Monday, October 22, 2018
Does your boss set you up to fail?
Two decades ago, Jean-Francois Manzoni and Jean-Louis Barsoux wrote about their research showing that bosses often have a part in an employee's failure to succeed. It's not that the bosses do it on purpose -- and may even have good intentions -- but they still are responsible for "creating and reinforcing a dynamic that essentially sets up perceived underperformers to fail."
Let's say you have a bad day or week or quarter. Maybe you miss your sales target, or a project goes off the rails or you miss a deadline. Or, perhaps you don't quite "gel" with the boss or someone badmouths you to the manager. Any of these can serve as a trigger that causes the boss to be concerned that you're not a great performer.
So, she decides to put you on her radar and see if she bring up your performance. You now have to run your activities past her, cc her on all emails and face daily feedback from her on everything from how you acted in a meeting to how you fill out paperwork.
While the boss sees this as helping you improve, instead you feel demoralized. You starts to feel like you have nothing worthwhile to contribute and become more withdrawn. The boss sees this and doubles her efforts to help you.
The bottom line, Manzoni and Barsoux write, is that it becomes a situation that doesn't help either the boss or you. Eventually, you quit or are fired.
This, of course, hurts the company and other team members as your talents and energy leave and must be replaced. (With unemployment at about 3.7%, I don't think any company can afford to let a boss set an employee up to fail.)
How to break the pattern of "set up to fail"? The authors give some ideas:
1. Recognize the problem exists.
2. Higher ups stage an intervention that involves a candid conversation with the boss to point out the unhealthy dynamic with the employee.
3. A conversation between the boss and the under-performing employee where the boss acknowledges that she may be partly to blame for the problem and she wants to have a fair and open conversation.
4. An agreement between the boss and the employee about the specific areas of the performance leading to contention.
5. An understanding between the boss and the employee about what is causing the weak performance in certain areas.
6. The boss and the employee agree about their performance objectives and commit to moving the relationship to a more positive footing.
7. An agreement for more open communication in the future.
Wednesday, October 17, 2018
There’s a famous line from the 1967 movie Cool Hand Luke that says: “What we’ve got here is a failure to communicate.” Fast forward to 2018 and that line could apply to the disconnect between jobseekers and employers. Jobseekers often put a lot of time and effort into their resumes, extensively noting skills acquired via work experience and education. And then employers turn around and say that the docs don’t contain the information they want to see.
LiveCareer’s 2018 Skills Gap Report examined this problem from a number of different angles. While employers list an average of 21.8 skills per job ad, jobseeker resumes list an average of only 13 skills. Specifically, resumes only match 59 percent of hard skills and 62 percent of soft skills listed in job ads. In addition, a LinkedIn survey found (read more here)
Monday, October 15, 2018
Is it really that difficult to be a boss?
"It’s not easy," writes Andy Kessler in the Wall Street Journal. "Decisions come at you rapid-fire and, like it or not, you’ve got to make a call, potentially without knowing the consequences for years. Meanwhile, a bigger boss or a board of directors is breathing down your neck, prepared to can you if you screw up."
On the other hand, management guru Tom Peters says in his new book that management isn't complicated -- it just takes things like consistency and good communication.
I bring up these diverging views because National Boss Day is tomorrow, Oct. 16. I know a lot of people are going to wonder why bosses need a special day. (These are the same people who complained when they were kids that there really should be a Kid's Day if there was going to be a Father's Day and a Mother's Day.)
Being a boss is tough. I've been a boss, and sometimes I was good at it, and sometimes I was not. I've worked for bosses I liked, and I've worked for bosses I've loathed.
But one thing I've learned is that many bosses feel they're all alone. Even when they do something really great for their employees, they often don't get a simple "thank you." They agonize over their choices and yet are supposed to always remain cool under pressure. No one notices -- and often no one cares.
Can you imagine how you would feel if you were treated the same?
I've not saying bosses are perfect. They have flaws like anyone else, but I do think they deserve a day where everyone takes the opportunity to say "thank you." Is that really so much to ask?
