Wednesday, August 26, 2009

What Can We Learn From the Bad Job Market?

An article in today's Wall Street Journal talked about the cycle of "boom and bust" and what we can learn from it in today's economy. (And just for the record, I never invested in more than two -- OK, three -- Beanie Babies, and I never spent more than $100 on a purse. OK, maybe once.)

But that brings up another point besides my sometimes dubious purchases -- what have we learned from the "boom or bust" of the job market? That's a question I examined in my latest story for Gannett:

The last year has certainly been rough for both employer and employee. But now that there are economic signs that the worst may be behind us, what lessons can be learned?

For employees, it may be that they never again let their networks lag and their skills become outdated. For employers, it may be that they listen better to their workers and be more aware of what makes top performers happy.

“I really do think there is going to be fallout as far as the way people manage their careers, particularly when you’ve been laid off. It changes you in very significant ways,” says Jennifer Kahnweiler, an Atlanta-based executive coach and founder off AboutYOU, Inc.. “I think after something like that, you will always look over your shoulder.”

She adds that even those with jobs have been changed by the spectra of layoffs and may be much more proactive about their careers in the future. “You talk to people and they’re just so overloaded at work. They’re grateful to have jobs, but as soon as things get better, they may jump ship. A lot of them have expanded their skills by doing more work and so can go elsewhere.”

An Accountemps survey found that when workers were questioned about any positive impact the recession had on them and their jobs, 53 percent said they had taken on new projects, while 52 percent said they have gained responsibility and 52 percent had more challenging work.

And it’s those more skilled workers that are worrying many employers right now. Beth Carvin, a human resources expert and president and CEO of Nobscot Corp. in Honolulu, says that companies have seen a dramatic drop in the number of employees quitting their jobs. That means that employers are now concerned that those who have “hunkered down” and become even more valuable to bottom-line success will leave once the job market heats up.

“It’s not going to be difficult for some companies to poach workers. Some people have stayed just out of need, and they’re waiting for the second they can leave,” Carvin says.

She says companies are “just now beginning to talk about what the recovery will mean for them.” One of those key areas of concern is the mindset of their current workforce.

“The people who have remained are the key employees, and retaining them is super important. That’s why companies are now being more proactive. They know they’ve got to keep people happy in order for them to stay. So, they’re asking workers questions like: ‘Are you frustrated? Are you burned out? Are you tired? What can we do to help you?’”

For many employees, losing a job was a learning experience in itself. A survey by SnagAJob found that four in 10 workers who had been laid off found their job loss to be a blessing in disguise. Specifically, 49 percent used the time to reconnect with family and friends, while 62 percent said they now know how to get by with less.

Some 28 percent said they feel better prepared to handle life’s next road bump.
Kahnweiler says that people have spent more time in self-reflection, considering mistakes they’ve made and what they can do differently in the future, such as being better prepared when job loss comes their way.

“There has to be real pain for people to make a change, and there has been real pain,” Kahnweiler says. “For those who get work, it’s going to be important for them to keep the fire in the belly and remember that while it’s nice to have a job, it could go away.”

That’s why Kahnweiler says that when the job market improves and more people do go back to work, they should continue to network online, and to make an investment in their skills or training at least once a year, even if the employer doesn’t pay for it.

“You’ve got to always have support in order to sustain change,” she says. “So, get yourself a coach or get together a group of people to help keep you on track. Learn to practice what you preach.”

What lessons should be learn from this job market?


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Thursday, June 11, 2009

What Does LeBron James' Behavior Say About the Workplace?

LeBron James didn't shake hands.

For those of you who don't follow professional basketball, James is a forward for the Cleveland Cavaliers. He left the court without shaking hands with the Orlando Magic players when they beat his team in the NBA playoffs.

This all happened two weeks ago and you might think the issue should have died down by now, especially after James said that he had sent a congratulatory e-mail to a Magic player after the game.

James explained that he didn't want to shake hands after getting beat up so bad. Bill Walton, a Hall of Fame center and NBA broadcaster, told the Wall Street Journal that he understood the sentiment. He said that it takes a lot of hard work to get the playoffs and, "When it doesn't work out, it's very difficult to put on a smiley face and say everything is great."

Welcome, Mr. Walton and Mr. James, to what other people experience at work every day.

While James makes millions of dollars playing basketball, there are plenty of other people who work just as hard in their jobs and don't make one-tenth of what he makes every year. Right now, employees are putting up with an awful lot in their jobs -- doing the work of three people, being forced to take unpaid furloughs and seeing their 401(k)s dwindle -- and they still put a smile on their face and go to work every day. Maybe they don't get the raise or promotion they wanted, but they have enough grace and smarts to respectfully acknowledge someone who does.

