ask the readers: misconceptions about work when you’re early in your career

On a post last week, commenters were talking about misconceptions about work that people often have early in their careers. For example, people new to the work world are often unsure or confused about:

* what it really means when people say you should show initiative (and that some types of initiative are okay when you’re senior and not at all okay when you’re junior, and some are never okay)
* how to balance showing enthusiasm and initiative with not being annoying
* how formally people at work interact with each other (with misconceptions on both ends of the spectrum)
* what a conversation with your boss should be like
* how much effort matters versus results
* how to figure out how much time to spend on things
* and so much more

So. What misconceptions did you have about work when you were new to working? And how did you figure things out? What misconceptions have you seen from junior people around you?

{ 1,054 comments… read them below }

  1. Kyoki*

    A big misconception I had at OldJob was thinking I was an equal to those in senior roles where I was a program development coordinator. I didn’t know that it was just a fancy name for “personal assistant” which is pretty much what I was. Thankfully I left after two years and am now working at a Fortune 100 healthcare company doing what I love!

    1. hayling*

      Yes! I grew up in a fairly non-hierarchical family and went to private school where everyone called teachers by their first names. I did not understand that you have to be deferential to people more senior than you at work.

      1. LabHeather*

        I still don’t do that… I talk to professors and senior researchers just as I would talk to the cleaner or any one of my peers… hope that I won’t get in trouble or a cultural clash for that!

        1. Isben Takes Tea*

          It can actually work for you or against you–depending on the professors! Because I went to a high school where we called teachers by their first names, I was much more comfortable talking to professors, going to their office hours, asking questions, etc. than many of my peers. But I know some friends had professors that absolutely insisted on deference. So it depends.

        2. Lea DT*

          In corporate America, you would, and the staff/admin sections of universities. If you’re a researcher or some rank of faculty, it might be a little different

          1. Spelliste*

            One perspective from the corporate America side (Fortune 50 financial institution): everyone is called by their first name, right up to the CEO.

            I think it might be best to observe what others do in a new situation, especially peers. If no information is available, you can also just ask! “I know conventions vary around how people are addressed, especially up and down the hierarchy. What are the norms here?”

      2. Landshark*

        I’ve found it to be a bit odd at my workplace (a community college). With the exception of the president, who’s pretty much always Dr. [Name], deference is pretty much relegated to introductions and conversations when students are in earshot. It’s not unusual to call the deans or department heads by their first name, so long as you’re not trying to boss them around or anything inappropriate like that.

        It works, but I also know I’m going to have to be very careful if I ever transfer to another college in the system or change jobs to observe the culture and not fall into bad habits.

    2. Master Bean Counter*

      Also once you get to a certain level, realize that these people are now your equals.

    3. Edith*

      I was actually coming here to say the opposite! I had a bit of a kerfuffle early in my career because I wasn’t treating the people in senior management like I was their equal, and the deference was making them uncomfortable.

      I wonder if this is a private/public sector thing. I was working at a nonprofit.

      1. Fortitude Jones*

        Yeah, at my company, the executives go by their first names – even the CEOs of the company. They don’t want people calling them by their last names, and my first manager here had to keep coaching me out of calling people Mr. or Ms. LastName because the formality was weirding people out.

        1. Letters*

          I struggle with that a lot as a Southerner — the feedback I’ve gotten on it is that Northerners view the Mr/Mrs/Ms salutation as age-based, and we in the South view it as more generic. Back when I was a customer service rep, I even used it for kids!

          1. Anxa*

            I’m a northerner who worked in the South for a few years and one of the nicest things about back in the North is that the etiquette matches what feels natural to me. I know northerners have a reputation for being rude, but I think it’s really just a different value system. I value my privacy, personal space, and time and I find that is accommodated much more readily here. That and I’m so happy to be going my real name again :)

            The South is totally a different animal when it comes to names. I admit I didn’t really address my boss by name because everyone was calling him Mr. B, but it felt so off to me. I didn’t want to call him by his first name and be the only one. Fortunately near the end he flat out told our whole staff at an orientation to call him Jon, Jonathan, or Mr. B, but I still felt weird. The day he got his doctorate I was so happy because Dr. B felt totally natural in that environment.

          2. jordanjay29*

            I’ll admit that my go-to address for any stranger of just about any age is Sir/Miss/Ma’am. I know some people grate at being referred to so formally, and I’ve had a few balk at “Ma’am” even when a ring is clearly visible on their hand. I’m not from the southern US, but from Minnesota, so I’m not sure whether it’s some regional thing that I picked up or just more common outside of the South than perception would suggest.

            1. Nic*

              Interesting bit of historical information, take with appropriate salt as I have no references to back it up other than my life.

              As a GRITS (Girl Raised in the South), I’ve always used ma’am and sir. I’ve gotten more folks balk at ma’am than sir by far. I’ve had it explained to me by people of slave descent and folks from the north that ma’am is short for mistress, aka slave mistress, and they don’t want to be associated with it.

              1. jordanjay29*

                I don’t know if that’s true. Ma’am is short for Madam, which I can see being misconstrued (as a Madam is also the female equivalent of pimp, especially from times before prostitution was illegal or heavily prosecuted). I’ve never heard of it being associated with a slave mistress.

              2. Dolorous Bread*

                In my experience growing up in Canada, people balk at “ma’am” because it makes them feel old or matronly. When I was a waitress I had to get used to calling women in their 60s “Miss”. Nothing to do with slavery… even teachers were “Ms. Name” instead of “Mrs”.

            2. TychaBrahe*

              What else are you supposed to call someone you don’t know? I mean, you’re in a supermarket and need to ask a question of the guy unpacking stuff in the produce section, how do you address him? You don’t know his name. You can’t see his badge. “Hey you!” is rude.

              I suppose you could say, “Excuse me, please,” instead of, “Excuse me, sir,” but the difference in formality is slight. Also, frankly, those people get a lot of abuse from the public if the Customers Suck, Retail Hell, and Not Always Right are to be believed. I sort of think you should show them an extra measure of respect to make up for it.

        2. turquoisecow*

          Everyone at my first job was referred to by their first name – but there was a still a subtle formality. I was in an entry level position, and even though the senior VP of my department was called “Bob” rather than Mr., I couldn’t talk to him as though he was a peer.

          One of the things about the English language and American culture that’s very difficult (and I say this as someone who grew up here) is that the levels of formality and deference are much simpler. In other languages or cultures, you might have different words or styles that you use in different situations. Here, it’s so much more subtle and less ingrained. If I’d called the VP Mr. Smith, I would have been looked at oddly. “Oh, no, I’m Bob! Call me Bob!” but we still weren’t friends, he didn’t want to be friends, and we were no going to be informal.

          1. jordanjay29*

            When in college, I was part of the student government where we came in very close contact with the Dean of Students and other administration. The Dean of Students in particular would prefer us to call her by her given name rather than “Dr. Lastname.” But then I got a job working in her department (she was my boss’s boss’s boss) and so I had to switch between “Dr. Lastname” in official capacity and “Firstname” outside of it. Talk about a mental workout.

            I think I’m much more comfortable with formality in a workplace than elsewhere. There might be a Pastor Dave or Doctor Kim to refer to, but otherwise I think I prefer given names in most cases when I interact with someone outside of the workplace.

        3. blushingflower*

          I was on an email once where someone at our help desk addressed the president of my division as “Mr. [LastName]”, which had two problems 1) everyone called him (and everyone else) by his first name and 2) he has a PhD, so he’s actually “Dr. [LastName].”
          I’ve also had emails from the same team addresses to “Mrs. [Flower]”. That’s my mother. I’m not married. “Ms.” doesn’t bother me as much, but basically the only people at work who ever call me “Ms. [Flower]” are internal help desk staff.

          But I think it’s important to recognize that just because you call someone by their first name, that doesn’t mean you don’t have to show deference in other ways, as @turquoisecow pointed out elsewhere.

      2. Rex*

        Not necessarily a sector thing, but definitely an org culture thing. Some are very hierarchical, and some are not. Learning which kind of org you work at is definitely a learning curve.

        1. Gaia*

          We are very hierarchical here and yet I refer to our CEO by his first name (as does everyone) and it would be *very* weird to refer to anyone as Mr. or Ms. So & So.

          I also work with a large number of scientists and nearly 90% of our company has PhDs and only one person ever insisted on being called Dr and they were such a poor culture match that they lasted less than 2 months.

      3. OhNo*

        I think it’s very company-dependent, but overall there is a “correct” amount of deference to show to your superiors in the working world that is often very different than the amount you are usually expected to show to professors/teachers. E.g.: I was expected to call my instructors Mr./Ms. ___ in high school, then Professor ___ in college, then Dr. ___ in grad school. If I’d tried any of those at work, my supervisors would have thought I was very strange.

        I have seen new workers go both ways – too formal/deferential, and too casual. Sometimes they do both to the same person!

        1. Rachel 2: Electric Boogaloo*

          At every company where I’ve worked, we all addressed each other by first names, from the CEO to the interns. That said, I’ve known people who’ve gone back to teach at schools they’ve attended and having former teachers as colleagues. I would think it would be awkward to call those teachers by their first names after years of knowing them as Mr. or Mrs. Whoever.

          1. Humble Schoolmarm*

            I’ve been there and it is distinctly awkward. My first year teaching I interned at the same school as two of my former teachers. One was my direct supervisor and it wasn’t too hard to call her by her first name as we spent a lot of time together. The other teacher I saw once a week and it was a constant struggle to call her “Jane” and not Ms. Lastname.

            1. A fly on the wall*

              There’s a subtlety to it as well. If a title isn’t the usual one, it gets used more often. I knew a high school teacher who was (as he described it) “detoxing from the ER.” He was ALWAYS Dr. so and so. Strangely, the same also seems to go for the PhDs in this world of professional doctorates.

              Coach also seems a little more durable, as do certain governmental/military and fire/police titles (although that may be cultural/organization specific). The only time I’ve ever really been confused was a grad school professor who was also a PhD, former general, and near cabinet level official. I still haven’t figured out what his pre-nominal title should have been, but it was the best leadership class I’ve ever had.

              1. jordanjay29*

                I think in those cases it depends on the capacity they are in to you. Seems like ‘professor’ or ‘Dr’ would be the approach in that case, unless it was a military school or you were an active member of a political administration at the time.

                1. A fly on the wall*

                  Yeah, context matters a lot, but there is actually a “miss manners” answer, which is what I was referring to. Socially/professionally/educationally, following the lead of those around you usually doesn’t fail.
                  In my case, for example, one of the titles I’m entitled to is alliterative and makes me laugh every time, so people tend not to use it, as I prefer. Think “Counciller Consuela,” as an example.

        2. Turtle Candle*

          I think that often people get weird norms from school in both directions, in fact. I had to call my professors “Dr. Whatsit” or etc., but on the other hand, the (good) teachers and professors I had were very patient with lengthy explanations of not just the what of the topic, but the how and the why, and actually rewarded people who argued and pushed back because it showed that they were thinking critically and learning. I know some of my friends had both the problem of finding it awkward to call a boss by their first name, and the problem of not realizing that at some point in the work world you have to stop discussing and pushing back and get to work. (I mean, a good boss will be open to a certain amount of discussion and pushback, but at the end of the day, the point of work is not to enhance your personal understanding but to get the job done.)

    4. Mack the Knife*

      Yes! I thought a coordinator was really a manager.

      Also, my mother didn’t work outside the home and my father didn’t work in an office. My only exposure to the world of work was TV shows, which are not realistic. But I didn’t know that!

      1. turquoisecow*

        OMG yes. I can’t tell you how many times (and not just in work situations) I’ve been thrown off because the outside world is not like television!

      2. misplacedmidwesterner*

        I’ve said several times that having professional parents who discussed office culture, difficult workplace situations, etc, really helped me. Hearing those conversations gave me such a good gauge on what was and was not normal and how to react to and manage situations. I know my husband and I talk about work in front of our toddler and will continue to do as our kids grow so they can absorb that stuff.

    5. Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain*

      Sometimes there is a time/place variable to it too. Calling my grandboss “Bob” in a private, casual conversation is fine. And I can join the big kids table in the breakroom. But I need to call him Dr. Algernon during a large formal meeting or in front of students, and I sit at the little kids table during a formal dinner. And the same unwritten rule applies to him as well — he calls the university president “John” when they are having a private conversation, but “Dr. Wentworth” when they are out in public or during a formal event.

    6. HelloItsMe*

      I learned the opposite. I was way too formal and too respectful and didn’t learn until 2 years later when I was about ready to quit that I could push back on things.

    7. turquoisecow*

      I had that misconception when I first started at my first Corporate Job. However, the senior executives and bosses and such made it very clear, very quickly that I was Not One of Them, in many ways like shooting down all of my ideas, not inviting me to meetings, and barely being visible in the office, never mind listening to what I said. I learned quickly that I was thought of as a low person.

      It got really annoying after I’d been there for 7 years and knew things, and was still treated like that. I moved to a different job where I was actually listened to, and it was like a breath of fresh air.

    8. Professor Marvel*

      I think it can confuse early career people when it’s a first name culture. Using a first name doesn’t mean that the boss isn’t, well, The Boss. We’ve had a problem with some new hires that don’t understand that. When Wakeen says to do something it’s not a suggestion or up for debate. Wakeen is still the boss. I worked in one non-profit where I was good friends with The Boss. At work it was Mrs. Teapots. Outside of work it was Susie. Some folks didn’t understand that I could differentiate the two.

      1. sstabeler*

        A good rule of thumb, I think, is that if it’s an instruction- “do this”- it’s not up for more than the most cursory of debates (“um, won’t that break X?””I know- do it anyway””OK then” for example) but if it’s “should we do this?” then it is up for debate.

        That, and your ability to debate a point does depend on what your actual job is- the interns that petitioned for a change to the dress code were fired above all else because they fundamentally misunderstood they were there to learn workplace norms- NOT to change said norms to make the interns more comfortable. (which is probably one reason why they were fired when a new employee might have received coaching instead- the company might have thought the interns fundamentally misunderstood what an internship is actually for)

  2. Leatherwings*

    The biggest misconception that I had in my first job and that I saw when I managed young people later in my career was the idea that things needed to be fair, and that it was appropriate to throw a fit or raise hell if something was perceived as unfair. Sometimes working is about sucking it up under less-than-ideal conditions because you don’t know the whole picture.

    1. InTheLibraryWorld*

      Can you tell this to my co-worker? He’s a 40+ year old man who throws (no joke here) a fit about having to count money or covering a shift that isn’t his own. *sigh*

      1. K.*

        I worked with a 30-year-old woman who insisted on fairness all the time, and I often wondered why she hadn’t learned that life and work weren’t always fair.

        1. Ann Furthermore*

          My stepdaughter had a friend when she was younger who couldn’t go to birthday parties, sleepovers, or anything else unless her younger sister was invited too, so that everything would always be “fair.”

          I wondered how long her parents would enforce that rule. Would her friend have to wait until her sister was 16 to get a driver’s license so that they could both drive? Would she have to wait to go to college until her sister was old enough to go too? And so on.

          1. Ann Cognito*

            That reminds me of a family I knew who gave birthday gifts to both kids on the other kid’s birthday, so the other wouldn’t feel left out. I thought it was crazy – how are they going to learn that sometimes in life it isn’t all about you; that life isn’t always fair; that when it’s someone’s birthday, it’s their day to be in the spotlight etc.

            1. Allison*

              I’ve seen parents do this with younger kids, their reason being that the kid is just too young to fully understand why they’re not the center of attention. I worry that they’re creating an expectation from a young age, and when they stop doing it, the kid will feel like the rug’s been pulled out from under them. I think a piece of cake and a goodie bag is all a kid needs to feel “included” in the celebration.

            2. Annie Mouse*

              My sister and I have usually got a present on the other’s birthday, we call it our ‘forget-me-not’. But it’s generally something small or that we might have got anyway, my last birthday my sister got a scarf and I got a t-shirt on her birthday, and something we used to ask about for each other when we were younger (our nickname for it came from my sister asking if I was getting a forgetmenot for her birthday when she was about 4). I don’t think it was ever something that was done to stop us feeling left out though, just one of our family quirks!!

              1. Dizzy Steinway*

                My parents did this. My brother nixed it when they tried to do it for the grandkids as he said actually it’s okay for them to learn that sometimes it’s not about you and to enjoy giving. I have to say he had a point.

            3. Amanda*

              My parents did that with my brother and I growing up. I’m a normal adult now. :) I don’t do it for my kids but that’s mostly because I’m lazy.

              1. Fortitude Jones*

                My former stepfather/brother’s dad did this – he’d give me a gift or money on my brother’s birthday and vice versa, but he was only doing it because I hated his ass, so he was trying to buy my affections (it didn’t work).

            4. mb*

              As a kid I preferred my siblings birthdays!

              I still got to play all the games and eat all the junk food, and I didn’t have to expend the energy of being the center of attention. I think most people realize at some point in their lives that it’s ideal to be the *guest* at a party.

          2. That Would Be a Good Band Name*

            My mom would do this. My little sister had to go everywhere and we had a 4 year age difference. I was allowed to get my license when I was 16, but I had to take her everywhere with me. It was ridiculous.

            1. blushingflower*

              I would not want my hypothetical 16-year-old taking her hypothetical 12-year-old sister with her everywhere; there are many things that are appropriate for a 16-year-old that are not for a 12-year-old (though I suppose having one’s little sister along might make one think twice about certain activities).

              1. JustaTech*

                I was *thrilled* when I learned that the laws of the state I got my license in wouldn’t allow anyone under 18 in the car with a new driver without an adult. Freedom from my little brother!
                And then I read the bit about “unless it’s family”. Ugh.
                So I never went anywhere (not that I had a car).

            2. Stone Satellite*

              My parents were much more reasonable about it. When I got my driver’s license, it was not the expectation that I would take my younger sibling *everywhere* with me (and I’m sure sib would not have appreciated spending 4 weeks of 12-hour days during summer vacation watching me at marching band practice), but that since my parents paid for the car, the insurance, and the gas, I had certain responsibilities like picking up sib from school every day and ensuring no one was seriously injured until my parents got home from work. Even as a teenager it seemed like a pretty fair deal to me, but I had pretty much no rebellious streak.

            3. SimonTheGreyWarden*

              My mom grew up with two close friends whose mothers always made them take younger siblings with them. (Mom had an older brother and they hated each other so my grandma didn’t do that, though she would if she had thought my uncle and mom wouldn’t murder each other somehow.) She promised never to do that with her kids, and so while there were one or two times where I might be asked to take/watch my younger sister, it was very rare and mom always treated it like babysitting (so I would get paid or get some kind of small trinket for doing it, or they would buy my gas, etc). It helped that there is almost a decade between me and my only sibling so less expectation to “wait for her”, but still nice.

          3. zora*

            Wait, what?!! Are you sure you didn’t accidentally fall into the plot of The Taming of the Shrew??? That is crazy that parents would do that in this century, wow.

        2. Middleman*

          “Life isn’t fair” isn’t a reason not to advocate for fairness whenever reasonable and possible. That’s just a fatuous and easy thing to say to justify complacency and avoid arguments.

            1. Lynly*

              Yep. There is a difference between “Fair” and “Equitable” that so many people don’t understand. And that S etimes makes me a “cranky HR” person. ;-)

          1. Gaia*

            True, but often people think “fair” is “exactly the same” and that just isn’t true. In the work place, it isn’t “unfair” to treat different employees differently so long as you aren’t doing so on the basis of protected class or favoritism, etc. For example, one of my employees is allowed to adjust his schedule so he can volunteer at a school once per week. No one else gets that perk. He gets it for a number of reasons and it isn’t “unfair” it is just the reality of our work.

          2. Falling Diphthong*

            There’s a distinction between trying to be fair in cases where you have influence, and complaining ‘it’s not fair’ and expecting that to be a killer argument elsewhere. Very often the thing not being fair is the universe.

    2. Kittymommy*

      I saw this too (and probably had myself but I’ve blocked it out!). Fair, right, and legal are not the same and are not interchangeable.

      1. Hellanon*

        *I would add that, “fair, right, legal, and sometimes just what you need to do” are not all the same thing…

        1. NotAnotherManager!*

          This was my mantra for years. I couldn’t get anything for people with more taxing and crappier jobs because it wouldn’t be “fair” to others. Fair =/= same. Thank goodness the folks I work for now get that, and there is more flexibility to reward people who do more or get better results.

      2. kbeers0su*

        I feel like this is what we could boil most of the posts on here down to- is it fair, is it legal, is it right.
        Oh, and “how totally bizarre is this thing?!”

      3. MegaMoose, Esq*

        Just last night I was chatting with my spouse about the most common misconceptions I’ve seen here about US employment law, and I think that confusing “fair” and “legal” is definitely at the root of many or most of those errors.

    3. AndersonDarling*

      Oh! That was so hard to understand! The higher someone is on the corporate ladder, the more they get away with.
      I think some of this was tied to work being my whole world when I was younger, but as I got older I learned to ignore the office politics. If the CEO doesn’t come in till noon everyday, who cares. But when I was young, I thought it was a sin against humanity. Ha!

      1. Koko*

        Yes! And really, it’s not so much that they’re “getting away with” stuff – although that’s absolutely what it looks like when you’re significantly junior. It’s that they’re given more discretion to set up their own work routines, while junior employees have their work routines clearly defined by someone else. So in the case of the CEO, it’s not that she’s expected to be in at 9:00 AM and everyone lets it slide that she’s “late” when she comes in at noon. It’s that she’s decided she’s most effective when she arrives at noon, and that’s how she plans her day.

        It’s hard when you’re new to working to see and understand the difference between someone who (through good management) is given the liberty of setting their own schedule to meet their goals, and someone who (through poor management) is allowed to violate the schedule they’re supposed to follow.

        1. KayBoyd*

          Exactly. My boss’s schedule is all over the map. I keep up with her through her calendar, but she will occasionally let us know she is taking a day or going to be in late. I am aware she just spend two weeks staying late wrestling with our budget reports. So the next week she breaths a little. I sometimes have to remind junior people of this when they say they wish they could just “take off” for no reason that when they get the opportunity to be more flexible with their schedule they will also be dealing with projects that will not always mean they can leave right at 5.

          1. Amber T*

            I’m getting to that point now. I’m still not sure how many vacation days some of our higher ups are “allowed” to take (I know what the employee handbook says and I know how many they actually take, and those numbers aren’t the same). Junior me would get… not frustrated, because that’s too strong of a word, but I would definitely notice it and think “that doesn’t seem fair.” You get X amount of days off a year, and there are Y amount of working hours, and that’s it! Flexibility didn’t exist in my mind. I was also working only 8 hours a day, sometimes 10 but would get paid overtime, and once I left work for the day, that was in. Since I’ve been promoted and regularly work 9-10 hours every day, sometimes more, and sometimes on weekends, I’m realizing that flexibility is wonderful. Yeah, I definitely put in more hours than I used to, but I also had a two hour doctor appointment and didn’t get “docked” anything. I had to take a few hours off to drive my dad someplace, didn’t matter. No one cared that I was late because my car got buried after the snow storm. I’m allowed to cut out a bit early next week without using vacation time.

            It’s really nice for your company to trust you to get your work done and not penalize you for outside life stuff.

      2. Anon in NOVA*

        EXACTLY. Yes, the director of the organization might work from home when other people aren’t allowed to, or show up late one day, etc. However, they’re also expected to check email on vacation, sometimes even CANCEL a vacation, respond to things 24/7, etc. They often have meetings and events outside of work hours to attend. In my experience, the people who complain about what a director or CEO are doing are also the same ones that would through a huge fit if they had those expectations placed on them.

        1. HR in the city*

          I agree. Sometimes it’s hard for those new to the work force to get that a director or CEO is actually working 24/7 and most times they are exempt so they don’t get overtime for hours worked over 40 in a week. Sometimes they get comp time but that’s not true at all organizations. In my experience the people complaining are the ones that show up exactly at 8 and leave right at 5 (or whatever the schedule is). So they only put in 8 hours a day and never anything more. I myself show up a little before 8 and usually don’t start getting my stuff ready until 5 and I do this just because I like a few extra minutes to get settled or if I realize that I forgot to do something personal I can do that really quick before my work day starts at 8.

    4. I Herd the Cats*

      This, so much. And a general inability to grasp that the further up the food chain you are, and/or the more valuable to the company, the less some rules apply to you. If my CEO shows up to work in jeans, this is not an invitation for everyone else to violate the dress code.

      1. irritable vowel*

        I would add that, for someone moving up the food chain, sometimes it takes longer than it should to realize that you can let some of these rules slide. This might be particularly true of those of us who are typically rule-followers. I’ve been in positions of increasing responsibility/level in my organization for 12 years now, and it wasn’t until about year 11.5 that I realized I had the option to tell people at my level or below not to schedule me for early-morning meetings (among other things).

    5. Anon today!*

      It’s funny…this comes up in my home all the time. My kids are in middle school and love telling me how things aren’t fair, how they don’t like working on projects with certain classmates, how they don’t like how the teachers keep them from socializing during lesson plans. I tell the kids that this is just like work and life. It isn’t fair, you’re not going to like all of your co-workers, and your boss is going to be there to make sure your work gets done.

      1. Jessesgirl72*

        I always ask “Fair to whom?”

        99% of the time, it’s more a misconception that equal is fair.

        And then there is the fact that the perceived unfairness is often compensation for something else. The CEO can come in at noon wearing jeans because he was up working until Midnight while the Jr Assistant works a straight 9-5. The Jr Assistant likely wouldn’t want to work a CEO’s hours in exchange for wearing jeans.

        1. hbc*

          Yes, what’s missing is the perspective on what’s fair on balance. It’s amazing how some people can go from whining about the free airline miles and paid meals the salespeople are collecting to going on a business trip and bitching about how they’re not paid for flying out on a Sunday.

        2. Alton*

          Yes, I like this distinction. I would say that workplaces should be fair, but I would also say that fairness means following the law, being inclusive, having standards that make sense for the business or role, and not discriminating against people based on their gender, race, etc. It doesn’t mean that everyone is always going to be treated exactly the same or that things will always turn out like you want. If you’re a woman and you keep getting passed up for raises while your male colleagues earn more for the same type of work, that can be unfair. Working less desirable hours than someone else might or having to deal with difficult clients might just be part of the job. You have to think about what “fair” really means. “Fair” doesn’t mean getting your way all the time–maybe means being treated equitably and having reasonable compensation for the job that you’re doing.

          The trade-off thing is important to understand, too. A lot of jobs that appear to have more flexibility actually have a lot more pressure or less work-life balance.

          (I work in academia, and I’m kind of in the middle when it comes to stuff like dress. I have to dress a little nicer than the professors who come to work wearing jeans or workout clothes, but I like that I don’t have to dress very professionally like the upper-level administration and people whose jobs involve lots of meetings with the president and provost. It’s a nice middle-aged to be in.)

        3. Nichole*

          I might work the CEO’s hours in exchange for the CEO’s pay compared to that of Jr Assistant.

          I do think there can be a very real feeling of unfairness if the rule comes from the CEO/their team that there shall be no wearing of jeans “because we need to maintain a professional environment” or no working from home “because employees can’t possibly be productive that way” and then they frequently wear jeans or work from home. If the rules are less…arbitrary, I guess, if it were “no wearing jeans when there could be a customer” and as ceo they know when customers will come or “your role doesn’t support working from home”. I don’t know, as long as there’s a reason related to the rule, rather than just ‘well, I do a lot so I can make my own rules in addition to the rules for you’.

          1. Turtle Candle*

            And sometimes the reason is “because you’ve proved you’re responsible.” At my company, work from home is allocated on a case by case basis, and a big part of it is the manager’s assessment as to whether the employee in question is responsible and capable of self-directed work; someone who seems to need a lot of handholding or has trouble setting their own schedule won’t get the okay. Similarly, someone who’s proved that they can manage their time and meet deadlines consistently might get approval to take vacation near a big deadline because their manager trusts that they’ll still get everything done on time, whereas someone who has deadline issues or tends to procrastinate might not.

            The problem, of course, is that it can feel really arbitrary, especially if you don’t have the big picture of how your managing of time and tasks compares to your coworkers’. (And sometimes it *is* arbitrary, if it’s playing favorites and not a realistic assessment of the work habits and quality.) Ideally a manager would be very direct about it and actually say what the problem is, but even there, if it’s something as inherently qualitative as “how good is this person at working in a self-directed way with minimal supervision?” the expanation might still not be sufficient to satisfy an employee.

            1. sstabeler*

              The thing is, that IS actually fair in both cases, because if the employee that needs handholding becomes responsible and capable of self-directed work, they will be allowed WFH. Same as the procrastinator would get flexibility about vacation if they sort out their procrastination issues.

              1. Turtle Candle*

                Oh yes, I totally agree. It’s just that for people new in their careers, the reasoning may not be obvious or something they can self-assess, so they may perceive it as unfair even when it isn’t. Another common misconception, I think.

      2. Koko*

        Ah, my parents loved crushing my expectations of fairness! My dad’s favorite line was, “Who ever told you life would be fair?” while my mom’s was, “This is as fair as it gets!”

        1. LizB*

          My parents established “you can’t always get what you want” as our family motto when I was very very little. And yes, my dad would always sing the song. He is very tone deaf. It got the point across.

          1. CM*

            I sing that song to my kids too! Poor kids.
            I’m also a fan of “You get what you get and you don’t get upset” (or its cousin, “you git what you git and you don’t throw a fit”).

          2. Anon today!*

            OMG…Since they were toddlers I’ve been saying “You can’t always get what you want. It’s so true they even wrote a song to remind you” (at which point I break into song).

          3. misplacedmidwesterner*

            I’m so glad other people use that song too! When I first sang it to my toddler, she was skeptical until it turned out all her grandparents and aunts and uncles knew it and were willing to sing it to her too.

            My favorite life isn’t fair saying is “the squeaky wheel gets the grease. The squeaky wheel needs the grease so it won’t squeak anymore.” (And you can go further, if it keeps squeaking even after it gets the grease, maybe it’s actually broken and needs a bigger fix or discarded)

        2. Merida Ann*

          My parents were very clear to my siblings and me that fair did not mean getting the same thing at the same time (example: 13 year old allowed to go to an event the 8 year old wasn’t old enough) and they established a rule that we would be docked 25 cents from our allowance every time we complained that something wasn’t fair. I can’t remember if they ever actually docked the money, and if so, it was only once or twice, but the reminder of it was enough that we all eliminated the phrase from our vocabulary pretty much immediately. Now that we’re all grown, any time we hear “it’s not fair”, we’ll still jokingly say, “Oops, that’s a quarter!”

      3. Parenthetically*

        Yeah, I tell my students a lot that fair doesn’t mean same, and that just because you don’t like something doesn’t mean it’s unfair.

      4. Katie the Fed*

        The other thing people need to realize is that there may be very good reasons why someone appears to get extra privileges, and you may have absolutely no right to know what those reasons are.

        Example: I have an employee who disappears a few times a day for 15 minutes or so. He’s Muslim – he goes to pray. I also know he makes up the hours. Another one leaves early one day every week so he can go to a therapy appointment to deal with his anxiety. I’m fine with it – he’s a great employee and it helps him, and he makes up the time.

        None of that is any other employee’s business.

        1. Bagpuss*

          Yes. We had an employee a few years ago who was frequently late or left early.

