It’s been a minute since I’ve contributed anything for TNC. What am I saying? It’s been more than a minute since I posted anything at all…
I’m sorry. With all the best of intentions for posting more regularly, I find time passing with a remarkable rapidity while I’m juggling flaming brands and suddenly it’s been months between posts. At least I know I’m not alone in post frequency lapses as my friends Tangent and Tess have both attested to in their own forums. Life happens and as previously attested, time passes. And that is about as much apologizing as I’m going to do on this point… back to what prompted this post…
Competing. Now, all in all, I have to say that healthy competition can be very beneficial. A lot of erudite folks have actually done studies to show that children among peers actually progress better when they have evenly matched colleagues to spur their own creative or productive efforts in competition. There is absolutely nothing wrong with competing or testing our own abilities against those of others. There are large amounts of money spent and made off of this concept on a professional and even amateur levels of this in sporting events. However, it isn’t limited to just physical prowess.
Competition is everywhere. It exists in academia. It exists, obviously, in market and business. It exists in the workplace. Employers in sometimes well-meaning but unthinking ways attempt to encourage productivity or innovation by creating competition and comparison in the office. In the purity of form, there really isn’t anything wrong with this either. Humans tend to excel when given something to exceed, even when that something to exceed is their colleague or a team in the other department or a different segment of the business. But, it can be taken too far. Additionally, it can become a lifestyle or a culture and that can become stressful and unhealthy.
Every job has expectations. Most employers have to set a scale of some sort that identifies when an employee is meeting or exceeding (or even failing to meet) those expectations. In artistic or creative arenas, the esthetics become the measure of acceptance and success. However in the more prosaic areas of toil and with larger workforces, you have to have something a bit more objective. It would be wonderful to just say everyone deserves the same increase or bonus, but that is neither feasible or realistic. Also, human beings are … well… human. If Sally looks over and sees John sitting on his laurels and doing nothing but knows that she is paid the same as he is regardless… Sally wonders why she should have to work so hard. She might (if she has no pride in her actual work) give up and decide to slack off like John. “We’re all getting paid the same anyway… why should I bother?”
And there it is… the downside of the competition/comparison game…
The bigest fail point of competition or comparison is that when we start trying to evaluate score and tally it up by comparing ourselves to some other person, we are always going to lose. This isn’t just in the workplace, by the way. I talk to couples all the time who have gotten stuck in this imaginary scoreboard where one party always thinks they are doing more than the other. Nobody wins. Everyone feels like they get the short end of the deal. It creates resentment and hurt feelings and antagonism instead of support. In relationships, it generally takes a while to counter the mindset of the score-keeping competition. I end up spending a lot of time trying to get each party to start feeling more like a team player instead of looking to see how they are getting short-changed in the system. The same occurs in the workplace. Overly competitive environments breakdown sense of team and turn everything into silos of influence where people hold back information and decline to help so that they can “out perform” that guy over there or the other business segment.
Again, I’m not saying that competition is a bad thing. It often results in better options for a customer as people try to offer better for less. However, in less purely capitalistic arenas (and when taken to extremes), it can lead to negativity. Comparing oneself to others constantly generally leads to resentment and lassitude. “I’m never going to be like her/him… so, quit trying?” or better yet, “It wouldn’t matter if I did ten times the stuff they’re doing, I’ll never get the credit. So, I’m just going to do what it takes to get by…” It’s depressing, and for managers who try to encourage the best performance from all members of their team it’s exhausting, disheartening, and sometimes quite infuriating. Again, it’s applicable in other, non-work instances because whenever people compare their own input into a situation, relationship, or project, they always feel like they are doing more than the other participants and getting less out of it. Aaannnnndddd… resentment again.
So, when is it ok to compare, or perhaps, is there a comparison that can be more positive? Why, yes there is! It is absolutely free, and if you call in the next 5 minutes…oh wait, that’s something else. What I mean to say is the best comparison is always to our own performance. When we are looking to others instead of to our own performance past and present, we’re never running our best race. For many, winning against someone else only involves doing the minimal effort to just surpass rather than giving it all we’ve got. The best competition is always to better our own performance and achieve personal goals, taking pride in that outcome. Oh, don’t get me wrong, I love recognition and external praise/reward as much as the next person… it’s just if I rely solely on that for my sustenance, I’m probably gonna starve, but that is a whole other issue (SELF-PITY PARTY FOR ONE, YOUR TABLE IS READY!) Consistently working to improve and seeking self-approbation for achieving a goal can be incredibly satisfying. For myself, I enjoy a friendly competition now and then, but the true wins for me will always be judged on how I did against myself.
I’ve come to a very difficult conclusion in my life… I’m old.
At least, that is the best and most feasible explanation for what I might term as an involuntary revulsion and full body shudder when watching current events, attending meetings, listening to conference calls, or reading emails and allegedly professional publications. I’ve seriously tried to find any other explanation than my downward slide into the deterioration of advanced years, but I was finally forced to face my fears and dreads. I’m old. I’ve reached that stage of maturity that twitches at the extreme levels of informality and familiarity that speaks only given names and coins terminology that Webster never intended. I’m not the cool, hip career woman I wanted to be…
Did I really want to be? And… that is a topic for a whole other post. My point here is a peeve of mine (pet? not really): The overuse of “hip” jargon, slang, and familiarity in allegedly professional contexts. Honestly, I do understand the desire to appeal to the young and innovative generations, but seriously? Do we have to give over all dignity? And to be frank, what does some of that crap mean?!?
Just for example, let me run through some of the more glaring vocabulary issues.
Side hustle. This is also known to most people as a second job. Yeah, so apparently that doesn’t sound nearly cool enough. Therefore making it sound like something you could possibly be arrested for on the street corner while catching a communicable disease sounds oh so much better.
Buy-in. This one isn’t nearly so twitch-inducing to me, but it is possibly due to over-saturation levels of hearing it when I worked briefly in the advertising segment of a business publication (yes, that happened… I don’t like to talk about it). Anyhow, the problem is minor, but here it is. This terminology is fine if you are talking about investing… or possibly poker. However, it has come to be used in business situations as accepting an idea. It has the power of making someone who doesn’t actually go along with the proposal feel that they are missing out on a deal, right? “ACT NOW… While supplies last…WE HAVE OPERATORS STANDING BY…”
Move the needle. Unless you are a seismic event, or possibly a lie detector? What people generally mean by this is to point out that a change will or won’t actually have a measurable effect. See what I did there? I used actual vocabulary that explains that any change of process should be impactful. It should have a measurable outcome. In other words, we don’t just do something to say “look what we are doing.” It should have a result. That said, this little phrase probably sounded truly profound… the first time. After saying it for every bloody process change, it rather loses that shiny new profundity. When it is applied to process changes that have no appreciable effect? It loses all meaning.
Corporate values. Only one thing to say about this one. Corporations don’t have values. People have values. Corporations have policies. Boil it down, people. The leadership of a company values certain human characteristics and believes that those characteristics will support the identified mission of the company? Awesome. Then, say that.
Take the temperature. Because someone might have a fever or be incubating a virus? Because you want to see what to wear today? What the actual…? Apparently, this little phrase has taken the place of hoary ol’ chestnuts like “testing the water.” I suppose it is meant to say that you are evaluating whether someone is amenable to an idea? Like, “I think they are warming up to me,” or perhaps, “She seems quite cool in her demeanor.” However, it seems just a little invasive, to be honest. I always seem to picture a rectal thermometer… ok, so no one else does that? My bad…
Game-changer. This one makes my list because, honestly, overuse. Everything is a “game-changer” it seems. Truth be told, the results never quite answer to the hype there. Additionally… it’s not all a game. If everything seems like a game to you, might I interest you in an MMPI for psychopathy?
