But the advantages of being a first-rate colleague go far beyond job security. Your stress levels, relationships with loved ones and basic life contentment are all tied up in how you perform at work.
Here are seven surefire ways to up your game:
1. Inspire people to be better.
Offices are little worlds unto themselves. They're susceptible to cliques, drama and every other negative development that occurs when passionate human beings come together day in and day out.
But the opposite holds true as well. The workplace can be a place for people to shine--to bring out the best in themselves and the best in others. Strive to count yourself among the latter.
If you hear backbiting and negativity, turn it around. Don't be sanctimonious; be sincere. Build people up. Be a good influence when no one is looking.
2. Become resourceful and self-reliant.
I once had an employee who couldn't find the restroom without detailed directions from multiple sources. She was great, otherwise: funny, hard-working, motivated and sincere. When it came to stuff she wasn't sure about, though--simple stuff, like filing an expense report or installing a printer--she was paralyzed as a baby in the woods.
To make matters worse, she'd harass her manager for assistance. Big mistake. Leave your leaders alone unless it's regarding matters of consequence. Master your environment without hand-holding.
3. Pay your bills early or on time.
This one is huge. When you commit to something, finish when you say you will. Even better, finish early.
I had another employee who was amazing in every respect except for this one. He'd wait till the last minute to complete assignments.
The main problem with this approach is that business is unpredictable. Emergencies inevitably arise. If you don't give yourself time to adjust to circumstances, you'll hit a wall.
4. Be transparently truthful.
This one is elemental, but elemental doesn't mean easy. You're going to find yourself tempted toward all kinds of compromises in your career.
I don't mean just the obvious areas--showing up when you're supposed to, putting in a full day's work, giving credit where credit is due, etc.
Focus on subtler areas. Do you flatter others to get ahead? Refuse to address concerns about the direction of a project out of fear of rocking the boat or looking bad? Avoid these dodges. Be frank and open instead.
5. Take newbies under your wing.
I was bullied in junior high school. I remember how it is to be a new kid in a new place with no one to look after me or care whether I'm settling in.
It's the most vulnerable feeling in the world. People who extend a welcoming hand to newcomers are heroes, in my opinion.
Keep an eye out for unfamiliar faces and strive to help them fit in. You'll build lifelong friendships and psychological muscle simultaneously.
6. Enjoy your work.
Happiness at work is a key litmus test for whether you're at the right place. If you hate getting up in the morning because you dread where you're spending the next eight hours, it's probably a sign that a major change is in order.
The precise nature of that change is still open to question, however. Being embroiled in office politics or a gossip war would make anyone miserable. Is the change you seek inward or outward?
Start with the former. Become the kind of person you like being around. Concentrate on personal excellence, and your path forward will grow clear.
7. Never stop growing.
Accepting new challenges is another solid step toward increased career satisfaction. Once you've mastered one set of responsibilities, look for more.
Inform your boss of your ambitions. Be polite but persistent. Volunteer when you can, even if extra tasks don't immediately translate into a pay bump or promotion.
American novelist Ernest Hemingway wrote that there's "nothing noble in being superior to your fellow man; true nobility is being superior to your former self."
Take these words to heart. You can always improve upon yesterday. If you were insensitive then, be sensitive now. If you were indifferent to your duties, be twice as devoted.