Monday, September 29, 2008

Can a Crisis Revive Your Reputation?

One of the interesting bits of theater to emerge from the financial bailout has been watching certain people revive their reputations during our nation's Wall Street meltdown -- and arguably, no star has begun re-burning more brightly than Sen. Christopher Dodd.

Dodd, whose presidential aspirations were dashed when pitted against the formidable Sen. Barak Obama and Sen. Hillary Clinton, was forced to limp back to his regular job on Capitol Hill after he bombed miserably in the early presidential caucuses earlier this year.

It must have been embarrassing for Dodd, a veteran politician with more than three decades of service. (He was already under fire for his handling of the mortgage mess in his role as chairman of the House banking committee.)

But now, here we are, seeing Dodd interviewed on every major news outlet as one of the key players in brokering a deal on the financial rescue, and being given enormous credit and praise for his ability to bring both Republicans and Democrats together.

Dodd is a terrific example, I think, of how to understand that just because your reputation takes a beating on the job, it doesn't mean your career is over. Let's take a look at what we can learn:

* Own the criticism. When you're under fire for something at work, don't run and hide from it. As much as it may hurt your pride, be honest with yourself and say: "Is any of this justified?"
* Be a Monday morning quarterback. Write down just the facts from when the problem started until present day. Make notes about how you might have handled a decision or action differently if you had to do it over.
* Go for the ugly. Dodd obviously had to be in on these negotiations because of his job, but he clearly put himself out there to deal with a very controversial idea. He didn't shy away from it, didn't try and push it off on someone else. He took some risk -- he knew that it was a chance to redeem his reputation, and he went for it 100 percent. If there's a "not pretty" issue at work, go for it. Resolving a difficult issue is one of the best ways to garner respect and admiration when your reputation has taken a beating.
* Reach out. One of Dodd' s key abilities has been working with diverse opinions to form a solution that everyone can live with. If your reputation at work has taken a nosedive, now is not the time to hunker down only with your supporters. Reach out to your most vocal critics. Those who often bitch the loudest are often the most willing to sing your praises once you work to resolve differences.
* Be prepared for a marathon. If you've gotten a look at Dodd after more than a week of wrangling over this bailout plan, he looks a bit rough around the edges. He looks tired, his voice a bit hoarse at times. But he's still intense and focused when asked about the issue. If you're going to revive your reputation, it's important that you look like you're trying really, really hard. It means putting in long hours, it means meeting with others when all you want to do is go to bed or have a beer (or maybe both). It means showing others beyond a shadow of a doubt that you're willing to hang in there and get the job done.

It will be interesting to see how Dodd's actions contribute to his political power in the future. One thing is clear, however, is that he's done a lot to gain one of the lead roles in a real national drama. His script is one we could all learn from.

What else can someone do to restore a battered reputation at work?


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Friday, September 26, 2008

10 Things Everyone is Thinking About During a Meeting at Work

Go ahead, fess up: You think about a lot of things during a meeting at work, and it often has nothing to do with business. Sure, your mind may focus a bit on how how the issues being discussed will affect your job, but there's lot of other stuff that you think about.

Don't worry. You're not alone. We all do it. In fact, here's a list of what some of us are really thinking when that PowerPoint presentation seems to have our full attention:

1. I don't have time for this.
2. Is she ever going to shut up?
3. Did I turn off the coffeepot this morning?
4. That cannot be his real hair.
5. If he says "think outside the box" one more time, I'll barf. Or throw something at him. Maybe both.
6. Yeah, those pants do make her butt look big.
7. I really, really don't have time for this.
8. I'm starving. I wonder if I still have those leftover M&Ms in my drawer?

9. OK. Seriously? With different glasses and her hair up, she would look just like Sarah Palin.
10. I knew I should have called in sick today.

Time to admit it: What else do you think about during a meeting?


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Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Is Your Job Flushing Your Self-Esteem Down the Toilet?

Most bosses have read at least a few articles or even some books that offer advice along the lines of "Employee Recognition in Five Seconds a Day" or "Meaningless Pats on the Back -- How It Can Work For You."

Let's face it: In today's fast-paced, high-stress working world, many bosses may start out with good intentions on recognizing and rewarding employees for good performance, but the truth is that it sort of slips away after a time. The weekly meetings to recognize employee contributions get put off until it's once a month...then once every few months...then, nothing.

