Thursday, October 30, 2008
After 9/11, I was struck by the sense of caring we showed for one another. It was a horrible, stressful time, but it seemed to bring out the best in us. We began to look out for one another, even at work. We shared our mutual pain about what had happened, and even expressed our fear for the future. Office squabbles seemed ridiculous, and petty jealousies even more so.
Now it's seven years later, and we're facing another horrible, scary time. We see empty chairs at work, evidence of the people who have taken early retirement or other buyout packages. Almost every one of us know someone who has been laid off. Our own employers have stated they will not be filling empty positions for now.
And yet, office politics are on the rise. Gossiping, backbiting and negative campaigning dominate the airwaves, and we seem to mimic that behavior at work.
So, instead of pulling together on the job as we did after 9/11, we seem to be our own worst enemies right now. Of course, much of that is due to the enormous stress in both our private and professional lives. No one can predict what will happen next week, let alone in the coming year.
If makes workers feel powerless, and that's a lousy feeling. It makes us want to grab whatever we can and hold on, everyone else be damned. But here's the thing: We actually DO have a lot of control right now. We have control over how we treat one another.
It's not a easy thing to admit that we've been a jerk to people we work with, either through our silences or our short-tempers or our snide comments. But we've got to own up to our bad behavior, because until we do, we won't begin to fix what needs fixing.
So, today, I want you to think about the person in the cubicle next door or down the hall. I want you to think about how fear and anxiety has made you and others behave, and what you can do to start making things right.
Remember, the evidence supports the fact that when we are friendlier to one another at work, when we genuinely care about one another, we are not only happier but more productive. And right now, that's definitely a very good thing.
What are some ways to improve relationships with others at work?
Monday, October 27, 2008
Watch out: 5S may be coming to your workplace. And if it does, well, you have my condolences.
I first read about 5S several months ago, and hoped it was a bad blip on the radar screen, sort of like a new High School Musical cast being assembled.
But no, there it was on the front page of the Wall Street Journal this morning. For those who haven't heard of 5S (sort, straighten, shine, standardize and sustain), it was originally designed for the manufacturing floor as a way to keep things neat and tidy to increase efficiency. Everything has a specific place, and unnecessary stuff is tossed so that no time is wasted looking for something, seen as especially important when people share a workspace.
Now, 5S has made its way to the upper floors and into the cubicles, and I'm getting a very bad feeling about it.
Don't get me wrong. I'm all for keeping chaos to a minimum in the workplace, and disorganized, messy work spaces aren't good for anyone. But as someone who has covered the workplace for decades, who has interviewed hundreds of bosses and hundreds of employees over the years, I think this idea is going to be about as welcome as a weekly performance evaluation.
Why? At a time when people are so concerned about their jobs, when companies need every mind engaged in coming up with new and innovative ideas in order to remain competitive, when bosses are just trying to keep employees focused and not watching the stock market go nuts -- we're going to focus on whether a desk is neat? Or whether a person's sweater should be allowed on the back of a chair?
I realize some people think this concept is great, and a perfect solution to the problems of inefficiency and disorganization among team members. But I've seen this thing cause a backlash before, and I just believe when people are being asked to work longer hours, with little or no pay raise or bonus this year, that telling them they put the stapler in the wrong drawer is going to be a bit grating on already frayed nerves.
If you ask a couple who has been together a long time what the secret to their relationship is, many of them might reply it's being respectful, kind, communicating well and valuing what the other person has to bring to the relationship. I'd agree with all of those things. And I think most bosses would agree that's what they also value in their team members.
Do they want to be policing the office looking for points to deduct for lack of neatness? Are employees going to be trying to find ways to keep a picture of their kid or a beloved pet from being banned from their workspace instead of focusing on their work? Will 5S only lead to lower morale -- and lead to greater inefficiency, rather than improve it?
I sure hope not. I sure hope that companies don't go overboard on 5S at a time when we need everyone engaged, enthusiastic, energized and upbeat (the 3E's and 1U method) -- but I'm not counting on it.
What do you think of 5S? Are companies focusing on the wrong things at work these days?
Friday, October 24, 2008
As an employee, it's often nerve-wracking to see managers troop into a meeting during these difficult financial times. What are they talking about? Is it good? Is it bad? Are they debating who is going to get laid off? Plans for a big project? What critical decisions are they making that the fate of dozens -- perhaps hundreds -- of employees hinge upon?
