Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Does It Matter Whether You Have Friends at Work?

How important is it that you work with people you like? Does it matter if you hang out with them outside of work? Or, do you prefer to keep your professional and personal lives separate -- talking to friends during the day via Twitter and Facebook?

In my experience, it makes a difference to me that I like the folks where I work. If I don't, the days can be very long, and very stressful. At the same time, I know that if I work with people I like, I have a tendency to gab to them about non work-related stuff -- what I did over the weekend, the ongoing war I have with the deer that get into my garden and whether or not I can make dinner with only olives and bran cereal.

What impact do friends have on your work? Read this column I did for Gannett/ and see if your views change....

While research shows that workplace friendships result in higher job satisfaction among employees, there is a “dark side” to having buddies on the job, says a new study.

“You hear all these positive things about how friendships at work can build morale, and that’s true – but they can be bad for work because they can cause us to avoid getting work done,” says Jessica Methot, an assistant professor at Rutgers University.

When she was at the University of Florida, Methot studied colleague relationships and found those who worked with people considered “friends” engaged in “more whining and gossiping and complaining,” she says.

“In other words, these friends really didn’t help one another be more productive,” she says.

Patricia Turner, who works for an e-learning publisher in Lewisville, Texas, says she has noticed that if friends work in different departments, there’s a tendency for one person “to hang around the department with the friend and talk about their plans for the weekend.”

“Honestly, they’ve got no reason to be there (in that department). Neither person is getting any work done,” Turners says.

Methot says that’s a prime example of how workplace friendships can cause problems and impact productivity. “If you’ve got friends working in different departments, they have a tendency to want to get together, and chat,” she says.

The need to socialize with a friend at work – even if it means going to another area of a company – is something that managers need to be aware of when looking at work teams, Methot says.

“There are implications for companies that want company-wide team efforts. If you help all these people become friends, what kind of distraction is that going to be when they’re in different departments and they want to get together?” she questions.

For Turner, workplace friendships are nice to have, especially since it makes the work day more enjoyable if she can go to lunch with colleagues or talk easily with someone while on the job, she says. She adds she has a couple of workplace pals that are “very close,” and spends time with them outside of work. She says the flip side – not getting along with a co-worker – can make for a tense workplace atmosphere.

“I did have a job for 12 years where I worked beside a woman who was hard to work with. It was hell. She was dominating and territorial and I was always watching my back,” she says, adding that the co-worker “made me work harder. It made me more competitive.”

Methot says that when speaking with participants in her survey, the workers revealed they often had not considered the dynamics of their workplace relationships – or how friendships impacted their job or productivity.

“When employees think about not being able to get their jobs done, they think in terms of it being the fault of a supervisor or the Internet going down – they hadn’t really thought about their friends at work,” she says.

Still, Methot says that friendships overall are more positive than negative for the workplace.

“I think what surprised me was how workplace friendships among peers really provided support. An employee was much more likely to ask questions of a friend about how to do something, and they also got emotional support – the friends were more empathetic about what the person was going through,” Methot says.

At the same time, Methot provides a warning about workplace friendships: They can get rocky when one friend is promoted over another.

“We’re much more likely to be envious of someone we’re close to getting a big project, for example. We are much more likely to compare ourselves to them, and we may feel that we deserved it, not them,” she says.

Do you think your productivity is impacted by friends at work?

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

The Most Critical Lessons From This Crummy Job Market

When I was a kid, one of those "grown-up" sayings that made no sense to me was "never say never again." But as I grew older, I not only began to understand it, and I even found myself saying it.

It concerns me when I hear a lot of "I'll never again do that with my job..." or "I'll never again make that mistake with my career..." because as times improve, I predict many people will fail in those promises to themselves. I did this story for my Gannett/ column in the hopes that we'll all learn from these "never again" stories...

While many of those unemployed in the last year have managed to find work again, the – sometimes painful – lessons they have learned will stick with them for a career lifetime, they say.

“I have never felt so helpless,” says Jim McDonough, who lost his job as a programmer for an AIG subsidiary last June. “There was nothing to even apply for out there. What can you say about a phone that doesn’t ring?”

McDonough, 61, says that the last time he had to really look for a job he simply picked up a newspaper to find job listings. “It isn’t that way anymore. I thought, ‘How the hell do I do this? I know the information is there somewhere.’ I just had to figure it out.”

