Why being the backup person at work isn’t such a bad idea after all

If you watched the Winter Olympics last month, you probably noticed a lot of curious sports requiring groups of people to interact a little too closely.

While I’m not suggesting you dream of a career as the #4 bobsledder or the guy who slides next to the person sweeping while curling, but there is something to be said for not being the top dog at work.

Here are some reasons to celebrate not being the top banana:

Better vacations

I used to try to closely follow the work and holiday calendar of the traditional workplaces until I realized it didn’t really work for me. I also noticed that while everyone else goofed off or took off during the summer months, I could always pick up a lot of extra work if I chose to take advantage of the vacation vacuum. Even better, clients were more grateful and usually more generous. And here’s the flipside. I could also set up my vacation time so that most destinations were less crowded and flights and hotels less expensive. Talk about a win-win.

You play less of the blame game

While it’s great to be the one in charge, it also means that for better and worse, you’re also the one that gets blamed when things go wrong. As the second or third or last in command, you’re free to quietly do your job while avoiding any of the top-level fallout. This doesn’t give you free reign to mess up, but it does allow you to stress less the rest of the time.

You have time to update your professional toolbox

As the non-go-to person, you’ll probably find yourself with some free time on your hands during the day or workweek. Instead of obsessively checking your social media stream, try to zero in on some of the things that might help you further your career. While you’re at it, see if your employer will foot the bill for new classes, apps or programs that will help with productivity. Want to earn some brownie points along the way and find a way to pick up some more hours or hint that it’s time for a raise? Offer to teach your colleagues some of your new impressive talents.

Live and learn

Chances are good that if you’re the backup person, you will get called in when others drop out or screw up. This gives you a great opportunity to pay attention to the weaknesses in your department and understand what most needs improvement. Don’t be smug about it but try letting your supervisors know that you’re aware of the department weaker points and then try to suggest ways to improve.

You can become indispensable-ish

Let’s face it, while no one is indispensable anymore, being the person everyone comes to in emergencies gives you a certain cachet. You can build on that by always performing better than expected every single time. Be nicer, more efficient and more detail oriented than anyone else on the team and you’ll continue to be the go-to person in a pinch.

While you’re at it:

  • Bring snacks: Or cookies. Or bake something for the office or clip an article or do something otherwise memorable. If you’re the backup person, you’re probably not on speed dial and will have to distinguish yourself in ways other than the traditional. If you add a personal touch to all your dealings, everyone will be happy to see you and they’ll always think of you first.
  • Send thank you cards: Being the backup person means that you have to rely on the kindness of strangers. Send thank you cards (handwritten and with funny or relevant messages when possible), buy inexpensive but thoughtful gifts like coffee gift cards or even something unexpected to thank the person who brings you repeat project work.