Tuesday, June 29, 2010

6 Signs Your Job May Be in Jeopardy

Maybe you've kept your nose the grindstone for the last year, and now you feel some of the pressure start to let up. So you don't give as much attention to that report, letting the deadline slip. Or, you ignore a co-worker's plea to help cover for her while she's on vacation.

Before you know it, you've slipped into some very bad habits. And guess who has noticed? The boss.

Want to know if you're in serious trouble? Look for some of these signs that you may be joining those -- very long -- unemployment lines:

1. The boss says you need a coach to help you better deal with some issues. What it may really mean if that she's covering her bases, and you're going to be fired anyway.
2. You're given unrealistic goals -- perhaps an effort to show you can't achieve desired results and it's time for you to go.
3. You are taken away from the "money-making" side of the business, perhaps switched from sales to operations. Oh, my -- was that you veering off the fast track?
4. You receive a resounding "no" to most of your ideas. The boss looks like he's going to laugh out loud whenever you request funds for a project. You're losing power faster than Gen. Stanley McChrystal.
5. You're often the last to know of what's going on in your own office. Decisions are made regarding your job and you're clueless until the last minute. Not being in the information loop is a dangerous place to be.
6. Invitations from colleagues for lunch or coffee dry up. Co-workers may have caught clues that you're in trouble with the boss, and they don't want to be tainted by your bad mojo.

What are some other warning signs that your job might be in jeopardy?


Thursday, June 24, 2010

Are Leaders Ignoring the Looming Employee Turnover?

I spend hours every day reading blogs about human resources and employee benefits. I know that there's a lot of general hand-wringing by professionals in these fields about about what's going to happen when the economy gets strong enough that employees start looking for jobs elsewhere.

These pros know that many workers are burned out -- and sometimes just plain pissed off -- because they've been working like dogs for more than a year without a break. They're looking for a breath of fresh air -- and they believe that might only be found at another employer. Here's the story I did for USAToday.com on the issue and what employers should be doing (besides wringing their hands):

While the improving economy is good news for everyone, there is a slight nervousness by employers asking themselves a difficult question: Will there be a mass exodus of workers once they see greener grass elsewhere?

The recession prompted many workplaces to slash their workforce, resulting in the remaining workers being saddled with more responsibilities – often without extra compensation. In some cases, employees took on more work while having their pay or benefits cut.

So as business conditions improve, there is a real concern that these key workers – who have kept employers thriving in tough times – will jump at the chance to start fresh somewhere else.

Retaining key workers could be a problem not only because workers feel overwhelmed, but because there is a lingering sense of discontent in many companies about the way leadership operates. For example, a recent Right Management survey found 19 percent of employees “rarely” trust their managers to make the best decisions.

“There is a bit of fear on the horizon that as we come out of this recession those employees who have been mistreated – we will see the loss of those people,” says Dave Ulrich, a University of Michigan business professor. “We think there’s a real crisis around employee engagement.”

Wendy Ulrich, a psychologist and Dave’s wife, says that in the last year many employees have been grateful to have a job – no matter the conditions. But that attitude probably will start to change as the economy improves and more workers begin to look for something more in their jobs. She says that many will search for “meaning” and for company cultures that show appreciation and respect for their work. If they can’t find that in current positions, she says, it could lead them to look for jobs elsewhere.

In Dave and Wendy’s Ulrich’s new book, “The Why of Work”, (McGraw-Hill, $27.95), the authors say that while there is fear within some companies about employees jumping ship at a critical time, this concern isn’t necessarily felt by the upper ranks. They say that many top leaders are ignoring the issue, which is why in their book they seek to point out that the lack of employee engagement can have bottom-line consequences for businesses.

For example, they say that from 1998 to 2008, the “best companies to work for” had a 6.8 percent stock appreciation compared to 1 percent for a typical company. Disengaged employees, they point out, are 10 times more likely to quit their jobs within a year. “If you don’t engage people’s hearts and souls, they’re going to go elsewhere,” Wendy Ulrich says.

She argues that these kinds of numbers prove that leaders can’t use old-school management practices any more if they want to compete in a global marketplace. “A lot of us are used to management by control and demand. But the carrot and the stick only go so far,” she says. “When people are in jobs they don’t like, they are going to be giving less than their best effort. They’re going to just be going through the motions, and they’ll be less productive.”

Dave Ulrich says that as people spend more time at work, they seem to be seeking more meaning in their jobs, a message which employers must heed if they want to survive. “If employees find meaning in what they do, they can tell themselves that yes, it’s hard; yes, it’s work; but they have found meaning.”

