Sunday, June 29, 2008

Psssttt....Can GenYers Keep a Secret?

Generation Y (sometimes called the Millenial Generation) is often touted as being technologically savvy, great at coming up with new ways to work and influencing the workplace as never before. They’re also said to be a bit whiny and have a sense of entitlement.

Well, it also seems they can’t keep a secret.

Now, before everyone starts hitting the “comment” button to send me nasty messages, I just want to outline a conversation I had with Marian Salzman, who is touted as being one of the world’s leading futurists/trendspotters, and chief marketing officer for Porter Novelli.She noted that with the “total transparency” this generation practices, it can be a bit tricky getting them to keep their mouths shut – and their fingers away from typing or texting everything and anything they know or think.

So, maybe you're thinking this isn’t such a big deal. Maybe you think it doesn't matter what they put on MySpace or Facebook or even LinkedIn. But Salzman thinks it's a problem.

“We’re going to have to teach this generation the rules of confidentiality,” Salzman says. “We’re going to have to teach them to keep secrets and to learn the value of privacy."

This is an interesting point, I think. This generation has grown up with 24/7 news and they are accustomed to finding out anything they want with a few keystrokes. They’ve been privy to many "private" issues, from celebrity sex tapes to embarrassing conversations in the White House. They’re very comfortable sharing any and all information online.

Would it necessarily be bad if they made the workplace more open? Or, could their lack of discretion and judgment cause them to share information that could damage a company in the short or long term?

Maybe only time will tell. For right now, companies seem torn. At a time when they fire employees for blogging about the job, they also are entering -- or at least exploring -- the blogosphere.

Do you think it's a fair assessment that GenYers can't keep their mouths shut? And, does it really matter?


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Friday, June 27, 2008

Don't Kid Yourself: Your Private E-mail May Be Anything But When You're at Work

We've heard the warnings time and again: What you write in an e-mail is subject to your employer not only reviewing it -- but firing you if it is believed you violated company policy.

But let's get real: While at work, many of us still send our friends e-mails about where to meet for dinner, we still send that dirty joke to our significant other and we still e-mail our children to tell them that their grades are slipping and they better get on the ball. We tell a co-worker how pissed we are that our boss is a jerk.

But how would you feel if you used your private e-mail account at work -- and the employer still nosed around in it?

That's at the heart of the case one man has filed against his former employer, claiming that the company got ahold of his private e-mails, which were to his lawyers discussing pending legal action against his employer.

Laws about e-mail are still a bit fuzzy as they are being debated in board rooms and court rooms around the country.

Does an employee have the right to privacy more than a company has the right to monitor e-mail that affects them legally?

As the lawyers wrangle it out, it might be a good idea to remember that until the dust settles you should follow the best advice I was ever given by a top technology lawyer: Never put anything in an e-mail that you wouldn't want displayed before 12 lawyers in a court of law.

Just a final note here: I'm now on Alltop, which has all the top stories updated every 10 minutes. Have a great weekend.


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Thursday, June 26, 2008

Five Reasons It's a Good Idea to Stay on a Sinking Ship

There are always some sure-fire ways that you can tell your company is in trouble.

The floors haven't been vaccumed in recent memory because the cleaning crew is now one 80-year-old woman who comes in every other month to dust. You are asked to re-use ovenight envelopes -- and not because the boss cares about the company's carbon footprint. Unknown people are seen going into top brass offices and holding closed-door meetings for hours. You catch the boss working on his resume.

All signs that the ship is sinking, and the rats are headed for the exit. Time for you to join the exodus, right?

Not so fast.

Have you ever thought about leaping onto that sinking ship because it could be the smartest career move you've ever made?

Sounds crazy, but it has worked for plenty of people. I once interviewed a woman whose company was in deep financial doo-doo and was doing everything but selling the copy machine on eBay in order to survive. But while others were frantically sending out resumes, she decided to stay put. She volunteered to take on duties left by departing employees, and soon had access to key managers and top decision makers.

The woman told me that the organization became much more open to new ideas, including ones she proposed. She took on duties that challenged her, and was considered a key player when things started to turn around. While she left a year later, she says it was those skills and opportunities presented by the floundering employer that taught her the most.

