Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Study Finds Your Home Life Is Stressing You Out At Work

Work got you down lately? New research finds your home life might be affecting your work more than you think.

Researchers at Canada's Concordia University and the University of Montreal queried nearly 2,000 employees at more than 60 workplaces regarding workplace stressors such as unpaid overtime, crummy co-workers, bad bosses, and constant deadline pressure.

Just for fun, they threw in a look at employees' home life to see what, if any, impact it was having on their level of work stress, general ability to work, and overall mental health. This look at home life included gauging prenatal status (presumably, whether or not kids were in the picture), self-esteem issues, and overall physical health. Then the researchers compared both sides of the workplace coin, and, well, here's the official press release's two cents about it:

Turns out mental health in the workplace doesn't exist in a vacuum; it's deeply affected by the rest of a person's day-to-day life, and vice versa.

The study shows that fewer mental health problems are experienced by those living with a partner, in households with young children, higher household incomes, less work-family conflicts and greater access to the support of a social network outside the workplace.

Of course, factors within the workplace are still important. Fewer mental health problems are reported when employees are supported at work, when expectations of job recognition are met and when people feel secure in their jobs. A higher level of skill use is also associated with lower levels of depression, pointing to the importance of designing tasks that motivate and challenge workers.

Wow, our workplace stress might not be such a puzzle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma after all! Simply put, a supportive, communicative boss at work is key to workplace success, but a supportive, score-keeping-light home life might be just as important, if not more so, to our overall workplace performance. It echoes the findings of a 2011 research study into the impact an unemployed spouse can have on his or her employed partner's work performance.

So, there you have it. Forget the prenup. Perhaps modern marriage should come with a non-compete agreement instead?

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Selfie Reflection: Generation X's Live, Online Midlife Crisis

Are you a Gen Xer in the middle of a midlife crisis on social media? Oh, come on. Don't be shy!

We talk a lot about the Millennial generation and technology use. One thing we're not talking about yet, however, is Generation X's live, online midlife crisis. Yes, the "slacker" generation of 40 and early 50-somethings now discovering anti-wrinkle creams and ear hair is the first, full perimenopausal/Low T generation in the history of mankind to chronicle a midlife crisis from beginning to end over social media.

Sorry to break it to you, Baby Boomers, but you're not the first at something this time. When it comes to taking a midlife crisis by the hand and walking it into the middle of an online, public forum and letting it wallow there, Generation X wins the blue ribbon.

Sure, the youngest Baby Boomers may have proudly posted a photo of their new, red convertible on Facebook before we did (today's 40-something will go with a compact SUV in a muted color, thank you very much), but Generation X is the first to transition from a 9 a.m. 140-character rant to a 3 p.m. Power of Positivity inspirational quote and back again until our midlife crisis is finally, mercifully over.

Along the way, it'll be the full rainbow of online emotions. Let's go ahead and make it a double rainbow. From once-in-a-lifetime trips to exotic ultra marathons to ill-advised selfies to deep musings on the meaning of life, it's all there, preserved for eternity, and quite possibly making everyone else wonder: Are the Gen Xers doing okay?

Yes, we're fine. We're a little bit dazed and confused, but we'll survive. The standard midlife crisis is taking on an extraordinary, updated perspective in the social media age. As Generation X sees that AARP packet looming uncomfortably close in the rear-view mirror -- if it hasn't already arrived in the mail, that is -- we might proceed full speed ahead to posting a duck face selfie that, upon closer reflection, might just be a little bit too close for our friends' and followers' comfort. We live in a youth-oriented culture, and Gen Xers are looking for a thumb's up that we've still got it. Whatever "it" means to us these days.

Gen Xers want to keep up with the younger generations online, which, of course, is the very definition of a midlife crisis. We Gen Xers can largely keep up in terms of technology use, but social media isn't always helping us age gracefully with dignity. We'll get through it, however, just like we got through Y2k.

Now add today's social media-driven workplaces into the mix, and things get rather interesting. What do our co-workers think of our (potentially painstakingly-crafted) social media image? Is the online high school that is social media working for us, or subtly against us, on the job? Will our online friends and followers stop, collaborate and listen long enough to think we're still cool? What does it mean to be a 40-something on social media, anyway? After all, we're old enough to remember life without it, and life was good. I would love to see someone do a survey on the intersection of 40-something social media use and the workplace.

