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The Invisible Employee

Published: Friday, July 18, 2014 10:40 a.m. CST

Do you ever feel people at your job don’t know you exist?

Do you sit through long meetings where no one asks your opinion? Do you walk through the halls and no one asks, “How you doing?” Does workplace life swirl all around you, leaving you in a vacuum of silence and isolation?

If you answer, “yes, indeed” to these questions, I have news for you — you’re not being ignored or insulted. You, my friend, are an Invisible.

Invisible, as it turns out, is not a terrible thing to be. As Richard Eisenberg writes in a recent article in Forbes, “Invisibles at Work, Take a Bow,” Invisibles may be unseen and unheralded, but they are important. So important, in fact, that author David Zweig, a somewhat shadowy figure himself, has written an entire book about the subject, “Invisibles: The Power of Anonymous Work in an Age of Relentless Self-Promotion.”

According to Zweig, Invisibles are “highly regarded people whose work is really critical to their endeavor.” In other words, they’re skilled professionals who are vital to the successful operation of their companies, yet no one knows they exist. Nor is anyone likely to ever know they exist. That’s because, for most Invisibles, “the better they do their job, the more they disappear. It’s only if something goes wrong that they’re ever thought of. If they do their job perfectly, they are unnoticed.”

Since doing your job perfectly is something that is never going to happen, it is unlikely you will always wear that comfy cloak of invisibility. But should you make total invisibility a goal? That’s an interesting question. The answer seems to depend on certain personal beliefs you may or may not bring to the workplace.

For example, are you one of those weirdoes who like to get credit for your work? If so, you are unlikely to enjoy being an Invisible. But maybe you are wrong about the benefits of being noticed. As author Zweig writes in “Invisibles,” “receiving outward credit for your work is overrated.” (You wouldn’t know whether this were true or not, since you so rarely receive credit, outward or inward or sideways. This is partially because you do so little work, of course. It is also because your managers are narcissistic jerks.)

Another important aspect of becoming an Invisible is a willingness to hop off the self-promotion bandwagon.

Invisibles don’t have a “personal brand.” They are not Tiffany & Co., and they are not Kmart. They are not tweeting their brand personality on Twitter. and they have a negative number of friends on Facebook. Even people who don’t know them unfriend them!

This makes Invisibles unusual. “We live in a culture where attention seems to be valued above everything else,” explains Zweig, “where people are willing to humiliate themselves to get on a reality TV show.”

This is a wonderful insight. Your co-workers have always wondered why you act so strangely, and now we know. You’re not a freak; you’re auditioning for a spot on “Duck Dynasty.”

Finally, to be an Invisible, you have to be the kind of person who is satisfied by “intrinsic rewards.” That means you don’t care about getting recognition from your peers, attaboys from your boss or even receiving big fat raises, bonuses and over-the-top perks like free, all-expense weekends living in luxury in the back seat of your boss’s Jaguar.

If you’re an Invisible, what gets your juices flowing is “the value of your work, not the volume of your praise.”

This is a lovely thought, but I think you will agree that to be an Invisible, you also need an active fantasy life; the chief fantasy being that, sooner or later, all the good work you do will suddenly become recognized, and your admirable, selfless, invisible self will become visible.

The authors insist that “the research seems to show that good work does get recognized,” but in my experience, all those years of Invisibility can end up in only one way — with a highly visible pink slip. Doing all that wonderful work that nobody notices may be highly honorable and inwardly rewarding but will definitely put you in the line of firing the next time a reduction in staff is contemplated.

Can’t you just hear your boss now?

“I have no idea who that person is or what he does,” she is saying as your cloak of invisibility comes off and you can be seen in all your selfless wonderfulness. “Let’s fire him first.”

Bob Goldman was an advertising executive at a Fortune 500 company, but he finally wised up and opened Bob Goldman Financial Planning in Sausalito, California. He offers a virtual shoulder to cry on at bob@bgplanning.com. To find out more about Bob Goldman, and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate web page at www.creators.com.

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