Saturday, June 02, 2012

Work habits

There's a very good commencement speech by Neil Gaiman here:

The whole thing is good, but this part particularly caught my attention:
You get work however you get work.  But people keep working ... because their work is good, and because they're easy to get along with, and because they deliver the work on time; and you don't even need all three.  Two out of three is fine.  People will tolerate how unpleasant you are if your work is good and you deliver it on time.  People will forgive the lateness of your work if it's good and they like you.  And you don't have to be as good as everyone else if you're on time and it's always a pleasure to hear from you.
I try to aim for all three; goodness knows I make enough mistakes at times that I can't afford to ignore one and trust I'll always be perfect on the other two.  If I aim for three and don't always succeed in all three, hopefully I still succeed in two at least.  But the recent layoffs in the game industry reminded me that the point about other mistakes being more tolerated if it's always a pleasure to hear from you is a particularly good one.  I've seen enough layoffs in this industry as well as my previous to realize that you never know when you'll be relying on the opinions of former co-workers to decide whether you get a job or you don't.  I know I've watched some highly skilled people interview for positions they're quite qualified for, only to not get a job offer because too many people said they were unpleasant, or difficult to work with, or unreliable.  All the brilliance in the world isn't enough alone when you work on a team.

A little while ago I randomly asked Twitter: "If you made a list of most important work habits/lessons you wish everybody in your workplace had learned, what would top your list?"

Here are the replies I got:

  • Hygiene >.<
  • Get away from your office for an hour-long lunch.
  • Being able to think on your own when given initial direction. Being fluent in English is nice too.
  • Work ethic. People at my current job have this. Previous ones...
  • Take ownership of your mistakes. Don't be afraid to admit that you're wrong, and learn from mistakes. Propose solutions.
  • Top of my list is a split between attention to detail & follow through, too many people drop the ball and don't follow up on things
  • Remember your fellow co-workers are humans, not automatons. Communicate with and treat them accordingly.
  • Thinking back to my retail days.... use logic and common sense.
  • Listen before reacting.
  • Baking
  • Document your changes!
  • Punctuality! It is disrespectful to everyone in that you can't be bothered to show up on time (repeat offenders, that is).
  • Independent time prioritization. :)

All good ones!  I was thinking over these and others last month when I went to talk to kids at a local high school's career day.  If all those kids went into their first job knowing all the above, boy, there would be nothing stopping their advancement.  It's a shame some of these things take so long to learn; and some people never do learn them.  I know I still have a lot to learn and I hate to look back to all the mistakes I made when I actually did start my first real job way back in the 90s. If I had to make my own wish list I'd look for when hiring someone, I think it would be:

  • Reliability (be that person who will ALWAYS deliver what they promise, when they promise it)
  • Follow-up (pro-actively clearing away problems and making sure no details get lost)
  • Attitude (I don't care how brilliant you are if you're a negative, sarcastic, backstabbing drama seeker)
Sadly, these aren't things it's easy to teach, and certainly not things that can be communicated in one short job fair.  Those kids are going to have to learn these things themselves the hard way, but I guess that's sometimes how the hardest lessons are learned.  Good luck to them!


  1. I will admit that I cna be rather sarcastic in the office. On the positive note, almost everyone on the team I work with is pretty close to the same type of personality. We all get along great, and our work seems to show it. We surpass our quota almost every workday and spend our downtime joking and talking among ourselves.

    A few of us even space out our breaks so we can get in a few games of Magic the Gathering during lunch.

    1. Sounds like your new job is working out great then, congratulations! It's so good to find a workplace where you fit in :)

  2. I'd look for people who help each other too. I don't mean drop everything you're doing and lose all ability to prioritize; but trust, approachability, and the ability to lend their expertise helps grease the wheels of teamwork.

    The 'that's not my job' type doesn't get very far.

    1. I guess I'd roll that into 'attitude' - helpful, friendly attitude definitely builds teamwork. But yes, very important! "Not my job" is a very negative attitude.