Work habits of successful employees

Stephen Covey’s widely popular book of years past, “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People,” promoted behaviors that he believed would make people more successful in their professional and personal lives.

My aim is more modest — to pass along some lessons I’ve learned while tolling away in the human resource workplace. Let’s look at some work habits that can make you a better and more valuable employee.

• Keep a journal of your day-to-day performance, noting what work was done well and complimentary comments received from colleagues and customers who were pleased with your efforts. Don’t arrive at the annual performance review empty handed. Bosses tend to remember those occasions when your work was subpar rather than your successes. Evaluators want to finish reviews as quickly and painlessly as possible. Make it easy for them to include exemplary ratings in your review. Of course, don’t forget to mention a few areas you are seeking to improve upon, or the rater will suspect your motives are entirely self-serving.

• Do you acknowledge the praiseworthy performance of your assistants when it happens, or do you trust yourself to remember to include it in the next performance appraisal? And like most supervisors, do you lose it in the fog of long-term memory? Practice acknowledging exceptional work as close to the time of its occurrence as possible to make the greatest impact on the worker. Unacceptable work also should be corrected near the time of the incident, but privately.

• How loyal are you to your company? Do you regularly promote its products and services? Or are you too often a disgruntled worker, quick to blame your problems on your supervisor or the organizational culture? While not every company will earn a “best place to work” award, if you choose to remain with the company and accept a paycheck, perhaps you have a reason to develop a grateful attitude toward your employer. Are there not desirable aspects, other than compensation, that attracted you to the company initially? Even a few unhappy workers can foul the atmosphere in the workplace and drive customers away. If you’re a senior employee you are an important role model in spreading company loyalty to new and impressionable workers.

• Do you know what’s in your personnel file? Request an opportunity to review your employment records when leaving an employer. Use an exit interview as an opportunity to view documents kept in your personnel file and make a copy of those items of interest to potential employers, such as (e.g. performance reviews, recognition awards, professional memberships, etc.). You might discover unflattering material (e.g. gossipy notes, critical news articles, credit scores, etc.) that you were unaware of and that were irrelevant to your employment. It has been my experience that when a prospective employer contacts a previous employer, often irrelevant and possibly harmful information is passed on simply because it was never removed from the former employee’s file.

Cultivating good work habits should be a daily activity, and if regularly practiced can result in motivational rewards for the employee and contribute to the success of the organization.

A future article will discuss the problems created when employers tolerate poor workplace habits. It will be considerably longer.