Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Could telecommuting be a career mistake?


While a lot of people think telecommuting is the answer to all their problems, sometimes you have to be careful of what you wish for. At the same time, this difficult job environment may mean that you have to work even harder and smarter if you're not in the office everyday. Here's a column on the subject I did for Gannett:


While telecommuting is more common than a decade ago because of advances in technology and more flexible workplace cultures, the tough job market has made some telecommuters nervous as they worry that the lack of face time and presence in an office may make them more vulnerable to being laid off.

Zack Grossbart, a telecommuter for the past nine years, says his advice to other telecommuters wanting to be seen as key players is this shaky job market: “Show other people what you do.”

Grossbart’s advice has come from personal experience. Working from his Cambridge, Mass., home as a consulting engineer for his employer in Provo, Utah, he was given 60-days notice in 2007 that he was going to be laid off. But he says people he had never met face-to-face in the company went to top brass and fought for him. He kept his job.


Grossbart says he believes that by constantly making sure others knew of his contributions to the company, he managed to avoid a layoff. Those are lessons he says other telecommuters need to take to heart.

“You’ve got to brag in the right way,” Grossbart says. “When you’re in an office, you think it’s obvious to others that you’re working. But when you’re telecommuting, you must constantly put yourself out there and communicate really effectively. I always make sure I’m out in front of people.”

That means that Grossbart makes an online presentation at least once a month for his company, and is always looking for chances to show small groups of people at his employer “something cool” such as a new software application. He also relies on various forms of communication, ranging from phone conversations to using social media such as Twitter or Facebook.

When he feared he was going to lose his job a couple of years ago, he launched a blog to showcase his communication skills and industry knowledge. It’s something he continues to maintain for the same reasons, he says.

“If someone wants to know what Zack is about, they’ll be able to find me,” he says. “When the economy is tougher, you’ve got to do more to showcase your talent.”

Heather Huhman, founder and president of Come Recommended, says that as the manager of 12 telecommuting employees, she finds that “over-communicating isn’t a bad idea.”

Still, “out of sight, out of mind works both ways,” Huhman says.
“We use all kinds of technology to communicate, from instant messaging to Skype. Right now, we don’t have two employees in the same state, so we schedule weekly team meetings, and I make myself available at regular times by phone. Do I wish we could meet more often face-to-face? Sure. The isolation can get to be a problem for some people.”

Huhman says some members of her team battle the lack of personal interaction during their work day by taking their laptop computers and going to a local coffee shop. One employee has taken a night job a couple nights a week “just to get out of the house,” she says.

Grossbart says that while some people may believe telecommuting “sounds like a dream,” they may find they hurt their career if they can’t handle the physical remoteness and need for constant communication and diligent self-promotion to their company.

David W. Mayer, executive director for mergers and acquisitions for Aristeia in Greenwood Village, Colo., says nine of his 24 workers telecommute fulltime, and agrees that some people don’t thrive as telecommuters.

“People get all excited, and then the first day at home, they say they miss the camaraderie of an office,” he says. “Social networking helps, but some people just need to be around other people.”

Grossbart says the problem can be more than social. “If you start telecommuting and do your job the same way you do in an office, you’re going to get laid off,” he says. “You actually have to be better than other people at your company. You can’t just sit there and do your job and think that’s enough. You have to do more.”


What are more tips on making telecommuting a viable option?

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Monday, August 10, 2009

5 Ways to Manage Your Online Reputation

Are you your own worst enemy?

If you don't think so, read this column I wrote for Gannett, and you may just change your mind:


Maybe you put countless hours into carefully crafting a resume and cover letter. Or you sweated buckets over the details regarding your meeting with a key client. Perhaps you had weeks of sleepless nights as you planned your new company.

But then it all came crashing down – all with the click of your computer mouse. It all came undone because you didn’t think about the fact that some of the “unprofessional” items you posted online were viewed – and judged – by the very people you wanted to impress.

“Your digital life is just like real life. It’s not outer space. That’s why you must be very conscious of what you put online,” says Larry Weber, a marketing and online reputation expert. “What’s online is a very important part of the way people are hired, the way people get things done.”

Weber, author of “Sticks and Stones,” (Wiley, $24.95), says that too many people are lazy about their online reputations, or think that what they post doesn’t really matter or won’t be seen by people other than friends or family.

The key, he says, is remembering that from the moment you go online, your reputation is being formed. For example, he says that at Harvard University they view a variety of records before admitting a student – and one of those involves a check of online activity.

“They take out their laptops and check out Facebook. If there are pictures of you drunk, you can probably forget about Harvard,” he says.

So how can you best manage you online reputation that aids you professionally? Weber advises you to:

  1. Lead separate lives. Use LinkedIn or Plaxo for your professional resume, accomplishments and business networking. Use Facebook to connect only with people you know well in your personal life, such as friends and family. At the same time, sever connections online with people who will drag down your professional image. In other words, don’t “friend” someone on Facebook or through your blog who posts obscene comments or has racy photos.
  2. Look for the right groups. The online community is becoming more segmented, and this can benefit your career. Search for groups to join that will connect you with industry leaders or others with similar goals. “You know how your mother told you to hang out with certain groups of people. This is the same thing,” Weber says.
  3. Build social equity. Sometimes it comes out the blue: Critical or derogatory comments about you online. In this case, your network can help you by coming to your defense and posting positive remarks that help thwart your attacker. But the only way this works is if you’ve been a good supporter of others and their work in the past. You must sincerely work to connect with people and help them when you can so they will return the favor.
  4. Remember that nobody likes manipulation. “The Web has been very good at policing itself,” Weber says. “It doesn’t like liars and manipulators, and they’ll be outed.” That means if you try and push people into supporting you or try to “spin” your story to get them to write positive commentary about you without earning it, it usually will backfire. “The more you try and spin it, the more you will hurt yourself,” he says. “The push is really for transparency.”
  5. Understand that bad can be good. No one is perfect, either online or in real life. Don’t worry if there are some less-than-stellar comments about you online, as long as the good outweigh the bad. Having flaws adds authenticity, and makes it easier for others to identify with you.


