“Take your PTO — all of it.”
As a member of 10+ years in the workforce club, I recently asked those in the BuzzFeed Community who have been working that long what they’ve learned over the years, and what kind of advice they would give their younger selves.
Here are the responses I got (which anyone just starting out or even a few years into working should take heed of):
“Don’t expect you’ll know exactly where you’ll be after 10 years. You will change, but your job most likely won’t. Don’t be afraid to try something completely different if that’s where your path is leading.”
“People above you are most likely not playing mind games on you, not trying to catch you in a minorly unprofessional moment. If they’re messaging you a series of questions it’s because THEIR boss is asking questions and they just want the answer. Stop spending time and energy on if you should capitalize the first word in a slack message to seem professional or keep it lowercase to seem casual and confident. Just answer the questions without wondering what it all ~really~ means.”
“Do not take years off to be a stay-at-home parent. I completely derailed my career, and now I’m making less than I was before I temporarily left the workforce. Figure out how to continue being involved in your field at least part-time or remotely if you have children and want to be their primary caregiver. You really can’t have it all, and unfortunately, I learned that the hard way.”
“Employers want 100% effort all the time. If you’re not burning yourself out, you’re not working hard enough. I’ve worked for the same place for almost 10 years, and we never slacked off before, but now we have to rush everything, plus work overtime just to meet baseline targets.”
“I would have told myself that work is VERY different from school, and is *not* a meritocracy. Usually, being highly competent means that people will keep you in that position until you burn out. If you don’t play workplace politics, the chance of you getting recognized for your hard work or getting a raise or promotion is usually slim to none. Don’t listen to older generations trying to tell you that if you’re not seeing results, you’re just not working hard enough. Way too many honest, hardworking people are being put through the meat grinder. Older people (or bosses) trying to shame people by chalking it all up to laziness reminds me of ‘arbeit macht frei’ [German for ‘work sets you free’] a little too much.”
“Let shit go. Don’t feed into the drama. Don’t be a gossip. Do your work, and leave it there. Don’t take it home.”
“Honestly, the one thing I wish I had known was to stand up for myself. I’ve stayed at jobs that treated me bad for much longer than I should have, but as soon as I got the nerve to quit, I easily and quickly found other employment. Lots of places are looking for employees. YOU DO NOT OWE LOYALTY TO ANYONE WHO CAN’T RESPECT YOU.”
“I wish I would have known how much energy I’d spend defending my right to sit at the table, rather than on actually accomplishing professional goals. I come from a male-dominated career field, and the amount of sexism I’ve encountered has proven to be formidable.”
“I’ve worked for more than 10 years, but I almost made it to being a vet tech in that same amount of time. My only wish is that I had gone back to school to pursue my dreams sooner since a stroke took my career away from me. I miss working with animals every day.”
People also shared some super practical advice about taking advantage of benefits.
“Save at least 15-20% of every paycheck if you can. I’ve been working since I was 12 under the table and 16 legally, and If I had started saving sooner, I’d have a lot more now. I got it together when I was 26, and then started a Roth IRA at 32, but dang, I wish I’d saved a lot more.”
“Take your PTO — all of it. Early on, I was afraid to schedule time off, fearing if they found a way to carry on without me for a few days, they could do it permanently. I’ve been at my company so long now (10+ years) that I’ve reached the cap of PTO time, and I don’t feel guilty for taking it. The struggle is in trying to convince my younger co-workers to do the same before they burn out.”
There was also a lot of “look out for yourself” advice.
“Don’t do more than your job description; there are no real rewards anymore for going above and beyond. Do your job well, but only do your job. Don’t spread yourself too thin and think you’re indispensable.”
“HR is NOT your friend. They are there to benefit the company, not you. Join a union. Your employer will discourage you from doing it, but that’s only because it’ll make it harder for them to exploit you. Think about it: Your bosses pay HR staff so they have their best interests in mind; you pay a union so they have your best interests in mind.”
“Not only how to self-advocate but that it’s entirely okay to do so. You have to watch out for your own best interests.”
“Thinking about how naive I was… Always have very concrete boundaries with what you are willing to tolerate, both in your professional relationships at work as well as your duties and responsibilities. Never be afraid to communicate with people there, including management, about problems.
“Make your expectations for your role within the company known from the start, so no issues arise later on, ask as many questions as you can while being interviewed.