          What we as her employers knew, but other staff members didn’t, was that she had been diagnosed with terminal cancer, and the absences and lateness we to do with her medical appointments and how well she was feeling at any given time. She didn’t, initially want her coworkers to know, and did want to keep coming to work (we made the choice to continue to pay her full time anyway, and had made her aware that we would continue to do so if she wasn’t well enough to work at all)

    6. Rat Racer*

      …and along those lines, that HR exists to be an ally of the worker bee when something “unfair” occurs.

      1. fposte*

        Or that there are fairness police in general. I presumed it was just a matter of finding the right person to notify of the unfairness and then it would be rectified.

        1. Katie the Fed*

          When I fully, REALLY accepted that life isn’t fair, everything got a lot easier.

      2. HR in the city*

        You hit the nail on the head. HR is not about fairness. We work mostly with what is legal and help with the implementation of policies, procedures, union contracts. Whatever your organization has. I can’t tell you the number of times we have an employee call to complain about something and when you ask if they have talked to their supervisor they say no. Well HR is not going to step in between a supervisor and an employee. On the other side we have supervisors that call and say they think something is going on with this employee and when we ask if they talked to the employee & what their response was- they say they haven’t talked to the employee. So all they are doing is making assumptions.

    7. Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain*

      Add to that fair does not mean equal. Some people are going to be allowed special privileges to compensate for other inequalities.

      The boss may show up at noon, but he might also be required to do business out of the office, after work or on a weekend. It’s not equal if some workers are allowed to wear jeans, but maybe they are required as part of their job to set up tables and chairs, or going to meetings with clients where jeans would be more appropriate than a skirt.

    8. Lemon Zinger*

      Yes! And it’s important to balance this with being careful to not let your employer take advantage of you. When I started my current position, I would check emails at home, respond to my boss when she emailed me in the middle of the night, and stay late all the time with no additional compensation.

      Now I know that my boss is a workaholic, but that doesn’t mean I need to be one too. I say no to things! I ask for comp time if I have to work on weekends, and I turn things down if I genuinely can’t handle them or fit them into my schedule.

    9. namelesscommentater*

      I think it’s about identifying what needs to be fair. I think the whole “life isn’t fair” shtick can be used to justify genuine discrimination. How to identify the difference between “people who travel get extra perks” and “all of the men get choice assignments regardless of skill” is really challenging. [[Especially taking into account privilege and how much more likely a white man is to step into a role that has perks.]]

      I agree throwing a fit isn’t the best way to go about correcting it. But “fair” is still a pretty good indicator if something is right. And I’d argue that I want to do right in the workplace, not just the legal minimum. I’ve been really glad to call people out on unfairness, when backed with “man 1, 2, and 3 got a title and pay change when asked to do the work you’re asking me to do for them now” and that I didn’t settle for “well sometimes life is unfair, you do what you gotta do.”

      1. Natalie*

        Yes, definitely. It’s certainly important to understand that there will be different pay/perks/etc based on position and seniority, but that doesn’t mean that every kind of treatment is fair game and should be tolerated without complaint. And not just discrimination, but also wage & hour issues, safety, and so on.

      2. Leatherwings*

        This is a good point. It’s a balancing act. Sometimes when something is unfair, it’s also wrong and you should push back! Other times, it’s something you need to suck up. I have to say that in my early career I wasn’t particularly good at figuring out that balance. Everything that was unfair felt like an outrageous slight to me and I didn’t deal with it well.

      3. Rusty Shackelford*

        This is a good point. You can blow off people who think “fair” means “equal,” or “fair” means “I get the perks of that person’s position but I don’t have the same responsibilities.” But sometimes “fair” means “right,” as in, “it’s right to let this person manage men even though she’s a woman.”

      4. Turtle Candle*

        Yes, and this is where looking at numbers and trends can be a big help. If people who are high performers get, say, more vacation or bigger bonuses than lower performers, that’s not unfair. But if all of your high performers are all “coincidentally” straight white men, or people who are friends with the boss outside of work, or whatever, that’s something to look seriously at. (And the problem could be happening at any number of levels–at hiring, at the amount of support different people get to allow them to excel, at analyzing their level of performance, etc.)

    10. Bonky*

      …and sometimes things aren’t fair – they go beyond not being fair – and your only recourse is to suck it up or quit. In my second job, a bunch of payslips were left on the printer, and I discovered that the other editor, who was 100% more male than me and 100% lazier (he spent the day twiddling his thumbs while I carried the whole department) was being paid over a third more than I was. I raised it with management. Crickets. I ended up leaving.

      In my first editorial job, just out of university, I had to work from a kitchen chair on a door that was resting on two filing cabinets at a height way above what I, at 5’2″, could reasonably work on. It gave me a cripplingly bad back. It wasn’t the only offensively awful thing about the working conditions there; the water in the office was non-potable because pigeons kept dying in the tank, so we had to supply our own drinking water (and think hard about whether it was worse to wash your hands after using the toilet or to leave them). Wasn’t anything I could do there, either; or in the job on the shop floor where we were made to wear heels all day on a hard wood floor and not allowed to sit down outside lunchtime.

      I sincerely hope that those of us who’ve worked in horrible conditions early in our careers made a mental note at the time; and that if we’ve got to positions where we’re employing other people and are able to affect office environment and culture, we’re making things better than we had it.

    11. anonynony*

      Or even if you are trying to make things “fair,” understand that there is often more than one perspective on that. For example when a junior employee asks for comp time because they had to work late one night or work the weekend, that seems fair in isolation. However is it fair that that employee get comp time that shoves more work onto someone else who works more hours almost every week than the employee who wants comp time?

      1. sstabeler*

        maybe, but be careful not to fall into the trap of False Dilemma- the issue might not be the comp time, but understaffing. (or, for that matter, it could be a particularly cruel Hobson’s Choice where the employer is mandating the overworked employee covers, when there’s a third employee who could cover)

    12. Nervous Accountant*

      I’ve struggled with this in the past and still kinda feel it.

      My previous coworker, who I’ve posted about, gave me a hard time over a lot of things, and now that he’s gone, realized he left a huge mess behind. He was incompetent but hid it very well.

      He was getting paid way more than me. I know it all has to do with how much we advocate for ourselves, experience etc, but knowing they were willing to pay him X amount AND make a counter offer….just..ugh.

      Very appropraite timing for this post.

    13. Mary Dempster*

      My favorite quote of all time about fairness is by Louis CK.

      “That’s right,” he says, and continues cooking. Sometimes she gets things you don’t and sometimes, it goes the other way. That’s just how life works.”
      “But daddy,” she pleads, “it’s not fair!”
      “Who said anything about fair?” he asks, a little incredulous. “You were just fine without it until she got it. What’s the problem?”
      “It’s just not fair,” she insisted. “If she gets one, I should get one too.”
      “Look,” he says, “turning toward her and leaning down to meet her eyes “the only time you need to worry about what’s your neighbor’s bowl is if you’re checking to make sure they have enough.”

      1. krysb*

        “[T]he only time you need to worry about what’s your neighbor’s bowl is if you’re checking to make sure they have enough.” I’m pretty sure this is my favorite quote from anything of all time. It’s just beautiful.

    14. Honeybee*

      This is funny that you bring this up, because I’ve recently had an issue at work that I think was partially based on our leadership’s perceptions of millennials’ perceptions of fairness. Basically, I and my millennial colleagues have never expected the workplace to be “fair” – we expected to be assigned or given opportunities on the basis of skill and knowledge – but I think our managers think we expect things to be fair, and a recent minor issue arose because of this. (Ironically, I think the way it ended up ended not being “fair” at all.)

    15. imjustdoingmybest*

      Your last sentence is really compelling to me. I’m early in my career right now and my need for everything to be “fair” is definitely the biggest mistake I’ve made so far. In my first full-time position, I complained all the time because I just didn’t think things were “fair”, and this was only fueled by one of my co-workers who I had developed a rapport with, who would complain constantly about how everything was unfair to him, even though he had significantly more experience than I did. While it was a temp position, I should have treated it like a permanent one, but I let my sense of entitlement get in the way (millennials, am I right?).

      Luckily, I’ve learned my lesson, and I’m giving it my all in the position that I’m in right now with no complaints, just my eyes and ears open and willing to do whatever is asked of me. My former co-worker has continued to complain, and has gotten into yelling matches with his boss and multiple conflicts with his other co-workers. I’m learning from both his mistakes and my own, and I’m hoping to have a long and happy career ahead of me :)

  3. alter_ego*

    I know when I first started working, after about a week, my team lead had to stop me to say that I didn’t need to ask/tell him every time I went to the bathroom, or ran across the street for coffee.

    The other big one, which I thought was just me, but now that I’m training interns, I’m realizing is common, is not telling people I’m done with something. I would have 5 different senior members assigning me tasks when I got hired. So I would attach all the teapot spouts for Wakeen, then get started on assessing teapot lid strength for Peggy without letting Wakeen know. I guess it just didn’t occur to me that Wakeen would need to do something with the now assembled teapots, and he was waiting on me to finish my task to do his job. So 3 hours later, he’d be like “how are those spouts coming?” and I’d tell him they got done two hours ago, and he’d have to refrain from strangling me. Now that I have interns of my own doing it to me, I have no idea how he resisted the temptation.

    1. DevAssist*

      Ohhh see, i think this one does (unfortunately) vary by workplace! My office could be more casual, but my manager is very micro-managing and my coworkers and I are always telling each other when we use the restroom and are not allowed to leave the premises to grab coffee (we can’t even make coffee during work hours!)

      1. RVA Cat*

        WTH?! Is your manager some kind of militant anti-caffeine crusader? I mean this seems extreme if you were in Utah or something….

        1. DevAssist*

          My boss perceives taking the 5 seconds it takes to make coffee as a waste of essential working time.

          1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

            Ugh—this kind of tyrannical/imperious attitude is so unreasonable and loses so much good will and credibility with your team.

      2. Gen*

        Yes this varies a lot, a family member of mine recently walked out of a job because they told him he needed express permission to go to the toilet (or preferably only go during breaks).

        1. RVA Cat*

          Wasn’t there something in the news recently about (IIRC) Chinese sweatshop workers at the iPhone factory being pressured to wear Depends so they don’t take bathroom breaks?

          1. Elizabeth H.*

            This happens in the US too. Lots written about it in re poultry processing plants but undoubtedly happens in other types of factories here. I am really disgusted that we allow this type of employer practice in this country.

            1. Observer*

              Well, technically, we don’t allow it. It’s illegal to not allow “reasonable access” to the bathroom.

              What happens in practice is a different issue. (At least some of the poultry plants named in the most recent set of articles I saw denied the charges, for the record.)

        2. turquoisecow*

          I’d walk out for that. Ugh. What if someone has a medical issue, or is pregnant, and needs to use the toilet more often than you might consider regular? Or what if the boss is in a meeting – do you interrupt?

          1. turquoisecow*

            Although, I guess it depends on the type of work. When I was a cashier, and managed them, we had a woman who was pregnant and had to go more often than on break. They couldn’t just walk off the register whenever, they had to get permission. But once you get to a certain type of job, that’s just juvenile.

      3. Violet Rose*

        Bahaha, this reminds me of the CEO of the company I used to work for. I used to take about 10 minutes to go to the bathroom, refill my water, etc. every hour and a half, which worked out to about 4 breaks per day (not including lunch, which was 1/2 hour *shorter* than conventional). He considered this egregious theft of time that he was personally paying for, out of his personal pocket, personally. So glad to be out of there!

        1. jordanjay29*

          And sometimes you need mental health breaks, just stepping away for a few minutes to clear your head after a difficult problem or interaction.

    2. AdAgencyChick*

      “I know when I first started working, after about a week, my team lead had to stop me to say that I didn’t need to ask/tell him every time I went to the bathroom, or ran across the street for coffee.”

      I can’t help but think of Shawshank Redemption reading this!

        1. AdAgencyChick*

          Nice. My imagination didn’t quite go that far, but of course now I can hear him saying it!

        2. Mabel*

          Except that these days, it seems that grocery store baggers actually do need to get permission to leave their post. I have not worked in a grocery store, but that’s what I gather from reading notalwaysright and notalwaysworking.

          1. turquoisecow*

            I was a cashier, and managed cashiers for many years. You couldn’t just leave the register if you had to go, and you couldn’t just close your lane without telling the supervisor you were doing that. So we were encouraged to save bathroom breaks for breaks. Of course, if there was an emergency, sometimes the supervisor would cover for you for a few minutes, (like when we had a pregnant employee) but it wasn’t always possible.

          2. Rachel 2: Electric Boogaloo*

            Same with receptionists. You have to get somebody to cover the desk/phones for you before you can leave the desk. (There’s generally someone else assigned to cover the desk during lunch. At a previous job, each of us in the department had a specific day of the week when we’d cover the front desk during lunch hour.)

      1. Happy Lurker*

        When I first saw that scene in Shawshank, I yelled at the TV. Both grocery stores I worked in you had to have permission to use the rest room. If you asked one Supervisor and they forgot to write you down on the board, the second supervisory would ask you where you had been. Most of the time, you could only go on a scheduled break.

        1. jordanjay29*

          That was my experience as a cashier while in retail as well. Micromanagement hell that was. I switched to another department when I could, and found that I could arrange my breaks at the convenience of myself and my coworkers, not according to some schedule.

          I never had a problem getting a bathroom break when I needed it, even if I had to wait a minute for someone to come cover. At worst case, the supervisor would do it themselves so I didn’t ruin a pair of pants.

    3. Tuckerman*

      Regarding your second one, I’ve started being explicit with interns about deadlines and when to contact me. I realized it was not really clear when they needed to come to me. I’ll either say something like, let me know when this is finished, or please have this finished by next Friday and we’ll touch base then.

      1. Princess Carolyn*

        Good! I’m six years into my career and I’ve finally gotten good about asking “When do you need it?” and “Should I let you know when it’s done?” because so few people seem to think of that when they’re assigning me work.

        1. Amber T*

          “I’m working on A, B, and C, which is the priority?” That’s another phrase that I’m getting really good use out of.

          1. jordanjay29*

            I love this one so much. Especially when C gets dumped on me halfway through A and B. I asked one manager and he was stunned for a minute before actually clarifying how much time to devote to each. I wasn’t really pleased to split my time that much, but it satisfied him so it worked.

        2. turquoisecow*

          the “When do you need this?” question is helpful when prioritizing — provided you get people to answer that question honestly. Sometimes the person will reply “ASAP” or claim that it’s urgent when it’s really not.

    4. Excel Slayer*

      Ooo, yes. I had the “you don’t need to tell people you’re going to the bathroom” one too.

      1. EddieSherbert*

        Same! (but to be fair, my first job out of school was one where you DID need permission to do anything… my second job finally set me straight).

    5. Another Lawyer*

      Also: letting senior members know what your immediate workload looks like so if Wakeen asks for all of the spouts to be attached after Peggy asks for a teapod lid assessment, I immediately tell Wakeen that Peggy asked for a teapot assessment so I’ll be finishing that first, barring other instructions.

    6. Thumper*

      I’ve been guilty of the second thing as well. My logic being that because the person was higher up than me on the work ladder, I was supposed to wait for them to ask me about it rather than me interrupting their work.

    7. irritable vowel*

      I had a staff member a while ago, new to the workforce, who did just the opposite – he would say casually, “well I’ll be heading off for a week of vacation on Monday.” I’m fine with professional staff setting their own schedule, but I had to reinforce with him that a little more advance notice of time away was needed in our workplace. (What I found harder to communicate was the unspoken expectation that advance notice should be phrased in the form of a request for time off, not just an informing of plans. There’s a certain etiquette to this that is difficult to grok if you’re new to it – starting a career is like travelling to a foreign country in this way!)

      1. alter_ego*

        See, and I’m sure part of the problem is that ask vs request is totally dependent on work culture. I was told after my first couple of vacation requests that I shouldn’t be asking, I should be telling. Obviously I would need to give adequate notice, but if I’m going to take a week off in July, and it’s January, my email should just say “I need the week of the 22-29th off in July” so that the department head knows to add it to the calendar. As far as I know, no request made more than a couple of weeks out has every been turned down.

        1. Amber T*

          Ditto. I’ve taken a hybrid approach with my manager. “I’d like to take the 22nd-29th off, are there any conflicts?” It gives my manager the opportunity to check there aren’t any deadlines or anything without sounding like “may I please?”

        2. blushingflower*

          Yep. After years of working places where I had to submit formal leave requests and wait for approval (which sometimes only came when you saw the work schedule for the relevant period), it took me a little time to adjust to just sending an email saying “I’m on vacation X to Y”. Sometimes I will say “unless there is a problem with that”.

      2. A Bag of Jedi Mind Tricks*

        This. Only the person was not new to the workforce–or so she says. She was suppose to be at work by 8:30am , but would stroll in at 9-9:15. When the supervisor would ask her why she didn’t call to let her know she was running late, she thought the supervisor was picking on her. She just could not get her head around the fact that she was expected to show up for work at a certain time and if she was going to be late, she needed to call and let the supervisor know.

        1. Squeeble*

          A coworker at my last job was exactly like this! When she got a formal reprimand for being late regularly, she complained about it to me. We held the same hourly job, and it was largely customer-service based. -_-

        2. LJ*

          To be fair, in some workplaces, especially salaried jobs, this honestly doesn’t matter. My job now, and my previous job, generally allowed for coming in any time between 8 and 9:30 or so and leaving between say, 4 and 7, as long as it roughly averages out to a 40 hour week and you get your work done. I could see this being a tough transition to grasp if you switched to a job where specific hours mattered more. Of course, as soon as your manager tells you the policy, you should be able to follow it.

      3. Nic*

        My work has a really frustrating system for this. We monitor computer systems, so we have to be staffed at least X amount 24/7/365. You can only work on the systems you’ve been trained on, which means 2-3 systems for a new-ish person, with 10 total.

        When you want time off you email the supervisors, who add you to a daily email that goes out saying Nicole Roachworth who normally works X system is requesting off 3/25 – 3/27 9p-8a. Then if someone can take part or all of that time you are approved. If someone can only cover half of that time, or all but one day in the middle of a week…it gets difficult. Even if you put in with months’ notice, have already bought the tickets, etc.

    8. HisGirlFriday*

      This is so funny to me — after 15 +/- years of working somewhere that I didn’t have to do that, I now work in an office where we routinely tell each other when we’re going to be away from our desks, for whatever reason, simply because we’re a very small office and we all have very specialized jobs, so if someone calls in and wants to talk to Wakeen, I need to know if he’s going to be 30 more seconds because he’s getting coffee or 30 minutes because he’s doing something in another part of the building.

      1. HR in the city*

        I’d say this is common to small offices. I work in a 7 person office and we have to cover the phones and make sure someone is always here when we are open. We stagger lunches which helps for this but we don’t have set break times so that means that sometimes I am telling my coworker- running to the bathroom or getting coffee.

    9. Karo*

      That was totally me in your second point! For me it came from being used to having due dates on projects and the teacher asking for them once the date came. I kept a project on my desk for weeks after I was done with it because my boss never asked for it so I didn’t know what else to do with it.

    10. SM*

      Oh, that’s a good one! Similarly, when I first started I didn’t understand prioritization. So I’d get assigned a handful of tasks, and just pick whatever one sounded most interesting to start on. Thankfully my boss was very patient with me, although you could tell she was pissed that I totally ignored ‘the thing that needed to be done today’ to work on ‘the long-term pet project’ someone suggested for when I had down time. Now with my junior reports, when I assign them a task I ask what else is on their plate and help walk them through how to prioritize it. I also make it clear what’s going on after they finish the task to give them context. For example – when you finish these documents, I’m going to review them and then send them to the client. I’d like the client to have them by the end of the day.

    11. MJ (Aotearoa/New Zealand)*

      Re: your first point, we’re the opposite — we’re in a very earthquake-prone area so by force of habit, we always tell someone if we’re leaving the building! (Most of us learned that one the hard way.)

    12. IANAL (I Argue Nightly About Llamas)*

      Same! I worked in retail throughout high school and college, where my managers insisted that I alert them when I was going to the bathroom or stepping into the stockroom to catch my breath. My first office job, my coworkers friendly-teased me that I was constantly telling them where I was going when I went away from my desk.

    13. emma2*

      I started my first job a year ago, and initially felt guilty every time I left my chair for any reason. I minimized the number of times I went to the toilet, and only allowed myself one coffee/snack break in the afternoon. After awhile, I realized I was being ridiculous – as long as I got my work done, no one was paying attention to how many times I was getting up to go to the toilet or to get a snack.

  4. Manders*

    When I was new to the working world, I thought that my boss knew everything about my work situation, and that if something was wrong or making me unhappy my boss would notice and fix it. If something didn’t get fixed, I assumed that the boss knew and had decided not to do anything about it. I know now that I’m the only person who’s fully immersed in my own day-to-day work, and I have to speak up when I want my boss to fix something (although it’s still difficult to do in practice).

    1. nnn*

      I wish we could upvote on this site for the sole purpose of upvoting this! This is a misconception I had not only of the work world but also of the adult world, and discovering that it doesn’t work this way has greatly improved my quality of life in all areas.

      1. hermit crab*

        Yes, me too! Something I’ve really struggled with — in a lot of contexts — is overcoming the idea of “it doesn’t count if you ask for it.” I think it goes along with impostor syndrome, because when you eventually ask for something and you get it, you end up wondering if you actually deserve it or if it’s “just” because you asked. But recognition doesn’t just rain down from on high in real life!

      1. Naruto*

        It matters, though, if the boss is receptive about hearing about those things that aren’t working right and could be changed for the better. Some aren’t.

        I do think you should assume your boss is one of the good ones starting out and approach them as if they’re a reasonable manager until they prove differently, of course — although that can be hard to do if you’ve come from a toxic workplace!

    2. myswtghst*

      This is a great point! I had a similar mindset, and realized over the years that my boss had her own work to do, on top of managing 4-8 of us at any given time, so if something was an issue, I’d get better results by bringing it to her attention.

      Hand in hand with that was learning how to give that feedback to my boss – not waiting til I was stressed beyond belief and breaking down in a one-on-one, but proactively going to her with a plan or an alternative or at least some evidence that I’d thought it through and needed help finding a solution.

    3. Michele*

      Yes! I was going to post something very similar. I had two related misconceptions. One was that my hard work would be noticed if I didn’t speak up (so, so wrong) and the other was that my boss would initiate conversations with me about any problems that were occurring and ask if anything was wrong. We have large signs that we put on equipment in our lab that needs to be fixed. The boss walks through the lab, but somehow never sees the signs. Then he is shocked when we don’t have enough equipment to get our work done. Of course, I would feel that he must know the equipment is out of service and it was somehow still my fault for not getting things done.

    4. Anansi*

      I wrote something similar further down about managing up, and I 100% agree with you about making assumptions about management. Even now, I will think something seems obvious, and we must not be doing something because management made a decision not to. But always worth checking with the boss to say, “hey, I’m sure this is probably getting handled but X seems to be a really big problem, and we are doing something about it, right?”

    5. Kitkat*

      Yes! And along those same lines, I thought my boss knew every single thing I’d done well and how every single task was going and how every single one of my coworkers was performing. I remember being so fed up that my boss didn’t correct my coworker because she wasn’t doing a fairly minor task in a timely fashion. It’s now only that I’m a manager myself that I realize how difficult and time consuming it is to keep an eye on everyone’s projects, even just on a macro level!

    6. Anon in NOVA*

      This is a great one, Manders! I see this with new employees a lot, but wouldn’t have been able to put it into words like you did!

    7. Bonky*

      Gosh, that’s a fantastic one. It’s not just junior folk who are guilty of this one either; I had a *horrible* example at work recently when a freelancer, who is in her late thirties and works from home several hundred miles from head office, quit out of the blue. Turned out she’d had walking pneumonia for a couple of months, and was outraged that we were “making her work while sick”. This would have been a perfectly reasonable response if anybody had actually known she was sick, but she missed the vital step of mentioning it in weekly calls with her manager, in email or…at all.

      Turns out we were meant to intuit that she wasn’t well.

    8. Amber T*

      Yep! And to piggy back off of this – managers always know what they’re doing, everyone in the professional world has their stuffing together, and if I was unhappy about something, well, that sucks and would just take some getting used to. (The lesson being, not all professional adults and work places have their stuffing together, and toxic jobs do indeed exist.)

    9. turquoisecow*

      I’m still terrible at this in my personal life, even. I was somehow trained not to ever complain, or to ask for anything, so when I need something, I do my very best to do it myself rather than ask for assistance. Sometimes, I then end up not being able to do it, and being very upset with myself, which causes someone else to ask why I’m upset, and then why I didn’t ask for help?

      I’m working on it.

      1. JustaTech*

        Are you me? The one that totally blew my mind was when my mom casually mentioned that if I had really begged for a pony we would have gotten on (we had a lot of land so it wasn’t insane). I responded that I had never asked because it’s a question everyone always says “no” to (even though I had friends who had ponies), so why bother? (I wasn’t all that into riding, and it would have been a ton of work, but still!)

      2. Security SemiPro*

        My office has a guideline- poke at something yourself for 15 minutes. If you’ve made no progress, ask for help.

        There’s a lot of value in muddling along, learning as you go. We are willing to give staff the time to do that, even if it is less efficient. If you’re muddling along and making progress, keep going. If you’re stuck, really flailing, flail for 15, then call for help. A bunch of stuff in our work is non intuitive and we’d rather have you learning and moving forward than frustrated and having jousted with an issue for half a day.

        1. Falling Diphthong*

          I really like the idea of imposing a deadline. So you’re not asking questions you could solve with 30 seconds of googling, but not spending your entire summer research position deriving the basic laws of optics from scratch. (Not a made-up example.)

    10. Honeybee*

      Oh, this is such a good one. I thought this, too, and it took a while for me to realize that I needed to speak up to get things fixed.

    11. Turtle Candle*

      Oh gosh, yes, this one! I had a computer that was slow enough that it tended to hang when compiling documentation. It took me a surprisingly long time to realize that I needed to ASK for a better computer; my boss wasn’t a mind-reader and he wasn’t breathing down my neck watching me compile, so how would he know? And sure enough, as soon as I asked, he made it happen, no problem.

      I think it was out of a desire to not seem needy or demanding, but in retrospect, he didn’t want me wasting time sitting around waiting for the thing to slloooooowly compile either.

    12. Fushi*

      Absolutely! At OldJob I had this coworker sitting next to me (open office) who would vape ALL DAY, which made me feel very ill because I have chronic migraine and am allergic to most scents, but I just assumed that the manager must’ve given him permission and that I shouldn’t butt in by complaining that I didn’t like it.
      Brought this up to the manager in casual conversation a year or so later, long after said coworker was gone, and he had no idea that coworker had been doing that. At all. Lol.

    13. Lindsay*

      I tell my two direct reports, who are both early career and in their first office setting job, that I assume things are going well unless they tell me otherwise, so they shouldn’t hesitate to come to me. I still ask in our bimonthly one on ones, but I am glad they don’t wait 2 weeks to let me know there’s a problem I can’t see.

  5. NicoleK*

    Early on in my career, I thought if you worked hard, were reliable, were dependable you’d be noticed by senior management.

    1. babblemouth*

      That was such a hard wake up call the day I realized that. It truly hurt. I’m better off since I know, though.

    2. Rockstarblues*

      I thought that too! I learned that being a great employee does not always guarantee that you will be noticed and/or recognized. It made me pull back on my output because I didn’t see the need to rock star my projects if no one noticed…and no one noticed that either. So I don’t work as hard anymore unless I’m really passionate about a project. I have found that the level I’m working at is acceptable and there’s no need to kill myself making sure my projects are extraordinary when they don’t see the difference.

      1. Fortitude Jones*

        I work very hard at work, but only for my own benefit. I’m constantly plotting – I mean, “strategizing” – what my next move is going to be, so I do rock star things with the intention of adding them to my resume in the event that when I inevitability get bored somewhere or feel slighted/under-appreciated/overworked/whatever, I’ll be in a great position to move on to something better. But yeah, I don’t kick ass at my job for kudos from my current boss or big bosses because I already know 9 times out of 10, the people I end up working for don’t care and aren’t going to reward me for it anyway.

      2. LJ*

        I can relate a lot to this. I worked really hard, I got an above average performance review, but then my raise and bonus were lower than they had been when I got the average performance review, and I realized I wasn’t going to get promoted to the next level until x years of experience, even if I was performing at the same level as those with higher job titles.

        My reaction was to start working at 50% effort level – and no one noticed. I generally got my projects done, but I didn’t go above and beyond, and I would take longer than I needed to, especially on things without hard deadlines. And honestly, this worked out pretty well since my stress and work/life balance improved.

        I later quit that job and now work in a role I find more interesting, so it’s easier for me to go above and beyond just out of interest, so this is less of a problem. But I do think this is something managers should look out for with high performers. I was still getting very good feedback during my time at 50% effort level, but I wasn’t contributing nearly as much to the company as I could have been, because I didn’t feel it’d be rewarded.

    3. Michele*

      That was a big, painful learning experience for me. I grew up poor in a small town, so I worked whatever jobs I could in high school and college. They weren’t intended to be the start of a career, so I promotions and such didn’t matter. My parents came from a long line of people who didn’t rock the boat because if you got fired your family would go hungry, and my mother even told me when I started working that I should just work hard and keep my head down and I would be rewarded.
      Then I started my career and couldn’t believe that people who didn’t get as much done as me and who spent more time complaining about how much they worked than actually working were being promoted and I wasn’t. But they knew how to make a big production out of what they did and get noticed. Honestly, it is still something that I struggle with.

      1. Anon Anon*

        That was my dad’s response. Keep your head down and work hard. He thought that if you advertised your accomplishments you were being “big-headed”. And it’s probably the number one reason I changed job so frequently early on, because I was tired of not being noticed.

        1. LabHeather*

          Oh jeez, yes! This seems to be a common denominator for the… less affluent part of a population.

          I have always been afraid of being “big headed” because you get it shoved down your throat. So much so that after I finished my MSc (because my parents were adamant I use my brains for something and have it easier than they did) I felt myself Done and Done.

          It took me three years after graduation to realise that I am good enough to go on and that people would not be accusing me of thinking I am better than I am (at least n0t to my face. I hope) if I pursue a PhD and research. I have always been terribly slow at realising things like that.

          1. Elfie*

            Not sure about the less affluent part of a population. This is me (even now – I’m 40), and I’m very definitely a comfortably-off child who became a comfortably-off adult. However, my parents came from a lower working-class background, so that may have something to do with it. But yeah – don’t get big-headed, don’t push yourself forward, work is a meritocracy, your work will get you noticed – nope.

      2. Anxa*

        Oh man, this one is so hard. I really wasn’t told that when I was a child, but I really did think it was best to keep your head down, do your work, and avoid getting wrapped in in work politics.

        I know understand that what people think they value and what people actually value are completely different beasts.

      3. turquoisecow*

        Same here. I’m really bad about speaking up for myself – either in asking for things I need, or in talking about my strengths. I don’t want to be seen as “bragging,” because that was always a trait that I saw as “bad.” Yet the people who brag are the people who get promoted!

      4. Franzia Spritzer*

        “Cream rises to the top” is the mantra I got from my mom. I was made to understand that good hard work would be a green light to raises and promotions, I think TV (my real parent) perpetuates this myth as well. Reading this blog for the last year or so is where I’ve learned this ideal isn’t true, and that I don’t need to be killing myself to over deliver on everything. At OldJob my coworker skated on my coattails and was recognized for all his hard-super-great-work because he was louder than me. The meek shall not inherit the earth, loud dude bros will. Learning how to make waves is very challenging for me.

