Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Learning To Love a Job You Hate


For whatever reason – it has great health benefits, you like the location and there’s a really cute programmer who works on the fourth floor – you have made the decision that you’re staying with a job you hate.

It wasn’t an easy decision. People job hop these days faster than Matthew McConaughey can rip off his shirt. But even though you have to drag yourself into work every day, you’re not going to quit. The boss seems to like your work, so there’s not even the chance you might get fired. In fact, you just got a pay raise. Dammit.

That was the last straw. Now you really feel trapped in this job you despise, the job that you began with such great expectations.

To be honest about it, the job wasn’t that bad in the beginning, or even in the middle. It’s just been lately that you’ve come to feel you’re being led to the gallows every time you enter the front door. You look around at others, and they don’t seem to be as miserable as you. Why, you think, are they so darn happy? Why aren’t they mired in the same pit of despair?

You know you’re staying put, but can you survive? Are you just kidding yourself?

The answer is “yes” and “no.” Yes, there is a way to survive, and no, you’re not just kidding yourself.

I speak from experience. I once had a job that I despised so much I used to think about chucking my degree and all my years of hard work and going to work at an IHOP. I envisioned getting pancakes at an employee discount. That seemed like a pretty good alternative to spending my days writing about subjects that were so boring I thought I would lose my mind.

And then, the boss took me out for lunch. I thought I was going to get a scolding for sleeping with my eyes open, but he offered me a lateral move within the company. That didn’t sound so appealing – why would I want to move from one job I hated into something equally as noxious?

But he talked me into it. He didn’t know at the time how bad I hated my job, and how the call of an all-you-can-eat pancake feast was a constant battle. In the end, he persuaded me and I took the new job.

By the end of the first day in the new position, I had been transformed. While I was doing much of the same work, it was different.

I wasn’t bored anymore. It was a new subject, new territory to be conquered. I could feel my sluggish brain begin to re-engage, to fire all cylinders. I met new people, immersed myself in learning new stuff. Within the week, I realized I no longer craved pancakes. I liked the new tasks I was given. And then it hit me: I loved my job.

The lesson: Yes, Virginia, you can learn to love the job you hate.

Here are some tips to get you started:

• Make a list of what you like and don’t like about your job. It’s OK to say you really like the cute programmer or the hours you work, but also think of what tasks you enjoy doing. I always liked writing, but I didn’t like the subject. By changing the focus of my work, it made a world of difference.
• Envision a new way to work. Think about all the things you need to make you like your job again. Would you like a chance to experience something new, such as interacting with others in another department? Receive more recognition from your boss? Get a mentor?
• Structure a plan. Put together some ideas for how you’d like to change your job, the new duties and goals.
• Talk to the boss as soon as possible. Don’t let a manager put you off until a performance appraisal; let the boss know you’ve got a plan you’d like to present. Explain to the boss in a reasonable, conversational tone that you’ve been thinking a lot about your current situation, and you believe you’re ready for some new challenges. Point out your contributions, and how you’re committed to continuing to do a great job. Lay the groundwork about the changes you’d like to make, pointing out the advantages for the company.
• Don’t give up. It may take weeks, even months, for changes to be made. Bosses can be resistant to changing employee duties, not wanting to upset the apple cart. But if you remain professionally persistent, and keep pointing out what a positive move it can be – you may find that reinventing your job was the right move for you.

What are some other ways to find more satisfaction and joy in a job?


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Friday, August 15, 2008

Why Accepting an Apology is Harder Than It Looks

When you make a mistake at work, do you apologize? Many of you will say “yes”. It’s easier, after all, to move on if you admit that you messed up and simply say, “I’m sorry” to whoever your actions may have impacted.

Now here’s a possibly tougher question: Do you always accept an apology?

Well, of course, you may say. That’s what happens when someone apologizes. You are adult about it and say something like “It’s OK” or “It’s fine.”

But is it really?

Because the truth is, when you get smacked around by life, you want someone to blame. You want to hold someone responsible for whatever happened, for whatever hurt was caused.

Let’s say a co-worker apologizes to you for forgetting to forward you important information, and that caused you to make an error in a report to your boss. The erroneous report made the boss pretty unhappy, and you caught the brunt of that displeasure. Now, the co-worker is saying she is sorry for causing you problems.