Empower. Great word. Improperly used most of the time. I believe entirely in empowering people. That is to say that I think individuals should be given the tools and knowledge to advocate for themselves. I think they should be given opportunity to grow. However, I see this used more often by managers, directors, and various forms of business leadership as a way to spin their disengagement from advocating for their own employees. Instead of abandoning them to sink or swim, “I’m empowering them to act on their own behalf.” Um… really? I don’t think that is what that is supposed to mean.
Open the kimono. So, I’ll just disclose here that I’ve never truly heard this one used myself, but I read it in an article and snarfled my coffee. There are so many things wrong with this phrase, I do not have sufficient time or space to innumerate. It is meant to be a clever euphemism for “reveal the information.” The levels of cultural and gender insult… well, let me just say that I hope that I never actually encounter this phrase in real life. Lewd. Inappropriate. Slightly perverted.
Think outside the box. Again, overuse, and if we truly examine the number of years that everyone has been encouraged to think outside of this imaginary box, it begs the question: Is anyone thinking inside it anymore? Does the box even exist? Maybe the new innovative thinker thinks inside the box.
Drill down/Deep dive. I put these phrases together because they generally mean the same thing. It is someone’s attempt to illustrate getting into the most minute of details regarding a project or report. Often the reason for this is a negative outcome or errors. It is technically not that offensive, but it is unnecessarily “cool” terminology. It makes it sound like an adventure instead of what it truly is: A lot of time examining huge amounts of information looking for what amounts to a specific needle in a pile of other remarkably similar needles.
And now to the section that I like to call “grammatically challenged” or “what part of speech are you?”
Solutioning. This is not a word. Most spellcheckers will actually scream at you for even trying to type it. So, stop it! Solution is a noun. It is NOT a verb of transitive, action, or passive form. You cannot add -ed or -ing to it. The word you are looking for is solve. When we are trying to make the meaning of this word an action, we say SOLVE! or solving or solves or solved. We can resolve. However solution is the result of solving… unless we are talking about chemistry and that is the combination of two or more elements… or is that a compound. Anyhow, the moral of the story… stop trying to solution things.
Leverage (as a verb). Again, see above. A lot of folks like to use this to mean influence or put on pressure to change a situation or opinion in their own favor. This would be applying leverage.
Ask (as a noun). I’m not precisely sure where this came from originally. A friend actually told me that this is a prison culture form of speaking. In that context, “the ask” is a favor for which the person doing the asking is promising a future claim to the person granting the request. Oh, and yes, that is actually the correct form: The request. Ask is a verb.
Synergize/Synergistic. Blame Stephen Covey for this language/grammar mutilation. When he wrote about those 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, it was mind-blowing, ground-breaking, and a few other hyperbolic terms to describe common sense concepts collected and marketed in palatable form. He made the noun synergy into a verb to imply cooperation of two or more individuals with unique talents for the purpose of unified positive outcome. It’s been nearly 30 years now, it’s totally ok to use proper words again to describe collaboration.
Learning, or learnings (as a noun). This is another of those things that people say, going for clever… and missing. We do not get “learnings” from educational seminars or training programs. We can learn new facts and ideas. We can develop new skills. When I read or hear people talking about their “learnings,” I generally think they skipped class.
Socialize it. Apparently this is the new way we disseminate information. We no longer announce or provide. I blame social media for this one. Since Twitter and Facebook have a broader outreach capacity than your general office memo, the concept of broadcasting information that needs to reach masses of individuals can no longer be merely “told” or “shared.” I suppose socializing also makes it sound more fun. I suppose I can also blame certain psychological concepts. We talk about socializing children to help them learn to interact with others. However, might I call your attention to the fact that information shared doesn’t interact and doesn’t need to learn not to bite the other children in daycare.
Actionable. If you are not an attorney discussing legal aspects of a contract or case, please do not use this. Just no. Thank you.
Hack. “What’s wrong with hack?” I hear you say. We can hack through underbrush and hack fallen trees to create combustible fuel for warmth. The term has been adopted now by the computer age to mean taking apart code and sneaking through security. Sadly, now, it is now used as a noun… and verb… applied to life? I really do not need to hack up my life. It is quite unnecessary to damage it further. To call something a “life hack” sounds catchy and modern, clever… slightly illegal… and ridiculous. They aren’t hacks. Hack is a verb. It is a strategy or an idea or a helpful piece of advice that might make something challenging more reasonable or simple. That’s not hacking. That’s helping.
There are others. Of course, there are; like everyone calling each other by first names and acting like everyone is old college chums in every board meeting. Overly familiar behavior, lack of formality, and general misuse of language. Every day someone, somewhere misuses a word that becomes popular slang because of the situation or the popularity of said person. Seemingly without end, I continue to hear these newly coined terms and assassinated parts of speech thrown about like rice at a wedding. Oh, wait, we don’t throw rice at weddings anymore. There’s that age thing again. It would just be nice to say what we mean without trying so hard to sound hip or cool. It’s become rather passé, which is the opposite of hip and cool, right? What I think, personally, would be fabulous would be for professional people in professional situations to actually conduct themselves and sound like they have intelligence and a sense of decorum and respect for their colleagues. That, in my so humble opinion, would be the hippest. And then again… maybe I’m just old.
I think one of the most difficult parts of existing, persisting, and excelling in the new marketplace, business structure, or classroom of today is trying to absorb and respect all the cultural aspects and diversity that exist and understand what each different facet exemplifies as consideration and manners… and what apparently doesn’t rate as worthy of such. For me, this is a daily… ok, hourly struggle. Let me boil it down and stop dancing around what I’m trying to say. Respect! That is it. It is the considerable lack of manners and respect that appear to have prevailed in a greater sense and with growing rudeness for well over a decade, possibly two!
At one point, I think I blamed the 80’s… you know, that “Me Era” that people talk about where wolves ran Wallstreet and were popularized as the It dudes and Tiger Ladies of society and success. Where the merit of standing on and walking over people to get to the top meant you were hungry, ambitious, and Machiavellian (not originally or necessarily a compliment, by the way) instead of being recognized as, well… just a jerk. What everyone seems to block out and ignore is that the majority who didn’t manage to find the secret of their success or make it to the top though still emulating the cut-throat behaviors of those who did were not so admired. Being a jerk without the accompanying glitter of fame and fortune merely made you an asshat with no manners instead of a shark gobbling the competition and commanding adulation from the pilot fish hoping to feed upon the leftovers and crumbs. Sadly, even with a resurgence of vintage and nostalgia waving merrily in our fashion columns, eBay sales, and television programming, the old fashioned concepts of please, thank-you, sorry, excuse me, and waiting your turn never seem to make the comeback. Instead, social media and popular figures have continued to promote talking over, talking badly, interrupting, insulting, and generally treating even friends, family, or colleagues worse than you would a soiled nappy from a baby’s bum.
And… I seem to have gotten myself off my originally intended topic… looks like it may be one of those days.
One of the biggest peeves that has been on my radar of late is a sadly common failing of an occupational perk. Now that technology has really made it possible to be in multiple places at once virtually and hold meetings all over the world from the comfort of your bedroom, telecommuting has been embraced globally. Not only do the employees dig it, many companies are finding it financially attractive due to less time lost for commuting, socializing (but wait, people still socialize, don’t they? I’ll get to that), and illness. They have a greater access to quality staff who may not want to move to Mumbai just for project management position or chance at promotion. It is truly fascinating to be able to work in three countries without actually leaving my office. Very sci-fi. But like any other wonderful advancement, there is always something a little less positive for which we must control. In this case… it might be due to lack of maturity. On the other hand, I may just be overly sensitive to certain immaturity levels and not giving people enough credit because this is a serious hot button of mine. Telecommuting requires a certain level of self-discipline. Without a boss looming or coworkers watching, you have only yourself to crack a whip or focus that attention that wondered over to the laundry that is laying over there next to, but not actually in the hamper. However, that is an even more responsible distraction than the most common. It is far more likely that the attention was actually drawn by social media newsfeed, online shopping, or random video rabbit hole… and before you know it many, many moments have flitted by without a single productive activity.