Or, the recognition program becomes a joke: "Jane is employee of the month because she answered the phone! She now gets the top parking spot for a month!"

It's no wonder many workers go home at the end of the day completely demoralized. They see an endless road of 10-12 hour days, with little appreciation of what they do. They're just another body filling a spot at a company that gives them a paycheck, but does little for their self-esteem.

Believe me, I'm not belittling that employers offer a paycheck, especially in this tough economy. But I do think that more and more, workers are losing sight of what makes them feel good about themselves. Namely, a job well done.

Sure, we can give ourselves little pats on the back, but if the boss or someone else doesn't really recognize our contribution, what does that mean for us in the long run? I'm afraid it means a workforce that is always feeling like they can't keep up, as if they are chasing an endless list of tasks they can never hope to complete. They are never given a chance to stop and be recognized that what they do matters, that what they contribute should make them feel good about themselves.

So, what's the answer when your self-esteem takes a beating because of your job? The answer may be to find ways to recognize and reward yourself.

Some options:

* Do something every day that you enjoy. Work in your garden, tinker in your workshop or create a spectacular meal. The point is to create something that makes you feel good about yourself. Even if you can only devote 15 or 30 minutes a day, it's important to do something that bolsters positive feelings about yourself.
* Give yourself a gold star. It's a simple thing, but write down something every day that you feel good about at work. Maybe you helped a co-worker with a problem or dealt with a difficult customer that went away happy. Those are things to be proud of -- by the end of the week you'll be able to look back at your list and see what you accomplished.
* Have happy reminders around you. Most workers have photos of their kids or loved ones nearby, which are great reminders they have a lot to be proud of in their lives. But you can also have other tangible proof: a race medal; a note from the boss praising your efforts; an industry article mentioning your contributions. Change these items if you begin to not "see" them anymore. It's important they really make you think about the good things you've done.
* Stop the cycle of negative thoughts. If you're hanging around at work with other people who complain and whine a lot, they'll start to drag you down with them. Have lunch or coffee with those who seem to be upbeat, no matter what else is going on. If you can't find anyone, spend your lunch hour or coffee break reading upbeat or funny articles or books. Tell yourself that when you make a mistake, it's because there is a lesson to be learned.

What else can someone do to boost their self-esteem?


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Monday, September 22, 2008

Has Your Confidence Turned Into Arrogance?

As we can all witness after the latest debacle on Wall Street, there are plenty of big egos when it comes to big business.

A picture is emerging of decision-makers who have reaped millions of dollars in in compensation and benefits as their companies went down the toilet. Now, of course, Congress is getting involved, and those big egos are going to be aired -- and criticized -- in public.

Most of us will tut-tut their behavior ("Those greedy bastards," we'll grouse), and some of us will even learn a thing or two from their bad personal and professional judgment. Unfortunately, many of us will go back to behaving just as we always have -- as the same kind of arrogant beings intent on achieving our own ends through our own means.

Don't get me wrong. I know that confidence is needed in the working world. Without it, you'll get run over and be nothing but career roadkill. But there comes a point -- and I think this is it -- when we need to all take a hard look at how we go about getting what we want.

In other words, has your confidence turned into arrogance?

My dictionary defines arrogant as: "Overly convinced of one's own importance; overbearingly proud; haughty." Now, contrast that with the definition of confidence: "A feeling of assurance or certainty."

We all know those who are arrogant in the workplace. We don't really like them. We don't want to be on teams with them because they believe they are walking books of knowledge on just about any subject, and they rarely listen to anyone but themselves. They believe that just by showing up, success will follow.

But recognizing that arrogance in ourselves may be tougher. We believe we have earned the right to our views, and don't have time to suffer fools. We are impatient with others who don't seem to "get it" and wonder why they don't understand our talent is special and unique. We don't think we are arrogant, just confident.

I can't predict what the outcome of this Wall Street bailout will be, because I'm not an economist. But I can tell you that with the closer scrutiny of leadership behavior in the coming months, it's going to trickle down to all parts of the business sector. There is going to be less tolerance, I believe, of arrogance.

That's why today I'm hoping to save you some pain in the coming months. I challenge you to think about whether your confidence has turned into something more damaging. I urge you to think about not how you see yourself -- but how others see you. Do your actions really align with who you are and where you want to go?

