Bureaucracy By Any Other Name

Postings on this blog have been spotty lately due to the fact that my home internet connection was out of commission for a good three weeks. I spent a good majority of that time hassling with my DSL provider which is a large, national, well-known telecommunications company (who shall remain nameless out of the goodness of my heart) while simultaneously trying to finish two major freelance projects. This was one of the worst customer services I ever experienced.

Some highlights:

  • Come home Friday to discover internet not working. DSL technician suggests modem is the problem before being disconnected and not returning my call.
  • Spend $90 on new modem. Internet still not working.
  • Deadlines looming. Spend several nights schlepping my laptop (which is not my main computer) to a friend’s house to piggyback on their internet and finish projects.
  • Attempt to set-up new internet service from different provider that promises easy, fast, same-day set-up. Service does not work. Still no internet.
  • Determined to fix internet situation, I call DSL provider not once, not twice, but three times. Spend over 90 minutes (I timed it) on phone without talking to a single human being. Internet still not working.
  • 90-minute phone call put me over my monthly cell-phone limit. Spend $25 on overage costs.
  • Consider switching to the one other national, well-known Cable internet provider that would cost  me $15 more per month.
  • Call DSL provider at work (because of course no one is there after 6pm) to cancel. Finally reach a human being who is repeatedly “dismayed” that I am not at home to troubleshoot problem.
  • Placated by offer to send live human technician to house to investigate for free (insisted this be noted on my account) I agree not to cancel service.
  • Customer service rep then attempts to ‘upsell’ me on other services. I tell her I’d rather they work on providing my current service before we talk about future services.
  • Week later technician appears at my house (had to take time off of work to let him in). Very nice man spends 2 hours fixing the issue (Internet works!). Confirm with him that I would not be charged for visit.
  • Two weeks later, receive monthly bill. Notice that bill is $112 more than usual. Check line-item breakdown and see that I have been charged for technician visit as well as phone service (which I don’t have).
  • Call customer service. Speak to someone two states over. Have charges removed from bill.

All told, I am out $115 dollars, 4.5 hours of my life and endured 3.5 weeks of undue stress and aggravation from having to deal with an uncaring, bloated bureaucracy whose sole purpose is to provide me a service and make me happy (epic FAIL).

Why share this story? Because many critics of healthcare reform claim that they do not want a government bureaucracy clogging up their access to their doctors and denying them treatment services. What I’ve tried to illustrate here is that bureaucracy is bureaucracy no matter who (government entity or private corporation) is paying the person on the phone whether it be a civil servant or a private insurer.

If free-market capitalism is supposed to promote better service through competition, why was my experience so horrible? And why doesn’t the competition provide better/cheaper/faster service?

I HATE MY JOB!!!

This post is part of the series “Listen to Mom” written by guest blogger, HR Mom.

While scanning through articles on US News.com, I stumbled on How to Survive When You Hate Your Job by Liz Wolgemuth. Yikes!! Flashback to my last Corporate America job and me starting to apply for new jobs at the end of the very first month! You might find yourself in such a situation, so here’s some thoughts on the subject.

Ms. Wolgemuth suggests a five-point strategy to surviving in a miserable job:

  1. Figure out what’s changed. Understand the reasons you’re miserable in your job so you won’t continue the misery in the new job you eventually find.
  2. Start a research project. Often people hate their jobs because of co-workers. Identify why you find co-workers frustrating to deal with and try new ways to relate with them.
  3. Start with gratitude. Recognize the value of your position even if you’re not satisfied in your current job.
  4. Look around the office. Negativity breeds negativity so break the cycle and make a co-worker’s job less miserable.
  5. Help colleagues with three things that tend to make workers miserable: 1) they feel anonymous; 2) they feel irrelevant, as though their work doesn’t matter; and 3) they don’t know how to measure their success. Help co-workers by providing positive feedback in these areas.

