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Are you driving your boss crazy?

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In “45 Things You Do That Drive Your Boss Crazy,” Anita Bruzzese reveals the most common complaints from bosses about what their employees are doing wrong. Here's an excerpt:

IntroductionLet’s get this straight right off the bat: Bosses do not hire you to fire you.

It costs money to recruit and train someone, from the lowest position at a company to the top brass. It takes time and energy away from current employees every time someone has to show a new worker where the bathroom is or how to use the computer system.

So, it makes sense that your boss hires you to keep you. But after nearly twenty years of covering the workplace as a journalist, I think we have a problem.

Based on hundreds of letters I have received through my syndicated workplace column for Gannett News Service and USAToday.com, and hundreds of interviews I have done with company managers and career experts, something is seriously wrong here, folks.

The reason I say that is because I’m always getting letters from employees who are bewildered — hurt — thatthings have gone wrong or are going wrong in their careers. They don’t understand it, they tell me. Why are they not successful at work? Why did the boss give them a poor performance evaluation? Why did they get passed over for the promotion or the raise?

The answer is usually the same: Because they didn’t do what the boss wanted them to. (Duh.) And this, I have found, seems to confound many people. (Double duh.)

Let me be clear here: A boss expects you to be the best and the brightest you can be. That means you can’t cut corners, or try to “get by,” or whine about what you deserve. They give you a paycheck and they expect certain things — many of which they do not believe they should have to tell you. That doesn’t mean you won’t get the training you need for certain tasks, but it does mean that you’ve got to stop making some pretty dumb workplace blunders.

It’s sort of like the robin that came to my house last spring. Not unusual, of course. But this robin had a problem. He continually flew himself — full tilt — into my window.

This was alarming at first. I worried the poor bird would at least break a wing, and at worst, kill himself. I wanted to help but didn’t know what to do.

So, I watched helplessly as the bird flew over and over into my window. It happened about every ten minutes for a couple of hours. He would sit in a nearby tree, fly into the window then return to the tree.

Unfortunately, not only was this disturbing to watch such a misguided bird, but it seemed the impact would literally jar the poop out of him. My window was covered with bird droppings and the bird showed no sign of stopping.

But finally, it did stop. He simply flew away, leaving me no wiser as to his reasoning.

The next morning at daybreak, I was awakened by a thumping noise. Every few minutes it sounded as if something would hit the side of the house, then stop. After lying there bleary-eyed for about ten minutes, I got a sneaking suspicion of what it might be.

The robin was back, and this time, he stayed. After a couple of weeks, after placing netting over the windows to try to keep him away, I was nearly crazed with that stupid bird. He was no longer a beautiful harbinger of spring but a nasty piece of ruffled feathers who was covering all my windows with poop, driving me from bed in the early hours and just driving me mad the rest of the time.

Finally, for no reason that I know of, he left for good. I don’t know if the other robins did a kind of “robin intervention” to correct his self-destructive tendencies or he simply tired of the window assault and left.

Just like that bird, people in the workplace do things that make no sense and end up hurting themselves and driving those around them whacko. You may or may not be as stubborn as this bird, but I’ll bet you have some bad habits that could be cleaned up.

My milk crate overflows
I’ve covered the workplace from all its angles and bends. After all, I’m an employee myself. I work for a living, and have since I was fifteen. I’ve even been an employer, subcontracting out work for various projects. As a business journalist, I’ve interviewed hundreds of top managers and workplace experts. I’ve heard from readers of my syndicated newspaper column on workplace issues over the years who ask me everything from how they can get along better with co-workers to what color they should paint the spare bedroom in their house.

When I was mulling over the writing of this book, I put a plastic milk crate under my desk. I thought I would place in it anything I found that showed me folks in the workplace just weren’t getting it and were making some real career blunders over and over. In a couple of months that milk crate was overflowing. Surveys, news clippings, and research reports were piled to the top.

One of the reports showed that the CEO of Boeing Co., Harry C. Stonecipher, was forced to resign after his romantic affair with a female executive was discovered. Stonecipher, who was married, was brought on board to help re-establish the global reputation of the company. Written communications at work from Stonecipher to the woman confirmed that an affair was ongoing.

Another newspaper clipping showed that Jeremy Wright, who sold the first blog, the Google IPO, and Lemmings Online, was fired for blogging on the job. When I consulted his blog I found that he had written that he was fired for “divulging company secrets in a private space.” 