That's one of the reasons I think James' behavior has generated so much controversy. It's not just that he did something we're taught is wrong from the first moment we kick a ball or swing a bat, it's that he disrespected the hard work of someone else. And right now -- well, right now, we all are being subject to more of that than we should.

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Monday, October 27, 2008

The 5S concept: Will a Misplaced Stapler Get You in Trouble?

Watch out: 5S may be coming to your workplace. And if it does, well, you have my condolences.

I first read about 5S several months ago, and hoped it was a bad blip on the radar screen, sort of like a new High School Musical cast being assembled.

But no, there it was on the front page of the Wall Street Journal this morning. For those who haven't heard of 5S (sort, straighten, shine, standardize and sustain), it was originally designed for the manufacturing floor as a way to keep things neat and tidy to increase efficiency. Everything has a specific place, and unnecessary stuff is tossed so that no time is wasted looking for something, seen as especially important when people share a workspace.

Now, 5S has made its way to the upper floors and into the cubicles, and I'm getting a very bad feeling about it.

Don't get me wrong. I'm all for keeping chaos to a minimum in the workplace, and disorganized, messy work spaces aren't good for anyone. But as someone who has covered the workplace for decades, who has interviewed hundreds of bosses and hundreds of employees over the years, I think this idea is going to be about as welcome as a weekly performance evaluation.

Why? At a time when people are so concerned about their jobs, when companies need every mind engaged in coming up with new and innovative ideas in order to remain competitive, when bosses are just trying to keep employees focused and not watching the stock market go nuts -- we're going to focus on whether a desk is neat? Or whether a person's sweater should be allowed on the back of a chair?

I realize some people think this concept is great, and a perfect solution to the problems of inefficiency and disorganization among team members. But I've seen this thing cause a backlash before, and I just believe when people are being asked to work longer hours, with little or no pay raise or bonus this year, that telling them they put the stapler in the wrong drawer is going to be a bit grating on already frayed nerves.

If you ask a couple who has been together a long time what the secret to their relationship is, many of them might reply it's being respectful, kind, communicating well and valuing what the other person has to bring to the relationship. I'd agree with all of those things. And I think most bosses would agree that's what they also value in their team members.

Do they want to be policing the office looking for points to deduct for lack of neatness? Are employees going to be trying to find ways to keep a picture of their kid or a beloved pet from being banned from their workspace instead of focusing on their work? Will 5S only lead to lower morale -- and lead to greater inefficiency, rather than improve it?

I sure hope not. I sure hope that companies don't go overboard on 5S at a time when we need everyone engaged, enthusiastic, energized and upbeat (the 3E's and 1U method) -- but I'm not counting on it.

What do you think of 5S? Are companies focusing on the wrong things at work these days?

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Friday, September 19, 2008

Reality Check: Time to Pay Attention to the Details

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

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

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

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

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


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Friday, May 9, 2008

Five People You Gotta Pay Attention To Today

"If you go down the hall to vent to an associate, that's okay. But if the next step is to go upstairs and vent to someone else, then you're holding onto the incident, and it can become very disruptive." -- Matt Grawitch, St. Louis University professor who studies workplace stress.

"Once a CEO is startled by seeing your cleavage, an image is set in his mind that is not going to disappear." -- Michele Royalty, a recently retired executive

"There are profound differences between acceptable work behavior and acceptable school behavior. You rated your professors 'hot or not' -- but you better not do that with your boss." -- Shanti Atkins, employment attorney

"It was just out of my heart, she (the toddler) was pointing and going 'ah, ah...' I should have gone to my purse and got the change, but it was busy." -- Nicole Lilliman, a restaurant clerk who was fired after giving a 16-cent bite-sized doughnut to an agitated child. She was later given back her job after widespread media attention.

"It's so personal, it's so emotional — I tell my artists all the time that I don't know how they do it, because I couldn't deal with the ongoing rejection that seems inherent to the job." -- Jen Bekman, New York City gallery owner, speaking about the life of an artist

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Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Make Sure the Boss Gets the Joke

My mailbox is starting to fill with story pitches regarding "safe" April Fool jokes to play on your co-workers. I have mixed feelings about this: Everyone can use a little levity in the workplace these days, but what one person thinks is funny, another may not.