The authors say it’s time that employers begin a new phase of how they operate, one that relies on engaging workers as partners and collaborators to achieve success for both the company and for individuals. They say that to help employees find meaning in their work, employers should take steps, such as:

  1. Helping employees develop and use abilities they consider important, such as leadership, integrity and kindness.
  2. Enabling them to understand how their efforts directly impact something they care about. For example, leaders could let workers know how the production of widgets is then used to build products that help the environment.
  3. Promoting a positive work environment by displaying kindness, humility and civility.

“The companies that convey a sense of meaning and purpose to their workers will win,” Wendy Ulrich says. “This is an economic gain, not an emotional gain.”

What else should employers be doing to retain workers?


Monday, June 21, 2010

7 Considerations for Taking a Job Overseas

As opportunities have become more limited in the U.S. -- especially for young professionals trying to gain workplace experience -- more people are looking overseas for job opportunities.

Here are some things to consider if you’re looking for a job abroad:

· Evaluate the risks. The U.S. State Department (www.state.gov) posts information on where it is safe to travel for Americans, and the danger zones. Still, no place — not even the U.S. — in 100 percent safe. You need to consider the level of risk you are willing to take, and for how long.

· Plot your career path. Companies and jobs often don’t operate the same overseas as in the U.S., even if you are working with an American company. Local cultures and customs often dictate how business is done, as well as the input from local workers who may be employed by an American business overseas. Will you be given the right kind of responsibility? Will your skills be given a chance to grow? Are there opportunities overseas that you might not be able to experience in the U.S.?

· Know the law. It’s not enough to decide you want to go overseas — you must acquaint yourself with the permission needed to gain a job in another country. Work visas are normally only offered through the company offering you the job, and the company must prove that the position cannot be filled by a local.

· Decide on the type of work. You may decide to gain work experience through volunteering (if you can afford to go without a paycheck), or by teaching English as a foreign language in another country, typically a one- or two-year gig (check out the Peace Corps, and Fulbright scholarships). Another option is an international internship for academic credit, but again, you probably won’t get paid. Still another idea is a short-term job, usually about six months, with employers such as restaurants or farms, or taking care of children.

· Use foreign language skills. Even if you’ve only got one or two years under your belt, that high school or college French may come in handy when considering a job. It’s also a chance to become truly fluent in a language, which may help your career later.

· Recharge your batteries. Believe it or not, helping a small village put in a well can give you more personal fulfillment than making a million dollar deal. If you’re finding yourself burned out with your life and your career, working abroad can be life-changing event that helps put your life back on track, while helping you gain skills by working with people of diverse backgrounds.

· Watch the deadlines. It’s not going to be possible to decide you want to work abroad and then leave two weeks later. There are applications and deadlines that must be followed, so it’s best to make your decision and then begin the process. It may take a year to get where you want to go, and remember to apply early to increase your chances of acceptance.

What are some other considerations before making such a move?


Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Could Being Conscientious Make Unemployment Worse?

In my family, if you weren't working, it had better be because you were dead or at least unconscious in a ditch somewhere.

That's why when I started contemplating what it would be like to go without work for more than a year, I could hardly wrap my head around it. I once was unemployed for eight days, and I think I cried for six of them. I just felt like my whole identity had been taken away from me, and I felt so lost and worthless.

I've interviewed a lot of people in the last year who have been unemployed for a lot longer than eight days. How, I wondered, do they cope? Here's the story I did for Gannett/USAToday.com:

Most job seekers are optimistic when they first land in the unemployment line. They believe they have valuable skills and enough contacts they’ll soon land on their feet. But as the days stretch into weeks – then into months – keeping that optimism alive almost becomes more difficult than finding work.

The numbers are daunting: It’s estimated that nearly 46 percent of the unemployed American workforce has been jobless for six months – the highest figure since the Labor Department started tracking such numbers in 1948. In the U.S., seven million people have been looking for jobs for 27 weeks or more, with the majority – 4.7 million – jobless for 12 months or more.

One of those long-term unemployed is Dustin Lewis, who lost his full-time job with Nike Inc. last April. Since then, it’s been a daily job to find a job.

“This has definitely been a gut-check,” says Lewis, 25, of Portland, Ore. “I try to look at this in a positive light, like the fact that I’ve sharpened my skills by writing and marketing myself online. But every once in a while, there is a day when I’m deflated emotionally.”

A new study from the University of Warwick called “The Dark Side of Conscientiousness” finds that such long-term unemployment may be even more difficult for individuals who are conscientious. The study says these people – who view achievement in life as critical – may find joblessness much more threatening.

