June marks the three-year anniversary of this column, so if you’ll indulge me, I’d like to take this week to reflect on the sum of all these scribblings, and on the most important player in the I Just Work Here game — you.
Every workplace denizen knows sincerity is a rare commodity — rarer than it should be, anyway — and we tend to take praise with a healthy dose of skepticism. Why is this person sucking up to me? What is the end game here?
I believe I’ve been direct with you from the get-go, so I hope you’ll trust my sincerity when I say that the responses, questions, kudos and criticisms I receive from readers are the most meaningful part of writing this column.
When I Just Work Here launched three years ago, I didn’t know much about workplace issues beyond my own personal experiences. I had a space to write in and the ability to reach smart people who could help me understand everything from management best practices to job search techniques to the way our minds work in office settings and how those minds respond to the technology around us.
I also had readers, thankfully, who were eager to connect. (And willing to put up with my goofy jokes.)
The emails, phone calls and letters — yes, some people still write letters — I receive from you introduce me to new topics worthy of examination, confirm when I do something right and rightfully correct me when I do something wrong. Without that feedback, this column would not have lasted. It would be called, “I Used to Work There.”
So I’m grateful to all of you for taking the time to share your problems and opinions. I read every piece of correspondence I receive, and respond to as many as possible. There aren’t enough hours in the day to reply to all of them, so my apologies if you’ve written and not heard back.
OK, that’s enough “you’re the wind beneath my wings” talk for now. I don’t want it to go to your heads.
Looking back on these columns, with everything from internal workplace conflicts to bad bosses and good management policies, I still return to the mantra adopted early on: Be a decent human being.
I’ve repeated that phrase in at least 10 columns over the years, and I believe more than ever that it’s a simple and wildly effective guide for any workplace action or decision. Before you do anything, take a moment, take a breath and remind yourself to be a decent human being.
Is the email you’re about to send unnecessarily snarky? Did you take the time to write “thank you” at the end?
Is the meeting you’re about to call totally necessary, or could it be a waste of other people’s time?
A co-worker seems stressed. Is there something you can do to lighten that person’s load? Trust me, they’ll remember the gesture, even if they turn it down.
An employee has a sick child and needs to leave early, possibly slowing down progress on a project. As a manager, are you going to make that employee feel bad or are you going to be compassionate and say family always comes first? How would you want that person to respond if the roles were reversed?
A group of co-workers are griping about the boss. Are you going to join in so you fit in, or take the high road and not fire pot-shots behind people’s backs?
As a boss, are you playing favorites with someone? Are you giving all your workers honest feedback that will help them succeed, or are you focusing only on the ones you think will make you look best?
In each of these scenarios, unfolding in the bustle of a busy work day, you choose a path. The easy path is to not think and just act, and that’s often the path that leads us astray.
The better path is one that requires an extra beat, one moment in which you remind yourself that it’s better to be kind, thoughtful or generous. That it’s better — and not much harder — to be a decent human being.
By taking that one quick moment, good things happen. To you. To the people you work with. And to the workplace you inhabit.
Be a decent human being. Be a DHB! Print it out on stock paper and hang it on your cubicle wall. Tattoo it on your forearm. Publicly recognize employees who display that behavior with a DHB shout-out.
It’s simple. It’s fundamental. And it’s effective. (And it doesn’t cost any money, unless you’d like to send me some.)
Thank you all for three great years. You make my work inestimably fun.
Rex Huppke writes for the Chicago Tribune. Send him questions by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @RexWorksHere.