Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Is It OK to Hug at Work?

I got into a conversation recently about how "chummy" people should be with one another at work. I've written about this before, but it seems to be an issue that comes up again and again.

One person I know expressed the opinion that she didn't mind it when others hugged her at work -- even if she barely knew them. She didn't think it was offensive, and was merely a way to say "hello."

Another said that she hated it when people wanted more than a handshake -- she finds hugging awkward and feels that hugs have no place in the workplace.

A man weighed in on the subject, noting that he's OK with hugging women -- but he doesn't want to hug a man (including his own brother, who he says drives him crazy.)

TIME asked the question in 2009: "Are Hugs the New Handshakes?" citing President Obama's tendency to hug staffers and the confusion about when to hug -- or not -- in the workplace.

The tough economic times, I think, have led to all of us wanting a hug whenever we can get it. We long for the comfort of knowing our co-workers are bonded with us in a special way -- that we're all in this tough situation together. But is it OK to hug now -- but not when times get better?

At the same time, I wouldn't suggest hugging an interviewer -- a solid handshake it enough. But should you hug a hiring manager in your enthusiasm when you get the job? Would it kill your career before it even started?

I'm interested in hearing what others have to say. Is hugging OK in the workplace? Or is it a harassment lawsuit waiting to happen?

Let me know what you think....

Thursday, September 23, 2010

How to Find a Job Using Social Media

I follow the jobless claims from week to week pretty closely. It's not near as much fun as say, watching to see if Lady Gaga will show up covered in raw eggs and bran cereal, but it's something I feel I need to do for my job. People depend on me to give them job hunting advice that will help them get out of the unemployment ranks.

Today, the news wasn't so great. Jobless claims rose by 12,000 to 465,000, clearly a sign that employers aren't welcoming job seekers with open arms.

Still, some people are clearly getting jobs. How are they doing it? Is it some secret, magic formula? Some strategy they discovered under a rock that no one else seems to know about? It's a question I decided to explore for my Gannett/USAToday.com column...

When you're one of the nearly 15 million people currently unemployed, it can be discouraging to look for work month after month.

But the truth is some people are finding work. So what are they doing differently to get jobs?

You may still be unemployed for a variety of reasons, but those who have found work say their strategies can help other job seekers

For example, Christine Demeropolis says she landed her new position as an account executive for Wordsworth Communications in Cincinnati through Twitter.

"I heard about the job when they promoted it on Twitter," she says. "I asked for more details and then sent in my resume."

Within weeks, she was called in for an interview and then offered the job.

"To be honest, I didn't ever think something like that could happen — getting a job through Twitter. There's a lot of non-work-related stuff on there."

Mike Maul, Wordsworth's president, says the company decided to post the job on Twitter after being dissatisfied with the response when the job was advertised via traditional methods.

"It's very expensive to run ads, and there was only a small percentage of candidates who applied who had the relative experience," he says. "We thought social media would be cheaper and would reach our exact target since most public-relations professionals are participating in it."

Within about 10 minutes of posting the job on Twitter and Facebook, responses from interested job seekers were arriving, which "was so remarkable and so wonderful," he says.

"We're going to post all our jobs this way from now on," he says.

A CareerBuilder survey of more than 2,500 employers found that about 35% of companies are using social media in some way, with 21% of that number using it to recruit and research possible employees."

"One of the great things about social media for an employer is that it allows you to have a very brief, initial conversation with someone — that's one of the things that I really appreciate," he says. "I'm not wading through a bunch of cover letters where someone is describing how they're a 'people person' and ways they can transform our organization. If they pique my interest on social media, then I'll call and have a conversation."

Online interactions are helping job seekers in other ways, too.

Srinivas Rao, 32, who graduated from Pepperdine University with a master's in business last year, says he "knew sending resumes out was a lost cause," but he continued to do so. He also started a blog calledTheSkoolofLife.com, which combined his love of surfing with lessons he was learning in his life.

As he wrote the blog, he realized that he was passionate about social media and began applying for relevant positions. One employer, Flightster.com, called Rao in for an interview after seeing his blog. Two weeks later, he started in his new position with them as director of social media and editor-in-chief.

