Tuesday, April 27, 2010

5 Steps You Must Take Now to Help Your Career

I sort of feel like I've been holding my breath since last fall when the economy started to fall apart and people were losing their jobs right and left. While I've always taken the job of writing career advice seriously, as the job numbers got worse, I found myself waking up in the middle of the night, worrying about the people who had lost their jobs. I interviewed many of them, and their stories stayed with me. I interviewed employers and asked them the same question: "What does it take to get a job these days?"

But I'm starting to breathe a little easier. It's not that the job numbers are spectacular, but things are improving. So I asked myself, "Now what?" That's the idea behind this story for Gannett....

As the economy begins to show signs of recovery, the mindset among some employees is beginning to change. Instead of “hunker down and survive,” at their companies, they’re now beginning to sniff the air for new opportunities. Is it time to ask for a pay raise or promotion? Or just jump ship for new experiences and more money?

Their interest if further piqued as industries from health care to technology to manufacturing begin to make new hires, and recruiters are ramping up their efforts to snare talent. It’s what career coach Joe Lavelle predicts will be “a huge musical chairs game” across companies in the coming year.

“There’s going to be a lot of people leaving their jobs and taking new ones,” Lavelle says.

Lavelle says that while many employees are looking for more money or better opportunities, part of the reason many people will be leaving their jobs is because too many employers should never have hired them in the first place.

“A lot of companies (during the recession) would get 3,000 resumes for one job, so they would look for someone who had exactly the right buzz words on their resume. They didn’t hire for the intangibles, and that meant they didn’t get the best person for the job,” Lavelle says.

Still, Lavelle says that the expected employment churn doesn’t mean that leaving an employer is the best plan for everyone. He says that as employees move from their “job preservation mode” to “career management mode” they should consider several factors. Among them:

· Setting goals. “Now is the time to meet with your manager and talk about career growth and what you need to do to get ahead,” says Lavelle, author of “Act as If It Were Impossible to Fail,” (Results First Consulting, $13.99). “We’re going to start to see more raises and promotions again, so you want to make sure you’re documenting your contributions.” He suggests taking your last annual review and assessing whether goals were met or need to be adjusted, and communicating more often with the boss about new opportunities.

· Trying not to overreact. It’s tempting to think of starting over somewhere else if you’ve been doing the work of several people during the last year and are frustrated at your employer’s lack of recognition or reward for your efforts. “Put away your anger and resentment and think about what you really want to do,” Lavelle says. “Just because you leave a company doesn’t mean you aren’t going to be right back in the same place in another three years, feeling resentful and angry again. It will be the same BS.”

· Considering a re-hire – of yourself. “Why can’t you create an opportunity in the job you have now?” Lavelle says. “Think about how you can get yourself really going again in your current job. Remember that every time you jump ship, you become the new guy somewhere else. And it’s the new person who is the most vulnerable to layoffs.”

· Assessing your company’s strength. While the thought of joining another company or industry may be appealing, do your homework to gauge whether your current job is actually more stable. “It’s going to take a while for different parts of the economy to come back, and they’re not recovering as fast,” Lavelle says. “You may be better off where you are because your company or industry is headed for growth.”

· Making a five-year plan. Lavelle says it’s important to know not only where you want to go in the next year as the economy improves, but how you’re going to evolve and stand out in the next several years so that you’re seen as a top performer.

“Even though people have just kept their heads down and been happy not to rock the boat, there are some industries about to catch fire,” Lavelle says. “It’s time to get ready to make the transition for your career.”

What are some other steps employees should be taking to help their career now?


Tuesday, April 20, 2010

5 Important Rules for New Employees

No one forgets their first job, just like no one forgets their first love. It's imprinted in our brains, part of what makes us who we are today. While many first jobs are tough -- who doesn't remember the boss yelling or co-workers giving us a hard time because we were young ? -- the situation being faced by young employees today is pretty difficult. There's little patience for workers who don't hit the ground running, which is one of the reasons I did this story for Gannett...

Everyone has felt first-job jitters, but for today’s new employees the nerves may be even worse as they face a workplace with high expectations and little patience for poor performance or bad behavior.

Adding to the tension for new workers is the fact that colleagues and bosses – often now doing the work of several people after layoffs in the last year -- have little time or resources to show them the ropes. The result can be a confusing and frustrating for inexperienced employees, who may not realize that their missteps may land them back in the unemployment ranks.

Emily Bennington and Skip Lineberg, who often work with college students, say young workers often enter the working world unprepared, since there’s often little preparation in the college classroom. That’s why these new employees may pull what others consider real no-nos – such as claiming they’re “bored” at work, Lineberg says.

“They don’t know that you never sit idle at work, staring aimlessly. If you’re done with a job, you should get up and ask someone what you can do to help,” he says. “You never say you’re bored – but no one has told them that.”

