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Coworkers ask: What do you do all day?

Dear Office-Politics,

“What do you do all day?” is what I hear from co-workers.

I currently work for a company in which I am considered a top-performer by management. Recently, I have been receiving an unusual amount of back handed comments regarding me just “walking around all day doing nothing.”

Here is a little background. I am in the account maintenance/customer service department for my company. My job is to take care of the client and put out their fires.

When my client needs something done, I do it. The key difference between my duties and other departments’ duties is that their duties can be completely independent from other departments. Mine is the opposite.

With this, when I need something from another department done, I started by emailing the department. Their response time was too slow. I began going to reliable co-workers in each department to have them help me. They have alway obliged and would gladly help me. This method has improved my customer feedback greatly.

This presents the problem. I am (was) constantly darting around the office taking care of business and people starting saying out loud “Don’t you do anything?!” or “Why don’t you go back to your desk?” So far, I’ve just smiled and moved on, but now it’s getting bad. It’s so bad that even the new guy in our department is starting to make these comments, the last incident was yesterday in front of a new employee who is going to be in our department. I was very upset as I do not feel that was a professional thing to say.

I take comfort in the fact that management, upper management, and the sales teams all know how hard I work.

Unfortunately, I am feeling increasingly frustrated and I don’t know if I should talk to my manager about it. I know I should just focus on the “important” people of the career path, but who can work somewhere where they are not respected?

-Rodney Dangerfield Jr.

OFFICE-POLITICS REPLY BY DR. RICK BRANDON AND DR. MARTY SELDMAN

dr. rick brandon
dr. marty seldman

Dear Rodney, Jr.

So sorry about the delayed response but we really had more important people to answer first…. NOT! We figure that someone with your obvious “Rodney Dangerfield good sense of humor” can handle that friendly heckling! Seriously, we do apologize for the late letter since you sound like a good person in some pain. We hope the following perspective and tips help you climb out of the foxhole you’ve been digging for yourself.

Overall, we’d like to suggest that you implement two major Organizational Savvy “ethical politics” skill sets which we explain as cornerstones for achieving organizational influence, impact, career advancement, and in your case “role credibility” in our book, Survival of the Savvy: “Balanced Self-Promotion” and “Managing Perceptions” of the corporate airwaves.


BALANCED SELF-PROMOTION

This strategy is vital even when a person does not have the inaccurate, unfair corporate “buzz” of being performance dead-weight as you do. The skill cluster involves acting preventively and proactively to ensure others all up, down, and across the organization know your contributions to the company’s results, bottom line, corporate vision and/or strategy. This demands “putting your handprint on your work” by making some effort to let others know what you do, your accomplishments, your savings, and impact.

This does not mean you are crassly bragging, especially if you find subtler tactics for making sure that your hard work and client/customer retention and client satisfaction achievements are not the best kept secret in the company. After all, you have to compensate for the fact that your impact is less visible and apparent than a salesperson’s since the addition of a new client or new revenue is more obvious. Add to the mix the probability that most people’s voicemail and email boxes are jammed and the chances of their taking time to understand what you do is a crap-shoot. And you ARE right to be concerned even though top management expresses knowledge of and appreciation for your efforts. Let’s face it — one’s general reputation (“buzz”) does impact longevity and political stock and your place on the corporate food chain. So get rid of any notion that APPROPRIATELY broadcasting how you help the company constitutes boasting. You can “toot your own horn” without blowing it in somebody’s ear! Remember that Ben Franklin wrote that unrecognized strengths are like “sundials in the shade.”

So how do you get your sundial out into the light?
1) You brainstorm ways to get the message out there that you make a difference, not in reaction to negative comments, but in a proactive fashion. 2) Some people have their function featured in the company newsletter (e.g. “Did You KNow?”) or intra-net through a special feature or better yet, a regular monthly briefing.
3) Others conduct information exchanges informally through briefing meetings at other units’ staff meetings or send out an inter-office FYI briefing.
4) Craft a 30-second “Elevator Speech” that succinctly captures the impact of what you deliver in dollar and sense terms or numbers of clients retained compared to the past, etc.

