Tuesday, August 30, 2011

How to Impress the Boss With a Business Meal

When was the last time you ate a really good meal while in a meeting?

If you're like most people, the boss might "order in" some pizzas, which show up cold, go down greasy and settle like a bomb in your stomach (along with the garlic bread and tepid soda and stale cookie you also consumed).

That's why asking the boss out to a nice meal can have numerous payoffs. Not only do you get much better food, but you also put the boss in a better mood because she's not eating cold food and trying not to belch in someone's face before she can sneak a couple of Rolaids.

If you do ask the boss to lunch or dinner, here's how to make a good impression:
  • Call his or her assistant before the meal and ask if there are any places the boss hates -- or food that will cause the boss to go into anaphylactic shock and end your meeting much too quickly.
  • Talk to the restaurant hostess before the meal to arrange a quiet table where you can talk. Somewhere away from the kitchen and front door. Ask that your server be told it's a business meal and you're willing to tip extra for the best waiter or waitress on staff.
  • Turn off your cell phone or put it on mute during the meal. I shouldn't have to say this, but I do.
  • Make sure there's nearby parking. If the boss won't be able to park, offer to arrange a taxi for him. Make sure you're there up to 15 minutes early so that you won't be late.
  • Arrange to pick up the check beforehand.
Now, the rest is up to you. Be friendly, be professional and be prepared. If you give the boss a nice dining experience, she might be willing to repay the favor -- with a promotion.

What other tips are there for dining out with the boss or business contact?


Thursday, August 25, 2011

The Bully at Work

I was trying to think the other day if I know someone who has not been bullied in his or her lifetime.


Seems everyone I know -- whether they were harassed on the playground or in the workplace -- has been the target of a bully.

How each person handles that bully can vary, of course, but I don't think we can ever dismiss bullying as unimportant or a thing of the past. It's here and now, and an issue we need to keep addressing. Here's the column I did for Gannett/USAToday on the issue of bullying in the workplace and what you can do if you're a target:

Many adults shake their heads in dismay over bullying that targets children and teenagers online and in school; they even push for lawmakers and schools to do more to stop the harassment.

But many are afraid to admit another dirty little secret: Bullying is just as big a problem for the adults in the workplace.

Up to 70 percent of working adults say they've been bullied at some point in their working lives, and 53 percent to 71 percent of the bullies are in management positions, Civility Partners LLC says.

The prevalence of bully bosses is why many don't report they've been bullied, says Bert Alicea, a licensed psychologist and vice president of employee-assistance programs and work/life services at Health Advocate Inc.

"A lot of people would rather leave than stir the pot and fear retaliation," he says. "But even if they want to leave, with the bad job market there's nowhere for them to go."

The problem of workplace bullying is not new, nor is it illegal.

If bullying leads to illegal workplace acts, such as discrimination or harassment, then the courts can act. Legislation called the Healthy Workplace Bill would make bullying illegal and has been introduced in more than 20 states since 2003.

Even without the bill, Alicea says many companies are beginning to take steps to reign in workplace bullying because of its bottom-line consequences: Bullying can cost a company $83,000 a year from absenteeism and stress-related issues.

Companies often ask Alicea to provide harassment awareness or sensitivity training as a way to make supervisors and employees more aware of bullying behavior and the steps needed to protect workers. But businesses may have another incentive to offer such training.

In some court cases, companies that have provided anti-bullying training are not always held solely responsible if an employee's lawsuit alleging harassment or discrimination is successful, Alicea says. Instead, individual supervisors may be held personally liable for some financial damages awarded to an employee if a company can show the supervisor received anti-bullying training.

Still, despite more interest from companies in anti-bullying measures, Alicea says he remains concerned.

"If the bully is in a power position or someone like a rainmaker in the organization who brings in $5 million a year, then no one really wants to rattle that cage," he says.

Another worry for Alicea — a growing use of online bullying.

"Cyber-bullying is more prevalent in the workplace. People become friends with their supervisors on Facebook, for example, and they become more emotionally connected. It begins to blur the objectivity of those involved. I just think it opens up a whole can of worms," he says.

