I can’t quite believe it has been ten years since I started my career in fashion. It feels like only yesterday that I finished university, took my first ridiculously high-heeled steps into the world of fashion magazines as an intern and also started my blog.
Over the past ten years, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed letting myself be led by my love of all things fashion, and it took me to so many different roles within the industry, that were such good opportunities to learn about the business and grow my skill set, that they were too good to turn down. Which is why, as a freelancer, I’ve been a magazine writer, a street style photographer, a design assistant, a social media content strategist, a personal stylist and a lecturer – all within the fashion industry. Its been one hell of a ride!
One thing, however, that has remained a constant throughout every job and role, no matter what industry you’re in, is professionalism and a strong work ethic. A lot of the time, positive behaviour and good habits in the workplace can be learned by supervisors that set a good example for you. However, in some unfortunate situations, they can be learned by bad examples of office behaviour that is just plain inappropriate. I’m sharing a few of the biggest lessons I’ve taken away from both circumstances, which apply whether you’re starting a new job and want to put your best foot forward in 2018, or whether you’re looking to make positive changes and turn over a new leaf in your current job:
Give the intern a chance to shine
It may have been eight years ago, but my first ever boss as an intern at a fashion magazine created a lasting impression on me because she believed in me. Interns don’t often get to do a lot besides get people coffee, run errands, make deliveries and make minimal contributions without any credit. However, she saw enough in me to give me some pretty big stories at my time there, some of which were multiple pages long, and all of which had my own byline. I have so much respect for her and she still remains one of my favourite people in the industry till date.
Don’t undervalue a freelancer
Lately, I’ve been feeling like freelancers are a bit taken for granted. A last resort, if you will. Companies would rather hire full-time writers that are in the office all day and overwork them, than outsource to a freelancer. I worked freelance with a digital agency for about two years, and during this time, the CEO really took the time to train me and teach me a lot about creating a concise, organised social media strategy for brands. In fact, I still put a lot of his methods into practice at jobs I take on today. During my time working under him, I always felt like a valued member of the team, instead of an afterthought, and this made me put so much more effort into creating great content for the brands I worked on for him.
You CAN be nice and get things done
One of my most recent bosses is one of the nicest people I’ve ever had the pleasure of meeting. She was always chipper and smiley, encouraging and supportive. During my time working under her, I made a few little mistakes (as you do when you’re learning a new role), but she was incredibly patient, had not one negative word to say about anybody and was always polite and lovely even when she was having a stressful day and her workload was intense. Because she was so wonderful, it encouraged me to work harder and a little bit extra after hours, just because she deserved my extra time. I feel that my time working under her has made me a better person and I truly value the time we spent working together.
There’s nothing quite like a pat on the back
One particular boss would send out a weekly mailer to the whole team, telling us all how happy she was with our performance, all the compliments she’d received by customers at the store and how much our sales were up from last year. And if they were down, she’d always word it so kindly, be super encouraging and come up with a way for how we could tweak things to get back up again. Overall, it was so positive to see that what we were doing and all the time we spent working was being appreciated – it made us feel excited to change things and up sales even more.
Make sure everyone’s on the same page
One of the best practises I’ve taken away from a boss is both, simple and effective. She would email the whole team every morning with a list of stories each person needed to work on, that she was expecting to run through with them in person at the end of the day. It really helped to have it there in front of you as your own little focal point to power through the day. It also helped to know what other people were working on, so you’d know when they were particularly busy with a vital project and you didn’t go bother them with questions about less important deadlines during that time. I still make a to-do list for myself every morning to help keep me on track with achieving my goals for the day.
A work/life balance is non-negotiable
Some people tend to take work a little too seriously, like all of our lives depend on it and most situations are life or death, and I’ve had people keep me after hours at work far too often for things that could’ve easily been done the next day. However, my most recent boss has a unique perspective that only being a mum can bring – the importance of everyone on her team having a work/life balance. Most days, she leaves when she’s supposed to, picks her little boy up from school, loves getting to go home and spend good, quality time with him, and she encourages everyone on her team to do the same with their partners, friends, families and pets. She’s also super understanding and supportive if you need to work from home, if you have a sick or injured family member or pet or simply just need a mental health day for yourself. And still, she somehow manages to crush her targets every month! Superwoman much? Ultimately, she understands that what matters most in life are your state of mind and the precious moments you spend with family – work comes a close second.
Now, to be fair, I’ve only had one questionable boss in my life. I’m not going to name names obviously, but working under her was a challenge, and not in the best way. Quitting was definitely the right decision for me, and the lessons I’ve learned from my time working there are ones I’ll take with me for life.
Don’t put your personal agenda ahead of what works for the company
On a number of occasions, the content team had to completely miss out on writing about, and capitalizing on the buzz around some big events and personalities, simply because our fashion director didn’t like them. And, as a result, our numbers went down significantly those months because our audience was going to competitors for the information we were told not to write about.
Don’t micro-manage everything
As head of the company with entire social media and customer service teams under her to handle client queries and customer feedback online, she’d still take negative feedback personally, and try to respond to it hastily, with her responses coming across as abrupt as a result. All feedback could be handled by professionals trained to deal with it in a polite, helpful and positive manner. And while it was great that she was so invested, micro-managing often does more harm than good and prevents individuals from getting an opportunity to prove themselves.
It is NOT okay to get personal
I wish I could say that this didn’t happen, but it did. This lady would regularly make negative personal remarks about her employees, often in front of the whole team. It is needless to say that this behaviour isn’t acceptable in the slightest. Criticism is great so long as it is constructive, mentioned in private and purely performance-based. If it tends to veer on personal, then it is off-limits.
Never cry wolf
Threatening to quit if you don’t get your way can only happen a finite amount of times before people start thinking “Well, if she’s that unhappy, its only a matter of time before she actually does pull the plug. In which case, we should keep our eyes and ears open for someone to replace her.” Professional relationships are similar to personal ones – they require compromise, sacrifice and working together as a team to resolve issues positively. One can’t always expect to get what they want, and one must never, ever threaten to walk. If a particular issue means that much to you that you just can’t let it go, have a heart to heart with your coworkers and if it can’t be resolved and is making you unhappy, then start looking for another job, and hand in your papers when you find one.
Don’t always expect people to stay after they’ve finished for the day
Now don’t get me wrong – I am totally pro staying after work or even working on weekends when there’s a big project, assignment or deadline that requires the extra work, or if I hadn’t managed to finish what I had set out to do that day/week. But when a person finishes all they need to, they should be allowed to go home, guilt-free, without feeling like they’d be judged for it. I’d often be expected to wait around a couple of hours extra with the team, because they hadn’t been efficient with their time and were staying to finish their lists, and it was just unfair.
Never make a promise you might not be able to keep
I’ve seen and experienced this one in practice far too often. Employers often dangle a carrot for employees and then don’t deliver when it is time to collect. Whether it is a promotion, appraisal or even a fee that is due to you, not delivering is disheartening, not to mention just plain deceitful, and should never be done, with or without a legally binding document. If you fully intend to carry out your promise but aren’t able to do so due to circumstances out of your control, take your employee aside and honestly explain exactly what the problem is. Try to meet them halfway at that point in time, then give them a definite date by when you can realistically deliver on your promise, and work hard towards sticking to it.