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Monday, June 1, 2009

Is Stress Making You Want to Kiss Your Job Goodbye?


For me, one of the great things about Twitter is that is allows me to learn more about what people experience at work every day. It's sort of like being an invisible Spiderman, without the goofy costume. I feel like I can jump from cubicle to cubicle across the world, being a fly, er, spider on the wall.

One of the things I know for sure -- from following people on Twitter and from interviewing them -- is that there is a lot of stress in the workplace. People are overwhelmed by the demands of their job, even though they try and put a positive spin on it: "Wow! Just got a new deadline! Anyone want two tickets to the big concert tonight?" goes a typical Tweet.

Heather Blume asked me if I was hearing that more people who already had jobs were actively looking for work. The stress in current jobs, she said, was really getting to them and she had several people a week asking her if she knew of other positions. That was pretty interesting considering the job market is so tough right now and not expected to improve for a couple of years.

So I called Wayne Hochwarter, a professor at Florida State University, who spends a lot of time studying the workplace. He was not surprised to hear how many people were willing to leave jobs -- even entire careers -- and join the job hunt.

“A lot of people just don’t have anything to look forward to anymore,” Hochwarter says.“They can’t even look forward to retirement, because they’re going to have to work longer now. Most people haven’t gotten a raise in years. They’re doing the work of five people now, and they just think: ‘I can’t do this anymore.’”

Blume hears a lot of personal despair every day as she does her job as a Seattle-based recruiter specializing in property management for Career Strategies Inc.

“In the last month or so, I’ve had three or four people a week tell me – on the down-low – that they’ve got to get out of their jobs. It used to be I heard this maybe once a month. Now people are asking me if I’ve got anything for them – they say they’ll take anything to get away from the stress of what they’re doing now,” she says.

While Blume says she doesn’t “poach” from other companies, that doesn’t mean she’s not sympathetic to their plight and will quietly put out “feelers” to try and help them make job contacts. One 20-year-veteran of property management recently told Blume that her job was “eating her soul.” Another said she was looking for contacts in “restaurant work” because she was so burned out and wanted to leave the industry where she had built a successful career.

She adds that those seeking work are at all levels. “I tell them to sit tight, or to think about going back to school,” she says. “But if you’re miserable, it’s hard.”

I decided to call David Benjamin, who often posts comments to this blog and someone else I follow on Twitter, and ask what he was experiencing as a recruiting manager for The Sales Matrix in Detroit. What levels of stress was he seeing?

He noted that while he hears the despair and frustration in the voices of salesmen who are out of work, he also notes that those who are still employed “just don’t see a light at the end of the tunnel.”

“Salesmen hear ‘no' in this economy a lot more,” Benjamin says. “It just wears on you and beats you down. It ‘s such a grind, such a challenge.”

In a study by Hochwarter, he found that 55 percent of bosses have become more demanding of current workers and more than 70 percent of employees say the recession has increased stress levels at work.

“I’ve never been a big believer that we’ve got good managers, and now with this economy, they’ve lost whatever humanity they had,” Hochwarter says. “They know that they’ve got to meet goals or they start chopping heads. Managers really don’t know what to do during a time like this. We haven’t prepared them for anything like it.”

What do you think the impact of this economic downturn and current job market will have on workers?

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Thursday, February 12, 2009

An Emergency Checklist for When a New Boss Shows Up


It can take months or even years to establish a good relationship with a boss. There are bumps along the way, but in the end, you feel confident that your boss values your hard work and believes your contribution to the company is important.

Of course, that gives you some measure of confidence. After all, if your boss believes you to be valuable you might might be able to hang onto your job during these tough times. At the very least, you feel your relationship is good enough that you will be treated fairly if there are cutbacks.

Then one day you come into work and your boss isn't there. The news is soon delivered: Your boss has been laid off.

Oh, S**t! you think. Now what?

First, don't panic. There is a way to still protect yourself in this uncertain job market, but it means you're going to have to act fast to set up a relationship with the new boss that at least positions you not to be the most vulnerable to any "restructuring" or "downsizing" -- or whatever they want to call being kicked to the curb.

I understand you will be in shock, so I'm going to give you an emergency checklist you should follow in the event you get a new boss:

1. Do your homework. Go online and read a LinkedIn profile and search out industry news on the new boss. Make phone calls to contacts who know her well -- don't bother with those who haven't worked directly for her or with her. You want to know specifics about her management style reputation as a boss. Try to get an idea of her pet peeves and her personality so that you can understand how to get off on the right foot immediately. Ask: "What is she like to work for?"

2. Scout the team. Sometimes bosses like to work with the same people. When they move, they may take certain team members with them. By looking at her work history, can you see a pattern where the same people follow her? Will any of those team members be able to possibly replace you? Making a good impression on her "favored few" will be important.

3. Be ready to race. In this economy, no boss has months or even weeks to get a feel for a new team. She is going to be making decisions quickly about who stays and who goes, so it's critical that you be ready to hit the ground running. If you've done your homework, you already know her likes and dislikes. When you have your initial meeting with her, you should be able to formulate your answers into something that makes her comfortable with you -- a key if you're going to make it on her team.

4. It's a job interview, stupid. Don't feel like doing a background check on the new boss is somehow underhanded. She will have plenty of material at her disposal regarding your work performance, and may even have Googled you. This means that she knows exactly what mistakes you have made, what are your weak points and what you've done to help the bottom line. Be prepared with answers -- just like you would in a job interview -- about what you've learned from your mistakes, how your skills are exactly what the company needs and the specifics of how your efforts have made a positive impact.

