Category Archives: Corporate Life

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.

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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.”

Picking Out Business Cards

Recently I have decided to print up some business cards for personal use and was confronted with what should be the simple task of putting your name on the card. For me this is infinitely more complicated. I can’t decide what name I should use because I have several. Let me explain:

Doomed From Birth

People have always had problems with my name. When I was a born, my Asian grandmother had trouble pronouncing the name my father had picked, Jacquelyn, because of her accent, so she called me Jackie (or more accurately, Jeckie). The name stuck and is what I go by. The only people who call me Jacquelyn are telemarketers.

As I was learning to write, my mom decided to go with the less conventional spelling of Jacqui thinking that it would be an easier transition for me from learning to spell Jacquelyn and then replacing the “-elyn” with an “i.” Sure, it’s been easy for me but incredibly, devastatingly, horrendously difficult for everyone else.

I’ve gotten cards (some from my own family) addressed to Jacquie, Jacque, Jaqui and Jackie. It’s also proven to be a pronunciation stumbling block for a lot of people and consequently I’ve been called Jacques, Jackoi and constantly asked if my name is said “Jackie” or “Jackwee.” If anyone out there is actually named Jackwee, please email me because I’d really like to meet you.

Neither Heads Nor Tails

To make things even more complicated, I’ve been saddled with the last name of Tom. While I can assure you that is a legitimate, Chinese surname, people still find the idea of having two “first names” (even though Tom is traditionally a man’s first name) very confusing.

I’ve shown up for classes and the instructors were expecting a male (apparently they didn’t notice the comma between the names). I’ve also had people ask me right to my face whether Tom was my first name or last name. Not to toot my own horn, but I think I’m pretty clearly a female. Take a look at my bio picture and judge for yourself. And if there’s anyone out there who actually has Jacquelyn or Jackie as a last name, please email me because I’d really like to meet you too.

Nicknames At The Office

How has this nickname/last name/legal name quagmire affected me professionally? Well, whenever I start at a new company I miss a lot of emails until people learn to spell my name correctly. But more importantly I always have to re-introduce myself to people as “Jacqui” not Jacquelyn and make sure that Jacquelyn is spelled correctly on all my legal documents. I recently had to deal with a spelling error on my pay stubs that has been printed on my recent tax forms. Fingers crossed that the IRS realizes that Jacqueline Tom is the same person as Jacquelyn Tom.

So now back to the business cards. Should I use Jacqui Tom, which sounds hipper but is harder to spell? Should I go with Jacquelyn because that’s the name checks should be made out to? I was also going to set up an email with name@gmail.com but can’t decide if I want to be tied to Jacqui Tom forever. What happens when I get married? I had planned on taking my husband’s last name no matter how horrible it is simply because I don’t want to constantly be questioned about my gender for the rest of my life. New business cards are easy enough to print up, but email accounts can last forever.

Any Advice?

How do other people handle this? Do you go by a nickname at work? Does it affect you professionally? What do you put on your business cards?

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Wanted: Smart Students With No Experience

In light of a record number of layoffs at U.S. companies in just the past few months, you’d think that businesses who still had money to hire new recruits would be overjoyed with an abundance over-qualified, experienced candidates, desperate enough to work entry-level jobs for entry-level wages.

Not so at one popular online real-estate firm.

They’ve decided to take an alternate approach, foregoing the usual “experience=quality” theory in favor of a “quality” educational background. Here are some of their required qualifications (taken directly from their website):

Strong academic record: we are looking for people who excelled at a top-25 university.

Liberal arts degree: we want someone who not only writes clearly and precisely, but has some intellectual interests, and panache too.

Entrepreneurial energy, creativity: in your interview, we’ll ask you for three or four ideas on how our website could be better. Come prepared!”

Top-25 Student

As a graduate of a top-ranked state university (Go Huskies!), I take offense to the implication that a strong academic record can only be achieved from a so-called “top 25 university.” What exactly is a top-25 university anyway? A google search turned up nothing conclusive. Does this mean ivy-league? Does this mean US News & World Report ranked? Does this mean nationally-ranked? Regionally-ranked?