It would be interesting to a fly on the wall during these sessions. That's why I thought I would speculate about 10 things overheard at the last management meeting:
1. "I told you we have auditors."
2. "We need to make some decisions about personnel. Anyone got a quarter? OK -- call it. If it's heads, Trish goes. Tails, it's Larry."
3. "We've got to find a way to cut down on distractions around here. All those in favor of moving our next meeting to the golf course, say 'aye.'"
4. "I could have been the next David Hasselhoff, but noooo --I had to get that MBA."
5. "It's unanimous: We use the 'Deal or No Deal' model for payroll this next quarter."
6. "So, no one really batted an eye when I told them to re-use envelopes. But the 'bring your own toilet paper' memo didn't go over so great."
7. "Hey -- I'm hitting the dollar store after work to pickup up a few 'forced early retirement' gifts. Anyone wanna come along?"
8. "It was all I could do to keep a straight face when I told my staff: "Don't panic. Everything's fine."
9. "I just found a great new website to help with performance evaluations. It's called "make-em-squirm.com."
10. "Oh, Lord. Is that the FBI?"
What else might be overheard in a meeting of managers these days?
Wednesday, October 22, 2008
When was the last time you did something courageous at work?
I'm not talking about cleaning out the office fridge (although that does take gumption) or trying a new font on your report. I'm talking about stepping out of your comfort zone, doing something that made your palms sweat or your knees quake.
You may be wondering why in the world you would do something scary at work, when just being at work these days is frightening enough. But recently I interviewed someone who knows a thing or two about stepping into the abyss, and I've been thinking about career courage ever since.
Bill Treasurer is a workplace courage expert, but he's also a former member of the U.S. High Diving Team, where he often performed as the fire-diving superhero "Captain Inferno." His new book, "Courage Goes to Work," is all about -- wait for it -- courage at work.
Of course, Treasurer wrote his book before this current economic crisis, but what he has to say may be even more relevant now. Because while you may feel like just playing it safe and keeping your head down, you need to put yourself in scarier situations now more than ever.
"Courage in my mind is activated by challenging times," Treasurer says. "Courage doesn't mean being fearless, it means carrying on despite our fear."
So, even though you might be afraid to put your hand up and suggest new or innovative or even outrageous ideas at work, Treasurer says now is the time to do it.
"Right now, employers really need employees to really embrace change. They need those new ideas to help save money. They need to find new opportunities. This is exactly the right time to raise your hand."
Or, step out on a stage. That means that despite your tendency to want to puke when addressing more than five people at a time, you go ahead and give that speech or presentation to hundreds or people. Or, you volunteer for that new project even though it's out of your comfort zone. Maybe it even means you accept that new job for less money because you'll be doing something totally different than what you've done for the last decade.
"Courage means that you move forward through your fear. You voice is shaking or palms are sweating because it means you're moving into the courage zone," he says.
At the same time, the greatest acts of courage at work can come from some unexpected places.
"Courage of voice is the least common," Treasurer says. "It's when you raise your hand and say you're overwhelmed and you need help. Or, when you admit to a mistake and apologize for it."
So, the next time your stomach roils and your palms become damp at just the thought of doing something at work, take heart from these words voiced by a man who knows a thing or two about diving off that cliff:
"At the end of the day when we look back, where we are most proud of ourselves -- where we see that we were better us -- is when we've met the challenge," Treasurer says.
"Just trust yourself."
Do enough people show courage in the workplace today? Why or why not?
Monday, October 20, 2008
I went on eBay the other day to try and purchase a crystal ball. Unfortunately, the ones that were available didn't come with a guarantee, so I decided to pass.
I mean, who wouldn't want a crystal ball to see into the future -- to see how we're all going to survive this mess and whether or not the Rays really can go from being the worst team in baseball to winning the World Series in a year's time?
OK, so when the crystal ball thing didn't work out, I decided to just talk to a lot of different people about the situation on the job today. I didn't talk to just experts, but also regular folks who worry about their jobs, who wonder if their bosses are telling them the truth and if they need to be looking for a second job.
