IT Employment

You've been labeled at work. What do you do now?

People like to label things and other people. It helps them organize and simplify their worlds. But having a label at work can be damaging.

Back in the prehistoric days, if people wanted to label something, they used this torture device called a Label Maker. You had to squeeze the handle to emboss each letter and at the end the label maker would spit out a plastic sticky label and your hand would need a splint. Misspellings could eat up half your life. Now label makers use high-tech keypads and digital readouts.

You know why label makers didn't go away, they just became better? Because people are label-crazy. Labeling is how they make sense of things. They separate the world into categories so they can understand it more easily.

The bad part of this is that people like to label other people as much as they like to label objects. I'm not saying somebody's going to slap a plastic sticky label on your forehead sometime soon, but, rest assured, you will be labeled in some way. If you're labeled as a person who gets things done, then that's great. But what do you do if the label is wrong and/or negative?

If the label is bad, it's very hard to get rid of. At work, it can cost you business opportunities and job promotions. Here are some ways suggested by eHow on how to deal once you suspect you have inadvertently earned a label at work:

  1. Assess the substance of the bad reputation. Is there any truth to it? Or are you the victim of jealousy or whiners?
  2. Seek a second or third opinion from trusted colleagues to determine if there is any validity to your bad reputation.
  3. Reconsider your managerial style if you are in a position of leadership. Could you make subtle changes? Are you a good communicator and listener? Do you give clear instructions? Are raises overdue?
  4. If you determine that you need to improve a personal attribute, make a commitment to yourself to change your ways. Perform one act every single day that counteracts your bad reputation.

About

Toni Bowers is Managing Editor of TechRepublic and is the award-winning blogger of the Career Management blog. She has edited newsletters, books, and web sites pertaining to software, IT career, and IT management issues.

21 comments
Lumiere2011
Lumiere2011

What do you do when someone you report to is doing the labeling? How do you counteract if they use their influence and the details you must report to cause contention among colleagues in such a way that it minimizes your opportunity for growth or promotion while making them appear almost heroic?

Regulus
Regulus

If the label is conducive to your career goals, Enhance & cherish it. If the opposite is true, start looking for a new job. Google 'Pygmalion' and 'Pygmalion in Education' . Essentially, this adds up to 'People tend to live up (down) to the expectations of their 'significant others'. Business/management consultants really need to understand this. 'Pygmalion' can be observed in nearly all aspects of life.

Eric Hall
Eric Hall

Some sociologists have suggested for years that people not only have their own unique, individual and unalterable personality traits formed by age six, and that people tend to label others within six seconds of meeting them. Labeling may not be fair or even considered remotely "adult" behavior in modern times, but there was an age when such instantaneous assessments of whether new encounters posed a threat, perhaps even lethal in scope. With most of our history consisting of being the hunter or hunted, perhaps "modern" labeling is simply an extension of that hard-wired human nature and even part of the "natural selection" process. This is the daunting difficulty with overcoming prejudice in any human arena, especially in a work force during an economy where everything may trickle down to a post-primal fight where convincing management who the man or woman "on the ladder" is the weakest rung. Survival, pure and instinctual, masked in suits, makeup and plastered smiles.

Roc Riz
Roc Riz

I am not a brand, I am a person. Everyone is entitled to their own opinions. Even if they are wrong. When someone labels another person, they are being foolish, and their actions will ALWAYS prove this. Anyone who is quick to judge someone, and put a label on a person, should ALWAYS be taken with a grain of salt. You build reputation by actions, not labels that foolish people put on you. You will never be able to satisfy everyone, so you should just do the best you can, take each day as it comes, and learn to roll with the punches.

J.C.Alexandres
J.C.Alexandres

We also need to see it in the positive way, as sometimes people receive good labels too! by the way, talking about the other labels, I just got a machine from Dymo, the Rhino 6000, it is an awesome labeling machine! Toni is right, they keep making them better and better, I don't see them going away anytime soon. As an IT professional and the size of networks I am managing, I will be going crazy without a labeling machine.

patwashburn
patwashburn

... but honestly, you have to copy and paste from eHow instead of writing original content? Sheesh.

mail2ri
mail2ri

True. People tend to label others they interact with. On a basic level, it helps people to identify other people with a certain trait, thereby differentiating them from others. However, at workplace, there are often power-centers which work for or against others. If one belongs to a certain group, you tend to earn a favourable label, but if you don't conform to the group, then you inevitably get an adverse label for no fault of yours. Hence, labeling is a powerful tool in the hands of people to create a certain perception about someone. That perception can often benefit or harm one's career, depending on which side of the fence one is. Perhaps, the best way to ward off adverse labeling is to not be predictable.