Think about:

* Listening. Do you brush over others' opinions, or not ask for them at all? Even the most confident person values ideas from other people, but the arrogant worker believes he/she has all the answers.
* Admitting mistakes. Arrogance doesn't leave any room for acknowledging an error; pride prevents learning anything from a mistake. Those with enough confidence to own up to a mistake not only earn more respect from others, they gain useful insight on avoiding the problem in the future.
* Reaching back. When you have confidence, you're not afraid to help train or educate workers with less knowledge or skill. You see it as a chance to enhance the overall product or effort. If you're arrogant, you see it as a waste of time to work with those less skilled than you (which takes in almost everyone).
* You believe your own press. You're mentioned in company newsletters as a star performer, the boss recognizes you in meetings for your contributions and if you Google your name -- whoo boy! You start to rest on your laurels, believing your touch to be golden. While that is certainly a boost to your confidence, and should be enjoyed, you need to remember that your career success can often rest on a "what have you done for me lately" attitude. That's why it's important to make sure you interact often with people who disagree with you -- or don't even like you. They'll keep that ego from heading into arrogance.

What are some other signs of arrogance?


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Friday, September 19, 2008

Reality Check: Time to Pay Attention to the Details

Sheesh. My inbox has gotten so depressing in the last week. I've been hit with dozens of queries from experts wanting to explain what has happened on Wall Street and what it means for the average worker.

E-mail subject lines are a laundry list of bad news: depression, recession, job loss, bailouts, financial collapse, panic, layoffs. It's like a bad rap song for someone named "Unemployment Line."

I'm going to go along with all the other experts and give a giant shrug when asked what tomorrow will bring. But I will say this: It never hurts to start honing your interviewing skills. Because if you're not looking for work at another company, then you need to stay sharp and make sure you're on top of your game at your current job.

That means you dress professionally. You don't surf the Internet looking at ESPN or when you're supposed to be working. You focus on making good connections with others in your company so that they see you as a valuable asset, and not an expendable commodity.

That's why I thought I'd end your week with this video that will provide a humorous reminder on what you should be doing -- and not doing -- on the job. We all need the laugh.


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Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Are You Being Naive -- and Just Plain Stupid -- About Your Online Reputation?

If you do nothing else today, Google yourself.

I do not say this so that you can stroke your own ego by seeing how many "hits" you get. I say this to save your ass.

There's enough instability right now in the economy that everyone -- and I mean everyone -- needs to be in active job-hunting mode. That means in addition to ramping up your networking efforts, you need to immediately take steps to clean up your online footprint.

Last week I sent out a HARO request for my Gannett News Service/ column asking for input on how to manage your online reputation. I received so much good stuff that I couldn't use it all. I also learned some disturbing information during my research: Most people only check out what's online about them several times a year.


That means anyone could be writing snarky comments about you, posting photos of you in a Borak-inspired swimsuit from your last drunken vacation or even making erroneous statements linking you to unethical or illegal activities and -- if you're rarely checking online -- it might be months before you discovered it. By that time, a lot of damage could be done to you professionally.

And that, my friends, could be disastrous at a time like this when we should all be actively promoting ourselves in the marketplace.

So, I'm going to share some really good advice and comments from online reputation management folks that I couldn't fit in my column:

* "Search for your name in Google, Yahoo! and MSN right away. (Google covers most of the Web, but MSN and Yahoo! may pick up web pages that Google missed or ignored.) Learn how to manage your privacy settings within each social network you use. (This is usually hidden away under "profile" or "preferences" tabs.)
-- Nestor G. Trillo, SEO expert, Avaniu Communications

* "Google offers a great service. You can subscribe to alerts, which will provide you with daily notices if your name is used on the Internet. The service is free and worth doing if you have a reputation to protect." --Chris Reich, business advisor,

* "Be transparent - this doesn't mean allow yourself to be trashed. It means fight back with facts. It also means telling the whole story; of using social media as a 'bright light' when dealing with false statements. Have lots of friends - they will come to your rescue and defend you. Don't be something online that you aren't offline. In short, your brand is your brand regardless of the medium." -- Justin Foster, founder/partner, Tricycle

* "We recently interviewed an individual for a C-level position with our company. He interviewed extremely well and the final check we did was his reputation in Google. What we found was alarming, not the least of which was a class action lawsuit against his old company." --Fionn Downhill,CEO,