He began networking through social media like Facebook and LinkedIn, and tried to “keep up with everybody” through e-mail or lunch dates.

“I started calling people I had worked with for the last 15 years through AIG and before – and found that all my contacts were retired, deceased or looking for a job just like I was,” he says. “It was a tremendous blow to my confidence. I had never had to market myself before.”

McDonough was luckier than many job seekers, however, when he landed a job four months later after a recruiter contacted him. While he “jumped” at the business analyst job, it was a step down in terms of responsibilities and skills needed – and about a 30 percent cut in pay. “There were some other possibilities, but they would have required relocating, and my wife has a good job,” he says.

According to a recent CareerBuilder survey, 61 percent of workers laid off in the last three months who have found new jobs report they’ve taken a pay cut. They also report they’re repackaging their skills, with 64 percent who lost their jobs in the last six months saying they have found work in a different field than where they were worked before.

McDonough says he’s learned that job security is a thing of the past, and he’s now more proactive in keeping up with his network and employment possibilities.

“Before I lost my job, the guy I worked for gave me about two months notice that it was coming. But then he was laid off – and he was given a five-minute notice. He never saw it coming,” McDonough says. “All you can do it to tell someone to hang in there, and keep plugging away.”

That’s similar to what Ryan Messick says he has learned – even though he’s a much younger job seeker at age 23.

Since graduating from Syracuse University two years ago with degree in broadcast journalism and a minor in information management and technology and political science, Messick has managed to cobble together a variety of part-time jobs ranging from public relations to website work. “They always say the job is seasonal, but that it could turn into something more long term. It never does,” he says. “Right now, I’m really looking for something full-time.”

Messick says the thing that helps now is that many of his friends are in the same boat: working several part-time jobs and living at home with their parents to try and save money. He says that this tough job market has taught him a number of critical lessons he says he won’t forget – such as the value of networking.

“I’ve learned that you can’t just network online, but you’ve got to get on the phone and talk to people, set up meetings and try and get face-to-face,” he says. “Everyone told me networking was important – but what you really need to do is network with those people who can hire you or know someone who can.”

What other lessons must we all learn from the bad job market?


Tuesday, May 11, 2010

7 Job Search Secrets You Must Know

When I interviewed Harvey Mackay recently about using selling techniques to help in a job search, I told him that he was giving away the top secrets of journalists, also. It's funny -- I never thought that journalists and salespeople use the same strategies to gain access to important people, but I guess it's true. Here's the story I did for Gannett/, and some of the secrets that will work whether you're salesman, a journalist or a job seeker...

Harvey Mackay has been a salesman for a long time. He has bestselling books sharing his business advice and he heads a $100 million company. He’s in great demand as a business speaker, and has the ear of more than a few influential decision-makers.

As the job market has worsened over the last year, Mackay has turned his sales abilities in a new direction – teaching job seekers techniques to help “sell” themselves to employers.

In his new book, “Use Your Head to Get Your Foot in the Door: Job Search Secrets No One Else Will Tell You,” (Portfolio, $25.95) Mackay reveals a number of strategies he says can get anyone a job. In fact, he’s so sure his strategies will work that he’s offering a refund on the book if “you do not have a job in six months,” he says.

“It’s amazing that when people are looking for jobs they are such babes in the woods,” Mackay says. “When you’re going for a job, you’re selling yourself. Unfortunately, a lot of people don’t have the first idea about what to do.”

Among his suggestions:

