Your Workplace Personality Cost You the Job

020611-jt-daleDear J.T. & Dale: I have been employed for the past few years as a paralegal, so obviously I’ve been working in law firms. That should conjure up images of a professional office atmosphere, right? Not so fast. What I’m finding is a major lack of courtesy, decorum and professionalism. When working, I don’t make personal calls all day or cruise the Internet and Facebook, unlike many of those I’ve been working with (if you can call what they do “working”). I recently was let go by a large law firm within a week of making a complaint about a hostile, rude co-worker. The day I made a formal complaint, the HR director seemed understanding. A week later, she informed me “the firm” had determined I was “not a good fit” and it would be my last day. She actually said it had nothing to do with my job performance. Could you please provide some wise guidance? — Margie

J.T.: The problem actually lies in defining “professional” — there are now four generations in the workplace, and each has a different definition.

Dale: If you want to see an extreme one, go to YouTube and search for videos from the Internet retailer Zappos. Warm up with “HR’s Dancing Queen” and then go to “Slap Our CEO.” While you may consider these to be evidence of the Decline of Corporate Civilization, Zappos has become a management role model, offering courses in its culture.

J.T.: Yes, there are plenty of business owners who would tell you creating a fun culture and laid-back attitude has helped them to attract and retain talent. So, Margie, it sounds like your recent termination was a decision to eliminate an employee who, despite having excellent work skills, actually was hurting the corporate culture by making others feel uneasy about their approach to work.

Dale: Ouch. Laid-back attitude, you say? The firm’s thinking seems to be, “We’re all nonconformists here, and if you don’t conform, you’re out.”

J.T.: I know what I’m saying isn’t easy to hear, and may make Margie feel more angry. However, it’s important for her to know it’s no longer enough to just do your job well. It isn’t her job to judge her co-workers — that is management’s job.

Dale: I think Margie’s managers opted out of doing their jobs when they chose not to work with her. Now, Margie, going forward, instead of trying to change your personality, I would suggest you offer it as a selling point. There are plenty of businesspeople who appreciate an “all-business” work style. Yes, “fit” matters, so look for a good fit, not just a good job.

Jeanine “J.T.” Tanner O’Donnell is a professional development specialist and the founder of the consulting firm,, and of the blog, Dale Dauten resolves employment and other business disputes as a mediator with Please visit them at, where you can send questions via e-mail, or write to them in care of King Features Syndicate, 300 W. 57th St, 15th Floor, New York, NY 10019.

© 2011 by King Features Syndicate, Inc.

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