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Interns, Listen Up! Top 5 Things You Shouldn’t Be Doing

Interns, Listen Up! Top 5 Things You Shouldn’t Be Doing

Ah, internships! The gateway to employment. The key to getting noticed in a bleak economy. The rite of passage that gives you access to influencers, awesome connections, and memorable opportunities.

But why are so many interns doing things they shouldn’t? According to a study by Harris Interactive, there’s a huge gap between students’ perceptions of their abilities and managers’ perceptions of those same skills. Only about half of college grads who have taken the time to complete internships say they feel prepared for the workplace, and the number of bosses who think they’re prepared is lower than 40 percent.

A common problem with internships is that many are laced with busy work—like running errands or performing administrative tasks—and these tasks don’t help you build relevant skills. Although some administrative duties can be expected in an internship, you deserve an immersive and educational experience overall. To truly get the most out of your commitment and ensure you’re not dampening your internship experience, it’s worth doing your research on the employer and the tasks provided.

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What are some things you shouldn’t be doing as an intern?

1. Going without a paycheck.

Chances are, you or someone you know has had an unpaid internship. While it has become common practice, unpaid internships are not only bad for your wallet—especially if you’re still in school or have heavy student loans—they also don’t provide you with the proper legal protection. Unpaid interns are not seen as employees in the eyes of the law, and therefore do not have the same workplace rights as actual employees. This can open the door to discrimination, unfair wages, and no possibility of legal recourse in either event.

How to get around it: As a rule of thumb, you should be getting offered at least the federal minimum wage for your internship. This ensures you’re given legal protection against workplace discrimination, as well as ample credit for your work. Apply only to internships that promise pay, a stipend, or perks (like free meals, telecommuting options, or an onsite gym) that make the experience doable. Your wallet will thank you.

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2. Being discriminated against.

Being harassed based on gender, age, sexual orientation, race or any other part of your identity will not contribute positively to your internship experience—and could have serious psychological effects. You should never be given or excluded from assignments based purely on your identity, and you should never be targeted with rude or discriminatory comments from superiors. While laws like the Fair Labor Standards Act exist, guidelines for internships are foggy. Because unpaid interns aren’t legally recognized as employees, you may have no way to fight this behavior. In any employment situation, it’s important to ensure you’re working with an institution that shares your values and favors equality.

How to get around it: Always research an organization before applying. Talk to previous interns or employees, and check out the company’s mission statement and goals. If you are given assignments that you’re uncomfortable performing, talk to your manager about alternative ways to complete the task. If they don’t listen or aren’t concerned with your objections, it may be time to find alternative opportunities.

3. Working solo.

The point of an internship is to gain ample understanding and knowledge from experienced professionals. In fact, 47.3 percent of interns say they’re most interested in access to executives and mentorship during an internship. If you’re stuck in a back cubicle and aren’t getting mentored or being provided feedback on your work, you’re not getting the educational experience you deserve. Further, your employer is clearly showing they don’t value your growth as a professional. What’s the benefit in that?

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How to get around it: If you’ve been promised mentorship opportunities, suggest a schedule that you and your supervisor can abide to. If you haven’t been promised these opportunities, communicate the value you find in mentorship. Ask how you can improve as an intern and suggest scheduling a regular meeting with your manager to receive feedback.

4. Doing menial tasks.

Interns have long been stereotyped as the menial task runners of the workforce, from coffee fetchers to bathroom cleaners. But if these duties weren’t part of the job description, you shouldn’t be expected to do them. Besides not bringing any value to your experience, menial tasks do nothing to build up your portfolio or impact your employer in a meaningful way.

How to get around it: During your first week, outline your goals for the internship. Investigate the tasks you’ll be performing during your tenure. If you’re constantly being given menial tasks, sit down with your manager and circle back to this conversation, communicating that you’re concerned your internship has gone off the tracks.

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5. Avoiding goal-setting.

