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Penelope Trunk’s Career Tips Don’t Always Apply

This article was written by in Career and Work. 22 comments.


Penelope Trunk is an outspoken supporter of everything Generation Y has to offer. Most of the time, I agree with her. I do believe the workplace is changing to make the most out of the skills and behaviors of younger people — it’s “adapt or die.” But not all sectors of the working world are changing in tandem.

For that reason, some of Trunk’s ten new workplace etiquette tips miss the mark for most traditional workers in the United States. They may apply better to smaller companies that are involved with the types of services that rely on receiving attention from Generation Y, but the Old Guard is much slower to embrace this workplace attitude. Here’s why most of her latest tips won’t work for me in my day-job role.

1. Forget the exit interview. An exit interview won’t help you, and it’ll probably create bad will. If you have people to thank when you leave a job, do it at lunch. If you have ideas for how to improve the company, offer to consult. Of course the company will decline, because they don’t care. Otherwise you wouldn’t be quitting, right?

For an article about etiquette, skipping out on the exit interview would create bad will. The company wants the exit interview, not necessarily so they can “learn” from the leaving employee, but to make sure there aren’t any significant issues that would require human resources involvement. Exit interviews are not for employees to explain how to run the company better, they’re for the company to cover itself. Skipping out sends a bad signal and can create more bad will than badmouthing an employee during that interview.

2. Don’t ask for time off, just take it. When you need to leave work for a few hours or a few days, you don’t need to ask for permission — you’re an adult, after all. Make sure your work is in good order and send an email to the relevant people letting them know you’ll be gone.

I can agree you shouldn’t feel the need to ask for permission, but in my company, it is policy that vacation days have to be approved by your manager. That doesn’t mean you have to ask, beg, and plead; you can simply tell your manager than you need to take the hours or days for whatever reason.

This isn’t the worst piece of advice, but it depends on corporate culture and policy.

3. Keep your headphones on at work. If you use social media tools, you’re probably good at connecting with people and navigating office politics — good enough that spending all day at work with headphones on won’t hinder you.

There’s nothing more that signals unavailability than wearing your headphones at work. I think it’s great to listen to music while working, and it’s even courteous to make sure no one else can hear your music, but not every workplace gets things done with “social media tools.” Face-to-face communication, the telephone, and email are the social media tools used by my company, and only one of those tools allows for the opportunity of wearing headphones.

I think that instant messaging can be added for some people in my department, but most would see it as a distraction. They haven’t learned how to use tools effectively.

4. Say no to video resumes. Any human resources person in their right mind would hate video résumés. If there’s a stack of 100 paper résumés, the hiring manager will spend 10 seconds on each to decide which ones belong in the garbage. So how annoying is it that it takes 10 seconds just to launch a video résumé?

I agree that video resumes would be inappropriate in almost every situation.

5. Invite your CEO to be a friend on Facebook. That’s right, Facebook is for everyone now. And although the youngest members of the workforce are a little worried that having the adults there will ruin things, adults are psyched to be there. No one wants to miss out on all the fun.

If you’re the CEO of a multi-million dollar corporation with tens of thousands of employees and businesses all around the world to oversee, you likely don’t even read your own email, even if it appears you do. You also don’t drive your own car, mop your own floor, or dial your own phone in the office. You better have a Wikipedia entry, but if you have a Facebook page, which you probably shouldn’t, you didn’t set it up.

If you’re a CEO of an internet media company, you better have a Facebook page. Being CEO requires control of your image, and Stan O’Neal doesn’t need Facebook.

I’m just using Stan O’Neal as an example. I’m almost 100% sure that a Facebook invitation from a low level manager to the CEO will be completely ignored or trapped in the company’s spam filter. A division head would be far too busy to play around on the internet and invite the CEO to be his “friend.”

6. Do reconnaissance on your probable boss. Seligson recommends you find out all the dirt you can about your future employer, because the best gauge of how a company will treat you is how it treated other employees. So asking people directly is fine.

This is common sense and I wouldn’t consider it a new rule of etiquette. It’s proper due diligence before accepting a job offer.

7. Don’t try to improve a coworker. If you work with a jerk, just avoid him. We already know from dozens of studies that thinking you can change someone doesn’t really work.

I agree. I think this is what most people do, anyway. Obvisouly in a small office, avoiding is more difficult than if you are on a 30-person team.

8. Don’t blog under a pseudonym. It’s enticing to hide your name when you blog, because you don’t want to get fired, or harassed, or held accountable at work for the opinions you have at home. But the truth is that the majority of adults who blog are doing it for business reasons.

I’ll try not to personally take offense to this idea, but I obviously don’t agree. If your blog is something that will help your career and you’re willing to take responsibility for everything you write, then blog with your real name and help to build your own brand. If your blog is unrelated to your chosen line of work or if you for some reason want to include personal information, like income or sexual exploits, please use a pseudonym.

9. Call people on the weekend for work. With the Blackberry going where work has never gone before, it’s no surprise that the lines between work and not-work are blurring. The people who grew up being super-connected don’t differentiate between the workweek and the weekend, so they don’t mind working over the weekend on bits and pieces leftover from the week.

