Friday, October 3, 2008

Have Your Ever Wondered If Ashton Kutcher is Hiding Around the Corner at Work?


Have you ever been at work, and you think you have perhaps fallen into another dimension? That maybe Ashton Kutcher is going to show up and explain that you've been punked -- that what you're going through isn't really, well... real?

Unfortunately, we're not celebrities, and the bizarre things we end up doing at work are not practical jokes. Let's look at some of the....

Things That Were Not in My Job Description:

1. Smelling the boss's breath to make sure it's not "too garlicky" before meeting with a client.
2. Looking at a co-worker's photos of him cutting his child's umbilical cord.
3. Entertaining a customer's 3-year-old who asks "why" every 25 seconds and wants to know what dirt it made of.
4. Cleaning out the microwave where some idiot left the remains of an exploded bean burrito.
5. Listening to a co-worker describe her wedding plan, complete with PowerPoint, flow chart and Excel spreadsheet.
6. Participating in the annual pep rally kickoff for a community campaign that involves cheers and wearing a really stupid hat.
7. Fixing a broken office chair with a paperclip and Dentyne.

What are some other things you've been asked to do at work that are not in your job description?

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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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