OK, so it became pretty darn clear to me that if some of the most highly trained, experienced employees were still screwing up, then there had to be plenty of others. I started to think about why mistakes were being made, and began to see a picture emerge: employees and their bosses simply were not on the same page — and some didn’t even appear to be in the same book.

Based on interviews with hundreds of people in the workplace over the years, I believe part of the problem is that employees often have the mindset that since “everyone” spends time goofing off at work, or that “everyone” gossips or that “everyone” is rude these days — so it’s really OK to do those things. The boss doesn’t really care since “everyone” does it, the thinking seems to be.

But the truth is, the boss does care, and he believes employees should too. He further believes that correct behavior should be a given in the workplace. He doesn’t believe he should have to lecture or cajole employees into behaving properly — he’s not your teacher or your friend or your family. He is your boss, and, you are the employee. When your behavior shows that you don’t get that — well, it drives him crazy.

The employee/employer contractWhen you interview for a job, you are questioned about your skills and experience and are finally chosen as the best person for the job over other applicants. That means an employer has invested in you before you even do a lick of work by:

  • Advertising the job through newspapers, magazines, and online sites
  • Paying headhunter fees
  • Putting you on the payroll
  • Establishing security passwords and computer access
  • Leasing for you the needed equipment such as pagers, cell phones, and cars
  • Taking current employees away from their jobs to interview you, answer questions, and give you a facility tour

Then once you begin work, there are the weeks and months of training required to get you up to speed on everything from computers to client relations to future projects. It’s been estimated by experts that you’re not even contributing 50 percent until you’ve been on the job for about twelve weeks.1 As for the employee you replace? It’s estimated that when a worker leaves a company it costs an employer about 50-200 percent of that person’s annual salary in terms of lost experience and abilities.2

So you see, the boss, from the moment you accept the job, has a big investment in you. He wants to see you succeed not only because a financial commitment has been made, but because your success means his success. Period.

That’s why bosses get more than a little frustrated when employees do stupid things. Like showing up for the first day of work with bright orange hair after being hired with perfectly nice brown hair. It’s the kind of thing, you see, that gets a boss upset with you before you’ve even taken your first lunch break. Further, bosses don’t like it when you get emotional and start crying or yelling when you have a crappy day. Such behavior makes them uncomfortable and bosses eventually get rid of anything that makes them uneasy.

Keep in mind that bosses have bosses. That means they have their own pressures to put up with and the last thing they want to do is stop their own work and deal with an employee problem. Employee problems slow them down, add to their stress, and generally make them cranky. Not the happy place where most people want their bosses to reside.

It’s also important to remember that bosses today must deal with employees who believe that since they aren’t guaranteed a job for thirty years anymore then they aren’t required to have any kind of loyalty to a company or a boss. Bosses face a world where employees are continually lost to competitors, better jobs or self-employment. They often are responsible for far-flung employees, telecommuting workers, and employees who don’t use English as their native tongue.

That’s why they do not want to spend more dollars and time educating you about issues that they believe you should already know (such as orange hair). They don’t have time to write a book of rules such as “don’t wear your pajamas to work,” or “don’t talk on your cell phone during meetings” because they think you should already know that stuff (some of you do, some of you don’t).

But I do have the time to write down the rules. At the same time, I want you to know why the rules are important and why they matter to the boss. I have never liked the “because I said so” response, so in this book you’re going to finally understand and remember not only the rules but why they are rules in the first place. 

It’s time to grab your career with both hands and take responsibility for making it a success. Employers want you to be successful because your success means their success. I want you to be a smart employee, because then you won’t write me those same, sad letters — or end up in my milk crate. And above all, you should want to do well in your job for any number of reasons, not excluding a steady paycheck.

I know that it can be overwhelming to know what to do and when to do it, but that reasoning can quickly turn into an excuse. It’s easier after all to just throw up your hands and admit defeat to information overload. But why ignore information that can help you earn more money, be more successful, be more satisfied, and lose weight (OK, so maybe not that). 

As you read this, remember that knowledge is power. With the right information — information your boss wants you to know and understand – you can be a much happier and productive employee. And the best part? It’s not hard. So, let’s get started!

1 William G. Bliss, president of Bliss & Associates Inc., isquare.com/turnover.cfm2 Sbinformation.about.com/od/hiringfiring/a/reduceturnover.htm

Excerpted from “45 Things You Do That Drive Your Boss Crazy” by Anita Bruzzese. Copyright ©2007.  Excerpted by permission of Penguin Group (USA) Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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