Wednesday, August 23, 2006

The Working Life: Help I Hate My Job!
The Radio Show Recap...

In this segment of “The Working Life,” Carol Blymire and I talk about what to do if you hate your job. We’ve all been there… you’re at a cocktail party, or hanging out with friends and all you can do is complain about your boss, your co-workers, or how you feel stuck in a dead-end situation. Here are some strategies and ideas for getting out of your rut and creating a better work life.

Carol’s Question: Let’s start with differentiating between going through a rough patch at work, versus really hating where you work or hating what you’re doing. How do you make the distinction?

My thoughts: Sometimes this can be a difficult distinction. A rough patch signifies that it is a temporary event—but even temporary can feel like a lifetime. In order to figure out what is going on, you’ll have to carve out some time for some self-reflection.
If you think it might be a rough patch:
  • Sort through your projects and tasks: anything here causing unhappiness?
  • Sort through your thoughts and feelings: what exactly are you thinking and feeling?
  • How long has this been going on? When did you start feeling this?
  • Is this normal for you? Have you had rough patches before? How did you get through them?
  • If you think it is a patch then give yourself a future time frame to reevaluate
More than a rough patch
If you think it s more than a rough patch you’ll have to work a little harder to figure things out. You’ll need to break down the situation even further to determine if it is your job you hate, your company or everything. This is important. You don’t what to spend enormous energy getting a new position in your current company only to find out that you hate working for tofu producers. You may then be too exhausted (and defeated) to look elsewhere—and you’ve just wasted valuable resources and time only to find that you are back at square one. Conversely, you may spend enormous resources getting the same job at a different company only to discover that you truly hate writing press releases. And that if you have to write another press release, then you really just might stick that fork in your eye…

So here’s what you do—start with writing a bitterness job log.

  • Write down everything you hate about your job, your company and your working day. And I mean everything. Have fun with it. Write it all done. Be sure to walk through your entire day and note what (and who) bothers you. Be as creative and petty as you want!
  • Then write down everything you really like or love about your job, your company or your working day. Same rules apply. It could be something as simple as I love the apple crumb cake in the cafeteria.
  • Then write down everything that you are neutral about. Things that you could take or leave. These may be big things (like all of my co-workers) or little things (the top quality free office supplies).
  • Now go back through and analyze your list. Looking at the complete data should pretty quickly reveal some patterns. Do you hate more things about your job or your company? Are they big things or little things?
  • Double check your data with your imagination.
If your patterns suggest it’s the position (you just hate writing press releases, but love promoting tofu) then imagine yourself in another position doing something different. How does that feel? Check out different scenarios using your imagination and your “gut.”
Once you get clearer about what you hate—and what you don’t want in your work life—you will be better able to define what you do want. Then you have to go out and get it.

Carol’s Question: So lets, say it is just a rough patch – whether it’s a temporary shift in bosses, a crappy assignment, or the “blahs” – how do you get through it and find that light at the end of the tunnel?

My Thoughts: I have two things to say to that: Reframe & Distract! These are classic strategies that can be very effective in managing short-term discomfort.

1. Reframe: Remind yourself that this is temporary. Frame this as a temporary situation--when we are in the middle of something icky, we often tend to act as if this will last forever. Actively tell yourself that this is short term. Count off days, keep a journal, plan for celebrating goal completion, picture the end state, etc.

2. Distract: This means do nice things for yourself to make the rough patch a little easier to bear. Make the effort to alleviate the stress with some distraction activities:
  • Find some humor in the crappy assignment
  • Create some personal development goals within your work day
  • Take an online class
  • Have lunch with new people
  • Do some volunteer work after work hours
  • Take a long weekend
  • Keep a gratitude journal

Carol’s Question: Okay, so what if you actually love what your career is, but hate your current position or company, how do you make that change?

My thoughts: Interestingly enough, this is more common than people realize. Statistics show that most people leave organizations because of the people (the company) and not the job. Most people are happy with what they do—they are just not happy doing it for their current employers.

I am sorry to say that there is no magic bullet here. As much as people wish it were different—this is simply a case of pounding the proverbial pavement. It means researching potential companies, getting your resume updated and circulated, networking, interviewing, etc. etc. We all know the drill. My one big piece of advice is to choose carefully. Unless you are absolutely desperate to get out of your current hell-hole, you should really take the time to explore your options. Make sure the next organization is a better fit. I mean do you really want to have to look for a new job again in 6 months?

Carol’s Question: Let’s say it’s the granddaddy of them all: you hate everything about what you do: the job, the company, the people, the commute, everything. You go to sleep dreading the next day’s work. You wake up not wanting to get dressed and go in to the office. You are surly and annoying all day at work. How do you get out of this rut and make a change?

