Thursday, October 28, 2010

How to Stretch Your Resiliency Muscle

I think when this whole economic meltdown started more than a year ago, I -- like many people -- didn't know how bad it was going to get. Since then, I've seen really good people lose their jobs. I've interviewed dozens of people who have been looking and looking for work. Some have gotten jobs, only to lose them months later. I talk to parents who have tapped into their children's college funds just to make the mortgage.

Job seekers and even those who are employed tell me that some days, it's tough to get out of bed. Some react to the current situation with a steadfastness I find inspirational. A few have me concerned -- I haven't heard from them since they told me they were very depressed.

What, I wondered, makes some people better able to deal with life's adversities than others? Is there a resiliency muscle that can be exercised and made stronger? It's an issue I explored for my latest Gannett/USAToday column:

"The elevator to success is broken. You'll have to take the stairs."— Joe Girard

Being without a job is tough. Looking for a job is hard. Putting in 60-hour weeks at a job that doesn't offer any extra compensation is the pits.

But we're all doing it. We're looking for work despite the dismal job market. We're putting up with too much work even though we'd like to toss it all out the nearest window and head toBali.

However, there is a difference in how we're doing it. While some people have been hunting for a job for more than a year and still keep an optimistic outlook, others are so demoralized after a few weeks that they seem paralyzed by indecision — or so angered they can't do anything but fume.

What makes some people more capable of dealing with life's bumps? What makes them more resilient? The dictionary defines resilience as "the ability to recover quickly from illness, change or misfortune," and Davia Temin says she believes some people are just born with more of it than others.

Temin, a reputation and crisis management expert in the New York City area, says she also believes that those who go through more early in life are better prepared to deal with them throughout their lifetimes.

That's a belief recently borne out in a study by researchers at the State University of New York at Buffalo and the University of California, Irvine. Published in the latest issue of the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, the study of nearly 2,400 participants found those with a history of some lifetime difficulties demonstrated less distress and a greater satisfaction with their lives.

Not only did they have fewer post-traumatic stress symptoms, but they also were able to handle recent difficult events better than other participants.

But it's clear that whether you're born with it — or learn it — coming up with enough resilience to deal with a recession, housing downturn and job loss is a challenge. The past couple of years have taken a toll on people's confidence, on their ability to get a second wind and confront new challenges and stresses. For some, they've never had to deal with the likes of what is being experienced now and can't even begin to grasp the struggles they confront.

The study on adversity found that those experiencing less than a handful of adverse events coped the best, but those who had cruised through life with nary a bump in the road had a more difficult time dealing with adversity. Also, researchers say being battered by many difficulties could overwhelm a person, causing feelings of hopelessness.

"As people get battered, they lose what I call their sense of 'agency' — their sense that they have some power in the world. They lose their self-respect and their confidence," Temin says.

Peter McDonnell, 61, of North Barrington, Ill., lost his job about two weeks ago. It was his third layoff in the past two years.

"Right now, I'm depressed. But I wouldn't say I'm upset because I've gone through this too many times," he says. "I know what I have to do. I have two little kids to support. If I need to go to the corner grocery store and get a job, I'll do that."

McDonnell says he believes he's gotten through his layoffs — one was from a job he'd had for more than 20 years — because he has a "strong makeup."

He says that encouragement from his parents when he was young that he could "do anything" has stayed with him, and other difficulties in his life have put job searching in perspective.

"Going through a divorce is a helluva lot harder than this," he says.

If you're looking to be more resilient in your life, some strategies may help, including these:

Helping someone else. "If you start to do something for someone else, then it gives you back that feeling of power," Temin says. "We all have something where we can add value."

Setting goals. McDonnell says he has learned it's key to set goals for yourself every day during a job search. "Set little goals, intermediate goals and long-term goals," he says. "You've got to have some purpose to your day."

Connecting with others. Not only will networking help your job search, but keeping in touch with family and friends is critical to staying positive and focused.

Envisioning success. Keep your eye on the goal and even if an obstacle comes along, remind yourself what the payoff will be once you get past it.