While this is unscientific, this is what my gut tells me -- after decades of covering the workplace -- what you may see come to your workplace:
1. Less flexibility. Companies already are operating lean, but because of the nervousness about how deep and long the recession will last, employers will want employees to really buckle down. And that means that bosses or companies offering flexibility options such as working certain hours or working from home may start to cut back those choices because they want to stick really close to workers right now. So that means where and when the boss works -- so will you.
2. Less tolerance for whining. Bosses are tense. I mean really tense. Maybe they're not showing it to employees, but trust me, they're very stressed by what is going on. They want to be there for employees who are worried about their jobs or the economy, but they can only take so much whining. Those workers who don't recognize when to suck it up and just shut up and work are going to put themselves in jeopardy. Remember: There are lots of great, qualified people out of work right now, and the boss's pickings to replace you have never been better.
3. More generational conflict. Things between older and younger workers have sometimes been tense, but there's always been the argument that baby boomers are going to be retiring in droves soon, so employers will be forced to pay attention to what younger workers want. But with so many baby boomers seeing their portfolios and 401(k)s tank, chances are good many of them are going to stick around much longer. And that's not going to sit well with GenX and GenY, since it mucks up their plans. Employers are going to have little patience (see No.2) for workers who can't get along.
4. Longer hours. Maybe you thought your workload couldn't get any worse. Guess what? It can.
5. Fewer benefits. Those goody packages used to attract and retain top workers are going to start drying up. Companies have pretty much cut as many bodies as they can, so they're going to look for other ways to trim costs. So, if you're thinking of using your company's tuition reimbursement, adoption assistance, gym memberships, etc., do it now. Before too much longer, they may be gone.
What other trends do you think we'll see -- or already are seeing -- in the workplace because of the struggling economy?
Friday, October 17, 2008
If one more person tells me not to panic, well, I might just panic.
The truth is, we get up every morning and we're not sure what is going to happen. The stock market will rise. It will fall. Chicken Little will go running down the street screaming something about the sky.
So, while it's easy for all the experts to tell us not to panic, it's kind of hard not to be a teensy bit apprehensive about what might await us every day. That's why I'm giving you this checklist so that you can be aware when it might be time to panic. Not that I'm a doomsayer. I'm just sayin'.
The 10 "Uh-Oh" signs at work:
1. Co-workers are putting stickers, bearing their names, on your office furniture.
2. The security guard takes your i.d. and draws a big "X" through your photo.
3. The electricity has been turned off in your cubicle. And mothballs put in your desk drawers.
4. The boss's secretary begins crying whenever she sees you, offering you gum and saying, "I always liked you."
5. HR included store coupons in your most recent paycheck.
6. The guy at the deli where you eat every day takes your "frequent eater" card and tears it up.
7. The IT department has changed your logon to "dead2us."
8. John McCain returns your donation check with a note: "You need this more than I do."
9. The mailroom guy is using your mailbox to store his lunch.
10. You finally get the best reserved parking space in the whole company.
What are some other "uh-oh" signs?
Wednesday, October 15, 2008
The directive is pretty clear from the employment world in these tough economic times: "Remain relevant." But the unspoken addition is this: "Or you could be out on your ear."
Right now, it's critical that you become more focused than ever on your job and your employer. That means the first thing you've got to do is cut down on distractions. Because if you're distracted, you're not as productive, as creative or as critical to your company. While we all know we should turn off the e-mail and check only every couple of hours, there are other distractions that we are less inclined to eliminate.
It's time to get serious. Things are scary out there, and no one can afford to perform at less than 100 percent. It's time to get real, and get tough. Let's talk about some ways that you need to kick your own butt into gear:
* Stop socializing online. I know this is going to get some heat from some people, but I think it's gotten out of control. Right now, we all need time to let our minds relax and recharge by going to a local park with our family or friends or reading something enjoyable. I know one person who recently decided to stop using Facebook. He told me it was something he had been thinking about for a long time, but this week he was brutally honest with himself and said he knew his work was suffering because of the constant distraction of keeping up with his Facebook page and the "social" aspect of it was just too stressful. Here's an interesting aside: Facebook didn't want to make it easy to end the addiction. It asked him the reasons for leaving, and each time he clicked on an answer, a solution popped up. Harden your resolve and step away from MySpace, Twitter and Friendster. If you can't go cold turkey, eliminate all but one or two sites, and never check it at work, unless these sites are part of your job description.