Wednesday, October 10, 2018
When cellphones first made their appearance, workplace advice columnists like myself advised that bosses and co-workers became annoyed when a worker used it at work. There were several reasons: people using cellphones tended to yell into the thing; the calls were often personal and inappropriate at work; and workers on a cellphone were seen as goofing off.
When smartphones came along, it became obvious that bosses could not ban them from the workplace. Employees used their phones to do just about everything -- banning them from work would be like asking them to work with both hands tied behind their backs.
But the one thing that hasn't changed is that people are still annoying others with their phone use. They still yell into their phones. They still gab to their mothers about their gynecologist's appointment in front of everyone in the office. They still goof off on their phones instead of working.
The strangest thing about all of this: We know we're being rude and unprofessional, but we still don't stop. A recent survey finds respondents say that it's proper etiquette to put your phone away in meetings but 53% of them keep it out. Eighty percent say it's inappropriate to check a phone during a meeting, but 50% admit doing it. And 77% say they bring their phone into the bathroom at work.
Many people will claim that they need their phone in the bathroom so they don't miss important calls or texts or emails (really??), while others will say that they need their phones in meetings to do their jobs. Others will say they'd go insane if they couldn't play Candy Crush on their phones during boring presentations or they need to keep up with emails because meetings are such a drain on their day.
It's always much easier to point the "you're so rude" finger at others, when in reality we are just as guilty of not being aware of how our behavior affects others. But the numbers revealed above are concerning -- we don't need any more excuses to be uncivil to one another or hurt the productivity of others. Work is stressful enough, right?
There are some cellphone use policies that companies are using, such as those listed here. In the meantime, do a little self-policing. Don't take the phone into the bathroom (ewww) and put your phone out of sight in a meeting or lock it in your desk drawer.
You might be surprised that when you're not connected to that device, you find more time to connect with your colleagues or are better able to tap into more creative ideas without the distraction of Instagram. The best thing of all? You might get more done and get to leave work early for a change.
Monday, October 8, 2018
It can be daunting to write a resume. First, it's a lot of work. Second, you're never sure what to include or omit on a resume -- what if an employer really does care that you have a Goldendoodle?
It's why many people recycle the same resume over and over, no matter that it's been five years since it's been updated in a meaningful way or that it's the same resume used to apply for a job as an airline pilot and as a bartender.
Sometimes, it's easier to start with the things you can omit from your resume. For example:
1. Microsoft Word. If you can't use Microsoft Word, you probably also can't figure out how to unlock your front door. Leave it off. Employers expect you to know that, and it makes you look pathetic to include it.
2. First-year Spanish. Or first-year Chinese. Or first-year Latin. I don't care if you got an "A" on your final, your minute knowledge of a language isn't going to be useful to an employer unless you can engage others in the language pretty fluently. Being able to order from a menu in French doesn't count.
3. Stupid stuff. An employer isn't going to care that you won best penmanship in 7th grade or that your soccer team made it to the semifinals three years in a row. They will only care about things that will make you a better employee, like volunteering and raising the most money for a community project -- because that shows organizational and leadership skills.
4. Exaggerations. Or lies. There's this little thing called the Internet that makes it pretty darned easy to check out anything you put on a resume.
5. Too much work stuff. When you're applying for a job right out of school, it may matter to an employer that you rocked your job at Taco Bell for four years while in college (it shows a good work ethic, experience with customers, co-workers, etc.) But once you've had several years as a professional, the employer wants to know much more about those skills and experiences. Also, you don't want to list too many employment experiences, as the employer may fear you're a serial job-hopper and won't stay put with them for very long.
Wednesday, October 3, 2018
Lots of people are really happy about the job market right now. There are plenty of jobs to go around, and companies like Amazon are offering a minimum wage of $15 an hour.
With all that work, however, there is a downside that I hear more people mentioning: burnout.
Burnout is defined as physical or mental collapse caused by overwork or stress. Many of us come close to it, which is why we do things like take a vacation or try to leave early on Friday.
But burnout isn't something that can be fixed by a few days off. It doesn't come about just because you're putting in some long days. Burnout shows itself as cynicism, depression and lethargy and arises when you're not in control of how you do your job or when you're doing something that just doesn't resonate with you. A lack of social support is also a problem.
