This is part one of a two-part series on employment, geared in particular toward college students and people entering the workforce but applicable in most contexts.
One of the responsibilities of my library position is supervising department’s student assistants. I’m not their only or highest-level supervisor, but I’m expected to teach them how to work with the particular materials I give them, assign them work (coordinated with coworkers, but my position generates most of their work), and catch and correct their errors. Doing this for the last 6 months has given me a whole new perspective on being an employee and taught me three things in particular:
1) Be someone I can count on.
My favorite workers are the ones I can count on. I can count on them to show up when they say they’ll show up, I can count on them to do the work right, and I can count on them to ask for help if they need it.
I particularly value their showing up on time or letting us know when they won’t be in/they’ll be late. Knowing whether or not I’ll have an assistant around is key to planning my own workload.
If you’re going to be late, call. How late you can be without worrying people depends on your own boss and your office. In my department, it’s ok for us to be late as long as we work the proper number of hours, and assistants are given some leeway for balancing labs that go late. We only need to call if we’re going to be a half-hour or more late. In other departments, such as circulation, the job requires physically being in the location during your shift–and you need to call if you’re going to be more than 5 minutes late.
Be someone your boss can count on to get things done. The less time they spend worrying about whether you’ll be in and who’ll cover for you if you’re not, the better.
2) Don’t tell me you can’t learn how to do something.
A lovely young lady who is no longer working with us (she left of her own accord, amicably on both sides) actually told me that when I was showing her a mistake. I wasn’t sure how to say it at the time, but I wish I had warned her against saying something like that in the workforce. I ended up showing her how to do it again and telling her to ask me next time if she wasn’t sure. I probably should have asked her how I could help her learn in a way that stuck, but I didn’t start reflecting on it until after she left.
Tell me that you forgot and you’ll try harder, tell me that’s something’s not clear to you, tell me you need to be retrained, tell me how you’ll learn–just don’t tell me you can’t learn. We can overcome anything but not being able to learn how to do it.
Even if you’re feeling discouraged, down on yourself, need some reassurance–don’t say you can’t learn how to do something. That really stuck with me and I found myself often checking her work a second time, even though most of the time she did fine. Remember that your self-criticism may make your friends feel supportive, but in a work context it can linger as a true negative assessment.
3) The little things do make a difference
Finally, I’ve learned how much of a difference little things make. The assistants handle the materials before and after I do, and it makes a real difference to my work process if the materials show up thoroughly organized instead of sorted into basic groups. If you have a choice between handing off the basic information/product your boss needs and making it organized and easier to use, going the extra mile will be appreciated (especially if not everyone does).
This doesn’t mean encroaching on your boss’s job, but doing things you know will make their lives a bit easier.
What can you share?
Employees, have you discovered things that make you more valuable to have around? Supervisors, are there other traits of appreciated employees that you’d like to share?