And your personal blog? Think about taking a break. I find many people who started blogs now believe they're nothing more than burden -- just one more task they have to take care of. It's really OK if you decide to take a break or stop altogether -- it it your blog, after all.
If you're not sure how much time you're spending on your social network site, get an old-fashioned timer and set it for 30 minutes. Every time you have to reset it, mark it down. I did this, and was stunned to see that an hour had gone by -- it seemed like I'd only been on it for 15 minutes.
* Quit texting: "Where R U?" may seem innocent enough, but it's the first salvo in a time suck that will have you texting yourself right out of a job. Turn off your personal cell phone or Blackberry and only check on your lunch hour for emergency messages. Ignore everything else until after work.
* Do something monotonous. I came up with my book idea while blow drying my hair. Another friend came up with a great marketing idea while taking a shower. Stop trying to entertain yourself all the time, such as listening to a podcast while working out, or watching YouTube on your laptop while waiting in a airport. Let yourself get bored -- you'll be amazed at how it will turn on your brain and get you thinking more creatively and freely. (I get some of my best column ideas while doing laundry or driving.) It's those creative thoughts that are going to make you stand out at work, to help you remain relevant to your boss.
* Be selective with your information input. The Internet is wonderful because it offers us 24/7 information. The Internet is terrible because it offers us 24/7 information. With the financial mess and the upcoming election, it's tempting to check CNN every 10 minutes. Don't. It won't do your job any good to focus too much on things beyond your control right now. Get your news fix before and after work, either in print or on air, then move onto something else.
* Keep moving. Yeah, exercise is good for you, but moving feet are also a good idea at work. Don't stop to chat in the bathroom, around the coffee pot or anywhere else that seems to be a "bulls**t zone." Just keep moving with a friendly wave and a "I've got a deadline" comment.
What are some ways you've found to cut down on distractions?
Monday, October 13, 2008
Six months ago on this blog I wrote about a smart and talented lawyer with four beautiful children who had a drug and alcohol addiction. The story, I said, was that of my cousin and her struggle for recovery in a world where she had once had it all -- but was stripped of nearly everything because of her battles with her addictions.
She died last week.
I had not seen her since my father's funeral eight years ago, but through family contacts I kept up with her health and addiction struggles. I'm not going to go into specifics, but suffice it to say because of her disease she at one point had lost custody of her children, divorced and lost her law license.
I debated writing this post, but after watching stress taking it's toll on everyone in this country because of the economy and the heated political atmosphere, I think it's important that we all make a promise to look out for one another. Addiction doesn't reside just on the street corner with junkies looking for the next fix -- it's also in the meeting rooms and boardrooms and cubicles where we work.
For my newspaper column earlier this year I interviewed Eric Goplerud a Ph.D. and the director of Ensuring Solutions to Alcohol Problems at The George Washington University Medical Center, who told me that while workers’ alcohol problems cost employers millions of dollars each year and contribute to skyrocketing health insurance costs, the problem often is not effectively dealt with in the workplace.
“I think one of the reasons that more employers have not addressed this issue is because it’s perceived as a private issue in the life of an employee,” he said.
He told me that one of the most effective ways to help someone at work is to use what he called "AIM" – aim, inform and motivate.
“You go to someone and you say, ‘You know, you seem to be drinking more – how much are you drinking?’ Then, you inform them that what they’re drinking seems like an awful lot. Finally, you motivate them to get help, by expressing your concern and saying: ‘Have you thought about changing?’”
Goplerud also told me that even those who have not become alcoholics according to the Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) guidelines are running a risk by drinking too much.
“What we’ve learned is that many people drink alcohol in ways that are unhealthy to themselves and others,” Goplerud says. “There’s no need for them to go to AA, but it does affect their health and there may be a need to go to counseling in order to handle the progression.”
He stressed that employers need to be aware of situations that can lead to overuse of alcohol by employees, such as workers who labor with little or no supervision or in remote locations – or who travel a lot for business. Also, younger workers (males under 21 have the highest alcohol dependencies) can be greatly influenced to drink more in a company culture where older employees drink heavily.