Finding inspiration. Read stories of others who have overcome challenges. Attend events that help you foster a sense of community and well-being. Ask others to share their stories of how they overcame difficult times.

Remembering that you're a work in progress. You aren't defined by your unemployment or your current job. Think about the impact you want your life to have, and focus on how you can achieve those goals.


Monday, October 25, 2010

5 Ways to Gain Control of Your Home Office

On the job, your work space is tidy and well maintained, with all your projects lined up like neat little soldiers. You can put your hands on just what you need at a moment’s notice, and never fail to throw away useless items. But while co-workers see you as the poster child of organization, you hide a dirty little secret: Your home office looks like a typhoon just hit.

Files are scattered. Family members have dumped various things in your office, including an unused exercise bike, an old video game system and what appears to be the inside of the broken toaster. Tax records are mixed in with recipes printed out sometime last year, and the dog has shredded the office chair fabric that is now held together with masking tape. There is no flat surface that is not stacked with papers, magazines and books.

It may be of some comfort to know that you are not the only one who could have a home office declared a disaster area. In fact, there are so many out-of-control home offices that organization gurus have come up with several suggestions to improve them. Consider:

1. Be clear on your purpose. Organize your space according to how you function. What's important in your life? If you really want to spend more time exercising, when are you going to find spare time to read those magazines from 1988 that are sitting in the corner of your home office?

2. Learn to divvy up the space. Because so many home offices are shared by families, give each family member a cubby, basket or shelf to place individual items. In order that respect for work is maintained, turn on a special light in the office to let others know that work is being done and interruptions should be kept to a minimum.

3. Get rid of the “to do” lists and instead have a “stop” list. With offices at home, we’ve become more addicted to work and the constant e-mails and phone calls. Learn to "parent" yourself and put limits on when and how you will work at home.

4. Have a “dump” zone. Rather than everything being tossed in the office awaiting further action, have containers or cubbies near the door for books, bags, shoes, coats, sport equipment, etc. A blackboard or message system is also helpful so that there is one place where the family can maintain communication. This allows you to put necessary items – such as work brought home that needs your attention – in the home office without fear of it getting lost.

5.. Stop being indecisive. If you have a system set up that allows you to take action, then the home office will function better for you. For example, you can use files labeled with the months of the year. If you have a wedding in June, then you can put the invitation, gift registry and other information in that folder. You can put all your medical information in a folder so that at a moment’s notice you can grab it and go to the doctor or hospital. A designated shelf can hold specific projects from work that you bring home.

Finally, make sure your work space is comfortable. Invest in the proper lighting, chair, desk, etc. to make sure you don’t face an injury, just as you would on your job away from home.

What other suggestions do you have for maintaining a home office?


Thursday, October 21, 2010

3 Ways to Have a Better Relationship With the Boss

When I write for Gannett/, my column is picked up by newspapers and different websites all over the world. I find it interesting to see the comments people write about my stories that appear online -- and these from the Arizona Republic site may reflect the initial feeling of many workers when told they need to "manage the boss."

For example, "years30on" responded at the end of my story: "There's a term for this 'Learn to manage your boss' - FIRED." Another, "savebrice" responded: "Another way to manage an impossible jackwad of a boss: quit, It works."

A third responder, "SarBear," points out that he/she uses the strategy outlined by Bruce Tulgan in my story, and it works like a dream. Of course, she was immediately called a "suck-up," by others, (you gotta love the Internet), but I'll let you decide for yourself if such a strategy is viable for you.

Here's the column:

While a micromanaging boss is definitely a pain in the cubicle, having a manager who pays little or no attention to you may be worse.

That's because the boss who barely acknowledges your presence is less likely to give you promotions, new projects — or even a pay raise. And the inattentive boss can hurt your career in the long run as you're unable to gain the skills and new opportunities you need to remain valuable in the job marketplace.

So, what's the solution?

Bruce Tulgan says every worker must l earn to manage his or her own boss because the truth is "most managers aren't very good at managing."

