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Fix It Or Forget It?

Wednesday, July 27th, 2011

Nearly every workplace has cut budgets in order to survive, but how they do it sends messages to staff about how they are valued as people.  Many employers are surprised – or oblivious – as to what messages employees receive with these changes.

Lucy* was somewhat embarrassed to tell me her story when we met.  I began by asking her basic questions about her work, employer, coworkers, etc., and was puzzled about why she was looking to leave and find another job.

While she did have talents that could likely reach beyond the position, she could probably be promoted after spending more time with the company.  It seemed like it was just a matter of time.  I had trouble finding the problem that was leading her to look elsewhere, frankly.  Was it salary?

Again, the response was that she would be delighted to earn more, but her pay was appropriate for her education, experience and time with the company.

Finally, she admitted that over the last year or two, the company had experienced a harsh several rounds of budget cuts, which led to a different office environment.  Although people weren’t pleased, they didn’t seem to be hostile toward one another.

The final difficulty for Lucy, she told me, was that the ladies’ restroom had replaced the toilet paper with something so abrasive, it ended up causing her problems.  She had begun bringing in her own bathroom tissue to use, she confessed.

She was mortified to do this, and to have to constantly have the presence of mind to hide prepared stashes of toilet paper in her desk, and to conceal wads of it on her person whenever she went to the ladies’ room at the office.  It had become embarrassing and stressful for her, worrying about being discovered.  Eventually, she was resenting her employer for putting her in such a position to begin with, and decided to Forget It! since this was simply not a topic she could ever discuss with HR or her supervisor.

“Even if I could bring it up, I don’t think anything would change – except that I’d be an object of ridicule,” Lucy told me.

Along with her interview preparation of good questions to ask, since this was a topic of importance for Lucy, she added arriving a bit early to her interviews and making a trip to the restroom as part of the visit.  After several months, she found a new job that was a good fit with a different company.

“I would have never thought that this would be a factor – or deal breaker – in employment,” Lucy said, “And of course, I couldn’t tell my previous director my real reason for leaving.  I simply said, ‘I was looking for new challenges.’  What else could I say?”

Mildred* had many duties in her position with her company, including managing events, and when her director informed her about upcoming budget cuts that would affect staff activities, she tried to explain to him how it would affect morale, which, frankly, had already taken a few hits over the last year.

Her director really didn’t understand (or seem to care) that there had been more theft of food in the employee refrigerator, or that people’s lunches were cut shorter, now that one of the microwaves had broken down, leaving people less time to prepare their food – and more time waiting in line.  The lower quality coffee, cream, etc. didn’t go unnoticed by staff, either.

Now, he informed Mildred that the semi-annual company parties were to be eliminated from the budget.  She worked to persuade him that celebrating twice a year and congratulating the staff for a job well done was a necessity – and pointed out that the cost of food and facility was not terribly high.  What about having it on company premises, she suggested, as a compromise?

Her director cut the compromise deeper than that:  He told her that the only way he would agree is if employees essentially paid for it all themselves, by bringing all of the food, and taking no more than a two hour lunch break.  Then, to add insult to injury, she felt, he remarked, “Make sure everyone lists what’s in their dishes . . . I have allergies.”

Although Mildred was both shocked and insulted at her manager’s short sightedness and pettiness, we discussed it as a potential opportunity.  Instead of choosing to update her resume, she decided to Fix It!

Mildred worked on convincing her director that, since they were having the potluck lunch in-house (and saving on caterers, etc.) it would be necessary to officially have the event run all afternoon.  Because it would be on the premises, many people would go back to work anyway, but others would be needed to help prepare, clean up afterward, etc., so they wouldn’t be able to return to work immediately after.  Also, the goodwill of having the afternoon to socialize would help counter the surprise response to not having the entire day.  He finally agreed.

To help offset objections staff might have to cooking the food themselves, Mildred pitched the event as a Share Your Favorite Recipes event, and encouraged people to boast and bring dishes that they were most proud of.  This also took care of participants labeling dishes, for attendees with any allergies, but in a much more positive way.

Since Mildred’s background was that of an event planner, she also worked with other departments and secured several prizes from local vendors in exchange for advertising in the company newsletter.  Participants who brought dishes signed up for various categories of food, and attendees voted on “best of category” at the lunch.  Later in the day, Mildred awarded the prizes to the winners.

