Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Are You Boring Your Network Silly?

I don't watch soap operas anymore, but I certainly did when I was younger. I scheduled my college classes around "The Young and the Restless." (Tom Selleck was HOT.) I played hooky from work just so I could see Luke and Laura get married on "General Hospital."

One of my long-time favorites was "All My Children." I watched it from the time when Susan Lucci was on husband No. 1. But then after many, many years of watching the show, I quit. I simply lost interest.

I don't remember the exact story line that did it, but it had something to do with Natalie being stuck in a well for nine days. Well, it was nine days in human time -- but only eight hours had passed in soap-opera time.

But I just quit caring about Natalie after hearing her cry and whine and beg for days on end. I'm sure she got out of that well one day, but I just couldn't make myself care.

I haven't watched a soap opera since that time.

Sometimes when we're looking for work -- and it drags on and on -- we wear out those people around us. We whine the same refrain over and over and never give our audience a break.

When you're looking for a job, or a chance to move up in your career, are you keeping your audience -- your connections -- intrigued? Do you make them want to stay tuned to see how your story is going to turn out, or just bore them silly with the same demands and complaints?

Here's a task for you today: Find a different story line to tell your network. Send them a note and tell them something great you learned in your job search. Mention someone really nice you met, or how your new volunteering stint is really keeping your spirits up.

People want to help, and they want you to succeed. Just make sure that you don't make them feel like they've been stuck in a well forever. Because the first chance they get, they'll leave and won't care if they're part of your network anymore.

What are some ways you can continue to add value to your network?

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Could That Promotion Be a Career-Killer?

Reporters often make lousy leaders.

I should know. I've worked with plenty of great reporters who were promoted to leadership positions. Often, this was disastrous, and resulted in a revolt of other reporters who threatened to inflict great bodily harm on the reporter-turned-manager.

The reporter-turned-manager often agreed that he or she deserved to be hurt. They admitted that while they were great reporters -- and loved doing their jobs -- they hated being in charge. They hated everything about management, and as a result, made everyone's lives miserable. The very attributes that made them great reporters made them crappy leaders.

Of course, I've also worked with some great reporters who became great leaders. But they had what it took -- they already had personal attributes that made them able to manage in a way that was effective.

The reporters who became lousy leaders often were pushed into management. They had reached the top of their pay grade, and the only way to keep them was to propel them into leadership -- whether they were ready or not.

You can probably predict what happened. The staff was unhappy. The reporter who didn't like being a manager was unhappy. There were lots of arguments that impacted everyone's productivity and job satisfaction. The result was that usually one or more reporters left -- and usually the person who hated being a manager also left and returned to reporting somewhere else.

For my latest Gannett/USAToday.com column, I explored what happens when internal promotions go off the tracks...

One way employers hope to prevent a mass exodus of top performers once the economy improves is by offering promotions — and the pay raises that go along with them.

But employees might want to be careful of this carrot. It might end up being more of a stick that hurts their career, says Scott Erker, senior vice president of selection solutions at Development Dimensions International in Pittsburgh.

That's because an employee, flattered by the promotion offer and happy at the thought of more money, accepts a job for which he or she may be ill-suited. A promotion can be especially tricky if it involves moving into management for the first time, he says.

"Being a manager is a very different role," Erker says. "Without a good idea of what it takes, the person may end up muddling their way through and sticking it out — or become very stressed in the job and eventually fail."

Recent DDI survey data of 1,000 leaders with only one level of direct reports found that 58% of those respondents learned their leadership skills through "trial and error," with 17% describing their first year of management "stressful."

Erker says this lack of leadership training and stressful conditions for new managers is only getting worse.

Many companies don't even have enough seasoned pros to show new managers the ropes because executives have been laid off in the recession and not replaced. The ones who do remain are so taxed dealing with more responsibilities that they don't have the time to train new leaders.

That has led to what Erker calls senior managers' classic mistake.

