Archive for November, 2007

             I may be a sucker, but for decades I always went into a new job anticipating that everything will be perfect. Of course it never was. There were always surprises that came up and disappointed me. Over time, I’ve learned that they just go with the territory and generally go away before I know it. Of course, if you expect them to happen and know that they’re temporary, it will be a lot easier to take.


Unless you’re a little brain dead, no one likes to be bored. It closes in on you fast, particularly if it strikes at 10:00 AM and you’ve got nothing on the agenda for the day except lunch. The fact is, unless you have work to do, being at work is quite boring and new jobs are much worse. You can only create so many fact-finding meetings before they all run together and people get sick of talking to you. The first trick to beating the boredom is to anticipate that it will occur and don’t let it get you down. Remember, after about a month on the job you’ll be reminiscing about the days when you had free time. Second, never let anyone know that you’re bored. Managers want people with initiative and that means people who find useful things to do on their own. The last trick to fighting new job boredom is to actively seek out and embrace all work opportunities, even if they’re beneath you. Most people are afraid to do menial tasks for fear of getting stereotyped unworthy of their pay grade. My experience is that as long as you make it crystal clear that you’re taking it on as a learning experience and because you have some temporary free time, people never hold it against you. Instead, you earn a reputation right out of the gate as a team player who is confident in his or her place in the world. By the way, the person you reach out to help will be a friend for life and your boredom will end!

Projects You Don’t Understand           

I had one boss who called me into his office on the first day and gave me a half a dozen projects to work on immediately. This was my third job as Marketing VP and I knew the territory pretty well, but these assignments required deep knowledge or the market, customers, and products. I had no idea what he was talking about, nor where to begin. Rather than argue with him, I listened intently, took notes, and left with the projects in hand. Within the next 24 hours, I made lists of information I would need to know in order to get started on each project. On the third day, I met with my boss again and went over the lists of necessary information. He told me what he knew off the top of his head and then gave me names of people to see to get the rest. I doubt that I ever completed any of those projects, but two good things came out of the exercise. First, I got to demonstrate my critical thinking skills to my boss; and second, I learned a lot about how things got done and who to go to for important information. None of this would have happened if I had protested an obviously unfair assignment that first day.

Office Space           

My twenty-year old daughter just got the first job of her chosen career as a marketing intern. She called me the night she started and, among other things, told me about her office space: “Dad, they stuck me the desk right by the front door.” Even at this young age, she figured out that she had won the rookie prize of the worst space in the office. No one wants the desk by the front door. You’re constantly interrupted, everyone watches what you’re doing, and it’s impossible to have a private phone conversation. But she was the both the new kid on the block and the most junior – so that’s the seat she got.           

One of the biggest mistakes I made in my early years was to place far too much significance on the quality of my assigned office space. If I thought that my space was at all below that of my peers, I’d beat a path to the boss and start whining. The truth is office space assignments are almost never fair; they can’t be. Space is assigned on a first come, first served basis, so the new guy always gets the leftovers. If that’s you, just suck it up and get used to it. Complaining is a sure way to signal to your boss that you’re a self-centered, non-team player, with warped priorities. Relax. In most cases you’ll only be stuck in substandard space until somebody leaves or the time comes to move to new space. That is the only time when office-space allocation is perfectly fair.           

On the other hand, accepting poor office space with grace is actually a way to demonstrate that you’re a big picture person and a team player. A few times in my executive years, I tried to buck the trend and carved out superior space for a promising new subordinate. It always backfired. The rest of my team immediately assumed that the new guy was destined to become their next boss and shunned him. Life would have been much easier if I had just stuck him in a small cubical by the front door.

Indifferent Support           

Most white-collar workers are surrounded by a team of support people who take care of the mundane details of work life like distributing reports, booking travel, scheduling meetings, getting overnight deliveries to the mailbox on time, etc. These folks are typically punching a clock and making peanuts. They are also often masters of their own domain. They decide whose work gets done first and what gets shoved to the bottom of the pile. The boss always comes first, but after that they play favorites. People who are nice to them, bring them cookies, or just treat them like human beings get timely support. New guys who look like they think they’re important get squat. Unlike the other minor disappointments you’ll encounter on your new job, this is one you can do something about from the very beginning. I always make a point of introducing myself to the receptionist, mailroom staff, even the people in the cafeteria. In particular, I always go out of my way to makes friends with the boss’s secretary. Not only will this help you get things done, but your coworkers will notice that the little people all know your name and say hi every time you walk by. This is very good for your reputation.