      5. NoAnon*

        With a near identical background, I can totally relate to this. I now make sure I am recognized for the things I do and if that is not something my current company is willing to value, I get the recognition elsewhere with a promotion and pay raise. It took over a decade for me to start navigating the system the way that I have seen much less qualified, experienced and dedicated employees. I worked many jobs until frustration set in and I resigned, to be met with a counteroffer. Never, having spoke up previously, who knows what I could have received? Employers are not mind readers and I had to figure out that silently plugging away at major corporations was not going to one day miraculously pay off. I just keep my ethical and moral standards in tact, which proves to be a challenge when you’re up against someone who doesn’t.
        It is hard to retrain yourself, but possible and beneficial.

    4. Channel Z*

      Two reasons I was made aware that this doesn’t always follow early on. First, my job involved improving the process for proto-type teapots. Only a few proto-types were selected for full production. We had to make the process developments with the likelihood the proto-type we were working on wasn’t going to be selected, and selection was 100% beyond our control. Those who happened to be working on a proto-type that was selected were more likely to be recognized for their process improvements than those who weren’t. Second, our VP was a jerk, and he passed over promoting those reliable, dependable people who had done better work than he did when he had been at their level, according to rumour. He also patted me on the bum with his racquet during a work organized racquetball league, but it was outside work so couldn’t do much about it other than stay far away in the future.

    5. Grapey*

      This turned out to be true at my place of employment. Still is. The key point is to be aware of politics and see if people that disagree with management make it up the ladder. Some people didn’t because they only wanted to complain, whereas those that succeeded helped figure out solutions to their own problems.

      1. Alexa*

        I think it depends SO much on the type of work you do. If moving up the ladder means “doing the same kind of work I’m doing right now, but handling trickier situations and with less oversight” then hard work and dependability are the qualifications. But if it means a big change in role (more management, different types of projects, entirely new skills) then it’s all about showing that you can handle the NEW duties. As always, it’s a good conversation to have with your manager.

    6. Letters*

      Came here to say this. It was something that was made plain to me early on, so I didn’t really fall prey to it, but I see it a LOT when people enter the workforce. People assume that promotions just happen without you doing anything — and that is NOT how the world works! YOU are the only one that will move your career forward!

    7. DataQueen*

      I once got amazing advice from our head of HR on this….He told me that the number one thing that frustrates him in exit interviews is when people say, “I’m leaving because I never got promoted/never got a raise.” And he always says back, “Um… you never asked.” Now I always make sure I slip that anecdote in when I’m mentoring junior staff who are just starting out in their careers. No boss has ever come up to me and said “you’ve been working hard, how about a raise” – I’ve kept track of my accomplishments, my duties above my description, kept an eye out for looming departures, and pounced. You gotta fight for what you deserve!

      1. BWooster*

        I had a boss who did that. If he saw you mastered a particular job, he would be after you to think about next steps. His department was a management nursery for the organisation. Never worked for another like him.

        1. Security SemiPro*

          This is my goal in life. I want to run the team that is the source of solid senior talent for my company.

  6. AndersonDarling*

    Emails- keep them short and to the point.
    I remember sending big emails with my whole thought process of why I was asking a question and what each answer could mean. Ugh.
    They were a page long and they could have been one sentence. “Penny can’t access the Acme file. Should we grant her permission to the electronic file, or just give her a print out.”
    Instead it was “I came into the office today and Penny was having issues…we tried…then we finally figured out that…If we do this then…but if we do that then…and so on, and so on, and so on.

    1. Anon today!*

      YES!!!! I’m pretty minimal when it comes to what I put into an email but I still find myself paring things down even further. I have a manager who never seems to read the whole of the emails sent to her which leaves questions unanswered. I now keep most emails to three or four lines when dealing with her.

    2. introvert*

      man, 15 years into my career and i still struggle with this every day. i’m getting way better but it’s a daily challenge and it doesn’t come naturally to be brief. i’m just predisposed to examining questions from every angle and providing detailed responses that would cover every possible follow up question. WHICH IS NOT NECESSARY IN MY JOB. :)

        1. Elizabeth H.*

          Interesting article. I actually didn’t really like the examples, I thought they were jargony and indirect! E.g.:

          “Bottom Line: We will reduce the number of days that employees can work from home from three to one day per week effective December 1st.”

          This would be better expressed as “As of December 1st, employees can only work from home one day per week (reduced from 3 days/week”

          Second example:
          “Bottom Line: We scheduled the weekly update meeting for Thursday at 2 PM CST to accommodate the CFO’s schedule.

          We searched for other available times, but this is the only time that works, and it’s important that you are on the call, so that you can address your P&L.
          CFO will be in Boston on Thursday meeting at an offsite with the management committee.
          He wants to review the financial report that can be found here (insert link) before the call.”

          Better expressed as: “Dear Shannon, writing to let you know the weekly update meeting has been rescheduled for 2pm Thursday as this is the only time that works for CFO. It’s important you be on the call to address your P&L. CFO will be in Boston . . .”

          To my mind it is MORE direct without the jargon-y formatting, sections and bullet points.

          1. The Not Mad But Sometimes Irritable Scientist*

            The formatting doesn’t matter, but the general guideline is, your addressee should understand what you need from them, when, how, and where, by the end of the first two sentences. The why goes last and least.

          2. the gold digger*

            I have been working with a few of the R&D engineers on creating sales and promotional materials. They want to go way deep into the (admittedly very cool) details of how the product works so I have to remind them that unless we can first convince a customer that we understand her problem and can solve it, she is not going to care how the equipment works.

            I have been working very hard to convince them that you go from the general:
            “Our $300 jeans will not only make your butt look awesome but they will also clean your bathroom!”

            to the specific:
            “Our patented butt-shaper uses radon, turmeric, and kale to give you the perfect butt. And the Clorox and Mr Clean substrate will get all that soap scum off your shower walls while you watch season one of ‘Quantico!'”

            1. Falling Diphthong*

              Had they left my engineer husband alone with the ultrasound machine, he would have taken it apart. He was always disappointed that we got “here is the baby’s head” rather than “here is a PhD level breakdown of exactly how the machine is able to see your baby’s head.”

              1. Security SemiPro*

                This is me. My pregnancy got flagged as “high risk” which meant I got to be around so much cool equipment.

                There were a bunch of downsides, but the tech was pretty neat.

          3. Phyllis B*

            Being the step-daughter of a retired Navy Chief, I learned to appreciate military precision, even though I have trouble applying it. (Southerners are not good at getting to the Bottom Line!!) :-) I actually thought the one with the conference call was good because it mentioned Shannon should be on the call at 2:00 p.m. CST. This is useful information to have. One of the parties involved was in Boston. If I remember my time zones correctly, Boston is EST. If I wasn’t told CST, my first question would have been “Two O’clock my time, or two O’clock his time? Which would have been another back and forth. On an unrelated note, the first thing my step-father did after marrying my mother was to require her, my sister, and me to learn Military Time. My sister and I, being smart-aleck teenagers, said “Who cares?” His response was “Someday you’ll thank me.” Well, my first job after college was as a long-distance operator. Guess what? They used Military Time!!! I still remember it all these years later.

            1. Stone Satellite*

              One Sunday afternoon when I was in high school, I took a nap. When I woke up, it was 8 o’clock Monday morning. School started at 7:30! I was late for school! I had a freaking exam in first period! So screwed, life about to end, chaos, panic. I was all the way to bolting through the front door when I finally realized it was not 8 o’clock Monday morning, it was 8 o’clock Sunday evening. 24-hour time on my clocks ever since.

        2. Anon in NOVA*

          I read it recommended here and have tried implement some of it. A lot of times, my director asks a simple question, but I know it will be discussed with other directors so I want to prepare her with the background. Now I’ll do something like: “Short answer: yes. Background: lah blah blah New Proposal: blah blah blah” so she can read as much or as little as she wants

          1. OhNo*

            I’ve done something similar with my boss. Usually my answer is something like, “Yes, we can do that, but there would be issues.” Then if she asks – and only if she asks – I explain what issues I’m seeing. If she doesn’t, I just follow up with, “When do you want it by?”

        3. ADA Geek*

          I’ve struggled with my email length and content, even when I really started to realize that there were a lot of people who were reading them on their phones, and that article has helped me SO MUCH. I don’t use the military terms, but I’m trying to be much better at my subjects and getting the critical stuff up top, especially when I’m asking for a decision (so the email flows Decision Request –> Backstory/Details –> options to consider).

          I’ve been getting the answers I need – especially when there’s multiple requests in one email – a lot faster lately.

        4. Franzia Spritzer*

          Interesting, I prefer to write emails with military precision, (I am a vet after all), and have been reprimanded for being too curt. My loud guy co-worker could write with the same tone and get a pat on the back for being direct. I LUV TONE POLICING 8-D

    3. Dzhymm, BfD*

      I posted about this on another thread. I had an employee who would do that same thing, but over the phone. I finally realized that her way of talking about things was to narrate the whole story when instead she should start with the immediate issue and *then* provide backstory if needed. She got much better when I made her aware of this. Occasionally she’d backslide and I’d say “Jane, you’re narrating again” and she’d catch herself.

      1. Nanc*

        I had a supervisor who used to call this “Meanwhile, back at the ranching . . . ” (I’m old–I remember watching those serials!)

        1. introvert*

          i had a boyfriend in 8th grade who used to say that to me. so my problem with “not being into the whole brevity thing” has existed for basically my whole life. haha!

    4. AD*

      This was a big learning opportunity for me too. When I was quite junior, I really overwrote emails. I think part of it had to do with my liberal arts education and not realizing that brevity is so much more effective in business communications most of the time!

      1. Elizabeth West*

        I had to teach myself this. Now I edit emails. I edit everything (except I still have trouble doing it verbally, haha). And as you all know, sometimes my comments are even waaaaaay too long. I have to tell myself, nobody cares about all that detail!

        “I have only made this letter longer because I have not had the time to make it shorter.” — Blaise Pascal

        1. Future Homesteader*

          I also edit religiously, but man, that verbal editing is hard. When I talk to my boss, I try to bulletpoint things ahead of time. But that only works with planned meetings. If you figure out how to edit verbally on the fly, let me know! :-)

        2. Jamie*

          Love that quote and I am so with you on fighting brevity, Elizabeth!

          Long stuff for work I edit twice. Once for redundancy and again for extraneous detail. (I am not as disciplined with my comments all the time, but I’m trying.)

      2. Two-Time College Dropout*

        By the time you’re out of school, you’ve spent the last 10-15 years learning that GOOD WRITING means bloated “power essays” and term papers with a minimum page count. Business writing is so different from academic writing that it’s practically an entirely different skill!

        1. Grayson*

          I did my master’s degree after time in the military world, and it was so frustrating that my dissertation had a word count. I could effectively communicate exactly what I needed to in significantly fewer words than the minimum number! I remember finishing my document, realizing it was 10 or 15 pages short and sighing as I scrolled through spots I could pad.

        2. myswtghst*

          Exactly! Papers in school had to be at least a certain minimum length, so I learned to say a little in a lot of words. Since I’ve moved up enough to work with senior leaders, I’ve learned to say a lot in a few words (and maybe a couple hyperlinks).

          1. OhNo*

            Thank god for hyperlinks. It took me a while to get used to using them, but now I feel like every email I send to students is sprinkled with at least three or four of them. My boss really stressed that she wants us to “keep the answer short and link them to more information”, which is great because it satisfies my need to explain without forcing the student to sift through explanations to get their answer.

        3. Kate*

          My second year university English course’s full marks were for 12 essays. 8 of them 500 words, 4 of them 1000 words. The bloat that creeps in as kids learn to write a 10 page essay that they could say in 8 or 6 pages if it were well written was something it was really hard to learn to cut back!

        4. Turtle Candle*

          I think the idea that “good writing” is a single skill is a common misconception all by itself. Someone who is a great writer of essays may be a great technical writer too, but they might also be an awful one. The one person in my department that we actually had to manage out was a brilliant writer… of fiction, who just could not adjust to prioritizing clarity and concision (and meeting her deadlines) over beautiful prose. And on the flip side, I can write you really clear and useful technical documentation, but I am crummy at marketing writing (something discovered by accident when I was loaned to marketing because “she already knows the products, so she can fill in while Patricia is on maternity leave”–turns out no, not really, since everything I wrote had to be rewritten to make it less technical and more marketing-y–fortunately I was able to just go back to development, no harm done).

          Basically, these days, if someone says they have “strong writing skills” or “good written communication skills,” I want to see not just a sample, but a sample of something at least vaguely similar to what we’re going to need to want them to do.

      3. introvert*

        i never even considered this. i work in tech but i have degrees in english lit/creative nonfiction and women’s studies. so…. i guess we figured that out! :)

      4. Elfie*

        I think it’s also to do with school teaching you to ‘show your workings’, and the working world just not wanting that detail – they trust you to come to the right conclusion.

    5. Squeegee Beckenheim*

      This was also one I fell prey to! I wanted to show all my work and give them the most complete information possible, but my boss at the time would maybe read the first paragraph of any given email and that was it. My current boss is much more reasonable, but at least I learned to lead with the point and then add supporting info.

      I also learned the power of breaking things up into a lot of paragraphs, since nobody likes a giant wall of text in email.

    6. nnn*

      In cases where I’m not sure how much detail the other person needs, I’ve taken to sending emails that start with “Short version:” and summarize the situation in one or two sentences, then “Full version:” with the play-by-play. This is useful in situations where what my boss immediately needs to know is the document will be half an hour late because I wasn’t given the reference file until 10 minutes before deadline, but he might also want to know (and I’d kind of like to have documented) the story of why the reference file didn’t reach me.

      1. starsaphire*

        Journalism 101: Don’t bury the lede. Served me very well when I learned to apply it to business writing! :)

      2. A Beth*

        This is a strategy I’m working on too. The first sentence or two is what they need to know or do immediately. I try to preface the rest with an “FYI/this is not an action item” indicator. It’s very challenging for me though.

    7. The Not Mad But Occasionally Irritable Scientist*

      My background when I started in the professional world largely academia and museums, and I cringe at my old emails now – it was like a tiny research paper, with background, methods, analysis, and finally conclusions a good page later. It wasn’t really until I started working with military folks that I realized that nobody gives a damn about your deductive process and assumptions and tangential BS, they need the action item and if they need justification they’ll ask for it. Who, what, when, why, where, in one sentence, Bottom Line Up Front.

      1. Aurion*

        I love Bottom Line Up Front. I don’t follow it 100% (I’d probably come off as overly brusque if I did), but I take the principles to heart. Nowadays very few of my emails make it past four sentences, and I still try to pare down words before I send. My first emails into the working world were like novels too, and I was so indignant when people weren’t reading my pearls of wisdom (cringe cringe cringe).

        Strunk and White: Omit Needless Words applies to emails too.

        1. The Not Mad But Occasionally Irritable Scientist*

          Overly brusque is generally not a concern when dealing with clients whose communication culture comes from hardass fighter pilots. :D

          Everyone else, yeah, soften it up a little, but getting right to what you need is the way to go.

    8. Thumper*

      And phone calls. I got in trouble once for explaining every detail of a customer service issue to my manager on the desk phone when all I had to do was ask him to come up there and have the customer explain the problem themselves.

      1. The Not Mad But Sometimes Irritable Scientist*

        They’re doing it wrong, because it’s bottom line up front, not bottom line only. You still need to include context and background, just after the BLUF so they can read it if they want.

      2. OhNo*

        See, I think that might be more field dependent. I work in a field where I have to give my colleagues/supervisor some background before they talk to the person. They need to know what I’ve parsed from their (usually longwinded) explanation of the issue, what I’ve tried, and where I’m getting stuck. Otherwise they end up duplicating several steps I’ve tried and rejected already, which frustrates the customer to no end.

    9. Grapey*

      More important than “short and to the point” is to know who your audience is.

      Emailing your manager? They hopefully know who Penny is and would prefer a short email.
      Emailing your support desk who manages assets for all 1000 people at your organization? (and is most likely the arbiter of who has access to certain things?) They probably don’t know Penny and would prefer to know what role she is in and what things you’ve tried previously. Go with the longer email here.

      1. Trig*

        I struggle with this the most when emailing very technically knowledgeable developers. Every time I find myself explaining what I know or tossing in words or examples for context to show that I DO have some knowledge, and detailing what I already tried and why.

        Then I go back and edit almost all of that out (unless it’s a “I already tried this simplest solution” thing to prevent them from suggesting just that.)

        I think it comes from want to prove I’m not an idiot who knows nothing and needs hand-holding. But it really just ends up being cruft that needs to be cut.

        1. Emilia Bedelia*

          Yes! I have the same problem. I try to ask myself “Am I saying this because they need to know this, or am I saying this because I want them to know that I know it?” Sometimes it results in some painfully basic explanations of things I already know, but ultimately it’s better than me showing off what I know.

          This is one of my own personal misconceptions/things that I’ve had to learn: Sometimes people explain things to me that I already know….. and that’s okay.

    10. Noah*

      I’ve worked with a lot of people who I wish would un-realize this. If you can’t access the Acme file, this is appropriate. But I can’t stand when people ask me questions that clearly require a depth of understanding, but provide none of the information I need to reach that level of understanding.

      1. The Not Mad But Sometimes Irritable Scientist*

        They’re doing it wrong, because it’s bottom line up front, not bottom line only. You still need to include context and background, just after the BLUF so they can read it if they want.

      2. OhNo*

        Oh yes, I have dealt with those kind of people, too. The interaction takes way longer when that happens, because it ends up being a ridiculous trade of, “Did you try X?” “Yes, it didn’t work.” “How about Y?” “I can’t access Y.” “I can send you Z, if you like?” “I don’t need Z, I need Q.”

        FWIW, I find this is where my librarian reference training really comes in handy. Starting off those conversations with, “What have you tried so far, and what were the results missing that you wanted?” tends to prompt the information that I need in order to help.

    11. AnonMurphy*

      Yep. My dad always phrased it as ‘punch line first!’

      It’s not a social situation. Totally different need for how information is presented. Even now I’ll catch myself, or sometimes my VP will tell me to spit it out because she has to be somewhere in 43 seconds. Getting her enough accurate information to make a decision (even a decision to delay the decision) as fast as possible is something of an art.

    12. Mazzy*

      Yes. And there are other areas of email etiquette. There are times entry level staff respond too quickly or at all to group emails because they think they have to or that they will have the best answers or most relevant information, meanwhile us older ones think the email should have been logically responded to by someone else. Which creates an awkward moment because no one responds to the entry level person because we’re waiting for the other person to chime in. Or the more logical respondee doesn’t chime in at all because they think the entry level one answered the question, even though they didn’t.

    13. 'Tis I, LeClerc*

      I’m the exact opposite. I tend to keep e-mails VERY short and to the point. So much so that they seem a bit rude. I can spend 10 minutes writing a two sentence e-mail, trying to find a way to sound like less of an asshole. In the end I just give up and send the thing.

      1. Michele*

        I have the same problem. I tend to be a direct person anyway, and when that is combined with the fact that I do a lot technical writing at work, I can come off as very brusque in my emails. Then I try to soften it, and I think it sounds weak and insincere. I have a hard time with the balance.

        1. Candi*

          This is why I’m so finicky about word choice. Words can be technically synonyms, but the exact words used -including spelling and pronunciation, the feel of the word in the mouth and the mind- can influence how the message is perceived.

  7. Anon today!*

    In the movies people were always given promotions and raises like “Johnson! I’ve noticed your hard work and effort. Howsabout you take this promotion?”

    I never realized that people internally applied for positions to move up the ladder. I was stuck at the bottom of the rung for a few years, bitter and angry at seeing my co-workers move up the chain while my hard work and effort went unnoticed. I finally said something to my boss who told me that I needed to apply for the positions to be considered. It was my “Well DUH!” moment!!!

    1. Future Analyst*

      To be fair, this is company dependent. In some companies, promotions are standardized (you’re not eligible to become a Senior Teapot Maker unless you have 2 years of experience as a Junior Teapot Maker, AND a Senior Teapot Maker spot has to be open, but they don’t always announce that the position is open, they just fill it with whoever they think is best). So don’t be too hard on yourself for this one!

      1. alter_ego*

        Yeah, I’ve had 2 promotions and 4 raises (not tied to promotions) since I started at my job 5 years ago. I was just informed of all of them. and the raises have varied in percentage from 5% to 13%, so definitely not just standard COL. I dread ever working someplace where I have to gather the courage to ask.

        1. KHB*

          Maybe I can raise you one – I actually got a promotion I didn’t want. I’d been an Associate Teapot Maker for 3 years when my boss came to me and said “The position for Senior Associate Teapot Maker in charge of spouts is opening up, and you’re the only one of the Associate Teapot Makers I trust to do the job, so it’s yours.” I was fairly miffed, because I much preferred making handles to spouts. And I had a lot of growing pains during the first couple of years in charge of spouts, and I did a lot of fantasizing about storming into the boss’s office and saying “I don’t want to lead the spouts department anymore – give the job to somebody else.” But I stuck it out, and I’m loving the spouts department now. (It probably helped that my old boss retired, and my new boss was the head of the spouts department before I was, so he knows all about what I need to do my job.)

          1. Anonygoose*

            My MIL is a director at a hospital and in charge of departments she knows nothing about…. and all she says is she wants to be an accountant again. Apparently, they’ve just been handing her promotions she never wanted… I can’t even fathom how that happens.

            1. Fortitude Jones*

              Oh, it can happen a lot – I’ve seen it happen to people at my company. And I don’t know if people realize they can say, “Thanks, but I’m good,” and move on with their lives in their old position they actually wanted. They just sigh and take the promotion (the pay is probably very nice) and pretend to be happy about it.

            2. Bryce*

              My dad’s an astrophysicist. While everyone’s very appreciative of managers who come from a science background and know how to talk to the nerds (as opposed to ones coming in from a business side which can lead to “science doesn’t work that way, sir” issues), he flat-out refused promotions to management because he knew he wouldn’t like it and wouldn’t be good at it. Great scientist, but he needed that management buffer between him and the bigwigs to stay sane.

              1. Turtle Candle*

                That could be me. I have passed up promotions twice, because the promotion path involves management, and I would both hate it and be terrible at it. (I am a team lead from time to time now, and I’m okay with that, but I don’t want to be a proper manager.) My boss actually clarified with me that if I keep passing up management tasks, I’ll eventually plateau, because there are only so many non-management titles in the track and they can’t keep giving significant raises to people doing the same work (at some point I’ll just get COL and that’s it), and I told him I was fine with that, because no amount of money would be worth the stress of being a manager, and probably being a bad one.

                (Okay, maybe not NO amount of money. But it would have to be cartoonish, Scrooge-McDuck’s-money-bin levels of cash to make it worthwhile to me, and somehow I doubt ‘manager of the technical writing team’ is ever going to net me swimming-in-gold-coins wealth.)

    2. KatieKate*

      At the same time–two months in to your first job prooooobably isn’t the best time to ask for a raise and a promotion. (Learned that one the hard way).

    3. AndersonDarling*

      I thought I was going to be promoted in 6 months, then again in another 6 months, and I’d be a Super Well Paid Decision Maker in 2 years time. That’s how it works in sitcoms, and that was the bulk of my work education.

      1. aelle*

        Not just this, but I thought that everyone aspired to climb the company ladder and would do so roughly at the same pace. It took me a while to understand that 1. lots of people are happy where they are, 2. there are lots of drawbacks to being in management (oh? you mean the increased paycheck is there for a reason?) and 3. there are other ways to grow your career than to become a manager.

      2. AndersonDarling*

        Oh, and I also thought I would be living in an awesome apartment, hanging out in coffee shops all the time, and that I would be able to afford all the designer clothes I wanted, because that’s how it works on TV.

        1. Elizabeth West*

          Hahaha, me too. Like that was going to happen on minimum wage. :P I always pictured a white apartment with cool white furniture and glass shelves, like a city loft (hey, it was the ’80s). And my friends and I would all stand around drinking wine and being sophisticated.

          I did have a white apartment in college, but it was incredibly tiny, the kitchen was in the living room, I could hear everything my neighbors did and smell everything they cooked, and my cool white furniture came from my mother’s living room. And the wine thing? Never happened. Who could afford wine? :P

        2. Manders*

          When I moved to a big city, it took me a while to stop getting angry at TV shows that talk about the characters being cash-strapped while they live in massive apartments and work irregularly.

          I know now that there are reasons why shows are written that way–it’s hard to position a camera in a tiny room, even beautiful actors don’t look great in cheap clothes, and the day-to-day grind isn’t really dramatic enough to hang a plot on. But I still get a twinge of annoyance when I see, say, Jessica Jones complaining about the mean streets of midtown Manhattan.

          1. MegaMoose, Esq*

            This happened on the Flash a couple of weeks ago. I definitely yelled at the TV “no WAY a CSI and journalist who never go to work could afford that place!”

          2. Honeybee*

            When I moved to Manhattan at age 22, I was very disappointed that my lifestyle was not some unholy combination of Friends and Sex and the City, with a dash of Living Single. Probably the thing that disappointed me the most was Broadway shows. In the sitcoms people go to shows or the ballet or opera all the time. When I finally did move to New York, I realized how crazy expensive they actually are!

        3. babblemouth*

          Boy, did Sex And The City give me the wrong expectations about professional life and adulthood. It turns out cocktails in a fancy bar are *really* expensive, and not something I can do every Friday.

      3. Falling Diphthong*

        “Things I learned about work from sitcoms that aren’t so” could be its own future topic. (Like how quickly Ted Mosby, architect, was put in sole charge of redesigning the skyline.)

        1. k*

          And how in general, characters get jobs that they are in no way qualified for. Like they pick a random job they’d like and next episode they’re hired, despite that job in the real world requiring a specific degree, certifications, etc. They do it with teaching often.

            1. Anonygoose*

              No kidding… how did she manage to go from waitress to Head Buyer of Fashion Design Place in like, a single season?

            2. Squeeble*

              The one jobs-related thing I enjoyed about that show was how no one knew what Chandler’s job was, just some vague corporate number-crunching something something. That seemed very on point.

          1. Lala*

            This drove me insane when I watched Glee. I rage-quit when they gave the Spanish teacher a job as a history teacher, and THE TEACHER HIMSELF was all “I like watching the History Channel, I got this.”

            I thought How I Met Your Mother was at least slightly more plausible with their career trajectories–Lily had designer clothes as a teacher, but only because she was in massive credit card debt. Marshall didn’t go straight into environmental law like he’d imagined, he talked himself into working for a company that did the opposite until he couldn’t stand it anymore, and then he was unemployed for awhile (until he got a job through a friend). Robin changed news shows/etc. several times, and got stuck with a super early morning show. Ted ending up as an architecture prof was a bit dicey, but if he had the grad school hours you need to become an adjunct, it’s not unfeasible (not like his actual “I am an architect” crap was–and even that was less because of his abilities and more because of who he knew). And Barney had outrageous money/etc., but they were always very careful to not say what he did until the very end.

            1. zora*

              Ok yeah, but their apartments on the Upper West Side were RIDICULOUS for their jobs/situations for the first half of the show.

            2. Elizabeth H.*

              Yeah – people like to cite HIMYM as an example of this but I thought that the only extremely unlikely thing is that Ted and Marshall found a very nice rent controlled apartment (at one point they say it’s rent controlled) in a prime location in a seemingly nice neighborhood in 2000. Ted being so successful as an architect early in his career might be implausible but they never try to make it seem like he doesn’t make good money. When they show the hallway of the building it’s not an especially nice building or anything; Robin is the only one who has an absurdly implausible nice apartment and they eventually explain that she has a ton of family money.

  8. DevAssist*

    I’m still fairly green to the workforce (only 1.5 years out of college) and one of my biggest misconceptions was that how and when to negotiate. I accepted the offered salary without question because I was afraid the offer would be immediately rescinded if I asked for more. Now, I’m realizing that I really should have tried to negotiate.

    1. introvert*

      my first professional job out of college, my father advised me not to negotiate. told me i should be grateful for the opportunity and i’d risk losing the offer if i didn’t accept it as-is. my dad worked as a teacher at the same school for 40 years, since he was like 23 years old. i shouldn’t have taken advice from him in 2003 about taking a corporate job – he was uninformed, using dated info that didn’t apply to the corporate world, had good intentions but was dead wrong. i was underpaid for 10 years because i could never get that boost as a raise that i could’ve gotten after negotiating a lowball offer. years later, finding out all of my coworkers – some subordinate to me and some way junior – were making upwards of 10-15k more than me… still burns me to this day! i just didn’t know.

      1. Dee*

        “i shouldn’t have taken advice from him in 2003 about taking a corporate job – he was uninformed, using dated info that didn’t apply to the corporate world, had good intentions but was dead wrong.”

        Oh god, parents have the best intentions but some of the worst advice. I work two part-time jobs and grew tired of the variable shifts (sometimes I get only 3 shifts in one week for a month). I told my mom about a job search for a full-time job. She told me, “why not just get a third part-time job? It’s hard these days to even get a full-time job. Don’t bother.”

        1. Bolt*

          My mom was so worried I wouldn’t get a job after graduation she told me to take the first offer that came my way – don’t think about it and don’t negotiate.

          When I told her how much my pay was going to be, she cringed and told me I should’ve asked for more!!!

      2. Rocketship*

        If it makes you feel better, I’ve been in the workforce for 17 years now and the first time I negotiated pay was…

        six months ago. Ish.

        But hey, at least it worked. :)

    2. Jessesgirl72*

      But, the other side of that coin (as we’ve seen from a recent OP) is that you can’t always negotiate. Sometimes the company actually does give you their best offer, and you’re not a failure and the company isn’t automatically unreasonable for not upping their offer.

      The real important thing is to know, realistically, what the going market is for the position *and* level of experience. If you aren’t being offered market rate, don’t accept the job, even if they won’t budge!

      1. Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain*

        Agreed. The lowest wage, lowest skilled positions are probably not negotiable. Jobs that have a set pay scale — such as union work — are probably not negotiable either.

        1. Clinical Social Worker*

          you say that but…I was able to negotiate a supposedly “non-negotiable your salary is set by the union” kind of deal. It can be done.

          1. Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain*

            That’s why I said “probably” instead of “definitely”. In some industries/locations, the union rules the house and trying to negotiate will look silly; in other places, the union will have less power. It’s important to do research beforehand to find out.

      2. myswtghst*

        This is a really good point. It’s not just knowing when / if you can negotiate, but also how to negotiate effectively, and a big part of that is doing your homework.

    3. Sabrina the Teenage Witch*

      This is the same for me. My current position is the first professional job I’ve ever had and when the offer came, I was so happy that I wouldn’t be making 11K a year that I jumped at it. It’s only now, after working with my new boss for a few years, that she tells me my old boss undervalued me based on my education. How was I supposed to know?

      1. Michele*

        Same here. I took my first job out of grad school without negotiation because it was a concrete offer with benefits and it was strongly aligned with what I wanted to do. When I was looking for my next job, someone who interviewed me flat-out said that I was being underpaid.

    4. Adlib*

      One job I had paid me WAY below market rate, and even though I was good about asking for raises, I just asked in a general way and didn’t have research/backup for what the market rates were. I was still severely underpaid. That was several years ago. Fast forward to this job, and I was underpaid until just a couple months ago. I’m sad to think about how long that took. I wish I had been better about my research!

    5. DataQueen*

      My first job offer, I accepted the offer DRUNK. It was a summer Friday, senior year, finals were done, I had had a fantastic interview with a super fancy corporate job, and I was on top of the world, so we were drinking these horrible blue fishbowl drinks outside at like 2pm. And because we barely had cell phones but definitely not caller ID, I answered, and immediately started woo-hooing and accepted on the spot. No negotiation, nothing. I’m surprised they didn’t retract it right then, but they probably thought I was just super enthusiastic. Years later, I realized I could have gotten $20k more out of them in a heartbeat. Oh well… now I know never to answer unknown numbers after drinking!