Additionally, one of the benefits of the telecommuting gig is that your actual commute is likely a few steps away instead of a slogging to a tram stop or having to drive through harrowing rush hour traffic. It also means that meetings may be attended in pajamas or worse (please don’t share, and keep that webcam OFF). Morning briefings don’t require so much as a good tooth brushing, much less hair being tidied. Then again, without anyone looking, it is also just as easy to multitask during said briefings. Trainings, meetings, and conferences held across the ether without any accountability that you are actually paying attention… oh yes, it happens. And… I am as guilty as the next person. I’m not going to lie about it. That doesn’t excuse the behavior, though. Whether I believe that a meeting deserves my full, riveted attention or not, I should at least try to make sure that I am absorbing the majority of what is being shared by “being here now” (as we say in my company). I cannot complain about being left out of decision-making or not having all the information needed to perform my duties if I’m not listening while they may actually be imparting that very same wisdom I seek. As I have grown to understand how my own success frequently is tied to taking responsibility for my own actions, behaviors, and attention, I try to make sure that I am giving my attention (painful as it is sometimes) in meetings, trainings, and conferences.
So, why is this a rant, and what has me so peeved? Well, one of the outcomes of people not “being here now” in teleconference situations (or even in person as many of my workplace folks and teachers will attest) is that they miss important announcements, information shared that they may need later, which leads to errors and chastisement, and generalized annoyance spawned within the hearts of managers and supervisors at large. Distilled to the purest form, this aggravation stems from the fact that people don’t @#$%ing listen! There is nothing quite like that feeling of being asked something that has been trained upon, gone over in meetings, reminded in emails, and provided in job aids or instruction manuals readily available in a common and easily accessible location. A colleague and I were mutually absolving our consciences of the desire to throw large temper tantrums over this exact phenomenon. It seems we have both continually experienced the scenario of staff members who will continually ask questions about things that 1) is not new information and has not changed for say the last 2-4 years; 2) should not really require either of our positions, educations, or experience to answer… because it is available in job aids, from their peers, and various other sources of disseminated information; 3) the question has actually been answered before directly to said person as well as to the team or possibly department… multiple times; and 4) it is available in a memo that was emailed to everyone, maybe even that same week. We both were able to come to some insight as to why the aggravation and anger over this particular peeve seemed more difficult than any other to shake. The most likely reason is because each and every time that it happens, it actually implies… actually shouts, loudly… “I DON’T BLOODY LISTEN TO YOU BECAUSE YOUR @#$% AIN’T THAT IMPORTANT TO ME, AND NEITHER IS YOUR TIME SINCE I DEMAND THAT YOU DROP EVERYTHING YOU ARE CURRENTLY DOING AND ANSWER ME.” Granted this is the perception rather than the intention, but it goes back to the first little tangent I traipsed upon at the beginning of this post: Consideration and manners have become a rare commodity. The rule has become that most people consider that their priorities are much more important and therefore more of a priority than any other priority that you might have prioritized in your own mind… Yes, that is a lot of priorities. When everyone thinks that their stuff is the most important and more important than anyone else’s, we start to have a problem. People who believe themselves to be the center of the universe have a tendency to dismiss anything else and anyone else as trivial.
What’s the one conclusion I can bring this number to? (I totally went there…) First, be present and pay attention. Maybe it is boring. Maybe you don’t feel like you should have to take time away from your Facebook, Twitter, and Amazon perusals to listen, but the person presenting or holding the meeting put their time and energy into it. Shouldn’t you at least give them a small amount of yours to actually listen? Second, do your own homework. Look things up. Use your resources before potentially interrupting the flow of someone else’s work to ask what you may very easily have found was already answered earlier. And lastly, remember that other people are just as busy as you believe yourself to be. It is entirely possible that they cannot suspend their current activity in order to immediately answer your inquiry (that may actually have an answer in the aforementioned resources). Exercise some patience before double texting, blowing up instant message, or lighting up every one of their phones. (See Pause and Reflect while you are at it.)
So endeth the rant. In the spirit of full disclosure… some of the people out there trying to keep you informed and focused on quality of performance are feeling a little unappreciated, ignored, and unheard… in short, we feel a little disposable, much like the meeting agenda/class syllabus/memorandum that we took a week (or more) to create and you took less than a second to toss in the trash (or deleted items file).
Ok, I’m done now, for real. <sigh> as you were… Pity party of one… ah, that’s my table ready.
And nurses, counselors, therapists, caregivers, social workers, case managers, community health workers, teachers, first responders, peer outreach… in short any person who spends their time (work or volunteer) opening themselves to the experiences of others’ suffering. In a recent continuing education exercise, I was asked to examine myself for resilience and potential risk of compassion fatigue. The simple act of participating in the exercise and completing the assignments for the course reminded me of the very great risk that people in caring roles face of suffering from the “cost of caring.” Amy Cunningham speaks of this beautifully and concisely in a Ted Talk, describing what this cost can be and toll it takes (link in the credits below, totally worth the viewing).
Many of us who work and volunteer in roles of service have adopted the philosophy that self-denial in pursuit of career, advancement, and the care of others is to be admired. Self-sacrifice is applauded and rewarded. Going above and beyond is the expectation. Adding insult to the expected self-injury is that we are frequently also required to be above the consequences or be able to physic our own resulting ailments. To a certain extent, I can agree with admiring dedication and industry. A good work ethic is absolutely to be admired. However, there is a fine line between a good work ethic and good self-care. I occasionally use that line as a jump rope (more about that later). For those of you in the caring professions, and a few of you who are not, you have likely heard the term “compassion fatigue.” You may also have heard this described as secondary traumatization or vicarious trauma. What many people think of when folks talk about stress related to caring for others is burnout. I want to tell you now, that these are different concepts, related but decidedly not the same.
As caring professionals, we frequently are exposed to the traumatic experiences and information that can be shocking, depressing, or even devastating just being exposed to it, hearing it, visualizing it, and empathizing with the victims in our care. Empathy is one of the most important tools of the caring professions, but there is a cost involved in being empathic day after day. Repeated exposure or even just one event that triggers some recognition or identification becomes a lived sensory experience that transports the care giver into the realm of the victim. Some professionals begin experiencing symptoms of traumatic stress, much like those of the people who have been involved in critical incidents or crises. Different than counter-transference where the experience mirrors or parallels experiences from their own lives or triggers emotional reactivity in the part of the caregiver because of personal history, they respond with stress related symptoms purely out of empathy for the situation of those they assist. The frequency or intensity of just experiencing the trauma through the eyes of the individual they are helping is sufficient to trigger signs and symptoms. This is compassion fatigue. It is not my intent in this post to give all the specific signs and symptoms of traumatic stress, but in broad strokes, it has physical, cognitive, behavioral, emotional, and spiritual impact. It can impact relationships. It can impact efficacy as a professional.
