 years. But I also am proof that you CAN teach an old dog new tricks…just as long as you keep them in the yard!

    • Oh it’s a long process for sure. I still haven’t quite learned to take all my vacation time.

  14. Yes, all of it.

  15. Okay, okay. I get it. I hate my current job and can’t seem to stop complaining about it. You’re right it makes everyone unhappy to hear how much I dislike it. I just can’t seem to keep my mouth closed it I don’t like something.

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