It’s Your Conscious Choice

Very often employees complain of how miserable they are, how bad it is in their section, how no one likes anyone, how the supervisor is ineffective, blah, blah, blah. Well, I firmly believe that it’s an employee’s responsibility to create personal work satisfaction. As Zig Ziglar, trainer and author, wrote in his book Top Performance, “Look for what you want—not for what you don’t want.”  His suggestion to deal with a job you hate is to look for what you love in your job. Watch Mr. Ziglar on YouTube talk about his strategy. It’s much better than any summary could ever be.

My Personal Strategy

It took me almost three years to leave that company for another job. Talk about low morale! Most of the employees wanted to leave but couldn’t because they would have to take a cut in pay at a new job. Most everyone complained about something or somebody, even door prizes and parties. Human Relations is the people complaint department; the go-to place for any people problems. Talk about negativity breeding negativity! I couldn’t wait to leave at the end of the day.

This is how I handled my miserable situation:

  1. I just accepted that I would remain at that job for the rest of my life and I’d better make the best of it.
  2. I stopped hating being there.
  3. I made my job more interesting. I started improving how I did my work. I taught myself new skills like using Lotus (the earlier version of Excel) because there was no training offered by the company. Volunteered for new and different assignments or did more with my assignments. Developed my career skills in HR as much as I could. And fostered positive relationships with co-workers, e.g., a lunch partner.
  4. Continued to apply at other companies. Sometimes prayed.

Almost a year after my attitude changed I got a new job. One that was fun. One that I looked forward to going to every Monday.

Listen to Mom

As it was back then for me, it’s not feasible to just quit and be unemployed as you might not find another job right away, especially in today’s economy. You could easily move back home with mom and dad but that’s not the point of being an independent adult, is it?

I hope that you never are in a miserable job. But if you are, remember you find what you look for in life. It’s really your attitude that makes the difference.

Listen to Mom – Can You Really Start At The Top?

The N.Y. Times Corner Office feature, In Praise of All that Grunt Work, piqued my interest as no one ever writes about entry-level work. Dany Levy, founder of DailyCandy.com, talks with interviewer Adam Bryant about how valuable her early work experiences were to her current success.

Q. What prepared you to run your own company?

A. Most of what I learned was from my first job out of college, when I was an intern and then the managing editor’s assistant at New York Magazine. And it was being her assistant that really taught me how the whole machine operates. My career has been this just wonderful series of events that somehow makes perfect sense now. It was not a glamorous job. The Xerox machine broke, it was my problem. I was customer service. I would get people calling and complaining about the magazine, and I would try and talk them down, just knowing that every subscriber had a dollar figure attached to them. So it’s that kind of thinking, understanding the business side of it and understanding the relationship between advertising and editorial, and running up and down and getting people paid. I learned about office politics and how an office works.

When I graduated from college, I really understood that I didn’t know anything. In the real world, college doesn’t really prepare you for that. That’s what worries me a little bit about the present. There’s definitely, in this generation, from what I’ve seen, more a sense of entitlement, a bit of, ‘Why should I go work for ‘the man’ and put in the time when I could have my own blog and do it myself?’ And I totally understand that impulse. But there are some key things to learn from the grunt work.

Q. Can you talk more about that?

A. I think learning to work for people is really important. I think to be a good leader it’s key to know what it’s like to be an employee, and to have had a lot of the different level jobs where you’ve been the scrappy little nobody. I’ve had crazy bosses and I’ve had wonderful bosses, and it’s important to figure out that if you’re working for someone who you don’t gel with, there can be a way to manage that.

No One Is Going To Take You Seriously

I came to the same conclusion that Ms. Levy did when I graduated from college – I didn’t know anything. My BBA degree got me a job as a personnel (a.k.a. Human Resources) clerk instead of a hotel maid. I did the personnel grunt work as a clerk. I learned the application of employment laws, how personnel worked with every department and, more importantly, how important working relationships are.

As a manager today, all that grunt work still pays off. When staff tells me it can’t be done, I know better because I understand the basic process. It’s the real life experiences that give you credibility so others will listen and accept your recommendations. You may be talented and smart, but you will always have to prove yourself to be taken seriously.

