Taking the Initiative Or Being taken Advantage Of?

I recently began having this debate inside my noggin about the pros and cons of taking initiative. You may have had this argument with yourself or a peer or even a family member at one time or another. It tends to go like this:

Pros: Taking initiative shows that I am motivated; it shows that I care; it means I am a natural leader and like to get things done

Cons: (note the semi-petulant resentment -but really unintended that creeps into this thinking)-
If I do this, then they’ll only want to give me more work; No one else takes on the holiday function, why should I?; Why should I take on more work if I’m not going to be recognized or paid for it? Or, worse yet, on my review- the taking initiative effort that I thought was so bold, shows on as-this employee lacks focus and tends to take on too much! Arggh.

It should come as no surprise to anyone in the administrative field that we pick up alot of the ” social duties” or ” administrative tasks that used to be “inefficient use of management hours.”

What’s the solution here?

If an employee declines additional duties, they could be perceived as a non-team player or unwilling to learn new things. If they do.. well, it will require more streamlining and organization.

Here are some suggested approaches to get a clearer picture of where you stand as an employee when you begin to feel like you are Performance Punished instead of an Appreciated Achiever.

1. Rely on the face-to-face meeting with your immediate supervisor.
Be sure to take time ahead of the meeting to list out your critical, paid for duties; the new duties you like to learn or are learning and the duties that are nowhere to be seen in your job evaluation. CRUCIAL: Watch your timing on scheduling this face-to-face! Don’t schedule it right after your supervisor returns from travel or a new client is coming on board. Be sensitive to their schedule(s).

2. Make a list of what duties are in your current description, and keep a daily record of what you spend your time doing.
If you spend more time ordering supplies than cranking out critical documents, you already know the issue. Be sure to take this with you for your meeting.

3. Make a list of the duties outside your job- the staff interruptions and requests that cost you time from your work.
Address these with your supervisor. Ask them clearly and directly, ” Are you ok with me referring so and so to another staff member for assistance, because I feel that dedicating time to their request takes away from time critical tasks?”
The answer you get should clarify this.

4. Be savvy to the sabotager..
Now,… I try not to complain or be paranoid.. but there are co-workers that despise someone with a positive, can-do attitude. Intentional or not, they will find a way to throw kinks into the work armor. Are they constantly asking about what you are working on or asking your opinion about the company president? Chances are.. they aren’t asking because they value your opinion.. they are gathering evidence under the guise of caring. You don’t have to be rude to them.. Just say, “I can’t talk right now.”

I have encountered at least one of these folks in every company I’ve worked at.. I call them Gordon’s Fishermen. You know, the old salty sailor, Gordon’s of Gloucester on the fishstick box…. they are fishing for information that has NOTHING to do with your work nor theirs.. Cut the line and head to shore .. getting away from these types fast is your best bet.

Lastly, take an emotional measurement of your supervisor. Are they mature enough to allow you to be honest? If not, you’ll have to couch it in terms of “what’s in it for them.. “.

For example, you’ve been asked to plan the going away party for a staff member. (This is undoubtedly the most landmine/cowpie laden duty of any admin!)

With my supervisors, I’ve learned to ask. What exactly do you need me to do? Just book the restaurant or does it include, getting card & gift and inviting outside clients or guests? Make sure you are clear on their expectations. That way you know if you go above and beyond- It was purely your choice. Make sure they know how much time you’ll need to do it, and include the list of what your current work due is…

I suppose the whole thing comes down to setting expectations, yours and theirs.

I learned this lesson when setting up a department holiday party many years ago. I believed my boss was too busy to be involved;did all this extra frou frou work; the party did not go as planned- as the entire staff -except yours truly, was back at the office having a very real working meeting that went over. One hour after party should have started and no one had made it there yet… I left the restaurant- left the decorations and came to the office… but by that time we had missed each other. I was infuriated. How dare they be late to my party.. Uh.. hello??.it was the company party…and they were at a company meeting! Later they called me and asked me to come back to the restaurant.

One very smart boss from another department stopped at my desk and as I relayed my outrage.. he had the nerve to smile! He stated.. “Well, Foley.. you made the mistake of caring.” His point being that I took it too seriously and invested way too much value in work that did NOT pertain to my daily duties nor anything that would show on my review. He was right.

So now, I ask alot of questions. But also don’t beat myself up if the holiday function is not Food Network- worthy. It’s not my job to make it fabulous.. it’s my job to schedule it and show up.It’s the restaurant or caterers job to make it fabulous.

We all have different styles and so do our bosses. Communication is KEY.. So whenever I begin to feel that pinprick or lead brick! of resentment, that I’m busier than others or realize after the fact, I’ve taken on too much.. I schedule that face-to-face meeting pronto! with my boss and re-prioritize.

Taking that action shows initiative and sets the boundaries. Definitely (at least temporarily), shutting off that argument in my psyche! And demonstrates to my supervisors that I know what is important.

What has worked for you? Do tell.

Author: KMK Foley

Storyteller. Wicked sense of humor. Tenacious learner, Coffee Lover, especially Dunkin' Donuts.

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