"They look at an employee in a current role and see what a great job the person is doing. So they consider (him or her) for a promotion," he says. "They don't stop to find out if this person has leadership skills or not, such as the ability to mentor or coach others or rally a team around a goal."

A recent Regus survey found that 37% of U.S. professionals are considering leaving their current jobs because of the lack of career advancement and promotion. Further, a Hewitt Associates study found that half the organizations surveyed from around the world say that employee engagement has dropped the most since the consulting firm began measuring it 15 years ago.

"Companies know that one of the things that really engages people are things like increasing their learning and giving them promotions," Erker says. "So they offer employees the opportunities in an effort to keep them engaged, and the employees just jump in without really being prepared."

The fallout from these faulty internal promotions is that both the employee and the employer are adversely affected, he says. An employee who may have been a good technical worker — but turns out to be a lousy manager — becomes so stressed and unhappy that he leaves. Or the employee decides to try and survive in the management job and continues to underperform as a boss.

"The company actually ends up losing twice. They lose a good technical person, and they don't pick a good leader," he says.

Erker says that employees should do their homework when offered a promotion so they understand what's being asked of them and improve their chances of success. He suggests:

— Ask for the job's parameters. "Understand the requirement of the job. Ask what the purpose, goals and objectives will be, especially in the first year," he says.

— Read the job description and ask questions about specific duties.

— Inquire "why me?" "Find out why they think you'd be successful in the job. You want them to point to strengths you have shown, such as the work you did on a task force," he says. "If they tell you they don't know why they chose you, that's a red flag."

— Find out what support will be available. Leaders learn from training, coaching and mentoring and on-the-job experiences, Erker says, so those offered a promotion should find out how they'll be supported in these areas. "Don't think you're going to learn these skills from a leadership book," he says.

— Network. Find people who now fill a similar role and take them to lunch or even meet for 15 minutes to ask about the work. "Get an unbiased view of the job before making a decision," Erker says.

— Don't be afraid to say, "Next time." "You don't have to jump at the first opportunity," he says. "You can tell them you'd like to stick it out where you are and go at it next time" when better prepared to take on a management role, he says.

What other advice would you offer about accepting an internal promotion?

Monday, August 23, 2010

7 Tips for Getting Off to a Great Start in a New Job

It's a tough time to be entering the workforce. If you're in your first "real" job, there is a lot expected of you. You know the unemployment lines are long, and no way do you want to wind up there -- again. You want to make a good impression at work, with your colleagues and with your boss.

It's natural to feel a bit overwhelmed in your first days and weeks on the job, so I'm going to give you some really simple stuff you can do that will make sure you don't stick out like a sore thumb.

1. Eliminate "like" from your vocabulary. Or eliminate it as much as you can. This bad habit has, like, crept into nearly everyone's vocabulary, and like, it's annoying as hell. It adds no meaning to your communication, other than to make you sound as if you're unsure of what you're saying.

2. Learn to write in cursive. If you're not comfortable writing in cursive, at least be able to sign your name in cursive. And use black or blue ink at work. Leave the colored ink for writing your guest list for your Lady Gaga lookalike party.

3. Spell words correctly. This isn't a problem when you're on a computer, because spellcheck will fix everything for you. But when you have to sit down and write a note because no computer is available, you don't want any misspelled words. It makes you look bad. Period.

4. Answer the phone correctly. "Yo!" or "Hey!" is not the proper way. Answer the phone, giving your first and last name. Saying "Good morning!" is optional. If you manage to also tell the caller your department, you get an extra point.

5. Take a message. If you take a message, make sure you get the correct spelling of the person's name and the phone number (repeat it back). Nothing gets you on someone's sh*t list faster than messing up a message.

6. Wear a watch. Yeah, I know you tell time by looking at your smartphone. But this is the business world, and your co-workers don't want to see you looking at your phone all the time -- they think you're sneaking a look at your girlfriend's text message. Get a watch.