It’s Working With People That’s Hard

Q. You have two minutes for a commencement speech.

A. We live in a day and age when there are so few opportunities and so many opportunities. And the ability to do something on your own, like starting your own blog, is so alluring. But working for people is actually a better education than four years of college, I think. I just worry, too, that we are getting into a more isolated phase of society, with the design of offices, with everyone doing everything over email versus picking up the phone. Sometimes you need to just pick up the phone, but the culture in which we operate today, we spend so much time just in this very quiet space, staring at a screen and interacting with people that way. And there’s so much room for misinterpretation over email.

The hardest part of any job is working with people. Taking the time to build positive relationships is key. As an employee or a manager, you’ll depend on those relationships to accomplish what you need to get done. It’s those relationships that support your success.

Talking with a person over the phone or in person is always better. You’ll actually learn more because you’re able to react to what you’re being told and see the reaction to what you’re saying. You can ask more questions and have a discussion. You’ll get better insight than from the quick answer to your question in an email. And you’re building relationships.

Working with others will teach you about yourself. How you react to people you wouldn’t normally interact with in your personal life. Gaining insight about your personality and the personality of others will help you with interpersonal relationships at work. There’s a lot of data on this subject available like the Meyer-Briggs Type Indicator analysis. I’m an INFP. Knowing this has helped me understand my approach to work assignments and how to work better with other personality types.

Listen to Mom

Getting the knowledge and experience you need to be successful in your career takes time. I realize that life in the 21st century moves at warp speed. Unfortunately, building personal credibility and relationships haven’t; it still takes time doing it the old-fashioned way.

It’s hard, I know. You want to be a manager by the end of the year and retire by 40. (I said the same when I graduated from college.) Put in the time, it’ll pay off.

Knowing Is Half The Battle

Trolling across the pages of BusinessWeek, I came across an interesting article about the surprisingly high turnover many nonprofits encounter and the “leaky bucket of volunteerism.”

“Earlier this year, the Stanford Social Innovation Review published a piece that noted how poorly most nonprofits manage their volunteers. As a result, more than a third of the 60 million-plus Americans who donate their time and talents one year don’t do so the next—not only at the organization where they’d signed up, but at any nonprofit at all. Some call this “the leaky bucket of volunteerism.”

There are a host of reasons for this pullback, according to the analysis, including nonprofits inadequately recognizing the contributions of their volunteers and a lack of training among volunteers and their managers.

But Robert Grimm, director of research and policy development at the Corporation for National and Community Service and one of the authors of the article, believes there’s a more fundamental issue to grapple with: It isn’t so much that volunteers have nightmarish experiences at nonprofits, he says; it’s that they have “bland” ones.”

This certainly sounded familiar to me and I’m sure it sounds familiar to many of those in for-profit organizations as well. Who hasn’t experienced being “inadequately recognized for their contributions” and noticed a “lack of training among workers and their managers?”

Gone are the days where most companies hired the best and brightest kids out of school and groomed them through training and mentoring for corporate positions. Gone are the days of lifetime employment. Gone are the days where organizations treated human capital as human. More often than not, modern workers are being treated as interchangeable cogs in a machine rather than creative, innovative thinkers with potential who are essential to the growth and prosperity of a business.

A recent article in the Wall Street Journal on how small companies are luring big-company talent neatly underscored this mindset:

“In March, Jack Rabbit Collection LLC, a three-person handbag and leather-accessories maker in Los Angeles, was able to snag a large rival’s design-development executive after that person was laid off.

Founder Mollie Culligan says the new hire, who has connections to tanneries and vendors, has helped the label reduce per-unit costs 20%.

Plus, Ms. Culligan doesn’t have to spend as much time mentoring and can instead concentrate on her design work.

“Before, I had to train people myself and really dump so much energy into inexperienced people who didn’t really add value,” she says.”

Why is training and mentoring seen as so much of a burden for employers?

