Oh no! You just got an email that your annual work review is coming up in two weeks and you know deep down you haven’t done half of the things on your job descriptions. What do you do? Most of us will immediately go into cover up mode. We get a few of the things started and ponder ways to blame others why they didn’t get done. Then we convince ourselves that the plan is fool proof and the boss will have bought it and somehow reward you with a raise.

I remember going through these emotions many years ago for a review. I was working as a program director and was actually only doing about 30% of my job description. The other 70% was put off because of lame excuses with a dash of hope that no one would even notice. I followed my regular plan by attending the review with an arsenal of excuses and lies to do what I could to convince my boss that everything was good. But this review would not go as planned. My boss started the review by calling me out and suggesting that if I didn’t turn things around I would be let go. He would then send recommendations to his counterparts to not hire me just yet as I had a lot of maturing to do. Of course, anyone’s gut reactions to getting that feedback would be deny and fight, but the reality was that I was caught. I knew I wasn’t following through with my responsibilities. In fact, I probably spent more time covering up what I wasn’t doing than what it would’ve took to actually do my job. I left the review with a strange feeling of relief. I was caught, and everything was now out in the open. Now is the time to change and start over.

So how do you not get caught at work?

Don’t pretend!

There are too many times we pretend to be working harder than we really are at work. We gloat about how many hours we put in and inflate the level of stress just to sell it more. If we are honest with ourselves, we can point to many things that we do during our work time that have nothing to do with our job and in fact probably take us away from our work.

We need to stop pretending and be honest with our workload. Besides the obvious stewardship lesson, you will actually put less stress on yourself when you stop pretending. Make your workload as simple as possible. Put realistic timelines on projects and then map out plans in how to finish those. As you check your projects or steps off your list. Let your boss know. Build in steady accountability to help drive your projects to completion.

The trouble with pretending is that you end up believing it and in turn you start to stress out. For instance don’t be the person that is constantly gloating about how much time you put into a project, but when the project is unveiled it is either incomplete or subpar. Then you just look silly.

Be honest!

During my terrible work stretch, I concocted many lies. I also did my fair share of blaming others. It was always someone else’s fault. If this is you, please stop what you are doing and stop hurting people. When we needlessly blame others, we are really cutting them down and hurting their reputation to save our own.

I have found that you can certainly get away with the lies and blame for the time being, but you ALWAYS will get caught. Sometimes it will come out and things get ugly, but most of the times the other party finds out and says nothing. They then choose to not trust you and do what they can to avoid working with you. Soon you will be overlooked or phased out.

If you have made a mistake, own it. If you have not followed through with something, own it. If you have not been working to your potential, own it. Come forward to yourself, and if needed come forward to those it may affect. Then instead of dwelling on it, do what you can to repair it.

Work like your job is on the line!

Total comfort is a killer in the workplace. It stifles innovation, growth, and productive work. When I got caught in that job review, I was riding the wave of a couple of successful summers. I was hiding under a cloud of a good reputation and that hiding spot was oh so comfortable. I guess I just figured that because I was good at the publicly exposed part of my job, it would just override the stuff I was supposed to do behind the scenes. Turns out I was wrong. I got comfortable, and in turn stopped doing the important behind the scenes work and of course got caught and ultimately changed my work style.

Today I still work like I am competing for a job. I was always told to make yourself indispensible growing up, but I never really cared about that. We need to take our job and work hard to make it and ourselves indispensible. Working with a healthy competitive spirit ignites innovative ideas, growth opportunities, and most of all keeps us productive and slightly uncomfortable.

Don’t get caught. It’s that simple.



Jim Sparks