Beware of getting special privileges at work

Sometimes at work, you may want an exception to a rule or some special consideration. Or maybe something in your life makes you a bit different than your co-workers, so you ask your boss for a little special consideration. This happens all the time. Often the boss says no. And well, that's awful. But sometimes the boss says yes, and that can be awful as well.

That's right. If you're not careful, your "exception" may turn around to bite you. If you negotiate the ability to leave early on Tuesdays and Thursdays, or to work from home on Wednesdays or not turn in a weekly report, it may seem great to you. You've gotten what you need to help balance your workload and life outside work, but resentment and anger can grow with your co-workers.

They may not understand that you don't need to turn in a weekly report because you regularly document your progress, and the boss knows she can ask you at any moment for a status report. But if your co-workers don't do the weekly report, they won't keep any records at all.

They may not understand you leave early on Tuesdays and Thursdays for medical appointments. They may not realize the boss says you can work at home on Wednesdays because of your proven track record and she trusts you.

So, what's the problem? If the boss is happy and you're happy, should you care what your co-workers think?

From a self-esteem standpoint, no. It shouldn't matter if your co-workers think you're a slacker or getting away with something. But in the real world, it does matter.

Your co-workers can shun you or gossip behind your back. They can grow more and more resentful as they see you skipping out early. And here's another thing that can happen: The boss who approved the request can grow to resent it as well. For instance, she may have said you can leave early, but now gets frustrated when she needs you to do something last-minute and you're not there.

The end result? You miss valuable information, or your performance rating is a bit lower than it should be, which can affect your raise. Or you just don't build the camaraderie that the rest of your department has.

Like it or not, that can hurt your career. Imagine this situation: Suppose your co-worker thinks you're lazy because you don't do the weekly report. And now you're up for a promotion into a different department that your co-worker happens to work closely with. Naturally, that department's head asks your co-worker what he thinks of you.

"Nice enough guy," he says, "but he doesn't do the little things, like the weekly report. I'm not sure why the boss tolerates it." That's enough to get you kicked out of the running.

What do you do about it?

Speak up! Sure, it's absolutely none of your co-workers' business that you're leaving early for a medical appointment. And in some cases, federal law protects you there, for instance, if you qualify for either a reasonable accommodation under the American's with Disabilities Act (ADA) or intermittent leave under the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA).

But if you're open with your co-workers, it's less likely they'll think poorly of you. You don't need to tell them everything, but it's probably worth saying something like: "I hate having to leave early, but I have this troublesome health condition."

Even if you just need to get your child to cello lessons, speak up about that, too. "I hate Tuesdays. I have to pick up McKayla and take her to cello. There's nothing worse than sitting around for an hour while you listen to a 7-year-old 'play' the cello. Then to make up for this free time, I have to put in another hour or two after the kids are in bed."

Regale them with enough stories of bad cello lessons, and they'll be glad they aren't you.

Don't brag. Don't start talking about how you got out of the dreaded weekly report. Instead, when questioned, say: "I write up a summary every day, so there's no need for me to do a weekly report." That explains the situation.

Likewise, if you work from home one day a week, tell your co-workers: "I concentrate better at home. As a matter of fact, last Wednesday I was able to get A, B, and C done because I didn't have interruptions." Don't say: "Yeah well, the boss trusts me and not you."

Keep in touch with the boss. Of course, your boss should let you know if what you're doing bothers her. Otherwise, just keep doing it. But some bosses won't say anything until they reach the breaking point. So, check in every few months: "Hey, I want to make sure you're still OK with this. It's still working great for me because..."

Be a star performer. If you start slacking off and watch TV while you've got the conference call on mute, your performance will drop -- and the resentment will rightfully grow. But you'll surely get more leeway if you're regularly demonstrating your ability. When your boss and co-workers see that your work continues to be awesome even though you're telecommuting, they won't hold it against you.