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Fix It Or Forget It?

Wednesday, January 9th, 2013

Ideally, we want a job that requires us to work mostly on the tasks that we excel at, along with other duties that will stretch us to learn. Unfortunately, work doesn’t exist in a vacuum, as Percy* and Rosalyn* discovered.

Percy* described himself to me as a “fixer.” He said that, with most jobs he’s had, he comes into a new office and finds, “Well, a mess.”

“But, I’m very good at straightening out the mess and reorganizing systems or creating new ones, so that the whole department functions much better over time. People can find things and better understand everything, and it all works faster and better, as my systems are put into place.”

Eventually, though, after a few years, the systems that Percy has created or fixed are in place, and there’s only so much “tweaking” to be done to them. They’re up and running – and Percy wants something else to fix. This works fine now, pretty much. His work here is essentially done.

“I guess, to put it bluntly, I get bored and need another challenge,” Percy explained. “I don’t know exactly how to find that kind of job, though. You can’t really say, ‘Hey, do you have a mess that I can clean up?’”

This Fix It! didn’t seem as difficult as Percy believed, because I often have clients who will find a job listing, then go to the company’s website to learn more . . . and respond, “Oh, there’s no way I would apply for that job! They are SO disorganized!”

I suggested that Percy simply do the same search pattern – in reverse. Once he found the jobs and companies that he was interested in, research the company’s website and see how desperately in need of organization they really were. (A company’s website can be very revealing on this point.)

How easy is it to find answers to several basic questions? Are their job listings on various job sites also on their website? Do they have events listed that are current, or from months ago? How many clicks does it take to get to their donation page . . . and to complete a donation? Can you find a name and phone number of a real person, if you have a question?

Once Percy found the companies with the worst managed websites, I instructed him to write his cover letter with three basic points:

•      His interest in the current opening
•      Three suggestions to improve the company’s site immediately (implying that hiring him would yield more)
•      A brief summary of more substantial improvements that he made at previous employers

It’s important to give the potential interviewer merely a taste of your skills, and not give away everything prior to being hired, however. I explained to Percy the need to portray during the interview how, at each of his previous employers’, they went from “pre-Percy” to “post-Percy,” which, of course, was always a much better scenario.

This tactic landed Percy a position with a company that was rebuilding several systems at once – and wanted someone to manage all of them. Percy was glad to have another long term project to tackle, and they were equally pleased to have someone with his track record in charge of it.

Rosalyn* was constantly feeling that she didn’t “fit in,” where she worked. She saw others come in after her and be more welcomed – and promoted – although she knew her work was at least as good.

Eventually, a friend of hers suggested that perhaps she was being shunned for not filling some social expectations. Namely, all of the other women in her department were married and either had children, or were planning to. Rosalyn had neither.

As it turned out, Rosalyn was seriously involved with someone, and considering marriage. Upon hearing this theory, she wasn’t certain whether or not to share her engagement news at the office, once it became official.

Much to her dismay, her friend was correct, and Rosalyn was not only suddenly warmly embraced with such gestures as an office bridal shower, but she began getting more important assignments and shown a new sense of respect for her abilities on the job.

“The only thing that had changed, as far as they could see, was the band on my finger!  How in the world does that make me better at my job?”

Even this new found respect, hollow as it was, turned out to be short-lived, however. Rosalyn’s “honeymoon” was over several months later, when she realized that the other women in her department – and office – expected her to share all of her detailed plans for children: when, how many, which gender(s) she wanted, what order, their names, etc.

“I knew I was damned if I did and damned if I didn’t,” Rosalyn told me, since her choices were between not sharing her future plans, or telling all of these women that she and her husband didn’t want any children.

This was clearly the time that Rosalyn decided to Forget It! and search for a position in an environment that cared much more about her professional accomplishments.

“I don’t mind an organization that is family-friendly,” Rosalyn explained, “But this was too much. They judged me by one standard and one alone . . . and it had nothing to do with the job I was hired for.”

Because she had been burned in this particular area and wanted to avoid it, I coached her to steer a bit toward family life during the interview. Certainly, it’s illegal for an employer to ask questions about marriage and children, but some cues can be picked up during chit chat.

For example, if she were in a manager’s office, she might notice a family portrait, or a piece of artwork made by a child and make a flattering remark that starts a bit of conversation. Some parents will coach little league, etc. How (and how much) they comment can be indicative. Also, of course, researching potential employers online can reveal PTA members and such.