Bennington says workers face a world often far different than what they’re used to. She says she’s noticed that many young workers are uncomfortable communicating face-to-face, or even via phone. They feel much more comfortable texting or e-mailing, but she notes “that business still comes down to trust and communication – and that means you need to communicate in person.”

Notes Lineberg: “I’ve heard some young folks complain when people call them on their phone. They feel like the other person is intruding on their time. They just want to get a text.”

In a new book, “Effective Immediately: How to Fit In., Stand Out, and Move Up at Your First Real Job,” (Ten Speed Press, $14.99), Lineberg and Bennington try to give new workers a leg up in the business world so that they don’t make mistakes that could hurt their first-job success.

Among their suggestions:

  • Fridays are not for making weekend plans. Instead, use the last day of your work week to submit an update to the boss. In a concise e-mail, use bullet-points to bring your manager up to speed on what you’ve completed and what you’re working on. Also outline your schedule and set goals for the upcoming week.
  • Never send an e-mail when you’re upset. The authors call these missives a “nastygram” and can backfire if you send a message in the heat of the moment. How to know you shouldn’t send it? If it’s after 10 p.m. or if you’ve been mentally composing it all the way home, through dinner and during your favorite television show, they say. “If you’re upset, write the message, but don’t send it. Wait two hours and re-read it. If you still feel the same, try to talk to the person personally or on the phone,” Lineman says.
  • Daily pleasantries are required. You may communicate with friends mostly through text or e-mail, but in the workplace you need to look someone in the eye, smile and say something like, “Good morning” or “You look nice today.” Offering “I really appreciate the opportunity to learn from you” can go a long way toward winning over co-workers.
  • Bosses want to hear bad news. They may not love getting the grim tidings, but it’s better to offer bad news sooner rather than later. Always communicate what’s happening with projects or relay concerns – they don’t like having to ferret out information you should have been providing.
  • Read the rule book. On your first day you were probably given a stack of paperwork to sign and shuttled off to human resources where you signed more stuff and were given an employee handbook. Read the handbook as soon as possible, including the small print. That’s where you’ll find company policies that you need to follow – such as not using company computers for checking Facebook or downloading music. Violating these rules can get you fired before the ink is dry on your paperwork.
What other suggestions would you have for new employees?


Tuesday, April 13, 2010

How Badly Do You Need Time Off?

The day before I left for vacation a couple of weeks ago, I was trying to finish my work, pack for my family, clean the house for the house sitter and figure out what that weird smell was coming from my refrigerator.

As we left for the airport, I had the same thought I always do: "It's not worth it. No vacation is worth the amount of stress I feel."

But then I spent a week on the beach, and I decided that yeah, maybe it was worth it. Really worth it.

I returned to work mentally refreshed, full of energy and -- I'll admit it -- some lingering sadness that the days of playing all day were over.

Over the last year, all I've heard from people is how exhausted they are by the extra work they're taking on. They feel like they don't even have time for their own families, let alone time to take for a vacation. Yet, in this story for Gannett, I found that people are taking time off -- they know they MUST take time off. Here's the story I did....

It was a long winter.

But spring has finally arrived, and with the warmer temperatures comes the desire to escape the working world for some time off. Still, with the increasing work load for most workers, and the lingering unease about job security, could it be that employees will forgo the warm beaches or other time-off adventures this year?

For Latasha Avery, a pharmaceutical marketing employee, she plans to not only take a vacation to Hawaii this year, but do something she has never done before – leave her Blackberry at home.

“It’s been insanely busy for the last year, and I’m basically a team of one at work,” she says. “I have to go away. I have to regroup.”

Amy Soderquist, an administrative assistant for a sales department of a fraternal insurance company, says she also plans to take a few days away in Duluth, Minn. this summer with her boyfriend – not only because her company’s policy mandates that she take at least five consecutive days off, but because she needs the break.

She also plans to “unplug” from her job, leaving the laptop at home.

“If we stayed totally connected, we would feel like we were spending money on gas and hotel for nothing – we can stay connected at home,” she says.

With many workers assuming the jobs of those who have been laid off in the last year because of the recession, finding time for themselves has been tough as they’ve worked longer hours, often staying connected via technology even when they leave their cubicle. Hard economic times caused many to cancel vacations, believing they couldn’t afford it career-wise to be away from their jobs.

As hopeful signs of an economic recovery have begun to emerge – and with exhausted workers struggling with stress – it’s more important than ever that people find time to recharge their batteries, says Paula Caligiuri, author of “Get a Life, Not a Job, “(FT Press, $18.99).

Caligiuri, a work psychologist and professor of human resource management at Rutgers University, says that workers who don’t get time off have reduced creativity and productivity. “Once you get to burnout, it’s very difficult to recover,” she says.

Air New Zealand and Alertness Solutions found in a study of in-flight passengers in a 2006 study that on the last day of their vacation, travelers had an 82 percent better performance than before their time off, and their post-vacation performance improved nearly 25 percent compared to their performance before a vacation.

