photo of man holding eyes wide open in hr examiner article by dennis o'reilly called Confessions of an HR Nightmare

For more than 30 years I labored under the misapprehension that hard work, competence, and honesty were all I needed to be a model employee.

“If you work for a man, in heaven’s name work for him.”–Elbert Hubbard

For more than 30 years I labored under the misapprehension that hard work, competence, and honesty were all I needed to be a model employee.

They’re not — not by half.

I now know that productivity, quality, and trustworthiness must be accompanied by loyalty, respect, and teamwork. Those are the three areas where my work came up short. Consistently.

I was wrong to believe that I owed a duty of loyalty only to our customers. “Putting the customer first” gave me carte blanche to ignore any instruction from my superiors that I thought was not in the customer’s best interests. This arrogance allowed me to rationalize making my personal judgment the be-all and end-all of every work-related decision. By doing so I breached my duty of loyalty to my employer and my coworkers.

Imagine the chaos, the anarchy if all of my fellow employees had adopted the same “I decide” mentality! My pride took charge: I was the most productive worker in the department: I consistently generated 20 percent more output than the standard for my position, I met every deadline, and I took on every assignment that was offered. My work set the standard for quality. I was always honest with my bosses and coworkers; I never took a nickel more than I had earned. Yet I failed in meeting my responsibility to my employers, to the people I worked with, and ultimately to our customers.

Honesty realizes its value only when it is accompanied by courtesy and respect. Too often I failed to demonstrate either, again rationalizing my untoward behavior by claiming to be acting in the customer’s best interests. Wrong again!

The way to serve the customers is to make the best product possible at the best price possible. The only way to achieve this goal is by working as a team, putting the needs of the team above your own. Too often I was the obstacle, the uncooperative one who made the team’s work more difficult than it had to be. I wasn’t really looking out for the customer’s bests interests, I was looking out for my own best interests. In truth, I was ignoring the fact that I needed help.

picture of Dennis O'Reilly

Author Dennis O’Reilly. Read more from Dennis at CNET

My failure to show my employers and coworkers the loyalty, respect, and cooperation they deserved was made worse by my stubborn belief that I could handle everything that came my way without ever having to ask for their assistance. This pig-headedness masked a principal reason for my lack of loyalty and courtesy: low self-esteem.

Unworthiness begets anxiety: I came to believe that if I showed any signs of weakness, everyone would realize that I didn’t really belong there. But this mindset is ultimately as selfish as the opposite: a sense that you’re overqualified and can do no wrong. In each instance you’re putting your own interests above those of the organization, the team.

I owed it to my coworkers to ask for help when I needed it. By failing to own up to and address this need, I deprived my employers and my coworkers of the opportunity to improve the team by making me a more effective member. If I had been truly honest with myself, I would have acknowledged the negative effect my lack of cooperation was having on my workgroup. Instead, I rationalized my way through the workday by believing that my competence sufficed.

There are no do-overs in life. With luck, it’s not too late for me to pay it forward by pledging to be loyal to employers and coworkers, striving to treat everyone with courtesy and respect at all times, and knowing when it’s time to reach out for a helping hand.

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