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May 18, 2007

The Nine Biggest Myths of the Workplace by Penelope Trunk

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I liked Penelope Trunk's interview so much that I asked her for more material. Here's her list of the nine biggest workplace myths:

  1. You’ll be happier if you have a job you like.

    The correlation between your happiness and your job is overrated. The most important factors, by far, are your optimism levels and your personal relationships. If you are a pessimist, a great job can’t overcome that. (Think of the jerks at the top.) And if you have great friends and family, you can probably be happy even if you hate your job (imagine a garbage collector who’s in love).

  2. Job-hopping will hurt you.

    Job hopping is one of the best ways to maintain passion and personal growth in your careers. And here’s some good news for hoppers: Most people will have eight jobs between the time they are eighteen and thirty. This means most young workers are job hopping. So hiring managers have no choice but to hire job hoppers. Ride this wave and try a lot of jobs out yourself.

  3. The glass ceiling still exists.

    The glass ceiling is over, not because people crashed through, but because people are not looking up. Life above the glass ceiling is 100-hour weeks, working for someone else, and no time for friends and family. And it’s not only women who are saying no to the ladder up: Men are as well. People want to customize success for themselves, not climb someone else rungs. So if no one is climbing to the top, the glass ceiling isn’t keeping anyone down.

  4. Office politics is about backstabbing.

    The people who are most effective at office politics are people who are genuinely nice. Office politics is about helping people to get what they want. This means you have to take the time to figure out what someone cares about, and then think about how you can help him or her to get it. You need to always have your ears open for when you can help. If you do this, you don’t have to strong arm people or manipulate them. Your authentic caring will inspire people to help you when you need it.

  5. Do good work, and you’ll do fine.

    For one thing, no one knows what the heck you’re doing in your cube if you’re not telling them. So when you do good work, let people know. It is not crazy to toot your own horn--it’s crazy to think someone will do it for you. Also, if you do good work but you’re a jerk, people will judge your work to be sub par. So you could say that good work really only matters if your co-workers enjoy hearing about it from you.

  6. You need a good resume.

    Only ten percent of jobs come from sending a blind resume. Most people get jobs by leveraging their network. Once you have a connection, the person looks at your resume to make sure there are no red flags. So you need a competent resume and an excellent network. This means you should stop stressing about which verb to use on the second line of your third job. Go talk to someone instead.

  7. People with good networks are good at networking.

    Just be nice, take genuine interest in the people you meet, and keep in touch with people you like. This will create a group of people who are invested in helping you because they know you and appreciate you. Use LinkedIn to leverage those peoples’ networks, and you just got yourself a very strong network by simply hanging out with the people you like.

  8. Work hard and good things will come.

    Everyone can put in a seventy-hour week. It doesn’t mean you’re doing good work. So here’s an idea: Make sure you’re not the hardest worker. Take a long lunch. Get all your work done early. Grand thinking requires space, flexibility and time. So let people see you staring at the wall. They’ll know you’re a person with big ideas and taking time to think makes you more valuable.

  9. Create the shiny brand of you!

    There is no magic formula to having a great career except to be you. Really you. Know who you are and have the humility to understand that self-knowledge is a never-ending journey. Figure out how to do what you love, and you’ll be great at it. Offer your true, good-natured self to other people and you’ll have a great network. Those who stand out as leaders have a notable authenticity that enables them to make genuinely meaningful connections with a wide range of people. Authenticity is a tool for changing the world by doing good.


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This reminds me of a book I just read Ford and The American Dream by Clifton Lambreth Check out the new Ford book at www.thefordbook.com

I have lived the Nine Biggest Myths of the Workplace for the past 52 years! My resume is ecclectic (although there is a thread and theme). In my past job that lasted two years, I was hired to overturn a tired and lagging company. I was almost there. But, the board got antsy. As a result, my boss eliminated me so that he could move in and save himself. He did acknowledge that I worked hard trying. But look where it got me! That's not what I wanted to hear with two teenagers preparing for college. In any event, I'm much better off, better experienced, and much sought after. I have a terrific network of colleagues that pull together for me.

I have learned my lesson on working for small-run, family-run, "play-to-not-lose-and-not-play-to-win" companies. I don't think that there is a non-dysfunctional company out there.

There are six simple tips and suggestions that can greatly increase the workplace motivation.