One of the researchers, Christopher J. Boyce, says the four-year study of 9,570 individuals found that those who were conscientious had a much more difficult time as their jobless status stretched on. Specifically, those who had been without a job for three years were 120 percent more likely to have a drop in life satisfaction than others in the study.

“Not having a job in your life is quite detrimental,” Boyce says. “It can be a psychologically damaging event.”

He says that while conscientiousness is often thought of as a valuable trait, those who are unemployed and have such tendencies struggle to cope. For example, not having a job prevents them from achieving a key goal in their lives – wealth accumulation, he says.

“Initially, we were quite surprised by the findings. But among our discoveries was that conscientious individuals also may evaluate that their lack of employment is due to a lack of ability,” Boyce says.

Boyce says those taking long-term unemployment especially hard – such as the conscientious individuals in his study – should find extra support. He also urges people to use unemployment as a “chance to re-evaluate your life and find purpose.”

While Lewis was not part of Boyce’s study and says he wouldn’t necessarily call himself a conscientious person, he says he understands how hunting for work for months on end can impact all areas of your life.

That’s why he says that while he spends much of his day trying to find employment or an internship, he also takes time to volunteer for a literacy program at an elementary school.

“The volunteer work helps me a lot. It’s a nice break. It gets my mind off the job search, and it’s a way to contribute,” he says.

Such a strategy is one that Boyce recommends. He says that job seekers can benefit from finding something to keep them occupied during unemployment, whether it’s volunteering, networking or helping their family. “They need something where they can direct their skills,” he says.

Lewis says that in the beginning of his unemployment, armed with a severance package, he wasn’t overly concerned about finding work. Now that the severance money is gone, he tries to stay focused on finding a job. He lives with his mom since he’s without a paycheck, and says her moral support and professional advice are valuable.

While he has a college degree in business and marketing, he is expanding his job search into other areas, such as advertising.

“There are definitely days when I feel like I get a lot done; I’ll find a job resource or apply for a job,” he says. ‘Then, there are other days when I don’t feel like I’m doing as much. I just try to spend a majority of my day doing things that will advance my job search. I treat my day hours just as I would my full-time job. Looking for work is a full-time job.”

What are some job search tips for the long-term unemployed?


Thursday, June 10, 2010

If You're Not Happy at Work, Will You Be Miserable Overall?

I've known Tom Rath for many years, and the one thing I always say is it's so nice to see a nice guy on the bestseller lists ("How Full is Your Bucket" and "Strengthsfinder 2.0"). I spent some time talking to him about his latest book, and here's the column for Gannett/USAToday.com:

You may think that a job matters because it enables you to bring home a paycheck.

But new research suggests it may be much more than that. A job you enjoy is a key element to your overall well-being.

"Some people don't expect much from their workdays and don't think they should be getting much more out of it than a paycheck," says Tom Rath, head of The Gallup Organization's, Workplace Research and Leadership Consulting practice. "But the truth is we spend a majority of our time at work. People underestimate how their careers impact their overall well-being."

Rath has co-authored Wellbeing: The Five Essential Elements (Gallup Press, $25.95) with Jim Harter, based on international research about what it takes to achieve well-being in life. While many people believe the keys to satisfaction and happiness are good health and financial success, the researchers found that having meaningful and enjoyable careers are the most critical elements to a well-lived life.

That means if you're happy in happy in your job — you look forward to going to work every day — then you're much more likely to be healthy and have better relationships.

What happens if you don't like what you do every day? Then you're more likely to risk depression and anxiety — and damage your relationships outside of work — the research found.

"We measured people who didn't like their jobs, and it was like their energy fell off a cliff at 9 a.m. and didn't pick up until they were ready to go home," Rath says. "The people who were engaged in their work go into work and don't really have any drop-off. There's just a nice curve of involvement throughout the day."

Rath also points out that good bosses are the foundation of our happiness.

While hating the boss is not a systemic problem with employees and a lot of good managers do exist in the workplace, research says that often the worst part of our day is when we have to talk to the boss — judged to be even worse than cleaning house.

The worst boss? Not the one who yells — but the one who isn't paying attention, researchers found. Specifically, if a manager ignores you, there is 40% chance that you will be "actively disengaged" or "filled with hostility about your job," Rath says.

"That's why it's important that you really check out what a manager is like before you take a job," Rath says. "Managers are key to your overall well-being."

Rath says the scariest finding from the research involved sustained unemployment.

