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How to Look Essential in an Economic Slowdown


Fearful, bored employees work hard at looking busy.

Some harried workers are trying to hide their lack of productivity in plain sight as they attempt to hold on to their jobs in an increasingly sour economy.

The New York Times has a good story about retail workers endlessly folding clothes and rearranging boots in an effort to look busy if the boss wanders in.

The story includes this ingenious effort to create the appearance of industriousness:

"A lawyer at the New York office of an international firm wanted to give the impression he was working late at night - but he was stymied by office lighting that would dim when he left the room. So he bought an oscillating fan, which tricked the motion detectors into keeping the lights on long after he departed."

That's approaching genius, in a junior-high-school sort of way. The downside: Such tactics and endless busywork don't contribute to the bottom line, and even the most clunk-headed boss will eventually notice. In short, busywork cuts both ways.

But short of landing a new account -- a tough one, when next to no one is buying -- or discovering a cure for cancer, many workers are forced to practice their toe-wiggling and call it work.

A better way to hold on to your job: Make yourself indispensable to your boss, especially if the poor creature is clueless.

Minyanville Professor John Hoover tells you how in his best-selling book, How to Work for an Idiot: Survive & Thrive - Without Killing Your Boss.

Hoover says a clueless boss creates an opening for the savvy grunt. The key: Learn what's important to your semi-conscious boss, understand what your company looks for, and help the poor, benighted mutt meet those expectations.

"The last one to be bounced out of a job will be the one who makes the boss most comfortable," Hoover says. "It will have nothing to do with productivity - unless productivity is part of what makes the boss comfortable."

Hoover suggests you start by paying attention to what interests the resident doofus and listening carefully when the troglodyte grunts. This will give you all the information you need to plan a winning assault on the boss's near-terminal idiocy.

Start with the basics: If your boss has a hockey stick in the corner of his office, uses a puck for a paperweight and has the jersey of his favorite player on the wall, you don't need to call in a forensics team to determine that he's crazy about hockey.

Rather than immediately getting down to business and presenting chapter and verse of your proposal, Hoover suggests asking, "Didn't Hall-of-Famer Wayne Gretzky say you shouldn't skate to where the puck is, but to where it will be?"

If your boss is a USDA Choice, Grade A, Number-1 idiot, he'll miss the metaphor. This will reaffirm your worst fears about the lack of detectable brain waves in his noggin, but relax - you're talking about hockey, and your favorite donkey-in-residence will listen.

If you use hockey terms to outline your proposal, your boss will love the idea, even if he doesn't understand it. You'll almost certainly get the go-ahead.

As a non-idiot, the rest is up to you: Convince your boss that your ability to make a positive impact on the bottom line is best served by not being axed.
No positions in stocks mentioned.
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