Break the Rules
You’ve likely heard this standard career advice at one point or another: Be decisive, devote every waking hour to your job, maintain a calm and cool demeanor. But some behaviors that are considered inappropriate, like being passive-aggressive or narcissistic, can give you a career edge — as long as you're strategic about using them.
Here are the surprising ways that breaking the rules could make you a better employee, and why we should throw out some of the concepts of “bad behavior” entirely.
Push Back at Your Mean Boss
When you’re working for a bad boss, you don’t need to quietly suffer through her antics. Ohio State researchers say that it’s better to push back; you’ll end up feeling less victimized. According to the research, workers who retaliated in hostile situations said they liked their job more and felt more loyalty than those who just accepted the abuse. But most importantly, when the study’s authors returned to their subjects over time, the ones who stood up for themselves said their careers weren’t damaged by their risky behavior. (If this seems totally counterintuitive to you, know that it did to the researchers, too.)
So if you have a boss who yells or puts you down, try some of the tactics that the study’s subjects used. The most successful participants used passive-aggressive techniques, such as acting like they didn’t know what their boss was talking about or giving halfhearted responses to their superior’s requests. If you subtly push back, then chances are your boss will never pick up on your subordination — but you will likely feel better for it.
Don’t Be Afraid of an Emotional Roller Coaster
How often have we heard sexist drivel that women are “too emotional” for leadership positions? Not only is showing emotion definitively not distinctly female, but the idea that a good worker is a stoic worker just isn’t true. In fact, being emotional about your work can be an advantage.
Embracing your emotional highs and lows may make you better equipped to deal with disappointing or surprising outcomes, according to a theory published in Trends in Cognitive Science. Instead of trying to remain stony and unaffected, letting yourself experience strong emotions — good and bad — helps you learn and adapt.
And if you feel frustrated or angry, go ahead and shed a few tears, and don’t be ashamed about it. Crying can even boost your mood, according to a study published in the journal Motivation and Emotion. In the study, subjects were asked to rate their feelings after watching two tearjerker films. The researchers discovered that those who cried felt better over time than the dry-eyed participants.
Feeling down after a setback at work? Instead of suppressing your feelings, embrace them, and allow yourself time to process the events that didn’t fulfill your expectations. And if you need to weep a little, make sure give yourself some time to recuperate. (It took the subjects in the crying study 90 minutes to feel better — and they felt even better than they had before they had before their emotionally difficult event.)
Kiss Up to Your Higher-Ups
Sure, you might roll your eyes at your colleague who’s always complimenting the boss. But sucking up doesn’t just boost careers — it might also help employees feel less affected by workplace stress, according to a study published in the Journal of Management Studies. When researchers looked into the psychology of workers who were experiencing strain on the job, they found that those who kissed up to their bosses felt less shut out or ostracized. What’s more: Apple-polishing actually enhances self-esteem and problem-solving skills, according to the study.
If you’re afraid that attempts to ingratiate yourself will come off as obvious, start small. Strike up a casual conversation about weekend plans, or compliment a piece of jewelry the next time you cross paths.
Work Fewer Hours
It’s time to ditch the idea that working 80-hour weeks makes a good employee. In fact, you should feel good about not burning the midnight oil, according to a study from Stanford University and The Institute for the Study of Labor. The study looked at a data set from WWI in which keeping productivity up truly was a matter of life and death — and found that when employees worked more than 50 hours a week, their output started to decrease. If they worked as many as 70 hours a week then they might as well have worked 55 hours — there was no difference in what they churned out in those extra 15 hours. Economists have concluded that the workers needed shorter hours to keep up with demand.
The best way to gently disengage without annoying your colleagues or coming across as lazy? Remove yourself from all digital media over the weekend. By letting everyone know that you’re off email and social networks until Monday morning, you’ll get off the hook and will feel more energized and productive when the new week starts. You might even start to find a little balance.
Think Like a Narcissist
While employees — female employees, especially — are frequently discouraged from bragging up their achievements, there’s an upside to being a creative narcissist. A study from Cornell University and Stanford University found that narcissistic tendencies can give you an advantage, especially when it comes to convincing someone that your idea is the best. Researchers found that while narcissists may not be any more talented than their peers, clients are more likely to buy their ideas thanks to their enthusiasm and belief that they’re better than the rest. So don’t be shy about your confidence and desire to self-promote. You just may convince others, too.
Have some egotists on your team? Put them together on a project. Multiple narcissists work together well, and their core desire to outshine others motivates them to produce better results, according to the same Cornell and Stanford researchers. Things go awry with too many narcissists in one place, though, balance out your braggy coworkers with more grounded ones.