Like most interns, you probably had an image of the perfect internship experience. Whether it was connecting with top executives or making a difference in the organization, reaching your goals should be a vital part of your internship experience. If you’re not reaching levels you pined for, you need to do some evaluating. Why aren’t you obtaining your goals? Why are you performing tasks that are far from the job description? And why isn’t anyone doing anything about it?

How to get around it: First, it’s important to select an internship employer that puts a heavy emphasis on professional development and getting the most out of your time as an intern. While this may not be always possible, you can always communicate what you would like to gain by setting up a one-on-one meeting with your manager, where you can outline steps both parties can take to get where you want to be.

While you may be faced with an unlikely internship situation, remember you can always change your course if you communicate your needs and follow through on your experience. Doing so will ensure a more fulfilling internship experience.

What do you think? What are some other things you shouldn’t be doing as an intern?

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Last-Minute Internship Checklist: 5 Things Do to Score Your Dream Job Why the ‘Cycle of Internships’ May Not Always Be a Bad Thing How to Rock Your Internship and Get Hired in the Process Interns, Listen Up! Top 5 Things You Shouldn’t Be Doing The Internship Checklist: 5 Things Your Spring Internship Must Provide

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Published on November 12, 2020

5 Signs You Work in a Toxic Environment (And What To Do)

5 Signs You Work in a Toxic Environment (And What To Do)

What’s the most draining, miserable job you’ve ever had? Maybe you had a supervisor with unrealistic demands about your work output and schedule. Or perhaps, you worked under a bullying boss who frequently lost his temper with you and your colleagues, creating a toxic work environment.

Chances are, though, your terrible job experience was more all-encompassing than a negative experience with just one person. That’s because, in general, toxicity at work breeds an entire culture. Research shows abusive behavior by leaders can and often quickly spread through an entire organization.[1]

Unfortunately, working in a toxic environment doesn’t just make it miserable to show up to the office (or a Zoom meeting). This type of culture can have lasting negative effects, taking a toll on mental and physical health and even affecting workers’ personal lives and relationships.[2]

While it’s often all-encompassing, toxic culture isn’t always as blatant or clear-cut as abuse. Some of the evidence is more subtle—but it still warrants concern and action.

Have a feeling that your workplace is a toxic environment? Here are 5 surefire signs to look for.

1. People Often Say (or Imply) “That’s Not My Job”

When I first launched my company, I had a very small team. And back then, we all wore a lot of hats, simply because we had to. My colleagues and I worked tirelessly together to build, troubleshoot, and market our product, and nobody complained (at least most of the time).

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Because we were all in it together, with the same shared vision in mind, cooperation mattered so much more than job titles. Unfortunately, it’s not always that way.

In some workplaces, people adhere to their job descriptions to a fault:

  • Need help with an accounting problem? Sorry, that’s not my job.
  • Oh, you spilled your coffee in the break room? Too bad, I’m working.
  • Can’t figure out the new software? Ask IT.

While everyone has their own skillset—and time is often at a premium—cooperation is important in any workplace. An “it’s not my job” attitude is a sign of a toxic environment because it’s inherently selfish. It implies “I only care about me and what I have to get done” and that people aren’t concerned about the collective good or overall vision.[3] That type of perspective is not only bound to drain individual relationships; it also drains overall morale and productivity.

2. There’s a Lack of Diversity

Diversity is a vital part of a healthy work environment. We need the opinions and ideas of people who don’t see the world like us to move ahead. So, when leaders don’t prioritize diversity—or worse, they actively avoid it—I’m always suspicious about their character and values.

Limiting your workforce to one type of person is bound to prevent organizations from growing healthily. But even if your work environment is diverse in general, the management might prevent diverse individuals from rising to leadership positions, which only misses the point of having a diverse work environment in the first place.

Look around you. Who’s in leadership at your company? Who gets promotions and rewards most often? If the same type of people gets ahead while other individuals consistently get left behind, you might be working in a toxic environment.