      1. C Average*

        This is hilarious, and brings to mind one of my favorite-ever work stories.

        I used to work for a company that was a lot of people’s dream company; it wasn’t unusual for interviewees to announce that they’d been wearing the brand since childhood and had always aspired to work there.

        My manager was hiring a new employee to the group I worked in, and had selected his candidate. He called the candidate to offer him the job, and the candidate very professionally said that yes, he’d be honored to accept a job at our company. The manager told him his start date and starting salary, they said their goodbyes, and that was almost that . . .

        . . . except that the new employee, who was driving at the time, didn’t hit the “end call” button firmly enough, so he remained audible to the manager. The new employee proceeded to shout, “YES YES YES YES YEEEEESSSS! Oh, f— yes! I’m going to work for ____! YEEEEEEEESSSS!” This joyous, profanity-laced tirade went on for a good five minutes before, somehow, the manager was able to get the new hire’s attention and say, “Uh, you’re still on the line with me.”

        Fortunately, it was a pretty informal culture, and the story became the stuff of legend and the employee in question still works there nearly five years later.

  9. Elle*

    I was not in a sales position but borrowed the office of someone who was when she wasn’t there. One day I was stuffing a ton of envelopes when she came in so I figured I’d finish the last few because it would probably take 5 minutes or less. Our boss noticed and made me relocate and explained that the salesperson had to be immediately available to talk to a walk in (in this workplace potential customers were much, much more likely to be walk ins than phone calls) so I couldn’t be gathering up my stuff when the potential customer came into the office.

    One thing I see now in newer/younger employees is judging how much to let stuff sit around before they get to it, if it’s non-urgent. That’s highly job dependent though and is just a matter of training and correcting as it’s seen by higher ups.

  10. starsaphire*

    The way things are at one’s first job are NOT the way things are everywhere. That was a big, very tough lesson for me.

    Especially when you’re switching fields. Generally speaking, law offices don’t work the way corporations do, corporations don’t work the way non-profits do, etc. “Receptionist” is assumed to be the same job everywhere, but there are a lot of variations in duty and expectations, and the corporate culture will be very different from job to job.

    Oh, for a time machine so I could go back and tell myself that! :)

    1. hbc*

      I think that’s really the biggest one: The Working World is not a monolith, despite what everyone tries to tell you. Even the rules we wouldn’t hesitate to say are universal (ex: show up to work with a shirt on) have narrow exceptions (lifeguard.)

      Try to figure out what’s standard for your area/industry, use your interview and your first few weeks on the job to narrow down what the particular place is like, and just accept that you’ll get some things wrong as you learn the ropes.

    2. Anna*

      Agreed! I started my second job thinking I had figured out everything about office culture and worked to overcome feedback about my “poor interpersonal skills.” However, in my new office culture (also in a different country), I came off as too formal, rigid, and inflexible. What I thought were universal truths about work environments were more specific to that particular office.

      Luckily, the adaptation process was much, much quicker the second time around. There are some things that are totally acceptable in this office that would make Alison (and other professionals in the U.S.) cringe, but I’ve learned to roll with it.

    3. tigerlily*

      Not just variety in duties, but in your perceived importance (if that makes sense.) I was an Administrative Assistant at one job and was considered the unofficial person in charge when our Program Director and Assistant Program Director were out of the office. I moved to another state and became an Administrative Coordinator at a new program and did not have ANY of the unspoken authority I had before and was super thrown by it the amount of oversight my new boss felt I needed.

  11. DatSci*

    How much perception really matters in some workplaces.

    When I was in college (and even high school), individuality, being yourself, and not caring what others think of you were very well regarded. I figured that was the mature/adult approach, rather than being super-self conscious like a wayward pre-teen.

    I still have trouble giving a flying F when my boss tries to have a talk with me about how someone “may” have negatively perceived something I said or did. And I still find general concern with the perception of others to be highly immature and inconsequential…le sigh.

    1. AnonEMoose*

      I struggle with this one, too. Some of the interaction between (theoretical) adults in the workplace just seems so petty and immature to me. I generally don’t have the energy to be that concerned with what other people are doing…and can’t help thinking that if someone else is, and it’s not actually part of their job, maybe they need more actual work to do.

      But I’ve learned the hard way that trying to manage others’ perceptions is part of the job, and it matters. So I suck it up and do the best I can to be perceived as approachable, and helpful to my coworkers. Only so much I can do, because no matter what you do, someone won’t like it (that was another tough lesson for me), but I do what I can.

      1. Future Analyst*

        Agreed. There’s a fine line (to me anyway) between making sure you’re not unnecessarily gruff/stand-offish, and spending so much time being careful with others’ feelings that you don’t have time to get actual work done. Granted, I was scarred by a manager who picked apart every.single.interaction I had with my reports, and I’ve been in much saner work relationships since then, but I imagine that it’s not an isolated event.

    2. Jamie*

      I’m with you! The perception is everything was completely antithetical to my natural thought process. I figured if I was professional and polite and did good work that’s what would matter.

      And it does…but being professional and polite can be “perceived” as unapproachable and while on principle I still resent that making small talk, saying hello more, and …eyeroll…smiling at people on purpose changes how you’re perceived enough to make work a lot easier.

    3. Princess Carolyn*

      Same here. I even had an HR lady tell me “perception is reality” and I really worked hard to resist my urge to flip the table over and shout “THAT DOESN’T MAKE ANY SENSE.” I still often think that people are overly concerned with how something looks, but I’ve learned that people’s perceptions are important to my working relationships, at least.

      1. Lissa*

        Perception is reality is honestly one of my favourite sayings, but I don’t mean it like “you should be 100% concerned with everyone else’s thoughts” but more like, trying to tell somebody else how they *should* see something, especially something subjective, like favouritism, is really unlikely to change how they see it. Sometimes there is an objective truth, like if someone says “I perceive Sansa as being late for work all the time” and then the timesheets are checked and it turns out that actually they were late more than Sansa. But when it’s something like “I perceive that Catelyn favours her husband over me”, it is going to be *really* hard to convince the other person otherwise, even if she doesn’t perceive herself as being unfair.

      2. Zombii*

        “Perception is reality” was the favorite motto of everyone even remotely management-like at Toxic ExJob. It was a backstabbing pit of Mean Girls, and on a good day I would compare it to junior high school.

        Perception is important, but anyone who truly believes and advocates “looking like you fit in here” is more important than “actually doing the work with any level of competence” is an idiot who should not be managing anyone, at any level.

    4. Arduino*

      OMG yes.

      I think there is a fine line in management between passing on perception issues that matter “You are perceived as not caring which is resulting in people not wanting to come to you with work tasks”

      People are noticing that you sometimes come in at 801. And while I know that you put in tons of OT and have more tasks than anyone and are dealing with you cats death…. You should just be aware.

      1. Arduino*

        To the first I think good to know need to change my reaction to tasks so people know I’m engaged.

        To the second I think why did you not shut this complaint down and have my back?

        1. AnonEMoose*

          This reminds me of one that still pisses me off when I think about it. Some years and several supervisors ago, I was working on a degree (I work in education – would rather not get much more specific than that). I was in my last course, and had a large project to complete. I asked if I could leave an hour early on three specific Fridays, so that I could work on said project.

          In the months before this, one of my coworkers had arranged a flexible schedule that had her not in on Fridays at all (although by this time, she was working on Fridays again), and she’d been out periodically dealing with some medical issues for her young child. I cheerfully covered for her on urgent inquiries on Fridays, and during these absences, because that’s part of being on a team, right?

          So it really burned me up when my boss said that the three Fridays I’d left an hour early were being brought up to her as a problem (I can’t prove it was this coworker, but…). At the time, I was able to remind Boss that it wasn’t going to happen again, anyway, because I was now done with my courses. But when I thought about it later, I was really peeved that this was somehow a problem, but it didn’t occur to anyone that “Hey, AnonEMoose covered for Jeanine all those times…and probably spent more time doing that than the time she took leaving early those times. And she’s not leaving early just to go have fun, she’s leaving early to go work on her final project, which is kind of a big deal.”

          In a way, I’ve had the last laugh, I guess…I’m still at the company, while Jeanine left some years ago, and that boss wasn’t my boss for that much longer after that. Still, it’s one of the incidents that reminds me of why I didn’t enjoy working for her, because instead of thinking of the times I’d covered vs. the small bit of flexibility I’d asked for, and telling whoever whined to shove it, she decided to make it my problem.

  12. babblemouth*

    Oooh, this is such a good one. I was just thinking the other day about one of these things I wished I had realized earlier in my career: a complete lack of processes around you is very likely to hurt you.

    To explain: it’s good and useful to be able to be spontaneous and figure things out on the fly if there is an emergency. If that is how the day-to-day operations are run, you have a problem, because you won’t have enough space for personal growth – you’re likely to constantly be dropping long term projects at the last minute to fix the immediate stuff. i used to feel very important, until i realized I was stuck because I could never focus on anything long term.

    One other, somewhat related: if you are a single point of failure in a process, you are likely to feel important (“Here you need to talk to Mary Jane because she the most knowledgeable/ only person who gets this”) but it will also hurt you in the long term: people who make themselves feel irreplaceable are less likely to be promoted, and more likely to be pigeonholed in one role.

    Finally: no one is actually irreplaceable. This is a double-edged sword: on the one hand, it means that yes, you could be replaced in your job tomorrow, you are not that special. on the other hand, it means that you can and should delegate things when you’re overworked. “We can’t find anyone as good as Mary Jane” is just management being lazy, it’s not actually a compliment.

    1. LKW*

      Agreed wholeheartedly. Being irreplaceable makes one feel better ego-wise, can be limiting career-wise and foolish reality wise.

      1. Fortitude Jones*


        My mom is living this reality daily now, and she’s clearly not early career, smh.

      2. LabHeather*

        My predecessor would do thing specifically in order to be irreplaceable. He did not label anything, stored things everywhere and anywhere, and there was no inventory. Not for the chemicals and not for our equipment, nothing.

        Guess what? My manager got fed up with never finding anything and him being a general lab hazard, and eventually she fired him anyway and just dealt with the fallout. No one is irreplaceable.

        OTOH, building inventories from scratch is so much fun…

        1. Candi*


          lab hazard”


          My first thought was… how many regulations was he bucking???

    2. MusicalManager*

      I definitely learned this one the hard way too…i interviewed for a promotion with 2 other internal candidates and ehen i asked for feedback on why i wasn’t hired one of the reasons is “we need you more where you’re at today

    3. aelle*

      Regarding that last one: for me, believing that I was irreplaceable meant that I had enormous amounts of guilt the first time I resigned. I put it off for way too long and gave way too long of a notice period. I thought I was backstabbing my employer and that he would resent me forever. Turns out it’s a completely normal part of doing business and par for the course even when it’s not the perfect time.

    4. myswtghst*

      Completely agreed! I stayed in my last job for longer than I probably should have because my boss and her boss made it clear that they “just couldn’t do it without me” and “would never find anyone else with my skills”, which is probably true, but also not really a good thing. I was constantly doing more with less, creating better content than my peers in way less time, and just generally overworked and struggling to build the PM skills my boss had on my performance plan for years because I was never on a project long enough to manage it.

      In my new job, my boss has already mentioned several times how organized I am, and how excited she is about my ability to manage my time, while still reminding me I can come to her if I do need to reorganize projects or deadlines based on the classes I’m training, which makes me feel so much better.

    5. Ann Furthermore*

      At my first corporate job (at 19), I was an AP clerk and at one point had taken on quite a bit of extra work, due to people leaving and one other person going on maternity leave. I had kind of moved into a defacto lead position, even though it was never made official. At the time, I was living with my parents, and after a particularly bad day, I was griping about my job and said, “I’d like to see how well they’d get along without me. I’m indispensable.” My dad set me straight on that right quick, and said, “No one’s indispensable. You know what would happen if you quit? They’d hire someone else. There are plenty of other people out there who would be happy to have your job. Suck it up.” I’m glad he laid it out for me like that. It was a real eye-opener.

    6. Miles*

      To build on that: don’t ever be too good at assigned tasks that are not in the realm of something you want to keep doing. This seems particularly true for things like admin work or those little thankless jobs that people do behind the scenes so other people can shine. Don’t do *badly* at them, do them adequately, but you don’t want to be known as the person who’s really great at filing and organizing meetings or repairing broken teapots when you want to be designing teapots. To some extent, companies aren’t interested in helping you realize your dreams so much as they are at having the best person for each role

      1. Michele*

        “Optimization of resources and utilization of talents” and it is corporate speak for “we are going to pigeonhole you for as long as we can.”

        The thing is that it is really bad for the company, not just the employee. It creates situations where only one person can do a job and where they aren’t flexible enough to fill in for someone else when needed. I am currently trying to train someone out of his pigeonhole. He is smart and tries really hard, but he has been so limited based on his “strengths” that he hasn’t developed many skills. The poor guy spent two hours working on something yesterday before asking me for help. I showed him how to do it in 5 minutes. The thing is that if he hadn’t been locked into a few tasks, he would have known how to do it without any problem.

    7. HR Pro*

      One of the things I’ve learned as a manager is that if you have an employee who is the only one who knows how to do something, you (the manager) need to change that. Get them to document the process, train a backup, whatever. Things happen and your irreplaceable employee could need to leave suddenly -even if they plan to come back to work eventually – but car accidents, slipping on the ice and breaking an ankle, a parent dying – any of these things can cause someone to be out of work unexpectedly and for a while. Not to mention that someone could quit with little notice or whatever.

    8. SystemsLady*

      One thing I’ve learned related to that is that, if you’re able to insert process into such a job (even if it’s only a process you end up using), it can be a huge asset, especially when somebody higher up is intentionally removing process in an attempt to force an unwanted shift in.

      Doing good work in an environment set up for failure, intentionally or not, fosters a lot of good will with your co-workers and demonstrates leadership to people willing to see it.

      Don’t expect to keep your job (in fact, as you mentioned, often good to job search) and quit if it gets too tough, but the positive reputation you can build in the meantime could be invaluable later on.

      Another related lesson: karma very often comes to people who make bad decisions for selfish reasons, but only very rarely will it ever be when you want it to, or when you’re still around. Never expect it. Enjoy it as a special treat when it does.

      1. SystemsLady*

        (the company might fail when you leave or if you get fired, very likely if the loss of process is intentional, but you were planning on leaving anyway!)

    9. Franzia Spritzer*

      This can backfire too. At OldJob I documented all processes and compiled a thorough “contingency plan” for my role in the event I won a trip to Tahiti or something. After being on the job for years I was relieved of my duties because I’d written everything so well they could do it without me. Great.

      1. Candi*

        Sounds to me like they may have just wanted to get rid of you/your positions, and that was as good an excuse as any.

        Between protected class laws on one side and potential PR explosions on the other, there’s a lot of grey area.

    10. NoAnon*

      Ha! Exactly right. I learned the hard way doing everything and being the only one who knows how to do certain things may feel good at first, but it really sucks when you want to vacation, move to a different role, or finally delegate work to someone because you’re overwhelmed.

  13. Here we go again*

    That if I proved myself, I would be rewarded accordingly. Sadly, that is not the case. You really have to fight for what you deserve in this market and most employers financially reward “experience” over accomplishments.

        1. MusicalManager*

          Although i also approached promotions as if they were somehow my “right” for good work vs. Demonstrating that I’d truly be the best fit for the role.

        2. LBK*

          Maybe I’ve just lucked out, but most of the things people seem to deem “politics” look an awful lot like “doing your job well” to me. Being a strong performer naturally gets you more access and visibility, because those come along with being given more responsibility. From the outside, it can look like the boss’s best pal is the one who gets to do all the good work and meet all the decision makers…but that’s because they’ve earned that spot through their work. I spend a lot more time with my VP than my coworkers do and thus we have a closer relationship, but that’s because I’m always working on higher level projects for her, not because we’re just BFFs and I’m trying to schmooze my way to the top.

          I’ve only encountered one person who truly plays office politics and it’s so laughably transparent that no one falls for it. It’s harmed his reputation and mobility a lot more than hurt it.

          1. SystemsLady*

            They’re rare, but they’re also pretty darn toxic when you run into them and nobody at a level to reprimand them is observant enough to notice.

          2. Anxa*

            I volunteered at a place where there were three hiring paths. You were hired directly into the job through HR, were hired as a temp, or were hired through tempt agency.

            I worked alongside many college-educated young women who were in the temp track. There was just no mobility there. They were the most efficient, the most pleasant, and put up with a lot of that the rest of the staff wouldn’t, and no amount of hard work or talent or skill could make up for the fact they were temp-tracked.

            They failed the politics game when they were first hired, but by accepting the jobs in those tracks. I do it, too, and I would have taken one of those jobs in a heartbeat because mobility or no, it was somewhat steady and paid more than minimum wage and I was desperate, too.

        3. The Not Mad But Occasionally Irritable Scientist*

          Were you surprised that upward mobility is tied to politics? Politics is just another word for soft skills – reputation management, selling your skills, advocating for yourself, cultivating professional relationships. Naturally, there’s always a few people who turn it into Game of Thrones (or Game of Aeron Chairs), but people who think politics is beneath their contempt always confuse me.

          1. Hrovitnir*

            I think what people often mean when they say politics is above and beyond what you describe, and into manipulation and dishonesty. However, you can use the same word for both things, so it can easily lead to people talking past one another.

            1. LBK*

              But I think many people view the things Irritable Scientist mentioned as going hand in hand with manipulation and dishonesty. There’s this false dichotomy between the righteous hard worker who never gets their due and the slimeball who sucks at his job but gets promoted because he sweet talks his way into it, and that narrative doesn’t leave room for people who put in the effort to being good at their jobs *and* put effort into positioning themselves in a way for others to see how good they are at their jobs.

              1. Anxa*

                I think you’re absolutely right about it setting up a false dichotomy, but I do think that sometimes some of the complaining about (or even just observations about) the power of politics are about several people in that middle ground. Like perhaps two people who are pretty good at their job, have obvious weaknesses, but the person who is more self-congratulatory and louder and more in-your-face will make a stronger and better impression that someone whose soft skills fall into building long-term relationships with clients, upholding the mission of the institution, etc.

                I’ll talk about two coworkers I have at two different places to illustrate this. One of them organizes our holiday potluck, makes sure people in departments outside of our center knows who she is, and meets with other people at our school in her spare time outside of work hours to get her name around. She volunteers to cover the front desk frequently and went out of her way to pick up new skills to widen her schedule availability. She structured her schedule to the best of her ability to accommodate her own personal life, but also to increase the breadth of coverage we could offer patrons, although it was inconvenient. She ended up with more hours one semester than her coworker and was considered for a few other opportunities than her corollary.

                Now, at my new workplace, I am new. I really can’t compare myself yet to my coworker. Also, he has institutional knowledge I’ll never have, because he’s been in the same position as our patrons, whereas my experience in that position is at another institution. There are many wonderful qualities he has, but I wouldn’t say his soft skills are really stronger; they are different. He is at odds with our supervisors/HR (going over hours, etc). He also says a lot that makes me a little squirmy, things that are very..well, not PC. He doesn’t think before he speaks or anything like that. But because he’s willing to take more risks with HR and is more outgoing, he gets so many more client referrals. Also, he’s a better salesman so he does a much better job at promoting himself. Now, I’ve had plenty of clients that seem to prefer my style and really don’t want to go back to him, but he’s much more popular overall. He is much better at the politics and salesmanship than I am and I know that no amount of improving my ability to my job well can compete with his more outgoing nature, at least not for another semester or two. And sometimes that does irritate me a little bit, even though he earns it by willing to buck the rules at the right time.

          2. Falling Diphthong*

            One of my favorite AaM weird workplace stories was the guy interviewing for an internship at a federal agency who explained that he based his work style on a fictional character who murdered his way into the presidency.

          3. SystemsLady*

            Negative connotation of politics to me means people who have some sort of agenda and pursue it without regard to whether it’s actually beneficial to anybody (but them), but I get what you mean.

            1. The Not Mad But Occasionally Irritable Scientist*

              Yeah, and that’s where the Game of Aeron Chairs angle comes in, but as was said above, I think a lot of people tend to conflate the good and bad flavors, or view the good sort of politics as beneath them – like, my work should speak for itself, I shouldn’t have to cultivate a good reputation or tell my bosses about my accomplishments.

              1. AcademiaNut*

                And there’s an even more fundamental mis-understanding when someone fails to understand that “my work” includes soft skills, not just the technical parts of the job description. So they complain about politics winning out over merit when they’re passed over for someone who works well with others, is polite, is able to express disagreements with tact and diplomacy, knows when to pick their battles, recognizes and listens to other points of view and doesn’t constantly and publicly denigrate their employer company while simultaneously expecting to be promoted.

    1. LBK*

      Eh, I think it depends what you mean by rewarded. If you just sit back and expect people to throw raises and promotions and job offers at you because you’re so great, I think that’s misguided, but in general I think that working hard and performing at a high level does correlate to career success. It certainly makes your case a lot stronger if you’ve got a strong record of work behind you.

      Also, don’t confuse experience with tenure. Rewarding people just for sticking around and not getting fired or dying isn’t a good business practice, but there’s legitimate reasons to promote someone who’s got 5 years of experience doing strong, reliable work over the rock star who’s been hitting it out of the park for 6 months, even if on a daily basis the latter’s performance is better.

      1. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

        there’s legitimate reasons to promote someone who’s got 5 years of experience doing strong, reliable work over the rock star who’s been hitting it out of the park for 6 months, even if on a daily basis the latter’s performance is better.

        Thissssssss, holy smokes this. Pop culture loves to glorify the rockstar who rolls in and immediately hits it out of the park, but a lot of things call for marathoners instead of sprinters. That, and rockstars can burn out fast. Endurance and consistency counts for a lot.

        1. LBK*

          Exactly. Churning through a ton of high-level work like that is exhausting and I want to know you can keep doing it long-term before I commit to putting you in a higher position.

          The value of a senior team member is also practice dealing with complex situations, and there’s only so many of those that tend to arise in a shorter period of time. I like to see a track record of handling rare, nuanced one-offs and/or longer-term projects, and chronologically, you just can’t do that if you don’t have a few years on you.

          1. Kate*

            +1,000 I heartily endorse this comment.

            Being able to find an elegant solution because you remember how it was dealt with 5+ years ago when it was a nightmarish struggle is not something that comes with rock-stars it’s something that comes with institutional knowledge and experience.

    2. The Not Mad But Occasionally Irritable Scientist*

      That’s not a bug, that’s a feature, and you’d have to fight for what you deserve in any market.

      1. Here we go again*

        I SO DISAGREE! There was a time when employees were rewarded for good performance, automatically. Almost 30 years ago, my mom worked in retail. She was told after a certain period of time she would be eligible for up to a 50 cents an hour raise. They gave her a dollar because she did such a good job. She didn’t have to ask for it. Almost 20 years ago, my dad got a 20% raise automatically (as an Engineer, so significant bump) because he did so well. Neither of them had to fight for it. PERIOD.

        My performance reviews are near flawless. I take on extra projects at my job and am involved in all sorts of committees. My manager appreciates me and lets me know it. My employer, not so much… I’ve gotten less than 3% each year I have been here and I live in a city with one of the highest increases in COL in the country. This has been my experience in the workforce. It sucks. Moreover, studies show that men are thought more highly of for standing up for themselves, whereas, women are viewed as b***es.

        I shut up and stay at my job because I like my boss. Otherwise, I would be leaving for more pay and better rewards. But as soon as I do leave, I have to leave again to get what I deserve.

        1. The Not Mad But Occasionally Irritable Scientist*

          “I SO DISAGREE! There was a time when employees were rewarded for good performance, automatically.”

          I think this is a view of history through some very rose-tinted goggles. I watched my parents fight for every raise and promotion they got in the mid-198s, and then they started their own business and started doing it for keeps. You’re selling your time, expertise, and experience; what makes you think you don’t need to advertise that just as much as if you were selling widgets?

          But okay, maybe in the ’80s they didn’t have to sell that hard. Irrelevant, whether you disagree or not, because it’s 2017, and here and now, you gotta sell it.

          “My employer, not so much… I’ve gotten less than 3% each year I have been here and I live in a city with one of the highest increases in COL in the country.”

          I hadn’t gotten a raise at all in three years, and just got a raise that amounts to just over 2%. Not because my employer doesn’t value me, but because the money simply hasn’t been there, because we got walloped by a few contract protests two years ago, and the company chose to fully fund the furloughed employees’ health insurance policies for 9 months rather than simply lay them off. And because our margins are not that fat. And I live in Denver. So from where I stand, you’re getting your automatic raises a lot more reliably than I am.

          1. LK*

            Rose tinted goggles indeed…. also, subject to privilege…. women and POC and non-cis-hetero people generally have to work WAY harder to get the same promotions or raises…’s not like straight cis white men actually work so much harder than everyone else and that’s why they’re 90%+ of boards of directors and executives…… for the rest of us, the idea of careers being meritocracies is hilariously inaccurate.

            1. The Not Mad But Sometimes Irritable Scientist*

              Yeah, I’d be interested to know if Here We Go’s mother’s Latino, black, or gay coworkers in the ’80s were regularly getting unasked for raises. Wager not many.

              1. Here we go again*

                I am a first-generation minority. My parents are not white. I am leaving it at that for anonymity, but we are very obviously not Caucasian.

                1. The Not Mad But Occasionally Irritable Scientist*

                  Then I retract that, but the point stands: anecdotes aside, those who fondly remember the labor market of the middle and end of the last century were probably playing the game on easy even then.

          2. Here we go again*

            You just said that “you’d have to fight for what you deserve in any market.” So, in this market, yes, you do, but your statement that you have to fight in any market is a fallacy. Employers take advantage of employees and do not value them the way they used to.

            I also live in Denver and my rent has gone up 20+% from the time I moved here back in 2012. My salary has not, except for a job change that helped a little. While a lot of companies can say that the money just isn’t there for X, I can tell you it often is, they just choose not to invest it back into their staff. Maybe that isn’t the case for your employer, but it is the case for mine, and most other people that I know.

            1. The Not Mad But Occasionally Irritable Scientist*

              “but your statement that you have to fight in any market is a fallacy”

              I guess I was assuming that “except in markets accessible only via time machine or wormhole” hardly needed to be stipulated.

              “Employers take advantage of employees and do not value them the way they used to.”

              I understand that this is how you feel, and reflects your lived experience. But a lot has changed in the last 30 years. Computers were followed by the internet, which was followed by globalization, to be followed shortly by mass automation of routine jobs. All of those have created seismic shifts in the entire labor market, created several dozen new industries and killed or are killing dozens of old ones, raised some costs, slashed others, and generally made everything more competitive and more cost-driven. This is not the world of the mid-1980s. It’s not even the world of the late ’90s. Employers value us less, maybe, just like we value them less and show less loyalty, but that’s not all that’s changed. I’d wager your employer, like mine, couldn’t hand out raises of more than 2-3% per annuum even if they wanted to.

              1. The Not Mad But Occasionally Irritable Scientist*

                And, in concrete terms, that means there may not be enough money in the budget for raises for everyone, and you’ve got to work to convince people that you’re one of the lucky few. Whether you like it or not is neither here nor there.

              2. Candi*

                The Great Recession was more than a seismic shift -it shattered some ways of doing business. Companies learned measures to survive that echo down to this day, and shedding even the harsher ones takes time.

                The Great Depression broke economies and caused damage around the world. Economists learned enough from it that they and others were able to build safeguards into business and government so the shock didn’t hit quite so hard this time around -but the Recession was still a major change.

                Another change is the company lifer disappearing. People feel less loyalty to their companies after various trouble and smaller recessions over the years, back at least to the 1970s, especially as they learned they don’t have to take it. So instead of looking at a neat table that says, “Eleanor has been here for four years, that means she has X level of experience, she’s due for a raise/promotion”, the calculation is far more complicated, and it’s harder to keep track of who is doing what when and how well.

                The world has changed, and business is more global then ever. It’s the world we live in. All we can do is educate ourselves in it.

                (And society needs to quit dumping on people for stuff they can’t help. Judge on actions and character, not no-choice factors. Growl.)

        2. LBK*

          I really disagree that there was ever a time where being automatically rewarded for your work was a universal experience (I mean, if this Utopian workplace of the past existed, why did we have a labor movement?). Nor do I agree that it never happens now, since I’ve gotten multiple raises that I didn’t have to ask for, just like your parents did. They’ve taken place under 4 different bosses in different departments/companies, so it’s not just a unique situation where I happened to have one amazing manager.

          I don’t deny that there are people out there who don’t get what they deserve, but I think the idea of this being a very recent change is wrong, and I don’t think the viewpoint that no one ever gets their due anymore is right. My own life just hasn’t borne out the cynicism a lot of people espouse whenever this topic comes up. I dunno, maybe I’m absurdly lucky.

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            Yep, I’m with you. I do think that we’ve had a certain amount of luck and privilege because it’s true that not everyone who works hard gets rewarded … but I think it does happen a lot, and I think the extreme cynicism on the other end of the spectrum is more often than not over-stated or misdirected.

            1. LBK*

              And, frankly, based on the people I’ve worked with who thought they deserved more than they got, I’ve personally thought most of them were wrong. I don’t meant to discredit anyone’s perception of their own work here, because obviously I can’t make that judgment just based on comments. But in my experience, “employee overestimates their performance” has been a lot more common than “employee is undervalued by employer,” such that it makes me a lot more skeptical that the latter narrative is as pervasive as is often stated.

              1. WIS*

                So much Dunning-Kruger effect. I’ve worked closely with a few people who whined and whined about not being properly recognized for all their “outstanding” work. They genuinely believed themselves to be amazing at their jobs, but the reality was that their coworkers far surpassed them.

              2. Turtle Candle*

                Yep, and sometimes when you look into it, complaints of “they only reward people who play the game” or “it’s all politics” aren’t quite what they sound like at first. I had a coworker who complained about that a lot, and the problem was that he kept getting feedback about being rude and overcritical (no pleases, no thank yous, lots of terse demands–often barked–rather than polite requests, never stepping in to lend a hand unless he was told to do so by his manager, but he was quite happy to “help” by providing a lengthy and very brusquely-worded list of nitpicks for everything, even projects well outside his purview) and… he kept ignoring it, because to him it was “all politics” and “prioritizing unimportant stuff.” But it wasn’t unimportant, because being snappish and demanding and hypercritical and never offering even token social niceties like a “please” or a “hello” meant that people didn’t want to work with him, working with him stressed out other employees, and it was a drain on the workplace environment. He was getting clear feedback–he just kept writing it off as BS.

                So he might say “only people who play the game get promotions,” but in his case, “playing the game” meant “offering basic politeness to others.” (He was, specifically, never going to get promoted to a team lead position, which he very much wanted, because his teammembers would have gone screaming for the hills.) It’s absolutely the case that sometimes it means needing to go to annoying lengths to self-promote, or Game of Thrones crap, but it really stood out to me that for some people, any soft skills at all were “bullshit politics.” And it can be difficult to tell, when someone isn’t getting promotions for political reasons, where on the spectrum they fall.

                1. LBK*

                  Yeah, I think this echoes one of the comments higher up about “politics” often just being soft skills, and that people who decide for whatever reason that those aren’t important often find themselves stalled in their career. They can’t figure out why no one wants to work with them, despite them obviously being the smartest and hardest working person in the company (and the rudest and most difficult).