Unfortunately, research also shows that only 10 percent of working people with serious alcohol problems receive any kind of treatment, Goplerud said.
“This is a problem that is a whole lot easier to treat before it gets out of control,” he said.
You may not want to get involved in someone's addiction battles at work. After all, are you your colleague's keeper? In memory of my cousin, I sure hope so.
Friday, October 10, 2008
If you're not feeling it these days, I want some of whatever you're drinking. Because with the latest economic news making most of us feel like we're on some sadistic new ride at Disney World, stress is catching up with most of us in one form or another.
And nowhere is that more evident than at work. After all, we spend a major portion of our time there every day, and the demands to perform are multiplied right now. Most of us -- even the most sanguine among us -- are feeling a teeny bit tense right now.
If so, you may want to take some steps to deal with it. Of course, sometimes it's hard to recognize that you're going off the deep end, so here are 10 signs that you may be under a bit of stress on the job:
1. Bite marks. In your car's steering wheel.
2. The announcement of "cake in the break room" has you clotheslining three people who try to get in line ahead of you.
3. You pay the tool booth operator, the parking lot attendant and the Starbucks barista in pennies. Bloodsuckers.
4. Your yoga instructor asks you -- repeatedly -- to quit swearing aloud during Downward Facing Dog.
5. Your co-worker whistling "Oh! What a Beautiful Morning" has you pouring salt in his coffee when he's not looking.
6. You use your latest 401(k) statement to make a giant spitball that you fire at your CEO as he walks by on the street. You giggle uncontrollably as he curses pigeons overhead.
7. When asked by your employer to watch expenses during these tough times, you turn off your computer and phone. When the boss asks you about it a week later, you look innocent and reply: "Just trying to cut energy costs."
8. You chisel the gold star off your "employee of the month" plaque and try to sell it on e-Bay.
9. While traveling on business, you show up for the airport gate in your skivvies. With your i.d. Superglued to your forehead.
10. During your performance evaluation you juggle, do an impersonation of Cloris Leachman on Dancing With the Stars and recite the Gettysburg Address while drinking a glass of water. "Just want to point out my talents so I can get that .0333 percent raise!" you tell the boss.
So, do you think you're feeling the stress? What are some other hints you might be hanging by your fingernails?
Wednesday, October 8, 2008
Generation Y appears to have an image problem.
According to a recent survey by JobFox, recruiters aren't too keen on GenYers, and only 20 percent said they were "generally great performers" as compared to 63 percent who said baby boomers (age 43-62) were great performers, 58 percent lauding GenXers (age 29-42) and 25 percent saying traditionalists (63-plus) were great performers.
It gets worse. According to press release materials, "Gen Y was also classified as 'generally poor performers' by the largest number of recruiters polled. Thirty percent of recruiters classified Millennials (GenY) as poor performers, followed by 22 percent of recruiters who classified traditionalists as poor performers, 5 percent for GenX and 4 percent for baby boomers.
But JobFox's CEO Rob McGovern thinks that managers and recruiters are missing the boat. Managers, he says, must "learn new ways to incorporate GenY views into the workforce."
OK, I agree. Managers and recruiters always need to be looking at how they can use an individual's strengths to help a company and boost the bottom line.
But I think it's more than that. I think GenYers (age 28 and under) need to be better at their own personal p.r.. I think that if they wait around to get the respect they believe they deserve, they may find themselves waiting a long time. Because whether they deserve the slacker reputation or not, the problem is that it exists.
Believe it or not, however, GenYers are being handed a golden opportunity to turn things around as the economy takes a nosedive. How? Let us count the ways:
1. Staying sane. GenY has lived a life of upheaval. They've grown up with AIDS, 9/11 and Britney not wearing any panties. They don't get rattled easily. Right now the older folks in the workplace are pretty well freaking and stressing about everything from how to make their house payment to watching their 401(k) tank. If GenYers demonstrate that -- while they understand the seriousness of the issues right now -- they are still upbeat and positive about life, it could have an enormous impact. Inspiring others to keep it all in perspective can demonstrate real leadership, and that's just the kind of reputation they need to develop.
