What I said about wanting work to be afraid of me notwithstanding, here is a slightly revised excerpt from an email to a friend with a new job:
First, I’m wishing you the best of luck at your new job.
But if this job doesn’t work out, there’s another good job out there somewhere, for sure.
After I was laid off from The Best Company There Is and then rehired in another part of the company several months later, I was very motivated to keep my new job, and I adopted a new approach, which is that whenever my boss asks me to do something, I say, “Sure! I would love to do that!” I formerly was prone to arguing about details—does this even need to be done? Is this the best way to do it? Etc. I resolved never to indulge in that again.
I also try to make sure my boss’s life is easy and smooth. I handle problems myself as much as possible before going to him. What I say to him is positive and constructive. I try not to waste his time.
I never ever ever say anything negative to him about another person. A co-worker would have to shoot me before I’d complain to my boss. No matter what a colleague of mine does, there is no benefit to me in mentioning that to my boss. (I also almost never ever ever say anything negative about a co-worker to a third co-worker. I do not want to be seen as that kind of person.)
I read recently that what we say about others will be seen as attributes of ourselves, a quirk of psychology. So if I go to my boss and say, “Mulene is pretty, nice and smart,” he’s hearing those words and seeing my face and they get associated with each other, and he sort of thinks I am pretty, nice and smart. And if I say to my boss, “Mulene is ugly, mean and stupid!”, then he thinks I am those things.
I have also noticed that when Person A goes to HR to share a very legitimate complaint about Person B, Person A can eventually look forward to being laid off. HR is there to protect the company. From whom? From troublemakers! Who are the troublemakers? The ones who come to them with complaints. It’s totally backward, but I think that’s how it tends to work.
I used to have a co-worker of notably sunny and calm demeanor. One day he and I got a very provocative, complaining email from a third person. I was all up in arms, but Ben said, “I’m not letting him get my goat,” and he read the first two words of the email and then deleted it. I’ve never forgotten the way he prioritized his own happiness by avoiding things that could only be upsetting or annoying.
Sometimes the thing we have to avoid in order not to be upset is our own thoughts.
But whatever you might think, one key to hanging onto a job is for people to see you as someone who does her job cheerfully and willingly, causes no problems for the boss or anyone else, and never says anything negative, most particularly not to the boss.
By “boss,” I mean my boss, but also anyone in any position of authority, such as a team lead, or someone directing me in a project or task, or even someone training me to do a project or task.
Crossing my fingers for you!