7. E-mails are not texts. When e-mailing someone, take the time to include a salutation ("Dear John"), and use words such as "please" and "thank you." Just as you would not pop your head into someone's cubicle and blurt "report due today!" and then pop out again, you shouldn't be so abrupt in an e-mail. While you may believe you are being concise and your friends are used to it, those in the professional arena may think otherwise. Curt messages can be perceived as rude, and that's never going to help you as a new employee.

What other quick tips are there for new employees to get off on the right foot?

Thursday, August 19, 2010

How to Network -- and Not Hate It

One of the reasons I wanted to be a newspaper reporter -- and not a television reporter -- was because I didn't want to be in front of a camera. I didn't want people looking at me. I wanted to tell a story and was content with just having a byline.

So, when I tell you I understand it's hard to promote yourself, I mean it. Just doing a book promotion sent me into spasms of nerves. The only way I got past it was I started thinking of Lucy in that Vitameatavagamin routine. The one where she sells that snake oil that gets her drunk? I just kept talking about the product, hoping no one would think I was nuts (or drunk).

Many people are uncomfortable with the thought of slapping backs and promoting themselves to people they may or may not know. But networking is an important part of our career landscape, so I wanted to get some tips on how to get more comfortable doing it. Here's the story I did for Gannett/USAToday.com:

You’re not alone if you hate networking.

Even the most extroverted among us can dread talking about themselves to a stranger. And if you’re introverted? The thought of promoting yourself to someone else is the stuff of nightmares.

But network you must. If you want a job, if you want to get ahead in your career or if you just want to survive today’s workplace – you must network.

“You don’t have to be a back-slapping self -promoter to be an effective networker,” says Jim Randel. “You can do it in your own way at your own pace. But you’ve got to do it. It’s something so important that you don’t have a choice.”

Randel, author of “The Skinny on Networking,” (Rand Media, $14.95), says the key to getting over a networking phobia is to realize that there are different ways to enter the networking pool without feeling like you’re drowning in a sea of embarrassment and self-doubt.

For example, you can join a social network such as LinkedIn, where you create a profile that outlines your interests, skills and abilities. Or, you can use Twitter to connect with others who are in your industry or have similar interests. Those online connections serve as a sort of “prepatory” networking course, he says.

The next step is a phone call or in-person meeting, he says. “Having coffee with someone for 15 minutes is so powerful. You don’t get that from social media,” he says.

Randel says that initial connections through social media – or an introduction by a third party – always help smooth the way in networking. Without such contacts, you can find it more difficult to make the steps forward in your job search or career, he says.

“If you were walking down and street and all of a sudden someone got in your face, your first reaction would be to think this was a dangerous situation and you’d want to pull away,” he says. “It’s the same thing with networking. The other person is going to want to get away from you because they don’t know you. But if you’ve had some other kind of contact or introduction, the reflex by the other person is different.”

Some other tips for effective networking from Randel include:

1. Understanding that weak ties matter. Often someone you don’t know well – such as acquaintance – can help the most in pointing you toward a promising lead for a job, for example. Unlike family or friends, acquaintances have a different circle of people they know, and increase your chances of finding someone to help you. So, that stranger sitting next to you on a plane or at a baseball game may be just the key job contact you need.

2. Looking for connectors. There always seems to be that one person who doesn’t know a stranger. The guy who knows the name of every hotel concierge, garage mechanic and office supplier is someone who can connect you to a lot of people you may not know – or be to hesitant to approach yourself. The woman who belongs to a variety of organizations and who is diverse in her interests opens up doors because she connects with people who may be able to help you. These people are often very social and enjoy connecting other people. Take advantage of that fact, he says.

3. Being committed. At least 10 percent to 15 percent of every day should be devoted to networking. Don’t use social media “as a crutch” to avoid face-to-face contact, he advises, and make sure you’re connecting with those who can help you meet your goals. “If you’re looking for work, you don’t need to be just telling that to all your out-of-work friends. What the heck good is that going to do?” he says.

4. Never crossing anyone off your networking list. Past co-workers, classmates or former neighbors are all contacts that should be maintained. If you can’t remember everyone you know, begin with “a” in your computer address book to refresh your memory.