In most situations like this at work when someone apologizes, we say “It’s OK” or “I understand” or at least grunt some kind of acceptance. But the truth is that you’d like to lash out at the colleague who caused you such problems, to say that the ass-chewing delivered to you by the boss was all her fault, and her actions were hurtful.

Hurtful? You may think that’s too strong a word. After all, she didn’t “hurt” you in the same way as would a friend or loved one might, but still, you feel the sting of her actions.

So, while you may say you forgive her -- and give the appearance of moving on -- the truth is that you’re nursing a grudge. You think about her behavior. She’s unorganized. She’s unprofessional. She’s immature. She’s selfish. All attributes that led to your problems, right?

You start to feel a little better. Your self-righteousness starts to blossom. It was all her fault. You never would have made such a mistake. You would never have been so sloppy.

By the time you have lunch with several other co-workers, you’ve worked up a head of steam. You share your righteous indignation with others over the unfairness of it all, how you had to take the blame for someone else’s poor performance.

While it may feel good in the short run to play the blame game, you’re really losing in the long run. Why? Because you’ve never stopped to consider your own part in all of this mess and how it can be avoided in the future. In other words, you’re dooming your career to experience these setbacks again and again.

Let’s look at the way you should really accept an apology:

• Put yourself in someone else’s shoes. You may discover that the person who made the mistake has been saddled with the work of two other people who were laid off. She has been struggling to keep up with the workload, and has little support from the manager. You come to understand that if you were in the same position, you might forget a thing or two.
• Fix the problem, not the blame. In evaluating what happened, you see that you could have double-checked the information and found the error before presenting the report to the boss. You decide that you need to build in some extra time to verify information, and give others a chance to weigh in to make sure no errors slip past you.
• See the outcome as good and bad. Yes, you got in trouble with the boss because of the error. That’s bad. On the other hand, you see that you need to be more diligent in double-checking information, that your process needs to be tweaked and improved. Such attention to quality will be a good work habit to develop and will positively impact your performance. That’s good.

The next time someone offers you an apology at work, stop for a minute and think about what’s really the best way to handle it. Instead of focusing on the “I’m right and you’re wrong” mentality, remember that no one is perfect. You have – and will – make mistakes in the future, and so will everyone else. It’s the ability to truly accept an apology and move on that will determine your future successes.

Have you ever had difficulty accepting – and moving on – after someone offered an apology? What’s the best way to get past your hurt or anger?


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Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Is Your Manager Setting You Up to Fail?

Recently I ran into a friend of mine who told me he's quitting his job and going back to school to become a registered nurse. I was a bit surprised: Quit a job in this economy? Take on more student loan debt?

When I asked him why he was leaving a job that he seemed to love the last time I spoke to him about a year ago, he told me that he was simply exhausted, both emotionally and mentally. The position that he had fought so hard to get had become an anvil around his neck.

Over cold drinks at a nearby cafe, he told me that the job he was leaving in no way, shape or form resembled the position he had accepted two years ago.

"We had two people leave, so I took on a lot of their stuff. Then, a third was laid off," he said. "I was given those duties in addition to what I was already doing."

While he said the boss often assured him that he would get some help, it never materialized. When he would remind the boss that he was being spread too thin and he worried about the quality of the product, the boss told him that better time management -- and better use of technology -- would solve the problem.

That's why a recent story about companies combining mid-level and lower-level jobs -- and then hiring someone at the junior level for a lower salary -- really struck a chord.

I have been hearing similar stories for a while: Companies laying off workers, then rehiring one person with what I call a "kitchen sink" job description to do the work of many.

Let me give you another example: A woman I have known professionally for years works for a company that has been bought and sold so many times she jokes that she's not even sure who she works for anymore. But under that humor is a lot of stress: In the last three years, at least five people have been laid off in her department, and each time she has been given their duties.

I asked her whether she's received additional compensation for her additional duties. She told me no. Instead, she's been continually reprimanded for missing deadlines and not meeting goals. I have to wonder why the company doesn't fire her for her "poor performance," but I suspect it's because they can pile on the work -- and keep those notes critical of her performance in her personnel file to drag out when she wants to discuss more money.

(You may think this woman should have bailed on this job a long time ago, but because of her personal circumstances, she needed to stay in the position and try and make it work.)

I just don't get it. Why would companies set employees up to fail? If they hire lower-level workers, pile on the work until they break, then what's the point? They may have saved some money in the beginning, but it takes time and money to recruit and train a new body, so it seems that's pretty short-sighted.

