Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Study Finds Managers Think They Can Control Time

I haven't blogged in awhile. Simply put, summer is making me lose sense of time and space. It's a long, confusing story on which I refuse to waste your time.

If I were in the C-suite, however, I would feel like I could control time. No, really! There's a new U.C. Berkeley study to back it up. Before we start discussing the study, however, let's cue The Chambers Brothers. I mean come on, it's late July and we're talking about U.C. Berkeley! No other business writer is going to do this for you.

Anyway, a Wall Street Journal article tells us about the study, which explored our humanistic perceptions of time. The researchers had more than 550 men and women do some role play and answer various questions concerning their control over the clock. They were asked, for example, if they felt like "time was slipping away" and if they "have a lot of time to get things done" and you know what many of them said? I'm going to tell you what they said: No, there never seems to be enough time.

The good news? Our sense of control over time and space apparently increases with our level of power and prestige. By extension, this means if we're in a position of authority (a.k.a. management), then we think we're better overall time managers. Now go hit that deadline for the boss. You can do it; you only have to write a 50-page report in less than two hours, or order special parts from China that have to be here by yesterday. It's really no problem, especially if you can hand it off to somebody else.

Sigh. This study might explain a lot, actually, about the confusing time management discrepancies that can happen between management and staff. In other words, how on earth does the boss think this project can get done by Friday?! Well, now we might know.

I wish I had more time to go into detail, but I'm on summertime. Maybe the time has come today for some online time management courses for bloggers? Enjoy the summer, and please take some time to smell the roses, will you?

Friday, June 20, 2014

What!? Managers Don't Think the Workplace Is Too Noisy

A new survey tells us something we already know but probably need to hear: The modern workplace is noisy. Very noisy. Many managers, however, don't seem to see the problem. Hey boss, it's time to come to your senses and hear employees out!

EPIC Hearing Healthcare surveyed 1,500 full-time employed Americans, as well as 500 "benefits professionals," and discovered that employees and employers have a very different definition of what constitutes "noisy" at work.

First, let's define noisy. It means having to speak so loudly that our co-workers can get finally get the gist of what we're trying to say over the clatter and commotion of today's increasingly open office environments.

More than half (55%) of employees surveyed said their workplaces are very noisy for at least one hour per day, while more than one-third (36%) said loud noise goes on daily for more than three hours. Shh! I can't even hear myself think anymore! And I totally just saw you pick your nose and wipe it on your chair, dude.

On the flip side are more than three-fourths of managers (roughly 80%) who basically said: "What noise?" Our workplace is rarely noisy, I don't see the problem here.

Hear this loud and clear, management: YOUR WORKPLACE IS TOO NOISY. Sorry, I don't mean to embolden myself by shouting at you in All caps, but the modern workplace seems to require it, apparently. While we're at it, may we have our cubicle walls back, please?

Thursday, June 19, 2014

How Would You Grade Your Boss? 1 In 4 Get A "Meh"

What kind of grade would you give your boss? An "A," or perhaps a "C+"?

Hmm. Is this going to be a multiple choice test? Luckily, we aren't grading on a curve this time so some ace employee somewhere can blow it for everyone else!

CareerBuilder is out with a fascinating survey that asked more that 3,000 U.S. employees to grade their boss's management style, and most managers (63%) ended up with a solid "A" or "B" grade. That's good; it means that there's some very good, highly respected management talent out there. Good going, management class!

The managers who earned a "B," however, shouldn't let their parents call to complain about their final grade. What's done is done, and you didn't take it Pass/Fail. Besides, it could be worse: 1 in 4 employees surveyed gave the boss a "C" grade, while 1 in 7 (14%) gave the boss a "D" or "F" grade. Ouch! It adds new meaning to the term C-suite, doesn't it?

Overall, the survey finds the more often a manager interacts with employees -- whether it's in person, through email, texting, instant messaging or perhaps via CNN-like management hologram -- the better a manager tends to fare, grade-wise. A full 25% of employees surveyed said their bosses communicate with them primarily by text and IM these days, too. Wow, that's a ton of misspellings to ponder.

Anyway, the "don't bother me, I'm busy, just send me an email I'll sit on for days" closed door management approach isn't going over well with the everyone-gets-a-trophy-turned-selfie social media generation. No surprise there, really.

Managers who communicate too often, however, risk becoming the dreaded micromanager we all fear. So there has to be a good balance, too.

Employees also marked down managers for going off the job description into "please go pick up my dry cleaning" territory. More than 1 in 5 (22%) employees surveyed said the boss makes them take care of tasks far afield of their job description, which is a finding backed up by recent surveys. It turns out scope creep is real. In this case, a creep of a boss asking an overworked employee to pick up some Scope from the corner store ASAP.

So communicate, but not too much. Delegate, but don't veer too far off (job) script. In sum, don't make an employee buy mouth wash and then remind her upon return that she's suddenly running behind on the work. That's the Cliff Notes version of how to get a good grade in this class. And by that, I'm referring to the Creative Class.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Zip It! How To Handle Wardrobe Malfunctions At Work

Have you ever had a wardrobe malfunction at work? Oh come on, we all have. A food leaves a stain, a seam splits, a heel breaks, a slip slips far below the skirt line. It's how we handle these slip-ups that matters. Let's piece together a pattern for solving this very common workplace problem, shall we?