          2. Lissa*

            Yeah, I don’t get the mindset that people used to get what they deserve in a workplace…and if they did, wasn’t it countered by all the many workplaces that had absolutely horrible conditions for people working there, etc.? I’m sure we can all quote anecdotal evidence in both directions, but I would be really surprised to find out that there was *widespread* merit-based promotions in most industries in the past more than there are now..

          3. Pescadero*

            I think the experience was much more universal from the mid 1940s through the mid 1970s.

            It wasn’t utopia – but it did exist in the past, BECAUSE of the labor movement.

            Now we’re slowly sliding back into the pre-labor movement treatment of employess with mass “sub-contracting” and the “gig economy”.

    3. Sylvia*


      I proved myself. I proved that I would do more and more work in the same number of hours without a raise, without complaining.

      Go me?

  14. LeeGull*

    My biggest misconception was in assuming all adult/white collar/office type jobs would have the same norms. My first job made me feel confident I’d figured out professional dress, interactions within the hierarchy, norms around break times, office culture, etc. My next job…was nothing like the first one! Everything I’d learned about all of those categories really only fit that one company. Business causal Fridays at the first job was the professional dress of the second job. Knowing your place in the organizational structure of the first place was overly formal and unnecessary at the second.

    In short, I wish I had know there was no one “business culture” and that every job would have its own nuances that I needed to learn and adapt to with each move.

    1. YES*

      +1 to this. In some ways, I had a harder time adjusting to my second job than my first. Especially because at my first job after college most of my coworkers were decades older than me and honestly kind of babied me. At my second job, everyone was my age and I was expected to pull my own weight. It was kind of a shock.

  15. LoV*

    That “winning” work arguments actually matters or is helpful to your career (granted, sometimes it does, but a lot of times it’s just ego or misguided principle -at least it was for me).

    1. LKW*

      It all depends on what that argument is though right? And how you go about winning the argument. Sometimes a person wins the argument but loses the battle.

      1. LoV*

        Maybe “debate” is a better word. So debates over standards, team direction, project direction and the like. While I feel like I had a point most of the time, I developed a reputation as someone who was difficult to work with. Now, I really only aggressively debate the stuff that really matters, while being more easy going about the minor stuff. Plus, managers take it personally if you come across as undermining their authority, even if you’re in the right :)

        1. Emi.*

          Oh, you wrote the misconception, and for some reason I thought you’d written what you’d learned instead. Thank you!

      2. College Career Counselor*

        I’ll take a stab at this. I suspect that you can “win” an argument, for example, by saying something won’t work and then proving why. But if you’re an asshole about it, that’s what people will remember. Or if you do this too much, you can get a reputation of being argumentative or “hard to work with” which could hurt your career mobility in that organization/field.

        Sometimes it can come down to “would you rather be right or be employed?”

    2. SystemsLady*

      Sometimes when your boss is 100%, unequivocally wrong and listening to them would harm your professional reputation (or your co-workers/another department/your reporte/etc.)…it’s just better to quit.

    3. AnonMurphy*

      Yes! Sometimes ‘winning’ is simply getting everyone to agree, not you proving your point but irritating everyone (or wasting time, etc.) in the process. Learning to pick your battles, I guess.

      1. Turtle Candle*

        Picking your battles was a big one for me. Specifically, learning how to distinguish between ‘I think I’m right but it doesn’t really matter, this isn’t a hill to die on’ and ‘okay, yes, this is important enough to spend social capital on.’ Things like: I think this font is better than that one, but that one is certainly sufficiently readable, so I’m not going to bother the website team about it. Vs. the update significantly messed up our search functionality and now users can’t find anything, so this is worth spending a little earned goodwill to make a nuisance of myself about.

        It’s not that it’s never worthwhile to argue, or even to push hard. It’s recognizing that there is sometimes a cost to it, and you may want to save up your bank of goodwill to spend when you really need it.

        (And it’s also really dependent on context. I have one team that I work with where I have a lot of seniority and also they’re the type of people who love to argue, so the ‘cost’ of any given disagreement is less. On the other hand, another team has less of a culture of debate, and also they know me less well, so I have to proceed with more delicacy. I may be able to say a blunt “That design is probably not going to work, and here’s why” with group one without costing myself much or any social capital, but to get the same point across to group two without hurting my long-term ability to work with them I’d have to be a lot more circumspect.)

    4. Damn it, Hardison!*

      In those situations I try ask myself “do I want to be right or do I want to be effective.” It has saved me from win the battle/lose the war more than once. (But I still really really want to be right)

  16. Sans*

    I assumed everyone was paid fairly and equitably. I assumed if I made $xx for a particular job title, that the other person that job title and equivalent experience also made around $xx. I think I thought that because my first full-time job was customer service, where they were hiring a bunch of people for a training class, and they were very open about us all beginning at the same salary grade and at the same salary. But once I moved on, and into marketing, of course it wasn’t that way anymore. I learned my lesson when I found out someone just a few years older than me was making 50% more. And that’s because her previous job was higher paid than customer service, so they felt the need to pay her more. Live and learn.

  17. PB*

    I had a very narrow sense of what “my job” was, and I thought that any time I spent doing things other than that narrow definition were off the clock. This manifested in silly ways. I thought going to HR for my new employee benefits talk was off the clock, because I wasn’t sitting at my desk doing my job.

    A less obvious one is the difference between exempt/non-exempt. I thought I was being a good employee by working right up to the minute I was supposed to clock out. Sounds good in theory. The problem was that we all clocked in and out of one main computer, far from my desk, so working up to the minute meant clocking out a few minutes late. This was a part-time position, so going over 40 hours wasn’t a risk, but if it had been, it would have been a problem for my manager. That was not intuitive to me, and had to be explained.

    1. Clever Name*

      My first job had 2 locations and I’d sometimes travel to other places within the city for work. I remember sitting in a traffic jam wondering how I’d make up the time because I wasn’t working. I told my boss it took an hour longer to get to the second location, and he was like, “yeah, traffic is awful, isn’t it”. I finally realized I didn’t have to feel guilty for getting stuck in traffic and it was just part of the job.

    2. Turtle Candle*

      I had one related to exempt and non-exempt too. Specifically, I was non-exempt, and I didn’t realize that working overtime and not “claiming” it in the system and getting paid for it was a potential massive legal issue for my company–I thought that if I got a little behind and wanted to work an extra 15 minutes without logging it to catch up, that that would be okay. My boss had to have a serious and embarrassing talk with me about how that was not only unfair to me (and he was very clear that I deserved to get paid for every minute I worked), that it was also major liability for the company, and I absolutely could not do it. I could let him know if I had more work than I could handle, and he could either reassign it or okay my overtime, but just working off the clock was a gigantic no-no.

      Which seems obvious in retrospect, but I had no idea. (And the job I had in high school, while also non-exempt, was with a company that was perfectly happy to get as much free work out of you as they could–so even though it was equally illegal there, I picked up the norm of ‘companies will never say no to free labor.’)

  18. Imaginary Number*

    I would say the biggest misconception I had is about how much people care about “who is to blame.” In some situations, where something dramatically goes wrong, leadership might take root-cause analysis very seriously and pinpointing who did what wrong and when might matter.

    In most everyday situations managers/leaders are far more interested in how you plan to fix the issue vs. who was responsible for causing it. That may mean that, yes, you will sometimes get poked in the eye for failures that are completely outside of your control. But that’s better than the black eye you will get from trying to explain (in detail) how the issue actually originated with someone else.

    1. Future Analyst*

      Ugh. I still struggle with this one. I am more than happy to take complete responsibility when something’s my fault, but it’s really hard for me not to explain when something’s not my fault. I get that ultimately the issue just needs to be resolved, but man, I don’t like taking even a little responsibility for something that was 100% out of my hands. Luckily it doesn’t come up much anymore.

      1. Imaginary Number*

        I can’t imagine anyone likes it! But I also keep in mind that for every case where I have to take responsibility for someone else’s mess, there’s probably someone taking responsibility for something I screwed up (in a healthy work environment.)

      2. Bolt*

        Even when something is my fault I feel compelled to explain WHY it happened to provide some context.

        Missing a deadline because of a client emergency is much different than forgetting to set a reminder for the deadline and even that is different than you did not think it was a priority so intentionally put it off.

        Problem is, the more I tried to explain why it happened (and how I’d prevent it from occurring again), it was seen as trying to make up an excuse for why it wasn’t my fault.

        Now I just apologize, explain it was my mistake and that I’ll try better in the future.

      3. NotAnotherManager!*

        YES! I say so often, “Let’s fix the problem and THEN figure out what went wrong.” If we have an issue, I do not want to waste time pointing fingers and sussing out blame. I do want to do a post-mortem on the issue because it’s nearly always a process problem or a personal mistake. A personal mistake is usually resolved with a quick one-on-one, but a process problem is going to keep rearing its ugly head until we fix it.

    2. Falling Diphthong*

      This is a good one. I still cringe remembering when I told my manager I figured out where the wrong number got entered, and he didn’t care. He cared that it was the right number before it left.

    3. ThatGirl*

      Yes – I went from the newspaper world (if it ends up in print, they just want to know who to blame) to a corporate environment where “whose fault it is” rarely mattered and so I learned to go right to fixing it, if possible.

    4. Tau*

      This was the one I was going to mention. I screwed something up in my first week on the job and was so embarrassed I wanted the ground to swallow me up, but no one cared about who it was or why I let it through. The point wasn’t “hey, why did Tau make this stupid mistake”, the point was “so this mistake happened which is causing XYZ problems to the customer, how do we fix it ASAP”.

  19. Kristine*

    One of my biggest things was figuring out when it was ok to tell your boss you were doing something vs when to ask them for permission. Things like “I need to leave 15 minutes early on Friday for a doctor’s appointment” are no big deal, but you can’t just drop “I’m taking a week of vacation in July” on them. You need to ask permission for that. This also comes in handy in situations like “I told Fergus I will take over making copies of the TPS reports because I have to make presentation copies every Monday anyway” vs “I told Fergus I would take over [task he doesn’t like] because I enjoy doing it”.

    1. Squeegee Beckenheim*

      This was a tough one! I’m glad I’m finally at a point where I can just put stuff like appointments on my Outlook calendar and go (mentioning to my boss where I’m going on my way out the door) instead of asking permission.

    2. costume teapot*

      Ugh I still struggle with this one. It has gotten better with a new supervisor who really only cares that I get my 40 hours in somehow and do all the work that needs to get done at some point. He was amazing when my cat had weekly vet appointments for a little while too. It was such a breath of fresh air after crawling out from under a really terrible micromanager.

    3. FD*

      This is always tricky in a new environment, because different workplaces have different norms about this too.

      1. AnonMurphy*

        Yes, in previous jobs I always needed to ask, but nowadays (possibly because I’m more senior) I just say something like ‘here’s when I’m planning to take my vacation’.

        1. Honeybee*

          I think it’s culture-specific, too. I’m still pretty junior but this is how I approach vacation with my manager as well. She’ll tell me if they really need me at a specific time, but for the most part my vacations are my own to plan.

      2. writelhd*

        Yeah, in my workplace and position* “I’m taking a week off in July” is totally appropriate as a tell rather than an ask, in fact I learned slowly that my manager thought I was kind of weird for asking rather than telling…so long as you’re not saying it right before that week. But even “I’m taking next Thursday and Friday off” would be just fine most of the time, assuming there’s not a big Thing going down then that I need to be there for.

        *If I were in a roll that required balancing different people to provide constant coverage of phones, a desk, etc, it would be different.

  20. Finman*

    Jeans day meant t-shirts were ok as well as an intern. Was told still needed to wear a button down/polo shirt with the jeans.

    1. writelhd*

      The first (and luckily so far, only!) sharp words my boss had with me were about that, within my first few weeks. I saw somebody else in a different department wearing jeans, probably on a Friday but I didn’t make the connection about the day, and I remembered that one morning and grabbed some jeans without thinking about it. I was still not used to business casual anyway. My boss very swiftly and pointedly made it clear that it this was not ok, except “maybe on Friday” but I was so mortified by that experience that to this day I don’t participate in “casual Friday.” I think I went clothes shopping for wide business casual attire that very night. My office has only odd partial participation in “casual” Friday anyway.

      1. Anonymousaurus Rex*

        Ugh. We have a monthly “jeans day” which means that no one remembers it because it’s only once a month. As a consequence, if I remember, I always end up being the one person in jeans looking less polished in a room full of people who forgot and still wore their suits.

  21. Bend & Snap*

    The idea that if you put your head down and work hard, people will notice and your career path will progress accordingly.

    Likewise, I remember being devastated at my first job because I didn’t get a raise at my annual review. In retrospect, I was just doing an okay job, and the review was fine, but I called my dad bawling because these people had the GALL not to give me a raise when I’d been there a whole year. He told me that if I didn’t get one, I probably didn’t deserve one, and to suck it up and get back to work.

    I roll my eyes at my former self a lot.

    1. LBK*

      I think working hard does influence your career path, but you need to keep your head up while you do it so it’s clear just what you’re doing.

      1. Bend & Snap*

        Sure, but my point is that nobody’s looking out for your career but you. You can’t just let it float along with the tide because you work hard.

        1. LBK*

          Right, that’s what I mean (maybe my metaphor wasn’t clear). The idea of “keeping your head down” implies quietly doing your work and not calling attention to yourself. I was trying to say that the hard work part of that is important, but I don’t think you should do it quietly in a corner – do it in front of everyone so they have to pay attention.

    2. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

      Ha! My first year in an office, I didn’t get a raise because of legitimate performance reasons, but my mother was furious and immediately began advocating for me to leave that job. In her mind, if I wasn’t bad enough to go on a PIP, I should have gotten a raise.

      1. myswtghst*

        My mom is still the same way, almost 12 years into my career. No one ever appreciates how awesome I am, I never make a mistake, and everyone I work with is an idiot. It didn’t help that at my last job, her best friend’s daughter worked with me and talked $hit about my boss & coworkers all the time to her mom, so when they got together and gossiped, my mom got more fuel for her fire. The bright side was that sometimes it helped give me perspective, because I wound up defending my boss / coworkers to my mom.

  22. ZSD*

    I thought my academic achievements would carry more weight in terms of hiring, salary, etc.

    I can’t quite give specific examples, but in general, I know that I was initially assuming that office norms were closer to academia norms than they are.

    1. ZSD*

      I also thought people wasted a lot less time at work than they really do, honestly. At my first job, I would kind of trot to and from the bathroom rather than walking because I thought any time I was away from my computer was time I was stealing from the company. Once I had been there six month and realized that my position could have just been for 30 hours a week rather than 40, well, I visited a lot more time-waster sites at work. (Obviously, this varies on the job, but prior to being in the working world, I thought no one would ever hire someone for a 40 hour per week job if there weren’t actually 40 hours of work to do. What would be the point?)

      1. Rusty Shackelford*

        Yes, this. I worked part-time in an office setting while I was in college, and I remember being *shocked* that a group of people sat in someone’s office for an *hour* just chatting! Ha.

        1. annalisa karenina*

          I just started a new job and this office’s culture is just so much more laid back. I was feeling twitchy about shooting the breeze with a coworker, but it turns out — no one cares!

      2. Miles*

        Yes! I cringe a bit remembering a time when I had just started working for my first job and a bunch of my more experienced coworkers were trying to convince me to leave work 15 minutes early to go for drinks with them and I kept saying I couldn’t because I had another 15 minutes before I had put in my full 8 hours! They were nice enough to wait around for 15 minutes until I was done, but now I realize they were trying to let me know that, while technically according to the employees handbook we had to be there for a full 8 hours, in practice the company didn’t care and it was very common to leave or come in a bit early and make it up the next day. Certainly not all workplaces are like that but a lot of them are.

      3. AWall*

        I think this preconception comes from how a lot of people’s first jobs are in hospo/retail where you have to be doing something constantly. I know my first jobs were all hospo and if there was any down time or if people were standing chatting, managers would tell you to go do something – not necessarily because there’s something important to do but because it looks bad to the customers to have staff milling about, not doing anything. So you end up developing the skill of ‘looking busy’ and then transfer that skill to an office job where there (generally) aren’t customers to worry about.

    2. LeeGull*

      Yes!! Colleges do a disservice here, I think I remember being told in college that things like dorm “government” and leading clubs would look great on resumes and really give you an advantage, only to find out in the real world that being the 4th floor activities coordinator…was pretty useless. And listing political activities for non-political jobs is more info than you necessarily want to share with an employer. And really, no one cares about your GPA!

      1. Kristine*

        My first job out of college (at a consulting firm) had a GPA requirement of 3.5 or higher for all entry level hires. This is probably not the norm, but sometimes they do care!

        1. College Career Counselor*

          Absolutely for first jobs, in some fields. That said, I don’t think I’ve ever heard someone say that their GPA mattered for the second job. ;-)

      2. Morning Glory*

        I didn’t realize that interning for a senator in a particular political party would make everyone who saw my resume think I was a member of that party. Eight years later, it seems so naive.

        Both senators from my home state were members of the same political party who crossed the aisle regularly, so I was like ‘ah well, this is my only option and I don’t hate their politics.’ And then was shocked when people assumed I agreed with the senator politically.

      3. NotAnotherManager!*

        Professional service industries (consulting, legal) do care about your GPA at entry level. We require a minimum 3.0, and that’s considered low in my field. Once someone has a few years of experience, it matters very little as long as you have a degree and know something useful.

        Very few other industries care at all.

        (Also, my HR recruiter has complained to me several times this hiring season that no one is putting GPA on their resumes, even when they are quite high. She suspects the career centers have changed advice again.)

      4. Anxa*

        I am still being disqualified for jobs for low GPA and the past 2 jobs I asked for requested my transcripts*

        That said, I regret spending so much time on extracurriculars and work. I should have been focusing on my GPA, not my work experience. Because without a good GPA, I didn’t win any slots of internships that were more relevant to my field. I thought that the work I was doing would at least show that I could handle a variety of challenges, but that hasn’t been at all useful. I have yet to find a job out of college that has been more challenging than the ones in college, and so many of my experiences have been pretty much useless. At the time I thought they were building my confidence, but after a few years of underemployment all of that went away.

        That said, it did teach me that while people aren’t very eager to help recent graduates or the underemployed get a toehold in the workforce, a lot of them love to help out students. I enrolled in community college just to give me that student status that make me suddenly palatable enough again to employers.

        *which is kind of funny, because my crappy GPA had me so scared in the first few years out of college that it definitely held me back from applying to jobs where it was probably not needed, and now I’m in jobs where it matters anyway, and it’s still a mark of shame for me.

        1. ReneeB*

          Yes, this! I struggled for two years to get out of an Assistant position to a deeply dysfunctional boss with no luck and was fairly demoralized. So I started a special technical program related to my field at the local well-regarded community college to kill time, because why not. And I was off the Assistant desk in a rank-up job with a new employer within 6 months.

          Who knew putting “Currently pursuing post-baccalaureate certification in Teapot Finance and Compliance” on my resume would return that student sheen, as you say.

          It seems so obvious now looking back on it.

          1. Anxa*

            This is basically what I did. I did have to kind of pay to play, but it worked out better than unemployment. After one semester in a program I ended up with a part-time job for 2.5 years (I did complete the program, though). That A.S. degree paid for itself by opening up the door.

    3. Master Bean Counter*

      Yes, it’s kinda sad how little academic achievements matter in the grand scheme of things sometimes.

    4. businessfish*

      Generally, even, that my education level mattered. Thinking that my bachelor’s degree made me better qualified than someone with 25 years of experience and no degree ended up with a VERY humbling reset…

      nobody cares about your education (except IN education, but that’s a different story) – it is not a standin for experience. shut up and listen and stop talking about college!

    5. Ann Furthermore*

      When my stepdaughter was a junior in high school, and getting hammered at school about going to college, I told her that once you get out in the working world, in most cases, no one really gives a crap where you went to college. I went to a local no-big-name college and got my degree, and I’ve had a pretty successful career. If I’m hiring, I look to see if someone has a degree, and I’ll take note of where they went to college, but it doesn’t factor into whether or not I interview them. It’s having the degree that gets your foot in the door, not where it came from.

      Sure, there are exceptions to that. Like if you want to be an engineer, then you’d want to go to the Colorado School of Mines. If you want to be a doctor or a lawyer, then having Harvard on your resume will probably open some doors for you.

      She couldn’t believe it when I told her that. And I told her that her school probably urges people to apply to more prestigious (and costly) schools in part because it makes their metrics look good.

      1. businessfish*

        I would say once you’re IN a job, this is absolutely true, but it can matter in getting a jobs a few ways:

        1. especially for your first job, (in a good economy) a more prestigious school will likely have better recruiting opportunities which make it easier to get into a high-paying entry level job like consulting analyst than if those companies aren’t on your campus
        2. networking. The size of the alumni pool and the types and levels of positions that alumni hold can help you in networking into opportunities (probably a lot more true for grad school than undergrad)
        3. branding – at the VERY highest echelons (probably mostly true for ivys and a few others, but not necessarily for great and even prestigious liberal arts colleges), the name of your institution can serve as a stand-in for some level of screening/endorsement. As in, if this candidate was good enough for harvard, they’re probably good enough for us.

        That said, those benefits may help snag interviews, but their value ends there in terms of other people caring. Once an employer actually meets you, it’s up to you to demonstrate your value.

      2. Ursula*

        As a former HR person, this is pretty much true. When recruiters looks at schools, there are 3 categories:

        1. Ivey league (or top 10 schools in a particular specialty if relevant to the role)
        2. Everyone in between
        3. For-profit colleges

        So in other words, 90% of colleges are looked at as exactly the same.

        1. Mazzy*

          Maybe this puts candidates out of this advantage but when I’ve hired I’ve never heard of a lot of the schools only to find out later that are considered very very very good schools. Sorry I can’t know everything

  23. SanguineAspect*

    My biggest misconception about the workplace was that the people in charge will have everything together and really know what they’re doing. The more I work, the more I realize that just because you’ve got a fancy title, doesn’t mean you know what you’re talking about.

    1. Katie the Fed*

      Oh yes. I remember the first time I was in a meeting with some pretty senior US officials and came to the startling realization that they didn’t know what to do either.

    2. Pup Seal*

      Ooooooh yes! Where I work titles don’t mean anything, and they get changed all the time. At one point the word “director” was in my title, but I’m barely making over my county’s minimum wage. My supervisor has the title of CEO but he’s not allowed to make executive decisions. It’s sad.

    3. Tableau Wizard*

      Unfortunately, I’ve also learned that just because someone doesn’t know what they’re talking about, doesn’t mean that THEY KNOW that they don’t know what they’re talking about…

    4. Mazzy*

      This is a good one. I was surprised for the first few years of my career at how little management seemed to know about so many things. It got me angry at certain points because I didn’t know how they got promoted “knowing nothing.” Now I use that as a strength by being a SME in certain areas.

    5. mamabear*

      I don’t even want to admit how long it took me to realize this. Way, way longer than it should’ve, and only because I ended up being involved in the hiring process for a position above mine. I finally realized that there are few really magical candidates out there. A lot of getting hired into leadership positions comes down to the willingness to do the work.

    6. Jillociraptor*

      Yes! Basically my entire career has been working really closely with very senior folks, and this has been such an important lesson to learn. Everyone has limited information, biases, constraints. I think most senior leaders struggle with the difference between the vision and possibilities they see in their heads and what can happen in reality. Learning this has really helped me to both have empathy for leaders when I don’t agree with their decisions (or when they make a mistake) and understand how to influence folks higher up.

    7. Freya UK*

      Tell me about it – my current manager* has been known to start screaming and slamming his keyboard on the desk like a deranged primate at the slightest thing (that’s usually his fault). He’s a man in his fifties who talks down to anyone under the age of 40 because obviously, we are less mature, wise, etc…

      *Hopefully not for much longer.

    8. Security SemiPro*

      My work means that I get to see really smart, really powerful people wrestle with big problems that don’t have solutions yet. Usually right after something expensive and embarrassing broke.

      Knowing what you are doing is pretty optional. Being willing to do the work, and work with others on it, is less optional.

  24. AdAgencyChick*

    Both my parents were government employees. That meant difficult to fire (and nearly impossible in my mom’s case, as she was a teacher, albeit a very good one), and that they had very well-defined work schedules, especially my dad. My mom, as many teachers do, would work on her lesson plans at home sometimes, but dad was in and out the door at the exact same time every day.

    In my first non-retail job out of college, I left at 5 or shortly thereafter every day and my coworkers were routinely there an hour or more later than I was, and I somehow thought this was fine. Imagine my shock when I got my first review at six months and it was roundly mediocre. I was told “this is not a 9-5 job” specifically. It wasn’t just about face time, although I’m sure that counted for something; my boss was pissed that I was leaving at 5 when there was more to do.

    I didn’t enter advertising for a couple more years after that, but even then it took me a while to figure out the right balance of when it is okay to hang up your cleats and go home and when it is not.

    1. Collarbone High*

      I had the opposite problem — blue-collar parents whose work stories were tales of unfair bosses and arbitrary firings. (I now realize most of those weren’t “arbitrary” so much as “completely justified” — my sister and I, now white-collar professionals, agree that our dad was basically the worst employee ever and we would fire him too.)

      So I spent my first work years thinking I would be fired at any second, and the only way to prevent that was to constantly be in motion, work work work! Stay late off the clock! Work through your lunch! Do not take even five seconds to chat with co-workers!

      (I laugh now at how I was terrified of being fired from a fast-food place that had like 500 percent turnover and I was one of the star employees simply because I showed up when I was scheduled to.)

      1. Aurion*

        Haha, yeah, I remember I was terrified of being Written Up at a grocery store because I was late coming back from break by about two minutes.

        I was the fastest cashier on the floor and I never called out sick.

    2. hbc*

      Yep, two parents in government jobs, working on stuff it would be illegal for them to bring home. I’m not even sure when I figured out that doing work after hours was A Thing You Could Do.

  25. Pescadero*

    Misconceptions I had –

    The majority of managers approach minimal competency.

    That employers occasionally did right as opposed to the most self serving thing possible within the bounds of law that won’t lose them too many employees.

    That hard work and results are rewarded, and rewarded in proportion to the work done.

    That I wouldn’t get blamed for others I have no control or influence over failing at their job.

      1. Candi*

        Honestly. I’ve had jobs all over the scale.

        I’d say, follow the advice here on this site to find a job that doesn’t suck.

  26. Katie the Fed*

    When a senior person tells the workforce they have an “open door policy,” take it with a grain of salt. It doesn’t mean you should just walk right in and tell them about concerns you’re having, unless you’ve already addressed it with your immediate supervisor.

    Sorry, first boss.

    1. HR Bee*

      THIS. And this is why when I was responsible for orienting new staff I made a point of explaining that yes, we have an open door policy, which means if you are having an issue you speak to your manager first, and THEN to your manager’s manager or to HR.

      I was in a retail environment with many young people who had never had a job before of any kind, and it took a couple of people coming to me with issues before they went to their supervisor before I realized I should explicitly say that.

    2. Anonymous Coward*

      Ha. I just remembered scheduling an hour meeting on the HR Director’s work calendar and sending an email notification. I wanted to talk about a disagreement with my boss. His assistant sent me an email explaining that he had online office hours — essentially a conference call where people asked questions and there was no privacy either at my desk or in front of whoever else attended. I’m sure she was perfectly polite, but I got the idea that, despite our startup culture, Things Just Weren’t Done that way. I didn’t even know he had an assistant, much less one who read his email and dealt with clueless underlings.

      1. Katie the Fed*

        Ooooh no! That’s so embarrassing! If it makes you feel better, I have a good friend who was our director’s executive assistant and crazy stuff like this happens more than you’d ever realize :)

  27. The Optimizer*

    My biggest misconception was that not everyone I worked with wants to improve things or do anything differently than they always have done them. I would see efficiencies or think of a slightly different way to do things and could not understand why others didn’t see them or didn’t see the value in change. It drove me mad that they couldn’t think of ways to improve a process and didn’t really care to try. My manager took me out to lunch one day and told me that it was OK that people were like that because he needed those people just as much as he needed people like me. His quote, “We can’t have all chiefs and no Indians!” has stuck with me many, many years later.
    What I tend to see in younger people is that there is an expectation of advancement after a much too short period of time. Perhaps it’s a carryover from school where they put in X amount of work and advanced to the next level of class but it doesn’t necessarily work that way in the real world. In my OldJob, we had several younger people that could not understand why they weren’t getting promoted after they had been in their positions for a year. These weren’t really super junior positions either – more like somewhere between junior and mid-level accounting jobs that paid very well in a great company with fantastic benefits. They got raises, bonuses and such but got mad when they weren’t given a management title, which wasn’t really an option because we didn’t really need any more chiefs ;-)

    1. Grits McGee*

      The advancement thing is something I’ve noticed with some of my younger coworkers who have gone straight from undergrad to graduate school to where we all work now. That, and the idea that meeting the basic expectations of your job is all that you should be expected to do. There’s a disconnect between the quality of work and the completion of work. (Of course, the fact that we work for the federal government doesn’t help with that.)

    2. Pup Seal*

      This reminds me of my friend. He is someone who focuses on efficiencies and taking initiative. I know he has annoyed his supervisor more than once about the list of ideas he comes up with. He also has applied for higher internal positions several times.

      However, things are different now, and his workplace is in dire need of change. Part of his job now is developing processes that are better to save the company. His employer has laid off so many people in the past 2 years. They just let go 100 people back before Thanksgiving. There are some policies and processes that aren’t really ethical, and the company is in danger of losing clients, which will lead to more laid offs. He’s now looking for a new job, and I think he’s tired of having to come up with ways to improve the company.

    3. Manders*

      Oof, yes, this was a huge one for me. I don’t think I’ll ever totally get rid of my urge to improve all the things, but I did find a career path that channels it in a less annoying way. And I work with reports that track progress in various KPIs over time, so I can give myself a report card whenever I want.

      1. The Optimizer*

        I work for a company now that’s just past the start-up phase. We’re growing and experiencing the pains that go along with it. It’s basically my job to develop processes and improve things now and I couldn’t be happier!

    4. hayling*

      Totally agree. It’s also hard to see when you’re new that there might actually be a reason for a seemingly inefficient process.

    5. myswtghst*

      Your first paragraph really resonates for me, because I’ve spent 8+ years working with entry level customer service reps and innovation was a big focus for me with a number of the teams I’ve worked with. There were two misconceptions I saw A LOT of from newer employees (and honestly, even some who’d been around for a while):

      1. If a process or tool doesn’t work the way an employee thinks it should, it must be broken and in need of fixing. In a lot of situations where this came up, the employee didn’t have (and didn’t seek out) any background on why we did things the way we did, and just assumed management must be idiots. In reality, there were nearly always valid (and sometimes legal / regulatory) reasons why things worked the way they did. I was always happy to help investigate the why, but I saw a lot of generally good ideas go nowhere because the employee did no research and pitched the idea as if we were all silly for not having thought of it.

      2. If I see something I perceive to be a problem and report it, my work is done and someone else will fix it. This was especially egregious when the “problem” was nebulously defined and limited to one or two people with no supporting data, but would require a lot of time / effort / money to “fix”.

      It can be incredibly helpful to have newer eyes help you spot the opportunities in your processes and tools, and come up with innovative solutions the people entrenched in the processes and tools might not think of. But it’s important for employees to do their research, understand the background, and have a workable solution, which is something not everyone knows how to do when they’re new. Being innovative is more than just “having brilliant ideas”, it’s doing the work to make them feasible, too.

