How do I ‘appear’ enthusiastic’ yet maintain a professional demeanor?

Question: “When I started at my company, I worked for two senior execs. Now, I also work for the president. I handle all of their office and personal work, which includes personal errands for the president. On my review, it was stated that I am not enthusiastic about everything that I am asked to do. I’ve never refused a request, but I don’t want enthusiasm to be interpreted that I need more to do. I am frequently complimented by customers and co-workers on my helpfulness. I also work overtime every day on an unpaid basis. I noted this on my last review comments. But the president keeps bringing up the ‘enthusiasm’ comment on my review. How should I respond to this comment?” — Anonymous


I’ve run into this before, too. I finally figured out that if I ask what he/she means by enthusiasm, it opens the discussion. I also learned to ask what it is that he/she is looking for and to cite some instances where he/she thought I was not as enthusiastic as he/she wanted. The answer may hurt, but I’d rather fix it now rather than beating my head on a brick wall trying to figure it out on my own.

Perception can be everything and apparently the President’s perception is that you are not enthusiastic. Maybe that isn’t a factor with the senior execs you also assist. And maybe it isn’t true, but its perceived. I know that isn’t an easy characteristic to put on but it seems to have an adverse effect on your review and you need to do something about that if you care about your review. Why not speak to the President about this but not in the confines of your review. Ask for a few moments at the beginning or end of the day, close the door and have a heart to heart with him. You seem to want to do a good job and this is a stumbling block. I believe in communication and this is a very good example for the need for communication. Good Luck.

I would really question ‘working overtime on an unpaid basis’. As a supervisor, I will be reprimanded if I allowed an employee to do so. It seems that many women think it is some kind of coup to say that they work hours without pay. Not so! If you are working, you should be paid. Women for too long gave the impression that our work was not worth anything. Shame on the boss that would knowingly allow this to happen.

You need to speak-up in your review and ask for instances/examples. If you don’t ask, you cannot correct what is wrong. Also, on the issue of working overtime and not being compensated. Are you hourly? Because if you are, it is the law that you are paid for any hours worked over a 40-hour work week. If Wage and Hour came and did an audit at your company, they would be required to go back two (2) years and pay you any overtime due to you.

I would talk to him as gamehen suggested. They only thing I would add is that job enthusiasm is something that managers do take into consideration, it is something that may hinder what tasks you are given so I would work on clearing that up especially since you seem to have the enthusiasm you are just not sure how to express that, trust me, if he put that on your review he knows what he means by that and will be able to talk to you about it.

I agree that you should ask for what he means by enthusiastic. Perhaps without realizing it your facial expression is one of concentration and focus on what you need to do and you simply need a smile.

You may be showing more in your facial expressions than you are aware of. Your boss is the person who writes your evals, so if he/she’s picking up on a “lack of enthusiasm”, you might want to work on tone of voice and facial expressions. Make a conscious effort to smile and nod when accepting those less desirable assignments. You don’t have to become a cheerleader to convey enthusiasm, but, to preserve your good business reputation, you need to do more than you are now to convince your boss that you are ready, willing and able to fulfill your duties. Your performance over all will attest to your professionalism, but you are battling the boss’s subjective opinion. The bottom line is he/she is the boss, so any needed change must come from you.

Diane gives great guidance, and I would follow her advance. I’ve worked with three Presidents and have had to have heart-to-heart talks with them for various reasons and the situations worked itself out. We have to readjust to new bosses and environments, and so do bosses, but they are not always as flexible. Maybe his insecurities are reading your “lack of enthusiasm” as something more personal, and you just need to reassure him that your priority is to see that he is taken care of, and what he perceives as lack of enthusiasm is just your focus and determination on making things happen for him.

I agree with Rita. It may be all to do with the way the task is accepted. When I am asked to do something or when they ‘Thank’ me for something I have done, I always add a little extra to my comments. For example:
When I am asked to do something (and it’s something I can do it without further clarification) I respond with “Absolutely” or “It would be my pleasure”. When someone thanks me for something I have done, I respond with: “Anytime … It was my pleasure”. My e-mail signature also says “Always At Your Service”. It may seem a little *kissy* but I have never received a ‘lack of enthusiasm’ comment on my performance review and I think it adds that ‘personal kindness’ touch. Think about it … who wouldn’t react more to someone who went out of their way to show this type of response? Kill ’em with Kindness, girl 😉 Just my $0.02. I truly hope everything works out.

