We have eight hours every day to make an impact at work. Some people think they should allocate every minute to checking off items on their to-do list, presenting ideas to executives, or developing a new product.
Of course, those are important things to focus on throughout the day, but when I think of times I went home and told my friends, my family, or my significant other about something that happened at work, usually it wasn’t about someone who did something akin to just checking the boxes on a to-do list.
Looking back, I realize I usually talked about times where I felt valued and empowered by others. None of the actions listed below are earth-shatteringly new, but I wanted to remind everyone of three simple actions you can take right now to create positive lasting impressions — of you — with your colleagues:
1. Answer emails
I worked on a team that regularly reached out to subject matter experts (SMEs) throughout the company. Sometimes, I had to reach out to a new SME, which meant I needed to send out an introductory email to kick off the working relationship.
I was about to send out an email to an SME I had never met, when my colleague said, “Yeah I’d do anything for that guy. He was the only person who would answer my emails three years ago when I started.” Incredible. A positive, three-year lasting impression simply because someone took the time to respond to emails.
We read and send hundreds of emails each day, and it is hard to stay on top of daily correspondence. Sure, there are higher priority tasks that need your attention throughout your workday, but when you answer an email, you are letting that person know that you respect their time and effort, and them as a person. If the email is from someone newer to the organization, you create a lasting impression and lay the foundation toward a strong working relationship and reputation.
2. Take the time to stop by someone’s desk and say hello
My first job was with a company headquartered in Germany, and our organizational chart included people from all over the world. One day, I saw a colleague’s manager (the global head of one of our divisions) walk past my desk to get coffee.
I had never met this person face-to-face, but knew of him through calls and meetings. On his way back from the kitchen, he walked past my desk again and then backtracked a few steps and said “Paige?”
He took two minutes out of his day to introduce himself and have a conversation with me. After he left, I remember thinking “Yes, if that person asked me to do anything, I would drop what I was doing and help.”
Acknowledging people and making them feel important empowers them! This encounter happened almost five years ago, and I still remember it. To this day, I know that I would still go out of my way to help this person.
3. Be someone who helps others swim
How many times have you heard the expression “you’ll either sink or swim”? This mentality is outdated, because no one should ever feel like they are without support at work.
If someone “sinks,” especially early on in a new role, it’s a reflection of the team. Of course, this is a gray area, and you must figure out if someone just needs some extra guidance or if they are simply not a good fit for a certain role or task.
At the end of the day, no matter if the person just needed extra guidance or if they really weren’t a good fit for the role, they will remember who invested the time to try and help them succeed.
When I was pursuing a technical masters at Carnegie Mellon, I took my first hardcore programming course in six years. I got a 0% on the first assignment and was in shock.
Thankfully, there were two phenomenal teaching assistants who were the type of people that were committed to helping me — and others — swim. These women spent hours teaching me how to properly approach problems and troubleshoot my code, and I eventually got it! I was able to not only pass the class, but I was newly confident in my abilities and ready to take on the next-level course.
These women invested their time to help me succeed in school, but also as a person. They are now two of my best friends, and people I will always go out of my way to help.
All three of these actions require extra effort, but, honestly, not that much.
Answering emails means that you might stay a little later after work; stopping by someone’s desk and introducing yourself takes courage and might make you a few minutes late to your next meeting; and being someone who helps others swim takes a lot of patience, understanding, and hours of cumulative time explaining things.
In return, you end up creating a strong reputation, a network of people you can count on, and potentially lifelong friends. Sounds like obvious choices to me!
Paige Kassalen loves to put her creativity to use by solving problems in emerging technical fields, and has been an IEEE member since 2012. After graduating with a degree in electrical engineering from Virginia Tech in 2015, Kassalen began her career with Covestro LLC. in 2015, and soon became the only American engineer working with Solar Impulse 2, the first solar-powered airplane to circumnavigate the globe. This role landed Kassalen a spot on the 2017 Forbes 30 Under 30 list along with feature articles in Glamour, Fast Company and the Huffington Post.
After Solar Impulse, Kassalen helped Covestro develop its strategy for materials for the future of mobility, and shared her work at conferences around the United States. In 2020, Kassalen received a Master of Information Systems Management degree from Carnegie Mellon University and now applies her problem-solving skills to the finance industry, where she works with teams to develop big data strategies and implement innovative technologies.
Read more of Paige’s Career Power-Up articles here.