1. When management tries to control employees, the end result is bad. Employees need to have some control over what they are doing.
They need to be able to think on their own and rationalize why they are doing this job a certain way. If it makes sense to them, it is easier to do it.
2. There has to be rewards for a job well done. People are motivated by words of affirmation, monetary awards such as bonuses, gifts or promotions. If these are not handed out, what is the point in doing a great job?
3. Room for error has to be accepted by management. We are only human. There will be mistakes and failures. The responsibility of management needs to be having a plan in place when something does go wrong.

4. A friendly, fun environment is a must. No one wants to go to work where you are not allowed to laugh. People can socialize and work at the same time!

5. Another important issue in achieving workplace motivation is job description. Management should never be above doing the same tasks as the employee if they are needed.
6. creating a bonus plan Bonuses can be awarded for finishing work ahead of time, too. Rewards such as certificates with people's names on them can work too as the incentive need not necessarily be expensive, only desired.

While in general I agree with most of Penelope's points, and overall I agree with the theme. It is far more important to have your personality in tune with strong principles, than to look good on paper and in person. Eventually all frauds are discovered for what they are in the workplace. Most of us spend most of our waking time there, people get to know the real you by osmosis if nothing else.

A couple points on the subject however, I will have to disagree with from personal experience.

#6: Resumes. The good vs. great resume is an argument that is too generic. In extremely competitive landscapes, high level programming, or a saturated job market with a rising unemployment index, where hiring managers have options, a resume can make or break you. I have had as many as fifty good resumes on my desk at a time for a sales role, and only called five or six to screen. Might I have missed someone? Perhaps, but I hire for sales, and persuasive writing skills are a must. If you can not compel me to take interest in a tool designed to sell yourself, especially when I am looking, how will you sell my product?

#1: I agree, however back to the point of where I spend most of my day. I have a career, not a job. If I can not work within the parameters of what I excel at, I have to realign my priorities and find another job. A great opportunity empowers me, and aids in my ability to thrive as a person. Yes I can be happy, whether I am in a job I love, or like now in a job I tolerate for the education(Currently in ERP systems integration, so unique, but not my favorite). I, however, am fortunate, and have the option to take one of many many opportunities, and have to examine my options on a regular basis.

Guy, again a great read, and always good to hear from smart people. The subjective is always a good subject for debate.


Karl Goldfield
Coaching sales champions

I have to disagree with #6, "You need a good resume."

The single best job book I ever read was one on how to write a resume.

The three jobs I have won in the last 10 years were won by my resume, with the interviews used to confirm what my resume already said.

My first IT job was won with one face to face interview and a phone interview with one other person and the hiring manager.

For my second IT job, I asked the hiring manager, after two weeks and a dozen interviews, what sold him on me, and he said it was my resume.

For my most recent job, I found out about the opportunity through my personal network, but the reason the network connection worked is my resume communicated what I had to offer. "You are exactly what we are looking for" is what I was told. In this final case, I had one face to face informal interview, the three other interviews were by phone, and I never had to put on a suit. That rarely happens with this company, a very large IT vendor.

The fact is, most people write crappy resumes. You have to write a resume that engages the reader, and communicates value.

I also disagree with #8, "Work hard and good things will come."

Busting my ass led to getting significant raises, stock options, being pushed for management, and being protected from layoffs.

Managers value competence and production. Exceeding expectations has value for managers.

I can honestly say at my last job, I had reached the point of being almost unfireable and nearly impervious to being laid off. I had VPs who were not in my management chain telling me there was no way the company would lay me off.

Despite that I wanted to leave, and I contacted the director from a former role who was now a VP of sales at another company, and nearly instantly I found an interview with his company, not in his division. He remembered my hard work.

Yes, working hard, producing, and making your boss' job easy pays off, especially as those people move into other roles.

Also, remember that not everyone wants or needs a 'career'.

It is possible to be happy working 9-5 even as a simple check-out clerk for your entire life, if you are suited for the job.

There are a lot of people who are content in their job. So don't be worried if you like your job but aren't doing any of the things in this book.

I'm not saying the book is bad, just that it's not for everyone.

I have found more and more in my career that still waters run deep. More and more I am impressed with the quietest person in the room, not the one blabbing the entire time. When I see people staring at the wall I automatically assume they are trying to solve a very complex problem.