Workers also can feel bullied via other online communications, such as email, he says.

"I think there's a real need for email etiquette to be taught in workplaces today," he says. "Sending an email, written in bold with 15 exclamation points sends a message in a degrading way."

If an employee feels bullied at work, Alicea says that person should:

• Contact the company's employee assistance program. While acknowledging that some employees may fear word getting back to the bully, "you have to be able to take that risk because you're tired of feeling the way you're feeling," he says. "You need to be able to talk to an objective third party who knows how to deal with these kinds of issues."

• Tell human resources. While you don't have to provide the name of the bully, it's important to have a record so if you experience retaliation, you have proof that it took place after your complaint.

• Ask for dignity and respect. You don't have to launch into a litany of complaints but simply state you want fair treatment. This often prompts companies to bring in outside help to educate and train supervisors and employees.

Have you been the target of a bully? How did you handle it?


Friday, August 19, 2011

5 Tips for Staying Healthy on the Job

I rarely (knock on wood) get sick anymore, and that's probably because I've been around so long I've caught every germ there is and am now immune.

But I do have more aches and pains, many of them caused by sitting at a computer for 10 hours a day. My wrist hurts. My elbows hurt. My knees crack when I get out of my chair.

The trouble is, I know better. I know that I need to take more rest breaks, to lift more weights to gain better strength and do yoga more often to relieve stress and improve my flexibility. The interesting thing about this story I did for my Gannett/USAToday column is that I need to start walking the talk, just like these experts....

It may feel like you're always under stress, dealing with a crabby boss and heavy workload, all the while trying to find some personal time to relax.

But what if a few simple habits could not only alleviate your stress, but make you more productive and happier? Experts say it's possible, because they do it themselves.

Dan Rosin, a therapist for 45 years who has spent much of that time counseling overworked and burned out workers, says he takes his own advice when it comes to developing a balanced approach to his work and personal life.

He says the key is having a plan.

"People will always say that they feel better when they eat right and they exercise," he says. "But you've got to have a plan for that. It won't just happen on its own."

For example, Rosin says before work he always starts with an exercise regimen that includes stretching and walking, and makes sure he quits his day at a reasonable time so he can enjoy activities outside of work such as singing with a jazz group.

He says that while there are times you can be thrown off such a routine — such as overeating at Thanksgiving or suffering an injury that prevents exercise — having a plan in place makes it easy to resume your routine right away.

Such a plan is even more critical, he says, as workers struggle with economic uncertainty, increased workloads and worries about the future.

"How can you live in one of the most stressful times and not have a plan?" he says. "I know it ain't sexy to say you have to exercise and eat right, but you have to look at your quality of life. People don't seem to understand they have to live their life on purpose."

Another expert who takes her own advice is Melinda Hemmelgarn, a registered dietician known as the "Food Sleuth," who advises it's critical that workers take their own health seriously if they want to stay functional at work and perform well.

"I pack food with me such as nuts, dried or fresh fruit, so that I am never at the mercy of a vending machine or fast food outlet," she says. "Not getting overly hungry and staying well hydrated is key to peak mental and physical performance."

If you're looking for some other habits that can boost your energy at work and alleviate stress, experts recommend trying these steps:

1. Work up a sweat every day. "Some people don't like to do this, because they just want to take a pill or something instead of exercise," Rosin says. "But you've got to work out if you want to be healthy."

2. Drive by fast food restaurants. Hemmelgarn says it's better to find whole, minimally processed foods. Choosing local, organic and seasonal food will provide you with a much healthier diet and help you stay focused at work. For example, choosing protein and minimizing simple carbohydrates is a better choice before a meeting where you need to be focused and productive. Relying on caffeine or candy will only provide a quick energy boost, and then you'll hit bottom during your meeting.

3. Get enough sleep. Keep your laptop, smartphone and television out of your bedroom, so that your body receives the signal it's a place to sleep. Those who don't get enough sleep are more likely to develop emotional or mental problems and find it more difficult to be creative or productive at work.