At the same time, how can you ever make a good hire if you're using job descriptions that are laundry lists of so many disparate duties that no one human being can meet it?

I know that many employees rise to the challenge. But what I'm hearing goes beyond that. If we've got workers limping for the exits, where does that leave us in terms of training the next generation of managers? If we think that only time management and technology is the answer to overworked staff, then how can current managers create a team that's capable of competing in a global economy?

Please, someone clue me in. I just don't get it.


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Wednesday, July 23, 2008

How to Know When It's Time to Take Your Job Off Life Support

You can't exactly put your finger on it, but somehow your job has started sucking the life force out of you.

Every day you feel a little more depressed, a little more like maybe you should just call in sick and sit home and watch "Cash Cab."

Still, the thought of looking for another job is even more depressing. There's the business of writing the resume. You know you'll face rejections. You'll have to go on interviews, and that ranks right up there with with having someone wax your entire body.

OK, maybe things aren't that bad at work, you think. Maybe you will somehow pull yourself out of this rut. After all, it's better to keep bringing home a paycheck than try to get another job when millions of others are trying to do the same thing, right? Who knows...the next job might be even worse.

Not so fast. It may be it's time to consider what your gut is trying to tell you, and it's this: Your job is headed down the toilet.

How to recognize that it's time to get the resume together? Consider these signs:
* The paper trail. I'm always amazed when people don't understand that a case is being built against them whenever they start getting those snarky memos from managers, using words and phrases like "failed" and "falls short" and "not up to standards" and "missed deadlines."
* The "whammo" performance evaluation. Sort of a Whack-a-Mole game for managers, where everything positive you bring up is slapped down. Another sign a case is being built against you.
* You have tread marks on your back. Those are signs that others have been running you over on their way to promotions that should have been yours. Missing a couple of opportunities may not be a big deal, but more than that means you're on the fast track to Doomed.
* You repel money. Pay raises? Forget it. Your budget is reduced or put under the jurisdiction of someone else. You're not part of a project that is expected to bring in big money or spend big money. The office manager always seems to lose your request for new equipment.
* Everyone is too busy for you. Your calls are not being returned, and your e-mails seem to suffer the same fate. You're not included in key meetings, and no one stops to shoot the breeze with you anymore. While you may think this is OK, it's really a sign that others perceive you as someone on the outs.

Finally, keep in mind that even though the job market is tough right now, it's much better to be looking for work on your terms. It's always easier to look for a job when you have a job. Don't wait until it's too late and you're forced to join the unemployed masses.

What are some other signs a job may be in trouble? Is there a way to recover?


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Monday, July 21, 2008

Going Over the Boss's Head: Like Swimming With Sharks While a T-bone is Strapped to Your Butt

Before I get into discussing the issue of whether you can -- or should -- go over your boss's head, I'd like to share a little story with you....


Once upon a time there was a young woman named Letitia Hood. Because her hair was a vibrant auburn color, and she was a bit vertically challenged, she was known in her office as Little Red Riding Hood -- or "Red" for short.

Red was a diligent worker. So diligent, in fact, that she felt she deserved a promotion and a raise. But her boss, Jack Wolfson (know as "Wolf"), believed that Red still had some work to do before he could grant her wish.

One day, Red became very frustrated with Wolf, and decided to pay a visit to Granson Mayer III, who was Wolf's boss. She thought that if she just explained to Granson Mayer III (known as Grandma) that Wolf was being short-sighted, she could get the raise and the promotion, and everyone would live happily ever after.

But Grandma, having been in the business world a long, long time, knew that he couldn't grant Red's wish because that would be breaking the management code of honor, which states that no employee can ever, ever go over a boss's head. (It just isn't done.) He did not, however, share this information with Red.

"Thank you for coming to see me, Ms. Red. You've given me a lot to think about. Please return to your cubicle. I need time to ponder your request," Grandma said.

Red, believing she had victory close at hand, nearly skipped back to the elevator that would take her to the lower levels where employees labored. But as she left the elevator on her floor (13), Wolfson emerged from his office.

"Well, hello Red! How are you today?" he said, grinning widely.

Red noticed that Wolf's teeth seemed a bit larger on this day, but she felt so optimistic from her meeting with Grandma that she smiled in return and said, "Well, Wolf, I'm just terrific! Thanks for asking!"

