Confession: I was one of those employees who used to say things like, "Why can't my manager just understand?" Or "Why can't he/she just [X]?"
At the time I didn't look at it from my manager's perspective. Managers are under a lot of pressure to ensure the happiness of multiple people, rarely receiving any recognition when their employees don't up and quit!
Now that I manage a team, I realize there are certain truths all managers wish their employees knew. However, many of these are inappropriate to ever truly say aloud, whether it's for HR reasons or a fear of creating an unpleasant work environment.
Well, I'm putting them out here because it will give any employee an edge when the next round of promotions comes around. Plus, I know it would help countless managers if they were just out in the open. So here it is: your guide to getting ahead in the work world and helping all managers, no matter the industry.
We secretly wish you would stay late. Within reason. I am not condoning managers who make it known that they expect you in the office at all hours. I believe work/life balance is important, but sometimes there are deadlines. We all wish our employees would work with the same sense of urgency as we do, and if there is a deadline, stay late until it's completed. However, remember that there is a difference between staying late with purpose and staying late for show.
You can see for HR reasons why this is something we could never, ever say aloud; but it's a universal truth. So, if you are going to miss a deadline, and have the ability to stay late, just do it. Your manager will secretly love you for it.
We wish we didn't need to nag about organization. If there is one life skill you should master right now as an employee it's a near-obsession with organization. It's one of those basic life skills that is relevant in any industry, yet is oftentimes difficult to test for during the interviewing process. Thus, managers don't find out until it's too late whether or not an employee is capable of staying organized. And it's a skill that is hard to engrain overnight, so each organizational misstep is a gnawing annoyance to your manager that if left untouched could lead to resentment.
If a manager has ever commented on your organizational skills, make sure she only needs to mention it once, because you never want her to resent you over time.
We want you to take something off our plate without having to ask. Managers are constantly pulled in multiple directions, with one employee needing help with this or their own boss asking them to do that. It can make it very difficult to get anything done.
Thus, if you see your manager struggling to balance her workload, step up and offer to take it off her plate. Just make sure it's something you can deliver on. The extra workload in the short term will help you in the long run, because it's one of those things your manager will always remember.
We wish you would consult Google before asking questions. I remember one manager I had would actually say this to me: "Did you Google it?" I used to get so mad and think he was so rude. However, when I was on the flip side I found myself thinking the same thing.
If you have a question that could easily be answered by Google, don't ask until you've done a quick search. Managers love employees who show the initiative to self-learn, because it keeps the team more efficient. Asking someone else for help ruins her workflow. And if there's one thing we managers love most, it's productivity. Showing respect for others' time is a great way to earn respect, so consult trusty Google before constantly asking, "How do I create a pivot table?"
But we also want you to ask for help. Take the above section with a grain of salt. It's not to say managers don't want you to ask for help. Actually, it's the opposite. The more time you spend consistently doing something wrong because you are afraid to ask, the more time and money you are wasting.
Managers respect employees who are honest with their weaknesses and take the initiative to improve. Showing this kind of ownership builds trust, which is essential to any relationship, but particularly a managerial one. If a manager can trust you to own up to your own mistakes, she will start to decrease the amount of handholding. This, in turn, will make you more independent, which you could leverage into a higher paying job down the road.
Pro tip: I understand it can be difficult to distinguish between what you should ask aloud or not. Reserve the Googling for non-essential business functions. If you don't understand a whole process vital to your job function, ask the manager. If you just don't know how to do a specific task like spell something or get a program to work, Google it.
People on Stairs image on home page via Shutterstock.
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Adria Saracino is the head of outreach at Distilled, a creative online marketing agency. When not consulting on content strategy or leading her team of outreach warriors, you can find her writing about style on her personal fashion blog, The Emerald Closet.
December 12, 2013
1:00pm ET / 10:00am PT