Sure, we're not going to the Emmys. We're simply going to the office, but it's still embarrassing. The list of potential workplace wardrobe malfunctions is long. Our shirt is inside out. Our zipper is open, or completely broken. One of our earrings is missing. We're pitted out in polyester. The side of our dark shirt has streaky, white deodorant marks. We realize that we left the house wearing one black shoe and one dark blue shoe to match one black sock and one brown sock. The tags on our clothes are sticking out, allowing everyone in the office to size us up. We're suddenly sharing far more cleavage than we ever intended, or announcing to our co-workers that we prefer boxers over briefs.

Some days, we might leave the house lost in lonely thought about our impending work day when we suddenly scan the lower half of our body.

I remembered to put pants on, right? Whew. Good! [Pats self on back.] Too bad we forgot to wipe the jam and crumbs off our face. And where did we put our car keys? Pobody's nerfect, as they say.

A sense of absent-mindedness has become a part of the fabric of employees' lives in our stressful, 24/7 economy. We all get our turn to leave the "Size XL" sticker on the back of our new work slacks, and we might one day emerge from the workplace restroom with a tail of toilet paper hanging down our backside. If we're lucky, then a very brave (and very nice!) co-worker might inform us of our "situation" instead of laughing behind our back until we discover it for ourselves. Let's go ahead and tuck our toilet paper tail between our legs as we sneak back into the restroom, where we might linger for a few moments. We can remove the big piece of cilantro that's stuck between our front teeth while we're in there.

We might feel like we're suddenly splitting at the seams in the immediate aftermath of a workplace wardrobe malfunction. But don't worry, everything will get patched up quickly. Someday, in fact, telling friends and family about the time we flashed a potential investor a huge Oreo smile -- the one we noticed only after the meeting -- will be a funny story. Well, at least the first handful of times we tell it. After that, our friends and family will stop listening because they already know how the story ends. And the investor still funded us! How cool is that!?

But what to do as the story line is in development? Well, a good sense of humor helps as we're busy reassembling ourselves in the moment, since the people in our presence might feel more than a little bit embarrassed for us, depending on the sartorial circumstances. Simply apologize, correct the situation on the fly (no pun intended), and then move on. Go ahead and talk about the weather. At the end of a partly-cloudy-with-chance-of-thunderstorms kind of day on the job, we're all simply human. We've all been there, done that, and lived to tell the story of the time we tucked the back of our work skirt into our underwear and then went to the meeting.

Should we feel upset, however, when a co-worker doesn't bother to tell us about our embarrassing wardrobe malfunction? Ah, now we get right down to it, don't we?

I can't believe you guys let me walk around the conference all afternoon with a ketchup stain on my bottom and you never bothered even once to tell me! Gee, thanks a lot, guys!

Haven't we all been there at some point in our lives, wondering why no one said anything about our wardrobe malfunction? It's one thing if we're in the company of total strangers, where walking up to someone and whispering, "Excuse me, you have toilet paper hanging down your backside, just thought you'd like to know" might be somewhat of an awkward introduction.

Why would the people we work with every day, however, fail to say anything about our wardrobe failure? Were our co-workers simply too embarrassed to tell us, or were they sabotaging us by remaining silent? These are precisely the small, seemingly-trivial matters that don't seem like much, but they can rip apart co-worker relationships that may already be fraying at the seams for various reasons. I can't believe you didn't tell me! I thought you were my friend at work! I'd say something if it happened to you!

Chances are good, however, that our co-workers aren't acting out of a sense of sabotage or maliciousness. Most likely, they simply feel too awkward and uncomfortable to say anything, because what is the best way to interrupt a co-worker's "big data" presentation to tell her she has a big goober glued to her shirt collar?

There could also be a gender barrier involved here. For example, a male co-worker might not feel comfortable telling a female co-worker that the seam on the back of her pants is ripping open, and vice versa. In these cases, etiquette experts suggest quietly informing a co-worker of the same gender as the "malfunctioning" employee so he or she can deliver the news discreetly.

Is it okay to tell a supervisor about his or her own wardrobe malfunction? I think so, for the simple reason that we would all prefer to know when we are, quite literally, losing our shirts in the course of doing business. Deliver the news gently, respectfully, and preferably quietly. But deliver it nonetheless. While we're at it, we can start keeping a spare outfit (and shoes) at work, just in case it might have been a good idea to turn on the lights while getting dressed this morning. Don't wear anything to work that seems to be holding on by a thread, and learn a few tricks of the trade for removing common stains, too.