As she started to continue on her way, Wolf said, "Wait, just one minute, Red. Can I see you in my office for a moment?"

At this point, Red felt her beautiful auburn tresses begin to stand up on the back of her neck. But she ignored the feeling, and instead said, "Sure!"

She entered her boss's office, where he gently -- but firmly -- closed the door behind her.

Later that day, a co-worker went looking for Red to ask her a question. But he could not find her. He searched the lunchroom, the conference room and even asked another female employee to check the women's restroom. But no one could find Red.

Days later, Red still was missing. Her lunch remained uneaten (and frankly, began to smell) in the offfice refrigerator. Her frumpy sweater, used when the air conditioning chilled her delicate shoulders, hung forgotten on the back of her chair.

After a while, someone new moved into Red's cubicle, donated her sweater to charity and dumped her wilted ficus into the trash. Her rancid lunch was swept away, and her e-mail bounced a "recipient not found" to anyone who tried to reach her.

Soon, no one mentioned Red's name aloud, referring to her only in hushed tones and usually only late on Friday afternoons when the bosses had already left for their golf courses and lake houses.

It was often the new employees who would bring up Red's name, having heard whispers about her. Older employees would tell the tale of Red, how she had visited Grandma with her request and then been lured into Wolf's office. The moral of the story, the elders warned, was this:


"No one goes over the boss's head and lives to tell the tale."


Red's story is just that -- a story. But it is one that rings all too true with many people who have tried to go over the boss's head and ended up losing.

Why? Because managers -- even if they don't really like one another -- will stick together. They won't tolerate an employee trying to "undermine" their authority. Such mutiny is seen as not only detrimental to the management ranks, but disloyal to the company as a whole. So, as in Red's case, trying such a strategy can be extemely risky.

Sort of like jumping into shark-infested waters with a T-bone strapped to your butt.

But if you do decide to go over your boss's head, make sure you have a very clear idea of why you're doing it and what you want to accomplish.

You're going to need documentation to take to your boss's boss to prove your point, and you're going to have to be very clear, professional and unemotional.

But here's the most important point: Never take this step unless you are prepared to lose your job. Because that is a very real risk. You might not lose it immediately, but once you've gone over the boss's head, there is a real chance that your boss will not want to have a thing to do with you -- and neither will any other manager in the company. So, you may find yourself on a career track to nowhere in that company. In other words, even if you win the battle, you may lose the war.

Of course, anytime your boss is doing something unethical or illegal, you really have no choice but to take it to the next level, leave, or do both. Not only is this a professional obligation, but if the boss is doing something that serious, then you don't want to be associated with it.

The decision cannot be made lightly. Some people have done it and gone on to be productive employees. But remember: You've got to make sure that what you might lose isn't greater than what you might gain.


What do you think about going over the boss's head? Can it be done?

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Thursday, July 17, 2008

Five Reasons No One Wants to Listen to You at Work

While we spend a lot of time these days using electronic communication, we can never forget the importance of that face-to-face communication that is so critical to our success.

People make a snap judgement about you the minute you meet them. They check out what you're wearing, how your hair looks, if you smell good (or at least, not bad) and then they wait for you to open your mouth.

And that's when many of us really screw up.

So, let's consider the some of the ways we make others wish we'd never speak again:

1. Upspeak. "I am so glad to meet you? I have a lot of good information for you regarding your marketing campaign? It's going to bring you lots of publicity?"
Well, is it or isn't it? For goodness' sake, when you express every thought as if it were a question, you sound like a junior high kid working a bake sale. This was a bad trend started decades ago, and it has stuck around longer than most marriages. Dump it. It makes you sound unsure, immature and unprofessional. Got it?

2. Like. I like ice cream. I like getting a pay raise. What I don't like is anyone using "like" too much. This also used to be only a speech pattern associated with 13-year-old adolescents sporting a mouthful of braces. Unfortunately, now it's permeating cubicles.
"I, like, didn't even get, like, a chance to give my report to like, the client?" you say to your boss.
So, now the boss is wondering: Did you give the report or not? Sprinkling "like" throughout your speech pattern a little bit may be OK, but it's a hard habit to break and can become a big problem. It's time to drop the "likes" from your speech. It makes your message muddled, and is annoying because, like, it takes you like, about, like forever to spit something out. If you're not sure you're guilty of it, record a phone conversation and see if you have developed this unlikeable habit.