Ok… I hear you saying, “but that sounds a lot like burnout.” Here is the most significant difference: Victims of burnout have gotten to the point that they just want to give up. They have nothing left to give, no space to absorb. They have exhausted their energy, empathy, and passion, like a bulb that was used until failure or a battery run past minimum charge. The way most experts in this topic differentiate between compassion fatigue and burnout is that people who have gotten to the point of burnout frequently no longer want to practice their profession or calling. While compassion fatigue results in risks for the professional and their clients due to potential boundary concerns and difficulty managing the stress they experience, burnout can lead to the loss of empathy and resentment towards those for whom they once cared. Professionals and volunteers with burnout can become callous and appear uncaring or harsh. It can result in errors of omission in services rendered and potential harm to patients or clients.
The important piece of this puzzle is that neither of these conditions are unavoidable. Taking the appropriate actions in self-care, consultation, and support can provide preventative measures to avoid the pitfalls of vicarious trauma and even help bring caring professionals back from the brink of burnout.
Insight into your own needs and responses can be the best preventative measure. Watch for your own signs of drowning: Irritability, sleeplessness, dread going on shift, numbness to any and all emotional content (personal or professional), rumination and inability to let go at the end of the day, fatigue, isolation, using (or abusing) alcohol or drugs… You know your own signs best. Self-awareness is the best primary defense, but when we fail to see our own symptoms, it is good to have the buddy system. Friends, family, colleagues are often great at noticing when you are “not yourself.”
Over the years, I have gotten to be much better at spotting my own particular signs of distress (and knowing how to combat these signs). When my natural defense system is on emotional overload, I fall back on my introversion and a combination of task and avoidance oriented coping (You thought task and avoidance would be mutually exclusive, didn’t you?). When I start running a tad low, I tend to become more task-oriented, workaholic, and isolating. I avoid situations and people that require my emotional presence. I tend to shut people out if it isn’t work related, and I let things go that are my best forms of self-care: Running, gym time, sleep, meditation, and play… yes play. Adult or not, we all need recreation. It helps us rejuvenate our cognitive processes. But when I’m overdrawing my emotional and empathic accounts due to work or personal stressors, these self-care processes always seem to be the first to go. I know myself well enough (after, the unspecified number of years I will admit to being on the planet) that I recognize when things in my life have gotten out of hand and I have reached that aggregate limit. When this happens, I try to fill my time and avoid any activities that might let my mind drift to the very topics or memories that hurt… and yet theses topics and memories are likely the very ones that probably need most to be taken out, examined, and processed. With that self-awareness, I also know that timing is key. If I push myself too soon, it doesn’t serve the best purpose, but if I leave it too long, my self imposed exile becomes way to comfortable and I won’t want to rejoin the world. This is where that support network comes in handy. Friends and colleagues who know me best are also the best at dragging me back out of any caves I might crawl into and encouraging the self-care I’ve probably been neglecting.
For you, my readers, I encourage an honest self examination and evaluation. Be ruthless. Be thorough, and try to recall how you handle critical events and times of intense stress. Evaluate time and outcome. How did it work? List the coping strategies that you have in your toolbox, and objectively determine whether they are truly helpful or maybe not so much.
Prevention is a keystone to good health and good mental health. Restorative and preventative exercises can divert compassion fatigue from become burnout. It is important to get rest, exercise, nutrition, and time away from constant exposure to shared trauma and the histories that recount horrific occurrences. Most jobs and deployments have leave or paid time away. It is there for a reason. Take a break. Use that time. Most importantly, it is crucial to have appropriate training, refresher courses, supervision, and/or consultation. Carrying the burden can get extra heavy, and consultation (or supervision) provides ethical opportunities to identify and address challenging aspects of situations that may trigger stress. It is important to employ your ethical decision making model and engage with colleagues who can be objective and provide good clinical counterpoint. Professional colleagues can often provide support to each other and offer insight when we get overwhelmed in our own empathic response.
Lastly, I would encourage those of you out there caring for others to remember your own natural supports: Family and friends. We often have to be concerned with confidentiality, and we also wish to protect the ones we love from some of the things we see, hear, and experience. However, don’t shut them out. You need not share details of information gained under the cloak of privacy and confidentiality (or when the story is just too terrible), but you can share your own feelings and fears. You can explain your own reactions without having to give details of the stimuli. Stay connected to humanity, especially your own. That can give you a life jacket to prevent drowning in empathy, and regardless of the proverbial command in the title, it is completely unnecessary to heal yourself.
Amy Cunningham presents on Ted Talks, Drowning in Empathy. http://edu.ava360.com/drowning-in-empathy-the-cost-of-vicarious-trauma-amy-cunningham-tedxsanantonio_d7a4359c8.html
For any profession, there are usually a variety of organizations that have been created over the years that exist as a “club” if you will for people who have chosen a particular career path. Throughout history these various groups have clustered together informally and then formally to let people with like minds and similar studies interact with each other and exchange information. As times moved on and more and more professions splintered off and specialized, these groups and organizations also multiplied in attempts to garner membership and specifically catering to the knowledge base of those who fit their membership profiles.
There has been a debate about the necessity and importance of these particular groups. Some say that anyone of a particular professional identity should join the organization or organizations to which they fulfill the professional criteria and specialties. There are those who believe that we must band together as a professional group to show our solidarity. There are others that believe that it is all a giant waste of time and money, and in fact, that joining is just a way for the leadership of said groups to make money off the flocks of professional sheep that herd together.
So, where does that leave us on the question? Here is what professional organizations do for the professionals of their varying flavors:
Advocate for professional identity and benefit
Provide oversight and require professional conduct guidelines
Addresses questions and concerns of the profession
Provides leadership opportunities
Provides a platform for publication of research
Professional networking opportunities
That is, by no means, a comprehensive list. However, it does cover the most common benefits of membership in professional organizations. I’ll now address each of these points with a brief description or explanation of what it means.
Advocacy. To be recognized as a profession worthy of reimbursement is sometimes not automatic. Especially with healthcare professions, third-party payment has always been a turf war between the varying professional options. Professional organizations can lobby for legislation that defends their ability to get paid and hold that turf. Additionally, with any profession that engages with the public to provide some commodity or service, there can be disputes. While it has been said that the customer is always right, that isn’t always true or the best way to mediate said disputes. We’ve sadly become a very litigious society where there are individuals and groups of individuals who deliberately look for opportunities to bring legal action against entities for some sort of gain, monetary, social, or power. Professional organizations provide advocacy to address action and evaluate the claims of malfeasance or harm. This serves to make the profession the best ethically that it can be. Which brings use to…
Ethical and Professional Oversight. Without some sort of organized understanding of what the scope of practice is for any particular profession, folks identifying themselves as such could go about willy-nilly taking on whatever task or role they wish without any thorough examination of their ability or right to do so. What does that mean? That means that professionals who identify as a particular role would be bound to hold to specific requirements set to protect not only the professional themselves, but also to protect the recipients of their service. It also makes sure that any professional claiming to provide a certain service will maintain their knowledge and skills to the required level to avoid harm to those they serve. This is the area that sets boundaries to make sure that professionals do not violate their customers, clients, or patients and by so doing cause harm. As such, members of the professional organization in good standing can be trusted by potential clients, customers, and patients as vouched for by such to adhere to their ethics and principles.
Malpractice Protection. Really not a lot to be said here. It is fairly self-explanatory, and it goes along with the advocacy piece. Many professional organizations sponsor or provide access to insurance that provides financial support for addressing claims of malpractice. The professional must pay the premiums, of course, but having membership in the professional organization is usually required or at least provides a discount to purchase the coverage.
Address Questions and Concerns. Professional organizations can be a source of information and consultation in situations where information is sought. Often these organizations are available to the public for complaint or question regarding the stance of the profession about varying concerns. Also, clients, customers, and patients of individuals belonging to said group have an agency by which any wrongs, violations, or professional misconduct can be addressed and punitive damages assessed to make sure that the standard of the profession is upheld.
