I spoke to a manager recently who was very upset. Why? She went to an employee with a new task and the employee commented aloud, “Good. I’ve been looking for something to do. My work’s been light lately.” The manager was infuriated by this statement. She couldn’t believe this was the first she was hearing about the employee’s lack of work to do. She started having daily meetings with the employee to check on her workload and now felt like she had to babysit to ensure she had enough to do. Her final comment was, “She better not expect a raise or promotion any time soon. I’m seriously thinking about letting her go.”

This isn’t an uncommon reaction. Performance on a bell curve where low performers get fired is common practice by management. (This article explains how to avoid being on the wrong side of the curve.)

Boss to Blame?

Some of you might jump in and say, “It’s the manager’s fault too for not coaching the employee to look for projects and to proactively update her when she had no work.” Sure, managers can do that, and some great leaders I know adopt that philosophy. However, I don’t blame the manager in this scenario. She’s paying the employee for her time and the employee should know to make the most of it. The employee hurt her reputation as a good worker with that blunt comment. We are all businesses-of-one. Our job is to make sure our customer (a/k/a our boss) always feel like they are getting the best deal. We must deliver customer satisfaction, or be at risk of being replaced. (Here’s an article that outlines what you can do to can make more money and be more likable at work.)

When Boss Thinks She’s in a Win-Lose Situation – You’ll Eventually Lose!

For those of you reading the above and saying, “That’s not fair! The employee didn’t know any better.” Or, “How was she supposed to know what to do?” Again, I stress the need to recognize our responsibilities in the employee-employer relationship. If we want respect, then we don’t work “for” a company i.e. wait around for our boss to direct us. Instead, we work “with” a company. That means proactively finding ways to add value in exchange for recognition and the opportunity to grow professionally and financially. Our focus needs to be on consistently creating a win-win partnership. In this case, the employee failed to see the opportunity she had to improve the partnership by proactively finding more work to do – or at least letting her boss know she had the bandwidth to do more. Once the boss found out the truth, she saw herself in a win-lose relationship. Her mind already thinking about evening the score. That’s not good.

Tips for Keeping the Win-Win Alive

Here are four tips for making sure you don’t end up in a situation like the one above.

When you’ve got time on your hands, let your boss know.
Create a list of projects you want to work on so you can have some say in what you do.
Make sure the projects all save or make the company money in some way.
Pick projects that help your manager reduce her workload. Saving her time and headaches is one of the best ways for you to been seen as a top performer!
Not Feeling the Win-Win in Return? Find a New Employer.

You are an at-will employee. You can choose to leave at any time. If you don’t like the partnership with your employer, go find a better one. Granted, that’s easier said than done. But, what’s your alternative? There’s no “Career Fairy Godmother.” And, you can’t demand to be treated better. Your boss is your customer. Don’t like her? Find a new customer you like better. Just keep in mind it’s better to have a new employer lined up before quitting the old one. Being out of a job makes it much harder to look for a new one. Employers discriminate against the unemployed. Especially, when you explain you quit the job because you didn’t like it. Employers don’t see that as an attractive employee trait.

What do you think about this employee’s blunder? I’d love to hear your comments below.

P.S. – First time reading my posts? Thanks for taking the time to stop by! Not only do I write for Linkedin, but I’m also founder of the career advice site, CAREEREALISM, and currently run the career coaching program, CareerHMO. I hope you’ll check them both out!