"They were able to check the stats of my blog and see that I had created an extensive network," he says. "They learned a lot about me from my blog — much more than they would with just a resume. What can you really learn about someone from bullet points on a page?"

He says establishing a blog can be important for any job seeker because "it shows your ability to interact with others and your ability to organize your thoughts and write — what job doesn't need that?"

Dawn Bugni of The Write Solution-Resume Writing and Career Advising in Wilmington, N.C., says that job seekers ignore social media at their own peril. However, she says that using it incorrectly can also cause problems, so she offers these tips:

1. It's OK to lurk — but don't stalk. If you're not sure how you feel about Twitter, for example, it's OK to pick people to follow and just hang around and listen. Don't expect once you jump in to have responses for a while — it takes time to build relationships. Don't rush it or you'll be seen as a stalker.

2. Do your homework. Don't try and friend thousands on Facebook or follow hundreds on Twitter right away. Find those who have similar industry interests, or companies that interest you. Trying to do too much too soon can backfire on social media and make you just seem annoying.

3. Don't whine. Maybe you've been unemployed for a while, and every word is a complaint about your situation. Or you hate your job.

"Get over yourself," Bugni says. "Don't take a needy, ridiculous tone. It's your fingers on the keyboard, so think about what you're saying."

What other tips would you give for finding a job via social media?


Monday, September 20, 2010

5 Tips for Impressing Employers With a Blog

While out of work, many unemployed people have turned to blogging. It's become a great way to keep their writing skills sharp, and gives them an outlet for talking about what is going on in their lives.

But here's the problem: An employer is going to read that blog. I don't care if you started the blog just for your friends or family, a future paycheck may depend on what you write.

So, let's spare yourself some future grief and talk about some rules regarding blogging if you ever plan to be employed or look for work one day.

1. Do not talk about bodily functions. No one wants to read about anything that oozes, itches, burns, churns or "looks funny." Save these conversations for your mother or your doctor.

2. Do not take photos of yourself in swim wear or clothes small enough to qualify as a handkerchief. Save these photos for your workout coach or honey bunny.

3. If you're going to make fun of something or someone, make sure you don't sound bitter. Too many times bloggers try and "get on the radar" by attacking social networking bigwigs for the most idiotic reasons. You just look petty and small -- and desperate -- when you do it. When you set off a verbal stink bomb, you don't look cool -- you just cause a stink.

4. Don't link to information that is 10 years old and then say you've come across "recent" information. It makes you look lazy and confuses your reader. Not exactly how you want to impress a prospective or current employer.

5. Don't make leaps of logic that a mountain goat couldn't manage. The departure of LeBron James from the Cleveland Cavaliers for the Miami Heat, for example, caused a barrage of blog posts to be written about it. I read people connect his departure to everything from global warming to bunions. To impress employers, make sure you have a clear point and back it up with concise points.

What other ways can a blogger impress an employer?

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Tips for Being a Successful Negotiator

I'll be the first to admit I've not always been a great negotiator. Growing up with two sisters, negotiation wasn't in our vocabulary. You wanted something, you took it by force or by stealth, but there was no negotiating involved. Hair-pulling and scratching, yes. Negotiation -- no.

But entering the working world, I saw that hair-pulling wasn't going to get me far. I watched with fascination as some colleagues seemed to lead a charmed life -- anything they wanted, they got. I watched as others seemed to be destined to always slam headlong into "no" whenever they tried to get anywhere.

Recently I interviewed a couple of experts on the art of negotiation for my Gannett/USAToday.com column, about how you can be more successful in getting what you want with a whole lot less stress. Since I'm all for less hair-pulling and scratching, here's what I learned....

If you're like many people, the only experience you have with negotiations is when it's time to buy a car.Not only is that often a stressful experience, but you may feel like you rarely succeed in getting what you want with salespeople who negotiate for a living.

Negotiations can be tough and intimidate many people — even to the point they'll do what they can to avoid them. They believe negotiations are a win-lose proposition. And they often come out on the losing end.

