How to Be Proactive at Work

It might seem like common sense that there are many benefits to being proactive, but what does that actually look like in the workplace? What are some tangible action steps for being a proactive employee?

Below, I outline two different scenarios that you are likely to encounter at some point during your career and highlight how you could respond to the situation both re-actively and proactively.

Scenario 1: You have only been at your internship for an hour so far but have already completed all of your tasks for the day.

Reactive Response: You contemplate asking to leave early, but remember you have some reading to do for class, so you decide to stay at your internship site and catch up on that reading. You figure that if anyone has any work they need you to do, then they will come find you.

Proactive Responses:

  • You go check in with your supervisor to see if they have any additional work for you to do. You let them know you are eager and prepared to take on a bigger workload.
  • You show initiative by coming with your own project idea and then set up a meeting with your supervisor to pitch it to them.
  • You ask one of your coworkers if there is anything that you can do to help them with one of their projects.

Scenario 2: You have a deadline for work that you know you will not be able to meet.

Reactive Response: You don’t want to get in trouble so you try to avoid contact with your supervisor as much as possible. You avoid any emails about the project and hope that your supervisor doesn’t press you about getting the project submitted by the deadline. Once your deadline has passed, you receive an email from your supervisor asking where your project is and you let them know you will need a couple of extra days to work on it.

Proactive Response: As soon as you think you might not be able to meet a deadline, you communicate this with your supervisor. Together you discuss a realistic game plan for completing the project. This could include breaking out project components and submitting them incrementally, completing them in order of importance. It could also include asking your coworkers for help on the project or setting a new extended deadline.

In both of these scenarios, choosing the proactive response shows that you are a dedicated employee who is willing to take initiative to complete work and help the organization as a whole. Your supervisors and coworkers will appreciate your honesty and respect your work ethic. Additionally, the more effort you put into your job or internship, the more skills you will develop and strengthen. You therefore become both a stronger employee and a more valued coworker.

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