The point is to not surrender the corporate airwaves to others, but to be your own “program manager” publicizing what you do and its effect. Since your sales, marketing, and management colleagues DO value your work, as well as your customers, start inviting them to help you with this effort, whether it’s by getting testimonials, sound bites or feedback for such an informal “campaign” or by just gathering data that YOU translate into an article or briefing. Educate others on how much it costs the company to lose a customer given that research shows that one unhappy client spreads the word to about ten others, scorching the enterprise’s reputation and ease of acquiring new business. The tenor and spirit of this new posture is not pompous or defensive, obviously, but one of pride, excitement and enthusiasm for the value-added nature of what you provide.

CHANGING A LIABILITY INTO AN ASSET
We also suggest that you can convert the fact that you must rely upon other departments for assistance in order to actually succeed from a challenge into a positive tactic and strategy. Do this by reinforcing and expressing positive appreciation to a particular team or individual/s who recently responded quickly to a need you had. Craft a quick email thanking them and noting the specifically behaviors that helped, how it strengthened a client relationship, and the revenue involved if possible. Often, giving credit to others is a way of simultaneously putting your hand print on your own work. This technique also reinforces the very behavior that you say you need to occur more, raising it’s likelihood by other teams, AND you are automatically educating others about the way to leverage your efforts and results. Catch people doing it right and put this information in your newsletters, day-to-day conversation, emails, your elevator speech, articles, etc.

ALTERING AND MANAGING NEGATIVE PERCEPTIONS
This entire letter is about knowing your corporate buzz, refusing to abandon the corporate airwaves to others, and instead taking the reins. Many Under-Political people don’t even know their buzz (reputation), or they get so caught up in “ain’t it awful” or “I’m a helpless victim,” that they don’t dig themselves out. You are admirable aware of the unfair buzz and seeking ways to craft a new image, right? So in addition to broadcasting your buzz through Balanced Self-Promotion, begin exploring if there are ways you can “reframe” others’ interpretation of your visibly walking around as you venture out of your office or cubicle to enlist others’ aid. Actively acknowledge the negative buzz (“I know, Joe, that many people understandably misinterpret my walking around as meaning I don’t do anything. I don’t blame you….etc. In fact, what’s going on is outreach to get something from the supply chain department so that I can make sure we don’t lose the latest high tech client, XYZ, like we lost ABC two years ago.”). Use whatever wording fits, but the concept is to provide an alternative, honorable intention behind the same behavior that fuels negative interpretations (walking around is seen as aimless wandering).

CONCLUSION

By the way, we are actually shocked that people don’t “get it,” since people who are loafing around or goofing off are usually doing it behind closed doors, surfing the web, handling personal affairs, or sleeping! You can also use phrases and drop hints about how busy you are, engineer yourself the inability to have personal chatting or small talk due to being “on task,” etc. Find other ways of conveying a new perception within the organization among peers while you continue the positive reputation you enjoy with superiors and the sales group. All of these tactics will help evolve (not overnight) a gradually more favorable impression of you and your role. Good luck in transforming from Rodney Dangerfield to Frank Sinatra, “Chairman of the Board!”

Thanks for writing to Office-Politics.

Warm and RESPECTFUL regards,

Rick Brandon, Ph.d. and Marty Seldman, Ph.D. Co-authors,
Survival of the Savvy: High-Integrity Political Tactics for Career and Company Success


cover of Survival of the SavvyRick Brandon, Ph.d. and Marty Seldman, Ph.D. are Co-authors, Survival of the Savvy: High-Integrity Political Tactics for Career and Company Success. Dr. Rick Brandon is CEO of Brandon Partners. He has consulted and trained tens of thousands at corporations worldwide, including Fortune 500 companies across a variety of industries. Dr. Marty Seldman is one of America’s most experienced executive coaches. His 35-year career includes expertise in executive coaching, group dynamics, cross-cultural studies, clinical psychology, and training.

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  1. One Answer to “Coworkers ask: What do you do all day?”

  2. great article. The article has given me great insights to manage my “buzz” around at workplace. It suggests simple tips that can be practiced.

    By Harjas on Oct 16, 2007

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