Does an ivy-league education always equate to quality academic achievement? Not in my experience. Sometimes smart people can’t afford to go to the best schools and have to (gasp!) attend a local university. But they do well in their classes, learn a lot and go on to be successful. And sometimes people go to ivy-league universities and whittle the time away drinking and majoring in a subject whose department only scheduled classes after 10am.

I suppose that academic achievement is one of the few measurements an employer can use to gauge an employee’s potential when interviewing, but in this economy, why would you take a chance on an unproven work history (note that internships are not even mentioned, just the quality of educational institution) when you have so many other experienced candidates out there?

Liberal Snobs

I’ve written before about how liberal arts degrees can be valuable in the workplace. But as a liberal arts degree holder myself, I don’t think liberal arts majors hold the monopoly on “intellectual interests.” Is this company implying that a business major is incapable of writing well and being intellectually stimulating? My boyfriend majored in business and he’s one of the most tuned-in, well-read, intellectually curious people I know.

And if liberal arts majors as a whole are more “interesting,” is there a hierarchy within academia that elevates certain subjects as more intellectual? Does the intelligence quotient go up the more obscure your area of study? Medieval history majors above political science majors above run-of-the-mill English majors?

Also, I find it funny that the job ad equates writing “clearly and precisely” with liberal arts majors. Don’t they realize that your grade on an essay is mostly based on length and depth and not necessarily on clarity or brevity?

Entrepreneurial Desk Job

What strikes me as so funny about this particular requirement is that Generation-Y is often labeled the “entrepreneur generation,” with many successful people under 25 starting their own multi-million dollar business. If I were a successful liberal arts graduate from a top-25 university and was entrepreneurially-minded, why would I come work for your company? Why wouldn’t I just start my own?

No truly intellectually-minded student would want to work in an industry that is rapidly shrinking, is suffering from negative PR because it just played a huge part in the worst economic crisis in close to a century, and for a company that just laid off 20% of its workforce.

I also find it ironic that this online real-estate company asks the candidate to come prepared with ideas on how to improve the site experience. What recent graduate just out of school has the money or wherewithal to buy real-estate? They might be able to suggest the latest and greatest social media technology. The truly tech-savvy ones might be able to give suggestions on how to improve the design for better usability. But I highly doubt that any fresh-faced 22-year old would have the occasion to use the site as a consumer, and isn’t the key to a successful service business providing the most useful service to customers?
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Why I Hate “Best Places To Work” Lists

Last week I was surprised to receive a press release from Fortune Magazine announcing the publication of their annual list of “100 Best Companies to Work For”. (How did they find me? Was it from the post I wrote blasting their Gen-Y expert? ). This instantly stirred up some negative feeling on my part because frankly,

I think “Best Places To Work” lists are a HUGE SHAM!

Why do I feel this way? Because I once worked for a company that would routinely end up on these “Great Places to Work” lists and let me tell you, it was anything but great. My company’s placement was more a testament to how skilled our PR person was at promoting the company than a true representation of the company’s quality of life.

However, most of the publications who publish these types of lists boast about how comprehensive their survey criteria are. For example, here is what was listed in the Fortune press release:

“To select the “100 Best Companies to Work For,” FORTUNE works with Levering and Moskowitz of the Great Place to Work Institute—a global research and consulting firm with offices in 30 countries—to conduct the most extensive employee survey in corporate America. More than 81,000 employees from 353 companies responded to the 57-question survey created by the Institute. Two-thirds of a company’s score is based on the survey, which is sent to a minimum of 400 randomly selected employees. The remaining third is based on the Culture Audit, which includes detailed questions about demographics, pay and benefits, and open-ended questions on philosophy, communication and more.”

Note how only “two-thirds of a company’s score is based on the survey” of its employees, while the extra third is based on some nebulous “Culture Audit” which is most likely a buzzword-infested love fest where management and HR get together in one room and espouse how they promote “work-life balance” and “family-friendly” policies (when in reality, they probably offer neither).

If a company offers such great perks and benefits, wouldn’t it show through in an employee survey?