Mildred posted photos of the winners and participants on a designated Facebook page, allowing participants to review, comment and enjoy the event for days and weeks afterward.  The comments posted on the page clearly demonstrated that staff members enjoyed themselves . . . to the point that people were already providing input on what the next staff event should entail.

Overall, staff response was quite favorable to the in-house, low budget event, and Mildred’s director was very pleased with how she handled it.  In the future, he made a point to consult her for more decisions, and trusted her judgment on how to deal with staff matters.  Within the next year, morale improved and Mildred was glad she stayed.

Do you have a Fix It or Forget It? story to share?  Send it to me, and it might help others.  Identifying features will be altered prior to publishing.

___________________________________________________________________________________
Good judgment comes from experience, and experience comes from bad judgment.
—  Rita Mae Brown

Similar Posts

Greg* and Hilda* have difficult work space environments

Barney* and Courtney* deal with micro-managers

Irene* and Jennifer* have constant office stressors

Fix It Or Forget It?

Wednesday, July 13th, 2011

Having a friend in the workplace can make all the difference.  This can be something as small as a ride when your car’s in the shop to a peer review that ultimately helps you win that promotion – or just a kind word that gets you through a tough day.

The more friends you have, the better, of course, but you needn’t have everyone as a friend – and you don’t have to be best friends, either.  It’s more important that they be genuine.  Friends are always a necessity, but are even more essential – and appreciated – when there are other stressors.

Idalee* had an impossible director who only found fault and placed unattainable goals on her.  Even when she met these goals, he never had a kind word of encouragement or praise for her, but often had criticism, or simply moved on to list her next assignment.

When the department was expanded (no doubt due in large part to Idalee’s efforts) and another staff member was brought on board, Idalee found that she got along with her quite well.  They took comfort in the fact that they could compliment one another, since their boss never would.  Although Idalee trained the new employee more, she also learned a few things from her as well, and they bonded over many issues.

Eventually, it became obvious even to upper management that Idalee’s director had a talent for complaining more than anything, and he was fired.  Idalee had already been searching for another position for some time, and finally got a job offer shortly after her boss was removed.  Her co-worker stayed on at the company, and was pleased that it was a healthier environment now.

What Idalee discovered afterward was that she and her former co-worker didn’t really have a great deal in common.  She expected them to socialize less, since they no longer worked together on a daily basis, but now that they no longer shared a common hardship, they had very little to talk about when they got together.

Idalee made a few more attempts, having both smaller and larger social gatherings with her friend, but finally decided to Forget It! and left the relationship as it was.  She wanted to remember it fondly for the benefits they both received, rather than force it to be something it couldn’t.  Now, they are Facebook friends and make cute remarks to one another a few times a year.  “I had to be realistic,” Idalee said.  “We were there for each other when we needed to be, and now we don’t need that type of support any longer.  We just don’t have much else in common, but I’ll always value the friendship we had.”

Janet* began a new position where she felt that it would be impossible to be friends with anyone, she told me.  Her director believed in competition to the point that it didn’t seem healthy.  At staff meetings, when he wanted the department to come up with a new sales pitch or marketing idea, he would say, “Best idea wins,” and end the meeting by sending each team member off to compete for some type of recognition, bonus or promotion.

Although Janet did feel that she had talents, she was unsure that she wanted to work constantly in an environment that appeared to thrive on being in a cutthroat mode.  This wasn’t why she went into her chosen field – to step across bodies on the way.

I suggested that Janet Fix It! as one would if playing a poker game: observe at first.  Particularly since she was the newest employee, she could get away with being silent a bit longer in the beginning, to “learn the ropes.”

A good poker player, I explained, notices how the other players play their hands, as well as what they play.  What are their styles?  What are their strengths?  What are their limitations, etc.?

Janet knew, for example that her particular strengths were in copywriting and sales, but she needed more work in the visual and design arena.  Also, obviously, she wasn’t as familiar with the company or its clients yet.

As Janet worked on her assignments and carefully observed her team members, she came to realize who best compensated in her areas of weakness.  Not only that, but among those staff members, there was one who was more approachable for her to ask to work as a team.