4. Quit sending emails. Get on the phone with a contact instead of sending an email. The social interaction that's likely to take place with a call is more beneficial for your emotional health. Or, get up and walk across the room to talk to a colleague instead of texting or emailing. The exercise will help you physically and mentally.

5. Listen to music. Studies have shown that singing can reduce stress, and students who listened to a recording of Mozart were found to have higher test scores. It's believed this may be because processing music uses some of the same brain pathways as memory. Listen to music if possible at work, or sing along to your favorite tunes in the car to and from work.

What tips do you have for staying healthy on the job?


Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Why You Need to Learn to Whistle

Can you whistle?

I'm starting to to think this is a lost art. My parents were wonderful whistlers. I remember hearing my mom whistle as she cleaned the house or walked up and down the grocery store aisles. My dad always whistled while working on the car or cleaning out the garage.

I think one of the reasons not many people whistle any more is because they're always listening to something else.

Can you imagine cleaning out the garage without your iPod plugged into your ears? Or going to the grocery store without the sound of canned music blasting in your ears and the "clean-up on aisle 8" being muttered over the intercom by a bored store employee?

Maybe it's time we learned to listen to ourselves more. When was the last time you hummed your own tune, or just whistled into the silence? When was the last time you were content with only the sound of your own thoughts? In the next month, I dare you to take at least an hour a day when you aren't plugged in.

Turn of the television. Your computer. Your iPad and iPod. Your CD player, your radio and your phone.

Spend a little more time listening to your own thoughts. By doing that, I think you'll probably begin to hear the solutions to the problems that have been nagging at you, to come up with creative ideas for work and maybe even find some peace in these stressful times....and begin whistling a much happier tune.


Friday, August 12, 2011

Is the Green-Eyed Monster in Your Cubicle?

When I was in grade school, every year I had to put up with someone I'll call "Mary" in my classes. I never liked her, because her hair was longer than mine, she dressed better than I did and she was much prettier. Yet, every year -- from kindergarten until sixth grade -- I had her in every class.

Some day the jealousy I felt when she showed up in a new hair bow with a pretty dress made me seethe.

It wasn't until I was in high school that I learned she was raised by a single mother, and never knew her father. She and her mother lived lonely lives, and "Mary" suffered from great anxiety and self-doubt.

I felt like a rat. And I learned a valuable lesson about how jealousy and envy can blind you to reality.

But I'll be the first to admit that I haven't conquered jealousy and envy completely. It's not something I'm proud of, but I've been known to be jealous of other people's careers or successes. So, when I did this story for my Gannett/USAToday column, I took much of the advice to heart:

Envy and jealousy have been experienced by most of us since we could toddle to the playground. We envied the kid with the newer toy. Once in school, we envied the friend who nabbed the lead role in the school play while we were given the job of painting scenery.

As we aged, we began to let go of petty jealousies, devoting ourselves to our jobs and climbing the next rung on the career ladder.But then the promotion we worked so hard to achieve — the one that we knew should be ours — goes to someone else.

The green-eyed monster now rears itself not on the playground, but in the cubicle.

We are bombarded with feelings of envy and jealousy, similar to those we felt when we were younger. But unlike our youth, we can't stomp away from the playground in a snit fit. We must hold onto our jobs in the bad economy, and find a way to cope with the feelings that seem to gnaw us from the inside out.

Marcia Reynolds, a psychologist and executive coach, says that a difficult economy can often exacerbate the jealousy we feel for others at work, because when we're under stress and feel our security is threatened, we become more emotionally sensitive.

"We take more things negatively and more personally," she says. "It's easier to jump to feelings of jealousy and envy."

Reynolds explains that these emotions are often about what we sense is a loss of fairness. We feel jealousy when we feel someone has taken something away from us that we were attached to emotionally, so we may react in anger or hurt. Envy is usually about wanting something we don't have and so we may find ways to demean whoever has that which we desire.

But Reynolds says that instead of roiling in misery from those feelings, we can find ways to deal with them more effectively — and even benefit from them.