5. Never giving up. Even if someone doesn’t answer your initial e-mail, keep trying. Send a letter, make a phone call or even try another e-mail, he says. “You may have just caught them at a bad time. Keep trying. There’s no point in giving up,” he says.

What other networking tips do you have?


Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Don't Be Pond Scum

I don't know anyone who likes having a life upturned. Whether it's losing a job, being forced to take on more work or having to deal with road construction that adds 30 minutes to a commute, no one likes change.

But if you'll look back over your life and career, I'll bet you find instances where change seemed like a really bad thing -- then it turned out to be OK. Maybe you hated your new co-worker at first, but then found out he's a whiz at fixing broken iPods. Or, maybe your department was merged with another and you lost some cool clients, which made you mad. But then you discovered your new assignment meant international travel, which you love.

Sometimes when change comes, we react badly. We lash out -- we get pissed and emotional and act like a big baby or a big jerk. I think that's OK, as long as you see that you should share those feelings with someone you trust -- and not just rain hellfire and damnation down upon innocent bystanders. Once you deal with the emotions, then it can be much easier to move on and accept the change coming your way.

When facing change, also consider:

1. You don't want to stagnate. This has been a killer summer, and I cannot begin to tell you the nasty things growing in the pond near my house. That water has stood still for so long that you could walk easily across the green scum growing on top. Don't be pond scum. Remember you've got to keep churning things every once in a while to stay fresh. Some of that churn will be your idea, some of it won't.

2. You're more than a job. Maybe your job isn't perfect, maybe you don't even have one. You're more than just one job. Put your ingenuity to work somewhere else. Figure out how to help the local schools get more books as public funding dries up. Go walk dogs at the animal shelter. Teach a neighborhood kid how to ride a bike. Become a well-rounded human being -- be more than a job.

3. Move wisely. If you don't know how to handle the change in your life, reach out to those who obviously have been through it many times. Older relatives or colleagues can often offer you a perspective that helps you see that you will emerge from the other side. You'll see that just as sh*t happens, so does change.

What are some other ways to handle changes that impact our lives and careers?


Thursday, August 12, 2010

Are You Enabling an Alcoholic Co-Worker?

In one of my first jobs, I worked with a woman who always had the smell of what I thought was a really potent mouthwash on her breath.

I was young and naive, and it was only later than someone clued me in: It was mouthwash --mixed with a little (actually, a lot) of Wild Turkey.

That was my first experience of being around an alcoholic at work. But it would not be my last. In fact, I can't recall a job where there wasn't at least one person who didn't have a drinking problem. Whether it was hiding the alcohol in a Gatorade bottle, sneaking booze at lunch or just getting hammered every night before stumbling in late the next morning, I know many people fight such addictions.

One thing I had not considered before was how colleagues enable an alcoholic at work. It's an issue I explored for my latest Gannett/USAToday.com column:

Kate Webster yawns while talking on the phone mid-morning. “Excuse me,” she says. “I was doing an intervention until 3 a.m.”

Webster is a busy person these days. As a certified addiction specialist and founder of Alpha Intervention, she’s dealing with what she sees as a worsening problem – addiction in the workplace. As a recruiting executive who was also an alcoholic, Webster knows first-hand the devastation alcoholics have not only their families, but their workplace.

Webster, now “proudly” sober for 10 years, works with companies that have executives with substance abuse problems. It’s when things get really bad that Webster says she receives a call.

“Somebody hits rock bottom, and it’s never the alcoholic,” she says. “That’s when someone will reach outside for help. It happens in families – and it’s the same thing in a workplace.”

Webster says the increasing stress of the workplace has led many to spiral into addictions such as alcoholism. When it’s an executive, an entire organization can be threatened as the key decision maker’s abilities are hampered by his or her addiction. She says while alcoholism knows no age or income bracket, she often works with lawyers, doctors, Wall Street bankers and Silicon Valley executives.