"You need basic things in your work life to succeed, such as clear expectations and parameters. If not, you're more likely to go in the wrong direction," says Tulgan, founder ofRainmaker Thinking and author of It's Okay to Manage Your Boss (Jossey-Bass, $23.95). "A boss should take responsibility for making sure you have what you need, but if not, then you need to take care of it yourself."

The thought of managing a boss may seem intimidating, frightening — or even ludicrous — to some workers. But Tulgan says it's not that difficult, especially if the alternatives are considered.

"If you don't have a regular dialogue with a boss, then almost always by default (the boss) will manage you when things are going wrong, meaning it's a bad-news dialogue," he says. "Problems have gotten out of control, you're going in the wrong direction — and it's weeks before you know it."

He notes that "what separates the high performers from the low performers is that high performers make sure they're engaging the boss."

If you have a boss that has a leave-me-alone-and-figure-it-out-on-your-own attitude, then it's time to put some steps in place to better manage the relationship. Tulgan suggests workers should:

Corner the boss. Sometimes you have to be a bit sneaky to track down a boss for some one-on-one time, so it may take a bit of homework such as observing patterns of behavior or schedules to find the best time to talk to the boss.

These conversations shouldn't be long and rambling. In fact, the boss will probably appreciate a written agenda of items from you, clearly outlining the areas where you need input, such as work, performance feedback and available resources to get your job done.

Value human interaction. If you work remotely, don't just depend on e-mail to interact with your boss. It's important to meet face to face when possible and use scheduled phone conversations to better communicate.

Group meetings don't count — you need time alone with the boss.

Be thorough. One of the most important parts of managing a boss is making sure you're on the same page. That means you should write down everything you and the boss agree on and further keep notes on your progress, future plans and how you're completing the work.

This written track record is key when a boss doesn't keep his or her own records of your progress, Tulgan says.

Sometimes — despite all your efforts — a boss refuses to engage. In that case, Tulgan says, it may be time to go "boss shopping."

"If you've got a boss in name only, you may want to find someone else to be your boss. You can deputize the boss' boss, or the boss' lieutenant. You start bringing this person into the loop regarding what you're doing in your job," Tulgan says.

Another advantage of finding a boss that is willing to be more involved in your career is the message it sends about your commitment, he says.

"Other people will notice that you're a self-starting high performer who has a reputation of getting things done — and they'll want you working for them," Tulgan says.

Do you think such a strategy is viable -- that any worker could use it? What other suggestions do you have?


Monday, October 18, 2010

The Tale of Another Clueless Manager

If you watched "Undercover Boss" last night, you saw a truly awful hair piece being sported by Frontier Airlines CEO Bryan Bedford. I think the guy should get props just for wearing something that looked like road kill and probably smelled about the same after working the tarmac in Oklahoma City in 104-degree weather and being doused with what appeared to be human pee when he was on latrine duty.

That aside, I nearly choked when I heard him profess his shock at how many of his employees were the primary wage earners for their families. Uh, sorry...but did he think they emptied airplane toilets and threw their backs out loading and unloading luggage because they thought it would be fun? A career lark to earn a few extra bucks to pay for spa days?

OK. So that was the first thing that bugged me. And here's the second: How come only a few of the employees -- who appear with the boss on this show -- basically win the lottery? I'm not saying those employees who appeared with Bedford -- from the single mom who helped the homeless to the flight attendant trying to send his kids of college -- didn't deserve what he gave them (vacations, donations to the poor, school tuition) because they certainly did. But those kinds of gestures bug me because they're done out of guilt and, of course, to make the company look good.

What did he actually do to give those employees long-term stability? Did he really invest in their careers? Did he offer to send them to school to improve their skills? Is he giving them mentors? And, what about the other workers who give 100 percent every day and work extra shifts to make ends meet? Do their contributions not deserve a fully-paid vacation to a destination of their choice -- on the company tab?

I was impressed that Bedford had enough foresight to see that the 10 percent pay cuts employees accepted during the merger needed to be restored, and moved to do that in the next three years.

