However ‘flat’ the hierarchy might be, there’s always a hierarchy. And when you’re starting in your career, you’re at the bottom of it. It’s likely your being taken advantage of at work, but lucky for you, there are many telltale signs.
You’re young, and you want to make a name for yourself. You want to learn and seize every opportunity. So, you become ‘the yes guy,’ hoping that others will count on you when they need to delegate work.
But you need to watch out, because, when you say yes to everything and anything, people will notice, for better and worse. When you lend a hand, some people take an arm.
“There’s only one difference between slaughter and laughter and that’s an s. It’s all two sides of one thing and you got to make sure you’re on the laughing side.” — Ana Salote
You need to identify the signs and take steps to end the cycle else risk being taken advantage of at work forever.
1. They expect you to stay late at work when there’s no real need
The reality is that in many companies — especially those in which competitiveness is rife — being one of the first to leave, is often ‘frowned upon.’
You see, there’s always more work you could be doing. Sure…go home. Don’t mind us; we’re just going to stare in disapproval as you walk out the door.
The benefits of cultivating a good work-life balance have been preached for decades. We all know that taking time to relax, invest in our relationships, exercise, sleep, and do things that bring us joy are key to our happiness and well-being. It’s vital for our productivity and critical if we want to ensure that our quest for success is sustainable.
How to respond
Walk out that door. Refuse to have someone take advantage of you – work is not as important as you’re well-being. If it feels too daunting on your first try, come up with a reason. You have football practice, swimming lessons, you’re going to the theatre, whatever. Having a social life isn’t unreasonable. It’s a bonus. It shows that you’re a well-rounded individual.
And who knows, you might just set a new trend.
2. They give you a task right before you leave
This is overwhelmingly annoying. You’re feeling pleased with yourself; you’ve worked hard all day, and you’ve finished everything you had to do on-time when you receive the fiftieth email of the day. It’s a new task.
You know that it’s going to take you hours to complete it, and you’re exhausted. You’d do a much better job if you did it first thing in the morning.
How to respond
A good way to handle this is to (i) ask them to clarify the deadline, and (ii) explain that you would need to look into it in detail and that you will need a few hours. Thanking them for thinking of you is also likely to help with the tone. For example, you could say something like:
“Thank you, this looks interesting. I want to look into it in detail with a fresh mind so I’ll have a look first thing tomorrow. When do you need it by?”
3. They send you emails over the weekend and late in the evening
This is one of most prominent signs of being taken advantage of at work. 76% of workers in the United States check their work emails outside of normal work hours; 10% do so constantly! So it’s not surprising that 94% of Americans report experiencing stress because of their work.
It’s become a global problem; according to a survey conducted by Everyday Health, stress is on the rise among younger generations and presents a larger global problem than it did 20 or 30 years ago. This pattern of behavior has to stop.
When you’re out of office hours, they’re your hours, time that you should dedicate to you.
How to respond
I admit that it’s easier said than done, but just don’t reply! If the prospect of switching your phone off altogether is too daunting, mute all notifications and leave your phone in another room. If it’s urgent, they’ll call.
You’re not un-committed; you’re drawing a much-needed line. Give your all at work, but when you leave the office, there are other things you need to commit to.
4. They always ask you to reply to an uncomfortable/negative emails
Boy, have I been here before. I’ve worked with many people who are very keen to do all the ‘fun’ stuff themselves, but when the time comes to handle an uncomfortable situation, it’s on me.
Honestly, it’s annoying. But it’s also an opportunity. Sometimes, it’s the conversations that you least want to have that present the best opportunity for learning.
“A person’s success in life can usually be measured by the number of uncomfortable conversations he or she is willing to have.” — Tim Ferriss
How to respond
Show that, unlike them, you’re not afraid to have this conversation. You appreciate that sometimes things go wrong, and you have the maturity and the vocabulary to express this to a client or a senior colleague collectedly and confidently.
Lead by example and copy them into the email. Seeing how you approached, it might help them to do it themselves next time.
5. They keep asking you to run errands
A senior colleague of mine once said that he might need me to go and feed his cats. Thankfully, he found another solution, and I didn’t have to go, but are you kidding me? Talk about being taken advantage of at work – I have to put my tasks on hold to go and feed your cats?
There are times of emergency when a last-minute errand needs to be run. That’s fine, be helpful, contribute! That being said, if you’re frequently being told to run errands that distract you from the work you need to do, you need to speak up.
How to respond
Explain to your boss that you’re eager to learn and that spending time out of the office decreases your ability to meaningfully contribute to the team and learn on the job.
It’ll show that you’re a team player, but that you’re also in it for the long run; that you’re committed to your career development, and that you want to truly add value.
6. They don’t include you when it really counts
When you’ve spent hours, weeks, days working on a project, it’s only natural that you want to see the outcome. You want to learn from every stage of the process, so that you can gain an understanding of what those types of projects look like, from beginning to end.
Say you’ve spent days carrying out research and prepared a meticulous and beautifully designed PowerPoint presentation for the next client meeting. But you find out the day before that you won’t be attending.
This shows that they’re not investing in your development to the extent they should. They don’t recognize that this could be a learning opportunity for you. And if they do, they don’t care.
How to respond
Ask to be included. Don’t complain or be demanding; make them see the value you bring to the table and explain why this is an opportunity to learn.
“Hi, I’d love to assist you at the meeting. I’ve been working on X and it looks really interesting. I’d like to see what the clients have to think. Is there anything I could do for you?”
Especially when you’re young, it’s normal to feel compelled to say yes at work. You have less experience, you don’t have the same knowledge, and you haven’t yet developed the skills that those above you have.
But you were hired for a reason. You have a whole set of valuable skills and a whole lot of potential. So work on strengthening your skills and on seizing those opportunities that will lead you to fulfill that potential. Be selective, be bold, and don’t feel guilty for prioritizing your development. Most of all, spot the signs, and don’t let anyone take advantage of you at work.