When the Great Recession hit a decade ago, many people took any job that would pay the bills. They cobbled together part-time work. They accepted jobs that forced them to do the work of two or three people. They put up with seeing their benefits cut, salary raises slow to a trickle and bosses demanding more because their bosses were demanding more.
Now, they're paying the price. Those extra tasks haven't gone away. The demands from bosses haven't disappeared. They haven't made up lost ground in terms of benefits or pay. Is it any wonder that more people are mentioning the word "burnout"? (Of course, not everyone feels this way, and many people are thriving in their jobs and organizations.)
At the same time, companies need to pay attention to their workers. Those headed toward burnout will not only be less productive and creative, but there's a chance they will end up quitting a job and never returning. With such a tight labor market right now, can any company afford to let great people walk out the door?
For those who many find themselves feeling worse every day, don't ignore your symptoms. The fallout from burnout are real: heart disease, stroke, disease vulnerability and alcohol or substance abuse.
If you're headed toward burnout, here are some suggestions from the Mayo Clinic:
- Manage the stressors that contribute to job burnout. Once you've identified what's fueling your feelings of job burnout, you can make a plan to address the issues.
- Evaluate your options. Discuss specific concerns with your supervisor. Perhaps you can work together to change expectations or reach compromises or solutions. Is job sharing an option? What about telecommuting or flexing your time? Would it help to establish a mentoring relationship? What are the options for continuing education or professional development?
- Adjust your attitude. If you've become cynical at work, consider ways to improve your outlook. Rediscover enjoyable aspects of your work. Recognize co-workers for valuable contributions or a job well-done. Take short breaks throughout the day. Spend time away from work doing things you enjoy.
- Seek support. Whether you reach out to co-workers, friends or loved ones, support and collaboration might help you cope with job stress and feelings of burnout. If you have access to an employee assistance program (EAP), take advantage of the available services.
- Assess your interests, skills and passions. An honest assessment can help you decide whether you should consider an alternative job, such as one that's less demanding or one that better matches your interests or core values.
- Get some exercise. Regular physical activity can help you to better deal with stress. It can also help you get your mind off work and focus on something else.
- Get some sleep. Sleeps restores well-being and helps protect your health. Aim for at least 7-8 hours each night.
Monday, October 1, 2018
There's nothing more frustrating than to think you're doing just great in your job, only to have the boss blindside you with something like: "You know, I'm concerned that you're not meeting the goals I think you need to meet in order to be successful at this company."
You're confused. Isn't this the same boss who says "good job!" to you at least once a day? Isn't this the same boss who told you in a recent email that she "really liked" your project report?
So, what gives?
There's no way of really knowing what's going on in the boss's mind at this point. She may have gotten some bad feedback from her boss, and so feels somehow that she needs to pass that negative vibe onto you. Or, she may be really bad at offering constructive criticism, and so instead hides behind "good job!" until she dumps the bad feedback on you later.
Believe me, I know just how you feel. I've been there. You're mad, frustrated, confused and perhaps even a little hurt. But while all those feelings are roiling around inside of you, you cannot let them out in an unprofessional way. ("Are you freaking kidding me??" is not an appropriate response.)
This is what you need to do:
- Try to get specifics. "Can you share a little more about your concerns? Does this have to do with the XYZ project or something else?"
- Offer solutions. "I'm happy to go back and rework those numbers and do more research. Can I have it to you by the end of the week?"
- Stay positive. "I'm always open to improving my work, so I'm glad you brought this to my attention."
- Stay proactive. "Can we meet next week so I can briefly update you on the changes and make sure they're in line with what you want?"
- Engage. The last thing you want to do with a boss who has blindsided you like this is stick around and talk to her. But this is when it's really important to make a connection with her in a non-adversarial way. Relax your body language, look her directly in the eye and make sure you're not raising your voice. If she sees you're listening and not lashing back, she's likely to calm down and perhaps have a more constructive conversation.
Finally, to avoid blindsides in the future, initiate more feedback from her. After a presentation, you can ask: "I felt good about that, but I'd like to get your feedback on whether you think there was too much data for the clients. What do you think?"
The more you initiate good communication and substantive feedback, the better the chances you'll reduce blindsides that can derail your career.