The Real Pay Policy           

I haven’t always gotten the shaft when it comes to office space or administrative support on a new job, but I can state unequivocally that I’m always disappointed when I learn how the compensation plan truly operates. Lesson seven of Career Secret Sauce is devoted to the subject of salary policy and promotions so I will just hit on two of the typical issues for now.           

One thing you’ll never hear someone say during the interview is “we’ve maxed out the pay grade to make this offer and you won’t see a decent raise unless you get promoted.” But this happens a lot. Pay grades are like review mirrors, they reflect what the company paid people in the past for a given job. They never reflect the current market or the price people are willing to pay for a hot candidate in a field that’s in high demand. Pay scales are set by the Human Resources department and are meant to me fair to all, not necessarily the best deal for a top ranked new hire.            

The other thing you’ll never hear during the interview is: “virtually no one ever gets 100% of his or her bonus.” Yet it’s almost always true. You may have a letter in your hand that says your being offered $75,000 a year; made up of $55,000 in salary and $20,000 in bonus, but in most cases the bonus pools are only funded at 80-90% of full payout. The rationale for this is that more people will fail to meet their objectives, than surpass them. The people who fail will get less than a 50% payout and those who go beyond will get over 100%. The problem is most managers are cowards and they’re afraid to give someone a 50% payout. Invariably, payouts converge around the mean. If the mean is 85%, a superstar gets 95% and a laggard gets 75%.           

You can either ask these questions after you get a written offer or not. It’s certainly a good thing to know, but questions like these could scare off a potential employer or brand you as someone who is obsessed with money. If you don’t want to ask, or you’re already in a job and suspect these factors are negatively impacting your earnings potential, don’t start complaining or take it personal. Just let it go and the next time you change jobs, ask the questions and proceed with caution.

Just Develop “Thick Skin”

Your first new job is the most important one of your career. You just have to suck it up and make it go well. Above all else, you need to get 2-3 years of experience under your belt before you can even think about making waves. Most workers will change employers a half a dozen times over the course of their career. The first one is critical, but any job change that goes poorly can set you back for years, so it’s incumbent upon you to make them all successful. Focus on the things you can do to make your first job a success and the odds are excellent that you’ll never make a bad move.


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Financial Freedom


Last Sunday, I sat in the audience as my friend – Bob Thune (Pastor at SCC) walked through one of the finest dissertations I’ve ever heard on how to achieve financial freedom. It resonated with me, because it carries a similar message to the one I wrote for the close of Lesson 7: Promotionology; The Art of the Raise (see Bank Your Raise below). Given the level of debt many young people are now hauling into their careers, personal financial management is now more important than ever.

SCC is a major church with wonderful resources and thus all of their weekly messages are available in high quality streaming video. I recommend you watch it, even if you’re not Christian, or even of faith. There’s not too much preaching and well worth listening through to get at the simple truths that Bob presents.


Bank Your Raise           

A recent study by the Creighton University Center for Marriage and Family found that the three biggest obstacles to satisfaction in the lives of newly married couples were; balancing job and family, frequency of sexual relations, and debt brought into marriage. I’m certainly not going anywhere near sex in this book, but clearly the other two obstacles hit close to home. I know a lot of very wealthy people and I know people who are considered the “working poor”. I have seen people with huge incomes become miserable over money. I have also seen poor people who enjoy life every day and always seem to have a little pocket money. There is an old axiom that goes “it’s not what you make, it’s what you keep.” When it comes to how you rationalize the salary you earn at work, nothing could be more relevant. If you want to be miserable about money your entire life, get obsessed over your next raise and immediately increase your standard of living every time you get a raise. If you want to eliminate the number one cause of stress in your life, bank your raise. That means, as soon as you get a raise, figure out how much more you’ll be taking home every paycheck and automatically deposit that money into your bank account. It may sound corny, but save it for a rainy day – because there will be rainy days. Yes getting a raise and getting promoted is a wonderful thing, but if it becomes your obsession, you’ll wake up one day and find that you’ve missed a lot of your life and all you have to show for it is more stuff. Bank your raise, it will give you freedom to pursue more options and avoid one of the top sources of stress to you and your family.

