Work: On My Own Terms

We’ve all been taken advantage of at work. A bold statement I know! But one that I believe is true. Think about any overtime you’ve ever done and not been paid for. Most of us would rather put that time into non-work related activities. Sure, some of you might not have minded, but ultimately those extra hours were for the benefit of the company and probably not your own, unless of course it resulted in a bonus or promotion.

But in many situations that doesn’t happen. If you’re like me, you may find it difficult to say ‘no’ to your boss, especially when they say ‘I know it’s not your job do this, but I would really appreciate it if you picked up this task’ or ‘we really need to get this done, do you mind staying back to finish it?’. Then before you know it, that small favour becomes an expectation and part of your job, with no benefit to you. Take my advice, learn to say no.

My toxic workplace

I was working in a very toxic workplace, where everyone was under relentless pressure and every task was URGENT. No I wasn’t working in an ER, I was at a major retailer. To describe the culture of that place was ‘if you gave an arm, they also took a leg’. Everyday you would see staff having breakdowns in the bathroom or out the front of the building.

It was a chaotic environment where everything needed to be done yesterday. If you couldn’t meet the unrealistic deadlines, then you weren’t good enough. If a mistake was made, well that wasn’t going to cut it and management would be on your back. I was conditioned to think the company was of paramount importance. It was more important than my own interests and wellbeing. How else can I explain working until 2am at least once a week for no overtime, pay rise or bonus? 

When I changed jobs I realised how wrong this culture was and how naive I had been. Despite the crazy deadlines and pressure put on us to meet them, nothing major happened if they weren’t met. Nobody died and guess what? the world didn’t end and the company continued to make large profits. I thought why create this type of environment in the first place? Then it dawned on me. All the stress and pressure was totally fabricated. It was created by those who would benefit the most from such an environment, executives who took care of their own interests. When the deadlines were met, they were the ones receiving insane bonuses, not people like me who put in the hard work.  

Put yourself first

Take my advice and don’t ever let a workplace take advantage of you, it’s really not ok. At the end of the day, you should always be thinking about yourself at work. From the moment you arrive to the moment the working day is over, your interests come first. Rarely have time for a lunch break? Then you’re not putting yourself first. After all you’re entitled to that break. Do you spend more time fussing over the company’s money than your own? Then you’re taking care of their interests over your own. Dedicate the same amount of time, care and attention, to your finances. You’ve spent the time earning the money, so why not take proper care of it.

Is the exchange fair?

Let’s not forget that employment is based on an exchange. Your time, experience and skills are exchanged for money and the opportunity to gain more skills and experience from your employer. Employers think about it in terms of what they can get out of you and what part you will play in the company. Ultimately you need to be thinking about your own interests –  where will the money, skills and experience take you? Who knows in three years time you may not be working at that company or it may no longer exist. Therefore, what really matters is what YOU are going to get out of it and where YOU are going to end up. Think about whether it’s a fair exchange. What are you getting paid and where is it going to get you in the future? Where have your skills and experience gotten you so far? Maybe it’s time for a change.

It’s always a two way street

Don’t fall into the trap of only ever doing what’s in the company’s best interests, while neglecting your own. When one of my colleagues suffered illness brought on by stress because of her job, it wasn’t her work that was at her bedside, it was her family and friends. Remember that workplaces are a two way street. If you don’t perform, you’re out, therefore the same applies to your employer. If you’re a top performer ask for a raise and don’t rely on promises. Your employers know everything that goes on in the company – especially who their high achievers are. Always focus on getting the best outcome for you, as those at the top are doing for themselves.

Don’t stress the small stuff

How many times have you sent a relatively unimportant work email only to start worrying about if the email made sense or you sent it to the right person? Rather than just letting it go, after all the email has already been sent, instead you go back and check the details dreading errors you may (not) find because your boss is a perfectionist. Ask yourself, is it really worth it? Imagine if that was your last day on earth, is that how you wanted to spend part of it? Don’t stress about things that won’t matter in a couple of days or a year’s time. No one will remember. Move onto the more meaningful and important tasks.

Careers last for decades, so you owe it to yourself to get the most out of them.

Written and published with full permission from Mel of Sydney, Australia


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