I watch a lot of “House Hunters.” It's mostly mindless TV, but I have learned a few things. One of those things is that, in Japan, renters pay their landlords something called “key money.” Key money is, in essence, money you pay your landlord for providing you with a place to stay. After some cursory research, I read that it's a throwback from World War II, when housing was scarce, and, in other cultures, it's often considered bribe money. But I think at its best, it's sort of a way of saying, “Thank you for giving me housing.” In Japan, it literally translates to “gratitude money.”
At any rate, American renters who are introduced to this concept are often taken aback at the idea of giving “gratitude money” to someone for providing housing. After all, there are plenty of apartment options, and it's an equal exchange. As a viewer, I found it to be stupid, too. But there is something about the vague concept of “key money” that I like — not spending the actual money, which I still think is kind of ridiculous, but the idea behind it — the gratitude part.
My parents always taught me to show an extra amount of respect for certain people — my elders, for example, and, in the case of what I want to write about in this article — my employers.
I've always thought respecting your boss is something you're just supposed to do. You put in a little extra effort, a few extra hours during the week — key money, if you will — because it's a way of saying “thank you” for the employment. But quite a few people don't see it that way. Once, my boss asked a coworker to volunteer an extra hour so we could all finish up a project. My coworker responded, “Nope, sorry. You only pay me for eight hours. You're not getting anything extra out of me.”
And while that may technically be fair, I think it's a pretty entitled attitude. But more importantly — I've found it to be a better financial decision to give your boss a tad more effort than you're reimbursed for. In my experience, putting in 110 percent is an investment. It's also the easiest way to insure your career.
Butt kissing versus respect
There's certainly a difference, but I can see how it's a fine line. I've always gotten along with my employers, yet I've never been accused of sucking up (at least not to my face). I think it's because I don't change my personality for a boss. When you stop being yourself, I think that's when you enter butt-kissing territory.
For example, I once had a boss who really liked venting to me about my coworkers. Sometimes his concerns were justified, but I didn't feel comfortable being his confidant. I could've easily engaged in some major butt kissing, but I respectfully declined. Instead of trying to get closer to my boss, I defended my peers. That was the professional thing to do. Sucking up is sneaky and false, whereas respect is professional and genuine.
The investment of gratitude
I was discussing this topic with a friend recently. She offered an example of a woman at her work — let's call her Olivia — who was easily qualified for a higher-paying position within the company. But Olivia constantly complained. Anytime she had to stay five minutes late, she threw a fit. It was always something — bonuses were never enough, the break room coffee wasn't Starbucks, etc. So when the promotion came up, Olivia wasn't even considered. And it wasn't out of spite; it was because, as my friend put it, “no one wanted to deal with her.”
Having an awful attitude ended up costing Olivia. Had she not the reputation of being an angry, difficult employee, she could be making significantly more money.
Lots of us have crappy jobs — I've certainly had my share of jobs I didn't enjoy. But the way I see it, if the gripes aren't bad enough for you to leave, then why not suck it up, since you're going to be there anyway? It seems a hell of a lot more lucrative.
As a freelancer, my friends often tell me I need to charge for an extra 15 minutes here or there, or that I need to bill my boss for an office supply I buy for a project. I mean, I suppose that's fair, but I usually just let those small things go — especially in the beginning of a freelance relationship. It seems anti-frugal, I know. But hear me out.
I want a client to consider me for future projects. I want to be known as the person who needs little attention and delivers big results, not the person who's taking detailed notes on what she's putting into this project and then making sure she's reimbursed every penny. Maybe it's not right that I should have to pay for that $3 office supply, but I would rather my employer know that I'm dedicated to the project than think I'm just doing it for the money. Yes, sometimes — a lot of times — I am mostly doing it for the money. But for the sake of my overall income, I think it's a smarter decision to err on the side of dedication — even if it costs a few bucks.
For me, this is what's worked. I've established long-term relationships with most of my employers, and, even when I quit, many of them have told me the door is always open.
At work, I've found that a little something extra is usually appreciated. And aside from the appreciation, I've found that going the extra mile literally pays off.
But what if you're being taken advantage of?
I wrote an article about “lowering the bar for happiness” a couple of weeks ago, using my career as an example. Someone commented that, after you put in a certain amount of effort at a job, you have a right to expect a big payoff. I get where that person is coming from. There's a definite difference between maintaining a strong work ethic and allowing yourself to be taken advantage of.
Unfortunately, there are some employers that force you to draw a line with your extra effort. Sometimes a boss isn't just asking you to “help out,” they're asking you to carry the whole load so they can slack off, and that's not right. I've been in that situation, and it's certainly not the situation I'm discussing above.
I've been asked to work overtime (no pay) weekend after weekend while my boss took overseas vacations. I've been asked to “not make a habit” of requesting off when I had a family member pass away. These are obvious examples of having my work ethic taken advantage of. When you're already working your butt off and your boss responds by hassling you about going to a funeral — that's taking advantage.
When this happened to me, I began to politely decline my boss's requests to work consecutive weekends for free. It was against my nature to say ‘no,' and perhaps he thought less of me, but at that point, a line had to be drawn. And frankly, I realized that I didn't really want future employment from this company. I maintained a professional relationship, but I made it clear that I wasn't a pushover.
Thinking about the concept of key money, I can totally see how the idea of literally paying your respect is scoff-worthy. But I don't know — I think there's something to be said for showing your appreciation for someone who provides you with housing or gives you a job. Yes, you're putting in your time, but still — they're giving you the opportunity. At least from what I've been taught, that's something to be grateful for. Plus, expressing gratitude pays off, at least in my experience.
What do you think? Have you found it worthwhile to put in a 110 percent, or is 100 percent adequate? Do you think your employer deserves extra respect for providing you with an opportunity?
Kristin Wong is a freelance blogger who frequently writes about relationships for MSNâ€™s The Heart Beat blog. After paying off her student loan debt, Kristin decided it was time to pursue her dream and also put her English degree to use. She scrimped, saved and in 2010, left her hometown of Houston, Texas to pursue a writing career in Los Angeles. Since then, she has written for television, web, and occasionally, sketch comedy. When sheâ€™s not attached to her laptop, Kristin enjoys baking, amateur gardening, listening to 60s rock and exploring her city.