In an economy when our jobs are vulnerable, how we behave at the workplace is particularly important. We must bring the best of who we are to our jobs and be sensitive to those aspects of our personalities that our families may tolerate but our employers may not.

Behaviors we learned as kids - whether acceptable or not - we probably reenact in the workplace. As children, it is our relationships with parents and siblings that teach us how to interact with the world. The behaviors learned from these relationships contribute to how we relate to the world. In our relationships with supervisors and co-workers, we instinctively respond with behaviors that we have honed since childhood.

For example, Charles described his trauma of being forced to accept early retirement from his senior managerial position. He was the golden child through out his life, the focus of his parent's unbridled praise. His siblings teased him that in his presence, his mother sparkled like a diamond. After college, while others struggled with finding jobs, prestigious companies courted him. In his professional life he excelled; he was rapidly promoted and always praised. He and his boss, the company's senior vice-president, were each other's confidants. People in the company cultivated their relationship with Charles, knowing he was the person with power and access. Unexpectedly, in a cost saving measure, the company cut his boss's position. Shortly thereafter, Charles' position was cut as well. Charles was shocked. His personnel file was filled with outstanding evaluations and innumerable rewards. He imagined his next move would be to the office of a vice-president, not out the door. Without his boss as his advocate, he was just another mid-level employee, someone to be cut in hard economic times.

The personalities of all of us, whether we grew up as favorite, overlooked, or unfavorite children, are enacted at work.

In our troubled economy, all employees are more vulnerable, even darlings of the company. People having enjoyed the rewards of favoritism as children are confronted with the stark reality that they are not immune to life's harsh truths. People who grew up enjoying the safety of being overlooked children learn that being overlooked may lead to a grater likelihood being laid off. People who grew up as unfavored children find that their personality quirks may no longer be tolerated.

The Favorite
If we grew up as the favorite child, the one who was confident and took on challenges, we are likely to be the person in the workplace who is rewarded for being hard-working and for outstanding achievement. Affirmation from supervisors is probably important, and having learned the subtleties of how to get rewards from our important parent, we know how to get accolades from our supervisors. We are probably the employees who are considered the leaders and are readily promoted.

In the workplace, our success may be tied to our skills in cultivating our relationship with bosses and mentors. To link our job security to a given person may be increasingly risky in an economy when corporate boards and governance committees are more challenging of CEOs and senior managers. What's to be done?
o Remember, all rules apply to you, even if you are your mentor's star.
o Don't expect special privileges. You are just one of many!
o Don't count of being able to sweet talk your way out of all difficult encounters.

The Overlooked
If we grew up as the overlooked child, the one who quietly got things done, we are probably the person in the workplace who gets the job done without much fanfare. We feel secure in our relationship with our supervisors and are not consumed with needing their approval each step of the way. We have learned, as kids, to trust that we will be duly rewarded. We don't necessarily take on the hardest challenges, but we are reliable, steady, and dependable.

In the workplace, our quiet and unassuming nature doesn't ruffle any feathers and thus, probably there are not many people who dislike us. The flip side is also true - there may not be people to go to bat for us. In this job market, not having such an ally is potentially dangerous. What is to be done?
o Don't blindly trust that you will be fairly rewarded.
o Be your own advocate with supervisors and colleagues.
o Take credit for the accomplishments achieved from you reliable work.

The Unfavored
If we grew up as the unfavored child, we may be the employee who is somewhat suspicious and bitter, believing that our hard work will not be fairly appreciated. As kids we learned that as hard as we worked we never achieve what we wanted, parental approval. At the workplace, we may be diligent workers but we don't expect acknowledgement beyond what is contractual. This may undermines our motivation and contribute to our subtle displays of hostility.

Our job may be particularly vulnerable in a tight economy where there are many applicants for every job. Bosses are likely to be less tolerant of behaviors that convey annoyance or irritation. Our attitudes, entrenched in our characters, do not change easily, but we can make efforts to keep them in check in the interest of wanting to keep our job.
o Be aware of how you convey your disgruntled feelings.
o Take responsibility for them and don't blame them on someone else.
o Push yourself to work a little harder than usual, showing more initiative.

As adults, personality changes are difficult and challenging. But as we become more aware of who we are and how we behave, we can become more deliberate in our actions. This may help to insure job security.

About the Author

Ellen Weber Libby, Ph.D.

Dr. Ellen Weber Libby, a clinical psychologist, is a psychotherapist in Washington, DC, and is the author of The Favorite Child (January 2010.)

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