We Should All Approach Our Work Like Sarah Koenig

By Kathryn Berg
EAP Trainer
The Village Business Institute 

“Serial,” the wildly popular true-crime podcast, finished its 12-episode first season in mid-December. During the podcast’s run and in the weeks following its finale, everyone seems to know the story of Adnan Syed and his conviction for the 1999 murder of his ex-girlfriend, Hae Min Lee. If a person isn’t hooked, they are likely still familiar with the podcast’s premise, possibly its cult-favorite MailChimp ad, and certainly its host, Sarah Koenig.

Sarah Koenig is the narrator, executive producer and lead investigator for “Serial,” and has garnered high praise for her work on the podcast. Whether fans of “Serial” or not, we could all learn something from the way Koenig approached her work while studying and reporting on the factual and not-so-factual evidence of Adnan Syed’s murder conviction.


She Manages Her Expectations

A common complaint among “Serial” enthusiasts is that (spoiler alert!) Koenig does not prove Adnan Syed guilty or innocent in the season finale. Many listeners expected that Koenig’s meticulous reporting would uncover new facts or reveal old lies in a way that would provide closure in an otherwise murky and unsatisfying murder conviction.

Koenig, on the other hand, took on the journalistic endeavor simply because Syed wanted his story to be told. She did not enter into the investigation believing that after a 15-month analysis of a 15-year-old case she would have all the answers. In fact, Koenig was certain that she would not have all the answers. She remained steadfast in that belief, despite constant public outcry hoping for more, more, more.

Managing our expectations does not mean working toward something that is less than perfect. Rather, it means approaching situations, relationships and projects with the knowledge that even when we do put forth our best effort, the end result may not be what we anticipated—and that’s okay! If you can manage your expectations like Sarah Koenig and be okay with something other than what others may unreasonably expect of you, you (and your team) will be much more likely to be satisfied with your results.


She Does Her Due Diligence

Koenig may not have figured out who killed Hae Min Lee, but nobody would argue that it was because her research and investigation were lacking. Koenig followed every lead she was given, tracked down every person involved with the case and sought out help from experts in areas she knew she was unable to properly examine on her own. She had appropriate expectations about what she would probably discover during her investigation, but that did not stop her from going above and beyond to ensure she fleshed out every given detail.

We are more likely to deal with harassment or drug-free workplace investigations than murder investigations, but due diligence belongs in the typical workplace just as much as it does in Koenig’s atypical one. Like Koenig, you probably do not know how your project or presentation will turn out at its conclusion. Whether you intend to solve a murder case or bring your business to the next level, you owe it to yourself and your employer to do your due diligence to create a product or idea you will be proud to stand behind. Follow every lead, enlist the help of experts when you’re in over your head, and simply put in the hard work necessary to get things done.


She Stays True to Herself

“Serial’s” unexpected success created an unexpected celebrity in Sarah Koenig, but along with fame comes criticism. A simple search on Google for “Serial” will bring up hours’ worth of reading on the podcast and its host. Some spout endless praise for Koenig and her endeavor. Others think she is a shoddy journalist who says “I feel like” too often and is too emotional for someone who is supposed to be objective.

With opinions coming at her from every direction, it would have been easy for Koenig to succumb to the public opinion of the day and change her reporting style or the style of the podcast itself. Maybe keeping up with the criticism would be a good way to maintain the unexpectedly large fan base. Koenig, however, did not make any changes based on “Serial’s” wild popularity. She set out to create a true-crime podcast, a story told week-to-week, and that is exactly what she did.

Pressure to change our ways of thinking and acting come from all sides in the workplace. While we should always be open to new ideas, it’s important to stay true to ourselves and our values. We may change and adjust the way we work as we learn and grow, but beliefs and values will likely stay the same no matter what. Sticking to these beliefs and values – our true selves – no matter what criticism we may encounter, will bring fulfillment and satisfaction at the end of each day.

There may only be one Sarah Koenig, but that doesn’t mean we can’t all approach our jobs the way she does. Managing her expectations, doing her due diligence, and staying true to herself got Koenig renewed for a second season. Practicing her working style, our own success could be similarly limitless.

About the author
Kathryn Berg joined the Village Business Institute in September of 2014 as a trainer serving the VBI’s Employee Assistant Program client companies. Prior to joining the Village, Kathryn spent two years working in the human resources field, focusing during that time on recruitment, training, wellness and benefits administration. Kathryn provides training on a wide variety of topics and currently focuses subjects such as harassment prevention and drug-free workplace compliance. She graduated from Georgetown University in Washington, DC, with bachelor’s degrees in English and Psychology and a minor in French. Outside of her work at the Village, she spends her evenings and weekends as a competitive swim coach.