A generation or two ago, many Americans worked at the same jobs for 35 years, showed up on time, did their work, and kept quiet. After those 35 years, they left with a pension replacing 50 to 75% of their average gross earnings of the past three years, indexed for inflation. Add in some social security and maybe a small retirement savings account, and their future looked rosy.
I hate to break it to generations X, Y, and Z, but that’s just not how it works anymore. Today, showing up on time, doing your job, and keeping quiet gets you cost of living raises, maybe a 3% match, and a layoff after 10 years due to “restructuring.” The percentage of the American workforce that was part of a union has decreased from 33.4% in 1945 to 10.7% in 2017.
In elementary school I know I was taught to stay quiet in class, don’t complain to the teacher, and get my homework done on time (not saying I actually did this). Unfortunately, this behavior doesn’t cut it in the 2018 workforce. If you get to work at 9am, do just your job, and leave at 5pm, that’s not good enough.
The way to get ahead in corporate America in 2018, is to do the exact opposite of what the past generations did and what we were taught in elementary school. You need to speak up and take initiative.
Quiet Jane, Squeaky Sam
Let’s walk through an example. Jane and Sam started working at ABC Company in the same year, in the same role. Jane comes to work on time, never complains, exceeds expectations when necessary, and is genuinely a nice person to work with. When annual raise time comes around, Jane is grateful for the small raise received, says thank you and goes back to work. Sam is the same exact employee as Jane, yet speaks up when her talents are not being utilized. When raises come and Sam gets a similar, small raise as Jane, she shares how she has exceeded expectations through the year, and provides documentation confirming that statement. She has done research to what kind of income she can garner from the market. She comes prepared and negotiates her raise and bonus. Not only is she now making more money than Jane, she is also working on the projects she wants since she wasn’t scared to speak up.
Jane and Sam are almost identical workers. But Sam is the squeaky wheel and because of it, she is paid more and gets to work on more interesting projects. Down the road if they have children, Jane works five days a week from the office because she doesn’t know anything else is possible. Sam negotiates a four by ten schedule so that she can be home with her son all day on Fridays.
One of the best pieces of advice I ever received in my career is that you have to be your own advocate. Not to the point where it is obnoxious and you are perceived as not a team player, but to the point where you are highlighting your areas of performance that are exceeding expectations and where you are providing value to your employer. You have to be confident in your abilities and come prepared to command a salary and bonus that you think is fair for your skill level, ability, and what the market will bear.
This will not come easy to everyone, but it can be learned. Very few people have a job that is totally safe from potential layoffs and restructuring. You have to work hard to stay ahead, and those who are squeaky, will be rewarded.