* "I had a client, Josh Deming (not his real name) who had a reputation as a hard- nosed manager. After losing his position after an acquisition, he found himself in a job search for the first time in a number of years. Because he was highly respected, he thought the search would go quickly. On several occasions, he would get to the final stages prior to hiring with a company showing great enthusiasm, only to suddenly be dropped from consideration.
At this point Josh came to see me. We did a Google search and found that when we searched "Josh Deming", No. 5 in the Google search results was a link to an industry forum page where Josh was being trashed anonymously by some people that had worked for him calling him an unfit manager.
Here's what we did.
1) We changed everything (resume, cover letters, online profiles, etc.) to "Joshua P. Deming", his full name. People will typically Google what is on the resume. When "Joshua P. Deming" was Googled, nothing negative showed up.
2) We took advantage of a few key online profiles. Everyone should take advantage of LinkedIn. Google loves it and for most people, if they have a LinkedIn profile, it will show up first if you Google them. Professionals, executives and managers should also take advantage of and ZoomInfo. All of these are relatively simple, don't require a lot of maintenance, and will boost online visibility.
3) We had Joshua write a book review on his favorite management book and post it on Amazon. This gave the opportunity to show a little thought leadership and demonstrate his management knowledge to help counter the negatives should a potential employer stumble upon the comments in the industry forum.
The result was that within weeks Joshua was hired." -- Don Huse, president/CEO, Venturion

* "...People have to realize that anything you put online stays there and can be used against you. It's all well and fine believing that your Facebook profile can only be viewed by your friends, but what's to stop one of those friends from copying what you write and posting it elsewhere? This recently happened on Twitter. A friend of mine had comments that were made privately, to a closed group of friends, posted on a blog, as part of an post attacking someone else in the marketing field." -- Simon Heseltine, director of search, Serengeti Communications Inc.

What else should someone do to manage their online reputation?


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Monday, September 15, 2008

How to Survive When Your Company's Ship Sinks

Is there any more disturbing site than watching employees cart their belongings in a cardboard box out of a failed company?

As I watched Lehman Brothers' employees leave the building over the weekend, it reminded me of that awful scene of stunned workers leaving Enron after it went belly up.

One of the most difficult aspects of a large employer failing is that you suddenly have thousands of people in the same boat -- and not everyone will do as well as others. Some will never regain their earning power, some will fall into depressions so deep it will take them years to re-enter the job market with any real enthusiasm and others will simply drift away to less-than-desirable careers.

The key for any employee who is suddenly out of a job with hundreds of co-workers is speed. At this point, you can't afford to sit back and bitch about how unfair the world is and the employer misled you about how serious were the problems. Because while you're moaning and groaning, others are scrapping for available jobs.

You need to:

* Make a game plan. Write down what are your absolutes -- the things you must have in a job. If it's health insurance, living in a certain city, specific hours, etc., then you know not to waste time looking at jobs that don't meet those criteria.
* Rally the troops. Get together with family and friends and let them know the situation. Brainstorm about people they know who might be able to help you submit a resume or get an interview. Remember: Most people still get jobs based on who they know.
* Contact a career coach or alumni association. Many universities are already geared up to help those who have been hard hit on Wall Street. If you don't think you can afford a career coach, consider giving up some of the extras in your life (a gym membership, eating out, cable television, etc.) which can can help you pay for a coach.
* Don't immediately think "entrepreneur": Times are tough right now, for everyone. Starting a business may be a dream, but it may be wiser to put it on hold until they economy brightens.
* Pride goeth before the fall: Keep in mind that there are going to be potentially thousands of people looking for a job as this financial debacle unfolds, so you can't afford to let your ego get in the way of a potential job. Be realistic about what you can accept as a salary, and don't get caught up in a job title. Keep in mind that if you get a job offer, you can usually negotiate a bit on the salary and benefits.
* Be ready to get the hell out of Dodge. I know people who live in New York City are passionate about the place. They can't -- and don't -- want to imagine living anywhere else. But the truth is that you may have to consider other cities if you want to land another job. And, even if you have kids, they can adapt to a relocation easier than they can to losing their home if you don't have a job.

And finally, if you find yourself out of work, remember to be good to yourself. Surround yourself with positive thinkers, take care of your body with proper nourishment and rest, and do whatever sustains your soul, whether it's yoga, gardening or attending religious services. Do not hesitate to ask for help from friends, family and colleagues. Most have been in -- or will someday be in -- your situation.