Perhaps most importantly, we should remember to thank the brave Stacy Londons of the working world who took the time to tell us what was going so wrong with our outfit only moments before we were slated to give a presentation. They didn't have to tell us, but they did. Now we can sew up that lucrative annual contract, and without having to patch up any emerging holes in our professional relationships afterward. Teamwork has never looked so good! Now that's a great story that never gets old.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Our Workplace Rivalries Are Really Wearing Us Out

Do you have a workplace rival? A co-worker you overtly (or secretly) compete against for workplace domination? If so, then you're probably feeling worn down and, quite frankly, worn out. Can't we all just get along!?

A new Monster U.S. Workplace Rivalry poll reveals that nearly three-fourths (73%) of employees surveyed can pinpoint their workplace rival without so much as lifting a middle finger. As you might expect, the majority of our workplace rivals (49%) tend to be our nearest, but not so dearest, work peers. In today's open office environments, we can take mental notes on what our main competition is up to at any given time.

There's a lot of mental note taking going on, too: 40% of U.S. employees surveyed describe their workplaces as "highly-competitive" work environments.

What may be more surprising, however, is that more than four in 10 employees (44%) see their immediate supervisor as their main workplace competitor, while slightly more than three in 10 (31%) are quietly stacking themselves up against a senior manager every day. And you, Mr. or Ms. Senior Manager, thought that employees were too busy gossiping and side-eyeing their smartphones all day to have their eyes on your job!

All this keeping up with the workplace Joneses can drive down our productivity over time, however. More than half (55%) of employees surveyed said that competing against a particular co-worker is stressing them out and hurting their productivity, which seems almost counter-intuitive. I mean, isn't pitting ourselves against a workplace rival day in and day out supposed to increase our productivity by making us work harder, and smarter? Isn't the competition supposed to drive us to greater heights at work?

Instead, workplace rivalries might be driving us into a ditch. Only 3% of those surveyed saw workplace rivalries as a great thing. One-fifth (20%) surveyed have left a job because of a workplace rivalry, while more than one-quarter (26%) have thought about leaving the company over it. One-fifth (20%) pointed out some big downsides to intense workplace rivalries that include ending up on management's bad side and/or eventually losing their jobs over competitiveness. Oops. Guess we should have let the boss beat us at Foosball after all!

A mere 6% surveyed said that workplace rivalries result in their best work ever. Only 6%? This low percentage is something to consider if you're a newbie manager, or start-up entrepreneur, who thinks that pitting employees against each other in the form of daily, individualized, MBA-inspired productivity charts posted in the hallway will be great for the company in the long run. This management tactic might just be hurting employee morale more than helping it grow. Managers can still feel free to beat employees at Foosball in the break room, though.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Surprise! 25% Of Staff Meetings Are A Waste Of Time

A new Robert Half Management Resources survey concludes that one-quarter of all meeting time is a huge waste of time. Another day, another status update meeting that could have been summed up in a quick email, text or hastily-written, half-page document. Yes, we all know the routine. At least there will be free bagels this time, right?

But why are one-quarter of office meetings pretty much useless? Robert Half, which recently surveyed 400 U.S. employees, tells us it's usually the boss's fault for calling a meeting without having any sort of agenda. This "Soooo...uh, what's going on, guys?" meeting approach was called out by upwards of one-third (30%) of survey participants.

On the flip side are managers who come to meetings with a clear agenda but quickly veer off course into the workplace weeds. Talk of focus group results leads right into a clear lack of focus. One minute, the boss is talking about accounts receivable. The next minute, she's talking about how her dog is really looking forward to Bring Your Dog To Work Day. How did we get on this tangent, anyway? Anyone, anyone? Woof.

Other employee gripes include meetings that start late and/or run late, as well as inviting employees who shouldn't be there in the first place. Why is she here? Anyone, anyone? Meow.

Of course, we've all worked with the employee who sees being late to meetings are a badge of self-importance and a portend (at least to the rest of us) of future promotion. He breezes into every meeting anywhere from five to 15 minutes late with an air of determination. He sounds vaguely winded like he just sprinted across campus, but we just saw him in the break room 20 minutes ago surfing his smartphone while slowly eating a bagel. Sorry I'm running late guys! It's totally insane today! Where are we? Well, we're sitting here in the conference room not buying what you're selling. Would you like another bagel?

Then again, if 25% of meetings are an obvious waste of time, then 75% of them are...not a waste of time. Three-fourths of office meetings are proving to be at least moderately productive in some way, shape or form. Something positive or forward-leaning came out of it, even if it was simply watching the boss put a condescending co-worker on the spot or call a passive-aggressive employee on the carpet for dragging down productivity. So, that's good? Forget the bagels, where's the popcorn?

Still, as we sit in our fourth meeting today wondering why the boss never follows the agenda as Mr. It's Insane Today breezes in 10 minutes late and asks breathlessly to be caught up to the meandering conversation at hand, rest assured that we are not alone. Many U.S. employees are silently wondering the same thing as they re-dial and re-enter their access code after the phone line dropped again. When will the work get done?

Maybe we can add this question to tomorrow's meandering meeting agenda, slating it somewhere between Take Your Dog To Work Day and our Fourth of July food plans that, combined, will comprise 75% of the entire discussion. Let's stick a fork in this meeting, it's done.