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Toxic employees are out there and whether you’re a manager or a coworker to one, they pose a serious risk to your happiness as well as your potential career success. This article discusses the issue from the perspective of the manager, but if you read between the lines, you see that everything starts when coworkers speak out. If you have Toxic Employees in your work place, this is something to think about.



Liz Ryan Career Insight November 1, 2007, 12:10PM EST text size: TT

The Toxic Employee

If an employee isn’t working out, a manager should act quickly to prevent collateral damage to the work—and to the rest of the team

Any number of things can cause stress at work, from tight deadlines to business travel to reduced budgets. Still, we have to reserve a special place in the pantheon of workplace stress inducers for the person who keeps his or her job against all odds. I’m referring to the employee who desperately needs to be fired, yet isn’t. This person can disrupt a whole department without saying a word, as weeks and months go by and teammates wonder: “Why the heck is that guy still here? When is somebody going to deal with him/her?” If you’re the manager in this situation, you’ve got a situation that urgently needs addressing.

Sometimes, when employees have time for a cup of coffee outside the office or a drink after work, a manager will hear about the problem that’s plaguing the group. “No offense, Janice, but none of us can understand how Pete keeps his job,” you may hear. “I mean, he sits there doing nothing, day after day, and it doesn’t seem like you notice.” Or “Maryann is nice and all, but she knows nothing about marketing. Today she asked me what a search engine is. The team is starting to wonder whether you’re paying attention.”

More often, however, you won’t have the benefit of such forthright communication. It’s more likely that you’ll sense over time that there’s a person in the group who’s driving everyone else crazy. You may sense tension in the room or hallway when this person enters a conversation, or you may hear from another manager that his or her employees have been serving as sounding boards for your team members, complaining about Mr. or Ms. Awful. And because managers have long been taught that it’s inappropriate to discuss one employee with another employee, you can’t ask, “Is there something about Pete (or Maryann) that bothers you?” But you can ask a more general question: “There’s a current of unrest in the team, and I’d love to sort it out and get past it. Can you please give me your take on what’s wrong?” Then be silent.

Do a cost-benefit analysis

You may have your reasons for keeping Pete or Maryann on board. But the presence of people like Pete and Maryann does three bad things to your organization: No. 1, it sends the signal that you can’t tell great performance from abysmal performance. That steals people’s confidence in you as a manager. Now, as I mentioned, there may be mitigating circumstances. But you’ve got to know that there’s a cost to keeping a person on when public opinion is that you’d be better off without him or her.

Second, the presence of a nonperformer or terminally difficult person hurts team relationships. If Jane is a technical guru who spits fire at people when they speak to her, there’s a high cost for her technical expertise. If no one can stand to work on a project with her, the cost may be too high. If your employees feel that your need for Jane’s experience outweighs the pain she causes them and that you’re willing to let them suffer Jane’s toxic personality so you can get your quarterly bonus, expect morale to suffer. Expect top performers to begin to look around for a new job. People won’t stay in an environment where they don’t believe their best interests are looked after.

The third downside to keeping a non-favorite in the group is that the presence of the person becomes too big a focus, taking away energy from everything else you’ve got going on. “I can’t believe it—they let the temp go and kept Pete?” If you notice conversations coming to an abrupt halt when you approach, you’ve got some fact-finding to do.

No avoidance

Am I suggesting that your team should dictate who stays and who goes? Not at all—but your employees can see and hear a lot more than you can. If you’re not taking their views into consideration, you may be missing a lot of the action. Pete may be your favorite merely because he’s so docile. It pays to take a step back and consider: Is there a well-founded reason for the team’s dislike of Pete, Maryann, or Jane? Of course, your department isn’t a democracy. You make the tough decisions. But plenty of managers have put on blinders over the years, deferring tough decisions and tough conversations for the very reason that they are so unpleasant to deal with. Could that be your situation, too?

Ask yourself: If do-nothing Pete, clueless Maryann, or evil Jane won the lottery and gave notice tomorrow, would your department suffer? If not, there may be something to the rumors and feelings of discontent. Tough conversations are grueling to plan and conduct, and human-resource advisers aren’t as available to lend a hand as they once were. You may be putting off a tough process because you simply don’t have the heart for it. That’s not a good enough reason, however. If someone needs to be fired, you’ve got to start the process before you allow dysfunction to suck the energy out of the group.