When Janet approached him and suggested that they tackle the next assignment together, so that “two sets of eyes could bring a fresh perspective,” he was pleasantly surprised and agreed.  “I think he was relieved, to tell the truth!” Janet laughed, “And I believe we both ended up with a better presentation overall.”

“Our director was very surprised when we told him it was a collaborative effort, but he didn’t discourage us from working together in the future,” Janet said.  “Not only did our presentations get selected more often than others’, but it led to further collaboration among other staff members down the road, which was good for the department and the company.”

Although Janet – and her coworker – has since left the company, they have been able not only to maintain their friendship, but provide one another with good career advice, references and referrals from time to time as well.

Do you work to maintain the friendships that you have made at previous workplaces?  How often do you reach out to former contacts to keep in touch?  Networking requires work to sustain relationships . . . from both ends.

Do you have a Fix It or Forget It? story to share?  Send it to me, and it might help others.  Identifying features will be altered prior to publishing.
___________________________________________________________________________________
Good judgment comes from experience, and experience comes from bad judgment.
—  Rita Mae Brown

Similar Posts

See how Norma* joined forces and reduced office tension

Gloria* and Herman* felt very isolated without any workplace advocacy

Donald* and Erica* identified who was not a genuine friend

Fix It Or Forget It?

Wednesday, June 29th, 2011

Ask anyone what is most important about a job, and they’ll say “salary,” but ask why they left their last position, and it’s rarely about money.  Most likely, it’s related to the work environment and what they could no longer tolerate.

This is why it is so essential to consider all aspects of a new position when interviewing, and give careful thought to the primary components required to make the job desirable . . . from your viewpoint.  What are seen as crucial benefits for some may be less vital or even insignificant to another, depending on their financial, geographical, family, health and other circumstances.

Greg* enjoyed his position with a large to mid-sized company, where he could specialize on something he was quite skilled at, and had gotten above average reviews in his time served so far.

When the economic downturn struck, his job was safe, but the company relocated to a new building, and Greg was moved from his office to one of many, many cubicles in a wide open space, along with dozens of other employees.  His title, duties and salary remained the same.

Greg found it hard to concentrate on getting his work done each day, and ended up either coming in early or staying very late – or both.  He hadn’t shared with his supervisor that he had ADHD, and all of the activity, noise, etc., made it incredibly difficult for him to focus and accomplish his work.  He didn’t even tell her that he took medication.

When he contacted me, I did mention to him that his condition was legally protected, and that he should be able to request reasonable accommodations, which may even get him an office back, considering his good track record before, and excellent reviews.

Greg seemed doubtful of this.  Apparently, there had been a previous employee who had a different condition and requested other accommodations a couple of years ago.  Greg witnessed his boss begrudgingly comply . . . and make snide comments about him at nearly every opportunity.  Although Greg didn’t feel that this person was the best employee at the company, he felt certain that his supervisor attributed a great deal more fault to him than he deserved, due to the special accommodations requested.

Greg finally decided to Forget It! and although he preferred to work more in his niche that he was most skilled at, he ended up interviewing more at smaller companies that tended to have an office assigned to the positions he was applying for, rather than a cubicle.  He made a point to include in his interview questions, “Can I have a tour of the building?” which is less overbearing than “I’d like to see my workspace,” yet accomplishes the same goal.

This did mean that Greg had to end up working on a variety of assignments, instead of his favorite all of the time, but he found he was better able to focus on all of them when he could have more control over his own workspace, so the tradeoff was worth it to him.

Hilda* found herself in the opposite position, ironically.  She had left her job with an organization where very nearly everyone worked in cubicles in an open space, except the Director and Assistant Director.  Her previous company had a cafeteria, and everyone worked together and ate together and there was quite a bit of socializing all day long.

Hilda was glad to have gotten a promotion to this new company, but the management style – and building structure and location – was different.  She now had her own office, and it was at the end of a hallway.  Hilda is a shy person, and not the type to approach people if they don’t speak to her first.

There was no cafeteria in the building, so people either brought their lunch or grouped in cars and went out together.  Hilda was too shy to invite someone, and since she was at the end of the hall, others didn’t see her or think to invite her along.  She was beginning to miss her cubicle, and feeling very isolated.

I worked with Hilda on several simpler things she could do to inject herself more into the fray, such as adding some personal conversation into the work-related interactions that she was already having with various staff members, so that they would see her as a social being as well.

