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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, May 30th, 2012

What if you realize you’re basically on your own at work?  Should you Fix It Or Forget It?  See what Paul* and Robin* did.

Shortly after Paul* started his new job, he made a change at his office.  It didn’t seem like a big change to him, but it turned out to be pretty big to others, he realized.

Paul grew up in a family of coffee drinkers, and his sister owns and manages a gourmet coffee shop.  One of the first things that he noticed was the poor quality of the coffee in the office kitchen at work.  Since he has access to free gourmet coffee via his sister, Paul brought in enough packets of really fine coffee to drink during work hours as well.

(“I really couldn’t handle the sludge at the office,” he confessed.)

He didn’t anticipate the incredible reaction, however.  People who hadn’t noticed “the new guy” now sat up and nearly applauded!  In fact, staff members from the kitchen at the other end of the floor, not to mention other floors in the building came to Paul’s floor to get their coffee!

“I was an overnight sensation!” he chuckled, remembering his instant popularity.

Eventually, of course, Paul’s “fame” fizzled, and he was expected to work at his job – which he did.  Not only did he feel that he was good at it, but he volunteered for additional duties, such as heading up the staff retreat committee, and other assignments.  He had positive reviews from his superiors, and felt that this position – and place of employment – was going quite well in general.

Then, something (seemingly) unrelated happened.  His sister’s business took a turn for the worse, and her very livelihood was threatened.

Paul’s family is very close-knit and private, so family or economic problems are not something that he would openly share with others; still, he clearly could not hide the fact that he would no longer be providing everyone with free gourmet coffee, and they would wonder why, after it was available for nearly two years.

Paul decided to take the blame himself, rather than implicate his sister in any way.  Her shop was quite far from the office, and although he saw her regularly, he decided his best reasons to give at the office regarding “no more coffee” should be that he couldn’t make such far, regular trips to her shop with his aging car, as well as his demanding work schedule, etc.

“Just as I was unprepared for the love I got for bringing the coffee, I was equally stunned at the hostility – both outright and laden – when the coffee stopped,” Paul told me.  “It was astonishing!”

Most people weren’t blatant enough to come right out and complain (although some did), but Paul noticed that he wasn’t greeted in the hall as often, asked to serve on anymore committees, and generally bypassed for nearly everything.  “My opinion no longer seemed to matter for, well, anything.  I suddenly became a pariah.”

After a couple of months of this reaction, Paul felt as though all the work he had accomplished had been virtually invisible, and nobody ever saw him as anything more than coffee supplier.  Now that this title was gone, he could see that it was time to Forget It! and we worked on finding him a new position immediately.

Robin* worked in a department with several others, and a mostly absent, hands-off manager.  While there are many good aspects to having a manager who doesn’t overly-supervise the staff, there were times that Robin did wish he would step in and take some control once in a while.

Too often, one staff member in particular seemed bent on spinning the whole staff out of control, so that it made getting something productive done nearly impossible.

“I’m not opposed to some chit-chat and people getting along, talking about how their evening or weekend went, but this one staff member in particular just goes too far, in my opinion!”  Robin explained.  “Once she gets going, it’s as though she can’t stop – or doesn’t want to!  She tells way too many details about her personal life, and it’s just inappropriate for the workplace.”

Sometimes, other staff members would participate in her discussions of very intimate information – or just listen as she blathered on – Robin explained, but either way, it took up a significant amount of the workday, not only for the participants, but since this all happened in an open (cubicle) workspace, even not participating made it hard for people to ignore and concentrate, once she started.

Robin didn’t really want to leave her job, but she was at a loss as to how to gain control of a situation that her boss clearly didn’t care about – and she didn’t want to be at the mercy of this daily “soap opera,” either.

“When this one person is absent, the entire office atmosphere is totally different.  I’ve noticed.  I’m not interested in getting her fired, or anything, so what do I do?”

We discussed that most likely, what keeps this person going is the attention, and I suggested that Robin take note of how long she yammers on at various times.  I suspected that the more others participate in the conversation, the more details she’d have to contribute, versus times when people only listen . . . or don’t pay any attention at all.

Obviously, if nobody paid attention, she’d most likely stop altogether, but setting up such a conspiracy was a very remote possibility, so the next likely option was to “steal” attention away from her, so to speak.  This involved Robin having to increase her participation level of the conversations, bit by bit – and attempt to upstage the attention seeker, over time.

Since Robin wasn’t interested in sharing her personal life traumas, as this woman did, I recommended that she simply insert remote third parties, such as, “my college roommate,” or “someone on television” etc.

Over time, as the gossip started in, telling of her latest saga, Robin would swoop in immediately, responding with, “Oh, yeah, that’s like my cousin, except he . . . (more outlandish version, said in somewhat diminutive tone) . . .”

Sometimes, one or two people would then ask Robin for more details about her “cousin,” but she would downplay the whole incident, wrapping up the discussion with one or two word responses, thereby killing the entire topic of discussion.  After several rounds of this, the gossip ended up sharing her juiciest tidbits during lunch breaks – more privately – with her favorite individual audiences . . . deliberately out of earshot of Robin!

