Saturday, July 22, 2006

Office Aide Q & A: Bad jokes, Ipods, Gender Politics and More....

Question from Downtown D.C.: I have a friend at work who loves to tell stories/jokes that just are not funny. They're not offensive or anything, they're just not funny. He tells them constantly and they are long drawn out affairs with lots of animation, like we're all supposed to be really engaged, and then he pauses for dramatic effect ... and hits us with the punch line, which, again, is just not funny. Then he laughs heartily.

What should we do? He’s a nice person and we don’t want to be rude. We’ve been laughing to be polite, but I fear we are just encouraging his behavior. It’s getting to be a big problem—do we confront? This happens often enough that a battle plan must be figured out soon…
-Trying To Work in Downtown DC

Dear Downtown DC:
That reminds me of a funny story…this sandwich walks into a bar, see…oh, am I boring you? Is that a fork in your eye? Hey, wait, where are you going??? Come back…!!!
Let’s start with the good news: you only have to work with this guy. Somebody probably has to live with him. And that’s whom I really feel sorry for. So you have four options here of varying degrees of difficulty.

Option 1: Stage a mass intervention. Pull your colleagues together and with as much love as you can muster let this guy know how his behavior affects you. Chances are he may feel hurt/humiliated/ganged up upon. You might need professional guidance to pull this off.
Degree of difficulty: 10
Degree of fun: 0

Option 2: Accept and ignore. Just do nothing and learn to live with this unfunny class clown. There is one in every crowd.
Degree of difficulty: 6
Degree of fun: 0.

Option 3: Tactful avoidance. When he comes into your workspace and launches into a story, do as little as possible to encourage him. Research shows that story listeners act as co-narrators in the story telling process by supplying cues and subtle affirmations during narration. Take these away. Type and look at your computer while he talks. Act very preoccupied—rummage through drawers, check your email, etc. Midway through simply cut him off and say, “I’m sorry, Bob, could you tell me this story another time? I’m under deadline.” The main idea here is to become an inactive listener. After awhile, he will hopefully stop seeking you out. The downside of this approach is that you will feel icky everyday. The upside is that you get to avoid an uncomfortable conversation.
Degree of difficulty: 5
Degree of fun: 4

Option 4: Take the offensive. A good defense is a good offense. (Or is it the other way around?) My husband who is a master at this taught me this nifty little trick. When someone starts launching into a long monologue you simply interrupt and start your own long (and boring) monologue. People who like to talk rarely like to listen. After a few of these interactions, I guarantee you he will stop seeking you out for his stories. You might have to prepare a few long stories so that you are well armed when approached. I suggest using anything that deals with your pets, your children or your college reminisces.
Degree of difficulty: 3
Degree of fun: 10.

Question from Men Suck: As a successful professional woman working her way up in the world, I’m finding that as I get more responsibility and more duties, the men I encounter seem more ineffective and less competent. I'm not male bashing, but it's becoming increasingly annoying working with men who are mediocre in the workplace but still achieve status and position. Why do companies keep promoting mostly men who don’t have much growth potential over the women who are getting things done?
–Is it just me or do men suck?

Dear Men Suck,
As much as I would love to male bash with you…I must maintain a modicum of gender objectivity here. Yes, there are organizations that still promote men over women—sad but true. However, research shows that women tend to have this odd notion that competence and skill are the most important elements to success in the workplace. In other words women believe promotions/success should be, above all else, merit based. While that is a lovely and noble notion—it is one that reflects little reality.

Organizations are complex social systems. In many cases, relationships, political posturing, networking, personality, etc. etc. are as equally, if not more important, than skill and merit. Succeeding in an organization is similar to playing a game. Men know this. They know that the game involves much more than simply doing a great job. So if you want to succeed in your organization take a good long look at your company’s game board. Who are the players? Who is succeeding? What are they doing to succeed? You need to understand the playing field and then play the game that is there—not the one that you wish was there. Look at the difference between how they play and how you play. Stop resisting the fact that for now this is the accepted playing field. Then you get to decide if you want to change the way you play or not.

I know, I know, work shouldn’t be political, yada, yada, yada. You can hate it all you want—but people are people, and when they come together all kinds of weird, annoying, and yes, sometimes and wonderful things result.

Question from iPod Nation: My office is debating whether or not we will allow iPods or MP3 players and earphones to be used while working in the office. Clearly, this issue is being promoted by some of the younger workers. Any comments on if it's appropriate?
–Living in an iPod Nation

Dear iPod Nation:
I’m sorry, I didn’t hear you--I was listening to a Ricky Gervais podcast…Okay, so I actually have very specific thoughts, or shall I say, attitudes, on this issue. To put it bluntly, I’m pretty much against it. To put it mildly, I’d be very wary about letting people tune out at the workplace. I am amazed at how separate and isolated we’ve all become while together in this world. Organizations are social networks of people who have come together to accomplish common goals. Letting people isolate themselves from each other kind of defeats the point of coming together, doesn’t it?

So here’s my take. Organizations have very specific cultures. While letting people tune out by tuning in may seem like a small thing to do, it could actually have very large consequences on organizational culture. First of, you’ll probably feel an immediate energy drop. With people choosing their private music world over their colleagues, the office will get very quiet very fast. People will engage in less conversation and may tend to overuse email even more than they already do. Some of the best and most productive conversations happen in the hallways—those will probably go by the wayside as well if people walk around while plugged in.

So if your organization is made up of a lot of people working alone on individual projects, then it might be a fine thing. But if your organization benefits from robust interaction among the employees—I’d really think twice. Are we done? I can’t write and listen to Ricky at the same time.

Question from Not Loving the Berry Action: I have a question, dealing with BlackBerrys and hourly staff. At my office, a few of us hourly staff members have been issued BlackBerrys and told that we are responsible for checking them at all times and responding to e-mails when necessary. But we’ve also been told that we can't charge overtime for this because it is just a part of our jobs. Is this legal? How should handle this electronic intrusion?
-–Not Loving the Berry Action

Dear Not Loving the Berry Action:
I’ve heard of BlackBerry addiction, aka the CrackBerry, but this is the first I’ve heard of the “ShackleBerry.” The problem with our addiction to email is that everyone expects round-the-clock access to everyone else. Your office is just a reflection of the current culture of the American workplace. As for the legal ramifications of this new policy—I’m not an employment lawyer, but it seems to me that hourly employees shouldn’t be required to work without payment. While you may be rightly chaffing under this new policy, I think you need more information before you storm the castle.

So here’s my advice: First of all, determine exactly what kind of time commitment we’re talking about. Is it a few extra minutes a week, a day? Or is it several hours? Secondly, are you clear about when it is “necessary” to respond? Is there general consensus among all staff what constitutes post work hour correspondence? Thirdly, do you like your job? Is this a potential deal breaker for you?

After you have a more complete picture of what these additional responsibilities will really look like you will have a better negotiating point with your boss. If you find you are spending considerable time (several extra hours a week) on your “ShackleBerry,” then I would suggest negotiating extra pay. If not overtime pay, perhaps an increase in your hourly wage to compensate for your extra duties. You will have to make your case calmly and factually. However, if you find that the extra time is really only an hour or so a week, I would consider just sucking it up. Especially, if you like your job. This may be one of those things that just comes with the territory.

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