So it's no wonder that when it comes time for you to negotiate with the boss for a raise or a new project or a promotion, you aren't successful — or never even attempt it in the first place.

But a new book, The One Minute Negotiator, (Berrett-Koehler, $21.95) by Don Hutson and George Lucas may give you what you need to not only successfully negotiate a deal for a new car but to get that desired job or raise. The book looks at the different styles of negotiation and how your knowledge of those tactics can help you be successful in getting what you want.

"Most people don't really like to negotiate. They usually have some form of 'negotiaphobia,' " Hutson says. "That means they don't know how to negotiate, they haven't enjoyed it in the past and they tend to avoid it."

For example, you might tell yourself that you don't want to rock the boat at work by asking for a promotion, when in reality you're just avoiding the negotiation process," he says. "Not being able to negotiate may mean you won't get ahead in your career, but your boss may also see the lack of negotiation skills as a problem for the company.

"There is a lot more pressure in the marketplace today, and the need for skilled negotiations is greater than ever before," Hutson says. "People have to learn to be more collaborative and work with others to get what is needed."

The authors explain that one of the keys to successfully negotiating is understanding not only your own negotiating tendencies but also being able to recognize the strategies others use.

For example, maybe you have a tendency to be "accommodating" when negotiating. This means that you'll do whatever you can to give the other person what he or she is seeking.

"Females are often more prone to the accommodation technique than men because they're often at a disadvantage when negotiating. If a man is tough and negotiates, he is seen as a player. A woman is seen as a. .. well, you can fill in the blank," Lucas says. "It's not fair and it's not right, but that's what happens."

Once you understand the different negotiating strategies, then you can figure out which kind will work best in certain situations. Being able to assess each situation leads to more successful negotiations rather than falling back on a "one-size-fits-all" strategy that often fails, Hutson says.

"Many people who train others in negotiation work with a 'win-lose' scenario. They show how to become competitive in negotiations, which often isn't a successful strategy," Hutson says.

The authors note that when you use a competitive strategy, then the situation "is about fighting to get a larger slice of the pie." But, if you use a "collaborative" strategy, then you're focusing "on growing the size of the pie."

Still, collaboration isn't always easy to implement and takes planning and patience, they stress.

"Collaboration is hard work. You've got to understand the other person's needs as well as your own," he says, explaining that one of the best ways to get information out of the other person is to stop talking and sit quietly.

"Be silent," he says, "and they'll end up telling you what they need. By letting the other person talk, you're giving them a chance to help come up with a solution. That's a win-win for everyone."

What are some negotiation techniques you've found successful?


Monday, September 13, 2010

Is it Time to Break Out of Your Workplace Clique?

Anyone with a grandmother can probably remember this advice: You are known for the company you keep. My Italian grandmother-in-law had a favorite saying along the lines of: "You lie downa witha the dogs, you gonna getta da fleas."

On the job, that's good advice. You hang out with the slackers or with the whiners or with the pompous idiots, and guess what? Other people assume you're just like them.

But I think there's another key to this equation: You're also know by who you DON'T hang out with. So, if you avoid the tech people as if their gadgets have radioactive properties, then it's going to be noticed. If you'd rather staple your own thumb to your tongue rather than attend an office party, it's going to be noticed.

The point is, you don't operate in a vacuum at work. Companies have quickly learned that if they want to survive in this global economy, they have to learn to adapt, to change -- to get along in different markets.

You need to learn to do the same. You're not going to go far in your career if you ignore colleagues and use a "I'm OK, you're not" philosophy.

So, the next time there's an office pizza party, talk to people outside your comfort zone. Ask someone you've avoided in the past for a cup of coffee. It might not be fun at first -- it might be a bit uncomfortable. But after a while, you'll start to be seen as someone who is open to new experiences, people and ideas.

And what could be better for you -- or your career -- than that?

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Should You Feel Sorry for Your Boss?

I got a lot of feedback after I did the story on alcoholism in the workplace. A lot of people sent me e-mails regarding their own personal struggles with addiction, or how they had never thought before that perhaps they were "enabling" a colleague with a drug or alcohol problem.