My thoughts: Lily Tomlin once said: ” The trouble with the rat race is once you win, you’re still a rat.” If you hate your current rat race—you’re going to have to create a better one. And this can be a scary and overwhelming place for most people. It is particularly daunting for seasoned professionals—because a lot rides on our professional life—our identity, our livelihood, our friendships, etc. It is important to remember that you are not alone—if feeling overwhelmed, take some people into your confidence, get the support of friends, family, professionals, etc. There are many great coaches, consultants, books and resources to help you create and find the right career or job for you.

If you already know what you want to do
  • Start pounding the pavement.
  • Research your dream job/company, etc.
  • Talk to people in the field: informational interviews are great ways to discover how people “break into” those careers
  • Discover and develop the skills and educational requirements of that career
  • Network, network, network. Tell everyone you know that you are looking for a job in that field
  • Craft your resume to exhibit the talents and experiences needed to land that job

If you don’t know what you want to do. You need to start to figure it out. One great (and simple) way to do this is to start making lists. Make lists of what you like doing—include everything from filing to bossing people around. If you like to do it—put it on the list
  • Make list of your talents
  • Make a list of your dream jobs
  • Make lists of your favorite hobbies and pastimes
  • Create scenarios and imagine the work life you want to have
  • Make lists of people who are doing what you want to do

Spend some time analyzing and reflecting on these lists. You might want to prioritize or highlight some items that are especially meaningful to you. These lists and scenarios should provide you with a starting point to brainstorm some concrete job/career ideas.

Once you have some ideas you HAVE to start pounding the pavement. You have to be willing to take some action everyday towards furthering your dreams. Be willing to take action to bring your goals closer together.

Carol’s Question: Let’s say you’re in a relationship with, or are friends with, someone who is miserable at work. How can you help him or her get through it, or make a change?

My thoughts: First of all, be patient and loving. This is a difficult and scary time for people. Tips for helping others:

  • Give him/her the help you would like someone to give you
  • Make lists and do job dream exercises with him/her
  • Offer your support and your network
  • Tell the person what you think their greatest strengths and talents are
  • Say things like you’d be great at ____, have you ever considered a career in ____?
  • And finally, you may have to remind your friends of the wise words uttered by Yoda: “Do or do not. There is no try.” In other words—keep them moving forward and taking action towards their goal.

Carol’s Question: What are your favorite books or DIY resources?

My thoughts: There are many great books on the subject of creating the life/career you want. Here are a few of my favorites:

  • What Color is My Parachute? by Richard Nelson Bolles
  • Pathfinder by Nicholas Lore
  • Wishcraft by Barbara Sher
  • Creating: A practical Guide to the Creative Process and How to Use it to Create Anything-- by Robert Fritz

To Listen to an archive of this show:

Friday, August 04, 2006

The Working Life: Education and the Workplace
The Radio Show Recap...

In this segment of The Working Life, Carol Blymire and I discuss the importance of education for our professional lives. Education, training and professional development are clearly essential ingredients for success in today’s workplace and our educational choices have never been greater. In this segment we explored some options, opportunities, and trends that are happening in the world of continuing education.

Carol’s Question: Can you talk a little bit about education, and what employers are looking for? Is it still a high school diploma, followed by four years of college, and then an MBA or other graduate degree depending upon your specialty?

My thoughts: Clearly the type of education one needs depends upon the employer, the profession, and the industry. Think of employment as a continuum—ranging from less specialized/lower skilled jobs—where a high school education is required to other end of the spectrum of highly specialized skilled jobs—where advanced degrees are required. So if you are seeking to be successful in business or other traditional “white collar” jobs—then, yes, a college degree is pretty much mandatory for even the most entry level jobs. And yes, in some cases, holding an advanced degree is becoming the norm as well.

Getting ahead with only a high school diploma is more difficult in today’s highly competitive global market. Besides being a basic requirement for many jobs, completing a college degree offers many benefits:
  • College graduates earn nearly twice as much as high school graduates
  • College graduates hold higher level positions than high school graduates
  • College graduates advance faster in organizations
  • College will develop your skills in analysis, reflection, synthesis, and communication
  • College provides an enormous opportunity for personal growth and development—such as networking, meeting new people, experiencing diversity, etc. All these experiences and skills will give you a competitive advantage in today’s workplace.

Carol’s Question: Are there advantages to getting a few years of work experience after college before pursuing a graduate-level degree?

