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Workplace realities bite

MANILA, Philippines—Let’s face it—the workplace isn’t where people are treated like family or a home where everyone may be forgiven for committing grave sin, much like the prodigal son. Far from it. In fact, the workplace is known by some unsavory names: “jungle” (where survival of the fittest reigns supreme) and “hell” (literally and figuratively). This is, of course, not to say that employees should be jaded, paranoid, or distrustful everywhere they turn. It’s simply that they should not be naïve or assume too many things at work. Here are some of them:

Co-workers are friends. You may find real, good friends at work, but drawing boundaries is important. It’s not necessary that you become intimate with everyone. On the contrary, if you do, it may work against you—it is not impossible that a dear friend in whom you’ve confided your deepest secrets will betray you (maaari kang baligtarin, in local parlance). The people you work and interact with are just that—your co-workers. Accept this undeniable fact: You may be fortunate to work in a place where you are genuinely valued, but generally, the workplace is filled with all sorts of demons.

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Salaries are based on the principle of fairness. Allison Green, author of “Managing to Change the World: The Nonprofit Leader’s Guide to Getting Results,” says a co-worker doing the same job as you might make more or less than you for doing the same work. “Salaries vary for many reasons: One was a better negotiator than the other when he was hired, or the job market was tighter then, or he has a particular degree or skill that the company rewards, or the budget for her department is different from yours, or her boss is a nightmare and the company pays people working for him a premium,” she says.

The HR department’s main task to help employees. No offense to HR practitioners, but don’t kid yourself—the HR department is there to serve the interest of the business or organization. Put simply, it’s the means justifying the end. “In some cases, that means helping out employees because it’s in the best interest of the employer to retain great employees, address issues concerning bad managers, and stop legal problems before they explode. But plenty of other times, what’s best for the employer is not what’s best for the employee, and the best interest of the employer will always win out,” says Green.

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The HR department has to keep things confidential if you request it. HR people are not priests bound by the seal of the confessional. “If an HR rep hears information that she thinks needs to be shared or used to address a situation (such as concerns about harassment or illegal behavior), her job obligates her to do that. In some cases, you can talk to HR in confidence if you explicitly work out an understanding of confidentiality before you share any information, no matter how vehemently the employee requests confidentiality,” Green writes.

Your employer can’t require you to attend work-related events outside of regular work hours. Whether it’s a client dinner or a training class, Green says, your employer can indeed require you to attend events outside of your usual work hours. Remember that all-too common line in most job descriptions that “you will perform other tasks as may be assigned from time to time” But, don’t worry, in most corporate offices, it’s not about mopping the floor or taking care of clogged toilets.

If you disagree with a performance review, you should refuse to sign it. Signing a performance review doesn’t mean you agree with it; you’re simply indicating that you have received it, Green says. She gives this tip to all employees dealing with the “tyranny” of performance evaluation and appraisal: If you’re uncertain about the review, simply write down “signing to acknowledge receipt only.” She says refusing to sign has no practical purpose and will just get you labeled as adversarial and difficult.

If your boss is unfair or hostile, you can always sue him or her. Green gives this practical advice: It’s not illegal for your boss to be unfair or act like a jerk. “If your boss is being a jerk to you because of your race, gender, age, or religion, you do have legal options. But most jerky bosses act like jerks because that’s just the way they are,” she says. Hence, our two cents’ worth: Deal with it.

You’d be happier if you could enjoy your job. The correlation between your happiness and your job is overrated, says Penelope Trunk, a career management counselor and author of best-selling career advice books for Generation Y. She says the most important things are your optimism levels and your personal relationships. “If you’re a pessimist, a great job can’t overcome that. Think of the jerks at the top. And if you have great friends and family, you can probably be happy even if you hate your job (imagine a garbage collector who’s in love),” she advises.

Perform well and you’ll do fine. “It’s not crazy to toot your own horn—it’s crazy to think someone will do it for you. So when you do good work, let people know. Also, if you do good work but you’re a jerk, people will judge your work to be subpar,” Trunk says.

You’ll do fine only while you live in the good graces of your boss. It’s not how brilliantly you do your job—it’s how much the boss likes you. It’s a fact: The most likeable people (not the hardest workers) get promoted. As Tiziano Casciaro of the Harvard Business School says, how we value competence changes depending on whether we like someone or not. “Across the board, people would rather work with someone who is likeable and incompetent than with someone who is skilled and obnoxious,” Casciaro says.

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