Rosalyn ended up working for an organization that had a healthy mix of employees, and noticed this, in part, because of some of their clubs, such as a running club, that was popular in the company fitness center. The center also had some “Mommy & Me” classes, etc., and that was fine, too.

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:

Tisha* turned negatives into positives

Nadine* realized that she couldn’t move up

Does My Manager Believe in Me?

              

Fix It Or Forget It?

Wednesday, December 12th, 2012

After the honeymoon period is over, your job might not be what you thought. What clues do you look for while interviewing so that you’re not surprised down the road? See what Natalie* and Olympia* learned at their new jobs.

Natalie* was pleased when she discovered that her new job was literally across the street from where she was now living!  “What could be better than that?!” she thought.  No more commute, no being late for work, no gas bills or parking, etc.  It seemed like a dream come true!

“I should have known better,” she told me, six months into her job.  “I’m old enough to realize that anything that seems too good to be true must have a catch to it.”

Although Natalie actually liked the work she was doing, there was too much of it – and she didn’t appreciate the fact that she was always the person chosen to do it.

“If my boss ever needs someone to work late, he always picks me.  Same thing for coming in early – or weekend work.  Because I’m across the street, I have become the de facto pick-up-everyone’s-slack worker!  I’m sick of it!”

“Also, I’ve noticed that I get more criticism for being late,” Natalie added.  “Now, I realize that I don’t have to drive through traffic as others do, but I’m rarely late – and there are other reasons that people are late.  Besides, I’m always working additional hours, so you’d think he’d be gracious about it, but no . . . “

Natalie and I discussed what to do about her manager’s situational ethics, since he appeared to be understanding about all the other employees’ family situations, commutes, etc. – but not hers.  She was interested in a workaround, if we could find one that didn’t lead to her being double teamed.

Something recent Natalie mentioned that had helped her situation had to do with her mother, who had had surgery.  When Natalie needed some time off to take her mother to the hospital – and subsequently stay with her over the weekend – she noticed that nobody at the office contacted her for any evening or weekend work.  (Her mother doesn’t live near the office.)

I suggested a several-pronged plan of attack, to give her manager and co-workers the impression that she wasn’t home, even if she was:

•     Publicize to people at work an exaggerated need for her mother’s convalescent care, which will require more regular and extended visits from Natalie to her mother’s home
•    Change interior decorating, such as curtains, etc. to her apartment, so that it isn’t apparent when she is or isn’t home from viewing across the street
•    While at home, park her car not within view of the office, so co-workers aren’t aware if she’s home or not
•    Don’t call the office from home, or otherwise publicize your whereabouts during days off.

Once Natalie followed these guidelines, her manager – and other staff members – read the cues she laid out for them, and responded in kind.  She was able to Fix It! and remain in her job.  She was pleased that this method allowed her to keep her private life private . . . and public life . . . well, public.

Olympia* was having difficulty getting a position in marketing when she had moved to this new area, since she didn’t have many contacts, so she was pleased when she finally landed her position with this company, but after a while she felt singled out – and not only because she was “the newest employee.”

What she noticed very soon was that she was the only woman in the marketing department, and whenever there was a boring or meaningless task of cleaning up this or that to do (whether figuratively or literally), her director would end up finding a reason for her to do it.

In the beginning, she simply complied, but this was beginning to get ridiculous.  She finally challenged him and said, “Actually, I’m really busy with (project).  Couldn’t ______ handle it?”

This is when she saw not only her director’s horrified reaction, but her “co-workers’” as well.  It became obvious that they never saw her as a co-worker, and that it wasn’t a coincidence that her predecessor was the only other woman in the department.

“I certainly didn’t have to guess about how my pay stood up next to the other guys’ in the department, once I found out that I was a glorified secretary!”  Olympia exclaimed.  It took us several months to find her something else after that, but this was the turning point when she decided to Forget It!

Olympia made a concerted effort in subsequent interviews to be acutely aware of not only how many women were on staff in each organization, but what their positions were . . . and how they were treated, spoken to, and so forth, during her time there.

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:

Bonnie* and Caitlin* work to redefine what’s acceptable

Virgil* and Zola* are unprepared for gossip

Gertrude* and Hector* find teamwork almost impossible

              

Fix It Or Forget It?

Wednesday, October 31st, 2012

The economy has made the job market so difficult, that many have taken positions they otherwise wouldn’t, and stayed longer in situations they previously would have deemed “intolerable.” Yetta* and Zeke* share their stories.

Yetta* couldn’t find anything in her chosen field after being laid off, so until something came along, she got a job working in a family style chain restaurant.  It wasn’t ideal, but it was a job, and she had quite a few hours, and the manager seemed to like her.

