Over the last 40 years I have worked in a variety of corporate environments dominated by men- in an office full of cotton brokers, in medical laboratories with male supervisors and owners, in field sales with major corporate organizations, in commercial insurance calling on almost exclusively male business owners, and elsewhere. I learned through work experience and in marriage that if I didn’t set appropriate boundaries and speak my mind, I could easily convey wrong impressions or experience humiliation and resentment from feeling disrespected or used. I have been dismissed as “the little lady”, told inappropriate jokes, hit on by corporate bigwigs, offered consideration in return for going along with something unethical, overlooked in the room because of being a female, had my concerns and opinions dismissed, assigned tasks because of being “best suited” to the secretary’s role, and worse. I developed an assertive style that is not always appreciated or understood by others. Even so, I believe that knowing and setting boundaries is an important skill. It is a significant emphasis that we work on with our Titus 2 students, many of whom have suffered physical, sexual, emotional, and financial abuse, mostly by men, but sometimes by women, as well, even by family members. Once they begin to find their footing in speaking out about their feelings and learn to stay in the conversation instead of running away, they generally have better self esteem and feel better equipped for life’s conflicts and confusions. The majority of the work is around overcoming timidity in communication with others and learning to handle conflict when it emerges, and it will emerge any time that someone sets boundaries on those who have been accustomed to setting all of the boundaries themselves.
This writer addresses this issue in the workplace and I believe her observations are worth noting. Whether in business environments, volunteering, or in ministry, I believe an individual should have integrity and be who she is instead of putting on a facade to please others. Sooner or later each of us has to stand alone and account for our work, including what we did with our own lives.
Ten Reasons Not To Be The ‘Perfect Employee’ Liz Ryan , CONTRIBUTOR at FORBES.com
I write about bringing life to work and bringing work to life.
Of course you want to be a great employee, to sail through your goals and make your managers as well as your customers happy. Of course you want to be a wonderful teammate — that can only be good for your own state of mind and that of your teammates. It’s very easy to forget that you can go too far in the pursuit of your “perfect employee” badge.
You can put up with too much, and gain a reputation as a person who will do anything you’re asked to do, no matter how it affects your personal life to do so. You can end up becoming a doormat that people walk all over. I know, because it happened to me!
As a girl I was taught to be agreeable and sweet whenever possible.
I tried to get good grades in school. School and work have a lot of similarities. I learned to follow the rules at work and to try not to make waves. However, real life — including the business world — is made of nothing but waves. Things are always changing.
Customers don’t always do or say what we want them to do. New and unexpected situations crop up all the time. We have to react, whether somebody anticipated the unexpected situation and wrote a procedure to address it, or not. Sometimes we have to use our judgment instead of a rule or a procedure.
Sometimes we have to break a rule. Sometimes we have to say “No, I can’t do that” or “I’m not sure that’s such a great idea” to the boss. Sometimes we’re getting yelled at, and we have to say “I can see you’re upset and I’m sorry, but you don’t get to talk to me that way.”
I was afraid to do all of those things at one time. I only learned not to be afraid by stepping through a little ring of fear to do them. Then I saw in an instant that I had made the right decision.
It was by using my judgment in the clinch that I learned the truth of the old saying “It’s easier to get forgiveness than permission.” I took a few chances to do the right thing. Sometimes my managers were overjoyed. Sometimes they were not so happy.
Every time I kept my mouth shut when I should have spoken, I regretted it later. I regretted keeping quiet on two counts. It was the wrong business decision for one thing, and for another thing I felt like a wimp. I hated that burning feeling and resolved to step through the fear and say whatever I needed to say the next time.
The only way we build our muscles is by using them. Vocal cords are muscles, too. We have to use them if we want to make them stronger!
If being a “perfect employee” means doing whatever you’re told, questioning nothing, going along with bad ideas, working so many hours that your health is affected, giving up your personal time for no good reason, and generally making your views, your life and your priorities secondary to your employer’s needs, then it’s not a good deal for you to be a “perfect employee.”
Who wants to be “perfect” if it means being taken advantage of?
Here are ten good reasons not to be a “perfect employee:”
- When you are always available for your boss whenever he or she needs you, you will soon be taken for granted. Then your extra effort won’t be appreciated or valued. It will be expected, and no one will thank you for it.
- When you strive to get the best rating on your annual performance review, you skew your priorities. Your first priority is you and the people who depend on you. Your second priority is your career. Your boss and your current job are your third priority. They deserve a concerted effort and your best contribution every workday — nothing more than that.
- When you keep your mouth shut because you don’t want to rock the boat, you tell your trusty gut to be quiet. That’s the worst thing you can do! It’s like being in a boat on the open sea and throwing your navigation tools overboard. Your trusty gut will guide you through this life and won’t steer you wrong, but you have to listen to it.
- When you keep your personality under wraps at work because your if you showed it your co-workers might not like you, you send the message “My needs don’t matter.” Why should you hide who you are just because someone else might not like it? We are all coming out of the closet now about all kinds of things. Don’t you deserve to do the same thing?
- When you create an aura of “perfect employee” energy around you, it obscures who you are. Many or most of us try out the role of “perfect new hire” in our first job or two, and then gradually relax in the knowledge that we don’t have to please everybody. You don’t have to be the person who offers to take on every special assignment. It’s okay if someone (even your manager) isn’t happy with you sometimes.
- When you spend all your mental and emotional energy trying to keep your boss happy, you set up an unrealistic expectation for him or her. What’s going to happen the first time you [inevitably] let the boss down?
- When you never test the boundaries of your power, you never learn where those boundaries are. Your power can only shrink when you shy away from using it. Whenever you use your power — for instance, to push back against an unreasonable request your boss has made of you — it gets stronger. That’s the goal!
- When you never have strong opinions or when you have them but don’t share them, you get a reputation as a person without convictions. Why would anyone ask you what you think — much less see you as a thought leader or a subject-matter expert — when you never take a stand on any topic?
- When you try to please everyone around you, you’ll become exhausted and regret setting yourself up the way you did. By then, it may be too late! If you train the people around you to expect you to be a “perfect employee” all the time, they will!
- When you agree with bad ideas and ill-conceived plans just because you want to go along, you will end up betting on the wrong horse at least eighty percent of the time. Surely that’s not your definition of success!
You’re better off pushing boundaries on a regular basis when it’s appropriate than building a brand as a person who will never step out of a box, no matter what! Today is a great day to speak your truth about a subject that matters — perhaps there is something like that on your desk right now. Why not find your voice, step through your fear and say what’s on your mind?
Liz Ryan is the CEO and founder of Human Workplace. Follow her on Twitter and read the rest of her Forbes.com columns here.
I enjoy reading business articles as well as ministry articles and counseling articles. This one is on assertiveness in the workplace…..and even ministry is a workplace! One regularly spoken caution by a Christian businessman who serves on a church-related board with me is, “No margin, no ministry.” We have to be good stewards wherever we serve and make sound business decisions. In this case, we have to be good stewards of our own identities….we have to be true to who we are. We are created by God and gifted to serve where he calls us. Working at the periphery of the Christian community, at the edge of society among sometimes difficult people demands that I have the toughness to stand my ground among people who can be masterful at manipulation. It’s not easy to be everything to everyone in every setting. Sometimes one simply has to trust the grace of God in situations and in others to accept her as she is and know that it’s okay not to be loved by everyone.