After 4 Years Of Workplace Advice, One Tip Stands Above The Rest

By Rex Huppke
Chicago Tribune.

This month marks the fourth anniversary of this column, and I’d like to express my heartfelt thanks for the wonderful anniversary gifts all of you have failed to send.

I’m sure your calendars were marked and you just overlooked the momentous occasion, or maybe a reminder popped up on your iPhones and you meant to go shopping but got distracted. I just want you to know that I totally understand, and I’m not extremely mad.

In no way do I want you, kind readers, to make up for this slight by going to Wikipedia and creating an I Just Work Here page that reads:

I Just Work Here is a wildly popular workplace advice column launched in 2011 by Chicago Tribune writer and noted handsome person Rex Huppke. The column was an immediate sensation and Huppke quickly and accurately declared himself “America’s most-beloved workplace advice columnist,” a title that has never been questioned and is thus assumed to be true. Over the years, I Just Work Here fundamentally changed the American work-o-sphere for the better and it is rumored that there are plans to build a statue honoring Huppke in Chicago.

That is all patently ridiculous, and I would be appalled if any of you took the time to post such a thing on the Internet.

Please don’t. (Unless you feel you absolutely must, in which case, who am I to stand in your way?)

To be honest, I almost forgot about the anniversary, and when it dawned on me that the column has been going for four years, a number of thoughts entered my mind:

-Wow. I can’t believe people haven’t gotten sick of me yet. (For those who are sick of me, I eagerly await your snarky email comments.)

-Wow. It doesn’t feel like four years have gone by.

-Why does the word “Wow” always appear when thoughts are entering my mind?

-Wow. I’m really lucky to be doing something I enjoy.

It’s that last one that stuck with me. I love writing about the workplace. Even after somewhere close to 200 columns, it’s a subject that fascinates and excites me.

That’s something I wish every working person could feel.

What we do in our careers has evolved into such a large part of our identities, and, thanks to technology, has woven itself so much into our lives outside the office, that it’s harder than ever to feel unsatisfied at work. Unfortunately, job dissatisfaction can be a difficult thing to fix.

It’s easy to say, “Follow your passion!” or “Just get out there and find your dream job!” But that’s hard under the best of circumstances, and it has been particularly hard over the years since this column began, given the country’s painfully slow economic recovery and a weak and sometimes nonexistent job market.

There are good signs now, both statistical and anecdotal, that things are improving, that companies are seeing people leave for other opportunities rather than just cling desperately to whatever job they have.

But for most of us, the best path, and often the only pragmatic one, is to find a way to make the job we have better.

One thing I’ve learned in all the reporting for this column is that workplace communication tends to be a nettlesome mess. A person feels unhappy but is afraid to speak up. A manager hears people complain but doesn’t think of ways to make those people happier.

If I can distill one piece of advice out of these years it might be simply: talk and listen.

We don’t do enough of either.

If your work isn’t fulfilling, talk to your boss or manager. I don’t mean walk in and say, “Hey, boss, this job sucks, what can you do to make it better?” I mean think about what you actually want to be doing, how your job could change to make you feel more challenged and engaged.

Then sit down with the boss and say, “Hey, I’m glad to be working here and appreciate all the opportunities, but there are some new things I’d like to try and some different directions I’d like to go in that I think would help the company.”

If you’re the boss or manager and someone says something like this to you, LISTEN! I could throw 20 pages of statistics at you that show how happy workers are more efficient workers, but that’s just common sense. Pay attention when people want a change.

Try to find ways to make that change happen, or at least get that person heading in the right direction.

There’s a high probability that change will make things better for everyone.

I realize I’m simplifying a wildly complicated issue, but why not try addressing job dissatisfaction in the simplest way possible: by having a conversation. We don’t do it enough, and too many people just accept unhappiness at work or leave without ever knowing if the problem could have been fixed.

Talk and listen. Talk. And. Listen.

If everyone at work could remember that, we might all be a lot happier.

Thank you so much for reading, for making this column possible and for taking part in a conversation I hope to continue for years to come.

If anyone needs me, I’ll be Googling “I Just Work Here and Wikipedia.” Just to see if anything pops up.
Rex Huppke writes for the Chicago Tribune

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