  • Don’t be the first interview. The strongest contenders for a job are often those interviewed last, because they’re recalled easier by hiring managers. “Try to find out if anyone else has been interviewed when they call you for an appointment. If you’re one of the first ones, tell a little white lie and come up with an excuse why you need to be interviewed later,” Mackay says.
  • Study while you wait. Check out the reception area to get a feel for the company culture. Are awards displayed for the company’s softball team? You may be able to mention to the hiring manager how you are a great shortstop. Or, maybe you observe that people are quiet and reserved – a hint about how you should behave when meeting others.
  • Chat up the receptionist. These employees often are influential and can either get your call to the right person – or not. Take note of the person’s name, and listen for cues about hobbies or families so you can make a more personal connection.
  • Remember, it’s not about you. During an interview, focus on what you can do for an employer. Do your research and then talk about ideas you have to help face industry or company challenges, or use search engines such as to find out more information about an interviewer. “Remember, the sweetest sounds a person can hear is his own name, and a way to endear yourself to anyone is to compliment her on her work and the recognition she’s received,” he writes.
  • Read upside down. When you enter an interviewer’s office, look around at books, photos or memorabilia that are displayed. This gives you an opening to start a conversation that makes you more memorable and likeable. “Read the desk. Read the wall. Read upside down,” Mackay says. “Go the extra mile for the person interviewing you by taking an interest in them. Very few people are willing to do that.”
  • Interview the interviewer. While you don’t want to ask about benefits or salary in an initial interview, hiring managers will favor those who come prepared with questions about the company. “Successful companies, just like successful people, usually do not count modesty among their greatest virtues, and they not immune to skillful flattery,” he writes.
  • De-brief. As soon as you can upon leaving the interview, write down your impressions, thoughts, questions and ideas about those you met at the company. Note things such as the difficult questions you were asked, what concerns the interviewer expressed about you or what you believe to be the job’s biggest advantage. This information will be critical for a second interview, “and second interviews land jobs,” he says.
What are some other strategies job seekers should use?

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Why Performance Reviews Make Some People Crazy

Performance. Review. Two fairly harmless words. But put them together, as in "performance review" and you've just touched on a hot-button issue. If I've learned one thing from covering the workplace for so many years it's this: Just saying "performance review" is likely to generate some heated discussion. It's been that way for a long time, and I predict it will continue to be a source of great controversy. Here's the story I did for Gannett/ on the issue....

Ask employees if they like performance reviews and chances are at least some of the answers may be unfit for young ears. Ask Samuel A. Culbert the same question, and while his response may be more civil, it’s going to be equally condemning of the practice.

In his book, “Get Rid of the Performance Review: How Companies Can Stop Intimidating, Start Managing – and Focus on What Really Matters,” (Business Plus, $24.99), Culbert opens with this salvo about the review process: “This corporate sham is one of the most insidious, most damaging, and yet most ubiquitous of corporate practices. Everybody does it, and almost everyone who’s evaluated hates it. It’s a pretentious, bogus practice that produces absolutely nothing that any thinking executive should call a corporate plus.”

When asked to boil his feelings on performance reviews down to one word, Culbert says they’re nothing more than “intimidation.”

Culbert contends performance reviews are designed “to protect bad managers on stupid things they do and say and would never get by with at a social event.” He further charges that human resource departments support the performance reviews because of the political position it gives them within a company – they become what Culbert calls the “keepers of the dirty little secrets.”

“They have all this information on people in their file cabinets and that gives them power. They know the havoc they cause,” he says.

In his stinging indictment of bad managers and manipulative human resource departments, Culbert says there are plenty of executives providing good management – and they do not use performance reviews.

Culbert says that instead of a performance review, managers should ask employees how a job should be done – and then provide needed feedback, guidance and support to get that task completed. He says that while performance evaluations “are always about grading people down,” discussions focused on how to obtain results for the company translates into success for everyone – the employee, the boss and the business.

“The most important tool a manager has is a trusting relationship. You work to build that with employees. As a manager, you get off your high horse and make yourself accountable to the employee. Quit scoring people on metrics that don’t have anything to do with the way someone does a job,” Culbert says.

In his book with Lawrence Rout, Culbert argues that performance reviews should be scrapped and replaced with performance previews. These previews, he says, are aimed at fostering an appreciation of the strengths the boss and employee bring to the table.

For example, in these previews employees would outline what kind of supervision helps them operate most effectively and what kinds of past management practices caused a problem in getting work done.

At the same time, the manager would share with the worker what he or she needs from the employee in order to provide effective management – and would even share his or her past management goofs and how those were handled.

Culbert says continuing discussions would focus on how the manager and employee could best mesh their talents to achieve positive results for the company. The process helps managers and employee communicate better about what is needed to get the job done.

“It’s important for a boss to ‘get’ an employee – to understand the unique way that person goes about doing the job, sort of like a mother or father ‘gets’ a son or daughter,” Culbert says.

While Culbert has heard plenty of horror stories about performance reviews – and many people in management agree they’re detrimental – he knows that is can be hard to get rid of a process ingrained in many corporate cultures. The chances for ditching the practice detested by so many and talking honestly about what is needed by employees to perform better may be even tougher with the difficult job market.

“A bad economy makes everyone scared about their jobs, and it makes it even harder to find out what’s on their minds,” he says.

What do you think of performance reviews?