5. Offer to help. Bosses these days are under enormous pressure to produce results, and also are anxious about making sure they have top performers on their team. Still, if they're new, they're going to have a learning curve. Jump in and offer to help by acquainting her with other department's key players, office political structures and other potential land mines. A new boss always appreciates a worker who is willing to share knowledge and help her get off to a good start.

What are some other ways to put yourself in a good position with a new boss?




Lijit Search

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Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Five Ways to Network With the Boss


Want to know a key player many people forget to network with these days? The boss.

Yep, the head honcho. The big kahuna. The top dog.

You may wonder why you need to network with the boss when a) you see him every day; and b) you see him every day, dammit.

But networking involves much more than just trying to get new business or find a new job. It's about understanding what the other person needs, what will help make him or her successful and how you can develop a quality relationship with the person that is mutually beneficial.

In these stressful economic times, it makes more sense than ever that you establish a stronger connection with your boss. Not only could it help you save your job now, but most bosses have gotten into that position because of their connections -- and you are in a terrific position to tap into that network and help your career in the future.

So, let's look at some ways to network with the boss:

1. Listen. This may sound stupid, as you feel like all you do is listen to the boss. But I'm talking about listening to the subtle or offhand things he may say that can help you make a stronger connection. Maybe his kid is having trouble in math, so you recommend a terrific tutor your own child used. Or perhaps he has developed a love for arena football, so you clip a great article and leave it in his mailbox with a brief note. What you want to do is pay attention to the whole person -- not just the one who happens to sign your paychecks.

2. Volunteer. OK, I know you're working so much right now you're lucky to find time to brush your teeth every day. But if you put your efforts into activities that help the boss with his boss, then it's going to pay off. For example, you can volunteer to spearhead a community fund-raising project, or put together a panel for an industry conference where your boss will be a speaker. The boss gets involved in these activities because he knows it makes his boss happy and raises his profile -- and it can have the same benefit for you.

3. Mentor. Whether you have a lot of experience or maybe very little, you have a skill that can be used to help someone else.The point is to show the boss that you are not only a team player ready to help out another person, but you're taking an active hand in developing leadership qualities.

4. Promote. Some employees believe that it's the job of head brass to go out and promote a company, to get new business in the door and to project a positive image. Excuse me, but that's just baloney. Worldwide competition is so tough right now that employees who promote their company will garner notice from the boss. That means that you talk about the positive aspects of your company and what it can do for customers whether you're at your kid's soccer game or working out at the gym. Show the boss that you understand the business demands and are stepping forward to contribute to the company's success.

5. Respect. Bosses are just like anyone else -- they want to feel appreciated and acknowledged for what they do. So, if the boss does something really great for you (pays for you to attend a great seminar), helps you out (pitches in to help you make a customer happy) or tries his best to be fair and upbeat, then it doesn't hurt to say "thanks." Send an e-mail, or even drop him a personal note if it's something really special. Don't gossip about him with other workers, don't undermine his authority by making snide comments or criticizing his efforts and always understand that until you've walked in his shoes, you should not make judgments about what he does or does not do.

What other ways can an employee effectively network with the boss?

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Wednesday, November 5, 2008

How to Get the Boss To Listen to You



Do you sometimes think you've become the invisible employee? Do you think the only way your boss might pay attention to you is if you were holding a phone and saying: "I've got Oprah on the line for you!"

You're not alone. Many people have felt ignored by their managers, but they are really beginning to fret more about it these days because they fear that "out of mind" may mean "out of a job" if layoffs hit their workplace.

Unfortunately, some employees go about getting attention in the wrong way. They begin to slack, believing that if the boss doesn't pay any attention to them, what does it matter what they do? Or, they may believe the boss's inattention gives them license to sort of "creatively" handle their job, which can mean anything from illegal acts to taking advantage of other workers.

I once interviewed James E. Lukaszewski, one of those super management gurus, and he had some great advice for finding a way to get yourself heard by the boss. In what called the "three-minute drill" he said that you had to really hone your message, to practice and to do your homework so that when you spoke to the boss, she listened just like you really did have Oprah on the line.

He suggested that you write out your three-minute pitch (or about 450 words) to the boss. It should go something like this:

* In 60 words, describe the nature of the issue, problem or situation that requires decision, action or study by the boss. What you're saying is: "Hey, boss, this situation requires your attention and we've got to talk about it right now."

* Lay out for the boss what it all means. Is it a threat from a competitor? Is it an opportunity to grow the business? Let the boss know WHY is all matters. Again, keep it to about 60 words.

* Say what needs to be done in 60 words.

* Give three options: do nothing, do something or do something more. Giving multiple options is what helps you keep the boss's attention, instead of her just tossing you out when she doesn't like your recommendation. This should be about 150 words.

* Once you give the options, then you need to be prepared to give your recommendation on which one to choose. Being prepared to give an immediate answer keeps her focused on you and your solutions. Hint: Give the one that has the least negative consequences. Total: 60 words.

* Forecast what you think will happen, both the positive and the negative, if any. The boss needs to understand -- in 60 words -- the consequences.

What are other strategies you can use to become more "visible" to the boss?

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Monday, November 3, 2008

The Seven Stupid Mistakes People Make on a Telephone Interview



"Hello?"

"Mr. Jones? This is Mr. Smith from Acme, calling for our telephone interview?"

"Oh, yeah, sure. Can you hang on a sec?"

"Sure."

(A toilet flushes.)

"Whew! OK, much better. Wassup? Mr. Smith...you there?"

"Uh, yes, I'm here. Now, Mr. Jones, I'd like to ask you about your work experience."

