Survivin’ and Thrivin’ — Workplace Tips

Workplace Tips — (1) Office Politics for the Good Guys

Office Politics is not a bad thing. It is a good thing. We think of Office Politics as a bad thing because the good guys don’t make use of it often enough, leaving the field to the bad guys. That’s what needs to change. The good guys need to become better skilled in Office Politics (while refusing to stoop to use of the tactics employed by the bad guys and thereby compromising our personal integrity, something us good guys all value more than we do career advancement).

To thrive in the New Economy, today’s worker needs to think of himself as a small business–You, Inc.–gaining “market share” as he progresses up the career ladder. “Office Politics” is the term used to refer to the marketing efforts each You, Inc., employs to compete with all the others.

Workplace Tips

We all have experienced bad marketing practices. So we all feel a temptation at times to dismiss all marketing as manipulative. In reality, though, much marketing serves a good purpose by making us aware of products and services that enrich our lives.

The same is true of Office Politics–the marketing arm of You, Inc. A worker who has a good “product” to sell is doing a good thing by employing smart self-promotion strategies. It is only when those who have something valuable to offer become skilled at marketing themselves that those who rely on manipulative strategies find themselves losing the edge that those sorts of strategies sometimes provide.

My hope is that in days to come the term “Office Politics” will lose its stigma and more middle-class workers will become better skilled at marketing themselves to employers in forthright and compelling ways.

Workplace Tips — (2) Creating a Positive Work Environment

Three tips for creating a respectful work environment with little gossip:

1) Make sure that there is enough work to keep everyone busy. This is a big problem in many workplaces today. There was a recent survey done in which it was shown that employees are wasting large amounts of time at work either on the internet or socializing or doing personal business. The biggest reason is not that workers are trying to get away with not putting in a day’s work for a day’s pay. The biggest reason for wasting time cited by workers was that they do not have enough to do! The old saying is that “idle hands are the devil’s workshop.” Those who do not have enough to do often end up causing trouble of one sort or another;

2) Managers’ actions speak louder than their words. Managers who engage in manipulative strategies to advance in their careers will not be believed when they urge those who work under them not to do so. Employees takes their cues from what their managers do, not what they say; and

3) The key from the worker’s perspective is to be clear on what he or she hopes to achieve with the job. If the worker is pursuing specific and motivating career advancement goals, his or her focus will be on the job. If he or she has lost enthusiasm for the job but remains at it out of fear of taking a chance on something new, his or her attention will wonder to unconstructive social interactions and intrigues.

Workplace Tips — (3) How to Make Boring Work Interesting

Three tips:

1) Focus on the people affected by a task rather than on the task itself. For example, accounting work would be considered boring by some. But the work that an accountant does helps the client achieve goals that enhance many lives (doing accounting work for a software firm helps all the people who use the software);

Office Politics

2) View the mundane tasks that make the job seem boring as steps in the solution of a puzzle. Writing and organizing hundreds of tax tips for inclusion in a database might seem boring. But the ultimate goal is to create a learning resource of great power. The worker should aim to view himself or herself as an adventurer required to engage in boring tasks like cutting through brush to attain the exciting purpose of discovering a new world (the world in which the new tax-tips learning resource is available to serve those in need of the information provided in it); and

3) Engage in enough exciting tasks in your non-work hours so that you feel that your life is not in an overall sense boring. If you go home from a boring job to watch television every night, life itself will come to seem boring to you over time. If you go home to prepare for running a marathon or to prepare for the next meeting of your book or investing club, you may come to appreciate the boring nature of the work you do as a chance not to need to become so emotionally involved for a few hours of days that are part of a life that in an overall sense is not boring at all.

Workplace Tips — (4) The Entitlement Generation

I’m 49, and I’ve been hearing some version of the phrase “the entitlement generation” since I was 20 and part of it myself. That suggests two things: (1) it has staying power, so there is some truth to it; and (2) it’s not one particular generation that is the entitlement generation–those new to the workplace just don’t possess a deep enough understanding of the rules of the game to understand how pay decisions are made.

Skill and evidence of skill are not the same thing. Those new to the workplace often have lots of skill and not much evidence of that skill. They are paid considerably less than those with more evidence of skill, and that does not always seem fair. Fair or not, that’s the way it is done. If employers had a magic Skill Indicator Machine, it would be done differently. But they don’t. So there are many young workers with high skill levels who are paid little.

One thing that the young workers who are being paid less than they think they are worth can be told to mitigate their concerns is that there will be a day when they are paid a premium for possessing evidence of skill and not just skill itself. We all find our way to the other side of the divide in time.

Workplace Tips — (5) Make Your Next Vacation a True Vacation

The best rule for making a vacation a true vacation is to have no e-mail or telephone communication with the office at all. That forces co-workers to develop new ways to handle issues that otherwise would come to your attention, and that’s healthy all the way around. If that is impossible, it can work to have one hour per day devoted to an office check-in with a rule that the time spent on office matters can never go beyond that, no matter what.

Most people are aware of the problem with checking in with the office. People need to pay more attention to the other ways in which they bring their regular routines with them when they go on vacation. One big one for me was reading newspapers. There was a time when the first thing I would do on each of my vacation days was to go looking for the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times. Let that go, and you can open up close to two hours per day of recharge time.

The key is breaking your routine. The older we get, the more drawn we are to sticking to a routine. The recharge comes from resisting that urge. You should not be reading the newspaper at the beach. You should be reading poetry, if you never read poetry. Or taking a long walk, if you never take long walks. Or talking to your spouse, if you rarely have time for long talks with your spouse. Or building a sand castle with your kids. Or flying a kite.