I can understand being very focused on the job, as I support a Sr. VP of a globally-based company and four other of their team members…not to mention everyone else in the company that needs assistance. It can be pretty overwhelming at times and I find my own “fun meter” running down to the “minimum” side every now and again. My encouragement to you would be simply to watch your bosses and how their daily attitudes play out. There is truth to the adage of mirroring another’s behavior, especially when trying to understand where they are coming from and how they are feeling themselves. Many of us use one another as a gauge in companies to test prevailing attitudes, thoughts, feelings, etc. Once you get a feel for how they are behaving, feeling, etc., you’ll be better equipped to sit down with them, share your observations, and make proactive suggestions about what you can do to bring your “enthusiasm” level into line with their expectations. Just a place to start. I hope things go well for you!

Sometimes enthusiasm is as simple as an honest smile. Facial expressions show every emotion and also affect the tone of your voice. For example, if you make sure to smile each time you answer the phone (even if you feel crummy), the person on the other end will “hear” your smile.Your boss may be using the word “enthusiasm” in place of the words “proactive” or “initiative.” If you are regularly given similar assignments, anticipate what your boss will tell you, then suggest some alternatives to promote efficiency. Your boss will view this as being “involved” in the process and that your job matters more to you than just showing up for a paycheck.As for running personal errands, if you keep track of the days of the week that you regularly “pick up his dry cleaning,” you can pop into his office that morning and let him know you will be running errands that afternoon and want to know if he has “dry cleaning” today. You will be letting him know that his personal tasks are not insignificant to you, you’re thinking ahead, and that in turn will show enthusiasm. Remember to do it with an “honest” smile. Good luck!

Somehow your president is getting a vibe that you are less than enthusiastic in taking on tasks. I wholeheartedly agree with the posts so far — the heart-to-heart talk with the president on what does enthusiasm look like to him/her, using Teyah’s great examples of dialogue in your work day conversations, and I agree with Rita on facial expressions and tone of voice. Regarding unpaid OT, a big no-no in my book. All your work hours should be paid. You may think you are being a hero by not reporting overtime hours, but you are placing your company in jeopardy with the Department of Labor – FLSA. Plus, sometimes that’s the only way you can justify getting more help in your department … if they think all the work is getting done in 40 hours there’s no reason to think the workload may be excessive and assign other resources.

I agree wholeheartedly with those who said to ask the President exactly what he or she means by that. In our reviews, examples are required, so we know specifically what actions are expected. For example, we can’t say “You seem grumpy.” You have to be specific, such as “When I come to your work area to give you something to do, you give me a frown.” Specifics help a lot, so ask the President for specifics on what you are doing to give that impression of lack of enthusiasm. I also agreed with those who said that working every day on an unpaid basis is not a wise thing to do. It is a violation of the Fair Labor Standards Act, and could result in a huge fine against the company. Here, people are disciplined for working without marking it on their time sheet.

I am in agreement also, ask by what is meant. When I first started working for the company I am now working for I was told I was being rude to people when I spoke to them. I did not perceive myself being rude but rather short and to the point but it was how it was perceived. I actually took classes in order to learn how to come across in a more friendly manner by my tone, facial expressions and just taking a few extra minutes of my time. It has really paid off but it took me to ask what specifically I was doing wrong then up to me to make the improvements of self. Could you be coming across put out because you are putting in OT without compensation for it. Depending on how much you make in the year will depend if they can classify you as salaried or not so you really need to get with HR and find out, if you don’t have an HR department call your labor board in your state. Don’t put in regular OT unless you are being fairly compensated for it, time off or paid.

I agree with comments above. (1) the heart-to-heart talk with the boss about “enthusiasm”. You may have to practice not only smiling with your face but smiling with your voice as well. As for OT, it is against the law for you to work unpaid OT and you should stop immediately. When you work for “free” you enable other managers in your company to let their support staff work OT for free…saving a lot of money for the company, money which should be yours.