Is Your Company Looking Shaky? Bet On Your Coworkers

By Kevin M

With the economy in retreat, and job losses mounting, many are finding that their ability to rely on their employers is rapidly turning into quicksand. But if you can?t rely on your company for your career, who can you rely on?

How about your coworkers?

We all need people who will speak well of us; management might not always be willing or able to do so. Management might not remember some or any of the times you saved the day, but a coworker won?t forget the day you helped her out of a jam. One day, she might be at another company and remember you when a job opening or promotion opportunity with your name on it comes up.

Think of your coworkers as your customers

In some organizations coworkers are actually referred to as internal customers, or by some similar description. Go the extra mile when you can, treat everyone with respect, do more than people expect you to, become a person others can rely on, and your standing among your coworkers may soar to a level that provides you with a built-in internal networking group. That group can be a vital life preserver in the event of layoffs or a complete closure of your company when coworkers exit and join other organizations ahead of you.

A minister at a church I used to attend advised a general life?s approach of ?choosing people over circumstances? and I think that?s excellent guidance on the job.

This doesn?t mean that you abandon loyalty to your company, or worse hold it in contempt. What it means is that no matter what?s happening at your company, even if it may soon be closing its doors, that you continue to work for and with your coworkers at the highest level. Remember that your coworkers are a part of the company you work for, so there?s usually no conflict here.

It should go without saying that this is not a recommendation to follow coworkers into trouble by doing things you know you shouldn?t.
Some reasons why your coworkers might be a better long term bet than your employer:

  1. Your employer could go out of business, or be taken over by another concern, leaving you with no job and no employer reference
  2. Previous employers may be less than enthusiastic references, especially if your departure occurred under less than amicable circumstances
  3. Management may have a less than positive view of you precisely because you are or were so esteemed by your coworkers (managers DO have egos)
  4. Your company?s future prospects may not be all that bright, putting a lid on your own progress
  5. Coworkers and former coworkers make credible references when employers may be unwilling or unable to do so
  6. Coworkers often leave for positions at other employers, opening the door to opportunities for you where they work now

A true life story

Some years back, I had the privilege of working with a man named Bill, who was perhaps the best person in our field in the local metropolitan area, and maybe in the entire industry nationwide. The whole company relied on Bill for all problems big and small, even and especially management. Training a new employee? Set ?em up with Bill. New programs being rolled out? Get Bill on it. Deal falling apart? Bring it to Bill. Bill was the Go-To Guy for all occasions.

But when it came promotion time?which happened twice?Bill was passed over. He was passed over for the department manager?s job, and later for the assistant manager?s position.

Everyone knew that Bill was the best choice for either position, but management had a quite different agenda. Why would the best qualified person in the department?by a wide margin?be passed over for the chance to run it and bring his positive influence to every member of the staff?

In Do You Have a Bad Attitude or Does Your Job Really Stink we too a look at some examples of why you might not be promoted even if you?re fully qualified, and they?re worth revisiting for this story:

For a variety of reasons, the person who gets the promotion often isn?t the one who?s the most qualified. One may be that workers often advance due to closer connections with higher management; some people are better at office politics than others. They?re good at getting close to the decision makers, and like it or not, that does figure into promotion decisions.

Another possibility is that someone else ?fits the suit?…He or she may look the part management is seeking to project. None of us ever wants to believe that one person might be promoted over another because of appearance, but it is a factor.

Still another possibility is almost a paradox: you?re so good at what you do that management wants you right where you are because promoting you may leave a void which cannot be easily filled.

In Bill?s case, probably every factor listed in the above quote applied, with a heavy emphasis on the last point, the company needed him right where he was! You see, this company was dysfunctional?most companies are in one regard or another. Bill was a master trouble shooter, so the company wanted him right where he was. As long as Bill was there doing the job he was doing, management didn?t need to get it?s collective hands dirty. Bill took that burden off their shoulders, and to his credit, he never complained about it.

A happy ending

Fortunately, this story ended happily for Bill. No, he didn?t get promoted by the company. After a decade of loyal service, of doing the many jobs his superiors should have been doing, he never rose above the level of a staffer.

But over the years, many coworkers left the company for positions elsewhere, and when there was a need for someone to fill a regional manager?s position at a competing firm, Bill got the call?and the job. He didn?t need to ?come up through the ranks?, to first go through the motions of being an assistant manager, then finally a department manager. Instead he leapfrogged over both positions into a higher one, to a job that everyone knew he was rightfully destined to have. He did it on the strength of recommendations from former coworkers who held him in the highest regard.

And the company? Shortly after Bill left, they closed their regional operations and let everyone go. Things do have a way of working out, even if that process takes a lot longer than we think it should.

The message for you and me

Bill stepped up. Even though he knew that he wasn?t being treated fairly by the company, he did the best job he could do, stepping up again and again to help his coworkers, including me. Become a problem solver, a person who can be relied on, and even if your company won?t promote you, chances are you coworkers will remember you fondly when they move to other companies, and then you might get a phone call like the one Bill got.

If you?re relatively new to the workforce, you may not be terribly concerned with how your coworkers think of you, preferring instead to work mainly at impressing your superiors. But with the rapidly changing nature of the job world, employers tend to come and go, and at a minimum, they also often have shorter memories of your accomplishments than coworkers will, especially those who think well of you.

While you?re building your career experience and work skills, it?s equally important to build relationships, which often start by improving the relationships with the people sitting right next to you at work, or with people in other departments who rely on your performance in order to get their jobs done.

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