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Martin Chinagorom: The Workplace Survival Kit

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It sucks to be out of job, even worse to have lost one and then get a clear picture of how you could have survived termination. My buddy found himself in this awful situation a week ago and misery does not begin to describe what emotions he is battling.

We went through a list of what he would have done differently as he readies to go back to job-hunting. Lessons from that, and from my other working friends (many of whom whine and complain about their jobs), have I chiseled down to this workplace survival kit.

A workplace is not a family house where life happens in a known setting and follows an almost natural course. It is a maze, of a very complex nature. Dedication, tact and artfulness about sums it up. But then in such devious terrains, you rather sit home if you cannot add a pinch of ruthlessness to that equation.

Hardwork. No one would employ you without expecting that the job would be carried out with some level of dedication. The first thing you have to bring to a workplace is dedication and hardwork. You don’t have to like the job to be dedicated to it. Our dream jobs are not always available and in their absence life ticks away and we have to live on what is available. (I would like to get paid for a reading schedule of 7-10hours a day but no way in hell is that going to happen till I hook up with someone top-ranking at Penguin or The New Yorker and dreaming for that day doesn’t come with food stamps.) That there is a need for a certain job in the first place makes dedication a given and that the job gets the bills paid should be about enough incentive. At least, in my case, till I have a chance at that hook-up or write that bestseller in my head.

Observance. This is not observation in doing the job (that is part of dedication), but observation of the workplace, especially the people. Knowing the people you work with is key to survival. Find out that boss who is easily threatened, that colleague who is the fiercest competition, that cleaner who is sad and that typist given to office gossip. Find out the different cliques that exist, and if there is an ongoing vendetta. Find out the level of camaraderie that exist. Your approach to anyone should be according to your observation of them.

Gain Trust. Do the best to gain as many people’s confidence as is possible. Be aloof in doing so. Be the guy that does not judge, the one that is highly efficient too. Gain that respect that make them say, “There is something to him.”  They don’t know what, but are enamored even in that not-knowing. Something they wish they had.

Silence. In no place is silence more golden than in a workplace. Don’t be known as the one with the mouth, a great undoing. Chew a gum if your mouth needs exercise. People have agitations regularly about work, but do yourself a favour and keep your agitations to yourself. There is absolutely no provision in a workplace for voicing your frustration, not to your superiors, and most certainly not to your subordinates. If you need to whine about anything, that is what family and friends are for (you have listened to them do same so they shouldn’t have a problem returning the favour). And if it bad enough that you need to throw a tantrum and punch someone, wait till you get home, go into the toilet and I hope you have a mirror, stationary.

Friendship. “Your friend is your enemy” is not an oxymoron in a workplace. It is a gospel passage, true and eternal. If you need to be friends with everyone and tell them your life’s story in a day, stay home. Don’t be friends with anyone, not anyone’s enemy either. Never get too close for gossip. It is a workplace not your kindred meeting. If there are cliques, stay away from taking sides, as well as if there is a conflict. Try not to my bosses’ favorite, you will soon invite envy, but make sure to be in their respect and awe. Be nice enough, not overly. If your ass-kissing doesn’t establish an independence, and only dependence, avoid that strategy.

Snitch/Listen. Poke for others’ frustration, subtlety. Make general allusions, nothing direct, and let them spill their gut. It is a game of the mind and no one has to explain it to anyone, every workplace is unique. You have to know who to know how and when. Remember who said what, about who, and when. Information like these come in handy when unexpected. If you need to keep a diary for this, well done.

Competition. Healthy competition is good. Make effort to work my way up the rungs, diligently, honestly and in commitment. But when the competition turns dirty, never away from it (if such events make you uncomfortable, stay home). If it has a survival-of-the-fittest likeness, please sign up. Eliminate competition that would eliminate you if they had a chance. And if you cannot handle being the competition, remain in a grey space in the background. Infuse your slander in jokes, and in offhanded ways that the information would be remembered without any association to malice and scheme, and you have perfected the skill when the bit of information is remembered and you are not remembered as the source.

Credit. Never do any work for which another person will take credit. Do not accept to help anyone do their work, neither should you offer any help. When that shift roster is done or that wall is painted well and there will be no indication that you did it and the Thank-You will be given to someone else, count yourself out. Your hustle is different from theirs. Remain in your lane and leave them in theirs. If there is a crossover, in my case for instance, my Mbaise ancestors will be mad at me.

Most importantly, you are not indispensable so do not delude yourself. The job was there before you, it certainly will be when you are gone. Unless you are Mugabe.

Photo Credit: Dreamstime | Goldenkb

Emeka Chinagorom is an analyst in Washington DC. Born in Onitsha, he studied philosophy in Rome before moving to the United States. When he is not obsessing over food, he is trying to read and write. His short story, NOW THAT YOU ARE BLACK IN AMERICA, won the 2017 Ian McMillan award. Emeka is working on his first novel and some short stories. You can find him on Instagram @emmyemc.

