Saturday, January 31, 2009

Mandatory "Workplace Fun"

Alison Green of Ask a Manager's recent blog post: Should Managers Organize "Fun" at Work? is so relevant to my current work situation, I have to blog about it.

Alison's reader is fairly new to the HR industry and is thinking of organizing at least one fun activity at work every other month to build morale. She asks if Alison thinks this is an effective way to improve morale or if scheduling too many activities could actually take away from productivity.

Alison responds with:
Yes, there's such a thing as too many activities impacting productivity. Fundamentally, employees are there to get things done. So really, every activity you plan that takes them away from that impacts their productivity. Of course, presumably your thinking is that by increasing fun at work, you increase people's morale, which ultimately leads to higher productivity. And it's true that higher morale tends to equal higher productivity. But is "fun" the way to do it.

For most people, morale and quality of life at work isn't about having a series of fun activities, but rather about having coworkers you like, a boss who is fair and effective, the resources you need to do your job, recognition for good work, clear expectations, and so forth. In fact, without these things, planned activities can really backfire; it can be infuriating to work somewhere that doesn't put much effort into these fundamentals but then expects employees to go wild over a fun outing or social event. Also, many, many people will resent having their work time used on non-work activities. Show me an office organizing a cookie-decorating session and I will show you a bunch of people wondering why they can't instead just go home an hour earlier if you don't need them doing work during that time. Lots of people want to have their fun on their own time, in the ways they choose and with the people they choose.

Well said. I couldn't agree with her more:
My Company's HR manager is attempting to increase our company’s morale by arranging a “fun” potluck every month. At first these events were okay, but now employees from every department are beginning to resent them. They are no longer fun and feel like work. Plus, cooking for a group of forty can be expensive and wasteful; there is almost always too much food. When it’s time to clean up the HR manager (who is part-time) is gone for the day; employees who should be working (they are billable) are wiping tables, washing dishes, packing and throwing out uneaten food. Almost everyone has begun to dread these events, but no one wants to be the one to tell her, “Enough Already”. If you don’t participate she singles you out implying you are not a team player.

In these difficult economic times, many of our employees are working harder than ever before; the last thing they need is the additional task of lugging a crock pot to work. The latest consensus around the coffee machine is that everyone does enjoy getting together, but future lunch events need to be catered. The employees who wish to participate will pay their portion. And if you really want to improve morale, turn up the heat. It’s winter in Wisconsin and its cold in here. Haven't you noticed some employees are actually wrapped in blankets?

Enough Said.

Also, be sure to check out the comments on Alison's post. No one was in favor of mandatory "fun" and many included examples of events that went bad. It was also pointed out the potential of eating something prepared in unsanitary conditions. Do you want to eat something prepared by the co-worker who doesn't wash their hands?

Saturday, January 24, 2009

What does fiduciary mean?

Due to my mother's birthday celebration and another Saturday spent preparing year-end spreadsheets for my company's upcoming audit, all I have time for is a short question from Jenna:

What does fiduciary mean?
According to the Dictionary of Finance and Investment Terms, a fiduciary is a person, company, or association holding assets in trust for a beneficiary. The fiduciary is charged with the responsibility of investing the money wisely for the beneficiary's benefit. Some examples of fiduciaries are executors of wills and estates, receivers in bankruptcy, trustees, and those who administer the assets of underage or incompetent beneficiaries.

In addition, administrators of employee benefit plans (especially retirement plans) are considered fiduciaries.

One of the central duties of a fiduciary is to act prudently. Fiduciaries through their actions, or inactions, motivated by, or through ignorance or neglect, may be held personally liable if they breach their duties. Furthermore, fiduciaries should be aware of the actions of co- fiduciaries, since fiduciaries have potential liability for the actions of fellow fiduciaries.

My boss and the chairman of our company are the administrators of our company's 401(k) plan both take their fiduciary responsibility seriously and are well aware of the risk involved. Neither will offer investment advice nor would issue any type of "Stay the course" memo during the most recent stock market decline.

For a more in depth discussion on the definition of a fiduciary please read this article - What is your fiduciary IQ?

Sunday, January 18, 2009

A personal attack at work

Last week, my company’s HR manager, who is also a family friend of our President, verbally attacked my management skills. In my opinion, her comments crossed the line from constructive criticism to a personal attack.

Luckily, I had read this post on Anita Bruzzese's blog "On the Job" a couple of days before the occurrence. While she was going on and on about how my career was going nowhere, I was the weakest manager my company had and that it was all my own fault, I kept repeating to myself this isn’t about me, this isn't about me. I knew what she was saying wasn't entirely true and that the attack was more about her career than mine (she had a confrontation with my boss earlier in the day; she is being forced to do administrative work she feels is beneath her and most likely feels her job is going nowhere), but her words still stung. I thought I handled myself as well as I could while talking to her, but afterwards I went back to my office and cried. I haven't cried at work in 15 years.

I made it through the rest of the work day and even went to my Pilates class, but once I was home I just couldn’t shake the incident. Foreseeing a sleepless night and inability to concentrate at work for the next several days, I posted a comment on Anita’s blog asking:

Does anyone have any suggestions on how not to dwell on a personal attack after the occurrence?

Anita posted the following response:
Savvy Working Girl, I’m going to suggest some things, but I hope other folks will jump in with suggestions.

1. Talk to someone you trust about how you're feeling. This can be a family member or friend, someone who will be empathetic, without trying to fix the problem for you.

2. Get moving. Studies have shown time and again how important it is to use physical exercise to relieve stress. Go dancing, to a gym, indoor pool, or go bowling! Do something physical that will help burn off some of your anxiety.

3. Write it down. Put down everything you're feeling. And then write all the positive things you did in the situation and review how well you handled it.