So, before you grab the resume and head for the exit of a troubled employer, consider:

* The opportunity to grab a dream job. Even if it's only offered on a temporary basis, the chance to fill a position that greatly interests you isn't an opportunity that comes along every day. It gives you a chance to learn the needed skills and really see if it's something you want to pursue.

* The chance to work with others who are at the top of their game. If you're a new employee, chances are it might be years before you gain access to some key people. Even if these people also depart, any chance to work with them for a short time and form a professional relationship could be key in netting you future opportunities.

* The atmosphere may provide more education than an MBA program. Companies that are in trouble can adopt an "anything goes" style, allowing you to try out a variety of skills and learn at a rapid pace. It's a go-ahead-and-try-it environment, and that's something many MBA students would kill for.

* You're going to be on center stage. Floundering companies don't have time to handhold anyone. You're going to be asked to deliver immediately, and your limitations will be only what you make them. Sleep? Who needs it, right?

* It can help you set up your own company. Sometimes learning what not to do is the best lesson . There are lots of successful people who will tell you they learned most from their failures. Just think of how much you'll learn about what to do -- and what not to do -- being on the front lines of a failing enterprise.

How about it -- do you think the possible rewards make it worth the risk to stay with a failing company?


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Sunday, June 22, 2008

It's Time to Admit It: Are You Your Own Worst Enemy?

OK, time to fess up. It's Monday morning, and the truth is: This week is going to suck big time because you keep doing the same truly, truly stupid things over and over again.

How's that for uplifting career advice? Not exactly what you expected, right?

But the truth is, you keep shooting yourself in the foot, and you keep blaming other people for it. So, in the interest of keeping things simple on a Monday, I'm going to give it to you straight:

You're screwing up, and you have no one else to blame but yourself.

Let me give you some examples and see if you recognize anything familiar:

* You really, really wanted to take a day off. But you didn't want to use one of your vacation days, so you called in sick. That wimpy little cough you faked over the phone didn't fool anyone. Least of all the co-workers who ended up getting stuck with your work while you slathered on the SPF 2 while sunbathing with friends at the beach and drinking Long-Island Iced Teas by the gallon. So now the next time you need you co-workers to help you out, don't be surprised if they suddenly have other things to do -- like count paper clips or read the phone book.

* Being late is not a problem. Well, it's not a problem for you, anyway. Other people may get annoyed at your tardiness, but that's their issue. In fact, you find that you like the power you wield over others because you are late. Everyone has to wait on you, dammit, and that's an awesome feeling. Superman has his cape, Batman has the cave, and you have the power of the clock. But wait: your unwillingness to meet on time has caused the boss to dump you from an important project -- he's afraid you won't be able to meet the deadline of a demanding client. What's all that about?

* You're passionate about what you do. Translation: You're a horse's ass when you don't get your way. You yell, curse, stomp and give a performance DeNiro or Streep would envy. If it's not about you, it should be! You can take just about any situation and turn it into a reason to focus on how much you go through every day, how much you've sacrificed for your job and your employer and how no one gets it BUT YOU. Ahem. Once you rise from the fainting couch or unhinge yourself from the ceiling tiles, don't be shocked to find that people have scattered like cockroaches to get away. That doesn't exactly bode well for any promotion plans you might have, since the only way the boss is likely to get others to accept you is if he arms them with extra-large cans of Raid.

* Technology makes the job bearable. Uh...not because it helps you do your job better. No, this kind of fun comes from shopping online during those boring conference calls, playing some online poker (mama needs a new Burberry purse!), checking out friends' MySpace pages and reading about the latest addition to the Jolie-Pitt litter. Of course, you never feel guilty about this because everyone does it. Maybe you spend a couple of hours (or three or four) on personal stuff, but don't get paid enough as it is, so this is a little private benefit you've created for yourself. Doesn't really matter -- you don't plan to work at this job forever. In the meantime, ESPN is playing highlights of last night's game...
Of course, you're really pretty peeved when the boss calls you into her office and notes that the IT people have been monitoring your Internet actitivies and oh, yeah, you've just been fired. For not only misusing company time and property, but because it shows what a general screw-up you are.

So, I think you get my point. Some people try to blame their career problems on others. It's the boss. It's the co-workers. It's the company. It's the guy who empties the trash at night.

Sometimes that may be the case. But if it keeps happening to you over and over, it's time to take a look in the mirror -- and realize the real problem in your career is staring back at you.