2. Save others time. No one is more crazed these days that workers trying to balance the demands of their private and professional lives. But GenYers have grown up juggling, and have found technology enhances their lives. Young workers are in a great position to help other workers find ways to use technology to make their lives better. There's no way that anyone would be called a slacker for helping give someone more time with their kids or do their job better. Just be careful: You don't want your help to come off as smug or arrogant. Read Chris Brogan's post to make sure you do it right.
3. Provide the global view. The world has been delivered to GenY through television and computers since they were old enough to use a sippy cup. They have friends working in Darfur, they listen to bands from Japan and think nothing of IMing contacts in Istanbul or Tazmania. If they can keep their workplace informed on how events in Cambodia or Russia or Brazil may be impacting their business and bottom line, it could be enormously valuable. And let's face it -- those that contribute to the bottom line are seen as valuable -- and top performers.
While there are plenty of people telling managers that they need to treat GenYers better and learn to appreciate them, I think that GenYers may have to do some of the heavy lifting. They shouldn't wait around for someone to discover their strengths -- they should find subtle, but very meaningful ways to change perceptions that will have a real impact on their career success.
What are some other ways young workers can improve their image?
Monday, October 6, 2008
There's no escaping the economic news lately, and most of us go to work every day just trying not to think about our dwindling 401(k) plans or pensions. But even if we're trying to block it out, most of us are carrying an extra level of stress as we try to do a job already demanding more of of us than even a year ago.
Add to that the upcoming presidential election, and we're creating a volatile situation where our workplace can become a boiling point for a lot of pent-up anxieties, says one workplace expert.
Christine Probett, a San Diego State University lecturer and former Goodrich executive, says workers are increasingly anxious, frightened and emotional about the future, and that nervousness with the economy means that clear communications from top brass are critical.
“When people get nervous – as they are now with the economy – it’s really important that companies keep their workers informed about what is going on,” says Christine Porbett. “If they don’t, the rumors will start to fly. People will begin making stuff up.”
I recently interviewed Probett for my Gannett News Service/USAToday.com column, and she says that she was once told by an employee that the way the employee separated fact from fiction was by asking three different people about a rumor. If it was confirmed by those three people, then the employee accepted it as fact – and that meant she could pass it along to other workers.
“In a company, there are enough rumors going around that you can get 100 people to confirm a rumor as fact,” Probett says. “Just because you heard it doesn’t make it fact, but that’s how it happens.”
She says any during tough economic times, every closed-door meeting can spawn speculation among employees.
“If management has a meeting, they better come out of that meeting and communicate about what was discussed with the people who work there,” Probett says. “Even if all they can say is that they can’t talk about it. It’s better than out-and-out-lying about what was said."
Further, Probett says the upcoming elections also have added another layer of drama to a workplace that is already trying to deal with workers stressed by rising consumer prices, unemployment and unsettling news from Wall Street.
She says that employees must be very careful about what they say regarding elections at work, because they might be setting the stage for what is known as a "hostile work environment".
Specifically, under federal law, a “hostile work environment” means that “unwelcome comments or conduct based on sex, race or other legally protected characteristics unreasonably interferes with an employee’s work performance or creates an intimidating, hostile or offensive work environment.”
“A lot of people are talking about this election, and it brings up a lot of issues,” Probett says. “We’re either going to have an African-American man as president, or a woman as vice president. There’s a lot of energy and emotion tied up in that. Diversity is one of those issues that creates a lot of tension and disagreement in the workplace, because sometimes it’s hard for one person to understand where someone else is coming from.”
That's why it's important that employees clearly understand what they can and cannot say at work regarding the election. If they're not clear, and the company has no set policy, it might be best to keep a low profile regarding political views. According to an American Management Association survey, 35 percent of business people said they are uncomfortable discussing their political views with colleagues.
“I would discourage people from wearing buttons supporting a specific candidate or party, and not allow signage or fundraising while at work,” Probett says.
If you're having problems with someone at work regarding politics, Probett says you should resolve it as you do any conflict.
“Don’t let the issue get bigger. Talk to the person, and tell them what you believe the problem to be. Don’t name call, and make sure you listen when they talk. Once you understand where the other person is coming from, try to come to a resolution. Then, move on. Don’t hold a grudge,” she says.
Are you feeling more stress on the job? How are you handling it?
