Thursday, February 11, 2016

Looking For Love At Work? Then Don't Work Here

Are you looking for love in all the wrong workplaces?

Well, career intelligence firm has released an office romance survey just in time for Valentine's Day that tells us which industries love themselves a little bit of office romance -- and which ones do not.

Let's face it: looking for love in all the wrong faces is more likely to happen if you pick the wrong industry for a living. So, where is the love these days?

Vault concludes that you're most likely to serve up a helping of love and romance in the hospitality and tourism industries. Verging on two-thirds (61%) of hospitality and tourism employees surveyed said that they've engaged in an office romance.

As a Gen Xer for whom The Love Boat was once popcorn-popping appointment television, this finding somehow isn't all that surprising. Besides, if two employees can get through ship-bound Norovirus together, then they can get through anything. Awww!

Where else can you find love with a little bit of advance career planning? Aim your cupid's arrow at a job in consumer products, retail and advertising, government, human resources and technology. Two words: Mulder and Scully.

Of course, if some industries are magnets for office romance, then it follows that employees in other industries would tend to repel each other! So in which industries are you least likely to find true love with a co-worker?

Ladies and gentlemen, I give you the biotechnology and pharmaceutical industries! While it would seem like our lab-coated, Viagra-creating counterparts should rank high on the office romance list, scientists are actually among the least likely to find the right moment with a fellow co-worker ("only" about one-quarter have done so). Way to make us doubt The Big Bang Theory, guys.

Vault also found a few other industries with low levels of love entropy*. These loveless industries include environment and accounting, internet and new media, law, real estate, manufacturing and education. You can kiss your social life goodbye even at work, I guess. By the way, do you know this will be The Good Wife's final season?

However, many employees apparently don't have a clue how their employers feel about office romance, since 44% of employees Vault surveyed were "unsure" if their company even had an office dating policy.

But let's dispel [sic], once and for all, with this fiction that two employees engaged in a lovey-dovey office romance don't know what they're doing. They know exactly what they're doing. There it is, the memorized, 25-word sentence!** Oh, nevermind. Happy Valentine's Day.

* Entropy is the measure of the amount of energy which is unavailable to do work. Thanks, Google.

**Actually, it is exactly 25 words, minus the [sic], and only including the first sentence. It's almost like I know what I'm doing here. Sort of.

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

When Arguing Co-workers Ask You To Take Sides

Two co-workers are engaged in a heated debate both have a vested interest in winning, and they're waiting for you to decide which side you're on. Ugh. Let's meet halfway to discuss how to handle this sticky situation!

We've all been there. Why are two of your work peers trying to draw you into choosing sides, anyway?

Well, your co-workers want your endorsement, of course! Your support will add strength to their case. Talk about a delicate balance as you walk the workplace tightrope between one colleague's eventual endorsement and the other work colleague's impending disappointment.

If only we could ask U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren for her advice on being stuck in the middle, right?

So what should we do when one co-worker tries to drag us into his or her battle with another co-worker? Here are five tips for dealing with colleagues who are waiting for you to take their side:

1. Separate the personal from the professional. Is the argument work-related, or personal in nature? If two work peers are arguing over a TV show, that's one thing. If they're arguing over which one messed up on a $2 million project, that's quite another story. If it's work related, then keep in mind that it's ultimately not your job to assign blame. That's management's job.

2. Allow your co-workers to vent. Sometimes, our work peers just need to get it all out and you're...there. In the process of venting, they may ask, "What do you think?" without thinking. They may not even realize they've lobbed the argument into your lap to decide who is right; they're just thinking out loud because they're upset. You can lob it back by asking, "Well, what do you think? How can it be fixed?" This forces your work peer to start focusing on solutions instead of assigning blame. Good job, part-time workplace mediator!

3. Don't feel like you have to take sides. Ah, now we get down to it. You don't have to pick a side! If pushed to take a side, you can tell both of them that you have to be able to work well with BOTH OF THEM for the work to get done. You might say, "If I pick a side, it could hurt our working relationship. I don't want that to happen, because we all need to get along."

4. But if you must take sides... There will be times when you must take sides, if only because it's the right thing to do. In this case, explain your opinion as thoughtfully, and as clearly, as possible. Keep your words professional, and focused on solving the problems at hand in the best way possible.

5. Seek out someone who excels in diplomacy. We all know someone who seems to rise above the fray. These colleagues, neighbors, friends and/or family members float through life with the grace of a proud, eloquent swan. They don't take the bait, they're diplomatic, smart and big picture-focused in their responses. How do they manage to walk this fine line and emerge unscathed? What is the key to staying on everyone's good side without looking somehow disingenuous? Learn from them.

I'm sure there are many other tips for navigating a spat between two co-workers. Please feel free to share what works for you. I, for one, promise to be diplomatic in my response.

Monday, February 8, 2016

Is Arizona's Restrictive Workplace Potluck Law Toast?

Do you know that it's illegal in Arizona to host a workplace potluck outside the workplace? Wow, and I thought that having to eat hamburger tater tot casserole would be punishment enough!