25 Comments

  1. Concerned_Boyfriend

    October 22, 2014 at 6:03 pm

    Excellent post!. Everything you said is the gospel truth. Couple weeks ago, I broke the silence code, I voiced my frustration to a not well-known colleague at this new gig and shortly after that I was relieved of my duty under a false allegation. I immediately knew the source of my predicament. Thankfully, I’m in a highly demanded field, I got a new gig in less than a week.

    • jummai

      October 23, 2014 at 5:18 pm

      Lucky u, sure u ve learned ur lesson.

  2. jay

    October 22, 2014 at 6:06 pm

    unless u r mugabe..lol../good though

  3. lindsay

    October 22, 2014 at 6:34 pm

    well written. i keep telln people your colleagues are not your friends,never mix ur officelife with your personal life.

  4. TANTRA

    October 22, 2014 at 6:35 pm

    Nice write up, Mbaise man. I enjoyed reading this.

  5. zynwa

    October 22, 2014 at 6:43 pm

    Wonderful! !! Keep up the good work Martin

  6. Jo!

    October 22, 2014 at 6:51 pm

    As in ehn!
    This right hurr>>>>> “Don’t be friends with anyone, not anyone’s enemy either. Never get too close for gossip. It is a workplace not your kindred meeting”

    I learnt the hard way o, though I still sit down when they are “gisting”, I will NEVER contribute, same person who started the gist is the same one who goes and says ” she said…”, Office politics is too brutal and unfortunately unavoidable, just don’t join in playing the game.

    My first couple of years in the workplace, I was very into “my colleagues are my family ” thing, until I got thrown under the bus, I shapperly arranged myself and now constantly remind myself we’re all colleagues first, all here for the job, so take nothing personal and don’t get into people’s lives. I’m still learning to play that game sha, need a guide sef, because the people who play it are WINNING big time, just play with sense.

    Thanks Martin, this was a good read, hope your friend isis getting back on his feet though

    • tunmi

      October 22, 2014 at 7:23 pm

      I had to learn this as well. I volunteer to help because it’s no problem and it’s like an exercise for me (I work at a braiding shop). But then that somehow turned to riding me, asking me to run errands like a personal secretary. I did learn to say no and while they were taken aback, they eventually got used to it. It did hurt my feelings that people I took and regarded as family try to undermine my skills but they don’t owe me anything. No one in this life owes me anything. So whatever good they do for me, I appreciate. If they do otherwise, it is their prerogative.

    • Babe Eke

      October 22, 2014 at 11:33 pm

      You write too well to be in a braiding shop, you”ll get to where you desire to be!

    • tunmi

      October 24, 2014 at 3:00 pm

      @Baba Eke, I understand what you mean and thanks for the compliment but I do like working in the shop and it has taught me so many invaluable skills from braiding to humility.

    • cos I say so

      November 5, 2014 at 2:45 pm

      I lost my job and not a single colleague called me and it hurt me so much
      I started wondering if I was that bad in the office
      Was I too nice to drive all the way to Abaranje for a colleague’s baby naming when no one else would go?
      Was I too forward in covering up for a colleague who was late in coming to work
      Was I too fast in discreetly slipping a few bills in a colleagues hand when I overheard him calming his pregnant wife down because he didn’t give her money to go for her ante-natal
      Staying late to make sure the job is done
      Going early to make sure my boss doesn’t notice my partner isn’t at work
      I loved my job so I happily gave it my best even though the pay was pittance and then when the female boss starts “biffing” me bcos my husband bought me a car that’s the same make with hers…EVERYONE left me to my fate and some even helped fuel rumors of my “

    • cos I say so

      November 5, 2014 at 2:53 pm

      I lost my job and not a single colleague called me and it hurt me so much
      I started wondering if I was that bad in the office
      Was I too nice to drive all the way to Abaranje for a colleague’s baby naming when no one else would go?
      Was I too forward in covering up for a colleague who was late in coming to work
      Was I too fast in discreetly slipping a few bills in a colleagues hand when I overheard him calming his pregnant wife down because he didn’t give her money to go for her ante-natal
      Was staying late to make sure the job interpreted as eye service or maybe I shouldn’t have gone early to make sure my boss doesn’t notice my partner isn’t at work
      I loved my job so I happily gave it my best even though the pay was pittance but I wasn’t even working for the moni and then when the female boss starts “biffing” me bcos my husband bought me a car that’s the same make with hers…EVERYONE left me to my fate and some even helped fuel rumors about me just to stay on her good side
      I keep wondering if I was so bad that not even ONE person called me… NOT EVEN ONE

  7. el patron

    October 22, 2014 at 7:12 pm

    respect mr martin! thanks man

  8. Omoge Tade

    October 22, 2014 at 7:20 pm

    Nice write up.I agree with all you just wrote!!!!!!!!