But it was frustrating to know that Bedford, who said he had been in the executive ranks for many years, was so disconnected to his workforce. To know that he still didn't really get it -- that employees who give 100 percent to their job deserve to have the managers give 100 percent back to them. That means career development, training, opportunities and a real chance to have their voices heard when they have good ideas -- or voice their opinions when something isn't working.

Bedford has said more of his managers will be spending more time on the front lines with workers. Let's hope that more bosses send their managers into the trenches and figure out what works and what doesn't. Because when the economy improves, those great workers who have been ignored may take off faster than Bedford ditching that bad hair piece.

How do you think managers can better connect to what their workers are really experiencing every day on the front lines?

Thursday, October 14, 2010

7 Tips for a Better PowerPoint Presentation

Like most people, I've attended some great PowerPoint presentations, and some truly horrible ones. One of the worst ones I ever attended was by a very well-regarded researcher -- but I found myself redesigning my kitchen in my head I was so bored. And while I never did get my new kitchen, I did learn what makes a bad PowerPoint presentation. But what makes a great one? It's a question I explored for my latest Gannett/ column....

Anyone ever held hostage by a lousy PowerPoint presentation probably has more than a few opinions about why it was so bad.

Criticisms may range from the speaker reading a slide full of information — in a monotone — to graphics being a jumbled, nonsensical mess.

"Probably the worst one I ever saw was a guy who used a template of stars and planets for his background, then used a white font for the information over it. The problem was Saturn and the other planets were obscuring the words, and then if the white type was near a star. .. well, you couldn't read anything. It was just overwhelming," Stephen M. Kosslyn says.

However, Kosslyn was not just any ordinary audience member frustrated at a poorly constructed presentation. As a leading authority on the nature of visual mental imagery and visual communication, he knew there was a better way of presenting visual information.

He knew it was time to put an end to slow death by PowerPoint.

"Most all PowerPoints are flawed," he says. "People get into these grooves and habits and they think (their PowerPoint) is fine the way it is. But once you show them other ideas, then they realize that it can get better."

As dean of social science and a psychology professor at Harvard University and author of Better PowerPoint:Quick Fixes Based on How Your Audience Thinks, (Oxford University Press, $14.95), Kosslyn says there are many ways to improve PowerPoint presentations that are simple — but very effective.

For example, words or graphics that are similar should be grouped together in a slide, what he calls the "birds of a feather rule."

"Our brains automatically organize information in particular way, so it will be easier and faster for your audience members to understand and remember what you present when you organize it appropriately," he says.

The biggest key to developing better presentations is to remember that "less is more."

"Every tweak to hone your message down on each slide will help," he says.

Other tips he provides for a better PowerPoint presentations:

Involve the audience. "There is nothing more striking that being asked suddenly to shift from being a passive listener to being an active performer," he writes. One way to do that is by asking audience members to vote whether they agree or disagree with a specific point by raising their hands.

Make it easy to read. Text should be at least 28 points. Don't use uppercase, italics, or bold for more than three or four words in a line. He points out that such letters are similar enough to each other that they require more effort to read that standard type.

Prevent eye strain. Avoid using a white background unless the room will be partially lit. A white background in a dark room produces glare "and can result in audience members' getting after-images when they move their eyes," he writes.

Don't overuse bullets. Bullets should provide only key concepts or examples. "They should be more like what would have been sent by telegraph in days of old than prose," he writes. "Don't present every world in your entire presentation in bulleted lists."

Remember that pictures matter. Research shows people are more likely to remember a key concept better if you use a picture and words together rather than just one of those items.

Avoid deep blue. Science shows the eye can't focus on images or words that are in a heavily saturated blue. The image will appear blurred around the edges.

Make sure graphs are appropriate. Don't use graphs unless they make a specific point and provide a clear conclusion. Audience members shouldn't be left to figure out what the graph may be trying to tell them.

"I think I've probably seen over a thousand PowerPoints, and I can tell you that they could all use some work," Kosslyn says.