I see scores of job ads searching for that elusive person with the exact, unique set of skills who can “hit the ground running” with little to no guidance. What person will honestly be able to have 100% of the skills and knowledge to function with no on-boarding whatsoever? I’ve watched first hand how management has hired talented people with a great background from outside the industry who end up floundering and eventually leaving because they simply do not understand the specific business model of this company and therefore could not be successful at their work. No one bothered to explain it to them when they started and even if the new hire was motivated enough to ask someone, chances are that person didn’t know either.

It is ridiculous for companies to invest nothing in their employees up front (in terms of knowledge and guidance, not salary and benefits) but expect a maximum return. Viewing workers as dynamic individuals with unique skills, motivators and potential rather than a vessel for tangible skills is the key to better worker engagement and sustained company growth.   

The moral of the story is this:

  • Empowering employees to make decisions and generate ideas helps the business.
  • Employees cannot formulate informed decisions or ideas without a minimum amount of knowledge about the company and its goals.
  • Determining a set level of basic knowledge and disseminating that your employees on the first day, week or month of hire will not only increase the likelihood of their job satisfaction (because they feel empowered and informed) but will improve your bottom line due to the creativity and productivity of your team.

As GI Joe says, “Knowing is half the battle.”

Listen to Mom – Why I Want To Work With Gen Y

I’ve now been working with Gen Ys for a couple of years and I must say you’re a pretty amazing bunch. As Baby Boomers, we pretty much dominated the work place for most of my work life so I could easily relate to how we all did business.

Then entered Gen X. I couldn’t understand what they were or are about. But Gen Ys–I admire how smart you are, how ambitious, and your desire to have meaningful work. I totally get what you are even before I read Money’s Generation Y: They’ve arrived at work with a new attitude. I immediately felt that difference when I first met the 20-somethings in our organization.

I feel the vibrancy of new ideas, ideas that can make big changes in my old bureaucratic organization if only the Baby Boomers in power will allow it. I applaud you. I want more of you hired at my workplace. I want Gen Ys to change the face of how big organizations do business. And I want to mentor you to be successful at work place politics until you become the bosses.

Gen Ys invigorate me. You inspire me to do more outside of the box. Truly. But I’m a Baby Boomer minority. My advice is don’t be discouraged at how Baby Boomers work. I’ve learned that it takes time for change to take root. I’m even waiting for my older Baby Boomers to retire so that us younger Baby Boomers can make changes.

It always helps to know and understand the boss. This might give you some insight on Boomers and probably your parents.

I look forward to more from you. Hang in there! (A popular Baby Boomer poster from 70’s.)

New Guest Post Series – Listen To Mom

 In an effort to keep this blog fresh and interesting, I have teamed up with HR Mom, a baby-boomer, civil servant with over 30 years of experience in human resources, to offer her perspective on what it’s like to work in Government in a new guest post series I am calling “Listen to Mom.”

About HR Mom in her own words:

I stumbled right out of college into human resources in 1973 when it was still called “personnel.” As a personnel assistant for a local Westin hotel, I learned personnel from the ground up. During that time I decided then that work experience was more valuable than a college degree.

I expanded my work and life experiences while with a small real estate firm, a branch office of Multi-List McGraw-Hill, a franchise of a national restaurant, and a local manufacturing company. Decided in 1989, that working for civil service could not be any worse than working for that local manufacturing company.

So began my 20-year career in local state and city government. I’ve worked as a recruiter, a labor relations specialist, labor relations manager, and now as the HR manager for a city department. And I’ve never wanted to return to boring, unchallenging corporate America.

In addition to sharing her thoughts on work and civil service, HR Mom is also happy to answer reader questions and offer advice as a seasoned HR professional. If you have a question for HR Mom, please email it to officenewb@gmail.com.

The Office Newb Is Back!

After disappearing for an unexpected but much needed three-month hiatus, The Office Newb is back and better and better than ever. Not only will you get new insights into being young in Corporate America, but you will also be hearing some new perspectives as I have teamed up with HR Mom to offer thoughts from the other side of the conference table.

Check back soon or update your RSS feed because The Office Newb is back in office.