Publication of Research. Many professional organizations have media publications ranging from academic journals to online blogs. These publication opportunities allow for professionals to publish their findings, research, and best practice observations to share with others to broaden the field and expand the breadth of knowledge applicable for the betterment of the customers, clients, and patients who receive their service. Members of the professional organizations often receive the subscriptions as a part of their membership fees. They also have opportunity to see presentations and attend workshops, seminars, and conferences where the information is shared with professionals as an educational opportunity. Many professions require continuing education to stay current with the most up to date practices to benefit clients. Most professional organization sponsor educational opportunities, including free or discounted courses to fulfill those requirements.
Leadership. For those in the profession who might have ambitions to direct the course of their chosen field, belonging to a professional organization and moving into positions of contribution and leadership might be just their style. Individuals who seek to help their profession grow and change can embrace that ambition by belonging to such a group, which can provide the opportunity to direct that growth and change and share their vision.
Professional Networking Opportunities. Belonging to an organization allows a professional to meet and interact with others of their field that otherwise would not necessarily be within their daily contact. Many professional networks stretch beyond the confines of state or even national borders to allow professionals to communicate and form contacts with varied cultural experiences, broadening and enriching the understanding and conceptualization of the profession.
Marketing. The truth is that most people in any profession are not participating merely for the fun of it or as an avocation. Most are in the profession to earn an income. If we’re lucky, we don’t hate it. However, the bottom line is… well, the bottom line. We want to pay our bills and be successful in our profession in the sense of financial stability. Gone are the days of hanging a shingle and waiting for people to come banging on the door. Most occupations and professions require some sort of advertisement to let potential clientele know that they are there and what service they provide. The clientele available have become more savvy in the modern era. While word of mouth is still a good form of verification, many people also look for external validation of service. Professional organizations frequently keep a list of their membership which also confirms the “good standing” marker for potential clients. Ethical violations or misconduct would result in said professional being removed from the roster. Potential customers can use that as a type of safety check to make sure that they are getting the genuine quality article for their money. Some organizations even have advertisement opportunities or search features on websites to allow for potential clients to search for that type of professional that would be in their geographic territory.
Again, this is not a complete or extensive list of the activities or benefits of membership to any organization. It’s just a brief overview.
I need to make a distinction between certain organizations that pertain to areas of learning and career paths. There are some that are also what I will call credentialing bodies. These professional organizations not only provide all of the aforementioned benefits, but they also are the gatekeepers to the profession by providing certification. I will use a mental health profession as my example since I know it best. There are many different groups and professional societies for mental health professionals. There is the National Board of Certified Counselors (NBCC), the National Association of Social Workers (NASW), the American Association of Marriage and Family Therapists (AAMFT), the American Counseling Association (ACA), and the American Psychological Association (APA)… just to name a few. Some of these organizations allow for student, professional, and retired memberships. Some also exist as credentialing organizations. The NBCC, NASW, and AAMFT serve not only as the guiding organizations for their professions but also as the gatekeepers. Individuals entering the professions complete examinations to be certified and qualified. State boards often require those certifications or endorsements in order to grant licensure. Many states have severe legislation against those who practice without licensure or oversight by a licensed professional. Other groups, such as the ACA and APA, are voluntary but require application to be assessed for membership. Yet other levels of organization grant specialty endorsement for roles such as clinical supervision. Yes… I know, it gets complicated, confusing, and costly to decide what all to join and determine benefit vs. expense.
And now… to the detriment? Some professional organizations are remarkably expensive. Many have subsets of the main membership for specialties, as I mentioned previously. This means that you have dues for the main membership and then might have multiple specialization groups that have their own additional dues. Adding all together, some membership dues can cost hundreds of dollars. Most professional organizations require members to qualify (as stated above), meaning they have passed some sort of test or course of study to enter the profession in question. There are some for which the only qualification is paying the dues, but for others, the criteria are a bit more stringent. For those with more rigorous qualification requirements, it is less about elitism and more about making sure that the member they are backing is who they say they are.
With all of that said, there are other types of groups and organizations that can be considered honor societies. These are generally organizations that reflect upon the academic or professional performance level of an individual. Most of these organizations select and invite membership from student bodies based on course of study and academic performance. These types of organizations can also require a fee for membership, but often it is one time and pays for certificates, regalia, and other physical symbols of achievement. While they do not necessarily provide all of the same sort of opportunities as the professional organizations, membership provides endorsement and accreditation for achieving certain levels of quality. In other words, it looks good on a resume.
I have had friends and colleagues tell me that they don’t join because it is all a big racket. They claim that belonging to said groups is completely unnecessary once licensure is achieved, and that there is no need to pour money into their coffers. That is their prerogative, and I won’t say that they are completely wrong. My personal stance is that reputable organizations that support and represent some of the major professions are necessary and beneficial. I personally belong to those that align with my degrees and my practice. Honor societies and diplomate levels do not feel strictly necessary to me at this time because of added expense and the fact that they will provide little to no added benefit to my professional knowledge or identity through continuing education or reputation. Perhaps when I find myself on a lecture circuit or invited to Ted Talks, I might feel need to add more credentials to my collection, but for now, I’m good.
Suffice to say, I consider professional organizations a resource. In some instances, I consider them a requirement. I think that what they offer to members is worth the cost of membership, but each person must make up their own mind on this point. However, I would encourage new professionals, especially, to join their “umbrella” groups for the benefit of continuing education, networking, and support. Subgroup membership can be assessed and joined once special interests have been identified. Remember to balance the cost with the benefits provided, and avoid confusing honor groups and societies with professional organizations. I am not an expert in every field of reference, and so, for some professions, belonging may not be necessary. Evaluate the options, and do your homework, but don’t assume that they are all just a racket.
One of the most amazing things about technology and the advances in communication is that we can impart messages and important information across our planet or even outside the planet (remember that we do speak with the people on the space station and get regular reports from that poor little rover on Mars that sings happy birthday to itself) in an almost unimaginable brief span of time. When you think about the fact that people used to have to deliver messages by carrying them by foot travel, equine travel, or other conveyance, this is an astounding evolution. One of the scariest things about technology… is the speed with which you can decimate relationships, reputations, and revenue with that same speed.
So, why is that speed and efficiency scary? Most of the time we, in the modern world, are consistently frustrated, irritable, and just plain pissy when we have to accommodate delays in any form or fashion. We’ve become very inured to instant gratification and immediate access to information. The pace at which we live our lives is breakneck and the tempo is constant without pause or quiet most of the time. However, I’m not discussing my displeasure with the way our society has ceased living in the present in this particular instance. Instead, I wish to go back to what I was saying about the speed with which we are able to send and receive communication via technology.
It is absolutely a miracle of modern contrivance, and it is more than useful to be able to stay in contact with people at long distances. However, the lack of pause and delay has shortened a particular gap between thought and action that previously gave opportunity for choice sandwiched somewhere in the middle. In this episode of Email Diseases, we are talking about what I will call “Sender’s Remorse.” Picture, if you will, employee Joe who is possibly having a rough day. He may have been cut off in traffic or spilled his coffee. Perhaps he has had a perfectly reasonable morning, but then upon reaching the office… [cue dramatic music]… he opens his email to perceive a particularly peevish request from Susan the boss. In this email, she is asking for the umpteenth time information that Joe has spent many hours collecting and collating, parsing and construing to Susan multiple times… but she either cannot lay hands upon said information, is too busy to look (especially when she has Joe that she can just ask again), or never read it the first time. Susan may suffer from a number of previous diseases covered in this series, and she may literally just not recall that he has sent this same information multiple times. But Joe does recall… He feels dismissed and that his hard work has been unappreciated and generally ignored. He is angry and irritable and has had a horrible morning already and is wearing the coffee to prove it, thereby increasing his lack of tolerance. Joe hits the Reply button before he has a moment to think. He types a scathing message in response to the request (possibly using inappropriate italics or SHOUTY CAPITAL LETTERS). He types with the speed and alacrity of a rapid firing machine gun. There! You clueless wonder, maybe now you will get the message through your remarkably impermeable cranium!!! and hits Send before any other impulse in his own cranium might have a chance to make other choices. This rash action may potentially set off a chain of email back and forth with unpleasant outcomes. If Susan the boss is so inclined and read negative attitude or tone into Joe’s response, there may be disciplinary action in poor Joe’s future. All because of hitting that Send button instantaneously.