Your process starts with research. What are this person’s performance goals, and what has he or she actually accomplished? Interpersonal relationships, contrary to popular opinion, are not irrelevant to performance planning. If one person on the team can’t go three days without upsetting one or more other members, you’ve got an issue. These are often the toughest situations for managers to confront, because the same attributes that make Jane so awful to her colleagues will make her defensive and argumentative when you sit down to address the issue. But that’s the way the cookie crumbles, for managers—you’ve got to confront the issue before it takes your entire department down.

As a longtime corporate HR leader, I’d say to nervous managers the day before a planned termination discussion, “Look, you’ve done what you needed to do, put this performance plan together and had all the tough conversations. Tomorrow, we will inform Jane together that her services are no longer needed. Don’t stress about it tonight—by this time tomorrow, an enormous weight will have been lifted from your shoulders.” And so it would be. Firing people is never easy, but firing the person whose every move says “fire me” is a great way to build your chops in this arena. After all, management isn’t all about granting bonuses, “attaboys” and “attagirls.” It’s the ability to make tough decisions, including cutting those team members whose presence does more harm than good, that separates managers-in-name-only from people whose leadership makes the team.

Liz Ryan is an expert on the new-millennium workplace and a former Fortune 500 HR executive. She can be reached at liz@asklizryan.com.

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Okay, how about some light and fun reading…

In Pictures: Yeah, Right …



Matthew Kirdahy, 10.18.07, 3:06 PM ET What do murderers and members of the workforce milking their company for time off have in common? An alibi. Welcome to a discussion about lying to your boss and–sometimes–getting away with it. It’s hardly criminal, so pardon the above analogy, but it could get you fired or at least ruin a colleague’s day.

Everyone does it, and everyone knows it’s shady. But whether or not that’s the reason, managers appear more amenable nowadays to requests for these unscheduled days off.

In Pictures: Yeah, Right …

In all likelihood, if you’re reading this, you’ve lied to your employer at some point in your professional life so you could use a “sick” day when you’re not actually ill. While you may not feel that you’re an indispensable part of the operation, your unwarranted absence can cause a serious problem because someone usually suffers, even if it’s not you.

Chances are, your boss has heard all the excuses in the book, so don’t think you’re reinventing the wheel when you call in before the day starts and say, “I was snowboarding off my roof last night while drunk and broke my leg” or “I’m feeling pregnant … like my wife.”

These are the kinds of responses Careerbuilder.com has gotten in a survey of hiring managers. The jobs Web site has conducted this research on sick-day alibis since 2004. In the last two years, the data have shown that 23% (2005) and 27% (2006) of managers have fired their employees for not having legitimate reasons for their “absenteeism.”

After all, time is money to these people. According to CCH, a human resources information company, absenteeism costs large companies (those with 1,000 or more employees) an average of $760,000 annually. CCH no longer tracks what it costs these companies per employee.

The CCH research also tracks the reasons for absenteeism from 1995 to 2007. The data showed a marked decline in “personal illness” as a reason for calling out of work from 45% in 1995 to 34% in 2007. “Family issues” has always remained second, followed by personal needs, entitlement mentality and stress.

Careerbuilder.com offers one piece of solid advice: “Honesty is the best policy,” said Jennifer Sullivan, spokeswoman for Careerbuilder.com. “Fortunately, more hiring mangers today and more employers today are much more understanding about needing that extra day off.”

Note: “Day” is singular.

That’s how the whole faking sick thing became a problem. People abused what had essentially become a privilege in the workplace by turning occasional into often. If you’re fortunate enough to have a boss who is a human being, it’s best to tell him or her that you’re stressed to the max and need a day to use as few brain cells as possible, preferably slumped in front of the TV. Maybe you have other personal matters to tend to.

Addie Johnson will tell you. She’s the author of The Little Book of Big Excuses, and she came up with the book idea when trying to juggle a “day job” with her pursuits in acting. She would think of 101 ways to call out of work for an audition.

In the book, she discusses the major pitfalls of calling in sick. Her best advice: “Don’t call with every symptom known to man. Keep it simple sicky. If you’re calling up with the flu, you don’t need to tell your boss that you have nausea, vertigo and the shakes.”

“Keep it simple, so you can get in and get out.”

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