Sunday, October 15, 2006

The Working Life: Office Q & A:
Listener Questions Part 2

The Radio Show Recap...

In this segment of The Working Life, Mary Abbajay answers listener's questions about their working life dilemmas. Ratty work clothes, annoyng HR policies, lazy college graduates, job ruts and more!

Listener Question: A girl who works for me on our sales team has a very ratty wardrobe. She is articulate and smart, but often has stains on her jackets or holes in her clothes and I know our potential clients see it and I think it has a negative impact on our sales rate. Can I say anything about it to our boss? Should I offer to take her shopping? We're friendly with one another, but we really don't hang out together outside of work, so it might be a weird offer.

Mary's Answer: Take her shopping? No. Rat her out to your boss? No. Take the time to mentor her? Yes.

Because more than a shopping trip or a demerit from the boss, this young woman needs a mentor or supervisor at work who clearly sees her potential and cares enough about her future to help her out here. Imagine what an enormous gift it would be to this girl if there were someone to pull her aside and say, “Katie, we need to talk about improving your professional image. While you are one of the most talented young team members we have here at XYZ, I’m afraid your clothes are not creating the professional image needed to be successful. I want to make sure your star continues to rise so lets talk about how you can align your professional image more appropriately to your position here.”

Know anyone who can do that?

Listener Question: I have someone working for me who I inherited from another team when we merged two groups. To put it nicely, she is incompetent. I know there was a case being built to fire her before she was assigned to me, but since I'm her new manager, we have to start from scratch. If I work in an "employed at-will" state, then why do I have to build a case? Why can't I just fire her? I feel like HR is making me do so much extra work that it's taking away from working with the employees on my team who are doing a good job.

Mary's Answer: Multiple choice answer, choose one:
  • When given lemons, make lemonade.
  • Every dark cloud has a silver lining.
  • When one door closes, another door opens.
  • One man’s trash is another man’s treasure.
  • It is not the destination that matters, but the journey.

Sometimes we have to do things that we don’t like and that quite frankly don’t make much sense. But that doesn’t mean that these situations are completely without pay off. Consider the following benefits:
  • With a little coaching, maybe the person is salvageable. You could use this opportunity to hone your mentoring skills.
  • By treating this woman with respect and compassion, you can put a big chip in the karma favor bank.
  • HR may now owe you a favor. Make sure they know it.

I’m not a fan of the extended termination policy. And I am certainly not a fan of just passing poor performing employees around and around. I don’t think it really behooves anyone in the situation to drag it out. That being said, however, please remember that having an at-will employment policy doesn’t mean you get to trample people’s civil rights—so there may be reasons beyond the surface that is giving HR pause. So for some reason your HR department wants to take this slow. Discuss it openly with them. Tell them you need clarification on their strategy. Make sure they know this is not your preferred strategy—but that you’re happy to help them out and do it their way (or whatever language your organization uses to add chits to the favor bank).

A client of mine recently employed this strategy when she inherited a “lemon” from another department. HR repaid her teamwork by fast tracking some much needed paperwork for a newly created position. She drank her lemonade in a tall frosty glass with lots of ice.

Listener Question: I'm in a rut. I work in client services for an accounting firm and I like my company and the people I work with, but the work just isn't challenging anymore. There's nowhere for me to move within the company, but I'm not sure I want to leave. How do I know if this is a temporary rut, or if it's a bigger sign that I should be thinking about challenging myself instead?

Mary's Answer: Now that you are armed with a little more self-knowledge, here are some options for you:

  1. Since you like your company (which, by the way, is nothing to sneeze at in today’s world), the first thing you should do is talk with your boss. Tell him/her how much you love working there and that you’d love to learn some new skills/try some new projects/tackle some new challenges. You may be surprised by some of the opportunities one can get just by asking.
  2. Start exploring what kind of challenge/career you are looking for. There are many great books out there and exercises for you to do some self-exploration. See my earlier posting: Help I hate my Job for specific resources and exercises.
  3. Talk to people in fields/occupations/jobs that you find intriguing. Find out what those jobs are really like.
  4. Hire a career coach or counselor

Remember—don’t let that “temporary” rut turn into a permanent rut. I know it can be scary/annoying/time-consuming to change jobs/careers—but wouldn’t it be better to spend the bulk of your working life energized, engaged, and stimulated?

Good Luck!

Listener Question: I just graduated college and started my first job this year. I am having a hard time adjusting to working. I'm a night person, and find it difficult to think or get much of anything done before noon. I also think maybe work is not for me, right now, and that I should go to law school. Did you have a hard time adjusting to work after college, or is it just me?

Mary's Answer: Did I have a hard time adjusting to work? Uh, no. Personally, I love to work. Seriously. I was more excited about turning 16 because I could get a job than because I could get a drivers license. The thought of making my own money was thrilling. But that’s me.

Now lets talk about you. The adjustment from college to work can be very difficult for some people. Becoming a structured, responsible person with regular hours and commitments doesn’t come easy for everyone. So instead of smacking you upside the head—I’ll use my hand to express 5 points:
  1. Adjusting to a working life will be more difficult when the work doesn’t suit one. Do you like the work? Is it interesting to you? Maybe is not so much “working” as the particular work you are doing. Try to find something that interests you.
  2. If you’re not used to being a “day” person. Go to bed earlier. Get yourself on a regular schedule. It takes some discipline and time to readjust our body clocks.
  3. If you’re truly a night person—then get a night job. There are plenty of interesting (and respectable) night jobs.
  4. Try not express the following “I think maybe work is not for me, right now…” to anybody who:
    • is over 25
    • b. does not have a trust fund
    • c. has to support themselves or others,
    • d. might hire you someday
    • e. knows your parents
    • f. may be reading your grad school application
  5. Do not, I repeat, DO NOT go to law school just to avoid having to get up before noon. Go to law school because you want to be a lawyer—or at least because you have some interest or passion in the legal field. Besides, the fact that law school costs lots of money, successful lawyers tend to be total workaholics!

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