      1. ReneeB*

        Yes, #2.

        I’ll never forget the boss who said, “Who tied an anchor to your boat?” After I brought him probably the umpteenth brilliant observation of a problem someone else (he) needed to fix.

        “As they used to say to me in the Navy, who tied an anchor to your boat? If you want something done, fix it.”

        The squeaky wheel doesn’t always get the grease. Sometimes it’s told to take responsibility for greasing itself to perform better for the whole team, haha.

      2. Candi*

        But it’s important for employees to do their research, understand the background, and have a workable solution, which is something not everyone knows how to do when they’re new. Being innovative is more than just “having brilliant ideas”, it’s doing the work to make them feasible, too.”

        Weirdly enough TV Tropes taught me this. Research, feasibility and work are necessary to make sure an idea isn’t a tired retread, or something that would flout essential protocols. They help you see the front of the tapestry as well as the back.

        I never brought ideas up at my jobs unless asked -a toxic mother and early toxic workplaces taught me fast to shut up- but I would wonder and wonder why this easy, simple thing wasn’t done, or why the company or government was handing down X from on high when it didn’t seem logical.

        Well, I can’t go back and find out specifically why in those cases, but I can understand now there may have been a zillion threads that I just couldn’t see.

        (However, when I can see the threads and they make a picture and it still defies sense and logic, I still get internally antsy.)

    6. CB*

      Oh, definitely the expectation of advancement. We had one team that did promote on a timeline (assistant to associate to manager every 2 years) and it made it so much harder for the rest of us to explain to someone with the same sort of title that their role was different and did not come with a timeline.

  28. Marissa*

    In my first few months of working in my first field-related job, I was very confused about office hours vs. amount of work that I had. Since I was new, I was not given very much work. There were some days where I’d finish everything I had on my plate and it would only be 2:00 p.m., so I’d want to go home. My job had nothing to do with answering phones or needing to be present until closing, so I thought this was somehow OK. I got this impression because other people in the office would have varying hours (I later learned that some people were part time, were offsite, or had different start/finish hours).

    I feel silly thinking about it now, but I was so used to a university schedule, I thought this was logical reasoning. (P.s., To this day, I still think my employer could be a little more flexible re: slow days, considering I can boot up my computer at home and work from there if new work comes in before the end of the day. However, I can see looking back how bad the optics of this mindset would have looked)

    1. The Not Mad But Sometimes Irritable Scientist*

      In fairness, I think that’s really how it should be.

    2. Lemon Zinger*

      In a perfect world, that is how things would work! I am sitting in a near-empty office with nothing to do and nobody to help, but I can’t just up and leave… even though I could easily work from home. It’s annoying.

    3. emma2*

      This isn’t my first full-time job technically, but my first job ever was as a research assistant in college. I made two mistakes:

      1.) Leaving early when I figured I had already finished work, as opposed to when I was actually scheduled to leave. My professor caught me one day one the way out like “Um, why are you leaving?”

      2.) Thinking team meetings were optional because they weren’t scheduled on the days I was supposed to come into work, so I missed my first one without giving any notice in advance. She had to email me, ask me why I didn’t show up, and then explain that I was expected to attend the meetings and if I couldn’t make it, to e-mail notifying her in advance.

      SO MUCH CRINGE. I can’t believe I was such a dolt – I wouldn’t even dream of doing such a thing now. Luckily for me, my professor was a very kind, patient, and understanding person.

      1. The Optimizer*

        Honestly, it would not have occurred to me that I would be required to attend a meeting if it was scheduled on a day I wasn’t supposed to work and I’m waaaay past my first job. Your manager (or prof) should have made it clear that you were supposed to attend even if you weren’t scheduled to work that day.

        1. emma2*

          Ok, glad to know I was of some sense then. Her reprimand just made me feel guilty and negligent

  29. Tableau Wizard*

    I recently gave my notice, and I’m coming to realize that something that seems SO HUGE to me (quitting my first professional job) is just normal “doing business” to everybody else.
    It’s a little more complicated than that, but I really expected my resignation to be much more drama filled than it actually was.

    1. A Beth*

      Oh man, I am facing this right now. I know people will miss me (and vice versa), but the fact that I can just put together a binder for someone to take over is kind of eye-opening. It really is just business, even if I have spent a lot of time with this team. Like a quarter of my life, and now I’m just typing up notes for someone else to do it just as well as I do.

      1. Tableau Wizard*

        This can be so hard though. There’s so much that’s intangible about my work and I can’t package it all up in a binder, but I’m trying.

        1. A Beth*

          Exactly! A lot of it just comes with time, I guess, and I keep telling people that whoever comes in will have their own way and make their own improvements but it can really take a while to get to that point.

          Good luck–I hope you’re heading off to greener pastures!

    2. Sarasaurus*

      Yes! I remember being TERRIFIED to quit my first professional job. I had this whole speech prepared with all my reasons outlined. When my boss was basically just like “well, we’ll miss you, but congrats. when’s your last day?” I was shocked at how casual it seemed. I don’t know what I expected — maybe for him to beg me not to go?

  30. Katie the Fed*

    Also – I thought people would be interested in my ideas on how to fix things or improve processes.

    I didn’t realize that with only a few months under my belt I didn’t have the level of organizational visibility to understand why things were the way they were, or know that many of my ideas had already been tried.

    1. Christy*

      Yes! This took me a really long time to learn. As a new person, you lack a lot of context that more experienced coworkers have.

    2. SJ*

      Yep, I have to remind myself of this a lot. I’m only ~6 months into my new job, but I’m suuuuuper ambitious with lots of ideas, so I have to talk myself down off the ledge sometimes.

    3. The Not Mad But Occasionally Irritable Scientist*

      Yes, especially when you’re young, you think it’s all just that simple. And then you realize it’s been tried, and it failed, because reasons you have no understanding of.

    4. Falling Diphthong*

      I have thought of this with several new-to-work letters–that often times if you just wait a few months you will figure out the reason for something. That Step 17 usually could have been skipped, but 1 time in 100 is crucial, and that’s why it’s there. Or that the coworker who seems to have an exemption from a rule you were told literally has an exemption, and the details why are not your business.

    5. Aurion*

      Yeah, it took me until my third job to realize I should keep my mouth shut for at least six months before I suggest anything. I’m pretty sure my coworkers barely heard me talk beyond the usual “good morning”/”see you tomorrow” those first six months.

    6. Admin Assistant*

      This is also really hard – I’ve been the youngest/most tech-savvy person in my office in most of my jobs, and it takes some experience to learn when it’s OK to suggest new ideas/more modern ways of doing things and when it isn’t, and when it’s OK to really advocate for changes and when it isn’t.

      I’m actually kind of experiencing that with my current job – we have a new hire who’s great and very smart, and has a lot of really great ideas, but his forcefulness in advocating for them is kind of off-putting because he doesn’t know the office culture nearly well enough, and he sometimes makes suggestions re: things I work on where I want to be like “mind your own business.” It’s not that his ideas are bad, it’s just that they weren’t solicited and he doesn’t always get that I do things a certain way because my supervisors prefer it that way. It’s annoying.

    7. I'm The Boss, Applesauce!!*

      OMG, this. So many times someone comes in and within a few weeks they are bitching about how we do things. How about you slow down and see why we do things the way we do rather than just complaining about everything and tell us how wrong we are for doing things that way?

    8. AVP*

      ooh yes. I was just going to add below, following directions. Sometimes there’s a ~reason~ your boss asks you to do something a certain way, and not just because they didn’t have you around to give them genius improvement ideas.

      1. myswtghst*

        Yes, this! And if you don’t know the reason why your boss wants you to do it that way, ask!

    9. Clever Name*

      Yes. My company has a lot of quirks, and some of those quirks go back to when our owner decided to start her own company because she didn’t like the way things were done at companies she had worked for. So when a new college graduate declares some process we have as “dumb” or “nonsensical” they can be inadvertently attacking the foundation of the company.

    10. AnotherLibrarian*

      This. I have sense learned that for the first six months on the job, minimum, to keep your mouth shut and just learn how things work.

    11. myswtghst*

      Along this line, if you do have ideas, find someone you trust (a coworker with more tenure, your manager, a mentor…) and ask questions. Find out why it’s done the way it currently is, if they’ve tried other things before, and if they’re open to potentially changing the process. Ask what other teams / people / customers would be impacted by a change. Really listen to their answers. Then, figure out what the return on investment would be (will it take a lot of time / money / effort to fix something which will have a minimal positive impact?), and if your idea still seems like a good one, build a case and make the suggestion.

      (And if you’re not up for all of the above, at least stick to 1-2 of your brilliant ideas to pitch, rather than all of them, and don’t be super aggressive when you do it)

      1. Candi*

        I remember reading a job-hunting book some years ago (published 1998, for what it’s worth) that you will have lots of great ideas when you start a new job, especially your first job.

        The author said to write down every idea and sit on it for six months, then review it. She pointed out that by then, you’ll have enough background to know which ones to cross off -and mentioned that with most people she’s talked to or heard from, that tends to be all but one or two.

        (I was reading the book for entertainment value at the time. The author was very engaging, but her advice was mostly useless because change.)

  31. Snarkus Aurelius*

    I was thinking about an incident early on in my career that haunts me still today so much so I’m too embarrassed to even say what I did. I think I’ll always be mortified!!

    Things I’ve learned…

    1) My Depression-era parents hardly ever took off work. Not even when their kids were sick. Not even when they were sick. What did they use their days off for? Working on their small family business. When I started work, I never wanted to call in sick. I didn’t know you could take sick time for doctor’s appointments. So I found a dentist who had Saturday appointments. I never found an OB who had weekend hours so I never went. And you bet I carried my sick butt into work.

    2) I had no idea what a good manager was supposed to look like. My first job was with two women who micromanaged the crap out of me to the point I was conditioned to never take initiative or come up with an idea on my own lest I get creamed for it. Unfortunately I carried that with me to other jobs and was dinged on it during annual reviews. Now I know how to navigate that better and work around a boss who is an obstacle. (Ironically these two also complained about how no young women ever wanted to continue in this field and too bad because they wanted to be mentors. Hilarious!)

    3) Money and gifts are out of control in the workplace. I remember having to read someone the riot act for expecting our temp (!) to contribute $20 to a wedding shower for an employee she didn’t know. Gifts should only flow downward if they flow anywhere, yet I’m continually shocked at the higher ups who regularly accept gifts from people who make half their salary. Not an ounce of self-awareness there. Not only that but I really don’t appreciate having to contribute anything to people who haven’t been that nice to me. Keep that stuff out of the office and do it on your own time!

    4) Most importantly…knowing when to volunteer for something, especially as a woman. During my first internship, I volunteered to take notes. For the reminder of the summer, I was the designated note taker. Never again! I once had to learn to make coffee as part of a monthly meeting I planned, but I made sure to never do it outside of that context. As I type this, I realize I never did it again. I’ve also seen the downsides of what happens when women (always women!) jump to volunteer to make cakes, circulate cards, send flowers, and other emotional labor they’re not evaluated on. What do I volunteer for? Only things that will either make it onto my resume or my annual review or both. That’s it.

    1. Christy*

      Yes! Being the note taker got me a lot of visibility when I was an intern, and it really helped me get a macro view of my organization, but now that I’m an analyst? In no world will I volunteer to take notes. Even if I’m better at it than others in my office.

    2. Venus Supreme*

      I agree with you 100% on #3, and I feel like my workplace is backwards, so I’m trying to keep perspective on what’s Normal Everywhere, and what’s Only Normal Here. It’s expected here that everyone in the department gives gifts to everyone, regardless of level– so when Christmastime rolled around everyone got each other gifts and I had nothing to give in return. I decided that this isn’t the hill I wanted to die on, so I begrudgingly went to the Dollar Store and got everyone candy…

    3. ruff orpington*

      The notes volunteer is such a good point. It’s been a constant learning experience to avoid slotting myself in more traditionally ‘female’ roles early (which is unfortunate). I realized after a few weeks that I was the one writing notes because I ‘had the best handwriting’, and not the one getting hands on experience with the tool, or speaking out at a meeting. I’m fortunate that I have a great boss who, after I mentioned this to him, always made sure that tasks were shared fairly and that everyone got time on new equipment. It’s definitely something that I will have to be vigilant about in the future.

    4. hayling*

      Oh man, not volunteering for “female” tasks is key when you’re a woman. It’s one thing when you’re an intern (that’s likely part of your job), but you need to be cautious about it when you have a proper job.

    5. PhillyPretzel*

      Ditto on the sick days thing. My mother was a teacher, so hardly ever took sick time because it’s a major inconvenience to have to find a sub, get them lesson plans, and then rework your own lesson plans for the week. Whenever staying home sick is discussed on these threads and pretty much everyone emphasizes that you stay home, even with just a cold, out of consideration for your coworkers, my mind boggles a bit. Like, I understand in my head that this is the correct view and now follow it, but I literally was never exposed to this idea until I was an adult. I’m pretty sure I never took a sick day in my first professional job because I had never seen such a thing modeled.

      1. Emi.*

        I have to admit, I’m sort of skeptical of the “stay home for any cold” thing. If I stayed home whenever I had a cold, no one would see me from December to February.

      2. AnotherAlison*

        I hear ya. My parents never went to the doctor or called in sick. My parents weren’t taken to the dr. as kids when sick, so they didn’t take us. They didn’t really get sick* themselves, and they made my sister and I go to school sick (or we would stay home sick alone, even when I was 11). I got kind of obsessed with it. I remember in 9th grade, my dad wanted to take me to some local event, and I wanted to go to school so I could maintain perfect attendance for my entire junior high career.

        *My mother says she never gets sick. I remember that she had a raging case of bronchitis and broke ribs from coughing but I guess since she went to work, she wasn’t sick. >: |

        Now, I’m the jackass with 10 weeks of maxed out, accumulated PTO on the books, and my dad is the guy who is 65, doesn’t want to retire, and just returned to work weeks early after having surgery. I’m not sure I’ll be able to break the cycle.

      3. Mabel*

        I had the opposite problem. In my first corporate job, I had a certain number of sick days so I thought I could use them whenever I needed/wanted – since they were MINE. However, after taking off 1 day at a time 2 or 3 times over about a 3 month period, I was told – very sternly, and the attitude was as though I had tried to take advantage of them – that I could only use the sick days if I were really, really sick, and I couldn’t use them 1 day at a time. From then on, I didn’t take any sick days because I was afraid of losing my job over it. I’m sure part of their concern was that I was taking any time at all off during my first 6 months in the job, but I didn’t know any better. It would have been nice if they could have just explained it to me instead of acting as though I were deliberately stealing days from them.

      4. MoodyMoody*

        Pretty much this. I was out sick two days this week because I couldn’t talk. Can’t teach if I can’t talk. Lesson plans, etc., are such a pain! At least I don’t have to find a sub myself. I used to, but that was changed because we have to keep the hours low enough that benefits don’t come into play. Yay community college.

    6. DevManager*

      I think the rules on this vary by person and position.

      I do not volunteer to take notes, unless I am the least junior person in the room. However, I do take the initiative on get well cards, sympathy cards, and retirement cards for my team because I am their manager and it’s my job to recognize the situations appropriately and coordinate so that my team feels valued. (I am not collecting for the retirement gift for the upcoming retirement we have – my asking would seem like a demand, versus it coming from someone else. I am contributing a significant chunk to it though.)

  32. Victorontonian*

    One of my first jobs that I got on merit and not connections turned out to be a role where as the lowest paid employee, I was treated exceptionally poorly and thought I had to take micromanagement and in some cases, verbal abuse. Once I moved on to other jobs I learned that I was hired because they thought I could do the work without heavy supervision. I didn’t have to notify my boss before I sent every email.

    Unfortunately, when I was in the bad job, many people I went to for advice treated it as normal, and told me I had to earn respect and that I hadn’t proved myself trustworthy. Yes, you do have to work hard and prove yourself, but you don’t have to take abuse while doing it.

    1. Venus Supreme*

      Agreed. FirstJob was terrible (same thing here with the boss and the e-mails!) and I was told I needed to “pay my dues” before earning a well-paying job.

  33. C Average*

    I think my biggest misconception was that I’d get regular feedback and plenty of it, and that I’d know where I stood at all times. As a corollary, I assumed that if anyone had a problem with my work, they would tell me and I would have the ability and opportunity to correct it. So if no one was actually complaining about me, I figured, “Hey, I’m doing great! If I wasn’t, someone would have told me.”

    I think this was probably a carryover from both the school environment (where you get report cards telling you how you’re doing and you get your papers back with lots of comments on them) and my earliest jobs (where I was a teenager and worked for small local businesses, and where my supervisors weren’t hesitant to both praise and correct me as needed, and where most of my tasks could be pretty accurately described as pass/fail). Also, in both of those settings, corrections were confined to the work product itself and not to areas like attitude, affect, or how others perceived me.

    This blog and its comment section have made me aware of many, many weaknesses, blind spots, and areas of opportunity in my work style. No one in a grown-up corporate environment tells you this stuff, and they usually don’t tell you when you’re doing it wrong. But boy do they ever hold it against you if you DO do it wrong!

    1. Kristine*

      >No one in a grown-up corporate environment tells you this stuff, and they usually don’t tell you when you’re doing it wrong. But boy do they ever hold it against you if you DO do it wrong!

      This is my #1 work pet peeve. I actively want constructive criticism and to be told how to improve or if I’m doing something wrong. But I’ve sometimes gone months doing something incorrectly without knowing it until someone else got frustrated with my mistakes– which I didn’t know were mistakes! And when I ask for feedback I get “You’re doing great!” Thanks but I was hoping for something more.

      1. Zibidibodel*

        This is something a lot of companies struggle with and the org I work for is currently doing a lot of work on trying to get members of management to more proactively give feedback and even recognition for smaller deeds done so that our employees know that we’re actively watching and we notice them doing things right.

    2. Cassandra*

      Yes, yes, yes. In fairness to myself, it wouldn’t have done much good for me to ask about my performance at Toxic Ex-Job because my boss there was utterly useless, but… I should have asked anyway.

      As it was, one of the (many, some reasonable, some not) things I was being silently dinged on was “isn’t aware she’s tanking.”

    3. Lemon Zinger*

      SO true. My coworker is always shocked when someone gives her feedback on things she needs to improve. She doesn’t have an ounce of self-awareness, so unfortunately she never realizes when she’s making herself look bad.

  34. CrazyEngineerGirl*

    My biggest misconception (and one I still struggle with sometimes even though I’ve identified it) is that you really don’t have to be ‘yourself’ at work. Many times, being professional means doing something or acting in a way that I would have that I would have thought of as fake or disingenuous when I was in school. Figuring out that what’s really important is being professional (like being polite and maintaining a pleasant working relationship with a coworker that you absolutely, positively can’t freaking stand and want to strangle on a daily basis) was a crazy wake up call.

    My internal mantra is “These people are not your friends, they are just your coworkers. It’s not being fake, it’s called being professional. You DO NOT have to like them. You just have to act like you don’t want to murder them.”

    So yeah…

    1. Emi.*

      This reminds me of how the Dowager Countess says that “The presence of strangers is our only guarantee of good behaviour.”

    2. Venus Supreme*

      This is a thought that’s been bubbling in my head that I wasn’t able to form into words. Thank you for this!

    3. anon for this one*

      Someone very close to me has a hard time understanding this, and he’s not new to the workforce. “But if I’m not funny/acerbic/grumpy/whatever then I’m not being ME!” Honey, no one is paying you to be YOU.

      1. The Not Mad But Occasionally Irritable Scientist*

        Or, rather, they’re paying you to be Professional You, which is not necessarily the same you that’s presented to your friends or your family or your kids.

    4. The Not Mad But Occasionally Irritable Scientist*

      I’m currently trying to figure out how to diplomatically communicate this to one of my direct reports, who is resistant to the notion that an office where half the people are wearing camouflage is a poor cultural fit with super-funky, brightly colored clothing, singing show tunes to herself while listening to music on her headphones, purple lipstick, and Christmas lights in the cubicle. She didn’t do any of that for the first two years she worked for us, but she just kind of worked it in over time, and now she’s pushing back because she doesn’t understand why I don’t want her to be herself.

      1. Naruto*

        I don’t understand why you don’t want her to be yourself, so maybe you could articulate that more clearly?

        It sounds like camo and bright colors are both nontraditional, informal, expressive clothing choices to be wearing in an office. So if people can wear camo, why can’t she wear bright colors? It’s not your job to make everyone be the same, particularly if some people are allowed to express themselves through their clothing choices.

        1. The Not Mad But Sometimes Irritable Scientist*

          People can wear camo because they’re in uniform, and they’re active duty military, and they’re required to wear camo.

          And what I’m telling her is that in a military and civil service workplace where the sartorial norm is either ABUs or business casual, quiltwork dresses, purple lipstick, and spangles is out of step, overly casual, and inappropriate, particularly for a contractor.

          She’s interpreting that as “don’t be yourself.”

          1. myswtghst*

            I actually really like what you said above, and think you could use that in some way – “we’re not asking you to not be yourself, but we are asking you to be the professional version of yourself. What that means is…”

            From there, it might be worth picking one or two things to start with (singing show tunes and too-casual clothing stand out to me) and helping her understand the impact they have on her & her coworkers. For example: “When you’re singing at your desk, it can be distracting to others who are trying to work. You can still listen to whatever music you like on your headphones, but it needs to be at a lower volume.” -or- “While we don’t have a formal dress code, the expectation is for our dress to be business casual if we’re not in uniform. The outfit you’re wearing today is too casual for this environment, and could impact your credibility with people who haven’t worked with you before.”

          2. Franzia Spritzer*

            Do you have a dress code to point to? Is business casual clearly defined? Frankly the “quiltwork” dresses are the only thing I see that could be contested as out of step. Just because she’s a civilian contractor doesn’t mean she must blend in does it? If she’s smart, capable, and effective how does her lip color come into play? How do you think you would define regulations regarding cosmetics for her or any other woman in the future?

          3. jamlady*

            Haha, I’ve worked as an env. scientist at a few instillations, and there’s always one of these people. I’m contracting with a different agency now and it’s actually the govies dressing this way!

          4. Candi*

            It sounds like she’s confusing business casual – military surplus with actual official military uniforms. Set her straight on the difference.

            Let’s see… Dad’s boss had a problem with a civilian worker doing out of norm stuff when he was in the Equal Treatment of Teapots Office when Dad was in the Army. One of the things he (kindly) pointed out to her was that her attire was not professional according to the standards of the office, and constantly filing her nails and chewing gum were distracting and made her and the office look bad to visitors. (YEARS ago, if she’d been listening to music, it would’ve been on a Walkman.)

            Unfortunately, Dad’s superior was a dotted line boss, so while he could talk to her, he couldn’t make her do anything, and while her direct civilian manager was cool, his superior was useless. Going above him meant going to base command, and they had a very poor general in charge at the time. (Ticking off days to retirement, giving goodies to his buddies, ignoring actual needs… bad management isn’t limited to civilians!)

      2. MegaMoose, Esq.*

        I totally see why Naruto was confused – I didn’t realize you were talking actual military and was imagining an office full of avid hunters that clearly isn’t using a standard business casual dress code.

      1. CrazyEngineerGirl*

        Steal away! It took me several morning commutes to get it just right! Seriously though, I recite this in my head with frightening regularity.

    5. ReneeB*

      >“These people are not your friends, they are just your coworkers. It’s not being fake, it’s called being professional. You DO NOT have to like them. You just have to act like you don’t want to murder them.”

      You have given me my new mantra.

  35. babblemouth*

    One other: most people around you are making it up as they go along. Work is 90% things nothing prepared you for, and improv skills are very useful. What you learned at school can be a very useful framework to make decisions, but you always have to work on things you don’t understand fully.

    1. K.*

      YES. I recently asked a friend of mine, a man in his late 40s who has owned a business for 20 years doing the thing he went to school for, if he ever felt like he was making stuff up as he went. He said “Daily.” No one knows what they’re doing all the time – and I think it’s a mark of intelligence to recognize what you don’t know and ASK.

    2. MissMaple*

      This is still a big one for me. I always thought I’d get to a point where I had the knowledge to be confident in what I was saying. Turns out everyone who was speaking up had the same information I had, they just were willing to talk through their ideas without being 100% right from the get-go.

  36. Katie the Fed*

    I just want to add how much I love this topic – I have two new hires straight out of college and I’m trying to teach them some workplace norms and think of what they might erroneously assume. They’re just lovely – I’m so happy they’re here.

  37. AndersonDarling*

    You need to conform to the office, not the other way around.
    I had this idea that I could walk in and be my regular silly self and everyone would say “Ooo, she’s so creative and unique.” Instead they all thought, “What is that weirdo doing?”
    You need to establish yourself with the culture of the office for a few months, then you can start bringing out your personality a little bit at a time.

    1. Mazzy*

      Yes. And I’m dealing with this no with someone who feeds into the whole 4-Day Workweek and Buzzfeedy articles about how the workplace has changed, and they want to work flexible hours and from home and have a flat organization where everyone’s opinions are the same – right out of school. The last one bothers me the most, the idea that you’re thoughts as they pertain to work are as valuable as someone who’s older and has done hundreds of projects in the field is just mind boggling. But that mentality is out there.

  38. NW Mossy*

    That relationships matter as much as results, and that relationships are a huge part of how you achieve results. Early in my career, I was a control freak who was laser-focused on kicking butt in my own corner and looked down on people who were less technically competent that I was. Opening my worldview to see how other people add value in different ways and how relationships can be a powerful mechanism through which to accomplish big things changed the whole direction of my career and made me a lot more useful to my organization.

  39. Zombie Bunny*

    I remember when I was working at FirstJob, I had a coworker who put in her notice and left. Nothing in particular had happened, she had just decided to move on (FirstJob, like many of its kind, was a place with a fairly high turnover rate; working there for three years meant I had been there roughly six times longer than one of my managers). Fast forward to half a year later, she comes into the store and starts screaming and crying because my boss wouldn’t give her the job back. “But I need it!” It didn’t matter that we had all the employees we needed, and that her track record had never been exceptional to begin with. She had a full-on tantrum in front of the cash registers, because she genuinely couldn’t understand that my boss wasn’t required to keep an opening available to her indefinitely. She was convinced that my boss “owed” her a job just because she had “worked here before”, and she was crying, yelling, stomping her feet, all to make her point. She did end up making a point, but I don’t think it was the one she wanted to make.

    1. AdAgencyChick*

      I had a similar misconception early in my career, although I did not express myself in a tantrum the way your ex-coworker did! See above re: first job with mediocre reviews. I quit after less than a year, and then when my next job turned out to be even MORE miserable, I tried to get in touch with that first job thinking they would take me back.

      Mediocre employee who quit after 8 months asking for her job back? HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA WHAT WAS I THINKING?

    2. Anonygoose*

      I’m thinking maybe her only work experience other than that was in food service or retail, or something along those lines… I’ve actually worked many (minimum-wage) places where you could essentially come and go as you please, and while I can’t imagine thinking that translate to the professional world, that’s the only explanation I can think of!

      1. Zombie Bunny*

        This job was retail – a gas station in the middle of nowhere – so you’re probably not off the mark. What surprised me more at the time was that she was in her late twenties. I was in my late teens, and I had a hard time believing she was older than me.

    3. Snorlax*

      This reminds me of an entry-level person I worked with a decade ago. She was doing a terrible job and wasn’t receptive to feedback. The boss had a conversation with employee, in which employee expressed that she didn’t think she was a good fit for the job and didn’t want to do it anymore. The boss agreed with her.

      Employee then expected that boss would move her to a job in a different department since employee didn’t like her current role. Um, no, you will be separating from the company. HR had to sit down with the employee and spell it out for her before she understood that telling your boss you don’t want to do your job doesn’t mean you’ll get a different job at the company.

      1. Anne (with an "e")*

        I think it’s possible that this person thought the company was there to help her. She did not realize that she was there to help the company. I think some new to the workforce employees don’t get this concept. I think it comes from the fact that in school the student is the client and the school is supposed to help the student learn and achieve. When you move into the workforce you are no longer the client; you are the employee, a completely different animal. It requires a paradigm shift.

  40. Squeegee Beckenheim*

    My biggest shock was realizing that annual reviews aren’t the same as grades. I was heartbroken when I got “meets expectations” on most things at my first review. I had to call my dad and he told me that meeting expectations after a year is a good thing and it’s not equivalent to getting a C.

    1. Grits McGee*

      I still have problems with that! :) It feels like such a failure to not get the highest possible score on every aspect of an evaluation, even though it’s really just not realistic and I know my boss thinks I’m a great employee.

    2. sometimeswhy*

      OOH, good one!

      I’ve had to explain that. Like no, meets is good. Meets is really good. And exceeds is not something you may not even have the capacity to do when you’re super new.

      1. Trig*

        Yes, this! My org has pretty well-defined scales of what ‘exceeds’, and most of them are stuff that just aren’t possible for a new employee. Or most anyone.

        Like, how am I supposed to exceed expectations on the goal of knowing and abiding by our anti-corruption policy? I guess I’d have to not take a bribe and also report the person who attempted to bribe me? Or rat someone out for taking bribes? Neither me nor anyone on my team, including my manager, are in a position to even talk to customers, let alone take bribes! It’s comical, and so of course the point that ‘meets’ is a perfectly good review is driven home nicely.

        1. The Not Mad But Occasionally Irritable Scientist*

          “My org has pretty well-defined scales of what ‘exceeds’, and most of them are stuff that just aren’t possible for a new employee. Or most anyone. ”

          Yep. It’s not a bug, it’s a feature. Most people aren’t even in a position to get that kind of rating, because it requires more personal initiative and achievement than most people at the midlevel and below are actually allowed to take or have the opportunity to tackle.

          1. Lison*

            Oh I currently am being rated as does not meet expectations for a goal I was given at the start of the year although after it was added I was told not to work on it and leave it to others, at the half year review it was acknowledged that I had helped the others as much as I could within the not working on it as per orders. And our work identified it would be disastrous for our site among others and it has because of this been put on hold. But I and the others get does not meet because it didn’t happen. I don’t think my manager is doing this correctly.

    3. Sarasaurus*

      I still struggle with this, after years of being an overachieving student. In my mind, a review that isn’t 100% glowing is “bad.” I have to consciously remind myself that I’ve never had a truly bad review, and I’m a strong/valued employee.

    4. DatSci*

      Yeah I don’t buy that one at all. It seems like the consolation prize of “you did your best…”.
      If there is an “A” rating to be had, come hell or high water I’m getting the highest marks. This is a disagreement I have with my boss every review period.

      1. M*

        That seems kind of entitled. The reason your boss is giving you feedback and reviews is because it’s very difficult to be objective about your own performance. Regularly arguing with them about their system doesn’t seem like a good way to get your A grade – even if you got them to change, they gave you that initial feedback for a reason.

      2. The Not Mad But Occasionally Irritable Scientist*

        What you don’t understand here is, sometimes “meets expectations” and the occasional “exceeds expectations” is just about the highest marks that are realistically achievable. I’ve given out two “Exceptional” ratings, for truly exceptional work that saved us lots of money and/or won us contracts deep into the seven figure range. That’s exceptional.

        This is not like college or high school. “Meets expectations” is an A. “Exceptional” is like “full ride Caltech scholarship because you did original research worth millions at age 16.” You don’t get to be exceptional every year, whether you think you’re entitled to highest marks or not, and I think you need to lay off your boss.

      3. Gaia*

        I used to think the same thing. And then I started managing people. And I realized I can have absolutely amazing employees…who are not “exceeding” expectations. They are meeting them. That is what makes them amazing.

