Years ago I had an unexpected issue in one of the departments reporting to me. It needed immediate attention from someone with specific expertise. I had a woman reporting to me who had just the skills that were needed, but she had moved on to another role. I called on her to help out with a short term assignment. She wasn’t excited about it, and could have said no, but she agreed to take it on.
It was a temporary step back for her at the time, which I recognized. Her willingness to help me out in a pinch made me a permanent supporter of her, advocating for promotions and good assignments for the next 15 years.
This month we explore how and when it’s ok to take that job to “help out” and when it can backfire.
Personal Memories Are Long
We are pleasers and nurturers. We like to be liked. We like to help and serve. We feel good about working hard for a purpose.
When we work hard, as we’ve been asked to do, it’s logical to assume that our efforts will be recognized and rewarded.
Well, it doesn’t always work that way.
A common mistake that I’ve seen women make is to assume that if they go above and beyond, their efforts will be noticed.
A woman I know had been working very effectively at her job. We’ll call her Sarah. The company, in the face of cost reductions, decided to temporarily combine Sarah’s job with part of another job. Sarah rose to the challenge, working very long hours and making personal sacrifices to do the job well. She felt good about her contributions. In her mind, she was helping out and felt confident that her boss would appreciate the personal sacrifices she was making.
The temporary incremental work soon became permanent. Then as business pressures increased the combined job was downgraded. Sarah was stunned because she was told she was now too senior for the job. She felt unappreciated and betrayed. How could they do this to her after all her hard work?
Here’s why: Corporate memories are short.
Why is it that “they” don’t remember all the hard work and sacrifice that you put into the job? It’s not that “they” are bad people. Nor do “they” have bad intentions. But there are a few reasons your willingness to step up can go unnoticed.
New managers may see things differently: Managers come and go in assignments. They don’t always have the same perspective as someone who has been there longer.
It’s just the facts of business. Managers or HR staff who may be advising on job combinations or reclassifications are looking at the business impact and the facts. It’s not personal when they’re reviewing these things. It may feel personal to you, but it’s usually not.
Everyone is under pressure and they’ve got a lot on their agenda. When survival is the mode of the day, each person is trying to figure out how to survive themselves. They may not be intentionally sacrificing you, but they are operating from their own perspective, which may not include yours.
Why did you take on that extra job/ project/ effort? Was it because someone asked you to do it for them personally or was it because of a general corporate action? The answer can make all the difference.
Corporate memories are short. Personal memories are long.
When you are asked to take on something new, extra or different not in line with your career goals (especially if it requires sacrifice on your part) ask yourself these questions:
Are you doing it for the “company” or are you doing it for an individual? The “company” is an entity without feeling. A person, however, will remember how you helped them out. It needs to be someone you can trust and who will continue to be an advocate for you.
Have you agreed boundaries and constraints before taking on the role? E.g. “If I take on x, then you should be aware that we’ll be making a tradeoff by losing y.” Don’t assume you can take on more and do everything perfectly. Something always has to give.
Have you negotiated (or at least discussed) how you will exit and recover from this role? This conversation should happen up front. How long will you be there? What kind of support will you have when it’s time to move on? What are possible future opportunities?
It’s good to be known as someone who works hard and can be relied upon. When a request requires sacrifice on your part, make sure you’re doing it for the right people, the right reasons and with a plan to get you back on track.
“Today Matters” by John Maxwell: This is an old book that I recently re-read. If you need motivation to reinvigorate your daily personal discipline, this book is both practical and inspiring.
An Antidote to Incivility: This article from the April 2016 issue of Harvard Business Review gives a fresh perspective on how to immunize yourself from rude behavior in the workplace. You can read a limited number of HBR articles publicly, but I find a regular subscription to be of value.
Susan Hodge created Women Leading Together in order to provide seminars, workshops, and coaching circles to help career women move forward to create fulfilling careers. Visit our website at www.WomenLeadingTogether.com.