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However it manifests in your workplace, keep in mind that a lack of diversity is a tell-tale sign that “bias is rampant and the wrong things are valued.”[4]

3. Feedback Isn’t Allowed

Just as individual growth hinges on being open to criticism, an organization’s well-being depends on workers’ ability to air their concerns and ideas. If management actively stifles feedback from employees, you’re probably working in a toxic environment.

But that definitely doesn’t mean nobody will air their feelings. One of the telltale signs of toxic leadership is when employees vent on the sidelines, out of management’s earshot. When I worked in a toxic environment, coworkers would often complain about higher-ups and company policies during work in private chats or after work hours.

It’s normal to get frustrated at work. That’s just a part of having a job. What isn’t normal is when dissent isn’t a part of or discouraged in the workplace. A workplace culture that suppresses constructive feedback will not be successful in the long run. It’s a sign that leadership isn’t open to new ideas, and that they’re more concerned about their own well-being than the health of the organization as a whole.

4. Quantifiable Measures Take Priority

Sales numbers, timelines, bottom lines—these metrics are, of course, important signs of how things are going in any business. But great leaders know that true success isn’t always measurable or quantifiable. More meaningful factors like workplace satisfaction, teamwork, and personal growth all contribute to and sustain these metrics.

Numbers don’t always tell the whole story, and they shouldn’t be the only concern. Measure-taking should always take a backseat to meaning-making—working together to contribute to a vision that improves people’s lives. If your workplace zones in on quantifiable measures of success, it’s probably not prioritizing what truly matters. And it’s probably also instilling a fear of failure among employees, which paralyzes employees instead of motivating them.

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5. The Policies and Rules Are Inconsistent

Every organization has its own set of unique policies and procedures. But often, unhealthy workplaces have inconsistent, unspoken “rules” that apply differently to different people. When one person gets in trouble for the same type of behavior that promotes another person, workers will feel like management plays favorites—which isn’t just unethical but also a quick way to drain morale and fuel tension in the office.[5] It only shows how incompetent the leadership is and indicates a toxic workplace.

For example, maybe there’s no “set” rule about work hours, but your manager expects certain people or departments to show up at 8 am while other individuals tend to roll in at 9 or 10 am with no real consequences. If that’s the case, then it’s likely that your organization’s leadership is more concerned with controlling people and exerting power rather than the overall good of their employees.

How to Deal With a Toxic Work Environment

The first thing to know if you’re stuck in a toxic work environment is that you’re not stuck. While it’s ultimately the company’s responsibility to make positive changes that prevent harmful actions to employees, you also have an opportunity to speak up about your concerns—or, if necessary, depart the role altogether.

If you suspect that you’re working in a toxic environment, think about how you can advocate for yourself. Start by raising your grievances about the culture in an appropriate setting, like a scheduled, one-on-one meeting with your supervisor.

Can’t imagine sitting down with your supervisor to air those problems on your own? Form some solidarity with like-minded colleagues. Approaching management might feel less overwhelming when you have a “team” who shares your views.

It doesn’t have to be an overtly confrontational discussion. Do your best to frame your concerns in a positive way by sharing with your supervisor that you want to be more productive at work, but certain problems sometimes get in the way.

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Final Thoughts

If your supervisor truly cares about the well-being of the organization, they will take your concerns seriously and actively take part in changing the toxic work environment into something more conducive to productivity.

If not, then it might be time to consider the cost of the job on your well-being and personal life. Is it worth staying just for your resume’s sake? Or could you consider a “bridge” job that allows you to exhale for a bit, even if it doesn’t “move you ahead” the way you planned?

It might not be the ideal situation, but your mental health and well-being are too important to ignore. And when you have the opportunity to refuel, you’ll be a far more valuable asset at whatever amazing job you land next.

More Tips on Dealing With a Toxic Work Environment

Featured photo credit: Campaign Creators via unsplash.com

Reference

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