Aging gracefully is one of the greatest gifts we can give ourselves, and now we have to contend with living out midlife in the social media age. We Gen Xers are leading the charge into this uncharted, online territory, too. I'm not saying we can't have fun online and "be ourselves," but perhaps we should ask ourselves with each online utterance: Is this comment/photo smart to share over social media, or is it the hormones talking? And don't laugh at our midlife online crisis, Generation Y. You'll be 40 before you know it, and remembering when 30 seemed old.

I don't have anything more to add, and that's probably a good thing. Generation X's live, online midlife crisis playing out daily over social media is simply something I've noticed, but I'm surely not the first. Besides, I found a gray hair this morning. I'm not going to say anything more about it, though. (You're welcome.)

Friday, September 12, 2014

Want Happier Employees? Let Them Make Up A Job Title

Do you fancy yourself as a Captain Fancypants Of Finance? No? Well, if you did, then a new study finds you might feel better about your job in accounts receivable!

Job titles are to employees like words are to dictionaries. They define us and give us meaning. And ever since we went from holding "a job" in the 1960s to plotting out "a career" since the 1980s, job titles have taken on a lot of meaning.

In recent years, job titles have gotten more personal. Or should I say, more personalized. A new study of "self-appointed job titles" in last month's Academy of Management Journal concludes that employees who get to make up their own job titles can enhance their own workplace well-being. What's in a name, indeed.

Some companies are letting employees get very creative. Google has a "Captain Of Moonshots," whatever that is (and quite frankly, I'm a little bit scared to know). Berkshire Hathaway apparently has a "Director Of Chaos." IBM hires "Data Detectives," while receptionists at some companies are adopting the job title "Director Of First Impressions," a.k.a., "Why Are You Here To Apply In Person When You Can Apply For the Job Over Our Website?"

The thing is, these Doctors Of Disruption, Agents Of Corporate Ennui and Spocks Of the Spreadsheet,** or whatever they're asking us to call them, are HAPPIER when they get to re-onboard themselves in a way that requires everybody else to guess what it is, exactly, they do for a living. Oh! You work in logistics! Sorry, for some reason I thought you were in marketing! Think of job title evolution as a form of self-expression in the corporate domain that forces people to stop and think, which, by and large, is a good thing.

Today's expressive employees are simply faking it until they make it to a creative, personalized job title that helps them stand out from co-workers who might be doing the same, exact work as detailed in the same, exact job description. As a great article in Fastcodesign.com tells us:

Why did such a small change make such a big difference? The researchers believe the new job titles provided self-verification, psychological safety, and external rapport. In less technical terms, the job titles helped workers express their own identity and personality, and put them at ease when interacting with others. The more that being yourself is part of your job description, the less reason you have to fake it even on the hardest days at the office.

So what would you like everyone to call you from now on? Feel free to let your mind roam the language landscape, and please keep it clean. Then come up with a short list of possibilities to run by your boss, a.k.a., Stick In the Mud Of Evolving Job Titles, who for some reason will not let you become Wingman Of Wordiness Control (otherwise known as assistant copy editor) starting next week.

Perhaps you are the boss, in which case, please allow me to be the first to congratulate you, newly self-appointed General Detective Of First Chaotic Data Impressions! Or something like that. Does it really matter? Bottom line: Nobody -- and I mean nobody! -- will understand what you do at work anymore, which, by and large, could be a good thing. It lends an air of mystery to your workplace persona and could come in handy for performance reviews. Plus, the first five to 10 minutes of any conversation could be spent explaining what "Princess Python Of Mobile App Development" even means. Bonus points will be awarded for being a conversation starter.

Hmm. This newly self-appointed Countess Of Free Online Content sees a few pros and cons to the whole pick-your-own-job-title trend. On the one hand, offering employees greater workplace self-expression in the age of personalization could be viewed as a perk, especially by employees under 40. On the other hand, self-appointed job titles could lead to a bit of confusion on the job, or make some people outside the company (customers, clients, vendors, contractors) wonder if the employee's job title is far too cutesy, corny, incongruous, and, in general, seems to be trying...a little bit too hard. Perhaps being referred to simply as "Customer Service Representative" has its perks after all?