So as television shows like “Mad Men” often show the sexy side of drinking on the job – a tumbler of amber liquid held languidly while discussing business deals and strategy – the reality is much more disturbing, experts say.

Employees who are confronted with the pressure to “fit in” at business networking events by drinking, may find they start to reach for alcohol more and more. If they’ve had a pre-disposition in the past to overuse alcohol, they may find added work stress spirals them into alcoholism, says Sarah Allen Benton, author of "Understanding the High-Functioning Alcoholic" and therapist at The McLean Residence at The Brook transitional living program for substance abuse treatment in Waltham, Mass.

“I think shows like ‘Mad Men’ do factor into the idea of drinking and the workplace. It’s seen as part of a job to socialize and make connections. If you’re in a bar or restaurant, it feels socially acceptable to drink. It can creep up on you,” Benton says. “Some people don’t want to make others feel uncomfortable, so they feel they have to have a drink in hand. But people need to learn not to worry so much about what other people think.”

Addiction specialist Webster says in families, the alcoholic often has someone – or several people – who can be manipulated into allowing the drinking to continue. That same family dynamic is often mirrored in the workplace, she says.

“In order to keep using, the alcoholic will justify it, or minimize it or just deny it,” Webster says.

That means while an employee may be confronted at work about drinking on his or her lunch hour, for example, the employee will either be “incredibly apologetic” or “get angry and shut the other person down,” Webster says.

“The same thing happens in families,” she says.

The U.S. Office of Personnel Management estimates that the cost of alcoholism in the workplace is between $33 billion and $68 billion annually. Absenteeism of alcoholics or those with drinking problems is about eight times greater than other workers.

Further, one in five employees report being exposed to dangerous conditions, or injured, because of a colleague’s drinking – or have had to go beyond their regular work duties to cover for a drinking co-worker.

Webster says that when she does a workplace intervention, she is “very, very gentle” with the colleagues of an alcoholic.

“You must be respectful. You ask them what it’s been like for them to be around the person and they start to tell me their stories,” she says. “They may tell me that they kept lying (for the alcoholic) because they didn’t want them to lose their job. But I tell them that if that person is doing a bad job, then other people might lose their jobs as a result. I talk about the unintended consequences of their actions.”

Webster says she also educates colleagues about what it means to be a co-dependent. “Then I hit them with the whammy. I ask them: ‘Who are you to take away this person’s (alcoholic worker’s) life consequences? Because it’s consequences that break down the denial so they can see their problem. That’s the saddest, most dangerous thing – preventing them from experiencing the natural consequences of their actions.”

Just as in a family situation, enablers in the workplace have the best of intentions but end up making the problem worse because they may delay the alcoholic from getting help sooner, Webster says.

For those who want to help a co-worker who may have a drinking problem, both Webster and Benton say human resources should be notified. Most companies have some kind of employee assistance program, and alcoholics have certain protections under the Americans With Disabilities Act.

“You’re not being a tattletale,” Webster says. “And, even if they do eventually lose their job, it’s not your fault. Losing a job may be the thing that gets them to get help. You may be saving their life.”

Do you think colleagues hesitate to get involved in a co-worker's drinking problem? Why or why not?


Tuesday, August 10, 2010

4 Ways to Say "No" at Work

Often the most difficult word in the English language is "no." Many of us hate hearing it (especially when it goes with "No...you aren't getting the promotion") but it's just as difficult for many of us to say it.

In this tough economy, saying "no" has become impossible for some. Fear of losing a job keeps many of us saying "yes" past the point of no return. The result is that we're more stressed, more exhausted and sometimes, more unhappy than ever.

But if you can't say "no," then you're not only losing control of your career, but your life. You're letting too many outside factors dictate your path, and that only leads to disaster.

I know it can be difficult to stand firm when you believe others need your help. It can be tough to turn down work when you know your boss needs you. But there are ways to say "no" and still be seen as a team player, as someone who can be counted on.