The problem with this is not everyone you work with has grown up being “super-connected.” This is a new phenomenon. Work with all Generation Y employees? Maybe they won’t mind. I’m certainly not calling my boss over the weekend unless it’s an emergency. My boss won’t be calling me, either. They absolutely differentiate between the workweek and the weekend. Maybe that is a result of working for a corporate support rather than a money-making portion of the business.

10. Be nice like your job depends on it. In fact, your job does depend on you being nice. The old days of office politics as a means of backstabbing are dead — young people are bringing their team-player, I’m-competing-against-my-best-self mentality from their self-esteem-centric homes into the workplace, and there’s nothing you can do except be nice back.

Being nice is absolutely a necessity. It doesn’t mean you should say “yes” to every request and let other people take advantage of you. At some level, there may not be enough time for pleasantries, so it depends on the culture of your immediate peer group.

Published or updated July 26, 2007. If you enjoyed this article, subscribe to the RSS feed or receive daily emails. Follow @ConsumerismComm on Twitter and visit our Facebook page for more updates.

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About the author

Luke Landes is the founder of Consumerism Commentary. He has been blogging and writing for the internet since 1995 and has been building online communities since 1991. Find out more about Luke Landes and follow him on Twitter. View all articles by .

{ 10 comments… read them below or add one }

avatar tinyhands

I think I agree with your assessment. Some of Trunk’s suggestions sound like they’re not only aimed at GenY employees, but GenY companies as well, the type of tiny internet startups that hire hoards of no-degree web designers. I don’t think many of those suggestions would fly at a “real” company.

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avatar Modern Worker

Taking time off without asking anyone? Even in the most professional of environments, this can easily lead to getting FIRED.

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avatar MS

I ran across Penelope’s list earlier today and had the same impression.
I like the way she challenges some of the assumptions we have about how to manage our careers. At times, though, the recommendations don’t hold up in the “normal” workplace.

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avatar Exick

Wow, that list is interesting. On the one hand, much of what she says I find perfectly acceptable. On the other, the things I disagree with border on sociopathy.

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avatar Penelope Trunk

Flexo, thank you for writing about my column on Yahoo. Even though you disagree with me, it’s always nice to have an intelligent discussion.

I think the business community is responding to workplace change at a faster, wider rate than people realize. In last week’s Economist there was an article about how the old-school accounting firms like Deloitte and Ernst&Young are leading the way in making changes to accommodate the new workforce.

http://www.economist.com/business/displaystory.cfm?story_id=9507322

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avatar tinyhands

With all due respect, I didn’t see anything in that article about ditching the exit interview, wearing headphones at your desk, Facebooking your boss, or setting your own work/away schedule.

Where did those examples come from? I think those suggestions are going to be outside the mainstream for quite a while.

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avatar Golbguru

Strongly agree on the last two points. I consider myself to be a Gen-Y specimen – and I *absolutely hate* working on weekends. My boss (who is about two generations older than me) is at the other end of the spectrum; probably his family members don’t let me sit at home or something.

Anyways, I had to express my *unwillingness* to work on weekends to make him stop calling me for work.

This eases me into the next point. Learn to say NO. Sure, be nice and polite, but learn to say NO … or get used to being taken for granted. :)

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avatar Amy

I completely agree about not wanting to work at home – I’m technically on call 24/7, but I only get a call about once every 6 months or so.

I can understand if someone is excited about a certain project and wants to work more on it themselves, but in general I’m a firm believer of maintaning a home/work balance. :)

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avatar Luke

I usually have a difficult time with Trunk’s pieces…This one is a bit more palatable..I am amazed that Yahoo! promotes and retains her with some of the insane stuff she writes…This article has some really off-the-wall stuff, but not close others….

I enjoyed the breakdown of this new article and the disagreements you had…It’s nice to know that her recommendations aren’t accepted by others without some scrutiny…

The one that stuck out like a sore thumb was simply ‘taking off work’ as if YOU run the business…Of course it depends on the situation and job you are at, but suggesting a general ‘take off when you feel like it’ leads you on a path to no-wheresville.

Who wants to promote a worker that shows they don’t care enough to stick around the required time? Other folks stick around and work 40-hours, but you think you only need to work 35-hours like France does? It’s a surefire way to get bosses and co-workers angry.

Just taking off work without the proper context leads me to think if you want to come in on Tuesday at noon when you are supposed to be in at 8:30, just send an e-mail and expect no consequences…I don’t get that one bit…It’s far to general and if everyone did that, we wouldn’t be the great country we are. Have some drive and being an adulkt means you have to do things you might not want to do.

With that said, she seems to actually promote anti-social behavior as well….Keep headphones on and just take off whatever hours you want? Color me confused.

I like what golbguru stated about saying ‘No’…I think being wishy washy and working weekends with a frown or simply always saying yes is a BAD thing. You only get ONE walk through the garden and if you have family or other things to do, I don’t think having to work the weekends to keep up is worth it for everyone. Now saying ‘no’ to EXTRA work is one thing, but bailing when you feel like it is another.

Just say no to tasks that fall outside of your title if you don’t want to do them. I think for certain folks, that’s a good thing.

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avatar randomph

Basically it boils down to one thing: observe the culture around you, and adapt.

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