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Balancing Gratitude with Horse Sense

A friend of mine is having a problem at work. In the past few months, he has helped his firm secure a new client and has worked directly with the client on a few successful projects. In fact, the success of this ongoing work has created the opportunity for his firm to secure more prestigious work and receive a monetary bonus. Through the office grapevine, my friend found out that his colleague not only plans to publicly take credit for the work (nothing new there), but also attribute the success to another creative team and divert the monetary gain to that department. The end result will be an official paper trail of "failure" for him and "success" for the others. It's unlikely that the bottom-line decision-makers in the organization will have the knowledge, time, or care to sort out the details.

So, my friend has a sticky political situation at work (garnered from an off-the-record conversation) AND has to worry about losing his job for poor performance--all on top of working like a dog to create continual successes for his client.

While I was immediately upset and angry on his behalf, my friend immediately admitted to his reluctance to do anything about it. His belief is that he's grateful ("lucky," actually) to have a job "in this economy" and should just wait to see what happens.

So what's an employee to do if they hope to progress in their career? Sit back and be "grateful" for having a job? Gratitude is an important element of personal growth, but it's fairly passive--and real businesspeople are happy to take advantage of soft thinking to improve their bottom line.

Nationwide, businesses are preying on the average employee's sense of fear and gratitude of employment. Even well-performing companies are justifying cutbacks without a real explanation beside the two scary words that seem to have our collective workforce shaking: "the economy." Employees feel so scared that they aren't questioning the odd combination of layoffs (which imply a decrease in demand) with severely increased hours and quotas (which suggest no change or an increase in demand). Anecdotally, other manifestations of cutbacks include reneging on previously promised bonuses and benefits and opting for underpaid--or even speculative--labor from freelancers or "interns."

While politics will always play a starring role at the office, an employee can alleviate this stress while fostering some job security by doing a few things.

First, keep a record of your work achievements. After work each day, take a few minutes to jot down quick notes of success in a journal or private blog, or type up a detailed report once a week. Remember to date-stamp any files and save in an organized way.

Keep important files relevant to your cause. Unless your employer has a policy that binds you otherwise, you won't be violating any employment agreement by keeping key files for reference. These can come in handy for review preparation or future job searches. For instance, a spreadsheet with a revenue summary can help you determine accurate statistical statements like "sales increased by 52% in my first year" without divulging sensitive data.

Publicize notable achievements. Some accomplishments, like securing a new client or winning an award, should be shared. Especially at fast-paced companies like law firms and medical offices, successes are quickly forgotten in lieu of ever-changing workload. However, sharing via email creates a electronic paper trail for future reference.

Have periodic reviews with your employer. Another thing I've been hearing from friends is that supervisors are stalling or avoiding employee reviews--presumably because they don't want to be hassled with requests for raises. Everyone deserves to know where they stand at work, and formally asking for a review is acceptable. If you feel unheard and need to force the issue:

Review yourself. Do the work for your employer by creating a summary of your work. Compose your report with an overall summary, list of outstanding achievements, and a couple of testimonials from colleagues or clients. Take the opportunity to give credit to yourself, and whenever possible, quantify your success: Putting a monetary label on what you do may be difficult in some cases, but it is the best way to represent your value to decision-makers. Deliver a copy to your supervisor, and they'll have impetus to meet with you--and concrete evidence proving your worth. If you have a supervisor of questionable ethics (i.e., one who will take credit for your work), an additional copy should casually be sent to his boss "just to keep him in the know."

When you start a fire, be prepared for smoke--and evacuation. If you're going to force the issue of getting due credit, especially when it comes to financial matters, know that you're going to receive flak. Be prepared for hurt feelings, abrasive attitudes, even sabotage. If it's an issue of principle, be prepared to lose your job over the pursuit. That means letting yourself be okay with whatever outcome, whether it's resigning on the spot in the face of resistance or getting fired with prejudice.

Finally, express your gratitude. In the workplace, having a positive attitude and minding your Ps and Qs goes a long way. Publicly give kudos to deserving coworkers. Good manners like sharing credit (and thanking others when you are praised) are not only positive for morale, but also may stave off others' temptation to derail your efforts and cement your reputation as a trustworthy and valuable member of the team--a subliminal credit that requires no one's sign-off.