I still remember the time a friend's co-worker pretended to be a "nurse" from his son's school. They called my friend and told him his child had head lice, so my friend was supposed to do all the crap that goes along with that: special shampoo for the kid, washing all the linens at home in scalding hot water, etc. The guy shampooed his child's head, and was up until 2 a.m. washing everything according to the "school's" instructions. The next day he showed up for work, and everyone had a big laugh at his expense. "April Fool's!" they cried.

When he told me this story, it astonished me that he could laugh about it. I couldn't believe this single father was up most the night trying to do the right thing, and it was all a big joke. He couldn't understand why it made me mad.

So, just be careful should you decide to pull an April 1 day prank. And, make sure the boss would also find it amusing should he or she find out about the joke.

Now, for a Tidbit Tuesday roundup:

* Are you talking to me? I've been embarassed at times to be caught talking to myself, especially out in public. But now I don't feel so weird after reading this story in the Wall Street Journal.
"Researchers say as many as 96 percent of people talk to themselves aloud, and deaf people have been observed signing to themselves while answering test questions," the story says.
Of course, the problem comes when your cubicle mates get a bit tired of hearing you blather to yourself all day.

* Making the most of criticism: The next time you're tempted to criticize something or someone, make sure you follow these rules listed at There are also suggestions listed on how to receive criticism. For example: "Resist the urge to dismiss the critic. Considering what the person has to say will only strengthen your own understanding of the issue you care about."

* Get in the loop: Whether you're interviewing for a job, or just want to know what's going on in business, Fortune has a list of the five best business blogs. This is the kind of stuff you should be reading so that next time you go to a networking event, an interview, or have five minutes to show the boss you're keeping up with critical business issues, you sound smart and current.


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Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Poor Handwriting Skills a Problem

I had a very frustrating Monday as I tried to post to this blog. It finally posted sometime after 10 p.m. when I gave up in frustration and went to bed. My sister, no computer whiz, suggested that "maybe the guy holding the satellite was out sick."

This is the second time this has happened, and I am open to suggestions as to where to take this blog besides, which I find has about as much tech support as my sister can offer. Any suggestions on where I could move the blog that would be more dependable and offer the support I'd like?

Hopefully, this Tidbit Tuesday will post without problems, and the satellite guy is on the job. Here goes:

* When I was interviewing bosses for my book, "45 Things That Drive Your Boss Crazy...and How to Avoid Them," I was surprised by the vehemence some managers had for employees who could not write them a simple note. They complained that while much of the handwriting was sloppy, they were more concerned with the fact that they couldn't begin to decipher the meaning. That's why an article in Newsweek citing a study showing that good handwriting was critical in educating children caught my attention.
"Handwriting is important because research shows that when children are taught how to do it, they are also being taught how to learn and how to express themselves. A new study to be released this month by Vanderbilt University professor Steve Graham finds that a majority of primary-school teachers believe that students with fluent handwriting produced written assignments that were superior in quantity and quality and resulted in higher grades—aside from being easier to read."
Researchers believe poor handwriting skills filter into all areas of a child's learning and may hamper them in being successful.
One boss I spoke with told me that the more she had to rewrite or edit an employee's written work, the less likely she was to call on that person for important assignments. She added that while it would be nice to have the time to help an employee become a better writer, the truth was that she was jammed for time like most people, and wanted to be able to submit work to her boss that required the least amount of extra time from her.
So, it may be that not only do poor writing skills impact a child's learning, but their future success in the working world as well.

* Many GenY workers have gone to work for companies that also then hire their friends -- GenY employees say they'd rather work with people they like and often will jump ship to join buddies at another company. But according to a Wall Street Journal story, these workers might want to be careful.
"A growing number of companies sue job hoppers for luring staffers or customers while still employed," the story says. "Such lawsuits often claim breach of fidiciary responsibility."
The story goes on to say that even in a job interview, you should never suggest how many loyal co-workers would tag along with you. "Some skittish businesses reject candidates for boasting about their ability to recruit teammates."

The Chritian Science Monitor says that a new Financial Freedom Senior Sentiment Survey reports that among the 35 percent of seniors who plan to work in retirement, more than half say they enjoy working. Nearly 40 percent are bored. Twenty percent say their spouse is driving them crazy, while another 16 percent think they spend too much time with their spouse.
But retirees must learn the world of hunting for a job in the Internet age, and many are visiting online sites set up to help older Americans find jobs suited to their interests and skills.
At the same, while there is age bias against many of these workers, employers may not be able to snub such job applicants for long.
"Whatever challenges older applicants face, demographics are increasingly on the side of retired workers. In the next 14 years, the number of people over 50 will increase by 74 percent, and the number under 50 will increase by 1 percent...There simply are not enough younger people to replace those who are leaving the workforce due to retirement."


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