  • Being clear about what you need. If the boss needs you to put in some overtime, for example, you can agree -- and disagree. Maybe your child has baseball practice on Wednesday nights, so you say you can't work late on those nights. But, you add, you're willing to put in the extra hours on Tuesday and Thursday. Make a list of those things that are important to you, and don't compromise on them if you can help it.
  • Taking five. If someone makes a request, don't tense up and immediately say "yes" even when inside you're screaming, "No, dammit!" Tell the person you need to check your schedule and get back to them, or simply say you can't do it on such short notice but would be happy to help with more advance notice. Don't let someone else pressure you into making decisions -- take the time to really consider the request.
  • Being honest with yourself. Maybe you feel pressured with all the things you have to do, but then when you make an honest assessment of your time, you realize you're goofing around on Twitter or Facebook for hours every day. Guilt over such time-wasters can make you say "yes" to requests that really don't fit into your schedule. If you work with more focus, you'll be better able to say "no" and not feel guilty.
  • Letting the boss figure it out. If the boss dumps more work on your plate -- and you're clearly overloaded -- just tell her that while you'd love to help out with the extra work, it will impact Project A. Ask the boss to help you set priorities -- should Project A be put on the back burner or Project B postponed? That puts the onus back on the boss.
How have you learned to say "no" to increasing work demands?

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Are You Willing to Step Down the Career Ladder?

Many of us identify ourselves by what we do for a living. It's not uncommon at a neighborhood cookout to hear "So, what do you do?" from folks just meeting one another.

But in the last year, that's become a question that's much more difficult for some people to answer. Maybe they once had a job as a high-powered banker, but now they're stocking shelves at a nearby grocery store. Telling someone "I'm a stocker at the Piggly-Wiggly" is a bit different than saying, "I'm a vice president of the biggest bank in town."

What does it really mean to take a step down the career ladder? What does it do to your career? To your emotions? To your future job prospects? It's something I looked into for my latest column for Gannett/USAToday.com:

KellyAnn Bonnell recalls the day she was working and looked up to see people she knew come into her place of business. She didn’t think twice – she hid.

That’s because Bonnell – with a master’s degree in early childhood education and a resume that included stints in senior management for a nonprofit – was doing a job she never thought possible just a few months before. She was “shoveling popcorn” at a local movie theater – the only position she could find after losing her management job.

“I was mortified,” Bonnell says. “I didn’t want anyone to see me working there.”

Gone was the job with an $80,000 a year paycheck and in its place was the only thing Bonnell, 42, could find in a tough job market – a part-time gig working alongside high-school students.

“I was one of 1,000 applicants for the job,” Bonnell says. “I could find nothing else.”

When asked to name a low point in a career, many people will agree that being laid off or fired is one of the worst moments.

That difficult point, however, is often followed by another tough reality – that employment in this job market may mean accepting a job far below what they had before, both in job title and pay. “It really was a very difficult transition to make. But you gotta do what you gotta do,” Bonnell says.

For Bonnell, the tough times didn’t end with the movie theater job that included sweeping floors – she was soon laid off from that job when business dropped off. After failing to land a job with her education and non-profit credentials, Bonnell knew she had to revamp her strategy to land the kind of jobs that were available – entry-level. She says she was tired of hearing “you’re overqualified” everywhere she applied and scrapped her impressive credentials and instead focused on others skills such as marketing.

Now working in a Phoenix, Ariz. small furniture store as a marketing/branding assistant who does a bit of everything – from writing a newsletter to helping with inventory – Bonnell says the career transition hasn’t been easy. She is earning about 25 percent of her full-time nonprofit management job.

“The thing I had the hardest time doing was remembering to clock in and out,” she says, laughing. “With this job, there is no overtime. You do your eight hours and go home. In that way, it’s been good because it’s increased the time I have with my kids, and given me more free time” for community work.

Bruce Hurwitz, president and CEO of Hurwitz Strategic Staffing Ltd in New York, says that the tough job market of the last year means that many people are stepping down the career ladder and taking any job that can simply to be able to pay their bills.

