The world of work can be brutal. Everyone wants to get ahead and move up the career ladder, but the jobs market is increasingly tough. It can feel like we’re competing not just for job openings, but for smaller things – being assigned the tasks we like, praise from the boss, the respect of colleagues.
The most ruthless employees have started employing a tactic known as “ego mail”, sending emails designed to show up a colleague while making themselves look good, and copying in a senior member of staff. It’s a way of signalling that you’re the most competent person on a team, that you’re doing a good job while others around you can’t measure up.
It doesn’t have to be like this.
Be supportive, feel supported
It’s hard to imagine many people think that actively working to undermine and shame their colleagues is the right thing to do. It’s harder to imagine that it’s helping us to build healthy working relationships with our co-workers. Competitive behaviours like sending “ego-mail” are only going to make us feel isolated and insecure at work. There are much better tactics for getting ahead than resigning ourselves to dog-eat-dog.
If you had to choose between a work environment in which everyone was undermining each other and calling out errors to compete for the boss’s favour, or one in which people supported each other to do better work, you’d probably choose the second.
For example, if I, a full-time journalist, am on a reporting shift and a colleague spots that I have made a mistake in my copy (which everyone does from time to time), that person can do one of three things. They could leave the mistake there for a manager to spot. They could screenshot my error and send an ego-mail round the entire department pointing out it needs to be changed. Or they could drop me a quick email and point out the mistake, giving me time to go in and change it before it’s spotted by someone more senior.
Happily, I’ve got colleagues who tend to choose the latter, and I do the same for them. Equally if I have a question about the work or am not sure whether I’m doing something right, I might rather ask a colleague than a senior member of staff.
These are the kinds of interactions that make work enjoyable; the colleague who helps you out by calling in a mistake will often become a friend who you get lunch or go for after work drinks with. It’s a lot less stressful being in an environment like this than an individualistic, competitive one.
Friends will push you to go further
It might not seem like this is going to do anything to help you get ahead. If you want to move up the career ladder don’t you have to look better than everyone else? Perhaps you do – but there are ways that supportive relationships with your colleagues can pay off and help you reach your career goals.
The people you work with are the people best placed to help you move up the career ladder, because chances are they have goals similar to yours and are already on their way a few steps ahead of you. You don’t have to feel threatened by that; most of the time you will not be going for the exact same opportunities and can support each other in moving forward with your career the same way you would support each other with work tasks.
You can forward on job adverts you think might be good for each other, proofread cover letters and CVs and put them in touch with your own career contacts. Or you could just mention to your boss how well they’re doing and make sure they’re noticed. They will do the same for you. You’ll still be taking good steps in your career – and you won’t be undercutting other people to do it.
So don’t try and make your colleagues feel small, and definitely don’t send ego-mail. It’s a much better option to pay it forward by supporting your colleagues, and you’ll find they’ll support you in return.