Have you ever been let down by a colleague who you thought was a friend? Or how about getting drunk at the office party? If so, you’re not alone.
But here’s the thing: You can’t mix your professional and personal life. And that’s not a great thing to hear, right? We all desperately want to have a great time at work. And I get it.
You spend more time at work than any other place in your life, so it’s important to enjoy what you do. But doing what you love and workplace rules are two different things.
That took me a long time to understand. Granted, I’m a stubborn idiot who has to learn things the hard way. But one thing I’ve learned about the workplace is this: Things are not what they seem.
Here are five cold hard truths about the workplace. Understanding them will help improve your professional life.
1. Co-Workers Are Not Your Friends
You’re supposed to be best friends with your co-workers. At least, that’s what people who call the shots at organizations want you to believe. But don’t be fooled by all the phoniness.
It all starts with the recruitment process. Recruiters, HR folks, hiring managers, they all try to convince you that they have an open culture. That they value teamwork. And honesty.
It’s all BS. All organizations are the same. Why? Because people are the same. We just can’t help it. We’re all competitive. It’s naïve to pretend that’s not true.
Is that a bad thing? No, not at all. Just don’t look at your co-workers as friends because you expect too much from them. It’s a whole different dynamic. At work, people are there to earn a living.
What do you think? That they will sacrifice a paycheck for your friendship? Not going to happen. Just be mindful of that and do your job.
Stay professional. And have a good time with people at work. See them as professional relationships. Nothing more. Nothing less.
2. Perception Is Reality
This one is my least favorite truth and the one that I never got used to. And probably never will. That’s my flaw.
Look, you can pretend it’s not about appearances at work, but it is. Looking busy and actually being busy are the same thing.
Why? Because perception equals reality. If you’re perceived as the office clown, you are one. No matter how hard you work.
If you’re perceived as a naysayer who always goes home at 5 pm, you are one. And no one will offer you any opportunities.
Now, all this doesn’t mean you should ONLY be about appearances. Of course not. The reality is much more subtle. It’s about understanding that you have to be ‘visibile’, as people at corporations love to call it, and professional.
3. Open Doors Are Not Really Open
How familiar does this scenario sound?
You’re in a meeting. And your manager or co-worker says that you’re free to speak your mind. In fact, you’re always welcome to walk in the office of your boss. “The door is always open.” Literally and figuratively.
So you decide to speak your mind. You listen to them and try to be honest with your feedback. What happens? Suddenly, you become an enemy. A defector. Someone who doesn’t fit in.
Think that scenario is too harsh? Think again. That’s what brutal honesty does to people. Why? Feedback, criticism, etc, is often viewed as an attack. That has nothing to do with you. Most people are bad at receiving feedback. Again, we’re human beings. We don’t like it.
So never be too honest. Does that make you fake? No, it makes you empathetic. Work on the way you deliver your feedback or criticism.
The ignorant people always say something like: “Why the hell should I change? Those people should grow up and not be offended by my criticism.”
And that’s exactly the problem with ‘honest’ people. They’re idiots (me included). Why? You can’t change others. But you can change yourself.
4. Couples Are Targets
Research shows that the more you see someone, the more attractive they become. That’s why you’re suddenly attracted to that co-worker you didn’t notice before. And on one TGIF drinks, you start talking, some light touching happens, and boom: A spark. So you grab dinner together.
And the rest happens automatically. Before you know it, you’re in a relationship with a co-worker. Shit happens. And I’ve been there too. It’s not necessarily a bad thing.
But it sure can be if you handle it wrong. Because couples often get this ‘us against the rest’ feeling at work. And that’s not good. Because if you rely too much on each other, you become targets of gossip. And that kind of stuff is not helpful when you want to make your next move in the company.
It’s best to keep your love life and work-life separated. Literally.
5. Irreplaceable People Get Special Treatment
“It’s not fair. John gets away with everything!” Yes, because John is a superstar. That’s how it works.
Every firm, business unit, and the team has a John or Johanna. Someone who’s accountable for the majority of the results. Someone the company relies on. Naturally, Johanna is favored and gets special treatment. And what happens? Others get jealous and say it’s not fair.
Sure, most businesses are very obvious about the way they reward their Johns. They could be more subtle. But when they do that, they risk that John or Johanna leaves their company. And when that happens, the company loses. You can cry or complain about it. But you’re not helping your company or yourself.
The truth is: Some people are irreplaceable, and some can be replaced easily. It’s time to become the former.
There you go. These are my observations about the workplace. It’s not all based on scientific research. It’s based on my experience and common sense. Can I be wrong? For sure. In fact, I want to be wrong.
So please, prove me wrong and make change happen at your company. Because I hope that these truths become misconceptions in the future.
But we need you to make that happen.