"Sure....prob....lots of..."

"Mr. Jones? Are you there? I seem to be losing you."

"Oh, damn. Sorry about that. My cell phone reception is lousy in this part of the city."

"OK, well, let's move on to what you believe your strengths to be for this job."

"I'll take a dozen chocolate with a large coffee to go."

"Excuse me? Mr. Jones?"

"What? Oh, I'm not talking to you." (Chuckling) "Just ordering some breakfast. Did you say something?"

"Mr. Jones, perhaps this isn't the best time for an interview. You seem to be busy."

"Mmhhmph?" (Slurping sounds) "No, no, now is fine. I really am interested in this job. Go head."

"Thank you Mr. Jones. I believe I will -- go."

Phone disconnects.

Welcome to the world of telephone interviewing. It's how many employees make their initial contact with an employer -- and how many of them lose that contact forever.

I've interviewed hundreds of people over the phone as a journalist, and I've been on the other end as I was interviewed over the phone for magazines, newspapers, radio and television. And one thing I know for sure: Giving a good telephone interview takes work.

Why? Because for most people, talking on the phone is as natural as breathing. They don't think much about it. But a telephone interview is so different in so many ways, I think it's a good idea to review proper telephone interview techniques:

1. Avoid cell phones. I don't care if it's the only phone you have, find a land line to do an interview. Low batteries, bad reception, weird feedback, etc. from a cell phone all disrupt the natural flow of a conversation, making the interview an endurance test for the hiring manager. Trust me, it's exhausting trying to interview someone and take notes with these problems, and I've never done a cellphone interview without such problems. At the same time, try not to use a headset (often has the same problems as a cellphone, including an echo chamber effect), and don't use the speaker phone.

2. Get rid of background noise. Lock yourself away in a quiet space to do a phone interview. That means no crying or noisy children should be in the background, or a barking dog, loud music, sounds of a toilet flushing, you scarfing down food, chewing gum, etc. You want the interviewer focused only on you, not the sound of you washing dishes or tapping computer keys as you Twitter while you interview -- or blaring your horn as you drive. Turn off your email so it doesn't distract you or give a "ping!" that the interviewer will hear. Also, don't forget to disable the "call waiting" feature on your phone. (Check with your local carrier for the code.)

3. Stand up. Your voice will emerge much more energized and confident. It's OK to sit down when listening to the interviewer, and will also make it easier for you to take notes.

4. Be prepared. As with a face-to-face interview, you need to research the employer and the industry so that you can contribute meaningful comments. But with a phone interview, you also can research where the hiring manager is located. Are they having snow in that area? Did a local college just win a major championship? Does the interviewer belong to an organization where you participate? These are all "pleasantries" you can mention since you won't really be able to win over the interviewer with positive body language or a firm handshake.

5. Listen to how stupid you sound. Before you do a phone interview, tape record a "practice" interview with a friend or family member. You'll be embarrassed, trust me. Your voice will either sound squeaky or weird, and you'll say "like" and "you know" too much. You'll cough into the phone instead of covering the mouthpiece, and your laugh will sound like you're snorting drugs. These are all things you can work on and find a way to present a more professional voice and demeanor over the phone. If you're saying "uh" too much, you need to practice your answers more so that you can say them smoothly (just don't read them from your notes). If you talk too fast, move your hand when you talk -- this helps even out your breathing and slows your speech.

6. Don't worry about filling in silences. The interviewer may be taking notes, so avoid blabbing nonstop. It's often difficult to know what's going on when you can't see the other person, but it's important you give your answer and then shut up. Motormouths have a bad habit of digging themselves a hole during phone interviews. And never interrupt the interviewer, no matter how excited you are.

7. Follow up. After a phone interview, you can send a thank-you e-mail, but also send a personal note via regular mail. Make sure before the interview ends that you have verified all the contact information, such as the correct spelling of the interviewer's name, the company address, phone number, e-mail, etc., and what the next step will be.

What are some other tips for phone interviewing?




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Thursday, October 30, 2008

Workers Behaving Badly: Why Our Stress May be Bringing Out the Worst in Us



After 9/11, I was struck by the sense of caring we showed for one another. It was a horrible, stressful time, but it seemed to bring out the best in us. We began to look out for one another, even at work. We shared our mutual pain about what had happened, and even expressed our fear for the future. Office squabbles seemed ridiculous, and petty jealousies even more so.

Now it's seven years later, and we're facing another horrible, scary time. We see empty chairs at work, evidence of the people who have taken early retirement or other buyout packages. Almost every one of us know someone who has been laid off. Our own employers have stated they will not be filling empty positions for now.

And yet, office politics are on the rise. Gossiping, backbiting and negative campaigning dominate the airwaves, and we seem to mimic that behavior at work.

So, instead of pulling together on the job as we did after 9/11, we seem to be our own worst enemies right now. Of course, much of that is due to the enormous stress in both our private and professional lives. No one can predict what will happen next week, let alone in the coming year.

If makes workers feel powerless, and that's a lousy feeling. It makes us want to grab whatever we can and hold on, everyone else be damned. But here's the thing: We actually DO have a lot of control right now. We have control over how we treat one another.

It's not a easy thing to admit that we've been a jerk to people we work with, either through our silences or our short-tempers or our snide comments. But we've got to own up to our bad behavior, because until we do, we won't begin to fix what needs fixing.

So, today, I want you to think about the person in the cubicle next door or down the hall. I want you to think about how fear and anxiety has made you and others behave, and what you can do to start making things right.

Remember, the evidence supports the fact that when we are friendlier to one another at work, when we genuinely care about one another, we are not only happier but more productive. And right now, that's definitely a very good thing.

What are some ways to improve relationships with others at work?