Friday, October 3, 2008
Have you ever been at work, and you think you have perhaps fallen into another dimension? That maybe Ashton Kutcher is going to show up and explain that you've been punked -- that what you're going through isn't really, well... real?
Unfortunately, we're not celebrities, and the bizarre things we end up doing at work are not practical jokes. Let's look at some of the....
Things That Were Not in My Job Description:
1. Smelling the boss's breath to make sure it's not "too garlicky" before meeting with a client.
2. Looking at a co-worker's photos of him cutting his child's umbilical cord.
3. Entertaining a customer's 3-year-old who asks "why" every 25 seconds and wants to know what dirt it made of.
4. Cleaning out the microwave where some idiot left the remains of an exploded bean burrito.
5. Listening to a co-worker describe her wedding plan, complete with PowerPoint, flow chart and Excel spreadsheet.
6. Participating in the annual pep rally kickoff for a community campaign that involves cheers and wearing a really stupid hat.
7. Fixing a broken office chair with a paperclip and Dentyne.
What are some other things you've been asked to do at work that are not in your job description?
Wednesday, October 1, 2008
When there are stressful times in the workplace, you can bet it's going to bring out the best in a lot of people -- and the worst.
Unfortunately, job seekers may not discover which category a boss falls into until it's too late.
For example, good bosses will understand that the continuing tough economic news means they need to rally the troops, to stick close to employees and make sure employees see they are calm in the face of bad economic news, determined to keep doing the best possible job. They make sure their door is always open to listen to worker concerns, and even spring for a pizza every once in a while just to help lighten the mood.
And then there are the bosses that crack under the strain. They hole up in their offices, the door tightly closed. When they do emerge, they are uncommunicative with workers, except to criticize or be short-tempered. They may be sarcastic, rude, insulting and thoughtless. Employees become tightly wired and depressed, alternately sniping with one another or lapsing into brooding silences.
Enter the hapless job seeker. With shiny shoes, a bright smile and firm handshake, the job candidate enters the door of a company, hopeful that in this crappy job market, he or she may land a job.
Many are desperate. They try not to let that show (a definite no-no in the job search world), but they know their current company is sinking fast, their industry on the rocks, their job security a thing of the past. They need another job, and they need it now.
So, they may be willing to overlook a few things they would not have in the past, when job seekers had the upper hand in a thriving economy. Now, with rising unemployment, they don't care about the long commute, the less-than-generous benefits, the lack of stock options. In other words, they are willing to overlook a lot of the frayed edges if it just means they can keep a paycheck coming in.
Understandable. You gotta do what you gotta do. But there is one area that may bear closer scrutiny: the boss.
As anyone who has had a bad boss knows, a rotten manager can affect you in ways you never dreamed. You can't sleep. You can't eat -- or overeat. You yell at your kids or partner when you get home, you develop bad headaches and stomach pains. You feel like you've aged 10 years overnight and secretly envision the boss getting hit by a bus. (Not killed of course, just in the hospital for the next five years.)
That's why it's still important that while you may be willing to settle on a lot of things when you go for a job these days, don't settle for a bad boss. And here's a bit of good news: The bad bosses are being exposed as never before. It's going to be easier to learn who is a lousy manager simply because he or she is cracking under the strain.
Here's some ways to find out a boss's true colors:
* Ask to speak to other employees. Sometimes you will not always be given this opportunity, and other times, the workers may not be truthful because they fear for their own jobs. Ask questions such as: "What has been your favorite assignment and why?" "What gives you the greatest satisfaction working here?" "What three words would you use to describe your boss?"
* Find the favorite watering hole. This may be a neighborhood pub, or a lunch spot where employees hang out. It may even be a nearby park. The idea is to strike up a conversation away from the eyes and ears of the boss so that you can get an employee to open up about the true management style of the boss.
* Be objective. Just because one employee trashes the manager doesn't mean the boss is terrible. It could be that this person doesn't get along with anyone. Try and talk to several employees so that you can get a real feel for what's going on.
* Don't think you're special. I'm always amazed by job candidates who take a position knowing the boss is an ass. They always think they can find a way to get along with the manager, that they somehow possess special powers to overcome a bully boss. Not so. If the boss is a jerk to the majority of workers, chances are you're going to experience the exact same thing.
What are some other ways to spot a bad manager?