It's true: If you work in Arizona and host a workplace potluck outside the workplace aaaaand a co-worker just happens to complain to the proper authorities between bites of slow-cooked sloppy joes, then your workplace could face fines, and possibly even arrests.

Not to worry, though! An Arizona legislator is working to overturn this legislative oversight so Arizona employees can tentatively nosh on their co-worker's overcooked tilapia in the banquet room of the local Holiday Inn like the rest of us.

The legislator, State Representative Kelly Townsend (R), hopes the governor will sign an updated workplace potluck bill sometime over the summer.

Will Arizona's workforce finally get a taste of total workplace potluck freedom? Will they, at long last, be able to enjoy their co-worker's slow-cooked garlic bread while sunburning in the boss's backyard?

And will all their friends finally stop it with the relentless stream of sped-up Tasty cooking videos clogging Facebook news feeds day after day?**

What To Do When You Drop Your iPhone In Water

Dropping your phone in water is THE WORST - but we have the best solution!Video: Above Average

Posted by The Huffington Post on Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Whether or not Arizona's workplace potlucks eventually go free range, I'm sure the state's hard-working, intrepid workforce will still try to pawn off their leftover potluck items on unsuspecting co-workers just like the rest of us. That's just the way it works, because there's never enough room in the freezer, is there? It's either pawn off all the slow-cooked leftovers, or nosh on crock pot enchiladas all by yourself for the rest of the week since no one at home will go near them. Or maybe that's just me.

** Nevermind, this question is a universal problem affecting us all.

Friday, February 5, 2016

Urgent! Five Quick Ways To Burn Out Employees

Do you know that Bill Gates used to wander the Microsoft parking lot to see who wasn't at work? A fascinating Washington Post article gives us a bit of insight into Mr. Gates' early approach to entrepreneurial management.

Here's what Mr. Gates had to say about encouraging workplace productivity:

In his early years at Microsoft, Gates — once known for pulling all-nighters and crashing on his office floor — was apparently not a big fan of downtime, for himself or anyone else, he told interviewer Kristy Young.

"I worked weekends, I didn't really believe in vacations," Gates said. "I had to be a little careful not to try and apply my standards to how hard [others] worked. I knew everybody's licence plate so I could look out at the parking lot and see, you know, when people come in."

Wow, talk about incentive to ride a bike to work! I feel burned out simply reading this sneak peek into Microsoft's nascent corporate pressure cooker, while a few startup entrepreneurs are surely thinking: "Hmm, maybe I need to spend more time walking around the parking lot."

On that note, how can managers make sure employees will feel the burn? Here are five quick tips for burning employees out as soon as possible:

1. Keep moving the goal posts. Project A is due tomorrow and employees are working hard to finish it by deadline when...what's this? Project B has come out of the wood work, and why is it suddenly more important than Project A? After awhile, employees have no idea what's going on anymore. Keep them guessing, management!

2. Create a new crisis every day. All workplace problems are equal in the everything-is-a-crisis work environment, which makes it very hard for employees to figure out which projects, and problems, should be their top priority. This workplace runs on drama, and misdirection. Can we start grading workplace crises on a curve, please?

3. There can never be too much useless paperwork. Working requires a long paper trail, because documentation shows that everyone is working. Red tape slows everything down, but keep filling out those forms. Employees will begin to wonder why the word "streamlining" seems only to apply to layoffs.

4. Have a meeting about having a meeting. Overworked employees on deadline will be thinking, "I can't believe we're having a meeting to plan another meeting," but it's the only way to keep meetings on track. For bonus points, refuse to adjust employee deadlines and workload to account for the meeting to plan another meeting. Let's discuss.

5. Wake employees up with new work. There's always a lot to cover in the 4:30 a.m. email, isn't there? A project is being pushed up on the schedule (see Tip #1), there's a fire burning (Tip #2), a new form will need to be filled as soon as possible (Tip #3), and clear the decks for a 10 a.m. meeting to plan an upcoming meeting (Tip #4). Hey, the early bird gets the worm, right?

In all seriousness, employees will be happier, and more productive, if company leaders don't do these things. Management's job is to make employees' jobs easier, so they can get more work done. Now let's have a meeting to plan the meeting where we'll talk about having fewer meetings.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

5 Tips For Making Your Job Feel Exciting Again

It's Groundhog Day, and Punxsutawney Phil didn't see his shadow. Now the question is, what if you feel like you're starring in a workplace version of the movie Groundhog Day?

If you haven't seen the movie, it's the story of a weatherman (Bill Murray) who keeps reliving the same work day over and over again. Over time, he learns how to work the repeating sequence of events to his advantage, and the movie ends well because it's a movie.

Groundhog Day-like sequences are everywhere in real life, too. Just look at the results in Iowa last night. While it looks like Hillary Clinton is narrowly cruising to victory, the whole thing still feels a little bit like deja vu all over again, doesn't it?

But that's national politics. We need to talk about office politics! Namely, what if your work routine has become, shall we say, a little bit too predictable?

You know the routine. At 9:15 a.m., your co-worker will leave to get a cup of coffee. At 9:25 a.m., your other co-worker will place a stack of invoices on the filing cabinet next to you. At 9:50 a.m., your coffee-drinking co-worker will use the restroom and return 30 minutes later. At 10:05, the postal carrier will deliver the mail. Shortly thereafter, your most demanding customer will call to complain.

