How to behave at work — a primer for your first day on the job

I’m always shocked when young people do stupid things at work. Over twenty years of running and investing in companies, I’ve seen all kinds of insane behavior.

This behavior includes (details changed below to protect the stupid):

The young kid who subscribed to so many porn newsletters — with his work email address — that he crashed our email server (it was the 90s). Boy was that an awkward conversation when I forced the sysadmin to “tell me exactly why this REDACTED’S email database is 500x bigger than everyone else’s!?”

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Then there was the group of young adults who figured out that the software used to track hours (so we could bill to clients by project), could be accessed on their phones. So they could check out 30 minutes after they left for lunch and check back in an hour before they got back. Too bad the software reported back that they were on AT&T and Verizon IP addresses — tipping off their manager that they were taking three-hour lunches! This is also known as stealing, but hey … YOLO!

Of course, both of those were nowhere near as bad as the kid who decided he could watch Netflix at work — after being warned multiple times — because he was “only listening to it in the background.” I almost accepted this explanation thinking “well, I was given a hard time when I listened to my Walkman at work in the late 80s.” Maybe I was getting old?

Nope. It turns out the kid was watching the excellent French film “A Prophet” — which had subtitles. “Tu parle francais?” I asked him. “What?! Umm… I don’t speak French” he said. “Exactly!”

Perhaps the worst was the sales guy who convinced all of the women in the company to install Yahoo Messenger — so he could make lewd jokes! (Yes, he was instantly fired by the management team.)

How to Behave at Your First Job

There is a horrible lack of training for young adults about how to behave when they arrive at work. Now, no one is expecting folks to be perfect, wear a three -piece suit, or run and get the boss coffee.

However, there are some very basic things that young people should do, in my estimation, so here they are:

1. Show up an hour before your boss does, and never leave the office until she does (a little extreme, but I did this after my second boss told me to and I went places — fast).

2. When your boss asks you to come to a meeting make sure that you have a paper and pen, be 10 minutes early, and put your suit jacket on (if your company wears suits). This is all a sign of respect and that you take the job seriously.

3. When in meetings do not check your phone under any circumstances — especially not under the table. Pay attention, take notes, and deeply consider everyone’s opinion. There is nothing on your phone that is important enough to risk insulting your boss, clients, or co-workers.

4. Do not bring a laptop to the meeting unless you have been asked to do so, or you need it for a specific purpose (i.e., you’re driving the presentation, you’ve been asked to take minutes in a shared document, etc.). People assume that when a laptop is out people are doing email — even if that is not true. Bring a pad and pen, it’s more professional.

5. Never speak in a derogatory fashion about a client, co-worker, and certainly not your boss. Do not gossip, do not speculate, and do not spread rumors. If your peers are shooting off about a stupid client or a dumb decision your boss made, say nothing — you are above this petty nonsense.

6. It’s best to not drink at corporate events, unless perhaps you’re sharing a bottle of wine or a beer celebrating a big win. Never, ever — NEVER-EVER — get drunk at a corporate event. People think less of people who get inebriated in a work setting, and if your boss is one of those rare few who likes to party with his/her staff, well, it’s a red flag. A big red flag. Bosses should not be getting drunk with their troops. A glass of wine, maybe two, and then go meet up with your bros/sisters outside of work if you want to have drinks three through seven.

7. Never lie or steal. This sounds obvious, but young people will lie on their time sheets or expense reports. They might take a vacation day and not report it. If you do this type of thing people will think you are doing things 10x worse — and in some cases they might be right.

8. When asked a question listen to it carefully and try your best to answer that question. Don’t be defensive and don’t answer another question — that’s rookie behavior. If you get asked “Why didn’t you get your TPS reports done?” A perfectly fine answer is, “I’m sorry, I forgot. It won’t happen again.”

9. Never hide bad information from your superiors. There is a long-standing belief that the messenger gets shot and not only is that wrong, it’s the opposite: the messenger gets promoted! If you are smart enough to find the problems and brave enough to bring them to your boss, then you’re probably smart enough to fix them. I love the folks on my team who point out the problems because it shows they are paying attention — and they care!

10. When asked to do something you don’t know how to do, be resourceful. Look it up on the internet, ask a coworker, and if you must, go ahead and say to your boss, “I’m sorry captain, I haven’t had the chance to create a proposal for our clients — can you point me in the right direction?”

Gosh, I could go on for days telling you stories of people doing stupid things — as well as another 10 bullet points of how to behave at work — but we’re at 1,000 words again, so I’m going to call it.

Best @jason

PS  – What’s the stupidest thing you’ve seen someone do at the office? Put it in the comments.

PPS – What’s the best advice you have for a person on their first day at work? Put it below at #11!

PPPS – In case you missed it, we are having Product Hunt run our AMA stage (ask me anything) at LAUNCH Festival. They have an amazing line-up, including Michael Heywire (Co-founder & CEO, Whisper), Aileen Lee (Founder, Cowboy Ventures), James Beshara (CEO, Tilt), Bea Arthur (CEO, In Your Corner), among many others! More here. (I’ve interviewed both Michael Heywire & James Beshara on This Week in Startups.)

PPPPS – At last week’s LAUNCH Incubator session, I sat down with Gil Penchina (largest AngelList syndicate) & Steve Huffman (Co-founder of reddit & Hipmunk) who talked about the funding landscape on both sides of the entrepreneur/investor table. Two amazing conversations. Watch here.


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