“Don’t settle for less or be too eager. You will get taken advantage of.”
“If you’re mentally ill, consider whether or not to disclose any details about it to your coworkers. Even if they seem safe and supportive, there’s a good chance they will use anything you disclose against you.”
“I got fired when my boss learned I had PTSD. I did get a nice settlement, and she lost her job.”
Quite a few people cautioned against getting too chummy with coworkers.
“You do not have to go to after-work social events if you do not want to. I used to get extreme anxiety in my 20s if I didn’t go to a work event, like it mattered to get ahead or not. Most of the time, it’s nonsense and doesn’t matter.”
“Watch out for the politics. So many people try to screw each other over, either to progress or just to be spiteful. Best to not get involved in that nonsense.”
“You can be friends with your co-workers, have fun even, but never, EVER get too friendly with them. And definitely don’t put blind trust in them to have your back or not fuck you over at the very first opportunity they get.”
“The hiring process is just two people lying to each other.
“You are utterly expendable. It does not matter how much experience you have or your qualifications. If you died tomorrow, they’d find some other poor sap to fill your spot.
“Your workplace and your colleagues are NOT your friends.”
But not everyone agreed about the “coworkers ≠ friends” thing.
“I worked for 30 years in three different cities, and I developed lifelong friendships with people I worked with at each stop. I have at least one work friend from each city I could call up today and tell them to get on the next plane no questions asked, and they would. Can some workplaces be difficult? Sure, but your attitude makes a huge difference.”
“Work with people you like! You spend more time with them than your family. It’ll elevate your enjoyment of your job to no end.”
There was some good advice about asking for raises and negotiating pay.
“You have to ask for your raise/promotion! If your employers can get you to do the work of the job title ahead of you without actually giving you a raise, they will!”
“Don’t do more than what you’re paid for, and don’t give more than two chances for a raise. If they keep coming up with excuses as to why they can’t give you a raise, then bounce.”
“Negotiate your pay! I left one company for another due to site closure. I took a pay cut because the new company was the first one to hire me. I wish I told them to match my prior pay. I struggled my first few years because of this. I’m good now, albeit still underpaid.”
“ALWAYS negotiate. Your future salary increases in that role will often be a percentage of your current salary, and your salary at one job can serve as a negotiating point for the next job. Don’t short-change yourself because you feel awkward. It’s a quick question that will pay dividends for the rest of your career.”
Some folks had advice about job hunting.
“Sometimes burning a bridge is the best option. I kicked myself up one side of a road and down every time I needed to leave a job because I didn’t want to leave a bad impression and was afraid they would trash talk me to my next employer. Nobody calls your references. I’ve been in management for years and have been people’s references for years; nobody calls. And even if they did, we are not allowed to say bad things anyway. If your job is shit, and you really don’t think you can make it two weeks or the work environment is so hostile you fear rebuttal during your two weeks, just quit. You’ll find another job. Nobody will care if you quit or give your notice. Nobody checks.”
“In most states, it is illegal for a new employer to ask a former employer why the person left, or why they might have been let go/fired. All they can say is, ‘Yes, I’d hire this person again’ or ‘No,’ and if they go beyond that, they are not only breaking the law but also look like a huge ass.”
“Applications being a multi-part process with new applicants expected to complete an application form and attach a CV, complete an assessment, telephone/virtual interviews, panel interviews, and final interviews. When I was younger, it was an application form or CV, then an interview — that’s it.”
“You’re likely smarter and more capable than the other 12 people who have applied — so don’t psych yourself out. Just go for it.”
There were a couple warnings about the toll working can take on your physical health.
“I’ve worked in retail since I was 15 (I’m 25 now), and I never imagined how much pain I’d go through just from standing. My back and legs hurt almost all the time. And working in a large hardware store with concrete floors makes it worse. What’s even worse is working in the garden center. I love plants, but I’ve never met such rude and disgusting people (customers) and never had so much physical pain in my life. And it’s soooo hot!!! We don’t get anything but our lunch break and never get a chance to sit because it’s so busy.”
“If you work on computers or any other repetitive work with your hands, take care of your wrists. Use wrist rests, ergonomic mouses, and braces early on. Carpal tunnel is not fun.”
And finally, there was this very specific piece of advice:
“Don’t get a criminal justice degree and get arrested within a year of graduation!”
Do you have advice to share? Leave it in the comments below.