What other steps should someone take who has lost a job?


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Friday, September 12, 2008

10 Things Every Employee Deserves From a Boss

Sitting in the waiting room before a dentist's appointment recently, I found myself confronted with reading material that consisted of "Five Ways to Make Christmas Ornaments Out of Old Tires" to "10 Reasons It's Very Normal to Love your Blackberry More Than Life Itself."

That left an article on "20 Things Every Woman Deserves From the Guy in Her Life." As I read:"Make-or-break mate requirements: Must love cats! Must not play air guitar!" I thought about what workers deserve from their managers in the workplace.

That led to my list of 10 Things Every Employee Deserves From the Boss:

1. Good manners. Say please, thank-you, hello and goodbye. A smile doesn't hurt, either.

2. Honesty. If a boss can't tell an employee the truth because it violates some ultra-secret, I'd-be-killed-if-I-told-policy, then say so. But don't lie because it's easier or suits some ulterior motive.

3. Space. Bosses do not need to lean or sit on an employee's desk. Or sit in the employee's chair. Bosses have their own chair, and sitting in a worker's seat is just some macho power play that comes off as juvenile. Also, no employee wants to be close enough to smell a boss's breath and the shrimp scampi (and the glass of wine) enjoyed for lunch.

4. A compliment.

5. A face-to-face conversation.

6. Another chance.

7. Some fun. A shared joke, ordering a couple of pizzas for lunch, just something.

8. Loyalty. Bosses should never badmouth one employee to another, or to a customer. They should defend employees to their bosses if at all possible. They should never criticize an employee to someone else until they hear the employee's side of a story.

9. Good p.r. If a worker does well, the boss should spread the word. No marching bands, but a little announcement in front of co-workers would be cool.

10. Respect. Without it, the other nine don't mean a darn thing.

What else do employees deserve from the boss?


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Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Are You OK With Workplace Hugs?

In my entire working life, I can remember only one time when a male boss hugged me, and that was when I told him I was pregnant with my first child. I remember how awkward I felt, and I think I might have even jabbed him (accidentally, of course) with the ink pen I was holding.

But if you watch what is going on these days, bosses are hugging people all the time. Look at John McCain and Sarah Palin. Hug city. Hug when they see one another, hug when they leave, hug when they say something inspiring.

This hugfest has puzzled some people, especially since Geraldine Ferraro was told to not even think of touching Walter Mondale when she was his vice presidential pick in 1984. If you watch the video of them accepting the nominations, they don't even hold hands and raise them together in a typical "we are the champions" pose. No touching. Definitely no hugging.

Fast forward to 2008. Barak Obama and Joe Biden are hugging. Granted, it's sort of a boy hug -- that weird thing where they lean in and bump chests -- but they're hugging.

So, I'm wondering: Is this boss hug thing here to stay?

Letitia Baldrige, an etiquette expert since John Adams was in the White House, sniffed that "he’s (McCain) hugging her (Palin) to show the world that he’s all for her, and protecting her, but she doesn’t need that."

Baldrige is more supportive of a firm handshake between employees and employer, as opposed to the hugs we frequently see on television now. Other etiquette experts seem to think it's perfectly fine, this hugging by a boss, while others think we shouldn't even be discussing it.

I'm not making any judgment on Palin and McCain's hugging, and neither am I endorsing or condemning Obama and Biden doing the chest bump thing.

But I have to wonder if other people in the working world are comfortable with hugging their bosses, or co-workers, or for that matter, the barista at the local coffee shop. Who to hug? And when?

My career began during a period when women were fighting to just get a seat at the good old boys' table and we all were required to go through sexual harassment training to try and establish correct behavior between men and women in the workplace. I guess that's why the hugging thing has me a bit confounded -- would it be considered harassment, or not? Would it now be considered a bit of snobbery not to hug -- or chest bump -- my boss or co-workers?

Maybe this will all go away after the election and I won't have to worry about whether to hug or not to hug. Or to fist bump or high five or pat someone on the back.

I just hope air kissing doesn't become more popular. I'm definitely going to need an instructional video for that one.

How do you feel about hugging in the workplace?


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Monday, September 8, 2008

Do You Know When to Run Like Hell From a Job?