"What people need to remember is that it's not about the slides. It's about understanding what the audience needs," he says. "With just some fine-tuning, some real improvement can be made."

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

5 Tips for Becoming Valuable in a New Job

The job-hunting experience can be a stressful one: sending out resumes, interviewing, sending out more resumes and interviewing again. It can take weeks, even months, to nail the job you want.

Finally, you get the position you desire. And while you’re a bit nervous in the beginning, the new job begins to feel more comfortable after a while, and you settle in to the routine.

But before you begin to feel too comfortable in your little cubicle, are you sure you’re doing everything you can to hang on to that job? Are you positive that you’re not setting yourself up for future disappointment? Or, are you so consumed with just keeping up with the everyday demands that you’ve failed to plan ahead?

When you begin a new position, you want to be realistic about your career path with that employer. Remember, those with the least amount of time with an employer are often the first ones who are laid off. That’s why it’s key that you prove your worth as quickly as possible, so that you have a better chance of not only hanging on to that job, but of moving up the career ladder.

From the first day you walk into a new job, one of the most important things you can do is to express your willingness to learn. That means that you listen carefully to instructions – from how to operate the copy machine to filing reports with the boss – and take notes. Don’t be shy about asking questions, since it’s much better to get things right in the beginning rather than just trying to learn from mistakes as time goes by.

For example, does the boss prefer face-to-face communication or phone calls and e-mail? Who can you ask about computer issues or how staff meetings are conducted? How should customer questions be answered?

It’s also a good idea to:

· Be observant. To learn how a workplace really functions, you need to not only listen, but look. The boss may have the title, but it might be there are others in the office wielding authority. Be aware of who seems to garner the most attention in the office and in meetings; you’ll begin to get a good idea of the power structure.

· Walk around. Take the time to briefly stop by and introduce yourself to anyone you haven’t met. Learn the person’s name (make a note if you have a bad memory for names). Then, in the following days and weeks, greet the person by name and begin to ask them about their jobs, the challenges they face and how your job affects what they do. As you get to know more people in the office, make sure you keep all interactions positive. Don’t badmouth your old job, people you worked with or make other critical comments. You want to be seen as friendly, professional and open to other people’s ideas.

· Pitch in. Showing that you’re a team player is important in today’s competitive marketplace. Those workers who are willing to pitch in and help out are seen as a benefit the company and other employees. Don’t be afraid to step outside of your job description to show that you’re there to get the job done, and are willing to be flexible.

· Reach out. Now that you’ve landed the job, you need to make sure others are aware of it. Send out notes to your network, and make sure that professional publications post your new achievement. Become active in your field so that your new boss sees you as someone who is well-informed about the marketplace and your profession.

· Grow your skills. Take advantage of any training your new employer might offer, and continue to invest in your abilities outside the workplace. Attend seminars that provide you with new skills, or consider taking a class to further hone your talents. An employee with an up-to-date, valuable skill set will be much harder to let go, no matter the time on the job.

What are some other key career steps someone should take in a new job?


Thursday, October 7, 2010

Tips From Successful Job Seekers

I never get tired of hearing how people got a job. I don't think anyone gets tired of hearing it, even those who are still looking. So, if you're running out of hope, read this story I did for Gannett/, and know that you should keep hope alive -- and maybe learn a thing or two from those who have successfully moved from unemployed to the working ranks...

In 2008, Linda Woody was a stay-at-home mom for two daughters, sometimes picking up work as a public-relations consultant.

But she began to worry that the pressure of asking her husband to be the sole bread winner was too much to ask and decided to go back to work full time.

Six months later, as the economy grew worse and Woody wasn't getting anywhere with her job-hunting efforts, she had a conversation with her sister.

"She told me that I needed to act and dress like I had a job, and so the next day I should get up and put on a suit," Woody says. "I thought that was hilarious. She was joking, of course, but there was some truth to her story."

The truth was that Woody wasn't really putting a full-time effort into her job hunt, she says. She was being too picky, acting too tentative and relying on outdated contacts.