4. Look deeper. You say you haven't cried in 15 years at work, and feel you handled it well. That could mean it wasn't this particular incident that was so bad, but perhaps an indication that a lot of things are building up. Maybe things have gotten out of balance and you can see this incident as wake-up call that you need to re-balance your life.

5. Laugh. Rent a funny movie, go to a comedy club, watch stupid videos on YouTube. Laughter truly is the best medicine and can help you relieve the stress.

6. Be good to yourself and others at work. Erase a bad situation at work by replacing it with good things. Put 5-10 coins in one pocket. Every time you pay someone a compliment, move the coin to the other pocket, with the aim being to have moved all the coins by the end of the day. Buy yourself a nice flower to put on your desk. Go to lunch with friends or co-workers you enjoy. Take a walk, weather permitting. Just be good to yourself.

Finally, I know it sounds trite, but you truly do have a choice to make. You can choose to let this incident drag you down, to make you lose sleep and be miserable. Or, you can choose to focus on something else. It really is your decision, and you have the control. Good luck, and let me know how things go.

I read Anita’s response before going to work the next morning. I tried all of her suggestions, but it still took almost a week to shake the incident. I particularly liked her advice to look deeper. The reason I found the criticism so upsetting is because I have been disenchanted with my career and feeling overworked for quite sometime. The manager's approach may have been too harsh, but her message was valid. My work load is getting out of control and it's time I start taking steps to rectify the situation.

What do I do going forward?
Now, that I can look back on the incident with out getting upset, I can remove the hurtful comments to decipher the message she was attempting to convey. I do need to delegate more work, my staff does need to be more accountable; they can no longer leave early to mail their holiday cards expecting me to finish their work (I did draw the line on this one and insisted my employee stay until she finished her assigned project). I didn’t replace an employee who resigned last spring. This has added additional work and stress on me and everyone in my department including my boss and our HR manager. After the economy picks up, I have to hire someone even if it is only part-time.

In future dealings with our HR manager I am going to keep discussions focused, never giving advice or asking for an opinion. Even though she gave me a little present a couple of days ago, I need to limit the time I spend with her. I am not ready for another attack.

Perfect my work. This goes for me and my department. I have been saying this for quite some time; this manager has caused problems in my department in the past by personally attacking my employees. If we work together as a group, get our work done accurately and timely she won’t be able to touch us.

What about complaining about her to the owner? Just about everyone in the company wants this to happen, but nobody wants to be the one to do it. Even my boss, an officer of the company, feels the President needs to rein her in, but is unwilling to be the one to complain. She has such a volatile personality we are hoping she will one day do herself in.

Lessons Learned:
Do your job and do it well. The workplace bully wants you to fail and when you don't he or she will be defeated. Make sure your superiors are aware of your work. Workplace bullies often try to spread the word that you are not doing your job well and will even go as far as to report the smallest infractions to your boss. Your actions will carry more weight than his or her words. No one likes to be yelled at or treated with disrespect. It is degrading to have another adult treat us like a child. Most of us begin to tune out criticism when it feels like a personal attack, but hidden behind a crazed tirade may be some important suggestions for improving your work. After you have had time to cool off, think about whether there is anything you can learn from the experience. Try to separate the message from the messenger. Once you strip away the personal attack, is there something left that merits your attention?

And finally, I believe the key to constructive criticism is knowing that after dressing down a worker a manager needs to find a way to end the conversation on an encouraging note. The employee should want to get out there and perform not be so defeated they search out new employment.

Thank you to Anita for writing the helpful blog post and responding to my inquiry.

Please feel free to comment on your own personal attacks at work and what you do to keep from dwelling on them.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Job Market Rambings

“Job loss in U.S. worst since 1945” was the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel's newspaper headline yesterday. It seems as if media reports concerning the job market and unemployment are becoming increasingly dismal each day. Is it really that bad? Here are some examples of what I’ve been witnessing from southeast Wisconsin concerning the job market:

- My niece’s boyfriend graduated in May with a graphic arts degree from a prestigious art school. He interviewed with 27 different advertising agencies before receiving a second interview and ultimately a job offer. This occurred in early December. HR representatives told him companies have slashed their advertising budgets by 40%. This has been a humbling experience and he is grateful to finally have a permanent position.

- My company laid-off our first female salesperson for failing to meet her sales goals last fall. I blogged about her here. This was a real disappointment because she was our first female salesperson and also because it's rumored she didn't really try. Supposedly, she refused to follow up on sales leads. What was she thinking? Now she is unemployed in this economy.

- My company made a job offer to a candidate for the above position. He was looking to make a career change from inside sales to outside. After reviewing our benefit and salary package, he decided to stay where he was. He wasn’t willing to take the risk of working on a commission basis with fewer benefits in today’s economy.

- Our HR department reposted the advertisement for the above job on various internet web-sites; one day’s worth of resumes utilized an entire ream of paper and then some. The applicants come from the banking and mortgage industries, land development and recent college grads.

- While listening to a recent radio talk show, I heard the nursing industry is actively recruiting in the Milwaukee area. Nurses are in such short supply at the Wheaton Franciscan Healthcare in the Milwaukee-area city of Glendale that they gave $50 gas cards to experienced nurses just for showing up for an interview.

Last year, Kiplinger.com ran a feature about recession-proof careers. These fields include healthcare, education, security, environmental science and government. If your area of expertise can be performed in any sector such as IT, HR or accounting be sure to include the above sectors in your job search.

The headline in yesterday's paper is deceiving; our country's population is substantially larger today than it was in 1945. When comparing the percentage of individuals losing their jobs with the countries total population, the actual jobs lost was much worse in 1945 than it is today. In saying that and despite certain sector hiring, it appears that this is a challenging, humbling and scary job market for many individuals searching for new employment.