For Avery, the decision to take a vacation wasn’t a difficult one, even though there was a period in 2008 when both she and her husband lost their jobs. While her husband is now employed by a small company and plans to take his laptop and check in with his office every day while on vacation, she only plans to “check e-mail once or twice.”

In fact, Avery says she chose Hawaii for a vacation because it is so far away from her office in Connecticut, and “I wanted somewhere in a different time zone so that people would think twice about just picking up the phone and calling me,” she says. “If they’re trying to figure out if it’s night or day where I am, they will probably just end up figuring how to do what they need without me.”

Avery says that the stress of working nights and weekends – and not even taking time off when she was ill -- has taken a toll on her physical and emotional health. She says that her co-workers and manager are supportive of the time off, especially since she’s making sure to have her job covered while she’s gone. She says that colleagues all know the strain of working more hours and having little time to take care of personal needs.

“I spend more time with work colleagues than I do my family or friends,” she says. “I just had this growing realization that I needed to do something. One night I said to my husband, ‘I’ve got to have a break.’ I have to get away.”

Is your workplace supportive of you taking time off this year?


Monday, April 5, 2010

What toll has workplace stress taken on your life?

Since last October, it seems like every time I interview someone they're sick, just getting sick -- or coming off a bout of illness that has lasted weeks. I've heard people cough so hard I thought they would hack up a lung, or sound so congested it sounded like they were holding their nose.

That's why I found it fascinating when I interviewed Dr. Margaret Lewin who told me she and her colleagues were talking about the number of upper respiratory viruses they've seen this last winter. While she noted they have no scientific studies to prove it, their instincts tell them that stress may be partly responsible for the people who have been hit over and over again this last year.

This column for Gannett focuses on the high price many people have paid -- with their health -- for the bad economy and pressure at work, and what we can do about it....

Dr. Margaret Lewin is an internist in New York, and while she sees a variety of ailments on a daily basis, there is one thing that all of her patients have in common these days: stress.

“Everyone who walks in my office is stressed,” says Lewin, medical director of Cinergy Health. “There’s a lot of things worrying them these days.”

From the bad economy to unemployment to work overload, Lewin says her patients are experiencing physical symptoms of their stress, affecting everything from their sleep to their appetites to their relationships.

“Stress is often expressed according to a person’s hardwiring. So, if someone is wired tightly normally, they’re going to get even more anxious when there’s stress. Other people just slow down so much that they have trouble staying awake,” she says.

According to a survey by Regus Group of 11,000 companies worldwide, 58 percent of American employees report that stress levels have increased greatly. The sources of that stress? About 39 percent say it’s because of their employer’s greater focus on profitability, while nearly 39 percent report it’s because they fear losing their jobs – or the employer going under.

Employees are also under increasing pressure because they’re doing the jobs of laid-off co-workers – but many have had their wages and benefits cut as companies trim expenses. A Conference Board survey of 5,000 U.S. households found that only 45 percent of respondents were satisfied with their jobs, a drop from the 61 percent in 1987, when the survey was first conducted.

At the same time, a new Towers Watson survey of more than 20,000 employees found that 44 percent of employees have no plans to leave their jobs – even if there is no chance for advancement or increased pay – because they value stability more.

All of those pressures have led to people struggling to cope with the new workplace demands – and the physical toll is evident to doctors like Lewin.

“A lot of people tell me they’re so tired they can’t function. They can’t sleep. They’ve gained 10 pounds because they’re turning to comfort food. They’ve quit working out because they don’t have time,” she says. “People are just really out of their comfort zones.”

Lewin says there are a number of ways that people can cope better with their workplace stress, such as:

  • Scheduling a check-up. “You first must check to see that there’s nothing medical behind your symptoms,” she says. “Everything from your thyroid to your blood sugar levels can cause problems.”
  • Stick to the basics. The advice of eating well, exercising more and getting plenty of rest still works the best. “If you’re skipping meals and eating junk food and then just quit working out, you’re going to feel like you’ve been hit with a club,” Lewin says.

Lewin advises if you’re having trouble sleeping to see a doctor, since over-the-counter sleep aids can stay in your system too long and cause daytime sluggishness. “Then you try to get going with caffeine in the morning, and you crash in the afternoon. Then you use more caffeine, and then you can’t sleep again that night and have to take something to help you sleep. It’s a vicious cycle,” she says. “And the worst idea is to use alcohol to sleep. That’s the most negative thing you can do.”

  • Write it down. “Put your schedule on a piece of paper, then prioritize what’s really important. Make sure you put time in that schedule for yourself, and for times when unexpected things happen,” she says. “Leave some room so that you feel you can breathe.”
  • Talk to someone. “Depression can be paralyzing,” Lewin says. “You may feel even more hopeless because when you’re not feeling well, you know there is no one at work to cover for you” because so many staffs have been cut. “A lot of people talk to me about how terrified they are that they’ll lose their jobs. Find someone to talk to about how you’re feeling,” she says.
What are some ways you handle stress?