Are you your own worst enemy -- or know someone who is?

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Friday, June 20, 2008

Uh-Oh: You May Not Be Worth What You Thought

If you were offered a job you really wanted, would you be willing to accept less money than what you expected?

That's the question many people are facing these days, even in those positions that were in such high demand they were supposedly bulletproof.

According to a JobFox survey, some median annual salary ranges dropped $10,000, compared to a month ago. Some examples include software design/development; product management; networking/system administration; finance; and government contracts administration.

These numbers reflect what the Department of Labor is saying, that wages are failing to keep up with inflation. That's pretty grim news as we face rising prices for energy and food, while coping with huge credit debts.

Still, there are some ways to cope in this economy:

1. Don't become overfocused on wages. Look for the growth opportunities in a job. You want a job to increase your knowledge and skills, and make you even more marketable in the future.

2. Ask for reviews. When you take a new job, ask for a review in the first 90 days to review your performance. This helps set the groundwork for a salary bump before your annual review. If you're already in a job, ask your boss to set up some quarterly meetings to review where you stand and make sure you're on target to meet goals.

3. Negotiate for other compensation/benefits. If an employer isn't offering you the salary you desire, ask for training opportunities -- either in another department, or to attend an industry event where you'll not only learn something, but make valuable professional contacts. As for other benefits, I know one worker who nabbed a good laptop from her company for $75 when the employer decided to upgrade. Make sure you're friendly with the office manager and the IT people so you know when good stuff may become available for purchase. Or, see if you can work from home at least one day a week to save on fuel costs. Some employers will pay the cost of monthly Internet service if you put in work time from home, or pay your cell phone bill if you spend time using it for business. The point it to be creative in presenting win-win options to your boss.

4. Ask about tuition reimbursement. Some companies still offer the benefit, and any education is worth the time. Recent schooling always looks good on a resume, and many companies cannot offer higher salaries unless you meet certain educational or training requirements.

Still, the question of whether to accept a job at a salary you believe is too low is a tough one. In this economy, it can be difficult to negotiate when employers are cutting back not only salaries, but positions.

Do you think it's a mistake to accept a job for less money than what you desire -- or is this a salary trend we must learn to accept?


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Thursday, June 19, 2008

The Worst Day of the Year: First Day Back on the Job After Vacation

Here's the biggest news flash of the day: The world did not fall apart while I was on vacation.

The birds are still singing in the trees, the Earth is still rotating and the weeds in my garden have continued to thrive. I received nearly 200 e-mails in my absence, and dozens of phone messages. None of them were critical. Well, at least to me. (Macy's really, really wants me to shop their online sale, and someone felt it was imperative that I was aware some woman is suing Victoria's Secret because of a thong injury.)

But, I can say with complete certainty that nothing was so important that it required me to take a laptop on vacation or check my phone messages.

Many of you urged me not to do it, and I listened to you -- and to myself.

So now I'm back at work, trying to tackle all the e-mails and phone messages and doing my best to ignore the tic starting at the corner of my eye. Still, I'm coming to quickly realized that this may be the worst day of the year.

I'm trying, really trying, to hang on to my vacation glow, but I can feel it starting to fade. My office looks like a cyclone went through it. I wrote things on my calendar for this week that I am now having difficulty understanding, such as: "Fri. a.m., call Dave for interview."

Who the hell is Dave??

OK, I think I've learned that while the vacation was everything I dreamed of and more, I may have sabotaged myself for my first day back at work. There's no reason this has to be so bad, is there? I used to have a boss that would always say to me: "You play, you pay" on my first day back from vacation. I always had the overwhelming urge to smack him.

Was he right?

What's the best way to handle the first day back from vacation? If you've got any suggestions, I'd love to hear them.

Before my tic gets any worse.


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Sunday, June 8, 2008

The Real Decision '08: Should I Work While on Vacation?

I got sort of depressed the other day when I tried to remember the last time my husband or I did not put in some work time while on vacation, including our second honeymoon a couple of years ago.

It used to be that when you went on vacation, you maybe -- maybe -- called in from the road to make sure the office hadn't burned to the ground while you were gone.

But then we became entangled with pagers and cell phones, laptops and Blackberries. And the "workless" vacation seemed to be a thing of the past.

