Let’s be honest: The economy has tanked, and finding a job is no walk in the park. Once you land one, you want to keep it.
Naturally, you do your best. You’re friendly and polite with the boss and all your colleagues, maybe stay late just to show you’re a team player. You want to stand out as the employee that can be trusted to deliver on things.
But experience has taught me (painfully) that standing out for all the right reasons is dangerous.
At a previous job, I stood out for all the right reasons. I was never late, always cheerful and I always delivered.
I delivered so well, I was able to pick up a brand new Proton Persona 2019 in cash! No down payment, deposit, and no car loan.
Unfortunately, this reward literally painted a target on my back. Turns out a lot of people did not feel secure about their jobs, and decided to pool their own resources and cooperate to remove me.
In this scenario, I was the Caesar and yes, there was a Brutus. And knives. Lots of knives.
I got stabbed in the back. First, resources were diverted, then manpower, and then the lack of both ultimately crashed my projects. I still look back on that with a sense of pride. It took a lot of people a year to engineer my downfall.
I believe that my removal from power was done with the blessing of senior management — or maybe just management who for some reason viewed me as a threat to their position somehow.
In short, you never want the higher-ups or your colleagues to think that you are smarter than them, and that you are after their job (especially if the aforementioned is true).
Their success has forced me to rethink my approach to surviving in the office. So here’s 8 tips on how to act ‘Average’ in your current job:
1. Embrace your Employee Number.
Everyone in the company has an employee number. This is a fact of employment life. So you want to be nothing but a number to everyone. Keep your head down, be the boring and ultimately, forgettable guy.
You want your office desk to be plain and non-descript. By all means, keep the work documentation, graphs, charts, reports and things on your desk, but keep it as sterile as possible.
It’s going to be a cold and lonely existence in the office… but if your presence is not actively registered by others, then nobody thinks about you the next time retrenchment looms.
2. Be careful when using the “CC” button.
In my last company, the “CC” button in the office email was a Weapon of Mass Destruction that was used to bring people down. Used correctly, it can bring down entire teams, which it did. Which is why I no longer work there.
Often known in office parlance as “Big Red Button”, it’s used to avoid the various little dictators (line managers) to find a Caesar (the Big Boss). You’d CC the Big Boss in, then drop the line “Boss, CC as requested” somewhere in there to make the managers look incapable of their jobs.
One time, people in my department were CC’ed in to an ongoing email thread that we weren’t part of. “Any problems with this, let Eristarisis know and he, or someone on his team will follow up.”
Suddenly, we were responsible for several different things that I had little to no knowledge on. My team was caught in the crossfire, and ultimately, landed me in trouble.
So avoid using that CC button unless you know with absolute certainty that your middle manager requested it. Otherwise, it’s seen as thumbing your nose at their authority.
3. Avoid over socializing.
It’s always nice to have friends where you work, but these days, you don’t want to be seen as part of a pack. You want to run as a lone wolf instead. “Lone wolf” types are also targetable, but less likely to stand out.
Sure, this means you’re probably going to miss out on some promotional possibilities from having the appropriate “connections.” But the moment management changes, or there’s new leadership, the boss’s old social groups get targeted and irradiated like cancerous tumours.
One office I worked at had a Nerf Social Club. We got together to shoot each other with nerf blasters after office hours in the office.
When new management came in, they wanted a particular middle manager out. He was one of the “founders” of the Nerf Social Club. Everyone associated with it was let go over the course of several months as collateral damage to his firing.
I don’t know what he did to anger the management, but this was an occasion where that proved the importance of avoiding the cliques.
Just remember that being social is not being part of a clique.
4. Stay private on social media.
Personally, I feel you can post whatever you want on your social media, to share what you believe in, are passionate about, or just having a good time. But you should be intelligent about where you post.
It’s not possible to control what someone else is going to feel – be it hate and/or jealousy, annoyance or admiration. So, what you post should not give them reason to come after you.
Enter privacy controls. Set everything to FRIENDS ONLY, so only friends can see your posts. Not even “friends of friends” should be allowed to see, because there’s no telling who knows who on the internet. And it’s generally five steps between you and some dude.
Don’t forget to ditch whatever platforms you are not active on to avoid leaving an accidental something somewhere – especially since most social media platforms automatically enable crossposting/sharing between themselves – without asking for your permission.
Keep posts about work life, frustrations, failures and successes to yourself and off social media, because what is said on social media, is on social media forever. Here’s hoping you have good friends.
5. Be a stealthy ass-kisser.
(Not the same as being a stealthy-ass kisser.)
This is more art than a science. You want those in charge to have vaguely positive impressions of you in the back of their minds somewhere.
Be discreet. Be careful where and how often you do it. You don’t want to be seen by others as an ass-kisser.
This will make you more enemies than friends, put a target on your back and make sure everyone is out to get you fired.
6. Let yourself be the butt of the joke — sometimes.
In an office environment, supervisors will be constantly sizing up everyone. They will be looking to determine who they can rely on, who is a potential threat and of course, who can or should be let go.
While a low profile and refined ass kissing will cover you, in some situations, it Is good to let the boss treat you as the office clown – or village idiot – for the occasional office laugh.
Pretend to laugh along with them, because it will remove you from their crosshairs as a threat to their power, or position.
Here’s a small tip: In emails, make the odd typo, embarrassing grammatical error and perhaps a run on sentence to highlight that you’re not smarter than your boss.
7. Know that talent has no survival value.
Image courtesy of The Apartment (1960). The most sterile of anti-personnel office desks. You don’t even get a cubicle here!
Talent. Everyone has a talent of some sort. Everyone with a talent makes the assumption that it somehow matters to staying alive.
You can be the Rockstar sales guy who closed that 6-figure contract, the IT genius who fixed the programming problem, or the engineer who figured out how to jury-rig electrical power to get machinery working again.
But here’s the ugly truth: Surviving in the office is a skill which is independent of how talented you are.
The right person needs to get the credit, and most importantly, needs to be protected when things go wrong. (More on that guy coming up.)
8. Let your boss take the credit.
Everyone screws up. Bosses too. But when the bosses do it, they need someone else to take the blame, to avoid “losing face.”
Learn when you need to take the blame for something that has gone wrong. The flipside of this is also letting the boss take credit for the good work that you have done.
You’ll look pliable, making you look valuable to the boss as a team player that is worth keeping around to make themselves look good.
Remember, this is about survival and staying employed, not getting ahead in your career. That will come later.
With these tips, you will survive!
I got a new job in June of 2020 and so far, I still have my job. I also know how unusual these pieces of advice are, and taking them at face value is definitely not a good idea.
I have seen people who are “friends” with the boss get a termination notice, and unfortunately I’ve also seen people with talent, skill, knowledge and ability get fired.
What you should take away from this, is that standing out, even in all the right ways, can put a target on your back for those who do not feel secure for any reason. Keep your head down, do your job and whatever happens, don’t stop moving forward.
For those looking for a job in this market, check out some tips for your CV here, and how to survive retrenchment here. Most importantly, realize that getting retrenched is NOT the end of the world, your career or your life.
For more stories like this, read: I Quit My Job To Be A Manager – Here’s Why I Regret It. and After The First Round Of Retrenchments, I Thought My Job Was Safe. I Was Wrong.
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