There is a school of though, which I have seen advocated on certain online forums, that no matter what your job is you should be willing to do anything your boss tells you. For example, if you were a highly paid specialist engineer and your boss told you to make him some coffee and then mop the floor, your response should be a cheerful, “Yes sir!” You will then be rewarded by raises and promotions.
I have to shake my head in cynical amazement at these optimists (some of whom at least claim to have gotten actual promotions through cheerfully doing whatever shit job is thrown at them). In any company I’ve ever worked at, or any company everyone I know has ever worked at, that sort of attitude is only going to get you more shit jobs to do. As the saying goes, “If every day you do a little more than people expect from you, pretty soon people will expect a little more from you every day.”
It is an unfortunate fact that advancement in the workplace has nothing to do with hard work. If anything, working hard will make it less likely that you will be promoted. The way your boss sees it, the more work you do, the bigger the hole in his department when you leave. He might have to hire two people to do the work you’re doing. Or spread the work around to other people, which is not going to please his other subordinates. Or even the nearly unthinkable option of having to do some of the work himself.
Faced with the choice of keeping you in your place and piling work on your desk, or piling the work on his own desk, your boss is going to keep you where you are every time. He isn’t concerned about what’s good for the company and he sure as hell isn’t concerned about what’s best for you; he’s concerned about his departmental budget and keeping his own ass and desk clear.
I’ve seen this first hand. My wife has a very strong work ethic. She kept working long days, over my objections, right up to the day before our son was born. She was constantly working late, taking work home, frantically working away at every project that landed on her desk, in every job she ever had.
It got her precisely nowhere. She never once got a promotion at any of those jobs. When she finally moved on to another company (or, in the case of her last job, quit to be a full-time mom for a while) it usually took two or three people to replace her.
(A variation on this situation is when the company wants you to start at some low-level job — frequently, though not always, clerical — but promises that they will promote you to something else later. They won’t. Ever. Once a secretary, always a secretary, at least as far as that company is concerned. Don’t fall for it.)
It isn’t only your boss that you have to watch out for, of course. Your co-workers will be more than happy to slack off and let you pick up the workload. Work will flow to you to match your willingness to accept it. The rewards will flow to the guy who goes out drinking with the boss while you’re working late.
I’m not saying that you shouldn’t work hard at your job. You should do the best job you can. I’m saying that when it comes time to decide if you’re going to go that extra mile, take on that overtime, take all that work home, think about if your boss or your company would go that extra mile for you. Odds are they wouldn’t. Do your job and do it well, but never forget that your first responsibility is to yourself and your family, not your employer.
How do you get ahead then, if hard work won’t do it? By jumping ship. Move to another company. (Or, if your company is big enough, another department, but don’t count on that; your boss will be working against you. Something else I have firsthand experience of.) You’ll be in the same trap there, but if you played your cards right you’ve got a better position and higher pay. Then, when you’re ready, jump ship again. If you’ve been in the same position for three years, start checking out the job market. You are probably underpaid and overworked.
Does that seem harsh? Disloyal to your employer? Well, if they are loyal to you, you’ll find no advantage to be gained by jumping ship. Your salary is already as good as it’s likely to get. If it isn’t, ask yourself this: Why should you put your employer’s well-being ahead of your own? What have they done to deserve such loyalty.
You’ll probably find that the answer is: Nothing.