3. Using words inappropriately. Do you say "acrossed" when you mean "across"? Or say "for all intensive purposes" instead of "for all intents and purposes"? If you have any hopes of rising through the ranks of your profession, nothing makes others snigger behind your back more than you mucking up words or phrases. Check out online sites that can help you spot some of your goofs and improve them.

4. Laughing. At everything. This can take on a couple of different forms. There's giggling and there's the laughing "huff" that is supposed to be a self-deprecating maneuver on the part of the speaker, but just becomes weird after a while.
Some examples:
"I couldn't get the client's office because I forgot to bring the directions." (giggle, giggle).
"I told him what a bad idea that was since we didn't have near enough time to redesign the website (huff, huff), and especially since I was short handed (huff, huff).

By this time others listening to your giggling and huffing are thinking: What's so funny?
Often the constant giggling, laughing, huffing, snorting, etc., are protective gestures that come about because the person is nervous about communicating a message. The key is to learn to take a deep breath when speaking, and to use your hands more when talking. This is an old trick that will help you keep your breathing even, and keep you from talking too fast and resorting to huffing and laughing your way through a conversation.

5. Saying "I think." Always begin your comments with authority, and saying "I think" makes it sound like you're somehow not 100 percent sure about your opinion. So, instead of saying, "I think we should contract with that company because they're progressive and innovative," you say, "That company is innovative and progressive and would be a great partner for us."
See how that sounds much more assured, more authoritative? You now give off the vibe that you know what you're talking about, that others should believe you and you're an authority on the subject.

These are all pretty simple fixes, but could make a huge difference in the image you present to others. Talk to friends or family about what could be some of your speech "crutches" or record yourself and look for ways to improve. It's worth the time and effort to make sure others are listening to what you have to say.

What other bad habits should people break that hurt their careers?

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Wednesday, July 9, 2008

You're Such a Total Dumb**s for Not Taking That Promotion....Or Maybe Not...

If your boss walked up to you today and offered you a promotion, with quite a substantial pay raise, would you take it?

"Well, duh," you might think. "Of course."

Now let's say that your boss offers you more money, but you will also be required to relocate -- or work more hours or perhaps take on tasks you don't like.

So, do you still take the promotion?

That's the dilemma many people face in their careers. While it seems a no-brainer that you grab a promotion and the extra cash with no hestitation, the decision is often not so clear-cut for some people.

In the early part of our careers, my husband and I relocated five times in 13 years for promotions. Was it easy? Nope. We moved away from family and friends and put in long, long hours. We endured enormous stress that came with moving up the corporate ladder, but we didn't complain.

Until, of course, we did complain. We looked at our lives and what we had (money, stock options, prestige), and what we didn't have (nearby family, a humane work schedule, a balanced existence), and decided we had had enough. So, we stepped off that ladder and have never regretted it.

But it's a hard decision to turn down a promotion. Most people will agree that if you do so, you've dealt a serious blow to your career. The boss may not offer again. You may be seen as not being totally committed to your employer. Others will see you as a slacker.

On the other hand, people do turn down promotions and go on to live happy and productive lives (see above). But there is some delicate footwork that needs to be done if you decide to take that road, so it's important to give it careful consideration.

Let's look at why you should accept a promotion:
* More money. Enough said.
* It's a chance to grow your skills and become more valuable.
* You will get more opportunities to meet higher-ups who can offer you even more chances to climb the corporate ladder.
* Exposure to new ideas, places and people.
* More money. (Did I mention that one already?)

Now, let's look at why you should not accept a promotion:
* It is too big of a stretch. You're bound to fail in a truly spectacular way. Think Evel Knievel going over the Grand Canyon.
* You would be working with people you don't know, don't want to know -- or know and don't like.
* Moving away from friends and family. Or, asking family members to be
uprooted from everything they know and love. If you have teenagers, this can mean lots of slammed doors.
* The job doesn't interest you in any way, shape or form.

The decision can be tough, but the good news is that some companies are more accepting of someone turning down a promotion. The trick is that you've got to frame your refusal in positive terms, such as "Gee, I'm so honored that I was offered this job, but I've thought a lot about it, and I just don't feel like it's a good fit for me right now. I've really got a lot more I want to accomplish in my current job, and am excited about where I'm headed."

Then, you've got to hope your boss accepts this gracefully. One more thing: Don't plan on turning down a promotion more than once. That truly is a good way to knock yourself off the career ladder.