For example, if someone at work gets the promotion or recognition you feel you deserve instead, examine why this person may have nabbed the accolades. Could it be that he or she did a better job of promoting their hard work or connecting with the right people?

"What did he or she do that you didn't do? This person played a bigger game than you. So, the question is: 'What is keeping you from playing that bigger game?' " she says. "Why be angry? We know life isn't fair, so look at this as a gift. It's telling you that you have something to learn."

With that attitude, she says, you move from focusing on the negative to deciding to take control and learn from the experience. She also suggests it can be easier to get over envious feelings for someone by avoiding them until you can look at the situation in a better light.

Above all, be honest with yourself about how you're feeling, she says.

"If you don't get a promotion, for example, what is it you feel that you're not getting? Do you feel a loss of respect and recognition because you don't think you're good enough?" she says. "Do you feel the loss of control and predictability" because you don't feel in control of your career and fear losing your job?

Reynolds says that it's also common to feel a sense of betrayal if the person who gets the promotion is someone known to us.

She says by embracing our emotions, we can then begin to learn from them.

"Jealousy and envy can be poisoning if you let them," she says. "Look at this as a way for you to learn, as a way to maybe get you to do things you might not have done before. That way, it becomes a gift because you can grow from it."

How have you dealt with feelings of envy or jealousy at work?


Tuesday, August 9, 2011

What Ethel Mertz Can Teach You About Success

There's nothing wrong with being a great No. 2.

No one talks much about how critical the person behind the throne can be -- the second in command who makes sure the superstar doesn't falter, who handles the critical details that keep the trains running and is ready to stand back and let the No. 1 take the applause.

I once heard Lucille Ball say the reason the "I Love Lucy" show was so successful was not because of her, but because of Vivian Vance who played Ethel. By being such a great "straight man" Vance helped Ball get the laughs and accolades. Ball noted that without Vance, her character and the show would not have been as funny or creative.

If you're a No. 2 and proud of it, don't let anyone tell you otherwise. And if you want to be a great No. 2, here are some ways to do it:

* Keep confidences. Once you blab to others about something going on with No. 1, you become a lousy No. 2.

* Don't always say "yes." That's not being a great No. 2, that's being a doormat. Be ready to give your honest opinion to No. 1 when asked.

* Show a united front. No matter if you agree with No. 1 or not, when you're in front of others remain loyal. No eye-rolling, sighs or scowls behind the No. 1's back. That's cheating in the "united front" game.

* Execute. No, that doesn't mean you "take care" of problem employees by hitting them with your Sebring in the parking lot. It means that when No. 1 has an idea, you create the detailed road map of how to get to the goal. That's how you execute.

* Take initiative. When the No. 1 gives you a job and you don't know how the hell to do it, find out. Don't whine to the No. 1 or bother her with problems. A great No. 2 is resourceful, and finds out what she needs to do to complete a mission.

* Stay calm. A great No. 2 doesn't run around in a panic or get stressed or upset easily. The best No. 2's know that they are the ones who say "everything is going to be OK" and the No. 1 believes it.

What other advice would you have for No. 2?


Friday, August 5, 2011

How to Know if You're a Micromanager

I saw a study the other day that noted while most drivers believe themselves to be excellent behind the wheel, they think everyone else on the road is an idiot. These same self-congratulating drivers also believe that while they can talk on their cellphones or eat a Big Mac behind the wheel and still drive superbly, anyone else who tries it is a complete and total a**hole.

I'd say the same can hold true in the workplace. We often are driven crazy by micromanaging colleagues or bosses, but yet don't believe our "attention to detail" or "drive for quality standards" is the least bit annoying. Isn't it true that we're often the last ones to recognize our own obnoxious behavior? It's a subject I looked into for my latest Gannett/USAToday column:

A lot of bad things have happened as a result of the difficult economic times, but one of the worst has been the rise of the micromanager.Faced with the stress of layoffs and the anxiety of constantly being asked to produce results, bosses with nitpicky tendencies sometimes have become full-blown micromanagers. Those who were micromanagers before the recession may have evolved into micromanaging Godzillas, wreaking havoc among the cubicles.