After I spoke with Bill Morrison, a former investment executive, I started thinking about the stress faced by leaders in the workplace and how some of them -- already with a growing addiction problem -- find themselves in very deep trouble when it gets out of control.

Few people may think of feeling sorry for executives. The thought of these C-suite players collecting big paychecks -- able to afford big houses and nice vacations and great colleges for their kids -- brings out few sympathies from those who are clipping coupons and wondering how they'll pay the mortgage.

But if our leaders aren't able to handle the stress, that has a trickle-down impact. When the managers feel they can't confide how bad things are, what does that mean for the rest of us? Will we have a boss sneaking vodka throughout the day? Will our manager become so depressed she's unable to make decisions?

I decided to look at the issue of stress and the C-suite. Here's the story I did for Gannett/USAToday.com...

While it's clear rank-and-file workers have faced increased worries since the recession hit, their bosses often get little notice — or sympathy — for working longer hours or dealing with uncertain economic times.

But the foundering economy — and even fear of losing their own jobs — is putting many executives under enormous pressures. While workers on the lower rungs face the same stresses, the difference for executives is that they've been trained not to share their emotional burdens with others.

John Baldoni, a leadership consultant and coach, says some of the greatest stress for executives is because "we are in unchartered territory" in this economy.

"Managers need to know all the variables to do business, and right now they're really lost," he says. "They're not idiots. They're not blind to what's going on. But they can't show fear to their team. They need to be that rock."

At the same time, many executives can't — or won't — pull away from their jobs, causing their stress to mount.

"For many executives, their career is everything to them," Baldoni says. "It's their passion. But they become blind to the fact that there is an outside life."

Bill Morrison, a former investment executive, says one of the things he loved about his job was that something exciting was happening every day.

"It was a bit of a rush. I was well suited for the job because I liked the thrill," he says.

But in an industry that "encouraged" drinking as "as part of doing business" and with a family history of alcoholism, Morrison began to realize that he had developed an alcohol problem, binge drinking on the weekends.

Now a recovering alcoholic and co-founder of Alta Mira Recovery Programs in Sausalito, Calif., Morrison says he sees more and more executives struggling to cope with the demands of their careers and a faltering economy. He says that within a two-day period recently, two former colleagues called him for help because they have family members who are executives and need help for addiction problems.

Morrison says his facility is treating a lot of executives these days for a variety of addiction problems.

"And I think with the way the economy is going, we're going to continue to see a lot more," he says.

That doesn't mean those in leadership positions will easily admit they're having problems handling their jobs or their life.

"They can be tough to work with," Morrison says. "They don't want anyone telling them what to do."

At the same time, executives often have more resources to protect themselves against anyone trying to aid them, and can be "very crafty" when it comes to getting what they want, he says.

While rank-and-file employees may feel freer to discuss their anxieties with family or friends — even colleagues or bosses — leaders believe they must remain calm and fearless in front of their employees. They also crave the excitement of their work lives, as Morrison did, and may be reluctant to admit that stress is becoming a problem.

Baldoni says he believes it's important that leaders in these uncertain times express more of their emotions on the job to family and friends so a powder keg of stress doesn't build up.

"I think leaders need to show they're human," he says. "They need to show humility — something which is not taught in business schools. So, that means you shouldn't try and cover things up because that's when you get in trouble. Show some emotion if you need to. You can get angry sometimes. You just have to show you have some control over yourself."

Morrison says he has learned an important lesson that he wants to pass onto leaders dealing with stress in unhealthy ways: "Don't be afraid to seek help," he says. "You can change your life for the better."

Even with the treatment costs of $40,000 to $60,000 a month at his facility, Morrison has no doubt he will be seeing more executives in the future.

"They've got to realize if they don't get help, their disease (addiction) will eventually kill them."

Do you think managers are doing a good job of handling the stress today?


Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Workplace Anxiety Disorder Impacts Employees at All Levels

The world moves at such a fast pace these days that sometimes we make snap judgments just in order to keep pace.