Do you think someone always has to accept a promotion? Can you turn down a promotion and not hurt a career?

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Thursday, June 26, 2008

Five Reasons It's a Good Idea to Stay on a Sinking Ship

There are always some sure-fire ways that you can tell your company is in trouble.

The floors haven't been vaccumed in recent memory because the cleaning crew is now one 80-year-old woman who comes in every other month to dust. You are asked to re-use ovenight envelopes -- and not because the boss cares about the company's carbon footprint. Unknown people are seen going into top brass offices and holding closed-door meetings for hours. You catch the boss working on his resume.

All signs that the ship is sinking, and the rats are headed for the exit. Time for you to join the exodus, right?

Not so fast.

Have you ever thought about leaping onto that sinking ship because it could be the smartest career move you've ever made?

Sounds crazy, but it has worked for plenty of people. I once interviewed a woman whose company was in deep financial doo-doo and was doing everything but selling the copy machine on eBay in order to survive. But while others were frantically sending out resumes, she decided to stay put. She volunteered to take on duties left by departing employees, and soon had access to key managers and top decision makers.

The woman told me that the organization became much more open to new ideas, including ones she proposed. She took on duties that challenged her, and was considered a key player when things started to turn around. While she left a year later, she says it was those skills and opportunities presented by the floundering employer that taught her the most.

So, before you grab the resume and head for the exit of a troubled employer, consider:

* The opportunity to grab a dream job. Even if it's only offered on a temporary basis, the chance to fill a position that greatly interests you isn't an opportunity that comes along every day. It gives you a chance to learn the needed skills and really see if it's something you want to pursue.

* The chance to work with others who are at the top of their game. If you're a new employee, chances are it might be years before you gain access to some key people. Even if these people also depart, any chance to work with them for a short time and form a professional relationship could be key in netting you future opportunities.

* The atmosphere may provide more education than an MBA program. Companies that are in trouble can adopt an "anything goes" style, allowing you to try out a variety of skills and learn at a rapid pace. It's a go-ahead-and-try-it environment, and that's something many MBA students would kill for.

* You're going to be on center stage. Floundering companies don't have time to handhold anyone. You're going to be asked to deliver immediately, and your limitations will be only what you make them. Sleep? Who needs it, right?

* It can help you set up your own company. Sometimes learning what not to do is the best lesson . There are lots of successful people who will tell you they learned most from their failures. Just think of how much you'll learn about what to do -- and what not to do -- being on the front lines of a failing enterprise.

How about it -- do you think the possible rewards make it worth the risk to stay with a failing company?



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Friday, June 20, 2008

Uh-Oh: You May Not Be Worth What You Thought

If you were offered a job you really wanted, would you be willing to accept less money than what you expected?

That's the question many people are facing these days, even in those positions that were in such high demand they were supposedly bulletproof.

According to a JobFox survey, some median annual salary ranges dropped $10,000, compared to a month ago. Some examples include software design/development; product management; networking/system administration; finance; and government contracts administration.

These numbers reflect what the Department of Labor is saying, that wages are failing to keep up with inflation. That's pretty grim news as we face rising prices for energy and food, while coping with huge credit debts.

Still, there are some ways to cope in this economy:

1. Don't become overfocused on wages. Look for the growth opportunities in a job. You want a job to increase your knowledge and skills, and make you even more marketable in the future.

2. Ask for reviews. When you take a new job, ask for a review in the first 90 days to review your performance. This helps set the groundwork for a salary bump before your annual review. If you're already in a job, ask your boss to set up some quarterly meetings to review where you stand and make sure you're on target to meet goals.

3. Negotiate for other compensation/benefits. If an employer isn't offering you the salary you desire, ask for training opportunities -- either in another department, or to attend an industry event where you'll not only learn something, but make valuable professional contacts. As for other benefits, I know one worker who nabbed a good laptop from her company for $75 when the employer decided to upgrade. Make sure you're friendly with the office manager and the IT people so you know when good stuff may become available for purchase. Or, see if you can work from home at least one day a week to save on fuel costs. Some employers will pay the cost of monthly Internet service if you put in work time from home, or pay your cell phone bill if you spend time using it for business. The point it to be creative in presenting win-win options to your boss.

4. Ask about tuition reimbursement. Some companies still offer the benefit, and any education is worth the time. Recent schooling always looks good on a resume, and many companies cannot offer higher salaries unless you meet certain educational or training requirements.