So, as I head off for vacation this year, I pondered what I need to take with me besides the bug spray and some hiking boots. The laptop. Some research I need to peruse. A couple of business books I need to review.

I told myself I could put in a few hours of work while the kids go fishing or early in the morning when everyone sleeps in and I get up early, as always. I told myself what a good use of my vacation this would be because I'll be away from all the distractions of my everyday professional and personal life.

And then I nearly kicked my own ass.

Because none of that thinking made sense. Why even take a vacation if I'm going to drag along all the things that are making me so stressed out these days? I know I need a break. My creative juices have dried up. My critical thinking skills have taken a hike. My organizatinal efforts are laughable. I have just enough common sense left to realize that I'd be making a huge mistake if I took even a smidgen of work with me.

I know some people don't feel this way. They are disciplined enough (or so they say) to work only a little bit while on vacation. Some claim they're so bored on vacation they have to do a bit of work to keep from going completely whacko. Others contend that their families or friends don't really care if they work while on vacation.

But the research tells us differently. Our bosses want us to take vacation. Our long-term health demands that we take time away. And our personal relationships -- well, I guess if you'd rather send a few e-mails than watch your child build a sandcastle or go sightseeing with friends -- that's your decision to make.

But for me and mine, we're going laptopless this year. Our cell phones are for emergencies only, and the only book I'm taking is some totally frivolous novel that will hopefully make me laugh out loud.

I'm at peace with my decision, and actually very excited. I feel like a kid cutting school (ahem, not that I ever did anything like that), and plan to be totally selfish and be on vacation.

At this point, some of you may be shaking your head at my decision. You may feel that you can work on vacation and get the same benefits of time away that everyone else does. Or, you may feel like your business or career will fall apart if you aren't tethered in some way to your job.

But I'm going to try it this way. Not because I don't think I have anything to lose, but because I think if I don't, I could lose a lot.

How about you? Are you going to work while on vacation this year? Why or why not? (If you don't see your comment published right away, please be patient. I've gone fishing.)


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Thursday, June 5, 2008

Understanding Why You Really Get Distracted at Work

If you feel like you're going to scream the next time someone interrupts you at work, pay attention. The problem may not be them -- but you.

That's right. You're the cause of your own distractions. You may be responsible for driving yourself crazy.

Let's be real. That candy dish on your desk? A "hello, stop and chat" magnet if ever there was one. Looking up whenever someone walks by (smile optional)-- a sure sign you're willing to shoot the breeze.

And let's talk about those cute little toys on your desk and the funny posters that cover your cubicle or office walls. That doesn't exactly say you're serious about work, now does it? You may consider them just part of your work space, but to some people they say: "Whoopee! Always ready to be interrupted for whatever silly thing you have to say!"

OK, so now that we've started getting to the truth of why you can't concentrate at work, let's get a bit tougher. There is no reason that once you've greeted everyone with a smile or friendly hello at the beginning of the day, you should keep it up. You're not a cruise director are you? You can always just nod when you pass someone in the hallway -- but keep moving! If an unexpected visitor shows up, you can offer a friendly smile or greeting, but stand up and offer your hand, while saying: “How can I help you?” This shows that you’re ready for business, and keeps the person from lingering for too long.

Some other tips for cutting down on distractions:
• Talk to yourself. You can either do this in your head or aloud, but continually say to yourself: “What is the most important thing I need to be doing right now?” This serves two purposes: It helps you stay focused and your muttering concerns just enough people to keep them from getting too close.
• Find your hiding spot. The advantage of having laptops is that they allow you to pick up your work and head for another destination. Ask the boss if you can go to a local coffee shop or book an empty conference room so that you can have some uninterrupted time. Turn off your cell phone and only check it once an hour.
• Consider your own behavior. It could be that one of the reasons you’re getting off track is because you’re part of the problem. How many times do you stop and talk to others in a typical day? When you’re waiting on phone calls, or between projects, do you wander over to someone else’s desk to talk? Do you linger around the coffeepot? By behaving in such a way, you aren’t respecting the time of others – and they may be only too happy to return the favor when you least need it.

What are some of your most common distractions? Do you have ways to eliminate them?


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Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Is There a Bill Clinton in Your Career?