“That was just fine with me,” Robin laughed.  “If she needs to tell tall tales and they want to hear them, let them do it – I just don’t want it blathering all over my workspace!  This was the best Fix It! for all concerned, I’d say.”

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:

April* and Benjamin* have Out of Touch Managers

Opal* and Peter* Don’t Get What They Need

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

Fix It Or Forget It?

Wednesday, October 19th, 2011

Office feuds and gossip can make for a long workday or an intolerable workplace, depending on the length and severity of the situation.  For some, it’s a reason to look elsewhere.  See what Nell* and Otis* did.

While I was coaching Nell on her job search, she knew that one of the best ways to land an interview – and ultimately a job offer – was through word of mouth, and this strategy was working quite well for her.  Networking among friends and acquaintances had helped Nell better understand the application process, how to best find various companies’ vacancies, and so forth.

She had recently landed an interview for a position at a company where a friend of hers had worked not too long ago.

Although the position that Nell was applying for wasn’t specifically the job that her friend had recently vacated, it was in a related department, and so she spent time with her friend, learning as much background information about the company and department(s) as she could, prior to the interview, in an attempt to impress the interviewers.

Nell thought that the interview was going well, for the most part, although some of the director’s mannerisms seemed odd to her.  For example, he had a habit of cutting her off mid-sentence fairly often, and proceeded to respond to whatever he believed she was going to ask.  Even though he was usually correct, Nell found this to be annoying and bordering on rude, but wondered if it wasn’t just a by-product of his having too many people to interview . . . and if she wasn’t moving too slowly.  She tried to speak more succinctly and quickly, and still not let it rattle her.

Later in the interview, as she clearly demonstrated that she had done her homework on the nature and history of the organization, she noticed that the director blatantly omitted her friend’s name when listing recent department leaders, and asked, “Didn’t you also have [her friend]?”

The director sneered and responded very negatively, “Not anymore!”

“I know I shouldn’t have, but I was already a bit rattled, and it just fell out of my mouth,” Nell explained.  “I asked, ‘Why not?’”

“Before I could be surprised by my action, though, I was taken aback by his response:  ‘Lazy, lazy!  Laziest person I ever saw!’”

“I just responded, ‘Oh . . .’” Nell said, “But his willingness to trash another staff member like that to a job candidate made such a negative impression on me, that when it was coupled with the fact that I knew the person – and that I knew it wasn’t true – my response was to Forget It!

“I couldn’t help but wonder how awful the manager must gossip about other people on staff, and what the environment must be like to work there.”

Otis* had been working at his new job for a couple of months when he finally realized that there was a long-standing feud in place between two staff members from a couple of departments that he had to work with on an ongoing basis.

Each of these people had been working in the company for nearly ten years, and had some problem with speaking to one another – they outright refused to communicate, either in person, over the phone, or via email, and always had someone else send “that person” the message, since they had various messages that regularly needed to get through to the other person from their department.

“Since I was the new kid,” Otis told me, “It seemed that I got to be the new lackey who would pass between no man’s land and deliver these messages now. “

He thought it was very nursery-school-ridiculous, but when he asked a few other staff members, including his department head, he was met with,

“That’s been going on forever.”

“Don’t let it get to you.”

“I know – it’s a crazy situation.”

However, nobody took action or suggested a way that might require them to behave as adults!  These two departments HAD to work together closely on a regular basis!!  Otis didn’t sign on to be a messenger boy for a couple of immature brats!

“I felt like a child caught between a couple of divorced parents waging a war, or something,” Otis bemoaned.

When Otis contacted me, contemplating searching for another job, I suggested that instead he Fix It! by taking himself out of the equation as much as possible, especially given the venomous way these two each spoke about one another when handing off the various messages to him for the other.

As he was entering either one’s territory (passing by or dropping off something else), and they had a message, he would say, “Oh, please put it in an email.  I’m in such a hurry right now . . . and I wouldn’t want to get it wrong or forget anything.”

Then, when either of them did put it in writing, he made a point to forward the entire email . . . without editing.

The first couple of times, the emails sparked some enraged conversations (but of course not directly between the parties in question), because each of them had made insulting remarks about the other in the emails that should only have been conducting business.

Once they each realized that Otis was going to forward the emails in their entirety each time, however, they stopped using him as a go-between punching bag and were more business like.  At least with Otis.

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* dealt with the smaller workplace and its common troubles

Wendy* and Xavier* were faced with overly-demanding schedules

Michael* and Norma* found that the boss was constantly critical

Fix It Or Forget It?

Wednesday, January 26th, 2011

“We’ve been doing it this way for a long time now,” Reggie’s* boss told him.  “We don’t need you to come in and change what we’re doing – just make it MORE successful!”  At this reaction to his suggestions on ways to raise money, Reggie was at a loss.