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Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Do You Have a Spineless Career?


When was the last time you did something courageous at work?

I'm not talking about cleaning out the office fridge (although that does take gumption) or trying a new font on your report. I'm talking about stepping out of your comfort zone, doing something that made your palms sweat or your knees quake.

You may be wondering why in the world you would do something scary at work, when just being at work these days is frightening enough. But recently I interviewed someone who knows a thing or two about stepping into the abyss, and I've been thinking about career courage ever since.

Bill Treasurer is a workplace courage expert, but he's also a former member of the U.S. High Diving Team, where he often performed as the fire-diving superhero "Captain Inferno." His new book, "Courage Goes to Work," is all about -- wait for it -- courage at work.

Of course, Treasurer wrote his book before this current economic crisis, but what he has to say may be even more relevant now. Because while you may feel like just playing it safe and keeping your head down, you need to put yourself in scarier situations now more than ever.

"Courage in my mind is activated by challenging times," Treasurer says. "Courage doesn't mean being fearless, it means carrying on despite our fear."

So, even though you might be afraid to put your hand up and suggest new or innovative or even outrageous ideas at work, Treasurer says now is the time to do it.

"Right now, employers really need employees to really embrace change. They need those new ideas to help save money. They need to find new opportunities. This is exactly the right time to raise your hand."

Or, step out on a stage. That means that despite your tendency to want to puke when addressing more than five people at a time, you go ahead and give that speech or presentation to hundreds or people. Or, you volunteer for that new project even though it's out of your comfort zone. Maybe it even means you accept that new job for less money because you'll be doing something totally different than what you've done for the last decade.

"Courage means that you move forward through your fear. You voice is shaking or palms are sweating because it means you're moving into the courage zone," he says.

At the same time, the greatest acts of courage at work can come from some unexpected places.

"Courage of voice is the least common," Treasurer says. "It's when you raise your hand and say you're overwhelmed and you need help. Or, when you admit to a mistake and apologize for it."

So, the next time your stomach roils and your palms become damp at just the thought of doing something at work, take heart from these words voiced by a man who knows a thing or two about diving off that cliff:

"At the end of the day when we look back, where we are most proud of ourselves -- where we see that we were better us -- is when we've met the challenge," Treasurer says.

"Just trust yourself."

Do enough people show courage in the workplace today? Why or why not?

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Wednesday, October 15, 2008

It's Time to Get Serious About Eliminating Distractions on the Job


The directive is pretty clear from the employment world in these tough economic times: "Remain relevant." But the unspoken addition is this: "Or you could be out on your ear."

Right now, it's critical that you become more focused than ever on your job and your employer. That means the first thing you've got to do is cut down on distractions. Because if you're distracted, you're not as productive, as creative or as critical to your company. While we all know we should turn off the e-mail and check only every couple of hours, there are other distractions that we are less inclined to eliminate.

It's time to get serious. Things are scary out there, and no one can afford to perform at less than 100 percent. It's time to get real, and get tough. Let's talk about some ways that you need to kick your own butt into gear:

* Stop socializing online. I know this is going to get some heat from some people, but I think it's gotten out of control. Right now, we all need time to let our minds relax and recharge by going to a local park with our family or friends or reading something enjoyable. I know one person who recently decided to stop using Facebook. He told me it was something he had been thinking about for a long time, but this week he was brutally honest with himself and said he knew his work was suffering because of the constant distraction of keeping up with his Facebook page and the "social" aspect of it was just too stressful. Here's an interesting aside: Facebook didn't want to make it easy to end the addiction. It asked him the reasons for leaving, and each time he clicked on an answer, a solution popped up. Harden your resolve and step away from MySpace, Twitter and Friendster. If you can't go cold turkey, eliminate all but one or two sites, and never check it at work, unless these sites are part of your job description.

And your personal blog? Think about taking a break. I find many people who started blogs now believe they're nothing more than burden -- just one more task they have to take care of. It's really OK if you decide to take a break or stop altogether -- it it your blog, after all.
If you're not sure how much time you're spending on your social network site, get an old-fashioned timer and set it for 30 minutes. Every time you have to reset it, mark it down. I did this, and was stunned to see that an hour had gone by -- it seemed like I'd only been on it for 15 minutes.

* Quit texting: "Where R U?" may seem innocent enough, but it's the first salvo in a time suck that will have you texting yourself right out of a job. Turn off your personal cell phone or Blackberry and only check on your lunch hour for emergency messages. Ignore everything else until after work.

* Do something monotonous. I came up with my book idea while blow drying my hair. Another friend came up with a great marketing idea while taking a shower. Stop trying to entertain yourself all the time, such as listening to a podcast while working out, or watching YouTube on your laptop while waiting in a airport. Let yourself get bored -- you'll be amazed at how it will turn on your brain and get you thinking more creatively and freely. (I get some of my best column ideas while doing laundry or driving.) It's those creative thoughts that are going to make you stand out at work, to help you remain relevant to your boss.

* Be selective with your information input. The Internet is wonderful because it offers us 24/7 information. The Internet is terrible because it offers us 24/7 information. With the financial mess and the upcoming election, it's tempting to check CNN every 10 minutes. Don't. It won't do your job any good to focus too much on things beyond your control right now. Get your news fix before and after work, either in print or on air, then move onto something else.

* Keep moving. Yeah, exercise is good for you, but moving feet are also a good idea at work. Don't stop to chat in the bathroom, around the coffee pot or anywhere else that seems to be a "bulls**t zone." Just keep moving with a friendly wave and a "I've got a deadline" comment.

What are some ways you've found to cut down on distractions?

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Monday, October 13, 2008

Is There an Addict in the Cubicle Next Door?