In the coming days and weeks, Bill Clinton's impact on Hillary Clinton's campaign is going to be discussed ad nauseam (get your barf bags ready). But here's the question on my mind: Can a family member's behavior really adversely affect your career?

We've all been at the company holiday party where Tom's wife had a few too many glasses of wine and began leading the conga line a little too early in the evening. Or the holiday picnic where Sheila's husband cornered the CEO and began arguing that corporate leaders in America are all a bunch of crooks.

I heard Bill Clinton described this morning by one television reporter as "roaming free," sort of like he was a wild wildebeest who might mow down hundreds of innocent civilians. This was the same Bill Clinton who was nearly canonized by leading humanitarian efforts for Hurricane Katrina and tsunami victims? This was a former president? Roaming free?

If his fall from favor could happen because his behavior reflected badly on his wife's ambition, how might the average Joe fare when his wife gossips in front of his colleagues?

I don't think it's too far out of bounds to talk to a spouse or significant other before a company event to ask them not to reveal anything you've said about work, and to ask them to stick to "safe" subjects. But do you need to ask them not to overindulge, tell dirty jokes, insult the boss or lead the conga line? When do we have the right to dictate how another person behaves, even if it might hurt our career?

And, let's take it one more step: Are your children seen as a reflection of your professional capabilities? Unfair as it may seem, some people will judge you by whether you seem to be raising the spawns of satan or just have normal, energetic offspring.

So, maybe Hillary Clinton should have left Bill at home. Maybe he didn't hurt her chances of getting the Democratic nomination one iota, and it just wasn't her destiny to be the next president.

But the question remains: Can a career be adversely impacted by the behavior of a loved one? And, if it happened to you, what would you do about it?


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Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Is Astrology the Next Business Tool You Need?

Let me just say up front that I am an Aquarian. For some people, this may mean a great deal. For others, it may mean as much to them as also pointing out that I am brunette or that I have blue eyes.

Interesting, but hardly meaningful.

Unless, of course, you are someone who finds astrology useful in your life. Like Nancy Reagan or the late Princess Diana or businessman J.P. Morgan. All powerful people who have made decisions that affect hundreds, if not thousands of lives.

Then, of course, the question becomes how much astrology -- defined as “the study of positions and aspects of heavenly bodies with a view to predicting their influence on the course of human affairs,” -- influences your life.

I recently interviewed Steve Weiss, author of a new book, "Signs of Success: The Remarkable Power of Business Astrology" for my Gannett News Service/ column.

Weiss made it very clear that while he's been fascinated by astrology for decades, he believes it is only one of many tools we need to understand one another in the workplace.

Still, I would imagine there are plenty of questions about using astrology in business.

How comfortable would you be if your CEO were using astrology to make business decisions? Do you think understanding the 12 signs and their traits could help you make better decisions and understand co-workers, bosses or competitors? Or, should we make astrology part of our Sunday newspaper reading -- along with the comics?


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Monday, June 2, 2008

Arrogance: It Will Bite You On the Ass Eventually

I started thinking a lot about arrogance this weekend when I attended my oldest son's high school graduation. I mean, let's be honest here: Who is more arrogant than a freshly-minted, 18-year-old kid with a diploma in hand?

And, that's how it should be. Everyone should have a period in their lives when they believe the world is their oyster. They should enjoy those moments when they just know they're the smartest, coolest thing on the planet and the rest of us are utter fools.

But then life will smack them around a bit, like it does everyone. (I got the headline for this post from a poster showing a bunch of college kids dazed with disbelief as their top team got beaten by somebody who wasn't supposed to be able to do it.)

Still, these young people will pick themselves up and realize they still have a lot of work to do, just as most of us have done. In the end, they will emerge as better human beings with a lot to offer. They will have gotten the message that arrogance serves no real purpose because it's not based on reality.

Or, is it? Is it now a part of our society, along with the 24/7 coverage of every Paris Hilton burp or every word spoken by a presidential candidate two years before the election?

Some people still worry that they come across as arrogant when they are told to promote themselves through things like blogging, or e-mails that update others on their career accomplishments. But isn't that kind of information a sign of someone's hard work? Do we begrudge others their accolades for working hard?

Or, do we dislike arrogance because it shows that the person wants to take a short-cut? Is arrogance becoming more acceptable in the workplace and in life?


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