• Gustavo Serbia

Talk To Me Gus (#2): I Am a Hard Worker. But somehow, that is not enough for my manager. Why is th

George writes:

I am a hard worker. A very hard worker. I have been working since I was 14 years old. I get to work early, leave late, and even work from home. But somehow, that is not enough for him. Why is that? What can I do?

Hello George,

If you ask a room full of employees, or people in general for that matter, who considers himself or herself a "hard worker," it is likely every single one of them will raise their hand. We all think and believe we are hard workers.

We are so sure of our "hard worker" credentials, we often use it to describe ourselves. Be it during an interview, when looking to impress others, when describing important attributes learned from our parents, when receiving the dreaded performance evaluation, or even when having problems with managers, we rely on the word "hard worker" to describe our work ethic. We use it as a one-punch knockout! "Hard worker" is probably the first descriptor an entry level or new manager, even managers with experience, use to describe themselves.

Without knowing all the details of your relationship with your manager, I want to be careful not to pretend I can solve your issue. However, I will share with you two points you should consider.

The first one is to read this article I wrote about managing up. It will provide you with some suggestions on how to handle those you report to.

The second point is that describing yourself or believing you are a "hard worker" is meaningless unless it matches your manager's definition. Let me explain.

Using "hard worker" to describe yourself is like... hum, describing yourself as a good cook simply because you like your cooking. Sure, you can cook some staple dishes that most people like, but your dishes may not rise to their expectations. See, your definition of a good cook, may not be the same as mine, or that of your manager. To define yourself as a "hard worker," you must consider how others, including your manager, define it. You must take into account their standards so you can meet and exceed their expectations, not just your own.

To define yourself as a "hard worker" without knowing and understanding the expectations of your manager may leave you delivering less than his desired performance. Perhaps that is the issue you are having problems. If you do not take corrective action quickly, to learn why he is not satisfied and what he expects, you may find yourself being disciplined, and potentially unemployed. Finding out his needs, his expectations, and what he wants to see from you is important to turn around your relationship with him, and for your career.

Talk to your manager and ask his expectations are. What is it that he does not currently see from you. Ask him what his definition of a "hard worker" is. You can also ask him to define any other attributes or skills important to him, so you can create alignment between with him, to deliver on his "hard worker" standards. Remember, your performance is not just about your satisfaction and engagement, but that of those around you, especially your manager.

I am not downplaying the importance of your values, desires, and expectations, or what your manager should be doing. Your manager should be spending time explaining what he expects, as well as coaching you to improve your performance. Unfortunately, some managers think we are mind readers and others do not know how to go about coaching. However, if what you are hoping to achieve is to cook a meal that satisfies, better yet, impresses your manager, you may want to ask him what he likes and how he wants it cooked, so you can increase your chances of delivering to his expectations. Otherwise, you may end up cooking for yourself, or perhaps worse, not cooking at all.

PS: In the event, you decide you need to start looking for a job, the above holds relevant when applying and interviewing for a job.

I often say that the interview and selection process is not about you. Sure, you talk about your skills and experiences, but it is the recruiters and hiring managers who need to connect with what you have to say, not just you. Knowing about expectations is harder during the application process because many job descriptions and job postings are written poorly or are not specific enough. Still, you have to spend time reading the posting and JD, taking notes of what is expected and of the behaviors described that are relevant to the organization, so you can communicate experiences to match theirs when "personalizing" your resume; and by personalizing I mean to the position and employer you are applying. If you get an interview, you need to share what you have done that is relevant to those interviewing you.

Your journey, your career. Own it.

If you want your question answered, email me at gus@stretchthestring.com

"The most important instrument to your career development, growth, and success is you. Therefore, you must work to stretch beyond your comfort zone, fine tune what you have to offer, and must do so continuously." - Gustavo Serbia

I work in human resources. I also started Stretch the String, a website dedicated to career coaching, job search, and workplace advice. For more on my content follow me on

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