So, say someone refuses to return your phone calls. The reason? Well, obviously, she's not professional. What about the guy in the cubicle next to yours refusing to take off his headphones so you can ask him a question? What a moron.

The boss who refuses to have a one-on-one meeting with you to discuss a project's progress, and instead bombards you with e-mails night and day? Well, obviously fodder for Bob Sutton's next "asshole boss" book, you think. Jerk.

OK, now take a deep breath. Clear your mind of your judgments and read this story I did for Gannett/USAToday.com. Because it sure opened up my mind to the fact that maybe there are lots of people out there who are terrified to talk to me. Maybe they e-mail me constantly because they're afraid I'm judging them and will find them lacking.

And, maybe, this person who is so afraid and anxious is you...

Amy Lemley says she spent most of her life feeling "like a fraud."

While she portrayed an outgoing and confident persona as a writer and editor, inside she was filled with anxiety — always afraid others would find out what she believed to be a lack of abilities.

Her desire for perfectionism created an "internal critical script" that was "a nagging voice saying that 'If you mess up, everyone will think you're a fraud,' " she says.

Lemley's not alone in her anxiety surrounding work. In a new book with Jonathan Berentcalled "Work Makes Me Nervous," (Wiley, $24.95), Lemley and Berent explore how some people suffer from anxiety in their professional lives.

This goes beyond feeling butterflies when giving a presentation, they explain. Those afflicted with workplace anxiety can be nearly paralyzed at the thought of giving a speech or even attending a meeting with people they know.

Much of the time they will do anything they can to avoid such activities — such as only using e-mail to communicate.

"Millions of people suffer from workplace anxiety disorder," Berent says. "But they don't talk about it because this is a problem that is characterized by shame, embarrassment, humiliation and panic."

Lemley says she would rather hide behind e-mail than deal with phone calls or face-to-face interactions, but she knows that is a slippery slope into letting the disorder take over her life. After learning coping techniques from Berent, she has learned to change her thought processes.

"Let me give you an example: I have a supervisor in the cubicle next to mine, and I was so fearful that she was judging me as incompetent, lazy and stupid that I could not ask a question of the person at the desk next to me," Lemley says. "But now I have the objective part of me say, 'That's ridiculous.' I tell myself I can't get better at what I do unless I ask questions."

Berent says the disorder affects people at all levels of their careers, but he works with many top-level executives who have to come to him because their job is on the line.

"These are people who aren't going to get the promotion — or may even lose their job — if they are not able to speak publicly or interact with others," he says. "They may have learned to survive until this point, but they're in a lot of pain, and that can lead to other problems such as depression or using alcohol."

The authors provide a variety of techniques to help those suffering from the disorder learn to overcome it and rebuild confidence in their professional lives.

They say one technique that can be especially beneficial is the "adrenaline control technique." The steps:

1. Set realistic expectations. You're not going to be able to stop the surge of adrenaline when you're asked to give a speech, so accept it as natural. This is important so you don't become frustrated or angry.

"Those are the emotions that drive the anxiety you feel when adrenaline flows. The truth is you must welcome the adrenaline as fuel for success," they say.

2. Recognize adrenaline is a source of power. When you feel the adrenaline, don't let it panic you.

Instead, see it as a sign that you're ready to move forward.

Berent describes how his hands often become cold before a public appearance, a sign his adrenaline is pumping. While it's "nothing to be scared of," Berent says a similar reaction in someone who lets the anxiety take hold could result in a panic episode.

3. Go with the flow. "Imagine a surfer on a wave, harnessing its energy. .. going with it and in control," the authors write. "The wave represents adrenaline. Accept it. Don't fight it."

Some people have said that the adrenaline actually makes them perform better.

4. Remember to breathe. Take in slow, deep breaths for four counts, and exhale for four counts. This will help calm you.

"I tend to carry stress in my chest, and that makes my back tense. I know when I feel that, I need to pause and take a deep breath. I am choosing to have adrenaline be my friend," Lemley says.

Does work make you nervous? How do you handle it?