RayJeff
RayJeff

by several titles; "The miracle worker"; "Mr. Friendly"; "Mr. Could do it when no one else could"; "Mr. 11th Hour"; ""The Savior". Those titles, while they aren't eh actual titles, but that's how at one job I was seen. I was labeled as the person who ACTUALLY KNOWS I.T.. I was labeled as the I.T. person who could ACTUALLY GET THINGS DONE. The problem with being labeled that was I unknowingly brought to light the problems with my colleagues and even the other departments of my former employer being able to work with the main I.T. department. With me showing up the I.T. departmnt (which is a very small; e.g., 3 persons), I got flack from 1/3 of the I.T. department, but another 1/3 I had a great working realtionship with; I'm sure you all can figure out which 1/3 that was. Which was ironic, sicne I had done everything I could to start and maintain a good relationship with the main I.T. department, as I was always used to working with I.T.. My prior positions I worked in the main I.T. departments, this time was the first time I worked outside of the main I.T. department in a department that had no I.T personnel prior. It wasn't my intention to be labeled anything or to have people mad at me because of their shortcomings that were already there before I ever thought of working there. I just wanted to do my job; a job I enjoyed.

JTF243
JTF243

Ms. Bowers, You stated "I???m not saying somebody???s going to slap a plastic sticky label on your forehead sometime soon." In that, you are wrong. They are already looking at ways to put RFID chips in the human body. They are already in our passports and some of our credit cards. So, where does this insanity stop? When will people come to their senses and say "ENOUGH!"?

Scottomatic
Scottomatic

Sometimes it helps me to be slapped in the face with some good old fashion common sense. Thanks for the reminder. It seems that even if you aren't suffering from a label at work, the advice stating that you should "perform one act that contradicts your label each day" can help avoid an unwanted label. If you do that act each day as preventive maintenance, you put whiners and gossipers in the place of having no credibility if they try to label you.

jfuller05
jfuller05

meaning that "I don't work." I had someone tell me that I need to be in people's eye more instead of at my desk. OK, but I can work remotely from my desk, so why I should make trips to every computer that needs work? Or anytime I look around our servers, why should I go to the server closet? Other employees don't understand that an IT employee can pretty much do all his/her work from the desk. I guess I'll walk around more to get rid of the label? Has anyone else had this problem?

dwdino
dwdino

One I constantly strive with is boxing. While labeling is assigning a predefined analysis to something for quick identification, boxing is the act of establishing borders to manage capabilities. Often time boxing is required. A subject must be measured for effectiveness and the limits defined and operated within. This works great for processes, infrastructures, and standards. However, this is very dangerous when applied to people. People are highly dynamic. Viewpoints, capabilities, and tolerances are constantly flexing. While the core of the individual remains similar (excepting life events), their various components and capabilities can vary greatly. The greatest danger is when the two collide. This is a common occurrence. In my case, I have a wide scope of experience and associated capabilities. I am often hired to solve a problem, overhaul a system, or design a solution. Yet, after delivery, I am only considered for similar opportunities. I have even found situations where I am the local subject matter expert and yet am dismissed because that topic is not "associated" with the box I am linked to. So, while labeling is an efficient way of categorization and identification, be wary of boxing individuals. I would encourage the opposite. For both the employee and employer, seek to drive the expansion of individuals and see just how far they can reach. Both may be surprised by what is discovered.

cipher95
cipher95

I was told in my review by my manager that I'm awesome and he wants me to keep doing what I'm doing. HOWEVER, he is not the only one who decides what grade I get so I was given an (S)atisfactory instead of and (E)xcellent because the other managers dont see me doing anything. Go figure; if you dont socialize half the day and send out emails praising yourself for then you suck. I guess substance means nothing and perception is everything. I'll remain as I am, thank you.

Tigger_Two
Tigger_Two

Jack Welch found that daily interaction with his workforce not only made him a better leader, but that new ideas were more quickly communicated, analyzed, and implemented because of it. When I was in a support role, I had no choice but to go face to face with my end users. What was great about that is that I had an opportunity to really understand what my individual people and groups needed. People knew that they could reach out to me directly and I would either solve their problem, or find the person who could. We had a greater ability to solve whatever came up and in less time because I had a clearer understanding of the needs and requirements. As a project manager, I have always preferred the ability to reach out to my teams in both meetings and "water cooler" contacts- the casual day by day. It was often in a chat over the coffee pot that we were able to get the most work done. Even though you and I are able to value your work when you are at your desk, it really IS harder for those who don't have that ability. They have no frame of reference. Face time can be just as important for some people as results. It is the face time that tells your end user that you are engaged with solving their issues.