Six months ago on this blog I wrote about a smart and talented lawyer with four beautiful children who had a drug and alcohol addiction. The story, I said, was that of my cousin and her struggle for recovery in a world where she had once had it all -- but was stripped of nearly everything because of her battles with her addictions.

She died last week.

I had not seen her since my father's funeral eight years ago, but through family contacts I kept up with her health and addiction struggles. I'm not going to go into specifics, but suffice it to say because of her disease she at one point had lost custody of her children, divorced and lost her law license.

I debated writing this post, but after watching stress taking it's toll on everyone in this country because of the economy and the heated political atmosphere, I think it's important that we all make a promise to look out for one another. Addiction doesn't reside just on the street corner with junkies looking for the next fix -- it's also in the meeting rooms and boardrooms and cubicles where we work.

For my newspaper column earlier this year I interviewed Eric Goplerud a Ph.D. and the director of Ensuring Solutions to Alcohol Problems at The George Washington University Medical Center, who told me that while workers’ alcohol problems cost employers millions of dollars each year and contribute to skyrocketing health insurance costs, the problem often is not effectively dealt with in the workplace.

“I think one of the reasons that more employers have not addressed this issue is because it’s perceived as a private issue in the life of an employee,” he said.

He told me that one of the most effective ways to help someone at work is to use what he called "AIM" – aim, inform and motivate.

“You go to someone and you say, ‘You know, you seem to be drinking more – how much are you drinking?’ Then, you inform them that what they’re drinking seems like an awful lot. Finally, you motivate them to get help, by expressing your concern and saying: ‘Have you thought about changing?’”

Goplerud also told me that even those who have not become alcoholics according to the Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) guidelines are running a risk by drinking too much.

“What we’ve learned is that many people drink alcohol in ways that are unhealthy to themselves and others,” Goplerud says. “There’s no need for them to go to AA, but it does affect their health and there may be a need to go to counseling in order to handle the progression.”

He stressed that employers need to be aware of situations that can lead to overuse of alcohol by employees, such as workers who labor with little or no supervision or in remote locations – or who travel a lot for business. Also, younger workers (males under 21 have the highest alcohol dependencies) can be greatly influenced to drink more in a company culture where older employees drink heavily.

Unfortunately, research also shows that only 10 percent of working people with serious alcohol problems receive any kind of treatment, Goplerud said.

“This is a problem that is a whole lot easier to treat before it gets out of control,” he said.

You may not want to get involved in someone's addiction battles at work. After all, are you your colleague's keeper? In memory of my cousin, I sure hope so.

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Friday, October 10, 2008

10 Signs to Know You've Gone Off the Stress Meter at Work


Stress.

If you're not feeling it these days, I want some of whatever you're drinking. Because with the latest economic news making most of us feel like we're on some sadistic new ride at Disney World, stress is catching up with most of us in one form or another.

And nowhere is that more evident than at work. After all, we spend a major portion of our time there every day, and the demands to perform are multiplied right now. Most of us -- even the most sanguine among us -- are feeling a teeny bit tense right now.

If so, you may want to take some steps to deal with it. Of course, sometimes it's hard to recognize that you're going off the deep end, so here are 10 signs that you may be under a bit of stress on the job:

1. Bite marks. In your car's steering wheel.
2. The announcement of "cake in the break room" has you clotheslining three people who try to get in line ahead of you.
3. You pay the tool booth operator, the parking lot attendant and the Starbucks barista in pennies. Bloodsuckers.
4. Your yoga instructor asks you -- repeatedly -- to quit swearing aloud during Downward Facing Dog.
5. Your co-worker whistling "Oh! What a Beautiful Morning" has you pouring salt in his coffee when he's not looking.
6. You use your latest 401(k) statement to make a giant spitball that you fire at your CEO as he walks by on the street. You giggle uncontrollably as he curses pigeons overhead.
7. When asked by your employer to watch expenses during these tough times, you turn off your computer and phone. When the boss asks you about it a week later, you look innocent and reply: "Just trying to cut energy costs."
8. You chisel the gold star off your "employee of the month" plaque and try to sell it on e-Bay.
9. While traveling on business, you show up for the airport gate in your skivvies. With your i.d. Superglued to your forehead.
10. During your performance evaluation you juggle, do an impersonation of Cloris Leachman on Dancing With the Stars and recite the Gettysburg Address while drinking a glass of water. "Just want to point out my talents so I can get that .0333 percent raise!" you tell the boss.

So, do you think you're feeling the stress? What are some other hints you might be hanging by your fingernails?

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Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Three Ways to Improve GenY's Bad Rep



Generation Y appears to have an image problem.

According to a recent survey by JobFox, recruiters aren't too keen on GenYers, and only 20 percent said they were "generally great performers" as compared to 63 percent who said baby boomers (age 43-62) were great performers, 58 percent lauding GenXers (age 29-42) and 25 percent saying traditionalists (63-plus) were great performers.

Ouch.

It gets worse. According to press release materials, "Gen Y was also classified as 'generally poor performers' by the largest number of recruiters polled. Thirty percent of recruiters classified Millennials (GenY) as poor performers, followed by 22 percent of recruiters who classified traditionalists as poor performers, 5 percent for GenX and 4 percent for baby boomers.

Double ouch.

But JobFox's CEO Rob McGovern thinks that managers and recruiters are missing the boat. Managers, he says, must "learn new ways to incorporate GenY views into the workforce."

OK, I agree. Managers and recruiters always need to be looking at how they can use an individual's strengths to help a company and boost the bottom line.

But I think it's more than that. I think GenYers (age 28 and under) need to be better at their own personal p.r.. I think that if they wait around to get the respect they believe they deserve, they may find themselves waiting a long time. Because whether they deserve the slacker reputation or not, the problem is that it exists.