Interviews were few and far between, and Yetta was able to switch shifts when she needed to as interviews came up.  It seemed to be the best stop gap measure in the meantime, and it paid more than unemployment, which wasn’t going to last forever, anyway.

One afternoon, a man in a suit, carrying a portfolio, came up to the counter and asked for the manager.  Yetta went to get him from the back, and continued cleaning in the back, preparing for dinner rush.

Yetta figured that he was selling something: restaurant equipment or perhaps some line of food that the restaurant stocked, since vendors often came during the slow times of day when there were few customers.

Shortly after, the manager returned to the kitchen.  He had obviously turned the salesperson away – or so she thought.

When Yetta asked him about it, he told her that he was looking for a job, not selling something.

“But I thought you were looking to hire a couple more people,” Yetta replied, somewhat puzzled.

“Yes,” the manager responded, “But not one of them.  They aren’t good workers.”

Yetta was stunned to realize that the manager meant he wouldn’t even consider hiring an African-American applicant, and even more shocked that someone would blatantly say so.

The manager went on, elaborating about how unreliable “they” are, with a story of some past worker whose car broke down frequently, etc., etc.

“I’m not sure what I said, because I was so shocked,” Yetta recounted.  “I think that mostly, I just listened.  I wish I could have afforded to quit that night, but, of course, I couldn’t.  I started wondering if he liked me for my hard work, or simply because I was a white employee!”

Yetta made a point to be “busy” at work and have little time to chat after that encounter with the manager.  If she didn’t have work to do, she had a book to read, a call to make, or something else to do – but no time to talk with him!

Several more (long!) months passed, and she finally got a job offer in her field, and accepted it.

“I didn’t tell anyone about my boss for a few months, and when I finally did, a friend gave me some good advice: Report him to the EEOC!”  Yetta said.  “I had felt so bad for that young man who came into our restaurant that day.  Here I had been job hunting, too – just like him – and he was told that there was no job available, which was a lie!”

Before she turned in her two weeks’ notice at the restaurant, Yetta decided to Fix It! by notifying the EEOC with details on what her manager had done – and said – about refusing to hire African Americans.

“Now, we know he’ll have a vacancy to fill!” Yetta said.

Zeke* had been looking a while, when he got an offer, then made a counter-offer for the position he wanted.  After a series of shrewd negotiations, he and his new employer arrived at final terms.  His new Vice President even complimented him on his negotiation tactics.

It was clear that the employer hadn’t planned on ending with the terms as they did, but Zeke’s response was that he will work that hard when negotiating on behalf of the company in his new sales position.  His Vice President seemed pleased with this perspective.

At Zeke’s company, all positions are contracted on an annual basis and subject to renewal.  Although Zeke’s sales had been doing quite well in his first year, some of his co-workers were average or below average, falling victim to the tough economic times.

He watched one co-worker not get her contract renewed, shortly before his was due, and became somewhat nervous.  Although his sales were good, he and the Regional Manager didn’t always see eye to eye.  The Regional Manager seemed more interested in finding details to complain about, instead of noticing that Zeke’s overall sales were up.

When it came time to discuss Zeke’s contract renewal, his Regional Manager informed him that, while his contract was being renewed, it was going to be for less base pay – far less!  His quotas were being set higher, and if he exceeded those, his commissions could compensate.

“And the reason I was given for paying me less?”  Zeke was incensed.  “I was told that a new Marketing Assistant was being hired, and the company hadn’t budgeted for it, so they needed the funds!  How pathetic is that?!  What really happened was they looked for some excuse to pay me what they wanted to in the first place!”

In addition, Zeke’s office was taken away, and it was explained that since he was “on the road,” he could share with another sales rep, while the Marketing Department would be using his office.

“So, on the one hand, my commission bar has to be set higher, because I’m so successful, but on the other hand, I deserve a smaller office?” Zeke asked.  “I don’t think so!  I can see the writing on the wall.”

Zeke looked upon this as “one year’s notice,” and decided to Forget It!  He began looking for another job immediately.  Obviously, the Vice President and/or the Regional Manager didn’t really view Zeke’s salary negotiation tactics as a demonstration of what good he’d do for the company, but instead, decided to punish him for it – all the while, taking advantage of whatever sales talent they can get.

It didn’t take the full year, but within about eight months, Zeke had found a position with a company that truly appreciated his talents, instead of pretending to.

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:

Olive’s* boss tells her she’ll hire a man for the job

Orson* finds out his initial salary offer has been altered

Vicki’s* religion is insulted in the workplace

Fix It Or Forget It?