"We found that there was nothing more detrimental to your well-being than being unemployed for more than a year. Being employed shapes your identity," Rath says. "Our well-being actually recovers more rapidly from the death of spouse than it does from a sustained period of unemployment."

Further, while the lack of income takes its toll, the boredom and lack of social interaction from being jobless "might be even more detrimental," he says.

That's why it's critical that those who are unemployed fill their time with something they believe is worthwhile. Rath points out that you don't have to earn a paycheck to feel good. Simply feeling as if "you make a contribution every day and do something that's meaningful to you" is crucial.

Finally, Rath says research shows it's vital that we find work that uses our strengths — skills that help us be successful. When using your strengths, working a 40-hour week is enjoyable. If you're not using your strengths, you're likely to get burned out after 20 hours.

By having a job you look forward to every day, you actually take more time to enjoy life, he says.

Have you ever had a job you didn't like? How did it impact your life?

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Stop Putting It Off: Deal With Procrastination Once and For All

I've been writing my Gannett workplace column for about 17 years. Rarely do I have a problem coming up with a story idea, because let's face it -- workplace issues are always on our minds, 24/7. But this week, between the snapping turtle that tried to crawl in my back door, a frozen computer and trying to figure out the last episode of "Lost," I found myself procrastinating.

Procrastinating. Hmmmm......

Here's the column...

You begin your day full of good intentions – you’re going to get that report done, tackle all your e-mails and return phone calls.

But when the end of the day rolls around, you’ve done none of those things. Yet, you feel like you’ve been busy all day. What happened?

Psychologist Timothy Pychyl says that as much as you may hate to admit it – even to yourself – you may have deliberately put off doing those tasks. You procrastinated.

“Despite the fact that it will cause you stress, you voluntarily delay doing something you don’t feel like doing,” says
Pychyl, an associate professor of psychology at Carleton University in Ottawa, Canada, where he specializes in the study of procrastination.

Most people don’t like to admit they put off tasks they need to get done. After all, no boss is going to be overjoyed to hear such news, and neither will co-workers whose own productivity can be impacted when you don’t pull your weight at work. And yet, it’s sometimes easier than ever to procrastinate, especially when you have so many more enjoyable things at your fingertips – such as the Internet.

“Technology is creating a lot more time-wasting in the workplace,” Pychl says. “You ‘Google’ something you’re thinking about, or decide you’ll only take a minute to check out Facebook. The problem for people who are easily distracted or who procrastinate, is that it’s like someone with a gambling problem moving to Las Vegas. It’s a hard temptation to resist.”

Some studies have estimated that social media use by employees can cost employers billions of dollars in lost productivity, but critics argue that such engagements – whether online or around the watercooler – are necessary to relieve stress and boost employee morale.

While Pychyl says that we all need a break from work every once in a while to recharge our batteries, surfing online at work “is a huge slippery slope” for those who have a problem staying on task or avoiding work they dislike.

He suggests one of the best ways to cure yourself of such career-damaging habits is using an “implementation intention.” That means you make a statement to yourself about what you’re going to do when you find yourself getting off track, and make it as specific as possible.

For example, you could say, “When I find myself on Facebook, I will stop and return to my work,” telling yourself you will check the site at another time.

Another strategy, he says, is to use personal willpower. “Sometimes when you’re tired you’ll just want to give in and do something that makes you feel good. But if you use self affirmation to remind yourself of your values and why you’re doing something, then it can help,” he says.

For example, if you find yourself checking out Twitter when you’re supposed to be completing a boring report, tell yourself, “I know this report isn’t fun, but by getting it done I’ll make my boss happy and that means I’ll keep my job – and my paycheck will help me take care of my family.”

If you still find yourself struggling to stay on task, you can enlist the very thing that’s tripping you up – technology.

David Chao, a national sales manager for Cisco/WebEx, says he uses tools such as RescueTime.com to help him keep track of his Internet use, and where he’s spending his time.

“I’ve been using it for about a year-and-a-half, and I’ve discovered that while I consider myself a highly productive person, even I was not aware that when I thought I was taking just a minute to check Facebook or MySpace, much more time than I thought had passed,” he says.

RescueTime claims to recover nearly four hours of productivity a week per person. By installing the application, it will monitor which websites are being actively used and provide users a report.

Chao says that all companies are under more pressure than ever to be competitive in order to survive, and that they expect all employees to be as productive as possible.

For many workers, that may mean owning up to their own inefficiencies, such as letting themselves be distracted surfing the Internet for issues not related to their jobs.

“Even I found out that I could squeeze a bit more out of my day once I realized where I was wasting some time,” he says.

What are some ways you deal with procrastination or distraction?