RayJeff
RayJeff

"In my case, I have a wide scope of experience and associated capabilities. I am often hired to solve a problem, overhaul a system, or design a solution. Yet, after delivery, I am only considered for similar opportunities. I have even found situations where I am the local subject matter expert and yet am dismissed because that topic is not "associated" with the box I am linked to. " The employer that I referenced in my posting, that happened to me. I was hired to run a helpdesk environment at a small liberal arts college. For a while, I was mainly seen in that context of just being the helpdesk person. But, later on as the college started introducing new educational software systems. many were surprised that experience with them? It should've been surprising as for the prior 6 years, I was working in the higher educaiton area in the I.T. departments of the 2 institutions I was a student; evne one of the schools the main helpdesk I worked at, plus the Computer Technology program I was in were the two points of testing before the system was opened to the rest of the college. Going back to the current discussion, when I was talking to the company trainer (and also the college's Academic Dean) who was training certain faculty and helpdesk staff from the other academic divisions about my experience using the system, the trainer seemed to be thrilled. The Academic Dean, he pretty much dissmissed me. He had that "oh? Ok look" on his face. I found it very distasteful and disrespectful. Why? Because if out of several hundred faculty and staff, you have one person that has actual knowledge and experience using the system, you would think he would've been glad. As this person would be the subject matter expert. And also, since the college is one of 3 schools in that city, and with the other two schools being larger than that school, it wouldn't be much of a stretch to assume one of the two other schools uses the same system; which in fact the largest of the three school did and it so happened it was the school that not only I worked in the I.T. dept at, I was also a student who used the system.

jfuller05
jfuller05

if you dont socialize half the day and send out emails praising yourself for then you suck. No kidding. The higher-ups want to implement a grading system like that where I work. I think it's called a yearly evaluation. Right now, we don't have evaluations, but we're probably starting that soon.

jfuller05
jfuller05

I should have explained more in my post. When users have desktop problems, they contact me and I actually go to their desks and solve the problem there. We almost always have good conversations. The problem I'm having is when I'm not putting out visible fires, you see? If a user isn't phoning me about a problem, then I'm not working. It's the old saying, "When things are working, then IT isn't working." That's the issue I'm facing. The daily work I do doesn't get noticed and somehow I'm supposed to make it noticeable? I do understand your point about daily conversations and finding out what people want out of the technology being used or should be used at work. Some good projects have come out of my conversations with fellow employees.

JCitizen
JCitizen

That did everything you two mention and more; there was no doubt who did what when, and even technical notes pertaining to the project. This handy utility, which was used by all departments, not just IT - really brought it home just how busy the work force really was. Of course it made very useful data on just what happened in the past too. This really taught me the value of brevity and good documentation. The beautiful things was, I could quit using my worthless old Palm II PDA, because I could access On Track! anywhere in the WAN, and recover data for analysis. This seemed a whole lot easier, and more effective - and any manager at any level could check the history to see what was being done for their department. Believe me, I'm not selling anything here, there may be even better data bases out there, that do the same thing.

jfuller05
jfuller05

I could plan the work ahead on a calendar the things that I need to do, instead of only posting the work that involves helping others on my calendar. That will also help me stay on track. It will let others be aware of what I'm doing too. Thanks!

Tigger_Two
Tigger_Two

I really appreciate the clarification. You are absolutely correct. It truly bites that the people who are considered the hardest workers are the ones who send out a daily stream of email talking about what they have done and what they are doing. Personally, I don't see those folks as being the hard worker but instead, the effective self promoter. Still, I understand why they do it. If you don't understand my job and don't understand my work effort, you have no way to understand if I am doing the right things or if I am doing ANYTHING. Self promotion may be distasteful, but it is effective. I think that there are ways of doing it that aren't as showy and apparently self serving, though. As a part of my personal organizational style, I got in the habit of planning my work for the week at a high level and communicating that to my manager and my team. At the end of the week, I communicated what had been done, what had been planned forward, and what new tasks were on the horizon. I also noted if another team had been particularly helpful that week and copied the manager of that team on the recap. I considered this a part of my regular communication plan but it also served to keep others aware of what we were doing on a regular basis. This might be the kind of thing you are being urged to do.