In addition to visiting people in person at least once a day, instead of always using email or the phone, I suggested that Hilda try to arrive at all staff meetings 5 – 10 minutes early, because a good deal of important networking often takes place among people who chit chat prior to such gatherings.

Another suggestion I made was for Hilda to offer a very compelling reason for people to make the trip down the hall to stop by her office and visit: a candy bowl.  Although a couple of people in her office would occasionally put out candy on their desk during some holidays such as Halloween, Valentine’s Day or Easter, I suggested that she keep one out that was permanently stocked with very popular candies – of better quality than anyone else’s.  This would automatically declare, in a very subtle form, that Hilda’s office is the place to go for an afternoon snack.

Of course, Hilda would have to work on her conversational skills as well; otherwise, people would simply take a candy and leave.

Hilda took my advice, and several weeks later, was happy to report that this Fix It! had worked out wonderfully!  She now had people to eat lunch with and didn’t feel nearly as isolated as when she started the job.  Different people stopped by to speak with her on a daily basis, and a couple of months later, she was also socializing with some of them after work hours at times, too.

In both cases, Greg and Hilda weren’t unhappy with their actual duties, which they each performed quite well, but the circumstances of their work environments led them to consider leaving their jobs  – and neither of them felt comfortable bringing up the specifics with their supervisors.

Do you have a Fix It or Forget It? story to share?  Send it to me, and it might help others.  Identifying features will be altered prior to publishing.

___________________________________________________________________________________
Good judgment comes from experience, and experience comes from bad judgment.
—  Rita Mae Brown

Similar Posts

Barney* and Courtney* deal with micro-managers

Irene* and Jennifer* have constant office stressors

Leslie* and Kirk* face different interview challenges

Is Social Media Consuming You – Or Vice Versa?

Wednesday, April 27th, 2011

 

*For embedded links, see SlideShare chart.

Even laggards are now admitting that social media is here to stay, but how people engage social media varies greatly.  I notice that they seem to fall into one of four categories once they decide to link, tweet, post, blog or otherwise chat online.

With social media, a combination of IT skills and social skills is most beneficial; therefore, it stands to reason that those people lacking both would be the last to come on board and people who have talent in each area would be the early adopters.  The key, though, is not to take it to an extreme in whichever area you happen to belong.  The people who do are often the ones portrayed as representative of social media and its uses, unfortunately.

Pony Express-ives

Social media users latest to the game are those most reticent about using these tools.  They felt it was a passing fad and a waste of time – essentially a video game that didn’t belong in the workplace, so why bother learning such a thing?

They have begrudgingly added this to their already overwhelming to-do list, and don’t care to admit that mastering email isn’t something they’ve quite gotten the hang of yet.

Wall Monitors

Although more adept with the technical side of things, Wall Monitors aren’t really social creatures and find the video game analogy of social media to be enticing.  They see the entire experience more as a need to outscore everyone else, where acquiring connections is a means to an end.  “Winning” to them is more about getting the highest number, title or prize, rather than meeting people.

TMIers

While Twitter often gets blamed for creating these creatures, they existed long before social media did.  They used the telephone, mail and face to face communication in bygone years – whatever was available – to tell anyone who would listen about anything and everything that was happening in their lives, ad nauseum.

Like “reality” television, if people didn’t give them an audience, they would learn sooner not to publicly broadcast their minutiae to the world.

Fan-Addicts

Those most adept at technology and socializing have been using social media the longest, but often find it difficult to step away from their monitors, handhelds, laptops – even for a short while.  As our society becomes more connected, we often find it impossible to become disconnected.  Pew Research shows that, overall, two-thirds of adults sleep with their cell phones.

As a society, even the most technologically engaged are beginning to address what protocols should be followed regarding acceptable behavior with regard to social media invading – and superceding – the world of face to face interaction.

So which category is best?  As usual, all things in moderation.  It’s certainly good to be skilled in a trade – especially one that’s in demand – but not if it’s taken to such an extreme that it controls you instead of the other way around.

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Keep the base of the pyramid strong

Fix It Or Forget It?

Wednesday, March 23rd, 2011

Deirdra* worked for a small nonprofit she was passionate about, but was starting to think that getting sick during every peak season was too high a price to pay. “I don’t think I can give my heart, soul AND immune system to the cause, too,” she said.