Wednesday, June 13th, 2012

Some amount of gossip is par for the course in every workplace, but how much is too much – and what do you do when it is?  Fix It Or Forget It?  See what Virgil* and Zola* did when it became too much for them on the job.

Virgil* had begun his position with a new company several months ago and felt he was getting to know his job and the company and people pretty well so far.  He welcomed the opportunity to attend the upcoming social function for spouses and dates, in a more informal setting.

He was unprepared for the reaction from his co-workers when people saw that his wife was in a wheelchair, however.

“Of course, people are always a bit surprised or taken aback,” Virgil explained.  “We’re both used to that.  But the response we got – all night long – was really out of line.  It was as though there were no adults there!”

People’s reactions ranged from outright avoidance to overcompensation, such as condescension, or talking around Virgil’s wife, as though she wasn’t there.  (“And what would she like to drink?”)

Unfortunately, this type to treatment continued after the event was over – directed at Virgil, in the office.  People tending to swing to one extreme or the other:  either they went to great lengths to avoid him at all costs, or even those he didn’t really work with much at all found reasons to lavish heavy praise upon him for any effort whatsoever.

“If I handed someone their printing off of the copier,” Virgil explains, “They acted as though I had done something magnanimous!  It was obvious this was really about them expressing some deep admiration for my ‘sacrifice’ at having a handicapped wife instead.  I never asked for anyone’s pity, admiration or avoidance.”

There was also a buzz that started around the office, implying that Virgil must secretly be ashamed of his wife, he later learned.  It had to do with the fact that he had no photos of her displayed in his office.  Speculation went wild.  This was the last straw for Virgil, and he contacted me about starting a job search.

“I’m not one to put up diplomas, trophies or photos in my office,” Virgil explained. “I’ve never really adorned the workplace with many personal touches, but some people seemed to interpret this as my being ashamed of my wife somehow, once they met her.”

“I have photos of her on my phone if I want to look at her during the day – that’s all I’ve ever needed.  Why should I change my routine for petty people?”

Virgil decided to Forget It! and we began his job search immediately.

“My relationship with my wife is more important, and I refuse to explain myself to people who have nothing better to do than gossip and speculate all day long,” Virgil said.

Zola* managed the data processing unit of the membership department at her nonprofit, and recently shared an experience that caused her to re-examine a common practice among her team.

On a monthly basis, she attends meetings of department heads, where status reports are given, quarterly projections made, troubleshooting discussed, etc., from each department.  Although her reports for her department are fairly short, factual, and to the point, one specific department changed its reporting style when a new director recently came on board.

This particular manager, in charge of major gifts, felt the need to elaborate about recent donor visits to the point that Zola felt was beyond bragging about obtaining contributions and ventured into personal attacks, almost.

He seemed to enjoy depicting individuals’ personal attributes – often in various disparaging ways, such as their poor choices in clothes, home furnishings, hairstyles, cars, accents, etc. – as he told how he “won them over in the end.”

“I felt as though I was attending some type of reality tv show, rather than a staff meeting,” Zola said.  “It seemed very disrespectful to our donors that he would speak about them in this way, when he obviously wasn’t during the visit.”

Not only did other department heads seem to enjoy the fodder, but the Executive Director clearly didn’t mind the meetings taking this direction, either, so Zola really couldn’t control this, she realized.

“It did make me take a harder look at myself and how I ran my department, though,” Zola said.

One “game” people in data processing began playing a few years ago was find the silliest nickname, and whenever a staff member would come across a nickname deemed odd, silly or unusual, s/he would call it out, and start a contest for the week, attempting to see who could “beat” that name for “silliness.”

“I decided that this was really a lesser version of what I was hearing at the staff meetings, and explained why we shouldn’t be making fun of the people who support the organization, our mission and, ultimately, us,” Zola said.  “It took a while, and I think the ‘contest’ went on for a bit behind my back, but I felt better knowing that I took steps to Fix It! by setting a more professional tone in my department.”

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:

Reggie* and Suzanne* Deal With Their Never-Changing Environments

Nell* and Otis* Realize How Expensive Office Politics Can Be

Deirdra* and Edith* Wonder How Much the Job is Costing Them

Fix It Or Forget It?

Wednesday, January 25th, 2012

Previously, I discussed people with long term career goals in mind.  This economy has focused many on the here-and-now, however.  The only reason here-and-now people interview is that they’ve reached their breaking point.