You should be eating foods that you don’t usually eat. You should be going to sleep at a different time and waking up at a different time. You must be spending a good bit of your time doing things you would never do at home. That’s the recharge.

How to Get Ahead at Work

I gave up television some years ago. I watch television on vacation. It wouldn’t be a recharge for most others, but it is for me because watching television is an out-of-the-norm experience for me today. The show I most missed when I gave up television was “Law and Order.” On last year’s vacation, I discovered a station that plays “Law and Order” reruns for several hours every night. I was able to watch three or four of them that week without it getting old because it had been such a long time between “Law and Order” viewings for me.

Vacation time is recreation time. The idea is to “re-create” your life. If you come home with a plan to do one thing in your regular life in a new way, it was likely a good value proposition for you to spend the money it took to arrange to take that time away from your normal routine.

Workplace Tips — (6) Workaholics

Workaholics are seeking to obtain a sense of fulfillment by directing their life energies to a field of endeavor from which they have obtained satisfying results in the past.

Success in a job can make people feel wonderful in their 20s and 30s and early 40s. There comes a time, though, when the rewards provided from a job are not as great. Most of us can rise only so high up the corporate ladder. And earning more money does not count for as much after we have earned enough to support a comfortable middle-class lifestyle.

The remedy is identifying alternate means of obtaining the same sense of fulfillment. Workaholics can apply their goal-oriented behavior to goals other than corporate success. For example, a workaholic who made it a goal to see the world could become highly focused on accomplishment of that goal so long as he or she received praise or other rewards for hitting specified targets.

The workaholic needs to see that goals that are hard to attain for others (corporate success) are not so hard to attain for the workaholic, and that goals that are easy to attain for others (enjoying family life) are hard to attain for the workaholic. The typical workaholic responds well to a challenge.

Workplace Tips — (7) How to Stand Out in a Staff Meeting

To stand out at a staff meeting, defend the employees of another department when they are being blamed for the failure of a corporate project as part of an effort to shift blame away from your own department. Most employees see the unfairness of “The Blame Game” and make note of someone who speaks up against it for having the courage to do the right thing.

This works best when the need to shift blame to another department is not that great because the project that failed was not of great significance. It is not strategically smart to employ this approach in circumstances in which your own department messed up in a major way. In those circumstances, some in the group will react with hostility at attempts to give voice to the realities in a staff meeting.

Workplace Tips — (8) Write Your Way to the Top

Most jobs today require writing. Write better, and you’ll move ahead in your career quicker.

The five ingredients of good writing are:

1) Focus. Any piece of good writing (no matter how long) advances one core idea.

2) Usefulness. People don’t read for the sake of reading. Good writing provokes some sort of action or change.

Getting It Done Right

3) Clarity. Good writing is simple and direct.

4) Authenticity. Good writing is supported by believable illustrations of the ideas put forward that come naturally to the author because the extent of his study or experience relating to the topic is great enough to give him the confidence to be himself.

5) Authority. The author needs to know a lot more about the topic than what he or she reveals in the piece of writing at issue to be able to win the confidence of his or her readership.

Workplace Tips — (9) Small Talk Tips

Four tips on what to say when you need to say something and there’s nothing that needs to be said:

1) Understand that you are doing the other person a favor by “breaking the ice” and engaging in small talk. In the sorts of circumstances in which small talk is called for, both parties are seeking to engage in some sort of social interaction. Just about everyone feels awkward doing this. The odds are good that the other party to the conversation will feel gratitude to you for taking a chance at getting the conversational ball rolling;

2) Make your first move with your second move already planned. For example, you could ask “Do you have vacation plans this summer?” You should be prepared to discuss your own vacation plans in the event that the other party responds by saying “No, I don’t” or “No, do you?”;

3) The ideal thing is to get the other person talking because as he or she talks he or she will become more comfortable. So don’t ask questions for which it is likely that you will be required to employ your Step Two. Most people have something to say about vacations, so asking about vacations is a good conversation starter. Asking about classical music is not a good bet unless you pick up some clue that the other party to the conversation has an interest in it;

4) Be a little bold. There are good reasons why the conventional wisdom is to avoid discussions of religion and politics. But you want to avoid the cliché of commenting on the weather if at all possible. Talk about an experience that you had recently that was a bit out of the ordinary or express an opinion that is not likely to offend anyone but which is a little off-center. Small-talk conversations are not the place for truly bold statements. But it usually takes a statement with at least a little bit of life to get them started.

Workplace Tips — (10) Indirect Communication of Criticism

Making It Happen

ou might someday find yourself in circumstances that call for use of the indirect communication of criticism.

Say that a customer service department employee is rude in her handling of calls from customers. You might observe in a staff meeting that: “I have heard a lot of praise of our customer service operations. In fact, the majority of the comments I have heard have been positive.”

The thought is planted in everyone’s mind that you must have heard some negative comments as well.

If anyone asks about the negative comments, you should respond with some reluctance but also supply some facts that permit follow-up. You could say: “Oh, there are always a certain number of customers saying that they get rude responses and so on, but my point here is that most of the comments I have heard have been positive.”

If there are higher-ups in the company concerned about providing good customer service, they will follow up and you cannot be faulted for having identified the problem. If there are no higher-ups concerned about providing good customer service, the reality is that you probably were never going to get anywhere trying to solve this problem in any event.