The other aspects of an inadvertent, rashly Send could be incomplete information and failure to address all points of a request. This can also be linked to other email diseases such as skimming or non-reading. When we move with speed but lack of diligence and forethought, we can occasionally find that points are left unaddressed and certain communications can be misinterpreted, like poor Joe and his rash rapidity. With just a pause to think how his words might be received and perceived by his recipient, he might have elected to compose a different retort.
Victor Frankl, the founder of logotherapy, said “Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.” Technology has shortened that gap to a mere fraction of what we used to have. It therefore becomes a conscious decision on the part of us in our daily lives to be more deliberate and to take the time to be conscious of our choices… even in something so simple as a phrase in an electronic message.
In a recent training conference, I heard a colleague talking about the “rule of three.” Now, I know there are several different rules of three out there, but the two most common of these with regards to electronic communication go like this:
Once the email chain goes back and forth three times, pick up the phone. It’s time to talk.
Read every email three times before hitting send: First for spellcheck and grammar; second for intent and content; and third for tone.
While it may seem to be picking nits and taking more time, it may save reputations, inbox from email jail, and good working relationships. So, the moral of the story would seem to be, in order to avoid sender’s remorse, pause before hitting Send to allow that intervening gap between the stimulus and our response for choice to be conscious, deliberate, and well thought.
Once upon a time, in a land far away… no, that’s not how that goes. Nevermind. However, I will say that at one point in our collective job markets and career paths the first step was always just getting your “foot in the door.” Am I right?
Of course I am. Think about it. How many self help books or blockbuster movies talk up the dream of “mailroom to boardroom”? We were all told, “Yeah, that may not be the job you want entirely, but it gets your foot in the door.” I must have had that particular sentence said to me more than 20 times over the years of job hunts and resume submissions. I recall trying to find something that would give me the vaunted experience that everyone wants. I applied so many places to hear that they were looking for “license eligible” or “more experience” or possibly “more skilled,” only to have my internal voice screaming Well, how the hell do I get those things without a J-O-B?!?
Eventually, I settled for a J-O-B that wasn’t in my chosen field, just to pay the bills. All the while, I was still trying to find that first step on my career path. I needed time in my profession. I needed experience… and I continued to hear the same things: “Well, I see here that you have held several positions, but none with any experience in healthcare/mental health.” Yep. It’s enough to discourage the most diligent of job hunters. Eventually, I was at the point of taking any job in the field, no matter the pay, just to be able to put something in my chosen path on my resume. Know what happened then? I bet you can guess. “I’m sorry, but you appear to be overqualified for a non-degree position.” Awesome.
I did gradually wear them down and got my first, barely paid, position with a local mental health agency. It worked. It was my “foot in the door.” I cannot tell you the giddiness with which I handed in my resignation to the 2-3 other jobs I was holding in completely non-related fields just to pay bills. I was finally getting to put my hard-earned degree to work. I saw before me a vista of career moves that led me to higher paths and eventual leadership and…
Five years into that position with barely an increase in salary over that time it dawned on me. I’m going nowhere. It wasn’t that I was content or unambitious. There was literally nowhere for me to go in the organization. My chosen step to place my foot in the door had landed me in a department with virtually no upward mobility and zero feed into senior leadership.
Here is the sad fact about the modern job market. A foot in the door doesn’t do what it used to do. This is where the once upon a time comes into the picture. At one time, in the not so very distant past, the idea was to get a position (any position) in a stable or up-and-coming organization. That meant that you were officially on the “ship” and could move around and up in the organization.
That is not always the case in the new, modern market. First, more and more corporations are following a “right-to-work” marketplace. It’s not a bad thing, but it doesn’t carry the lifetime (or working-lifetime) guarantee it used to carry. It means that the agreement between employer and employee can be terminated on either side at any time for almost any reason… or for no reason at all. While most organizations still follow a specific set of rules and processes to avoid potential damaging lawsuits or reputation burners, it is not technically necessary.
On the other side of that coin is the part about having a foot in the door and whether that gives you opportunity to do anything else except nurse your foot and stand there like a doorstop. Gone are the days of working your way up from the mail-room into the penthouse office of the CEO. Jobs and career paths have become specified, specialized, and terribly single-minded. Diverse and varied resumes need not apply. It seems that in the workforce of today, employers are looking for expertise rather than wide experience. Learning all parts of the job rarely gives extra points.
In many organizations, it is almost easier to get into management and leadership positions from the outside than from within. That sounds pretty odd, I know, but it is true. Some places have specific caps on how far you can jump from one position to another. For instance, many companies have a cap on the number of paygrades that a person can move. While a promotion of one or two paygrades is permissible, a jump of three or more will rule out a candidate faster than you can say glass ceiling. Additionally, even acquiring a paygrade promotion can potentially be limited in the compensation that goes with it. Some companies actually have rules (some actually in writing and others unspoken) that a raise of 5% per paygrade is what you can expect. This is one of the things that can impact a candidate’s ability to attain a higher promotion. In order for them to hold a position with that high a paygrade, it may technically require a higher compensation change, thus violating that rule. Outsiders applying for the same position are not in the same quandary. Their salary and change of salary is not necessarily in question or even in play (and strangely this particular topic of conversation seems to be taboo before the 2nd or 3rd interview… see Salary & Skilz).
So, you see what I am saying? No longer is merely a foot in the door the main consideration in the search for a job. Applying or accepting just any opening in a company or organization is not necessarily the best strategy for long term success within said organization. Where once entering a company at any level provided the opportunity for upward movement, promotion, and growth; now, candidates need to think well ahead for where they want to go within the job market and choose their entry points wisely.
So, too, the resume that once showed how well-rounded with varied experience an applicant is no longer may carry the strength it once did. Employers are looking for candidates that have experience and skills for the position in question and sometimes they look for loyalty (meaning longer duration in the different entries on the resume).
All of this sounds like a very disappointing and depressing outlook on getting into the job market. However, it shouldn’t be. It is merely a caution to be selective and savvy about the steps you take entering any potentially new opportunity for career. It also means that you may need to be patient and understand that an entry level position will not shoot you to the penthouse corner office like the proverbial rocket. It may take some strategy and a lot of patience to get potentially where you want to eventually go. Just make sure that the door you step through is the foot on the path to the place you want to go.
It’s been a while since the last installment, but we really need to talk about another contagion in the world of email: The Habitual Forwarder.
This disease appears to be a strange mixture of compulsion and mechanics. These people cannot seem to resist the urge to hit that link to forward almost anything they receive. They are probably generous souls who truly believe in sharing information. They appreciate being remembered by the powers that be that send out the copious amounts of information via the electronic circuitry of the computer. They genuinely feel that everyone should experience that appreciation for themselves… or alternately, they share it because they feel that by forwarding indiscriminately all the emails they receive they have performed their due diligence in disseminating that information to their comrades. Nothing wrong with that, right?
