A saleswoman works 60 plus hours a week for a small tech company for 10 years. The company goes out of business. Not only is she laid off, but she doesn’t receive any severance. No letter of recommendation. Goodbye.
A secretary, who works 40 hours a week, decides to work for free every Saturday in a struggling small community newspaper company. She does this for nearly five years. The company goes out of business and she loses her job. No severance. Don’t let the door hit you on your way out.
A grant development manager at a 7-person nonprofit organization spends more than a year working tirelessly to obtain new grants and donations. In fact, she generates more revenue than her predecessor. But when she becomes pregnant and asks the board for paid maternity leave, they string her along for 6 months. Eventually, they only offer her three weeks of paid maternity leave. Angry and shocked by their proposal, she quits her job. The board of directors is stunned by her decision, but they do nothing to persuade her to return. Instead, they post an employment ad to fill her position.
What do all three of these women have in common? They are heroes. They went beyond the call of duty for their employer. But in the end, their employers screwed them over.
Which brings me to my question – should you be a hero at work?
Yes, of course, you should be professional. Yes, you should do the best job you can every day. And yes, show incentive by offering ideas and occasionally working late to complete urgent projects or close deals that could help your company.
But should you constantly work overtime without any guarantee of advancement or financial gain?
For example, the saleswoman who worked 60 hours plus per week may have been better off attending networking events or expanding her contacts on LinkedIn rather than devoting all her time and energy to one employer.
The secretary who came to work every Saturday may have been better off using that time by taking courses to upgrade her skills and market herself better in the workplace.
Here’s the problem with being a hero at work – they are usually taken advantage of by their employers.
Some employers don’t give a damn about your hard work or devotion. Some are completely clueless about what you are doing. And some may care but they don’t have the financial means to award you.
Heroes are very common in the sales profession. You come in early. You work your ass off late at night. You sometimes skip lunch. You make call after call, or do a string of online demos or meet clients. We do this because we want to earn a lot of money. That’s a given. But we also do it to gain recognition in hopes of advancing our careers at our jobs. There’s nothing wrong with that, but just make sure you understand the ground rules and office politics at your job before trying to be a hero.
If you don’t, you could end up a burnt-out shell. Stunned and anxious, you end up wondering what happened when the office doors close because of a merger, reorg or acquisition that leaves you out in the cold. Or a new manager comes in, doesn’t like you, and decides to hire his friends to replace you and your team. Or the company suddenly tanks for financial reasons, and you don’t get paid when payday rolls around.
The signs are there, but you are so wrapped up with work that you fail to see them. You are so blinded trying to be the hero that you don’t see reality until it smacks you in the face. By then, it’s too late. Now you have to start finding a new job.
So rather than be a hero at work, why not be a hero to yourself? Focus on developing your own professional brand that can translate into more lucrative and awarding career moves. At work, they may tell you that “it’s not about me, it’s about we” – i.e., work is a team effort. That’s true. But just make sure you find a little “me time” for yourself.
Attend networking events. Take courses. Read books. Upgrade your skills. But don’t allow any employer to take advantage of you and treat you like dirt.
Heroes belong in comic books and in the movies. Not in the workplace.