When a 5.8-magnitude earthquake shook the East Coast on Tuesday, many of us fled our offices, with bosses, co-workers, and HR personnel not far behind.
Some of us ran (OK, that was me!) toward the stairwell, and others walked more casually. Some took charge by telling colleagues to stand in doorways or get under their desks, while others looked confused and distraught.
Your reaction may speak to your personality, especially how you handle pressure. But the quake also provides a bigger-picture window into today’s workplace dynamics — and the challenges Gen Y will continue to face as we grow in our careers.
Here are some lessons from the quake that might shake up your view on work:
Surprises happen, no matter how much you plan
No one could have predicted this week’s tremor. Had you known ahead of time, you might have reviewed your company’s earthquake protocol, checked the stability of your building or even decided to telecommute that day. But you didn’t.
That’s why being organized and prepared for your job is crucial to success. Because you can’t always predict the future, whether it’s a power outage during an important presentation or a massive error in copy that’s already at the printer.
To really stand out, you need to be able to handle yourself throughout the unexpected. Learn to be collected during a crisis, and your boss will be impressed. Show the team you can maintain a calm, positive attitude, especially on days when things don’t go as planned.
Co-worker relationships are more important than you thought
Once evacuated, it was comforting to be surrounded by co-workers. I knew if there was an aftershock, we’d all be safe together. But that’s only because I like the people in my department, and we look out for each other, both in and out of the office.
“People with one friend at work are much more likely to find their work interesting,” blogger Penelope Trunk writes. “And people with three friends at work are virtually guaranteed to be very satisfied with their life.”
Creating meaningful relationships at work will not only make you happier, it can also pay off in other ways. “We each need someone who shows us new aspects of ourselves and opens doors we wouldn’t open ourselves,” Trunk writes. Sometimes that door leads to the emergency exit, and other days it leads to exciting new opportunities.
You don’t want to be left behind in the digital workplace
After the quake, nearly everyone took to their smartphones, checking news updates and texting loved ones. Because the phone lines were jammed, employees without an Internet connection looked, well, a little lost.
Having a WiFi connection at all times is becoming a necessity, not a luxury. With email, maps and instant messaging, smart phones are transforming the workplace. So are Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Skype and Google+, not to mention hundreds of other plug-ins, apps and devices.
Stay on top of the newest trends. You never know when these tools will become more than just toys.
We’re scared of what we don’t know
The East Coast is getting a lot of flack from the West Coast, where residents are accustomed to feeling the ground vibrate beneath their feet. But who can blame us for overreacting? We’re all quick to judge, fear and even hate the unknown.
Since East Coasters aren’t familiar with earthquakes, the feeling of the office building swaying caused an unprecedented sensation. Of course we freaked out. It was all new to us. And new is scary.
It’s the same sort of discomfort we feel when an advertisement we were counting on falls through at the last minute or a co-worker snaps at you in front of the entire boardroom. We’re not used to these situations, and we don’t like encountering the unknown.
Unless, that is, you condition yourself to deal well with the unknown. To avoid getting that pit in your stomach, try doing one thing that challenges you every week — at the office. Tackle an existing problem, go to a networking event alone or pitch a new and gutsy idea to your boss. Step out of your comfort zone, so when you’re pushed (or literally shaken) out of it, you’ll be ready to respond.
There’s more than one way to get ahead at work
Yet being generous and respectful in the workplace is just as important as being innovative and dedicated. How would you rather be remembered — as the customer service rep who bolted or the humble manager who held the door for all of her direct reports?
Whether you’re polite to master office politics or simply because it’s the right thing to do, helping others and paying it forward is good karma — when you’re in the office, running down the stairwell and standing around on the street.
And since we now know you can get caught in an earthquake even on the East Coast, a little karma might not be such a bad idea.