Sometimes it's hard to know what you want. Sometimes it’s easier to know what you don’t want.

I mean, there are a lot of career advice people – myself included – who give pointers on how to get the job you really want. But what if you’re not sure what you want? What if you’re not sure what you should do next?

In that case, you flip it. You look at the other side of the equation – figure out what you hate, and then you’ll know what to avoid at any cost. You’ll end up with a rough road map of where you need to go.

The key is to make sure these are things that you are absolutely, positively don’t want to do ever, ever again. Ever. In your lifetime. They are the deal breakers, the things that make you run like hell if you ever see them again.

Now, let’s put on our 20/20 hindsight glasses and see what we wish we had never done, and what we never want to do again in the future:

1. Location, location, location. People never consider what it will be like to sit eight to 12 hours a day in cubicle in a windowless office until they have done it. Some people hate it so much they would rather be carrying a “will work for food” sign on an interstate interchange. Or, if you have to commute 40 miles one way every day and you’re developing a galloping case of road rage, then you know that working far from home doesn’t make you happy. The lesson: Don’t apply for jobs that will stick you in a cubicle or have you tucking a Louisville Slugger under the front seat of your car.

2. Hours of operation. My dad worked shift work my entire life. He worked Christmas and Halloween and President’s Day and just about every holiday I can think of. One week he worked 4 p.m. to midnight, and the next he would work 6 a.m. to 3 p.m. It seemed like when he was home, he was always asleep. I can still hear my mother telling my sisters and me: “Don’t slam the door! Be quiet! Your Dad is sleeping!” When I went to work in newsrooms, it never bothered me to work Christmas or any other holiday. It didn’t bother me to work until 2 a.m. or be called out on a story on Sunday afternoon. It wasn’t a big deal to me because odd hours and days seemed normal to me. But it bugged plenty of other people, and they ended up hating the job because of it. If the hours of a job don’t mesh with what you consider “having a life,” then don’t consider it. You’ll be miserable, and there’s no point trying to stay in job when you resent the hours.

3. Flexibility. There are two types of workplaces these days: Those that say they provide flexibility – and do – and those that say they provide flexibility – and don’t. I’ve always been amazed by those “best places to work” lists that report XYZ Corp. is a great place to work because they provide all these really cool benefits: Employees take time off to train for a marathon or attend a kid’s soccer game. Then you dig a little deeper and find out that yeah, that happens, but only for six people in corporate headquarters. The rest of the poor saps get the evil eye from their boss if they request time off for open heart surgery. So, if flexibility is really important to you, then do your homework and find out if flexibility is just lip service. If you hate your job because you feel chained to a desk or workstation and the boss would rather poke out his own eye with a sharp stick than let you work from home, then forget it. Talk to those in industry and professionals groups – even alumni associations – and see if you can get the real story on what happens within a company’s four walls.

4. Benefits. When I was a young worker, I could have cared less about health benefits. They were not a deal breaker for me, as I probably got a cold about twice a year and that was it. That changed as soon as I got married and had my first child. While I know that everyone would like a job with health benefits, it’s probably more critical for parents – especially single parents. If this is one of the reasons you hate your job, then don’t bother seeking positions that won’t offer you health insurance.

5. Travel. I recently interviewed a woman who traveled a lot for her job. I was ready to hear her tales of woe – delayed flights, missed family, uncomfortable hotel rooms – but she couldn’t have been happier. I’m talking happy. She loved traveling for her job, she loved being in different offices and meeting different people. The travel actually made her love her job. Now, I’ve known plenty of people who hated their jobs because of the travel. They thought being out of the office several days a month wouldn’t be so bad. But they ended up hating it, and found the stress unbelievable. If you hate your job because of the travel, then steer clear of a job that requires it.

Every day we have to make choices. Some of them are harder than others. And, when it comes to a career, those choices can become scary and confusing and intimidating. The easiest step, in that case, may be to simply decide what you don’t want. Once you do that, then you will clear away a lot of the clutter that keeps you from getting the job that you do want.

What others deal breakers should people consider when making career decisions?


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Thursday, September 4, 2008

When Times are Tough, How Do You Keep Workers Focused and Engaged?

While no one would dispute the fact that workers are stressed because of continuing layoffs, stagnant wages and rising consumer prices, the pressure may be compounded for the people in charge of keeping workers enthusiastic and motivated -- managers.