My thoughts: Yes, I’m actually a big fan of getting some real work experience under your belt before jumping on the graduate school bandwagon. Here are my 3 big reasons for working first:
  1. Praxis.
  2. Your education will be a lot more meaningful to you and your employer if you can apply your education to real world experiences. We call it praxis. Praxis is the “practical application or exercise of a branch of learning.” There is a big difference between theory and reality and anyone who has ever tried to “book learn” their way through a contentious management team decision can tell you that real world experience often trumps theory. Plus, people don't really respect the MBA who has never worked a day in his/her life—seriously–people respect experience and results.
  3. Good Fit.
  4. Secondly, unless you are absolutely SURE this is your profession of choice, I’d recommend waiting and working a few years to assure that you really like this field. Graduate School requires an enormous expenditure of time and money—two very precious resources for most of us—so I’d want to be sure that this field is actually something I am passionate about. Many college graduates jump into graduate school as a way a finding themselves (or as a way of avoiding the working world!). This is a costly and risky proposition. Let’s face it, we all know plenty of unhappy lawyers… so relax, take some time to figure out if this is really the profession for you.
  5. Financial Help.
  6. And finally, if finances are an issue, working a few years will provide you with some options. Many employers have tuition assistance programs. Most full-time professionals I know who are continuing their education receive some sort of assistance from their employers—financial or otherwise.

Carol’s Question: Is classroom education or training better than seeking out one-on-one mentoring or training? What are the benefits or advantages of those options?

My thoughts: It isn’t a matter of better—it is a matter of accurately identifying your professional development needs and finding the most of effective manner of fulfilling them. Classroom education/training and one-on-one mentoring are both important aspects to professional development. Always remember: you should get the education for the job you want and not just the job you have. If you want to manage and guide your career—I’d have a plan for both. Each approach has particular benefits.

Education/training Benefits:
  • Good sound objective information based on theory, research, data, etc.
  • Often incorporates “best practice” ideas from industry as a whole
  • Can provide diversity of learning--multiple theories, opinions, etc of issues/challenges—providing you with a larger picture
  • Often done in groups—expands your networks, contacts, etc.
  • Opportunity to develop more specific communication skills—i.e. writing, debating, summarizing, defending, etc.
  • Confers upon you an “official” degree, certificate, license, etc. You have a stamp of approval…

One-on-one mentoring/training Benefits:
  • Deep insider information on how things really work
  • Ability to learn from the wisdom of someone else’s successes and failures—access to their personal best practices (which took them years to hone and create)
  • Provides you with narrow but deep picture of the professional terrain
  • Development of intimate and close bonds with people who are more senior than you—providing you will allies and friends at the top
  • Access to the network of your mentor

Carol’s Question:
Are companies willing to pay for or reimburse educational opportunities completely unrelated to their field of business, (e.g., cooking classes, foreign language skills, creative writing, etc.) as an employee benefit or perk to boost morale or reward strong performance?

My thoughts: A few really progressive companies may do this out of a desire to create and promote healthy, creative employees. But it is certainly not the norm. Those that do would be doing so as a “perk” or as a way of creating a more holistic work environment dedicated to creating healthy work/life balances. I suspect we will be seeing more of this in the coming years as employers all compete to become “employers of choice.” And here’s the thing—it never hurts to ask! If you can make a case for why studying Thai cooking will make you a better accountant—then go for it! Remember, like anything related to getting what you want at work—you need to make a sound business case.

Carol’s Question: Are there any kinds of education or training opportunities out there that are emerging trends? What’s new in this field?

My thoughts: Well clearly, E-Learning—and the whole electronic component of education and training is the biggest (and most exciting) trend out there. As our technologies continue to improve we are going to see more and more companies, universities, students and training companies moving into the e-learning realm. And as society get more and more comfortable with the idea of on-line education, it will become an even larger part of our educational process. Electronic learning is amazingly cost effective for organizations looking to train large numbers of employees. Whenever my company is hired to do training, the client almost always inquires about an electronic component. This didn’t happen 5 years ago!

Some interesting facts about E-Learning:
  • Close to 3 million students are taking classes on-line at institutes of higher education
  • This number grows at 25% per year
  • Almost 100% of public institutions and private-for-profit institutions of Higher Ed offer on-line classes
  • About 50% of private, not-for profit schools offer on-line classes
  • Over 40% of universities who offer f2f (face-to-face) graduate programs offer on-line programs
  • Majority of academic leaders agree that online education is critical to their long-term strategy
  • Majority of academic leaders believe that online education is already equal to or superior to their face-to-face offerings.

My Closing Thoughts: Continuing your education and learning new things is not only good for your career—but for your mental health! Research shows that the more we use our brain cels the less we are likely to lose them! So keep learning and growing.

To listen to an archive of this show: