On the job – how to be tolerated and even admired in the workplace.

If your train’s on time, you can get to work by nine – and start your slavin’ job to get your pay…

So sneered Randy Bachman in his 1974 hit Taking Care of Business. Bachman evidently didn’t think much of the Monday to Friday suckers and opted for a career as a rock star. He aslo claims he didn’t touch alcohol, drugs or cigarettes throughout his entire career which seems to be missing the point of being a famous, quite frankly.

Anyway, back to the grind. If you have to spend more time with your co-workers than your own family, then it makes sense to be as affable as possible. Or at the very least, as inconspicuous and inoffensive as possible.

If “be all you can” seems like too much hard work then “be as tolerable as you can” might be more doable. Sure, it’s not as catchy, but it’ll keep the pay packets coming in.

Like anything in life, the workplace has its share of do’s and definitely don’ts, regardless of the industry. As long as you and everyone else can adhere to them, there should be no problem. You might not whistle as you walk to work, but that’s why it’s called work.

The rules are surprisingly simple but not everyone sticks to them or even knows them.

Here’s a picture of my baby – adorable, right?

Your new baby has transformed your world. A delightful little bundle of joy that you dedicate every hour of the day towards.

And so you should. Maybe even sharing this joy with others, whether they ask to see a picture or not.

Woah, woah – hold your horses. Of course everybody is delighted for you and agree that baby is indeed a darling. However to show baby pictures without being asked is akin to saying, “Start giving compliments please.”

The pressure. While this is effortless for some, others struggle to come up with anything other than, “Nice – it has your…ears”.

Best to silently bask in the knowledge that your baby is the cutest in the world and if others want proof, well they’ll ask.

I’m not working in a coalmine, I’m not working in a coalmine…

If need be, repeating this mantra can help with perspective relating to your job. When asked to perform a shitty task, simply remember you’re not sweeping chimneys in the 18th century and just focus on pay day.

Mining, not whining

Mind you, if you start thinking that maybe chimney sweeps didn’t have it so bad in the 18th century, then it’s probably time to move on.

The point is, either accept that there are always worse jobs out there and get on with it, or decide there are always better jobs out there and move on.

Whatever you do, don’t whine – at least not out loud. While those around you may sympathize, a muttered curse or exaggerated sigh just brings down the mood, man.

Constant complaining lends itself to a “woe is me” outlook on life, which tends to limit opportunities coming someone’s way. Either they’re too busy wallowing in self-pity to take any action or others think, I’m not offering a job to that whiny a%$hole.

Better to go with something like, “Thanks – I was hoping you’d ask”. Whoever said sarcasm was the lowest form of wit got it wrong and was probably just the butt of many a snide put-down.

I’m sorry, I must insist on helping you

A co-worker is clearly struggling to carry a huge box full of broken bottles. Another is working peacefully by herself. One obviously and one may need help. You just never know, so ask both.

Offering to help out someone is a win-win. Whether they actually need help or not is beside the point. You took the initiative to help without being asked – which is generally, an admirable human trait. You also get to bask in the glorious satisfaction of having “done your bit”.

Ideally, wait until a large number of people – especially management – are around when you do it.  Being helpful is admirable, being seen to be helpful is even better.

The key is to spread the love and don’t overdo it. Asking too often may seem like you have nothing to do (which you mightn’t) and only asking someone you’re attracted to is not only unprofessional and obvious, but…spooky.

I quit but let’s still be friends

If you decide to part ways and seek employment elsewhere, do so with love – as much as it might physically hurt.

Telling employers and whoever else exactly what you think of them on your final day is what some dream of. And that’s where it’s best left – in dreams.

Not burning bridges is crucial to your future because you never know when your past might come in handy.

Your former place of work might suddenly be a sound option. Management could change, certain staff could move on, or the organization might head in a fresh and exciting direction. Instead of manufacturing paper clips, they decide to focus on producing robot chefs or something.

At the very least, your future employers will almost certainly contact your previous employers to find out how truthful your interview and resume were.

Instead of spending your final days in your soon-to-be-finished job doing the bare minimum, it’s probably better to make people wish you weren’t leaving.

It’s always a good sign if your goodbye party is organized and everyone is invited. Leaving on good terms, no hard feelings and see you one day.

As opposed to your goodbye party being organized and everyone is invited, except for you.

Read the room

Instinctively knowing what to say and when to say or not say it is crucial for a harmonious working environment.

After their third or fourth job, some people start to figure out what makes a workplace tick. Others are lucky enough to be able to do this naturally while some still can’t read a room after thirty jobs. Having to change jobs thirty times is a clue.

A good rule of thumb is that on the whole, a quieter place is preferable to a rowdy one.

It depends of course, on the job and what the powers-that-be deem acceptable. In every workplace there’ll be those who favor solitude and those who are more animated.

Restaurant kitchens are noisy because they have to be while a web development office or operating rooms tend to be quieter.

Shut up and open up

Accepting that some people prefer to work quietly and that others respond best to banter is central to your place of work.

Introverts should also learn to get out of their heads and engage from time to time, just as extroverts need to occasionally settle down and zip it.

Acknowledging and respecting individual differences goes a long way.

If someone puts a bottle of their homemade carrot juice in the fridge with their name on it, you can just think I probably wouldn’t do that and move on.

When you spot a coffee mug with “You don’t have to be crazy to work here – but it helps” on it, good luck to them.

You might need them to help you carry a box of broken bottles one day.


  1. Wise words here. Mind you, I have worked at a boys high school which came close to working in a coal mine in C18. Mulling over offers of help to colleagues, some of my offers were seen as suggestions of incompetence. Oops! but then I didn’t plan to ever get another job after that one.

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