We’ve all had different experiences at work, but from I’ve seen, the workplace can often be survival of the fittest. It’s like a jungle out there, where some of our basic beliefs of fairness and right or wrong don’t necessarily apply like we might otherwise assume.
I came across a recent article at US News that followed that theme, illustrating how some things people assume about the workplace aren’t necessarily true. They listed some workplace myths that are out there, which many people seem to believe. I’ll paraphrase them below, and include my own individual comments based on my own experiences as well.
- If the boss is a total jerk, you might have legal recourse. No. The boss can be a jerk if he or she wants to and can get away with it. If there’s discrimination involved, that’s different. But really, what’s to stop a boss from being a jerk? Only repercussions from his or her own bosses. I have had a less than ideal boss in the past, and I realized that the best thing to do is to get away from the person. Complaining isn’t the best move in my opinion – just leaving is better. That could mean finding a different assignment in the same company, or leaving your employer altogether. But get away. Bad bosses are what they are, and your working relationship with your boss can make a big impact on your happiness at a certain point in your life. If you’ve had a horrific boss, you know what I mean. Just move on to better things.
- The First Amendment protects your right to free speech at work. No. If you say something your employer doesn’t like, you can be fired. You have the freedom to say it of course, but they have the freedom to fire you. Best to understand the lay of the land, and avoid saying things that can get you in trouble or inflame the wrong person of influence.
- HR is there to help you, the employee. I can’t believe that people think that HR is there to protect employees. I have viewed HR as there to help employers manage employee-related risks, get more out of employees, and find talent. This can help you as the employee if you play your cards right, but remember that HR is not there to support you. It’s there to support the employer, and only there for you to the extent that it helps your employer in some way. It’s the way it is, might as well embrace reality and act accordingly.
- HR has to keep things confidential if you ask them to. See #3 above. HR is there for the employer, not you. Again, keep that in mind and act accordingly.
- An employer has to follow some kind of due process before terminating an employee. No. They can’t discriminate, retaliate, or do things of the like from what I understand. However, for most other reasons, you can be fired anytime. As an employee, that needs to be kept in mind. There’s no “bodyguard” to protect the individual employee’s interests. Best to contact an employment attorney for specific advice, but my individual way is to keep in mind that if they don’t like you, they can send you packing ASAP. I’ve seen people pushed out, despite being likable (to me, anyway) and seemingly competent. Sometimes petty personality preferences can be all it takes for a boss to crush the career of an employee, just because. Not fair, but it’s the way it is sometimes!
- You can’t get unemployment if you’re fired. Not necessarily true, in reality. Again, employment lawyers might provide more specific information, but my understanding is that people can get unemployment if they’re fired (as long as nothing involving misconduct happened). If they don’t like you and fire you, why not try to get unemployment? Don’t let pride get in the way, get the money that you deserve.
- Employers can’t give bad references. This one surprised me, as I thought that it’s true that employers put themselves at major risk. However, apparently they can give honest and detailed references, even if tepid or flat out negative. If they don’t do it so they avoid devoting resources to fight claims against them, that might be one thing. But apparently, an employer can give an unfavorable reference and not be doing anything illegal.
- Your employer can’t make you attend work events after hours. Sure they can. That they can’t is another myth. I know that as a salaried employee, I’ve had jobs in the past which required travel and the occasional off-hours meeting attendance. The meetings could be dinners with business partners, or other type of requests. Sure, it was past the 8 to 5 workday, but I still had to do it. Period. Best to ask questions up front (after receiving an offer) about specifics related to work/life balance.
- You should refuse to sign a performance review you disagree with. I’ve heard of someone saying she would do that, but I never understood why. Even if you think the review is not accurate or fair to you, I don’t see what benefit there is to being difficult. Just have to change the boss’s mind about you going forward, learn and grow professionally from the review, or just plan your exit if you think you’re not getting a fair shake there (which can and does happen, of course). Being difficult by playing games with signing a review seems like a futile and potentially detrimental attempt at exerting power where there isn’t much present.
- Salaries are set fairly. Heck no, they are not set fairly in most cases. Fairness is not the way it works. For you sports fans, think about how some rookies come in and sign for big bucks, while proven veterans play for less. Or, how a mediocre free agent might sign for big bucks while a more talented teammate makes less. It’s the free market at work, with supply and demand at play. Get what you can, and realize that there isn’t a “system” out there to ensure you’re getting paid what you think you’re worth. It’s up to each of us to make sure that happens. I’ve experienced this in one job, where a person at a lower level than me was making more money than me. I was so mad about it, but over time I realized that it was up to me to do something about it instead of stewing over it.
The bottom line with such workplace myths is that many people, particularly those with less experience, think that they are entitled to be treated “fairly” according to what their version of “fair” entails. The reality is that while we each have our own narrative of how we should be handled, that narrative might not match what is actually in place in today’s workplace.
One of the best pieces of advice I’ve heard was from a guy who asked a coworker of mine, who was complaining about something, the following question: “Who has your back?”. The correct answer, according to the guy asking the question: “You do. You have your own back”
My Questions for You:
What do you think of these myths? Have you experienced any of these types of situations in the workplace, or do you know anyone that has?
Do you have any more workplace myths to add?