At noon, your boss will sit down at his desk and eat the same, exact lunch he's had every single day for the last five years. It will be eaten in the same, exact order (sandwich first, then chips, then pickle, then cookie) every time.

On the one hand, the sameness of routine is comforting. In the workplace, sameness allows us to get a rhythm going so we can be more productive employees. We can anticipate and plan better. Managers are always looking for ways to create even more predictability in an unpredictable world. Nobody likes big, last-minute surprises on the job.

On the other hand, predictability can get boring. We no longer feel challenged on the job. It takes longer to get the work done because our minds wander. We might procrastinate until the very last minute simply to feel the thrill of being on deadline. If left unchecked, too much sameness can turn into presenteeism. That's a fancy way of saying our bodies are at work but our minds are somewhere else.

I've been there myself. I wrote a national management column for ten years that followed a specific writing flow. I was always thankful for the work -- I had my dream job! -- but as time went on I felt less and less challenged by it. I wanted to break the mould and try a new approach. So I can relate to the topic.

The sad truth is, today's virtual economy can feel just as repetitive as working on an old-fashioned assembly line. We send the same emails, fill in the same spreadsheets and rewrite the same PowerPoint presentations. Basically, we plug in the same solutions day after day.

Over time, we may feel less and less engaged in much, if any, original problem solving. We're simply going through the motions. It's like doing the same 100-piece puzzle all day long, every day.

Variety is the spice of life, and we need to shake things up a bit. But how? Here are five tips for adding some newness to an old job:

1. Challenge yourself to stay interested. If you're an accountant, you might challenge your co-workers to an invoice processing competition to break up the monotony, for example. Look for ways to do things a little bit differently in small ways. I used to tell myself that my column was due the day before it was actually due, simply so I could enjoy the thrill of working under a tighter deadline. It's how I stayed motivated.

2. Look for volunteer opportunities at work. Whether it's a new project, rounding up a group of employees to pursue an outside volunteer effort, or simply planning a co-worker's workplace party, volunteering to do something new and different will put a temporary stick in the spokes of sameness.

3. Reward yourself throughout the day. If your job is highly repetitive, then you'll need to keep yourself motivated. When I finish this PowerPoint slide presentation, I will go get a hot cup of coffee. Find what works for you to push on through the work. Small motivators really do wonders.

4. Realize that many of your co-workers feel the same way. You're not the only one who feels the monotony. You might ask a trusted co-worker how he or she stays motivated and productive amid the daily dose of predictability. Maybe you two can come up with a way to motivate each other to up your game and keep going?

5. Make sure you have a life outside of work. If your work is your life and your workload has become too boring and predictable, then you desperately need some outside stimulation. It might be a yoga class, a running group, a book club. Look for something fun that propels you to quitting time. Or to a new job, as the case may be.

We've arrived at the end of this post, just like Bernie and Hillary have arrived in New Hampshire. The next week should be very interesting on the campaign trail. I hope you can make your job feel more interesting, too.

Monday, February 1, 2016

What If Your Employer Fired You By Mistake?

Your employer fires you, along with a few dozen of your co-workers, by mistake. You might think this workplace scenario would be the stuff of fiction, but it may have just happened for real at a major Silicon Valley employer.

Yahoo! reportedly laid off nearly 30 employees by mistake. It turns out these employees weren't supposed to be fired; they had simply been labeled as low performers. As The New York Post reports:
"They put people on firing lists who they didn't mean to — people who were lower on the performance scale but who weren't meant to get fired," an insider explained. "But no one told the managers, and then they had the conversations, and it was like, 'Oops.'"
Oops, indeed. That's the rumor, anyway. Yahoo! denies it happened.

The story as reported, however, raises an interesting, if theoretical, workplace question: If your employer let you go by mistake, then would you want your job back?

Hmm. On the one hand, the employer has just let you know that it sees you as a low performer -- if you didn't know it already -- which doesn't exactly inspire the warm fuzzies. Do you want to return to a workplace that has apparently typecast you in an under-performing role? Would you be making a mistake?

On the other hand, it's a job, the economy is still tough, and if the company has rolled out the red carpet (along with a mea culpa, we'll get to that in a minute) awaiting your return, then it may be the easiest solution for now. At least you have work to do.

Still, there might be a few worries in the back of your head as you return to work. Could it happen to me again? And how can I get rid of the dreaded "low-performing employee" label?

This is where a stellar management communication strategy would be crucial. The employer in this situation should ideally offer the returning employee(s) a well-written performance plan, as well as regular one-on-ones, so the employee(s) can see month-over-month performance improvement and regain some lost confidence. I think an employee in this situation would be wise to inquire about the performance plan going forward.

At the same time, the company would need to reassure ALL employees that it has fixed the problem so that it never happens again, because this scenario is truly the stuff of employee nightmares. It's not funny, especially if layoff rumors are already making the rounds.

So, would you want to return to a company that fired you by mistake? I hope you never have to answer this question for real.