Reggie worked at a small nonprofit which was managed by the founding director, who knew its entire history and was used to things operating “the way they always have.”  He approached me for counseling after hearing me teach a seminar at a conference, because he was regrettably considering leaving his job of only six months.

“I love all these new ideas I’ve been hearing today,” Reggie told me, “Unfortunately, I don’t believe I’ll be able to implement any of them where I work!

“When I suggested that we test different packages against one another,” Reggie lamented, “I was told that it would ‘cost too much money to run essentially two or three of the same thing’!”  He became very frustrated that he was expected to raise more money, yet held to repeating what had already been done for years.

Upon further scrutiny, we realized that Reggie’s organization’s base income relied very heavily on direct mail, while his executive director pursued several grants and met with the few major donors they had.  It was clear that this director was not willing to permit any significant changes in the mail program that had been paying the bills for so many years.

Reggie also conceded that, if there was a way that he felt that he could actually do his job, he’d rather not leave it.  He liked the organization and believed in its mission, and the location and hours worked well with his current family situation.  Currently, though, he didn’t feel that he would raise significant enough funds with his hands tied to get a favorable review anyway, so unless he could find a way to change something, he felt that he may as well pre-empt the failure that was sure to come.

I asked Reggie if he was willing to put the additional time that would be invested in a job search into extra time at this job instead – pursuing other means of income for his organization.  Although his director was insistent on the mail being done “the way it’s always been,” there was still room for expansion in their funding sources.  Since Reggie liked to write, what if he wrote and submitted additional grant proposals, for example?

Another source of funding that was woefully lacking at his organization that seemed to interest Reggie was online giving.  This would also be an investment of time – and planning with others in his IT department.  Since there wasn’t a lot of ownership in this area, though, Reggie wouldn’t be stepping on anyone’s toes – and he could develop the program mostly according to his ideas . . . learned at the conference.

Reggie liked both ideas and was careful to put the emphasis on helping with grants when proposing it to his director, who welcomed the assistance in possibly getting more funding.  She was more skeptical about online giving, but permitted him to pursue it – as long as it didn’t interfere with his other duties.

Although Reggie did spend more hours in the office taking these projects on board, he was able to Fix It! and stay in the location close to his home and work for an organization that interested him.  His grant proposals yielded a couple of new small funders, and the director is more pleased than she expected to be to have online giving up and running on their website.  While initial gifts are still small and sparse, they continue to increase each quarter, and Reggie’s review was quite positive after his first year.

Suzanne* was hired to assist with managing special events at her nonprofit, and she did it quite well: She booked speakers and venues, sent out invitations and announcements, tracked RSVPs, etc.  She was not only adept on the phone, but with personal and mass email, as well as social media.  She sat outside her manager’s office, and they worked well together.

When the organization hit difficult economic times – as many have – they relocated to new office space, and Suzanne’s cubicle moved to sit with many, many other assistants in a central location.  She missed being next to her director, but didn’t anticipate much difficulty.  After all, they could talk on the phone or simply email one another.

What Suzanne didn’t realize at first was how little work many other people did in comparison to her.  Initially, she simply thought that she was having trouble concentrating on her work with so many other people nearby.  Later, she saw that a good portion of most of their day was spent talking – and not just talking, but gossiping.

It seemed that the conversations couldn’t simply be about the organization’s events, or current events, or even the weather – someone was always criticizing someone else’s department or a specific individual.  The topic didn’t really matter, either: today it might be her outfit; tomorrow it was his marriage; the next day, it was how bad a mother she was; his haircut, and so on . . .

Suzanne decided early on at this new location that she would never make a personal phone call at her desk, yet she knew that leaving the area to take a call on her cell phone simply made her fodder for the conversation, because she had already witnessed too often that the absent person was the one talked about most.  Her resolution was to communicate very little personally, and text anytime she had to talk to friends while at work.

While this solution did limit the amount of personal information her co-workers had about her, it didn’t bring the desired result of keeping Suzanne from the animosity she witnessed.  They judged her as being distant and aloof, and, as she feared, they resented being compared to her diligence on the job.

What resulted was a systematic turn of events, where Suzanne was left out of various office-wide updates, such as how to work new equipment that all other assistants were briefed on (“Oh, didn’t you know about that orientation meeting?”), and continuing, increasing contempt, mixed with gossip, which was frequently about her.  It now seemed that, if something failed to get communicated to the powers-that-be, for example, one of the assistants often claimed that it was last given to Suzanne to deliver it.

Suzanne decided that if she was going to spend so much energy in addition to her job, she’d rather it be spent looking for a way out of that environment, so opted to Forget It! and we began her job search immediately.

When she was a final candidate for the position she ultimately accepted, Suzanne told her director the reason for her departure, and, although she was sorry to see her go, her boss was understanding and provided a strong reference.  They still remain in touch with one another.

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:

Deirdra* and Edith* handle unhealthy work environments

My Director Will Never Go For That

The three basic types of nonprofit workers


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