    5. Wheezy Weasel*

      Also, annual reviews are useful *only* within the context of that company. It’s not something that will matter in a new job outside the company. No one is ever going to be able to call up old employers and get a copy. There doesn’t seem to be a graceful way to list them on a resume. I guess there’s a outside chance that someone still at the company might look at annual reviews if they are serving as a reference or if HR is maintaining a ‘eligible for rehire’ list.

  41. Tableau Wizard*

    Oh, I also thought that Casual Friday was a “Thing” everywhere. I was so bummed as a co-op when I realized that wasn’t true.

  42. animaniactoo*

    That I could trust my employer’s pay structure without question.

    And that even if I was making good money and I was considered a valued employee and liked the people I worked with, it wasn’t worth working myself into the ground or accepting things that were straightup illegal (like not being paid time and a half).

    How I learned better… I burned out. And I had enough in savings even without having been paid time and a half (There’s literally about 10k worth of “half” that I should have been paid over the course of 2 years, 20 years ago. It wasn’t a small amount.), that I was comfortable walking away when I realized that it would never change because it was how my company operated. I landed on my feet, but there were some miserable years in between under a boss I knew didn’t like or respect me very much. She’s grown to… but if I’d had the overtime pay from before, it’s likely I would have had the basis to pull up and move again. Sticking it out because I was the sole breadwinner has brought some unexpected rewards, but I also recognize *now* that my situation isn’t typical, and I would never advise someone else to take the path I took.

    OH! And the other big thing I learned… most people do not learn and pick things up as fast as I do. I more or less had the perception that everybody could do it, no big problem. I got burned over and over again learning differently, and that’s made me a better teammate because I’ve had to learn how to use my tutoring-days skills to help co-workers with the stuff I need to help them with. It’s helped me carve out a space that makes me a tad uniquely valuable on my team, and I think that most people could stand to do that for themselves, with whatever their strength is. But calmly. Just by showing up and doing, and being clear that’s what I was good at without crowing about it or pushing it in people’s faces.

  43. cwethan*

    I wish I’d known that it was okay to ask questions and that no one cared how smart I appeared to be — they cared that I could do my dang job & think on my feet. This one is a HUGE holdover from grad school in the humanities, where if you have to ask, you’re too dumb to be there. I am now really embarrassed of how much time I wasted faffing about trying to quietly figure things out instead of letting on that I didn’t know something that was (in hindsight) completely reasonable not to know.

    I still struggle with this daily and am always impressed when a smart, competent coworker asks for clarification or says “wait, I don’t understand X.” I always have this moment of shock, like, “oh, right! you can DO that!”

    1. always in email jail*

      Yes, and that asking (intelligent, not lazy) questions is actually respected!
      My last job/my first job in my dream field, I had grant management dumped in my lap. So I called up the grant administrator and said “I have no idea what I’m doing” and they said “I’m so happy you called! Let me come in person and give you grants 101”. It turns out our finance folks were interested too, and were really happy I set it up!

    2. NotAnotherManager!*

      I actually talk about asking questions in my interviews because I want people to know that it’s okay and expected to do here. We don’t have time to do it twice, so it has to be right the first time. A supervisor would rather answer 10 questions and hit the mark and the deadline than force a redo because of unasked questions. Orientation also has a short section on how to go about getting additional information you need or help with something. I am also fortunate that supervisors tend to praise question-askers at review time.

    3. Trig*

      I still struggle with this!As a young woman early in my career, it’s tricky. Especially when it’s a tech-related thing.

      I’m a writer, but I have to test out our software sometimes to write a thing properly, and sometimes that requires muddling about in the command line or other not-end-user things. It’s tough to strike the balance between trying to muddle through yourself (and learning more along the way) and just asking a developer how to do it.

      It’s partly about not wanting to look incompetent, and party about deciding where I want to spend my capital. Sure, the dev could probably show me in five minutes, but if I’m bothering them about things like that a lot, they’re going to be less likely to want to review my writing with any kind of urgency – I’ve already taken up a lot of their time.

      But sometimes I just have to say, no, I’m not a coder, and those five minutes will save me a day of frustration. When I actually do ask a question, I make sure I’ve done some Googling, read up on the context, and tried a few things first so I don’t come across as completely clueless. I think I have good relationships with my devs because of it!

    4. LawPancake*

      In the same vein, I had to learn early on to not reinvent the wheel. If I’m being asked to do something that’s been done before, it’s way more efficient to just ask someone than spend a day and a half trying to figure out what to do. Also, google everything first.

  44. Temperance*

    I grew up in a blue collar household, so I honestly had a lot of weird ideas about work. I don’t punch a clock, I sometimes had to flex my schedule to accommodate clients, and working at home is an actual thing and not a scam.

    1. Anansi*

      Me too! I was the first person in my family to get a B.A. and an office job and I honestly was clueless about so many norms both in the interview and workplace. Even the concept of writing a resume or wearing a suit to an interview were things that were unfamiliar to me. My first office job was quite the learning experience. You mean I can just take my lunch break whenever I want? Freedom!

      1. Temperance*

        I wore khakis to most interviews at first because I was told it was a waste of money to buy a suit. I somehow still managed to get a job, lol.

        1. Rusty Shackelford*

          When I was interviewing for my first job, my mother was convinced I didn’t need to buy a suit because “you just graduated; they know you don’t have the money to buy a suit.” (This was back when everyone wore suits for interviews. I ignored her.)

      2. LabHeather*

        Yes! I could hardly believe it when my boss straight up said “I don’t care when you work so long as the work gets done.”.

        No micromanaging, no hanging over your shoulder, no keeping track of when you come and go every day.

        I’m still reeling from the shock. Even in my favourite student job as a gardener with an awesome boss, we still had firm start, finish and lunch hours (even if cold weather occasionally let us leave 2 hours early, and there were perks like hiking, cake and tons of watermelon). The set lunch hours were actually awesome, as it was the only time we’d all get together from various places on campus to chat and socialise.

        Some times I still get anxious when I’m left to my own devices all day. Like, if someone asks when I came and left, how do I prove it if they don’t believe me for whatever reason?

  45. Definitely no name for this*

    My biggest misconception was that work romances with are not like on TV or in the movies. Its not all sunshine and roses. Especially if you are new and the other person is older and in management. And is married (no matter how unhappily married they are). I burned so many bridges and caused harm to my reputation. I learned so many lessons from that.

  46. babblemouth*

    And one more (I knew nothing when I started work): Your boss might be friendly, but your boss is not your friend.

    1. hayling*

      I’d add to that–you want to be careful about being BFFs with your coworkers. It can really blow up in your face.

  47. Anansi*

    The concept of “managing up.” My first few jobs, I thought my managers were supposed to be treated as sacrosanct and infallible, and even if I thought they were wrong or things were falling through the cracks I’d never say anything. Now that I have more experience I take a lot more ownership of my projects, and have learned strategies to help get the best outcomes with particular bosses.

    1. babblemouth*

      Managing up is such a freeing concept. Warning: not all managers respond to it. I have had one manager to whom I escalated things, and he just never cared. I had to “get over it” all the time.
      But with a half-decent manager, managing up is so so helpful.

      1. Anansi*

        Yes, my current boss responds very well to it and often thanks me for reminding him about stuff or recommending things he should do. One of my previous bosses did not respond well and would pout any time I suggested anything we could maybe consider doing differently or remind him about things he’d forgotten.

    2. Higher Ed*

      This was something that I really had to learn! My manager at my job in college was super on the ball, always prepared, never forgot to follow through. My current managers are lovely and kind and flexible and great managers in many ways, but I constantly have to follow up with them on things they said they would do. Luckily, because they are otherwise great, they seem to genuinely appreciate me following up or sending a reminder. But it took a coworker to clue me in to the managing up strategy, I never would have come to it on my own, because I had this idea that being a manager meant, you know, remembering to do things, like the rest of us.

      1. Anansi*

        My current boss is also very forgetful. I used to think I was being annoying by reminding people about stuff that needs to get done, but…well, it needs to get done! Polite nagging is a necessary skill in my current office.

    3. SL #2*

      Yes! I have a great boss, but she has so many things on her plate that she requires some managing up and is open about needing it. I could’ve never imagined being complimented on telling my boss what to direct attention to when I was in college…

      1. babblemouth*

        This is an area where I got terrible advice in college. When I got a particularly difficult assignement, and tried to get more info from some teachers, there were all about “figure it out yourself, no one will be holding your hand when you get a job!” – and it turns out, asking questions when things are unclear is *exactly* what most managers want.

        1. Cassandra*

          Mmm… in our defense, there are questions and questions here.

          “Hey, teach/boss, {thing that is clearly answered in the syllabus/employee manual}?” is a Bad Question and as Teach, I will absolutely send you right to the document in question which you should have consulted first.

          “Hey, teach/boss, {thing that is trivially web-searchable}?” usually also qualifies as a Bad Question because someone lacking this level of self-reliance needs to learn it ASAP.

          Where college does differ from the workplace is the level of process-figuring-outing we expect, and it can differ in both directions. I explain things in college that no boss or colleague would, because I can’t expect undergraduates to have the level of domain knowledge or workplace seasoning that experienced domain experts do. I also REFUSE TO explain things that bosses or colleagues would… because I am specifically teaching “how to find/figure out” and, well, that comes with practice.

  48. Venus Supreme*

    When I first started looking for jobs out of college, I was intent on finding the “forever job” I’d have the rest of my life. Nearly everyone else in my family held the same job – with the same title/position – for 25+ years and were putting those expectations on me. Now I’m learning that it’s okay to leave after 3-5 years, and will give me more opportunities to grow — and it’s absolutely okay to leave a toxic job regardless of how long I’ve been there.

    1. Falling Diphthong*

      Dark adult secret: Just how long it takes to discover a good lasting answer to “what I want to be when I grow up.”

    2. H.C.*

      Ha, everytime I change employers, my family (who have also worked most of their adult lives in same employer/role) asked if I got fired from my last one.

    3. kbeers0su*

      What’s funny to me is how many people out there still hold this idea- that folks pick a job and stay in it forever. I had a short stint in another role last year before landing in my current job. During the interview they asked if I intended to stay for a long time, because the previous person had only been in the role for 10 years. ONLY 10 YEARS. Given how little the job paid, the ridiculous hours expected, and the ridiculous expectations that you had to meet to get a pay raise, I’m so glad I didn’t stick it out.

      1. Candi*

        And that would be one reason the company lifer tradition is dying out. People know or learn they don’t have to stay.

        My dad gave me some advice when I started job searching as a high school graduate. Most is obsolete, but two I’m still grateful for.

        1) You do not have to stay forever at a job you don’t want to. Put in your two years and get out if you want. (Job hopping worries.)

        2) It doesn’t matter what you work at as long as it’s legal. Just do it the best you can.

    4. Seal*

      My parents pushed me hard on this one, so I got a “secure” job as a library paraprofessional and stuck it out far longer than I should have. The place turned out to be horribly toxic, but since it was my first real job and I was constantly being pressured not to leave because it was “secure”, I just assumed that this was what full-time jobs were like. I wasted YEARS pursuing outside activities and part-time jobs to distract me from my terrible day job, not realizing the best thing I could have done for myself was simply walk away. The longer I was there, the more beaten down I became, which made it harder and harder to leave. It took a series of events to push me out of what had ironically become my comfort zone and get up enough nerve to quit. It’s been over 15 years since I left and I still have scars from that entire experience that will most likely never go away.

    5. Lia*

      Oh, THIS.

      My dad was military and my mom worked for one retail store for 20 years, and then for another company for another dozen years, so when I quit a job after 4 years to take a better opportunity, they freaked out, saying that I’d forever be branded a “job-hopper” and it’d hurt me terribly.

      Uh, no.

      They also had no office experience, as they had strictly scheduled breaks and hours, so my “8 ish to 5 ish” schedule is very odd to them, or me checking email after hours.

    6. Trig*

      Aha, yes, this. My partner’s mom works in a hospital and his dad and brother both work for a public utility company. He and I both work in tech. His family is baffled by the notion of not staying at the same job forever (seniority! Union! stability!), while I am amazed I’ve lasted four years at my current job.

      (They are also baffled that we don’t want to go up to our eyeballs in debt to buy a house, but that’s a whole other generational kettle of fish.)

      1. Candi*

        Besides the debt, there’s the detail that as long as you rent, fixing stuff is usually the landlord/rental company’s job, and plumber rates alone can mean a significant savings.

        When I was renting, the first company to own the place was sometimes less than responsive, and they had no onsite manager. Then one day the manager responsible for the place came by (collecting rent I think) -and saw through the window the spines of several books I’d checked out on renters’ rights under the law. (They were stacked on the kitchen table.)

        Never had another problem. (Of course I told the two neighbors I liked.)

    7. Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain*

      This is a really good one. I also believed that after college I was supposed to get right into my career and having more than 3 employers over a career span was “job-hopping.” I’ll add, sometimes you sort of back into a career that you had never considered. I always thought the only way build a career was to actively pick a direction and and go only in that direction. When I studied graphic design in college I always thought I’d be in a high pressure, downtown ad agency — non-profit education was not on my radar, but I like it so much more.

  49. Falling Diphthong*

    The distinction between tattling and telling management something they need to know.

    A lot of the time you should keep your head down and do your job and not fret about what your coworkers are doing. UNLESS they just did something that’s probably going to offend a customer when it comes to light, in which case you should let management know while there may still be time to fix it.

    1. Candi*

      Other reasons to speak up:

      It’ll cost a significant amount of money if it continues. (Significant can depend on the company or government department.) Not necessarily embezzlement; waste and unnecessary spending as well.

      Breaking the law or regulations.

      Equipment damage, real or potential. Especially for hard to replace pieces, or those containing important data.

      Danger to fellow employees, clients, and/or customers. (Use the correct cleaning mixture, thank you. The one you’re mixing will harm your hands and your lungs, and any customers who come in contact. Actual example. Manager wasn’t happy.)

  50. PB*

    I got the very bad advice in school to go ahead and apply for position that asked for five years of experience, even if you were still a student. After all, five years isn’t that much, so you’re close! If they don’t get good candidates, they’ll consider you!

    I graduated in 2009. The job market was absolutely saturated by people with experience who’d been laid off, and we were all competing for a few positions. I wasted so much time and stress applying for jobs I had no chance of getting, based on my professors’ bad advice. Seriously. In my first round of job hunting, I sent out over 70 applications, and it was awful.

    1. SusanIvanova*

      There are times when that could be true, yeah, but not during an economic bust! Tech HR has an annoying tendency to ask for “5 years experience” for something that isn’t even 5 years old. What they really mean is “know enough about it that you don’t need on-the-job training” but they don’t know how to say it.

  51. Erin*

    Without going into a whole long thing I’m sure I’ve gone into on here before, in short, I thought it was okay to be treated like crap.

    I think that’s something that people new to the work world need to be aware of: what the difference is between – my boss is unhappy with my performance and is giving me critical feedback that is Okay and Normal versus my boss is literally screaming in my face/intimidating me/threatening me and that is Not Okay.

    1. Ell*

      I did this too! I worked a crappy job and put up with some terrible and unethical practices because I thought that’s just what having a job was about.

        1. Pescadero*

          As far as I can tell, it is.

          I’ve had good managers and bad, but as far as I’m concerned – the very act of having a job is inherently miserable.

          1. The Not Mad But Occasionally Irritable Scientist*

            Huh, I’m not miserable. What am I doing wrong?

            1. Pescadero*

              It’s just a different mindset. Even doing something I love becomes miserable when it’s an obligation.

              It isn’t that I don’t like my job, it’s that I view the very concept of a job as a necessary evil.

              1. Ask a Manager* Post author

                If doing something you love becomes miserable when it’s an obligation, that’s more of an internal issue than something you should be assuming applies more broadly.

                1. Pescadero*

                  Absolutely an internal issue, but one I don’t think is highly unusual.

                  I thought I was somewhat unique until Office Space came out.

                1. Falling Diphthong*

                  While I don’t agree with Pescadero’s broad point, I am certain I would dislike being a professional cook, despite being a very good home cook. Or the debate for a passionate rider, whether she must want “any job with horses” or “a job that gives me the money and flexibility to do horse stuff when I want to.” Sometimes the key to enjoying something is that you are not forced to do it.

    2. Temperance*

      Me too! It comes from the blue collar world, I think, where I was taught “the customer is always right” and “mind your boss”. My family was so wrong with this.

    3. k*

      Oh god I wish I had known this. Looking back and my first real job I’m shocked at what I put up with. There were some horrible things (management really took advantage of our team all being new to the workforce), but one really funny thing I laugh about to this day: We didn’t have office supplies. Like we had to bring our own pens from home. Once we found a box of notepads and paperclips in a storage closet and you would have thought we one the lottery.

  52. Katie the Fed*

    A corollary to one above – that my boss would know if my workload was too much. I didn’t realize it was incumbent on ME to speak up and say when I was overloaded.

    1. Isben Takes Tea*

      YES–that it was okay and in fact encouraged to say “Sorry, I can’t take this on, too.” I thought I was expected to just take everything handed to me, and that I was being weak or incompetent otherwise. I had an awkward/difficult moment with my boss, who very kindly set me straight.

  53. Venus Supreme*

    Something else I learned rather quickly: Being early is being on time, but being on time means you’re late.

    1. TheMonkey*

      Except in academia where “university time” means everyone else is 10 minutes late to everything. sigh.

      1. Venus Supreme*

        Haha! One exception I personally experienced was that 10 mins late is acceptable to New York theatre

    2. I got the job anyway*

      I thought this was true everywhere … until I came to my current job. Here, if a meeting is at 11:00, you’ll look like a fool if you show up before 10:59:59, and business rarely gets started before 11:05. I should have figured that out when I first interviewed here (years ago). I showed up 10 minutes early for the interview, which I still think isn’t really outrageous. They had no idea what to do with me, and it was so awkward.

      1. MegaMoose, Esq.*

        This has been closer to my experience, generally (except for interviews, where I’ve never gotten weird looks showing up five minutes early). At my first job I would show up to internal meetings five minutes early and be the only one there. And if a boss wants to talk to you at 5, they do not mean 4:55.

  54. Imaginary Number*

    Another one I would add:

    First I had to learn that you need to be the sort of person who says “yes.”

    After that, I had to learn how to say “yes, but here’s the impact to this other important thing” vs. just agreeing to do everything someone asked.

  55. ali*

    I thought I knew everything. I had been a big fish in a small pond in college and was really really good at what I did as a student worker/volunteer. When I got to my first job, at least I was smart enough not to say anything, but I did constantly think “I wouldn’t do it like that, I’d do it this way instead.” It took all of about 3 months to realize that while the way I did things was fine, other people had other ways of doing things that were just as good, if not better.

    I also didn’t know that “reply all” was a bad thing.

    1. Trig*

      See, here people get mad/annoyed if you DON’T reply all. So that might vary by organization.

    2. C Average*

      The whole “secret rules of corporate email that you only learn through trial and error, and that have one-off variations in all workplaces, and that you are expected to somehow automagically know” topic could fill a multi volume set of books.

  56. Murphy*

    Knowing my place. Realizing that even if I’m going to be involved in a program, I am not a decision maker and I don’t need to be informed about every little decision or be invited to every meeting. (Though I still think my workplace keeps me out of the loop more often than they should, but not as often as I originally thought.)

  57. Abby*

    I agree about not always volutneering for jobs just to be nice especially when that puts you in a traditional role for women. I did that too much in my earlier career.

    Also, my first job was as a secretary and I really didn’t understand that sometimes I had to cover for my boss. Not take the fall, but sometimes keep her from looking like an idiot.

    I also learned that sometimes people who are higher up really don’t want to know about a problem two layers down. I used to think that if the higher up person only knew that Bob was constantly using the fax for his home business or that someone wasn’t doing something right, the higher up person would fix it. Some companies would but not all and you can’t assume that they don’t know.

    1. Katie the Fed*

      On your first point – I’ve been on crusade on this. The young women in my office who keep volunteering for things – I pull them aside and suggest they might want to stop so they don’t get known only as the party planner/fridge cleaner/note taker etc. They should be known for their great work.

      It’s up to me to help 0ut the next generation of women :)

      1. Insert Nickname Here*

        I’m a 23 year old female professional and new to the work world, this is my first ‘real’ job since my first one was work-from-home. I do all the party planning for my office (because I enjoy it and I’m one of three people with a company credit card so it’s much more convenient for me since all the party stuff gets billed to corporate). Out of our office of 12 there’s 3 men and 9 women. Is it really such a bad thing to be the office party planner if you enjoy doing it? Is that only for male-dominated fields? I’m also an event planner by trade so it also makes sense since I’m…yknow…good at it. I want to understand the rationale behind this so please enlighten me! :)

        1. Katie the Fed*

          It’s not necessarily a bad thing, but I would look at passing it off to someone else after a year or two. You have a lot of women in your office so it’s not as big of a thing. I work in a place where women are still struggling to make it to the most senior ranks and we have a lot of deeply seeded gender disparity and sexism issues, so it’s something I’m particularly attuned to. It’s been a problem in my organization that women seem to be the ones doing the party planning, note taking, fridge cleaning, muffin baking, etc – all the things that make it a nice place to work.

          And as one of the few women managers I’m trying to help mentor and develop the younger women, and it’s something I want them to be conscious of. I want them to be known for being really, really good at their jobs, not planning great parties (which is definitely not part of our jobs).

          All of that is to say – if it’s not an issue in your field, and you like doing it – don’t sweat it.

    2. not into gender roles*

      I’m a 23 y.o. woman and it’s my first real job. I try not to volunteer to do “female” duties but my direct supervisor is a yes-woman and involves herself in those duties………. which at the end of the day I’ll be taking care of if she’s busy / not coming to the office. I’m talking about admin duties which are different from our roles as communications staffs.

      Just a few days back I asked her if these admin duties would be on my plate or not because they had never been clarified. I also said that administration is not a career I see myself in. She dodged the big question and tried to solve the examples that I gave during my call with her instead. Frustrating.

  58. sometimeswhy*

    Things I’ve repeatedly run into are:
    – Assumptions that because one doesn’t have first-hand knowledge of something it must not exist or be intentionally unjust, especially around work responsibilities. “Why do I have to do X if Jane doesn’t have to?” “Why does Fergus always leave early when I have to stay the whole day?” Well, because Jane’s senior and her duties are different than yours and maybe you didn’t notice that Fergus comes in two hours before you.
    – Fundamental misunderstandings of the ADA Interactive Process. Misunderstandings that reveal themselves in the form of demands rather than questions or requests.
    – Treating managers like parents and–connecting back to the first one–not understanding that we report to people too.
    – That the work norms vary depending on institutional structure. For instance: pay increases in places that are unionized or are government organizations that do merit increases based on time-in-service or time-in-grade +/- performance. Somewhere like that, it can actually damage your boss’s faith in your judgement if you go in and demand a raise.
    – Oh my god put some clothes on. Not just from an appropriateness angle; it’s actually a safety issue in my field.

    Biggest thing I learned through lots of early-in-career error:
    – FFS shorten those emails. The details are not always relevant.

    1. Koko*

      On the clothes front, I dress very casually and stylishly (and, if I’m being honest, often pretty revealingly) in my personal life. It took me way too long into my career to realize how liberating it was to dress modestly at work. I hadn’t really realized that there might be times that I didn’t want someone’s first impression of me to be that I’m attractive.

      It’s not that I was grossly violating norms by coming to work in mini-skirts and tube tops or anything, but I wore stretchy tops and skinny jeans that highlighted my figure, those flouncy just-above-knee skirts that read very girlish and flirty, etc. Those type of outfits require somewhat constant monitoring to make sure nothing has come out of place, and it also put my physical appearance front and center when I met someone. Now I revel in knee-length skirts and tailored-but-not-form-fitting dresses and thick fabrics. It means I don’t ever have to think about whether my outfit still looks good, and when I meet people they aren’t so distracted by my body that they ignore my ideas.

      It gave me a whole new appreciation for cultures with modest dress, I really get how it feels empowering to many people.

      1. sometimeswhy*

        I hear you. In my personal life, I’m casual and comfort sometimes morphs to revealing though I’m probably not all that stylish. At work I dress, and have always dressed, what probably reads as SUPER conservatively at work. Hair up, covered from neck to wrist to toe, usually neutral colors. In part because I’m heavily tattooed, in part because of the safety thing, and in part for the reasons you talk about. It can be armor.

    2. Jady*

      “FFS shorten those emails. The details are not always relevant.”

      This took me a long time and a lot of pain to learn too! And I still have to edit my emails because of this.

      I always wanted to provide the full context and understanding. And with that context, I thought the back-and-forth of questions would not occur, and that clarity would help move along the situation(s) faster, and everyone could come to a consensus quickly.

      Instead, I learned that it is impossible to get anyone to read an email that’s more than about 10 sentences, decreasing the higher up the food chain you go.

      I get immediate questions that were clear in the original email. The back-and-forth just seems worse. It somehow creates more confusion. And the long emails tend to end up going higher up the chain, which results in big headaches for me!

      Now, I try to send no more than 5 sentences, with additional room for bullet points (everybody seems to read bullet points!). If it’s longer, I try skype or phone.

      And it’s funny too, because sometimes I end up spending more time trying to shorten an email than I would writing a long one.

  59. louellasmith*

    I learned the hard way, but I learned the importance of taking notes during training or when given instructions. While all new employees are given a manual to review prior to the official, I literally hand them a pad and pen and let them know I expect them to take notes.

      1. Rusty Shackelford*

        I understand “taking notes during training or when given instructions” to mean notes for your own use, when someone is teaching you how to do something. That’s not the same thing as taking notes for general dissemination during a meeting.

      2. Alice*

        I think the difference is who the notes are for. I constantly take notes for myself–largely reminders of things to follow up on, info that I hadn’t known and thing I could use, etc. But these notes aren’t sent out to anyone else, aren’t published, aren’t an official record of the meeting, etc. No one else looks to use my notes. Therefore, I don’t become Note-Taking Girl.

      3. MillersSpring*

        It’s two different things:
        1. When you’re receiving information verbally, take written notes so that you don’t forget details and instructions. Always take pen and paper to meetings or your boss’ office.

        2. If you’re in a large meeting, resist attempts to make you the one who always takes notes, also known as “the scribe.” Of course, in some situations, it might be your actual job responsibility to take notes in meetings and disseminate them afterward (if you’re the intern, the most junior person, the admin). But in general, if you’re repeatedly requested to take the notes, ask if someone else can do it, particularly if you’re missing out on contributing to the meeting and if it’s pigeonholing you in a support role.

      4. Taylor Swift*

        This is different because you’re taking the notes for yourself and not somebody else.

        1. Taylor Swift*

          Whoops, hadn’t refreshed in a while. Didn’t mean to repeat what everybody else did!

      5. HisGirlFriday*

        I think the key difference is that you’re taking notes in training to benefit YOURSELF. That shows thoughtfulness.

        It’s the volunteering to take notes in meetings that other posters are cautioning against.

        1. Emi.*

          Ooh, I should start doing this again. I used to take notes in a combination of English, German, Chinese, math, and chicken scratch.

        2. Security SemiPro*

          or do share. But as a favor to the other party. You have information they want, and you’ll share, but you expect the respect of being information broker and voice of truth brings, not a passive dictaphone.

  60. Squeegee Beckenheim*

    I thought of another!

    Just because your boss asks you to do something doesn’t mean it’s ethical or legal.

    My first boss wanted me to use an educational license of an expensive piece of software. I told him “it’s educational, so I’m not supposed to use it for commercial purposes, so is this okay?” He told me it was, so I assumed he wasn’t going to have me do real design work. Fast forward a few months, I’m doing real design work with it. Fast forward a few months more, the license is expired and he wants me to register for a class so I can get this educational license again. Fortunately at that point I’d finally realized that he was being shady and I told him I didn’t feel comfortable doing that. He took it reasonably well, but I’m still annoyed that he used my naivete like that.

  61. Meeeeeeeeee*

    In college, there is a deadline for any assignment, and whatever you have at that point is the final product. If you struggled with it or ran out of time then you still hand it in, it’s still done, you just may get a lower grade than you were hoping for. Once you start working, that’s not how it works. You arrange extra resources or time until you can deliver a good product. Things aren’t done until they are good.

    1. hayling*

      That’s not always true. There are *plenty* of times when you just have to get something done! But often you have to figure out your own deadlines because they’re not clear.

      1. Meeeeeeeeee*

        I’m sure it varies by industry and workplace. But in my current job, sending out something that is not appropriately validated (for example) is not acceptable. Hence the comment about finding additional resources if needed :)

    2. Angelinha*

      I’ve found the opposite – that in college, you knew about deadlines long enough in advance to be able to put a lot of work into them and (sometimes, if you started soon enough), perfect them. In the working world, even if you don’t have an established deadline, going over things multiple times to make sure they’re “perfect” can wind up stalling progress on a lot of other things.

    3. jesicka309*

      It swings the other way too! While you want something to be good, ‘perfect’ isn’t really feasible most of the time & you need to be able to identify when it’s required.

      Presentation to your own team about new process – good is fine, don’t lose sleep over this
      Presentation to board members about new program that requires significant funding – needs to be flawless, or consider it a fail

      Most finished work falls somewhere in the middle between ‘good enough to be seen by clients/customers’ and ‘would happily put in front of CEO to request money’.

      Also that ‘first draft, needs some work’ is an option too is you have a complicated/never done before piece of work. Sometimes it’s better to get feedback early on than try and guess what it should be. I’ve broken my back before trying to create the perfect presentation only to find I had the wrong end of the stick and should have run the first draft by my manager, who would have set me straight early and saved everyone a lot of time.

  62. AndersonDarling*

    I thought that every slight must be illegal because it was in a workplace. My boss said other employee was stupid, must be illegal. That manager said an employee looked pretty, illegal. The boss took a day off and didn’t use vacation, illegal. Being a jerk, illegal. Someone said something that could be interpreted as sexist if you take it out of context, illegal.
    But if we all learned that right away, we wouldn’t have so many interesting letters for Alison to answer.

    1. Katie the Fed*

      My mom still thinks this way. She’s given me the worst advice on workplace issues. :/

    2. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

      Oh man, my former roommate thought that. Every time I’d gripe about anything even slightly irritating, she’d jump immediately to telling me to go to HR and threaten to sue.

      I stopped even arguing with her about it after a while.

    3. HR Bee*

      I had a couple of lovely former employees who threatened to sue us because of stuff like you list here. I smile, take their statement, do my documentation, and cover our butts just in case, but 9 times out of 10 the slight they are trying to blow into a lawsuit just doesn’t have any legal weight at all.

      People seem to read the title of a law, or a one-sentence description, and extrapolate a much broader area of legal coverage than actually exists. And no, someone calling you stupid does not a hostile work environment make.

  63. Koko*

    Beware “venting” with your coworkers. It feels like you’re blowing off steam and that it’s helping, but more often than not, you’re just stewing in your misery and it’s making you more miserable. It will change how you see things. A groupthink can start to take hold where nobody is willing to give management benefit of the doubt because the group’s default reaction to everything is mistrust and skepticism, and it starts to feel like you’d be violating a group norm or shunned by your coworkers if you expressed support or optimism about something. In complaining so much about the problems, you end up ensuring the problems don’t get resolved because negativity torpedoes all attempts at change.

    Nobody perfectly avoids venting all the time, but try to keep the number of times you complain about something without proposing a solution to a minimum. If you look at your IM history with a coworker and it’s one gripe after another that neither of you have ever brought to management for resolution, you are only furthering your own unhappiness even if it feels cathartic in the moment.