We often demonize such supervisors who dog our every move, making our lives a constant battle as we strive to do even the smallest of tasks without having to justify it in a 10-page memo. We long for the days when we can make one decision without having it second-guessed.

As in the movie "Horrible Bosses," we may lament our rotten micromanaging bosses to friends in the local pub, whining about our lot in life.But what if the micromanager is … you?

No one likes to admit being a micromanager. It's like saying you are an incompetent, insecure, ego-driven nincompoop.

You may say you're just a hands-on manager or that you have such a moronic staff that you must oversee everyone's work if you don't want to go down with the ship.

Those may well be convenient excuses. John Beeson, principal of Beeson Consulting Inc., says the real way to know if you've strayed to the dark side of micromanaging is to ask yourself a couple of questions about your management style:

• Does the amount of time spent following up on the work of staff members get in the way of tasks that are a better use of your time and attention?

• Do you expect that anyone who works for you should handle an issue exactly as you would — even if your employee's solution is equally effective?

Say yes to either one, and you might be a micromanager, Beeson says.

One key for a manager is learning that micromanaging not only hurts the company's bottom line, but his or her personal career.

"If senior management sees that you can't take on extra responsibility because you micromanage, then it could impact your ability to move forward," he says. "They might decide that while you're doing a great job at your level, if they gave you more, you might be overwhelmed and they would be taking a risk in the organization."

If you realize you may be a micromanager and want to change to save your career, what should you do?

Beeson, also author of "The Unwritten Rules: The Six Skills You Need to Get Promoted to the Executive Level" (Jossey-Bass, $27.95) recommends these steps:

• Get feedback. Find a mentor or approach human resources to set up a 360-degree feedback session so you can get specific ideas on where people think you interfere with their ability to do their job.

• Avoid going overboard. Beeson says some managers have an on-off switch and either micromanage or delegate and forget.

He suggests that it's more effective to spend time with a staff member outlining why an issue is important, the key players who are involved, the extent of the staffer's authority, and circumstances when you need to be consulted. By scheduling regular times to talk, you can be confident that you're delegating effectively, he says.

• Realize that sometimes you still need to micromanage. "If there is something that is critical to your corporation or perhaps something is off track, then that's when it's prudent to be more involved," he says.

• Develop good infrastructure. If you find you need to micromanage because you believe your team isn't capable, then you need to develop your staff so that they can meet new challenges.

"Not only is micromanaging a handicap to your own career success, but micromanagers tend to inhibit the development of good people," Beeson says. "And over time, they're going to lose their good people."

How do you handle a micromanager?


Monday, August 1, 2011

When You Shouldn't Compromise at Work

I don't know about you, but I yelled "idiots!" at least once a day when I watched the evening news and saw Congress spatting like a bunch of 5-year-olds over the last several weeks regarding the budget. I mean, I understand everyone has their ideals, but to be unwilling to compromise?

Who doesn't have to compromise?

I compromise every day, and so does every else who has a job. You compromise with a customer over a project's price structure so that you can keep the thing moving. You compromise when you agree to move your vacation dates so your boss can go to her nephew's wedding.

Compromise. It's something we live with every day.

But I got to thinking about where compromise won't work. It won't work when you compromise yourself. (This sounds bad, but hang with me for a moment. This is not THAT kind of blog.)

There are lots of moments throughout your day when you could let something slip. Maybe you don't do a thorough quality check on a product. Maybe you decide to let a mistake slide by, thinking the next person will catch it and correct it. You're tired and you don't give a flip if it gets done wrong.

And that's what I mean by compromising yourself. Because once you let that one little thing slip by -- and no one would know it but you -- then you've become the idiot. When you move your line in the sand because it's easier, you've lost an important part of who you are and where you want your career to go.

Think twice before you turn a blind eye to doing quality work, even if you hate your job, your boss and the ugly suit you have to wear every day. By compromising your own standards, you're dooming your career to mediocrity. Because truthfully? Your lack of personal commitment to doing a good job -- no matter the circumstances -- will come through loud and clear.

How do you keep your own personal standards of doing good work?