“I’m a hard worker,” Deirdra explained, “But I don’t feel as though enough is ever enough at my small nonprofit.  I work so many hours during every busy season that I’m out afterward with sick days.  I don’t really feel that vacation days exist, either, since I work nearly double time beforehand (and often after) to compensate for any days off that I do take.  All that ends up happening is that vacation days are subtracted from my balance.  It’s not truly time off, though.”

“I specifically went to work for this nonprofit because of how much I believe in this mission, but I just feel as though my whole self is slipping away, to the point that none of me is left.”

Deirdra decided to Forget It! and she and I discussed what her options would be at a mid-sized or larger nonprofit organization.  I pointed out that she might consider volunteering time for the cause that she is so passionate about, once she got settled into her new job and had some time to do so.

While we initially began her job search looking at both large and mid-sized nonprofits, Deirdra was frustrated at the lengthy process that most large organizations have.  Coming from such a small environment, she found the system simply to apply for employment to be bureaucratic and cumbersome; therefore, we narrowed our scope to the mid-sized organizations, since she would most likely find a better match in those environments.

Although the process still took longer than Deirdra would have liked, when she finally did get an offer at a mid-sized organization, she was pleased with the results.  Having additional support and less of a panic mode yielded a successful campaign that allowed her to pull through without sick days afterward, which, for Deirdra, was a remarkable victory.

She hasn’t had time yet to volunteer for her favorite cause, and hopes to do so in the future, once she learns her new job better, but, “For now, I’ll take this,” she says.

When Edith* began her new job, she made a point to meet everyone and try to learn from people in all departments.  Her position would work with nearly every section, so she wanted to get in touch with as many staff members as possible when she came on board.

She found herself spending more and more time with one staff member in particular, who shared a lot of organizational history with her, and seemed to know a great deal about everyone.  At first, he seemed like a good resource, and an excellent use of her time, getting to know him.  Later, she realized that each conversation seemed to begin as something informative, but not only did it go on way too long, it always ended up as a litany of complaints about what was wrong with the office, its staff, policies, his life, the world, etc., ad nauseum.

Then, it seemed that this chronic complainer in the office made a point to visit her nearly every day and perform a daily debriefing.  Although Edith initially appreciated his insight into the world behind the scenes, she now feared that everyone would automatically associate her with his negativity, since they were so often seen together – and she wasn’t quite sure how to detach herself.  (She couldn’t afford to offend him, since she needed information from him on a regular basis, and it was also well known that people who were out of favor with him waited much longer.)

Edith was puzzled as to how to save her job and her reputation as well, and was wondering if her only option was to start looking for another position elsewhere.  She contacted me and said, “It seems like a lose-lose situation.”

I suggested that since Edith was still relatively new, she had the option of feigning ignorance on several occasions, as well as continuing to alter her schedule, surroundings and assignments, under the guise of “still learning,” which worked to her advantage, as we strategically altered her approach to the situation, while taking care not to alienate someone upon whom she depended to complete her assignments in a timely fashion.

Edith rearranged her work area so that her computer and phone faced a different direction than the visitor chair in her workspace, and she scheduled calls to arrive from a couple of friends during the times the complainer was most likely to visit.

With the caller ID no longer visible to the visitor chair, she was able to use these additional calls as “work-related interruptions,” which took her away from the ongoing whining, to use at her discretion.  If she wanted to get back to an important topic, she could end the personal call.  If the complainer was simply droning on, she was free to treat the call as an important assignment and pull up documents on the computer – while turning slightly away.

Since all of these avoidance tactics were implemented gradually over time, and always politely, under the guise of “I’d love to continue talking, but . . . I’ve got this assignment . . .” Edith was able to Fix It!

She successfully distanced herself from being thought of as “the complainer’s sidekick,” while at the same time, she didn’t notice any penalties that were assessed because she no longer had the time for his daily decompression sessions.

Do you have a Fix It or Forget It? story to share?  Send it to me, and it might help others.  Identifying features will be altered prior to publishing.

___________________________________________________________________________________
Good judgment comes from experience, and experience comes from bad judgment.
—  Rita Mae Brown

Similar Posts:

Why Elliott* and Faye* got let go – and steps they took to prevent it in the future

The parallels between a job search and dating

Is your workplace environment unmanageable?


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