The New York Times“Career Couch” yesterday had some sound advice for anyone who works in an office with colleagues. The article is entitled “When A Colleague Doesn’t Pull His Weight.” However, its first question and answer asks us to consider the possibility that we are mis-judging the situation when we feel that a colleague is not pulling his weight:
When we compare our own work with that of others, we can easily overvalue ourselves and undervalue them, said Ben Dattner, an organizational psychologist in New York and founder of Dattner Consulting. That’s partly because we know much more about our own work, he said, and partly because most people have a self-serving bias, believing that they’ve made greater contributions than others recognize.
“How much time you perceive someone is working is not necessarily a valid reflection of the effort they are expending or the results they are achieving,” he said. “They may have terrific time-management skills, stay late or work weekends.”
They may also have legitimate personal reasons for their behavior — for example, the stress of dealing with an ill relative, problems with a spouse or the foreclosure of a home, he said.
To avoid overreacting, ask yourself why you are so angry. “Did you miss a deadline because of this person?” said Rick Gibbs, a senior human resources specialist at Administaff, a human resources outsourcing firm in Houston. “Did you have to stay late because he left early? Your goal is to establish the impact on your performance.”
I’ve emphasized the comment regarding time-management skills above because time management is such a large part of the discussion on this blog and in The Empowered Paralegal. I agree with much of what the Career Couch says in this column. When I first started applying time-management skills and techniques after attending a time-management workshop, I found myself with time at the end of the day rather than a pile of unfinished work. I’m certain office colleagues would have wondered what was going on except for the fact that I was continuously marveling aloud at how much can be accomplished through time management!
It is, of course, a different situation if work is not being done, especially if the colleague’s failure to complete work on time delays your work. The Times article has several good suggestions for dealing with that situation. However, I would like to examine this a bit more not from the standpoint of the slacker, but from the standpoint of the person who, through the utilization of sound time and workload management techniques is able to complete their work efficiently and effectively. There are many questions to ask, many of which relate to personal integrity and work ethic.
What is the purposes of efficiency? What are the benefits and who gets them? If I can complete a “full day’s work” in seven hours and it takes the paralegal next door eight, do I get to “slack” for the extra hour? These questions cannot be answered fully here and there is good reason to doubt that there are firm “right” answers to them that apply in all circumstances.
Certainly the primary beneficiary of sound time and workload management is the person who engages in the management. It relieves that person of stress. A “good life” is one of balance between work and non-work. Time and workload management provide the possibility of reaching that balance. That balance requires that work not be overwhelmingly stressful. It also requires that there be non-work personal time.
However, both personal integrity and work ethic should dictate that the non-work time not occur on the job. You will not be viewed as a professional if you do only what you are told to do, no matter how efficiently you do it.
I’m not suggesting that you don’t do what you are told to do by your attorney, but if that is all you do – put in your time, do what you are told efficiently and wait for the next task to be assigned filling in time by surfing the internet, you will not be considered to be professional. Take the initiative. Suggest ways you could be helpful. When your assigned work is done, don’t just pass the time – let the attorney know you are ready for the next assignment. Just being there is not enough. Make yourself useful.
If you truly have “down time,” learn something. Find out how to do something you do not already know how to do that will be useful to you in your capacity as a member of the legal team. Use this time to participate in professional associations, rather than just be a member of one. Offer to help others who are busy. Avoid distracting other staff by talking about topics unrelated to whatever they are working on.
The goal is to be viewed as a terrific time manager who is efficient and effective while minimizing stress, without being viewed as a slacker. You can have it both ways.
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