Still, the question of whether to accept a job at a salary you believe is too low is a tough one. In this economy, it can be difficult to negotiate when employers are cutting back not only salaries, but positions.

Do you think it's a mistake to accept a job for less money than what you desire -- or is this a salary trend we must learn to accept?


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Thursday, June 19, 2008

The Worst Day of the Year: First Day Back on the Job After Vacation

Here's the biggest news flash of the day: The world did not fall apart while I was on vacation.

The birds are still singing in the trees, the Earth is still rotating and the weeds in my garden have continued to thrive. I received nearly 200 e-mails in my absence, and dozens of phone messages. None of them were critical. Well, at least to me. (Macy's really, really wants me to shop their online sale, and someone felt it was imperative that I was aware some woman is suing Victoria's Secret because of a thong injury.)

But, I can say with complete certainty that nothing was so important that it required me to take a laptop on vacation or check my phone messages.

Many of you urged me not to do it, and I listened to you -- and to myself.

So now I'm back at work, trying to tackle all the e-mails and phone messages and doing my best to ignore the tic starting at the corner of my eye. Still, I'm coming to quickly realized that this may be the worst day of the year.

I'm trying, really trying, to hang on to my vacation glow, but I can feel it starting to fade. My office looks like a cyclone went through it. I wrote things on my calendar for this week that I am now having difficulty understanding, such as: "Fri. a.m., call Dave for interview."

Who the hell is Dave??

OK, I think I've learned that while the vacation was everything I dreamed of and more, I may have sabotaged myself for my first day back at work. There's no reason this has to be so bad, is there? I used to have a boss that would always say to me: "You play, you pay" on my first day back from vacation. I always had the overwhelming urge to smack him.

Was he right?

What's the best way to handle the first day back from vacation? If you've got any suggestions, I'd love to hear them.

Before my tic gets any worse.


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Sunday, June 8, 2008

The Real Decision '08: Should I Work While on Vacation?

I got sort of depressed the other day when I tried to remember the last time my husband or I did not put in some work time while on vacation, including our second honeymoon a couple of years ago.

It used to be that when you went on vacation, you maybe -- maybe -- called in from the road to make sure the office hadn't burned to the ground while you were gone.

But then we became entangled with pagers and cell phones, laptops and Blackberries. And the "workless" vacation seemed to be a thing of the past.

So, as I head off for vacation this year, I pondered what I need to take with me besides the bug spray and some hiking boots. The laptop. Some research I need to peruse. A couple of business books I need to review.

I told myself I could put in a few hours of work while the kids go fishing or early in the morning when everyone sleeps in and I get up early, as always. I told myself what a good use of my vacation this would be because I'll be away from all the distractions of my everyday professional and personal life.

And then I nearly kicked my own ass.

Because none of that thinking made sense. Why even take a vacation if I'm going to drag along all the things that are making me so stressed out these days? I know I need a break. My creative juices have dried up. My critical thinking skills have taken a hike. My organizatinal efforts are laughable. I have just enough common sense left to realize that I'd be making a huge mistake if I took even a smidgen of work with me.

I know some people don't feel this way. They are disciplined enough (or so they say) to work only a little bit while on vacation. Some claim they're so bored on vacation they have to do a bit of work to keep from going completely whacko. Others contend that their families or friends don't really care if they work while on vacation.

But the research tells us differently. Our bosses want us to take vacation. Our long-term health demands that we take time away. And our personal relationships -- well, I guess if you'd rather send a few e-mails than watch your child build a sandcastle or go sightseeing with friends -- that's your decision to make.

But for me and mine, we're going laptopless this year. Our cell phones are for emergencies only, and the only book I'm taking is some totally frivolous novel that will hopefully make me laugh out loud.

I'm at peace with my decision, and actually very excited. I feel like a kid cutting school (ahem, not that I ever did anything like that), and plan to be totally selfish and be on vacation.

At this point, some of you may be shaking your head at my decision. You may feel that you can work on vacation and get the same benefits of time away that everyone else does. Or, you may feel like your business or career will fall apart if you aren't tethered in some way to your job.

But I'm going to try it this way. Not because I don't think I have anything to lose, but because I think if I don't, I could lose a lot.

How about you? Are you going to work while on vacation this year? Why or why not? (If you don't see your comment published right away, please be patient. I've gone fishing.)


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