    1. SJ*

      and going hand-in-hand with this, be very careful regarding who you vent to, because you don’t want all of that being shared to the whole office.

    2. The Not Mad But Occasionally Irritable Scientist*

      This. People who love to vent because it makes them feel better are often blind to the fact that they’re expecting a great deal of time and emotional labor from their coworkers. I find it frustrating and exhausting to be vented at, and it’s a distraction from any mood of focus or motivation I might have had before the conversation. So they go off, feeling like they got something off their chest, and I’m irritable and distracted.

      Venting might give you a little endorphin rush in the short term, and help you process whatever it is in the moment, but it takes very little for those little bursts of satisfaction to carve such a groove in you that you’re the Office Complainer, or worse the Office Dementor.

    3. Aurion*

      Tangentially related: vents are not confidential. Even if you’re just blowing off steam and think nothing of it, it could come back to bite you in a bad way later.

      Vicious vents are now solely directed at people who don’t work with me. Bonus points: they only know my side so they have to side with me on principle. :)

      1. Rusty Shackelford*

        Not only are they not confidential, but in some workplaces, you might just be venting to the cousin/neighbor/best friend/significant other of the person you’re venting about.

        1. The Not Mad But Sometimes Irritable Scientist*

          Or you might be venting to the person who loves getting vented to, because they’re the office gossip and they constantly need more ammo.

          1. Two-Time College Dropout*

            And those kind of people have a gift for putting the worst possible spin on something totally neutral, so something like “Terry came in late every day this week” can morph into “Terry’s close to getting fired for attendance issues” once your resident Paul Revere hears about it.

        2. A Bag of Jedi Mind Tricks*

          This!!! At oldJob, you never knew who you were talking(venting to). Chances were EXCELLENT that you were talking to a relative of the person you had a gripe about.

    4. Tau*

      Ugh, my workplace has basically ended up like this and it’s so hard to get out of the habit once you’ve started. Especially when there are things that are actually dysfunctional where you feel you have to remind myself it’s not normal. And the dynamic you mention about worrying you’ll be shunned by your coworkers if you express support or optimism is so true and means that two or three negative people can poison an entire working group.

    5. Grayson*

      My coworkers and I have noticed that we tend to vent a lot more than we’d like to. So we’ve instituted an informal agreement where we tell each other about something joyful in our day, and then we vent about exactly one thing. It’s useful because it puts the shit going on into focus, and it allows us room to remember not everything is frustrating.

      1. Candi*

        I have a rule: I can vent twice about any issue that’s bothering me.

        Then I make a choice:

        1) I zip it and put it aside. Or,

        2) I do something constructive about the issue or problem.

        Just knowing I can make this decision is empowering and helps incredibly to lighten my mental load.

        Although if I’m really upset, a few rounds of intense video game playing may be called for first. :p

  64. Oh hello there!*

    I have worked part time (2 years) and 1.5 years full time at a university in a professional role. I cannot figure out how to communicate effectively with secretaries, front desk admin, and the like. It’s so frustrating. My mom is a front desk manager and often works at the front desk when one of her staff is out (a few times a week). So I’ve heard stories about how challenging it can be to be a gatekeeper. As a result, I really respect and am thankful for the work our secretaries and front desk administrators do. I just seem to mess up every relationship I’ve had with secretaries and front desk administrator. Most of my relationships can be characterized by me being afraid to ask them for something, all communications being tense, or me avoiding them altogether. I know I must have a blind spot here, but it’s so hard for me to figure out how to change it and I haven’t gotten any coaching from a manager about it (and I’ve asked!). The challenge of being new to the workforce is that by the time I have gotten to the office, usually everyone has known the secretary/front desk admin for years. And that changes a relationship, so I can’t really use them as references on how to act.

    1. Mabel*

      I’m making an assumption here – that you’re uncomfortable asking someone else to do a task. Short answer: Be friendly and polite. Ask them directly and say “please” and “thank you.” You may want to ask if they have the time to do what you’re asking by the deadline you need. I think “friendly and matter of fact” is the way to go.

      When my former partner got high enough in her company to rate an administrative assistant, she was afraid to ask the admin to do things for her. Having been an admin myself, I told her to just ASK. It’s not a favor; it’s her job. It’s waaaaay more annoying to have someone act weird about this.

      1. Dee-Nice*

        This is good advice. I would add that it’s nice to throw in something like, “feel free to let me know if there’s someone else I should be asking and this is not your purview,” because it gives the person an out. An experienced admin will of course know how to handle out-of-purview requests anyway, but it might make YOU feel better about asking and eliminate discomfort if you’re working with someone who’s not experienced.

    2. LadyKelvin*

      I usually say something like “Hey I need this thing done, are you the right person to talk to or do you know who I should be contacting?” That way I’m not asking them to do something for me, but I am relying on their institutional knowledge to find out the appropriate person to ask or if they are the right person, they usually respond that they can take care of it for me.

    3. Kristine*

      As a front desk admin, my best advice to making sure the admin likes you is to make sure all requests are super clear and all necessary information is presented at the time of the request.

      I have email chains like this on the daily:

      Coworker: Hi Kristine can you set a Friday meeting with Client X?

      Me: Sure! [Asks clarifying questions about which Friday (this one? next one? 3 months from now?), timing, attendees, etc.]

      Coworker: Yes I will be there. Friday in April.

      Me: [Basically repeats all prior questions]

      Coworker: 3 pm meeting. Also can you order coffee?

      It’s super frustrating! But if you make it super easy for the admin to carry out whatever task you’re asking of them, they’ll be happy to do it and you’ll definitely be at the top of their favorites list.

    4. Teclatrans*

      I think you are putting them onto pedestals, rooted in the tales you consumed via your mother. I worked in admin or secretarial roles for 7 years, and I would have found repeated thanks and gushing and avoiding making requests to be patronizing and condescending​, no matter how well-intentioned. Just treat me like a professional colleague, acknowledge good work and thank me for my efforts on your behalf in a matter-of-fact way. (Gushing is appropriate, though, if I go out of may way to save your ass.)

    5. Cassandra*

      There’s a chance it’s as simple as “Hi, {admin’s preferred form of address}. Can I ask how I should let you know when I need {task X} done, and what you need from me to handle it?”

  65. Kylie (not my real name)*

    I learned that showing initiative can be a good thing, but not if you don’t ask questions or always assume you know everything. I was 6 months into my first job after college. Someone in my office had a huge filing system with large amounts of hard copy data. She alone was in charge of it. It always looked so disorganized to me but she always turned down my offers to help. When she took a week off I took it upon myself to organize her files. We are talking shelves and shelves of it. Two entire rooms. I made folders and alphabetized everything and filed individual pages. I stayed after work and worked on the weekend to get it done. I was so proud of myself and couldn’t wait to tell her and our boss. I didn’t know her filing system was set up that way for a reason. What was disorganized to me had a reason to her. She raised hell with my boss. Not only did I get in trouble for working unauthorized overtime (we were all hourly) but I got let go for how badly I messed up her system. My friend who worked there told me it took the person I had tried to help 4 months of overtime and weekends to find all the individual sheets I had unstapled and put everything together the way it was supposed to be. The company had to pay her all that overtime because of me because she had to fix it on top of doing her regular work. I had also accessed things that were confidential and I had no authority to see. It created so much trouble for the company. I got fired two weeks before Christmas. That was a rough time but I definitely learned my lesson. I wish I could go back and talk to my younger more naive self.

    1. Leatherwings*

      Ouch, this is a tough story to read but I can also totally see myself doing the same thing. At one of my part time jobs while in high school I really really wanted to overhaul a particular system I thought needed work but I kept getting told no. I didn’t understand why until an embarrassingly long amount of time later that they didn’t need or want me to do that work.

      1. fposte*

        Yup. My favorite temping job ever was a week where I cleaned up a company’s messy invoice files. I’m still proud of figuring out what those scribbled client names actually said.

    2. Falling Diphthong*

      This is another one where in sitcom land, everyone would have been impressed and you would have played a giant piano dancing next to your boss.

    3. Ashie*

      I once did something similar but with far lower stakes. I had two part-time jobs, one at the campus music library, and one at a local record store. I took it upon myself to reorganize all the classical albums in the store by conductor, the way we did in the library, rather than composer. Not cool.

      1. Anxa*

        Oh man! I grew up working in a record store and yeah, we don’t really focus on the best way to categorize music so much as much as to make it more browsing friendly. I’ve been out of the business a long time, so I’m sure a lot changed, but genre classification can carry over to a point where it doesn’t really make as much sense from a music critic standpoint. For example, “pop, rock, and r&b” as a section carried over even as r&b fell out of the mainstream in the 90s and started melding more with hip-hop and gospel music. Sorry, off-topic now, but I miss working in independent retail sometimes.

  66. K.*

    “I don’t know” is a totally fine response to a question. You’re not expected to know everything. (But it’s wise to follow “I don’t know” with “But I’ll find out.)

    1. Detective Amy Santiago*

      Good one. It’s okay not to know every answer as long as you know where to *find* the answers.

    2. Tomato Frog*

      This was(/is) one for me. In school, any answer is better than no answer, and it’s often better to make something up than leave a space blank. At work, when I make something up that sounds like it could be right, there’s a good chance I’ll have to walk it back later. Learning to say “Let me think about that” has been helpful.

    3. the gold digger*

      Unless you are interviewing with McKinsey. Then, “I don’t know” is definitely the wrong thing to say. You make something up, preferably starting with, “Given that the population of the US is approximately 380 million, the market size for product X would be …..”

  67. Mabel*

    Until I started reading AAM (which was only a few years ago), I thought a “hiring manager” was someone in HR who handled hiring. I had no idea it was the manager for the position that was being hired for. (and I’m over 40 – sometimes you just don’t learn something until you learn it)

  68. Rusty Shackelford*

    I wish I’d known that when I come to my boss with a problem, I should also come with a potential solution.

    “X isn’t working. What should I do?” No.
    “X isn’t working. I can try Y or Z. Or is there something else you’d rather do?” Yes.

    But the really hard part is knowing when I don’t need to ask.

    “X isn’t working. I tried Y instead, and it worked.” Still keeps me up at night sometimes.

    1. Detective Amy Santiago*

      YES. This is such a crucial one. Don’t bring up problems without also offering a potential solution.

    2. Murphy*

      Yes, took me a little while to get from “What should I do about X?” to “Hey, about X, would you like me to do Y or Z?”

    3. Sandra Dee*

      In my office we determined there are 2 types of people, diggers and dumpers. The dumpers have a problem and dump it on you to find a solution. The diggers have a problem, and dig around to find possible solutions, and then seek advise as they vet out the options. Unfortunately, we have more dumpers than diggers at the moment, and converting the dumpers to diggers can be exhausting.

    4. Angelinha*

      This was brought up to me one year in an annual review! I’d been working for a few years but had a new boss. She pointed out that I would often come to her and present a problem and then expect her to talk through it with me to come to a solution. She said that if I came with a solution already thought-out, we could fine-tune it together and that would be a much better use of her time. I had not realized I was doing this and am very grateful to her for bringing it up. I’m more thoughtful about it now in a new job and I think it makes me come across as more competent to my new boss.

    5. SusanIvanova*

      Those are OK questions when you’re new and being mentored, though. I’d rather have you asking “What should I do?” than me asking “Hey, you’ve been working on X for 3 days now, we told you it was supposed to be a 1 day task, what’s up?”

  69. PB*

    A huge one: don’t assume that someone knows everything because they’ve been in the organization for a long time. If someone tells you something that seems sketchy or off, follow up on it. Check the handbook, talk to an appropriate person (manager, another coworker, or HR as needed), and go from there.

    I made so many mistakes in a prior job by listening to a self-proclaimed manager (she was not) who’d been there “forever.” Turns out, she was just the office bully.

  70. Merida May*

    One of the biggest misconceptions I had when I started working is that I wasn’t allowed to say ‘no’ to work duties, or even decline involvement in things like party planning and socially oriented tasks when asked. And holy shit was I asked. I guess I realized I technically could have, but really felt like it would’ve adversely effected my reputation and I was trying to learn – so I said yes to everything. I wound up in situations that were highly inappropriate for me to be in, doing work that was far beyond the scope of what I should have been allowed to complete with other people taking credit for it, and often footing more than my share of the bill for things at a minimum wage pay grade. I’m still not awesome at turning things down as much as I should, but I have improved in order to keep my workload manageable and my sanity mostly intact.

    1. Kitkat*

      Yes! And that if my boss asked me something that would make my workload horrendous for a few weeks, we could talk about that (not that I would always get the answer that I didn’t need to do it, but in many cases I could shift things around to make that workload more realistic.)

      Basically, distinguishing what was up for discussion and what there was no choice about was super hard for me at first, and even once I realized it, it took a while to learn how to have that discussion in a positive and professional way.

  71. NW Mossy*

    That you don’t have to know the exact industry/career path you want to follow from the day you graduate, and that most people didn’t and don’t. For a long time I was really anxious that I didn’t know exactly what I “should” be doing, and I thought that everyone else who was working got to where they were by following their plan. I didn’t realize that falling ass-backwards into an industry and gradually coming to love it was an entirely legitimate way to make a career.

    1. Manders*

      THIS! The industry I’d pinned my hopes on nearly collapsed when I was halfway through college, and what remained had no job openings inexperienced college grad who needed a living wage. I thought for sure that my career was ruined before it began.

      Surprise! I ended up in a field I wouldn’t have considered otherwise (and which barely existed all the way back in 2009).

    2. Spelliste*

      This really hamstrung my self esteem for a long time. I thought I was failing because I had no plan. Now in my 30s, I’m happy where I am and plotting an exciting career shift, and some friends with from-day-one plans are seriously questioning their paths.

      This idea may go hand in hand with the “get good grades in HS/college or you’re DOOOOOOMED” messages touched upon upthread. Figure it all out by 22 or you’re toast, kiddos!

  72. Buggy Crispino*

    For me it was learning and realizing that just because someone is senior to you it didn’t mean you had to let them treat you like crap. My first boss was easily the most vile human being in the world and he treated his employees like garbage. Since I was just a teen, I thought that’s how employers worked; they punished and humiliated you and because you were young and green you had to cowtow to them and do everything they said. I never knew I could stand up for myself. I really didn’t even realize that it was okay to quit or walk away from a job and just find something where the management team encouraged and respected you to make the company run like a well oiled machine.

  73. animaniactoo*

    Another one: If your new supervisor/boss tells you that it’s okay that you yelled at them (in a stressful deadline moment where you knew without question that you were right about the project based on your longer work history there), it is NOT OKAY.

    Yeah, she waved me off when I went to apologize and said “we get along fine”. But what that really meant was that she lacked some significant boundaries as a manager and I was just about the only person in my department that she respected.

  74. the_scientist*

    I have written about this before, but I think my biggest misconception was that if you were competent, intelligent, and did good work, that your soft skills (e.g. attitude, friendliness to co-workers, willingness to socialize) didn’t really matter that much. How wrong I was!! In my field, entry-level jobs routinely receive 100+ applications. The reality is that no matter how smart and talented you are, there is someone who is equally smart and talented, so at least 60% of your performance (and probably more) depends on your interactions with co-workers. How collegial, friendly, and helpful you are, whether you deliver work on time, and fulfill your promises….all these things matter. They don’t just impact how you’re perceived, they make a difference in how easily you can get your job done, because you’re going to need other people to help you out and if you don’t reciprocate or are downright rude, they’re going to be a whole lot less willing to help you. And, following up on that, soft skills are skills, and you can learn them if you don’t have them, and also build on them.

    1. Falling Diphthong*

      The way I saw it formulated here was that if you have two people who are smart and willing to learn, it’s a lot easier to teach the one who already has soft skills the intricacies of the international tax code than it is to teach the one who knows the tax code how to be less abrasive with clients and care about details.

    2. always in email jail*

      Yes. I was raised that these skills matter, but I was recently reflecting on how far they’ve gotten me in my career (sometimes unfairly, probably). I wish I could stress to younger professionals that manners, etiquette, reading the room, etc. are so important for success.

    3. mamabear*


      I’ve seen this play out many times. At least in my current environment, soft skills are considered just as important as the technical skills. If you can’t master that, it will get you into hot water in no time.

    4. Mimi*

      I ctrl+F to make sure someone else already said this but….totally this.

      I lost my first fulltime job simply because I wasn’t very social and too heavily introverted. I was raised with a father who excelled academically and knowledgeably in his field of engineering. The stereotype about engineers not being very social exists for a reason! He rarely attended work events and neither did his coworkers; his employer would bend over backwards for him though because he was so highly regarded in his field (despite his humble protests! Actually humble, my father doesn’t do humblebrags but it’s worse in my opinion because he thinks he is merely average when he’s actually a genius. So actually average people like myself are “stupid beyond belief”.).

      Dad always said socializing was pointless and a waste of time, perhaps even a potential source of negative impact for one’s work! With my introvert self already in place, I would refuse invites to go to happy hour, work parties, birthday parties, lunches, dinners, and so on because I figured it was rude to accept. I thought that it was best if I merely kept to myself and did my work as best as I could and go above and beyond for it. But alas, when company cuts had to be made, they let me go very easily.

      I’ve been working harder on improving my soft skills, though the idea of a workplace that encourages tons of employee socializing still makes me cringe. I’m a very private person and I feel there should be a distinct wall between work and social life. At any rate, I’m willing to exhaust myself to pretend to be social because I want a job so badly.

  75. ToPrioritize*

    During my pregnancy, I had techs doing my lab work. I accepted that the demand of other people using their time was sometimes more important than mine because of customer emergencies, etc, and then got reprimanded for not reaching my R&D product development goals. I was supposed to have gone to my manager and had them prioritize and judge whether or not to fund more hours for the techs.

    More generally, I accepted constraints I didnt need to and should not have because I didnt talk to my manager who could adjust or remove those constraints.

  76. Catabodua*

    1) A really big one for me was realizing that just because I thought something was important didn’t mean boss cared about it at all and/or had completely different priorities than I did.

    2) People have long memories on things you wish they would just let go of already. Got a little tipsy at the Christmas party and did x? You’ll be known as that person who got tipsy and did x. Also, things get exaggerated, even if it was fairly minor – for example you tripping slightly at the party translates into you being stumbling drunk.

    3) Another that took me forever to realize is the Perception is Reality idea. If people perceive you to be a certain way, confirmation bias takes over and they remember every time you do something and ignore / don’t pay attention to the times you don’t. Example – you meet 95% of your deadlines but they focus on the 5% where you don’t.

    1. kbeers0su*

      Perception is Reality is huge. It’s something I learned in my first role, and now take the time to teach to all my employees.

    2. CrazyEngineerGirl*

      Totally agree with #3. In my non-work life I have a very self-deprecating, dry sense of humor. It took me a long time to realize that some of the off-hand comments I would make about myself, such as “well, I’m really not a very nice person”, that I meant in a sarcastic/humorous kind of way were a bad idea at work. I finally figured out that I was, at least occasionally, setting coworkers up to actually see me that way. I’m actually a pretty nice person, honest I am! :)

  77. The Not Mad But Occasionally Irritable Scientist*

    One misconception I had was that ideas mattered more than execution. I’ve always been the smart, creative guy with good ideas, and I never bothered too much with how to make them reality, because other people could take care of that boring stuff. I had a few great ideas when I worked for a science museum that got shot down in flames by the curator because I hadn’t talked to Exhibits, I had no sense of the timeline, I had a rudimentary budget at best, I sort of vaguely assumed that they’d move Big Exhibit Piece to make room for my area, and I hadn’t mocked anything up. She told me to stop wasting her time and come to her with a plan. And I replied, “But what do you think of the idea?” She replied, “I don’t especially care about the idea. I care about how we’re going to execute the idea. So again, stop wasting my time with ideas that have no basis in the reality of this museum, here, now.”

      1. The Not Mad But Occasionally Irritable Scientist*

        Yeah, that one smarted for a week. But I needed to hear it.

    1. Pup Seal*

      Ouch, that is harsh but also true. I have found that people don’t respond to “I have this idea!” Rather they’ll listen to you more if you say something like, “I have X idea. In order to execute it, we’ll have to do Y, on a budget of Z, and it’ll take W time. If everything goes correctly, the results will be A, B, C.”

    2. always in email jail*

      YES. I really struggled with communicating this to a recent employee (who finally left).
      Yes, you have “good ideas”. But if you’re unable/unwilling to execute them, they don’t mean anything. Especially if you’re not willing to do the work to implement them!
      Example: “we should discuss XYZ with vulnerable populations in our community and engage community partners!” with no answer of who that population was, where we would find them, how we would gather them to deliver a message, specifically which “partners” we would work with and their role, what the timeline is…..

    3. NotAnotherManager!*

      Yep, being able to pitch your idea in the right way for your organization is just as important as the idea itself. You can have all the good ideas in the world, but if you can’t explain how they benefit your organization and get them in front of the right person, it doesn’t matter.

      (And, FYI, from painful personal experience, the “right way” is not insinuating everyone who doesn’t see it your way is stupid.)

    4. CrazyEngineerGirl*

      Perhaps you need to start your own business? Because my job is literally 90% making my bosses (company founder and owner) GoodBigIDEAS a reality. It works out well actually as I’m not a big idea person, but I’m a great executioner.

    5. AWall*

      So much yes. I work for an education company where different people will routinely suggest that we digitize our resources and make them accessible to students. But no one ever has ever has a plan for doing so, so the idea remains in the nebulous ‘that’s-a-good-idea-that-we-need-to-do’ stage and never becomes reality. Very frustrating.

  78. NPO Queen*

    I didn’t know how to admit mistakes when I was first starting out. It isn’t like college where you get a paper back and your grade only impacts you; the impact is to the business and the client. I was afraid of being seen as ineffective (this was during the height of the Recession), so I wouldn’t admit to things and would stay late to fix them. Or I’d work on the weekends, even though I was hourly. My boss wasn’t even mean, I just didn’t know how to start those kind of conversations. I only wanted to report good things, not bad things. To circle back to a post from a few days ago, my first boss was the perfect person to go to if I wanted to change things about my job before I considered leaving. But even my mentors at my internships didn’t prepare me for that, so it was just a life lesson!

  79. Koko*

    Oh, another one: Don’t put anything sensitive in writing. If your company was hacked and your emails were exposed, you don’t want anything in there that could embarrass you – whether it’s trash-talking another employee or a competitor, discussing the “private position” behind your company’s “public position” (yes, it’s true!), or whatever, pick up the phone or walk down the hall and have the conversation in person, or don’t have it at all. Don’t put it in writing.

    1. NW Mossy*

      I still occasionally stumble across things in customer databases that make my hair stand up with how completely unprofessional they are. It’s horrifying!

      1. hayling*

        Yeah I have a coworker who has written AWFUL things about customers in our Salesforce database. I wouldn’t want that getting out. And for an example of “watch what you chat,” just read about Gawker.

    2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      Ooo, the “pick up the phone” or walk over analogue is especially true. Early in my career, I had email exchanges that escalated because of misunderstandings, and what I should have done was just pick up the phone.

    3. NotAnotherManager!*

      Or exposed during litigation discovery or an internal investigation. I spent many, many years looking through people’s work emails for documents relevant to a particular legal matter, and some of the things in there were fairly horrifying or embarrassingly personal.

      And don’t use your work email for personal purposes. Chances are, it’s being backed up/journaled/etc., and just because YOU delete it doesn’t mean it’s gone.

    4. College Career Counselor*

      Don’t have email conversations with your co-worker about how stupid your boss is and how much you hate her ON THE COMPANY EMAIL SERVER. (one of my former students did this and got fired when someone in IT had to pull their email exchanges for something completely unrelated)

    5. Kelly L.*

      Yes, and “always phrase your emails diplomatically enough that it’s not a big deal if your boss accidentally forwards it to whoever it’s about.” Which I’ve learned the hard way, more than once.

    6. Candi*

      Not even just in email. Back in college, in one class we watched a film on GE and somebody trouble they’d gotten into. One of the things that came to light were a lot of memos and comments on documents -hard copy! paper!- that hit most of the ‘don’t make a record!’ points.

      Then there was the lady who had been removing documents that were unfavorable to the company from files. Problem was, the filing system meant it was obvious something was missing. So documents she said had contained mild ‘nickel and diming’ comments loomed far larger.

      (We were supposed to be learning Excel -first edition- and I think it was supposed to teach us document care or something. Now get off my lawn.) :p

  80. Detective Amy Santiago*

    One I still struggle with sometimes is that your colleagues might not care as much as you do about doing things right. Some people are really going to be there to collect a paycheck and they don’t put their heart and soul into the job the same way I do.

  81. The Unexpected Dragon*

    One of the most important things I learned from Awful First Job is that there is a time and a place for asking why. I was fresh out of school, and asking the thought process behind every little thing was how I did well. It didn’t go over nearly as smoothly in my first job. (Granted, it wasn’t the insubordination I was told it was.) I learned how to ask the “why is this the process” from second job, which was a delightful place.

  82. MC Bennett*

    I had to learn the hard way (in my career AND in adult life in general) that eating crow is sometimes necessary and can save you and others a LOT of grief. Once you get that swallowing your pride and admitting you effed up isn’t the end of the world, life/work gets a LOT easier!

    1. Jessesgirl72*

      A corollary to that: Don’t be afraid to ask questions! It’s so much better to ask for clarification about something you don’t understand, than to mess it up! The amount of crow you have to eat by admitting you don’t know something- and no one knows everything, especially new hires- is so much less than if you screw it up. And yet, so many people, especially young people, think asking questions and admitting that you don’t know something is embarrassing.

      1. The Unexpected Dragon*

        And as a corollary to that: Knowing when to ask the questions! “I need X data entry done in the next twenty minutes” panic is not the time to ask about how your office approaches X on a theoretical level. Ask that question after the emergency has passed.

  83. Jessesgirl72*

    Especially for college hires, looking for their first “real job”: Research cost of living in the place where you are being offered a job, and make sure that the pay is going to be enough to allow you to live there! (and/or adjust your expectations of your living standard) $60K sounds like a lot of money, until you figure out how far that won’t take you in Silicon Valley. You might be better off accepting a lower offer somewhere with a lower cost of living. Or you might accept the offer, but have to live with roommates. Know the facts before you accept and run yourself into debt trying to survive!

  84. (somewhat old and decrepit) IT_Guy*

    There were a lot of norms that have changed since I started working after college. For example:

    * Nobody took smoke breaks because you could smoke at your desk.
    * What the heck is this email stuff? I’ll just send a paper memo.
    * Business casual was taking your suit coat off when you were in your cube.
    * The only smart phone around was Maxwell Smart’s shoe phone.

  85. MuseumChick*

    Not sure if it counts as misconception but one thing it was hard for me learn early on was to say “I don’t know.” It took a long time for me figure how to say that to my boss/customers/co-workers when they would ask me questions I didn’t know the answer to.

  86. Dzhymm, BfD*

    How many of us brought family-of-origin issues with them to their first jobs? An earlier poster mentioned negotiation. I, too, had difficulty with that. In may family you took what you were offered and you were supposed to be grateful for it; if you turned around and asked for more or something else then it would be taken away from you entirely. This made it very hard for me to stake out my own negotiating positions for a long time after that.

    First week of my first job my boss asked if he could take a bite of my sandwich… and I let him because that kind of boundary violation was normal in my family.

    1. kbeers0su*

      Hahahahahaha…I can’t even imagine the look on my face is my boss asked for a bite of my sandwich.

  87. The Not Mad But Occasionally Irritable Scientist*

    Another: keep your boss in the damn loop. Cover your ass. I have two friends who are in hot water right now because they made big decisions solo, without looping in their bosses, and those decisions were completely off base.

    CC your boss on emails where decisions are made, where problems and roadblocks are identified, where notifications about milestone delays or adjusted or missed due dates are discussed, where approval is given, you name it. If you’re not getting a timely reply. If you’re unsure what to do. If you need direction. But make sure your boss understands what you’re doing at any given time and why. It covers your ass and protects you against unforced errors.

    1. Detective Amy Santiago*

      piggy backing on that – if your boss tells you to do something that is against policy, ask for it in writing!

      my boss told me to do something once that I had 3 separate emails telling me I wasn’t supposed to do. I said “okay, I’ll do it, but I’d like you to request it in writing because I have all these other emails telling me I’m not supposed to do that”. boss did and the next day, boss got in trouble and I did not.

      1. A Bag of Jedi Mind Tricks*

        Yes!!! I make sure I get instructions in writing. and when they don’t want to do that, then I will generate an email saying something like ” ok, so you’d like me to do XYZ. Is that correct?” And then wait for them to respond with a “yes” or “no, I need you to do ABC”. This is especially useful when making travel arrangements for them. One time, they changed my supervisor’s flight. I sent him an email asking if he was ok with the changes. He wrote back to me that he was. Fast forward two months. He comes over to my desk, heated, asking why he was on this particular flight, and how that was not the flight he originally wanted, blah blah. I calmly forwarded the email trail and that was the end of that. Ha!! CYA in Full Effect

  88. Master Bean Counter*

    1. That it’s okay to toot your own horn. It may be the only way that boss knows you’ve done something awesome.
    2. Always give people the benefit of doubt. At best it will make you look gracious and kind. At worst it keeps you from making an ass out of yourself.
    3. Take five minutes before you reply to that upsetting email.
    4. Don’t get caught up with the gossipers. There’s a reason they’ve been at the same desk for 5 years.
    5. Don’t ignore the glaring red flags in an interview. There will be a better job available if you wait.

    1. Murphy*

      #2 YES. At my old job, there would be lots of people “Breaking the rules.” In my defense, most of the time they were customers legitimately breaking the rules and it was my job to get them to stop, but every once in a while there was a good reason for it and I looked like a jerk trying to stop someone from doing a legitimate thing. Things went much smoother when I switched to “Hey, are you [exception to rule]? No? Sorry, this area is staff only [or whatever?”

      Number 3 is my life all of the time. I know that about myself so thankfully I haven’t had to learn that the hard way, but it’s so so important.

    2. the_scientist*

      As a corollary to #1, “the only person looking out for #1 is #1”. I.e., you need to be advocating for yourself and looking out for your own interests. That doesn’t mean being mercenary or backstabbing. I am very fortunate that I’m in a role where managers and directors are interested in my career development but at the same time, they are juggling a million other demands. It’s up to you to seek out opportunities and to place yourself in a position to work on high-profile projects. It’s also up to you to know when to move on from a role.

  89. Elizabeth West*

    Office politics. And it’s different at every organization. You may have one job where it’s not a big deal and you can be straightforward with people and they are with you, and you get what you need from each other. And then at the next job, it’s like working in a giant middle school. In fact, it was work that first made me realize some people never ever get out of that mindset. :(

    I still struggle with this, though I’m better at it than I used to be. But BOY did it baffle me at first.

  90. Lynxa*

    It’s okay to ask questions, as long as they are good questions that show you tried to find the answer on your own.

    You aren’t going to be perfect at anything the first few times you try it and people shouldn’t (and probably won’t) expect you to be. Go easy on yourself while you learn.

    (Also, I just got a SCORCHING virus from one of the ads on this site)

    1. Emi.*

      Did you report it? There’s a “report an ad, tech, or typo issue here” link above the comment box!

  91. Gracie*

    Mine was that everyone acts professionally in the workplace. I thought that there wouldn’t be personal issues and grudges etc. But my first office job was like an adult high school with all the gossip and backstabbing and cliques. It was really shocking and I had to fight to keep myself from falling into that behavior.