Believe it or not, however, GenYers are being handed a golden opportunity to turn things around as the economy takes a nosedive. How? Let us count the ways:

1. Staying sane. GenY has lived a life of upheaval. They've grown up with AIDS, 9/11 and Britney not wearing any panties. They don't get rattled easily. Right now the older folks in the workplace are pretty well freaking and stressing about everything from how to make their house payment to watching their 401(k) tank. If GenYers demonstrate that -- while they understand the seriousness of the issues right now -- they are still upbeat and positive about life, it could have an enormous impact. Inspiring others to keep it all in perspective can demonstrate real leadership, and that's just the kind of reputation they need to develop.

2. Save others time. No one is more crazed these days that workers trying to balance the demands of their private and professional lives. But GenYers have grown up juggling, and have found technology enhances their lives. Young workers are in a great position to help other workers find ways to use technology to make their lives better. There's no way that anyone would be called a slacker for helping give someone more time with their kids or do their job better. Just be careful: You don't want your help to come off as smug or arrogant. Read Chris Brogan's post to make sure you do it right.

3. Provide the global view. The world has been delivered to GenY through television and computers since they were old enough to use a sippy cup. They have friends working in Darfur, they listen to bands from Japan and think nothing of IMing contacts in Istanbul or Tazmania. If they can keep their workplace informed on how events in Cambodia or Russia or Brazil may be impacting their business and bottom line, it could be enormously valuable. And let's face it -- those that contribute to the bottom line are seen as valuable -- and top performers.

While there are plenty of people telling managers that they need to treat GenYers better and learn to appreciate them, I think that GenYers may have to do some of the heavy lifting. They shouldn't wait around for someone to discover their strengths -- they should find subtle, but very meaningful ways to change perceptions that will have a real impact on their career success.

What are some other ways young workers can improve their image?


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Monday, October 6, 2008

Politics and Money Worries: A Volatile Mixture on the Job


There's no escaping the economic news lately, and most of us go to work every day just trying not to think about our dwindling 401(k) plans or pensions. But even if we're trying to block it out, most of us are carrying an extra level of stress as we try to do a job already demanding more of of us than even a year ago.

Add to that the upcoming presidential election, and we're creating a volatile situation where our workplace can become a boiling point for a lot of pent-up anxieties, says one workplace expert.

Christine Probett, a San Diego State University lecturer and former Goodrich executive, says workers are increasingly anxious, frightened and emotional about the future, and that nervousness with the economy means that clear communications from top brass are critical.

“When people get nervous – as they are now with the economy – it’s really important that companies keep their workers informed about what is going on,” says Christine Porbett. “If they don’t, the rumors will start to fly. People will begin making stuff up.”

I recently interviewed Probett for my Gannett News Service/USAToday.com column, and she says that she was once told by an employee that the way the employee separated fact from fiction was by asking three different people about a rumor. If it was confirmed by those three people, then the employee accepted it as fact – and that meant she could pass it along to other workers.

“In a company, there are enough rumors going around that you can get 100 people to confirm a rumor as fact,” Probett says. “Just because you heard it doesn’t make it fact, but that’s how it happens.”

She says any during tough economic times, every closed-door meeting can spawn speculation among employees.

“If management has a meeting, they better come out of that meeting and communicate about what was discussed with the people who work there,” Probett says. “Even if all they can say is that they can’t talk about it. It’s better than out-and-out-lying about what was said."

Further, Probett says the upcoming elections also have added another layer of drama to a workplace that is already trying to deal with workers stressed by rising consumer prices, unemployment and unsettling news from Wall Street.

She says that employees must be very careful about what they say regarding elections at work, because they might be setting the stage for what is known as a "hostile work environment".

Specifically, under federal law, a “hostile work environment” means that “unwelcome comments or conduct based on sex, race or other legally protected characteristics unreasonably interferes with an employee’s work performance or creates an intimidating, hostile or offensive work environment.”

“A lot of people are talking about this election, and it brings up a lot of issues,” Probett says. “We’re either going to have an African-American man as president, or a woman as vice president. There’s a lot of energy and emotion tied up in that. Diversity is one of those issues that creates a lot of tension and disagreement in the workplace, because sometimes it’s hard for one person to understand where someone else is coming from.”

That's why it's important that employees clearly understand what they can and cannot say at work regarding the election. If they're not clear, and the company has no set policy, it might be best to keep a low profile regarding political views. According to an American Management Association survey, 35 percent of business people said they are uncomfortable discussing their political views with colleagues.

“I would discourage people from wearing buttons supporting a specific candidate or party, and not allow signage or fundraising while at work,” Probett says.

If you're having problems with someone at work regarding politics, Probett says you should resolve it as you do any conflict.

“Don’t let the issue get bigger. Talk to the person, and tell them what you believe the problem to be. Don’t name call, and make sure you listen when they talk. Once you understand where the other person is coming from, try to come to a resolution. Then, move on. Don’t hold a grudge,” she says.

Are you feeling more stress on the job? How are you handling it?

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Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Is Any Job Worth a Bad Boss?


When there are stressful times in the workplace, you can bet it's going to bring out the best in a lot of people -- and the worst.

Unfortunately, job seekers may not discover which category a boss falls into until it's too late.

For example, good bosses will understand that the continuing tough economic news means they need to rally the troops, to stick close to employees and make sure employees see they are calm in the face of bad economic news, determined to keep doing the best possible job. They make sure their door is always open to listen to worker concerns, and even spring for a pizza every once in a while just to help lighten the mood.

And then there are the bosses that crack under the strain. They hole up in their offices, the door tightly closed. When they do emerge, they are uncommunicative with workers, except to criticize or be short-tempered. They may be sarcastic, rude, insulting and thoughtless. Employees become tightly wired and depressed, alternately sniping with one another or lapsing into brooding silences.