“I don’t think there are serious repercussions for your career when you do something like that,” Hurwitz says. “The good news is that in this economy, you’re not alone. There’s no shame in doing what you have to do to support your family.”

His advice for job seeker these days: “Check your ego at the door.”

A recent Glassdoor.com survey found that 86 percent of those polled say the economy has impacted their career. Of those respondents, 64 percent say they have been jobless for six months or longer – and one-third report they’re willing to take a “junior” job for less pay.

Elena Adams of Palo Alto, Calif., is another job seeker who was forced to take a step down when she was laid off from her web manager job a couple of years ago. While she managed to find a production assistant job, that job fizzled out a couple of months ago – and now she’s landed a part-time job as a marketing assistant. Her pay has gone from about $45,000 a year as a web manager to about $300 a week now.

“Taking a major step down after losing my web job was tough,” she says. “Taking a production assistant job didn’t fit in with my career plans, but we needed the money to pay the rent.”

As a result of losing two jobs in two years, Adams has been spurred into pursuing her own jewelry-making business, which she hopes will bring her success one day because “not having to rely on other companies (for employment) would be so freeing,” she says.

Hurwitz says he believes more frustrated job seekers like Adams will begin launching their own businesses as a result of these hard times, and some people may choose to never return to their former careers – even if they’d had to step down in title or pay.

But for those who don’t have an entrepreneurial bent and would like to regain lost ground when the job market recovers, Hurwitz says being truthful about what they did to survive is the best strategy.

“Talk about your responsibilities, not a job title. Explain that you took what was available,” he says. “You did what you had to at the time.”

What advice would you give those considering a step down the ladder?


Monday, August 2, 2010

3 Ways to Quit Being So Rude With Technology

In the good old days, you put in your time at work then went home. The boss didn’t bug you after hours unless it was an emergency, and co-workers didn’t bother you at home because they didn’t want to think about work, either.

But these days, it’s not unusual to have an e-mail arrive from the boss at 2 a.m., or have co-workers call you at night, on weekends and even on vacation. You no longer sit and simply enjoy time off – you are tethered to your job through all sorts of electronic gadgets. And, even if the boss or your colleagues aren’t trying to contact you, in all honesty, you’re probably trying to contact them.

Is it that our work has become so critical that we can’t take even one night off? That our vacations are nothing but telecommuting in disguise? That we’re so critical to the success of our employer that we must stay connected 24/7?

For as long as there has been work, there have been workaholics. So, working a lot is nothing new. What has changed is that just as technology has helped us do our jobs better, it has also helped us do our jobs worse. So, if we're awake at 3 a.m. and can't sleep, instead of getting a glass of warm milk and watching the clouds drift over the moon from our kitchen window -- we'll get on the computer and work.

Instead of giving ourselves down time, we work. While studies have shown multitasking to not only impact our creativity and make us less productive -- now we're determined to make others just as miserable. So we bombard others with e-mails and texts that demand a reaction.

Maybe it's time to take a deep breath and think before reaching for that computer key or text button.

Some ideas:

  • Be stingy with the attachments. Is firing off a quick e-mail with an attachment that will take three hours for the other person to read really fair? What does that say about how you respect the other person's time if you inundate them with material just to avoid a face-to-face interaction that might solve the problem more quickly and efficiently?
  • Set guidelines. Get together with colleagues and agree that you're going to be more cognizant of when to use technology – and when not to. Get colleagues -- and bosses -- to decide no more Blackberries, pagers or cell phones will be allowed in meetings. Mass e-mails will only be sent in dire circumstances. Anyone who violates the policy more than once has to buy everyone coffee the next morning.
  • Be sender sensitive. Before sending an electronic or voice message, consider where, when and how the person will be receiving it. Do you really need to send a message on the weekend? Is it really fair to send urgent work to someone coming off a week-long business trip? Can your message wait until the person finishes up a big project? Be aware of the stresses everyone faces on the job, and how your actions contribute to that.

What are some other ways we can use -- or not use -- technology better?