I recently interviewed Michael Stallard, CEO of E Pluribus Partners in Greenwich, Conn., and he told me that at times like this, managers have to be even more vigilant about staying close -- physically, mentally and emotionally -- to their staff.

That's because employees can become unfocused and unproductive when times are so uncertain and challenging.

“Stress sort of short-circuits the brain,” Stallard says.

Still, Stallard says managers have some tools to help bring teams together, such as making sure all workers "feel like they’re connected.”

That means that managers need to make sure they keep an open-door policy" and assure workers they’re available to talk about any anxieties they may be experiencing. At the same time, Stallard says managers should actively work at finding ways to get employees out of the office, which can be ground zero for work stress.

“Go to lunch with your employees. Go for a walk with them. Spend time with them one-on-one, and let them express their feelings,” he says. “And make sure that when they are at work, you give them some tasks that they enjoy doing.”

Stallard advises managers trying to energize and engage employees during these tough economic times to:

• Stay focused. Employees should be reminded that they have an obligation to their other team members, and that means everyone must pull his or her weight and work toward targeted goals. Remind them how important their work is for everyone on the team, he says.
• Keep the panic at bay. “Let them know that if they’re feeling especially anxious, they should come and talk to you,” he says. “You’ve got to make sure they know they can talk about whatever they’re going through.”
• Use social media. Some employees may be more comfortable communicating through e-mail or social media sites such as Facebook or Twitter. “Face-to-face contact is always the best, but more managers have employees on different continents or in different cities. Social media is a great way to stay connected with your team and keep them engaged.”
• Remember to laugh. “Humor is a great reliever of stress,” he says. “Try and find ways to have some fun with your employees.”

But what if the worst thing happens – and a manager must lay off workers?

“The first time I had to lay someone off it made me physically sick,” Stallard says. “You have an obligation to be respectful, and show empathy. That’s critical. You also need to try and help them as much as you can in finding another job.”

Stallard says he strongly disagrees with employees being immediately escorted from a building upon dismissal from a job, which he calls “humiliating.”

“You should let them finish their day and communicate with the other employees,” he says. “One other thing to think about: The existing employees will remember how you treated those who left.”

Finally, Stallard says the key for managers trying to cope with these challenging times is to practice a management philosophy that treats people with respect and compassion through good times and bad.

“A lot of what goes into keeping people engaged through the tough times is the history of how you have managed,” he says. “It’s almost like you’re building up an emotional bank account.”

What else can managers do to help keep employees engaged and enthusiastic?


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Tuesday, September 2, 2008

20 Questions You Need to Ask Yourself if You Want to Smarten Up About Your Career

It's the first day back at work after Labor Day, and it just feels different.

I'm not sure why. Is it the kids back at school? The closing of the neighborhood pools? The local nursery stocking mums and pumpkins?

Whatever the reason, it strikes me as a new beginning. A chance to take a deep breath after the craziness that goes along with summer and consider where things stand now, and where you want to head in the coming months.

But instead of offering you advice about what you should and shouldn't be doing, I'm going to ask you to offer your own opinion about your situation. After all, who knows it better than you?

It's time to ask yourself these 20 questions:

1. What is the best part of my job?

2. What is the worst part of my job?

3. What task do I like the least?

4. What task do I like the most?

5. Who is the most difficult person for me to get along with at work?

6. Who is the easiest person for me to get along with at work?

7. When was my best day at work?

8. When was my worst day at work?

9. In one hour at work, how many times am I distracted from a specific task?

10. What is the source of my distractions?

11. The last time I made a mistake at work, it was because....

12. When the mistake was discovered, I felt....

13. I handled the mistake by....

14. Other than my own job, the position I'd like to do within my company is....

15. The job within my company that I would not like to do is....

16. When I am feeling stress about my job, I leave work and handle it by....

17. I last updated my resume on....

18. I last attended a networking event on....

19. Three facts I can tell you about my industry's current condition are...

20. The last time I talked to a higher-up, other than my direct supervisor was...

Now, look at your answers. No one is going to see these but you, so be brutally honest. Are you satisfied with where you are now? Are you taking steps to ensure a future that makes you happy? Have you learned from your mistakes? Are you stuck in a rut? Where are you stumbling? Where are you succeeding?

Are there other questions that might be helpful for a career assessment?


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