So she revamped her efforts, networking in person several times a week, joining Facebook and LinkedIn to make more connections and letting everyone know she was looking for work.

In October 2009 — when thousands of people were losing jobs — Woody was hired as communications manager for Association Headquarters Inc. in Mount Laurel, N.J. She says she learned of the job through a former colleague on Facebook.

"There are jobs out there," Woody says. "You just have to be connected and not give up. You have to talk to everyone — even other moms you meet at story time with your kids. They know people. Anyone you're connected to don't lose touch."

Woody's tactics are ones that Andy Robinson says are effective — in large part because Woody came up with a strategy and was consistent and persistent.

Robinson, chief executive of CRG Leaders in Naples, Fla., says many job seekers are so scattered in their job-hunting strategy that they don't have success. Or, they try something periodically, such as using Facebook to find contacts, but don't stick with it long enough to make it effective.

"Some people jump into the latest and greatest thing to find a job, and it doesn't work. You've got to have a plan and follow it through. The biggest magic bullet for finding a job is persistence," he says. "You've got to religiously try every day, but for some people it's too easy to throw up their hands and quit."

Another job seeker who was persistent in her job-search strategy — and found success — was Jess Wangsness.

Earlier this year when she was looking for work, she says that most people believed "there wasn't even a glimmer of hope" of finding a job. But she decided to pursue a job search method she had heard about — proposing business ideas to a prospective employer.

"I suggested in my cover letter some ideas to pique the employer's interest," she says. "Then, when I got the interview, I really stepped it up. I made the ideas as specific as possible."

While she only did about two hours of research to pitch preliminary ideas to the employer, she devoted 10 to 15 hours to prepare for the interview. Scouring the Internet for company information, she got a well-rounded picture of the company so she could propose ideas based on their needs.

"They said I was one of the few candidates that came with ideas I was ready to talk about," she says. "It made the interview feel more like a conversation, rather than an interrogation."

According to a Weddle's employment survey, nearly 53% of job seekers say they expect to find their next job by posting their resume on an Internet job board or by answering an advertisement. Only about 8% said they expect to find another position through networking at a business or social event.

"I think there are real good jobs out there through the job boards, but you don't want to put all your eggs there," Robinson says. "You should complement it by seeing if you can find people who work there through LinkedIn or Facebook contacts."

He adds that when making a networking contact, make sure you let the person know not only what you do for a living but what skills you have and with what companies you'd like to connect.

Robinson says that if you've been searching for a job for more than six months and not getting any nibbles, it's time to think about revamping your strategy. He says that while "affordable" job search coaches can provide assistance, plenty of people also are ready and willing to offer free help.

"Reach out to others you know who have found jobs and ask them if they have any ideas for you. Ask your network for help. Don't try and fix the situation yourself because you need to understand you're not doing it right, so you need help from other people," Robinson says.

Robinson says he believes that there is a "little beacon of light that is getting stronger" in the job market, and as many companies enter hiring season, it's a good time for job seekers to ramp up their efforts.

Adds Woody: "It's easy to lose momentum when you don't hear back from an employer. But just keep plugging away. There will be a fit."

What other tips would you offer to job seekers?


Tuesday, October 5, 2010

How Your Handwriting May Impact Your Job

What does your handwriting say to your boss?

You might be surprised to learn just how much. A story in today's Wall Street Journal discusses how forming letters is key to developing the brain. It quotes an education professor noting that messy handwriting can have "ramifications."

For example, good handwriting "can take a generic classroom test score from the 50th percentile to the 84th percentile, while bad penmanship could tank it to the 16th," the story notes.

"There is a reader effect that is insidious," notes Dr. Steve Graham of Vanderbilt University. "People judge the quality of your ideas based on your handwriting."

That's something I learned when doing research for my book. I interviewed several bosses, who said they often couldn't read the handwritten notes of younger employees.

Noted one:

“Bosses are under such time pressure. If I have three people write a report and only one of them does it neatly and with proper style, then I know I don’t have to work that hard with that person to get it ready for my boss. Yes, everyone should look for the diamond in the rough, but there are only 24 hours in a day, and we’re already working 24/7. We just don’t have the time to work with someone a lot.”