Wrong. And here’s why…
First of all, not everyone needs the information at every level. Sure it is good to keep lines of communication open and make sure that everyone is on the same page, but there are levels and layers of information that are applicable to different roles and functions in any organization. When information is sent, for example, to senior leadership channels, it usually contains a high level overview with supporting details for all roles that fall within their purview. At this point, those senior leaders assimilate and synthesize the information before disseminating to their respective teams with focus on their specific and identified foci and roles… well, ideally, that is how it should work.
Second… ain’t nobody got time fo dat! Seriously. Most of us admittedly have some serious tunnel vision when it comes to work. In today’s workplace, the majority of our communication is sent and received by electronic means. We can get hundreds of emails every day. So, when you add to that the sheer number of forwarded emails and actual correspondences and requests for information, it becomes an overwhelming avalanche of incoming gibberish. Stuff falls through the cracks. The more we receive, the more likely we are going to miss something. Organization helps (I personally have a very intricate system of inbox rules to keep me from losing my mind entirely… obviously, the mind loss prevention thing has been hit or miss), but it won’t save the world from the overwhelming amounts of general chaos that is generated in an email server each day.
Most importantly, the loss of context when emails are indiscriminately forwarded without preamble or synthesis creates confusion and general misinformation for all recipients. The Habitual Forward disease has similarities to the Reply to All plague and even the Skimmer and Non-reader disorders. The person who forwards with little or no additional information or directives to the recipients are engaging in an almost automatic behavior that results in a cascade of meaningless communication flooding the inboxes of those on the receiving end. The worst form of this illness is characterized by the originating forwarder not even reading the original email thoroughly. If they had done so, chances are they would have possibly avoided the extraneous forward and either paraphrased and summarized the information to the recipients… or better yet, noticed that the people to whom they forwarded the email were actually on the original distribution list. (My favorite was when the person who forwarded the information to me failed to notice that I was the person who wrote the original email.) The upshot of this last one is that the recipients may end up with multiple copies of the original communication clogging their inbox and generally creating confusion while they search for any new or updated information that might have been the reason for the numerous copies. Sadly, it may also give more importance than is due to the original (Surely this must be divine edict to have received it this 4th time…).
To avoid contracting or carrying this disease, keep a few of these thoughts in mind when considering whether to forward or not to forward.
Consider the target audience of the email. To whom was the person who originally sent it speaking? Look at the distribution list and see if by chance the people to whom you would forward have actually already received it.
Consider the content. Is this information acceptable or appropriate to be shared?
Consider the reason for forwarding. Do they really need this information? What do I want them to do with the information? Is there something actionable for us as a team?
Consider writing your own @#$% email.
For items 1 and 2, this means that the person who is considering sharing the email needs to actually read the email. That is what I said. Read it. Don’t skim it. Don’t send it on expecting the people to whom you forward it to do your homework for you and let you know what it was about. For item 3, if the forward recipients were not on the original distribution list, why would they need the full email? Perhaps there is only a portion that actually applies to them. What is it that is needed from the recipients in relation to the forward? If merely to keep lines of communication and transparency in leadership, then preface the forward with something that says that. “Hey team, please read the following information that our CEO shared with senior leadership this week. It relates to…” explain in what context they should be reading the information. Better yet, as always, instead of forwarding, try writing your own email: Read, assimilate, synthesize, and disseminate. The best way to provide information is to make sure that you understand it (meaning you read it). Then, understand how it applies to your target audience. Summarize the information and identify the specific focus for the recipients. If it is important to retain the original wording and information of the source, by all means, forward it. However, always include your own preamble that highlights the specifics and allows the recipient to know that they can ask questions because you read the original email and provided proof of understanding.
In the fast pace of the workplace today, it is always tempting to just click a button and move on… but I encourage each of you to avoid the habitual forward illness and share information in a more meaningful and applicable way.
I’m a traveler… well, I used to be. I loved to go places and do things. I liked to see different worlds and cultures. I liked to experience the new and different. As a good portion of my formative years were spent traveling not necessarily by my own choice, I suppose it was a fortuitous circumstance that my personality and temperament were entirely amicable to the idea of nomadic existence.
That all came to a rather screeching halt when, after entering adulthood, I started trying to make a career and do the responsible thing of paying bills and putting down roots. Little was I to know how the roots actually worked to prevent the traveling that had been so much a part of my life previously. To all things there is a season, I suppose, and in my case, all the adventure was spent by the age of 25. Honestly, I accepted the change in my life. I had “settled” down. Now, my traveling consisted primarily of trips to some ocean side locale within driving distance. Occasionally I would travel to other states for training or work, but for the most part, I was spending all my time traveling to and from work, gym, grocery store… you get the idea.
Something in me was jealous as I observed the travels of friends of my youth. They were still out there having adventures. Some of them were paid for that privilege. They would be jetting off to various locations every other day, it seemed. As they were regaling us of travels and airplane flights and the challenges of finding the necessities of living in remote locations, I was becoming more and more anchored to one place. I had even become a telecommuter. In other words, not only was I failing to travel to distant lands, I wasn’t traveling outside my house.
But… that all changed. Nothing so romantic and extraordinary as jet setting around the globe on international missions, but my work suddenly required me to travel… mostly driving… and filing expense reports… and… why oh why had I looked with envy upon my work-traveled friends?!?
So, as it happens, I am required every quarter to evaluate the performance of my staff… in person. Yep. That means that I have to go to where they are and ride around with them watching them interact with the people in our charge. I’m actually lucky enough to have a good group of people working for me… that are spread all over the state. This makes for some drive time on my part, not including the time riding along with them. It even requires overnight or week long stays away from home. Nothing terribly exotic, but it gets me away from the house, desk chair, and cabin fever.
And thus… I have developed some insights for life on the road, as it were. They are by no means earth-shattering, but they present a collection of advice born of personal observation and experience for traveling whether for business or pleasure.
Rest stops. My first and most vehement advice is from days of yore with ringing tones of adults before car trips in my childhood: “Go potty before we go.” Seriously, go before you go. You never know how convenient, or inconvenient, rest stops can be until you hit that stretch of Nomansland in the hinters that has nothing for miles. While it might be possible in emergencies to drop trow on the said of the road and let nature take its course, it is highly inadvisable to do so where there is little to no cover. Additionally, ladies, it is none to comfortable a situation to bare one’s backside on the highway (though with this in mind, consider having box of tissues or napkins in the vehicle for just such and occasion). There are devices and items created for just such emergent issues. Again, while our male companions may have no particular issue with using them, they may not be so pleasant for those of us with internal plumbing. So, with comfort and dignity in mind, take note of rest stops and other locations that provide the opportunity of biological relief. Also, when you see the signs that say “Rest Area exit 1 mile … Next in 97 miles” go now!
Join a roadside assistance program. Seriously. This can save time and money. If you have a current credit card that offers this as a perk, that works, too. These programs can be life-savers when you have anything from flat tire to “that sound that goes grrrr rrr ggg.”
Invest in a receipt or travel wallet. This is especially important for business travel when the accounts payable folk ask for the receipts on your expense report. You might even go ahead and install an expense report program (like Concur, the bane of my existence) on your phone. It can help you track as you go. I know a lot of people think, “I’ll just stick it in my pocket and deal with it later”, or “I’ll put it in the side pocket of my purse…” along with the receipts from grocery, last year’s vacation, and an old cough drop. Trust me. It’s worth the minimal expense. Get something just for keeping the travel related receipts and other documents. You will thank me later.