Great Post !! I can for sure relate to the importance of the thoughts and I'd like to thank you for sharing this work !!

Keep it coming !!

1. i am a perfectionist .. quite naturally a pessimist .. anr happiness in work is seldom a rule for happiness in life . i was ever sad in work but happy with my wife ..

2. if hopping hurt .. not-hopping would hurt too .. a penniless looser is not what your home manager would want .. and once u are penniless a lot of negative things get in mind .. if only recruiters could try to understand them

3. couldnt quite understand that

4. o really ??

5. Yeah .. but mostly theres no one to listen to ... atleast in my company

6. I think, this is true

7. He he .. :) i Use orkut ..

8. Hummmmm,, ill try it

9. huh ??????

Great Post!

Great materials. I will use the ideas.
Children Make Every Shop Important
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Guy- this is a GREAT READ. I like the one where you give permission to stare at the wall. I am so idea oriented, that you are right, it takes time to get those flowing.

Thanks for the confirmation!

I adore Penelope but had to take her on for point #1, since, while I agree that there are many factors that influence happiness on the job, if you have a job that is fundamentally not suited to you, unhappiness will soon follow.

"Pamela Slim vs. Penelope Trunk Smackdown" Post here:

She is right on every count.

life should be so much easyer than what it is today. if people would just not be so much egoist about material issues in life, we wouldn't have to live a makebelieve show, but rather just do what has to be done, without worries. i vision a future where we can be without having to worrie about how good or bad our resumes are. i know, utopist, but it makes me happy to think that way. just imagine...

Power can be taken, but not given

Another great post...One thing which is important and you have stressed about is job hopping as we say "Grass is not always greener" and sometimes blindly landing up in a well paid job(with bad work profile) is foolishness..

Also,as you have pointed out "We need to showcase our own talent" which is true in a large workplace.No one is so generous to take your name when you do good work since everyone wants to reach the top of the ladder(and that too within no time :))

(Blogger at http://thoughtsprevail.blogspot.com)

9 excellent points we should all use in life.


Myth 4. Office politics is about backstabbing.

I think the danger of telling new graduates that this is a myth is that they might be surprised if they end up working in a place where people _are_ stabbing each other in the back!

I agree with Penelope's approach to office politics but to say it's not about backstabbing might be a bit misleading.. to some people it is about backstabbing..

Myth 6. You need a good resume.

I wonder where Penelope got the 10% figure here and if it's 10% of college graduates or 10% of the workforce in general? I can't imagine the average college graduate having a sufficient network to generate job opportunities for them. Of my circle of college friends (out of college a few years now..) only one was so good at networking that he often got offered jobs by friends. The rest of us have had to apply for jobs and that means a good cover letter and a good CV..

If you can network and find ways to meet the people who are in a position to hire (or even recommend you) that's fine, but I think most college graduates aren't in that position.

Myth 8. Work hard and good things will come.

This again depends on the mindset of the people making decisions in your company. If your boss sees you staring at the wall or brainstorming by yourself will he think "There's a great strategic mind!" or will he think "What am I paying that person for?" You do have to manage perception in your workplace.. your bosses don't always (or even usually?) have 21st century attitudes to work, even if you do.

Maybe this advice is more applicable in American workplaces and slightly less applicable in other cultures? (i.e. are American managers and senior managers more "with it" ?)


Thank you sincerely for recommending this book and also for the earlier interview with Penelope. I've already ordered my copy, and I'm very much looking forward to learning from Penelope's experience and insight.

Keep the recommendations coming!


Nice list except for the fact that there's a major flaw in its structure--the last point seems to be a sincere point, i.e., it is advice that she believes in, it's not a myth she's trying to dispel. She should of written it to be a myth to bust, e.g., "Conform to the culture of your employer." I'm surprised that an experienced writer would make this kind of mistake. Or, maybe I'm mistaken and it is a myth? In that case, she should have constructed it like the other points, and shown why it is a myth.

Useful info, thanks a lot. enjoyed the post.

I fight against #2 "Job Hopping will hurt you" all the time. I can't even count how many times I've heard a friend tell me that they weren't going to apply for a better job that they'd heard about because they hadn't been in their current job long enough. What a crock.


Tack så mycket.

enjoyed the post. useful info, thanks!

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