Another told me she was frustrated because employees relied so much on computer that when it came time to write a simple note or take a message by hand, they were incapable of doing it.

Then, there's the whole issue of applying for a job. While much of it is done online, some applications are completed by hand . What about the paperwork you have to fill out once you're hired? If your boss or human resources can't read your handwriting, how might that impact your job chances or future career?

How important do you think handwriting is in the workplace today?

Monday, October 4, 2010

Should You Discuss Politics at Work?

A few years ago, it became a very big deal in my neighborhood when some of my neighbors discovered that the rules under our homeowner's association contract stated that no political signs could be placed in a front yard.

That led to some standoffs as neighbors proudly staked their political signs, claiming free speech and daring anyone to say something to them.

But should political discussions take place at work? Would you be comfortable with a co-worker campaigning at work? Would you feel compelled to vote for the same candidate as your boss? Should an employer protect you from having to listen to political rhetoric while on the job? These are some issues I explored for my Gannett/ column...

Tea party. Sarah Palin. President Barack Obama. Congress. Immigration.

These are all words that stir a debate online and off. But legal experts say there's at least one place they shouldn't be discussed: the office.

As the midterm elections approach in November — and the political arena becomes more heated — it can be easy for political discussions to spill over into the workplace. But even in a joking manner, bringing up politics at work can have serious repercussions, says Lonnie Giamela, an employment lawyer at Fisher & Phillips LLP.

"For example, maybe you make fun of the way a certain political leader looks," Giamela says. "Some might think it's funny. Some might not. The point is you may be offending someone, and that shouldn't happen at work."

Two years ago, the election season was a long, drawn-out affair with dozens of candidates on the political stage for months on end. As a result, many employers set clear policies about discussing politics in the workplace.

But companies may not have been as vigilant with the upcoming midterm elections, and that can cause some real problems, Giamela says.

"The last election wasn't as partisan as it is now. There is a unique anti-incumbent fervor and there are explosive, divisive issues," he says. "Employers need to be aware of how that impacts the workplace."

These hot-button issues can reveal big differences among workers about issues "irrelevant" to the job, and airing those varied opinion at work can dissension, he says. That's why it may be a good idea for colleagues to simply decide to keep politics out of the cubicles.

"It may be wise for all involved to ask, 'Why risk it?' " he says.

Giamela also says companies should issue directions about what's acceptable — and what is not — regarding politics in the workplace. For example, employers may tell employees it's OK to offer candidate information on a certain bulletin board or in a break room but discourage political stickers from being displayed in a worker's cubicle.

The issue is especially critical for managers, he says. If an employee believes a manager supports a certain candidate or issue, then the worker may feel pressured to do the same or face retaliation.

A manager should stay out of political conversations and not display a preference at work in any way, Giamela says.

Giamela, who often advises companies on how to handle politics in the workplace, says companies should address several issues now as the midterm elections approach:

1. Parameters for political solicitations. "Employers have to decide if they're going to allow it, prohibit it, or allow it only in some ways. I feel that the issue is so volatile it's best that any political discussions take place outside of work," he says. "Employers can't regulate off-hours discussions, so if employees want to discuss politics on their lunch hour, then that's their business."

He says employees soliciting money for political reasons can be illegal, and workers should never feel "coerced" into contributing for a candidate.

2. Zero tolerance for harassment. Political discussions about immigration, for example, can lead to possibly discriminatory comments toward an ethnic group, he says.

"You need to make sure your workers understand there are protections in the work force, such as for race, religion, sexual orientation and national orientation," he says. "Some states have different protected groups, so employers should make sure employees understand the law."

3. The voting day policy. Some states give workers time to leave work and vote. Employers should inform workers if it applies in their state.

"One of the advantages of issuing a policy is that it helps refresh the rules in the mind of the manager as well," Giamela says. "Then they're better prepared when these issues come up."