I remember one such survey I was forced to take on behalf of my company (and when I say “forced” I mean they mass emailed us every week to “remind” us to vote and put up fliers all over the office about the survey. They even posted them in the bathroom stalls!), where I literally gave them negative values (on a scale of 0 – 5) and they still managed to make it onto a “Best Places To Work” list. And this was after my company “extended” the deadline to vote because they didn’t even garner the 50% response rate on the survey needed to submit to the publication.

It’s also interesting to note how many companies made it onto Fortune’s list who are now suffering from mass layoffs. In my home-state of Washington, 2 of the 6 “Best Corporate Headquarters” based in Washington (Microsoft  and Starbucks) just announced massive layoffs. Other struggling companies that made it onto the Top 100 list also included Whole Foods Market and eBay. Are layoffs not considered to negatively impact employee morale or company perks, bonuses and performance?

So when it comes to “Best Companies To Work For” lists, I take the advice of Brazen Careerist, Penelope Trunk:

“You can forget the lists. The bar is so low to get on the lists that which company is on and which company is off is statistically irrelevant.”

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Paid To Nurse A Hangover?

One of my biggest office pet peeves is dealing with co-workers who come into the office sick. This is partly because I’ve dealt with not one, but two bouts of something akin to the black plague (which I caught both times from a sick co-worker) and partly because it just irks me that people would rather drag themselves into the office when they don’t feel well (to the detriment of those around them) than give up a precious PTO day. Although, with most American workers averaging two weeks’ paid vacation and maybe five paid sick days (if they’re lucky), I guess I shouldn’t really be surprised.

What did surprise me, however, is that workers in Belgium seem to be having the opposite problem: too many sick days. The Wall Street Journal reports,

“Belgians, like many Europeans, are entitled to extensive or even unlimited sick leave — and they tend to stretch the definition of the word. One study showed government employees in droves were calling in sick to pack before vacations and to sleep off holiday hangovers. Some government departments were averaging 35 days of paid sick leave per employee each year, more than twice the national rate and seven times the U.S. average.”

Unlimited sick leave? That’s practically unimaginable to an American. A day to sleep off that hangover? Priceless! But just as folks like me complain about too few sick days, Belgian employers complain about workers taking too many. Take the story of Fabrice Vandervelpen,

“In September, he called in sick. His girlfriend of six months had just left him, he says. A psychiatrist diagnosed him with depression and certified him for medical leave…

Mr. Vandervelpen says he spent his first two weeks off writing poetry at his parents’ home, where he lives. His mother, Marie-Jane, often took him shopping for new clothes, she says. He played soccer again with his local club, FC Burdinne, and volunteered as club treasurer. He visited a Catholic shrine in Banneux, Belgium, where the Virgin Mary is said to have appeared in 1933.

In November, Mr. Vandervelpen bought a bright red Alfa Romeo MiTo for $30,000. Zipping through the hills and sugar-beet fields in his new car made him feel better, he says. He visited his ex-girlfriend and went to parties….

If the law didn’t mandate paid sick leave, he would have gone back to work sooner, says Mr. Vandervelpen. Hesbaye Frost paid his full salary for the first month he was off. After that, a government-backed insurance company picked up 80% of his salary, which the law guarantees indefinitely. “The government keeps €1,000 [about $1,357] a month in taxes off me, so why shouldn’t I get help when I don’t feel well?” he asks. He makes €2,500 before taxes.”

After my last relationship failed, I remember dragging myself into work on Monday with eyes puffy from crying and Kleenex at the ready. I could definitely have benefited from some “mental health” time to deal with my personal issues in private. And as Mr. Vandervelpen points out, he pays a great deal of taxes to enjoy the benefits that the Belgian government provides its workers.

But even if you pay taxes for it, is four months paid leave an abuse of the system? If this were happening in America, wouldn’t somebody out there be complaining that they would have to pick up more than their fair share to compensate for these sick workers?

Considering that at least 65% of workers overestimate how much they actually contribute in the workplace, I think that the gains in employee loyalty and satisfaction from a flexible sick-leave policy far outweigh the potential decrease in productivity. Not to mention we’d suffer from fewer colds.

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