Enter the hapless job seeker. With shiny shoes, a bright smile and firm handshake, the job candidate enters the door of a company, hopeful that in this crappy job market, he or she may land a job.

Many are desperate. They try not to let that show (a definite no-no in the job search world), but they know their current company is sinking fast, their industry on the rocks, their job security a thing of the past. They need another job, and they need it now.

So, they may be willing to overlook a few things they would not have in the past, when job seekers had the upper hand in a thriving economy. Now, with rising unemployment, they don't care about the long commute, the less-than-generous benefits, the lack of stock options. In other words, they are willing to overlook a lot of the frayed edges if it just means they can keep a paycheck coming in.

Understandable. You gotta do what you gotta do. But there is one area that may bear closer scrutiny: the boss.

As anyone who has had a bad boss knows, a rotten manager can affect you in ways you never dreamed. You can't sleep. You can't eat -- or overeat. You yell at your kids or partner when you get home, you develop bad headaches and stomach pains. You feel like you've aged 10 years overnight and secretly envision the boss getting hit by a bus. (Not killed of course, just in the hospital for the next five years.)

That's why it's still important that while you may be willing to settle on a lot of things when you go for a job these days, don't settle for a bad boss. And here's a bit of good news: The bad bosses are being exposed as never before. It's going to be easier to learn who is a lousy manager simply because he or she is cracking under the strain.

Here's some ways to find out a boss's true colors:

* Ask to speak to other employees. Sometimes you will not always be given this opportunity, and other times, the workers may not be truthful because they fear for their own jobs. Ask questions such as: "What has been your favorite assignment and why?" "What gives you the greatest satisfaction working here?" "What three words would you use to describe your boss?"
* Find the favorite watering hole. This may be a neighborhood pub, or a lunch spot where employees hang out. It may even be a nearby park. The idea is to strike up a conversation away from the eyes and ears of the boss so that you can get an employee to open up about the true management style of the boss.
* Be objective. Just because one employee trashes the manager doesn't mean the boss is terrible. It could be that this person doesn't get along with anyone. Try and talk to several employees so that you can get a real feel for what's going on.
* Don't think you're special. I'm always amazed by job candidates who take a position knowing the boss is an ass. They always think they can find a way to get along with the manager, that they somehow possess special powers to overcome a bully boss. Not so. If the boss is a jerk to the majority of workers, chances are you're going to experience the exact same thing.

What are some other ways to spot a bad manager?


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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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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 People.com 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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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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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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Friday, August 22, 2008

What To Do When the Gossip is About....You


Go ahead and fess up.

I know you look at those gossip rags near the checkout supermarket lines. I know that you know that Brad and Angelina had twins. I also know that you are aware John Edwards cheated on his wife, Elizabeth. If you don’t know these things, then you’re not human and obviously live under a rock.

As much as all of us proclaim we don’t listen, see, spread, smell or otherwise consume gossip, we really do. Maybe not on purpose. Maybe just by accident. We can’t help it, we say. We can’t walk around with our palms over our ears singing “nah, nah, nah” or slap our hands over our eyes so that we don’t see Britney Spear exiting a car sans underwear.

And the same is true of the workplace. If you have a job, then you have gossip. Maybe we don’t even think of it as gossip, but call it that more politically correct term, “office politics.” We listen to it because sometimes our very survival depends on it. We’re aware of the blow-up the boss had with his boss. We know that positions may be cut in another department. We have heard that a co-worker has been demoted for yelling at a colleague. All of that, we say, is important stuff we need to know.

But then one day, you’re sitting at work, and you realize that the talk is about you. You realize there are discussions about the mistake you made last month that cost the company money. Or, you find out that people are talking about your son being arrested for DUI. Maybe there are snickers or sly glances your way and lots of hushed tones to indicate you’re the subject of some kind of gossip.

You ignore it as long as you can. You’re hoping it goes away. You figure the gossips will tire of you and move onto something else. Still, no matter how much you try to put it out of your mind, you realize that the gossip mill continues to grind away, and you’re still caught in it.

While our mothers may have taught the old “sticks and stones” routine to us when we were in school, it doesn’t always work when we’re older. For one thing, gossip can hurt our careers. For another, it can make us physically sick and unable to do our jobs. And here’s the real modern-day kick: It can continue to be spread online.

So, what to do when you realize you’re the object of gossip at work? There are several routes to take, depending on what you feel is best for you at the time:

1. Confront the source. This takes a lot of guts, and you need to do it in a calm way. Walk up to the person and say: “I heard that you’ve been discussing issues in my personal/professional life.” Then, summarize what you’ve heard: “I understand that you’ve been talking about my son/job performance, and I would appreciate it if you would come to me if you have any questions or comments rather than talking to others about it.”

2. Ask for help. If you think someone may be talking about you, but you’re not sure (or maybe are sure), then you can act as if you’re enlisting their aid, which can help shame them into stopping their wagging tongue. “There seems to be gossip going around about me. I don’t know if you’ve heard it, but it’s really not OK with me. If you hear anyone gossiping about me, I’d appreciate it if you tell them to stop.”

3. Keep your nose clean. The worst thing you can do if you’re being gossiped about is to attack with the same kind of talk. Make sure no one sucks you into talking about the person who may be gabbing about you, or tries to ratchet up the destructive comments. Just change the subject, or say: “You know, I don’t like talking about other people. I know what that feels like, and it’s really hurtful.”

4. Go to the boss. This can be risky. If your boss doesn’t support you in stopping the gossip and confronting the ones at fault, then the gossip is only bound to get worse. The only choice may be leaving the job. Still, if your company has a formal policy in place that states no gossiping, you could have a better foundation to build your case.

What would you do if you were being gossiped about at work? Is there any way to avoid it?


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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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