  9. G

    October 22, 2014 at 8:06 pm

    Story story…. kini… haha I agree with most with the exception of credit and competition. In my genre of work and being abroad too, they love to see team work.. Even if you achieve something always acknowledge your team in a subtle way.. Don’t pose as I know is it all in front of your team be very humble..
    Competition; my take is you have been employed to do a job not to come and compete. That is your first priority. Focusing on competing is not the best solution for you to climb the ladder. You might become something you didn’t intend to be. For example bitter and all. Some people get into the office politics, sex etc. Build on your interpersonal skills, technical skills, educational skills and face your work.
    Anyhow.. this one eh! in my circle of loved ones I have been laughed at. I have equally smiled and giggled about this experience. Eh I tot i was going to die. I mean the experience was so beyond my mind I almost took up smoking to relief from stress. And I am a Christian oh! So you can imagine!
    I never knew there was a word called Chinese whispers and disloyalty…. EH! in capital letters.
    “Never get too close for gossip. It is a workplace not your kindred meeting.” Unfortunately MOST ethnic minority have a problem, working amongst ourselves. Especially those who got to the position by experience without educational backing. Yes in yankee, they feel intimidated. Equally fitting in with oyibo is also another challenge. But we live to learn. I had a colleague, ethnic minority. This lady threw me under the bus and was pulling her loyalty card big time within the office. See how senior people were maltreating me. Even shouting out loud in the office. Yes this was only few weeks me commencing this job.
    I asked the Pastor and he told me that if you don’t want to be talked about don’t talk about others @ work. my 1st mistake. Keep your opinions to yourself. The word that year was Ps 1 and this jumped up to me… nor sitteth amongst the seat of the scornful. After painfully enduring and reporting my oppressors to senior member of staff.
    Another thing for you ladies. this is what my mentor had advised me ages ago. Dress well. But please keep your Louis Vuitton and co in church. there are people who are jealous oh. If you are from a rich background keep your yacht stories at home. Unfortunately a former colleague didn’t know this rule.. got sacked…
    In short be subtle in being expensive. Even abroad this is a problem. Be subtle in flaunting what you got. And also don’t brew others to be envious of you. ah u r flaming ur own fire of wahala.
    With God, wisdom provided and silent tongue ( i never gave my side of the story of the wahala. I was dying inside to tell people who claim to have a listening ear) that’s how I got my victory…

    thanks for the write up.

  10. Xala

    October 22, 2014 at 9:23 pm

    Martin! You are so on point, my mantra in life is- I have no illusions, especially about people. I have been severely bitten once, and even my paddy in the office shunned me. I became the outcast. Thankfully, i left few weeks later. Now! Hian! I have no illusions o. I will throw you under the bus and do it smiling..Colleagues are not your friends, they are competitors. Like I told a colleague, I will not do you evil, but it is not in this side of heaven I will watch you feed me crap!

  11. @edDREAMZ

    October 22, 2014 at 11:18 pm

    a.k.a EDWIN CHINEDU AZUBUKO said…
    .
    Dope post….
    .
    .
    ***CURRENTLY IN JUPITER***

  12. Ijebu Boy

    October 23, 2014 at 4:19 am

    I would really like to work in a fully Nigerian workplace… that is on my bucket list lol.

  13. nihinlola

    October 23, 2014 at 10:10 am

    nice write up. this post couldn’t have come @ a more perfect time.

  14. Sugar

    October 23, 2014 at 11:35 am

    Thank you so much for the wake up call.

  15. blessing

    October 23, 2014 at 2:41 pm

    nice write up…….I have an issue thou, I am my boss’s favorite, and he makes it too obvious, that my colleagues look at me as the enemy. All requests and mails should go through me, and not directly to him. I try and stay as humble as possible, but It just gets frustrating. The worse is yet to come thou, he just got me a brand new car for my efficiency in work, the car isn’t here yet, but instead of being excited and glad about this great favor from God, I am actually worried, in fact my heart skips when I think of it….. it is so crazy.

    • G

      October 24, 2014 at 2:01 am

      I think pray about it. maybe there should be a contract stipulating that this is an incentive for your work ethics. Wisdom should be applied.

    • Ikido

      October 24, 2014 at 11:02 pm

      You must be really “servicing” Oga well oh! *wink**wink*;-)

  16. Benson Ossai

    October 23, 2014 at 3:58 pm

    Thanks man.

  17. Menoword

    October 24, 2014 at 3:30 pm

    I agree with most of the points in this – not sure about the snitching and throwing people under the bus bit – that is not me and I don’t think I would want to. For me, my most valuable lesson is – build a favours bank and establish strong networks. There are some people you’ll do stuff for, not so they can give you credit, but so that when you need something, they can’t say no. Know who the right people are to make decisions on matters, so you don’t go “merry go rounding”. And 9 times out of 10, your ignorance can be rectified by a simple visit to Google

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