Is patience a virtue or a curse at work ?

With family and friends, I absolutely think patience is a virtue . You generally don’t give up on these two groups by definition – and it’s usually bidirectional.

The answer is less obvious when it comes to the work place . Perhaps due to the uncertainty created by the pandemic, it’s a question that has come up from several people I know off late . Sometimes it’s about their own careers and some times it’s about their team or their customers .

How long do you wait for a promotion or raise before jumping ship in this hot labor market ? How long do you wait for performance to improve for an employee before letting them go ? How long will you spend time with a customer who refuses to buy anything from you despite giving you buying signals for a long time ?

A lot of this confusion happens because we carry over the the way we deal with family and friends to our work life too . This is normal since work takes as much time or more than what many people spend on their life outside work . The key difference here is that the emotions that hold a family together are love and affection, where as the key emotions at work are respect and fairness . Once that distinction is clear – it becomes a little more easier to make important decisions .

What this distinction means is that patience is a virtue that comes attached with a time dimension at work – and that time dimension is determined primarily determined by fairness . 

Bad news at work generally doesn’t get better with time – mostly because of the time dimension . You never have enough time – and you can’t buy more time . So generally I am a fan of determining the range of time that is fair to turn around bad news to good news , but then starting with the lower end of that range for how long I will be patient . 

I am also a big fan of defining upfront what happens if nothing changes in that period of time . For this – it needs an honest conversation with the other party on what’s causing the issue and if there is a path possible for a turn around . Without that – you are just guessing and there is a high chance you will get it wrong . Such conversations do need patience to do them well !

It is also important to consider short vs long term implications . Maybe you will get 20-% more money if you jump today – but it will delay your career progression by several years because you need to build a new network at your next gig . Maybe you won’t get money in base pay – but your cash flow might be positively better with a retention bonus . Think about all of this carefully – we all tend to generally be poor at understanding the long term effects when we are worked up .This is where patience is a virtue !

Granted you can’t always be explicit about telling this to the “other side” – if you don’t have another job lined up , you may not want to threaten to leave if no promotion happens in 6 months , or you may not want to spook a customer prematurely that you don’t want to work with them anymore . But in your mind – the action should be clear and immediate . If no promotion happens in 6 months , you want to leave – but that means you start your job search right away .if your cljent doesnt buy in one more quarter, you will stop working with them – but that means you will start more prospecting right now.

When the short end of the fair range is getting close , you have a decision to make . This is where the longer end of the fair range helps . Ok so you didn’t get promoted in 6 months – but there is a hand shake with your boss that happens that makes you believe it will happen in 3 more months . You also have a good idea that you have a few options lined up and can wait 3 months . It’s time to be more explicit with the other party on what happens next – telling them how much longer you are willing to continue patiently and what happens if nothing changes . At this point – it is no longer acceptable to be told an open ended “pls be more patient and good things will happen” . The time for that was the previous conversation – and even there an open ended promise only would have gone  so far ! 

Relationship decisions in personal life are often driven by love and affection – but in the workplace it’s a trade off between risk and return . No one of truly irreplaceable at work over a long period of time – it’s the short to medium term that is at play for work relationships . That is another good reason why it’s fair for your own patience also to come with a finite time dimension  . 

if you have read this far – you are probably a very patient person 🙂 


Published by Vijay Vijayasankar

Son/Husband/Dad/Dog Lover/Engineer. Follow me on twitter @vijayasankarv. These blogs are all my personal views - and not in way related to my employer or past employers

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