** I made these job titles up off the top of my head; any similarity to real-life job titles is purely coincidental and unintentional. I could make up job titles all day long, it's so much fun!

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Wednesday Workplace News Round-up

I haven't done a workplace news round-up in quite awhile, and today seems like a good day for one. Here's a quick round up of trending workplace news stories making headlines today.

Viruses, the germy kind, can spread through an entire workplace in only four hours. Have you had your flu shot yet?

Is time already running out on the new Apple iWatch?

Many people live to work, but some Google employees apparently live at work.

The ALS Ice Bucket Challenge is more fun when done with 149 of your nearest, dearest co-workers. Brrr!

The happiest employees have some weird habits, such as leaving work early and remaining grateful on the job. And you wonder why your co-worker looks so happy leaving 15 minutes early again!

Being a newly-hired office secretary/admin assistant now requires a BA degree.

"Podtels" are coming to the workplace.

A new CareerBuilder survey finds only one-third of employees would like to be the boss.

BYOD at work is turning into "where did all my cat photos go?"

A new study concludes that a woman's past work accomplishments can hurt her current performance reviews at work.

I won't be blogging tomorrow in remembrance of September 11. Take care.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

C++ Suite: Bosses Prefer New Gadgets Over New Hires

A new survey finds 46% of U.S. business executives would like to hire only part-time employees in the future, and they would rather invest in new technology than in new employees. Oh man, is it the weekend yet?

The survey, which queried nearly 2,000 Harvard Business School graduates, reveals that nearly half of them just aren't that into new hires anymore. Nearly half (49%) would rather outsource the work to someone/something/somewhere else, and why can't they find any skilled American job applicants when they do decide to hire someone full-time? Even our co-workers would rather work with a robot than with us.

This mindset could eventually lead to bigger problems. Specifically, how will the average, underemployed American of the future be able to afford these companies' latest offerings? Disposable income is totally awesome! Isn't anyone at Harvard Business School thinking about the business cycle from beginning to end anymore? I mean, Christmas spending comes only once a year. What happens the rest of the time? And when will our economy get back to making real products instead of largely useless apps? Do today's programmers still use C++? Anyone, anyone?

Oh. I see. Everyone is reading up on Apple's new iPhone(s) announcement. Guess I'll go ahead and post this free, disposable, online content while no one is looking.

Friday, September 5, 2014

Administrative Assistants Get Weird Requests At Work

What's the weirdest thing you've been asked to do at work? Whatever it is, the administrative assistant has probably got you beat.

Ah, yes. The office administrative assistant. The employee otherwise known as "hey, you" who is tasked with handling odd, last-minute requests that become last-minute, mini-crises that could have been avoided if the employee making the odd, last-minute request had been more organized.

The scope of the average administrative professional's job has changed in recent years. Now it may actually include trekking to five, different corner stores to track down a bottle of Scope mouthwash before the CEO's afternoon meeting to scope out the competition.

OfficeTeam and the International Association of Administrative Professionals know exactly what's going on out there, because they recently asked more than 2,000 office administrative professionals in the United States (and Canada!) to reveal the weirdest tasks ever dropped in their laps. From landing helicopters to mailing boxes of dirt to writing skits about hand-washing to emailing step-by-step directions for flushing the toilet, it takes a Jack or Jill of all trades to be an administrative assistant these days. According to the OfficeTeam press release:

"Administrative staff often are tasked with 'saving the day' when unusual situations arise," said Robert Hosking, executive director of OfficeTeam. "They must be resourceful, have strong people skills and remain calm under pressure -- especially when responding to unorthodox requests."

In other words: "Hey, you! I'll need a visa to India in two hours and could you order me 500 2-inch tall plastic monkeys and babysit my child at work while you're at it?"

Of course, a talented administrative assistant is a consummate professional who thrives under pressure and finds a way to come through in a pinch. If you're an administrative assistant (or temporary receptionist, depending) who has just been tasked with getting a snake out of the women's restroom while simultaneously feeding the department's pet snails and making sure everything is set up for this afternoon's company potluck in the conference room, then know that you're not alone. I hope your boss remembers you on Administrative Professionals Day.