Everyone has a “deal breaker” (or more than one) when job hunting, and it’s best to know what those are when going in for the interview.  Even better: Consider how to pose questions that will get these situations and attitudes revealed, prior to accepting an offer.  It stings to discover later that you’ve landed into a breaking point situation only after having taken the job . . . especially if you left another position to do so.

Of course, not all of these circumstances can be anticipated or screened for ahead of time.  Gretchen* had no idea what she was getting into when she accepted her position as office manager at a company’s local office.  During the interview, everyone seemed pleasant enough.

Actually, the people at her office are nice to be around, but she quickly discovered that the brunt of her job entails fending off creditors for the regional office, including explicit instructions to lie outright to them.  Her company deliberately doesn’t position anyone with power at the local office, and if they happen to visit, local staff are instructed not to call them by name in front of any visitors, lest they be bill collectors.

Gretchen has also been given a litany of instructions, including only to “take a message” or give callers the local address for mailing statements, rather than ever give out contact information about the regional office to anyone.

It didn’t take long before the stress levels of Gretchen’s daily routine rose immensely, since she ended up dealing with hostile people that she was blamed for giving the runaround to.  They wanted answers, and she could only cite the speech she’d been given, knowing that they’d fall into the hole intended for them.  They knew it too, eventually, and would be furious with her.

Gretchen could only take being the scapegoat for so long, and decided to Forget It! when she contacted me to start looking for another position.  Of course, it took several months of looking before she found something, so in the meantime, we worked on her detachment from the hostility, so she didn’t feel personally hated by so many callers.  We also made a point to search for consumer – and other – reviews online when interviewing with future companies.  This action, we discovered, would have helped shine a light on her current company’s reputation.

Holly* never has understood why she’s been treated differently at her job by her boss than her co-worker.  She arrived first at the sales firm, with a good record, and showed stellar performance in telemarketing for the first year.  Her feedback from the boss was always a sanitized “That’s nice,” but she figured that he wasn’t the warm and friendly type.  That was ok with her.

When he hired an outside sales person, however, things changed.  He did provide warmer feedback to her.  She didn’t just get good feedback, she got praise.  When new items came up for sale, he made a point to tell her, mentioning the employee discount – and on some occasions, offering an additional one.  Holly happened to overhear this, but no mention was made to her, and no extra discounts on any items.

Later, after the co-worker returned from maternity leave, the manager made special arrangements with her work schedule so that she could work from home one day per week.  Holly thought that this was nice for the co-worker (and reasonable).  A couple of months later, she asked the manager for permission to work from home on a special project that lasted for two weeks and was lectured instead!

While Holly bore no ill will toward her co-worker, she couldn’t see how it was more reasonable to let someone who does outside sales to work from home for a several month stint, versus someone who does telemarketing, for a very limited scope.

Holly was frustrated over these inequities when she contacted me, but wasn’t quite sure she was at the deal breaking point.  On the other hand, she wondered how much farther it would go.  Also, what – if anything – could she do about it?

The more we discussed her overall situation, Holly explained that she had a great many responsibilities at home, and unless and until she absolutely had to, she would rather not add another task such as a job search to her to-do list.  However, she was tired of feeling helpless at work, while her manager continued taking advantage of her.  What if he crossed a line?

Holly decided to stay and Fix It! by doing a couple of things differently.  She diligently wrote down each and every example she could think of where she had been treated outright unfairly in comparison to other employees, including the (approximate) date, place, and anyone it happened in front of.  (She even brought them up in conversation casually to the witnesses, with, “You remember when . . . ?” for verification, which helped not only jog their memory, but hers, when they mentioned things she’d forgotten.)

She also made a point to record anything her manager did moving forward, including saving emails.

For preventive measures, Holly made attempts to socialize a bit more outside her department, particularly with the co-worker that her manager seemed to like so much.  They hadn’t liked or disliked one another strongly, but didn’t really spend much time together one way or another previously.   We thought it couldn’t hurt to improve her PR image within the company.

Finally, regardless of what anyone else thought of Holly, we sought to reduce her daily stress by making the trip to and from work more pleasant with her station cued to jazz, and her workplace rearranged with some photos of loved ones.  Various audio and video cues helped to remind her throughout the day, during stressful times, why she was there – and for whom.  She and a friend also text each other once a day, to check in.  They have an arrangement so that there’s always at least one person to say something nice to them daily . . . and nobody overhears the conversation.

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:

Gloria* and Herman* felt stressed and isolated at work

Xavier* and Wendy* worked for difficult bosses

How Best To Prepare To Fix It Or Forget It?

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