Use GPS. Unless you are going Jack Kerouac and you have time and money to spend on petrol, plan a route and use the tools available to follow it. GPS is generally available on most smart phones. Do yourself a favor and look into one of the navigation apps out there rather than the built in jobs in the phone. The built-ins aren’t horrible, but they sometimes get a bit eccentric in their mapping and directing. I personally like Waze. It has been very accurate and works even when the phone seems to have no signal. Additionally, it gives you updates on traffic patterns, road hazards, weather issues, and law enforcement on the road. It will give alternate directions to route around blocks and traffic jams, and above all… it is free! One of my favorite attributes of the application, next to currently having Morgan Freeman’s voice as the navigation prompter. However, you should go with what works for you. There are programs that also provide information like fuel stops, food options, and rest areas… always helpful. Many rental agencies actually include GPS either with the car or as an add on to your agreement. It can be worth the extra fee just to have the option of an external navigation leaving your phone free.
Charging cables. So, we’ve been talking about GPS and phone apps and all that happy jazz. You know what doesn’t work, dead phones or electronics. Having the app or electronic gadget isn’t so helpful if it drains the life from your battery or won’t turn on because you failed to bring an appropriate adapter or cord. Some travel centers actually have sections where you can purchase travel tools and technology. I once found the most amazing little phone charger that would act as a back up battery and charge my phone even without a cord. There are kits with multiple connectors and tools that can come in very handy if you need a little charge for your phone.
Beverages and snacks. While I’m not a huge fan of the whole road picnic, it is always good to carry some water, soda, or caffeinated beverage. Cheaper, too, if you can get them and pack them up rather than having to stop at fast food restaurants or convenience marts. Snacks of the protein and less messy variety are also a good idea. Nuts (for those not allergic), jerky, or protein bars are a good option. If you really want to have snacks or beverages that need to be kept at a cooler temperature, invest in a small cooler for the vehicle.
Safety kit. This is a big one for me. Even if you are in a rental, it is a good idea to have some basic maintenance and safety items. I’m not suggesting you go full on hazmat, but having a reflector triangle, jumper cables, first aid kit, and the like can really come in handy in unexpected circumstances. Also, keep a blanket in the car. No, this is not a suggestion that you save money by sleeping in the car. In colder weather, getting stuck until someone can get you can result in hypothermia if your car is unable to maintain power. So, a blanket is a great idea. Also, if the drive is long and the eyes are heavy, better to take that nap in the back seat than push on to the next watering hole to look for a hotel and end up running off the road.
Hands-free kit. Not only should you never text and drive, even talking on the phone or futzing with the GPS can be distracting and downright dangerous. I strongly suggest for those who do not have Bluetooth enabled vehicle that a hands-free kit and voice activation is a phenomenal idea. Otherwise, pull over before you try to do anything with your phone.
Hygiene. Seriously. Invest in nappy wipes or at least carry tissues, paper towels, something. There is no hazard so great as the coffee spilled in the lap or the soda all over the console. Additionally, for your own health and well-being, it’s a good idea to have some hand sanitizer somewhere in the vehicle. I’m not a huge fan of the stuff personally, but if you do not have the running water or soap to dissuade the flu season hijackers, a little hand sanitizer comes in handy.
Honestly, there are probably a plethora of other handy hints for road-tripping like a pro. If you know of any that I haven’t covered, by all means, comment. In the off chance that someone actually reads this thing, it might be helpful to them.
I’m not really going to spend a huge amount of time or characters on this section. There are a metric @#$%-ton of articles out there about the handy hints and tips for surviving your air travel. So, I will only touch on a few things that I have found handy.
Follow the TSA guidelines. Seriously. They print them. Read them. Follow them. Don’t be an ass or make inappropriate jokes about bombs. Your security check will just go much smoother.
Wear slip-on shoes. In other words, do not wear complicated footwear with laces up to your knees or a blue-billion buckles and clasps that look awesome at a rave but will officially piss off every other passenger waiting for you to come out of your shoes… or put them back on. On another point of order, wear socks… and odor eaters… just for the continued well-being and breathing of others around you.
Keep your paperwork in order. Have all travel documents together and ready. Nothing is worse than getting to customs, immigration, gate, etc. and a passenger digging through their bags saying, “I know I had it somewhere.” Seriously? Like you didn’t know you would need that stuff at this point. You knew it was coming. That is just silly.
Learn to travel light. These days, your wallet will thank you for not racking up large baggage fees. Gone are the days of multiple band boxes and steamer trunks of full wardrobe changes. Plan your itinerary and take only what you need. Not to brag too much, but I am the queen of minimalist packing. I actually flew to Dallas for a 4-day conference that required business attire and some more formal events. I managed to pack everything in one carry-on piece. Most places, even if you forget something, will have certain amenities. Invest in some of the roll bags for packing. It saves space and keeps your clothing from getting too wrinkled. Shoes, again, are the usual culprits for over-packing. They take up a lot of space and generally do not fold or crush. Do yourself a favor and plan your outfits so that you can have one or two pair of shoes at most.
Electronics. Don’t be a jerk. You know the rules. If you are absolutely positively going to go into withdrawal without your tablet or whatever, use the airplane mode. That goes for electronic readers, too.
Stay hydrated. The air on planes is remarkably dry. Getting dehydrated can negatively impact you in many levels, including opening up your immune system to nasty bugs. Oh, and immune boosters? Take ’em. You’ll thank me later. If you absolutely, positively MUST travel when you are incubating a cold, do the rest of the world a favor and wear a mask. They can be purchased at most pharmacies.
Like I said, there are a bunch of articles out there that actually cover great tips for traveling, especially by air. So, for the rest of the clan of the road warrior, if you can think of any helpful tips that you’ve found that you have never seen advised out there, please share.
That’s right. I said sick at work, not sick of work. Believe me, if I was just talking about being overtired, burned out, and downright annoyed with the concept of putting in a 40 hour week for people who do not appreciate it… that would be a different post and probably a whole lot longer.
I have a pretty decent work ethic. Some of my friends think my work ethic borders on the obsessive and possibly masochistic, but I feel that it is my responsibility to stay out of bankruptcy court, pay my bills on time, and do the best job I can for the employers that provide me that opportunity whether they appreciate it or not.
What that boils down to is that I can be a bit of a workaholic. I can actually hear a few of you out there who know me screaming at the screen “A BIT?!?” Yes, a bit. I have actually seen and experienced worse. I’ve actually seen and been worse. However, Iknow that being the Type A individual that I am, I’m a happier person busy than indolent or bored.
I try to be more conscious of life and take it a little bit more easy. I recognize my own limitations and that I am not getting any younger. Yes, that was difficult to type. In other words, I’ve only got the one life, and there are… in fact… more things in this world than money, possessions, and job. That was almost painful. However, I recognize, too, that I am lucky enough to have family and a few friends that probably never appreciated playing second chair to the career virtuosity. They might even appreciate spending more time with me.
Strangely, that is not where I was going with this post, though. I only said all that to illustrate my own approach to work, and showing up for work, and not letting anything stand in the way of work… and you get the idea. I can literally count the number of times I have called into work on one hand and remove a few of those fingers while I am at it… in the whole of my life. I have worked through varying degrees of illness and infirmity… frequently when I should not have. Yes, that is what I said… SHOULD NOT HAVE.
The thing is, I appreciate a solid work ethic. I appreciate people that won’t be beaten. I appreciate people who don’t let a little cold or allergies keep them down. I tend to be a little concerned with the person who calls in too frequently or always has some ailment that prevents them from being reliable. I value being able to count on a person to show up when they are supposed to and do the job that they are supposed to do. That is pretty typical of most employers. In fact, there are not a lot of employers that are going to say “Now, you are just working yourself too hard, and you need to take better care. Take it easy and stop putting in all that extra time…” Yeah, never going to hear that in the corporate world. Some companies do try to be more understanding and try to make their organization a decent place to work where people want to be. They understand that content or happy employees are loyal and productive. However, most places (especially larger ones with less highly skilled or highly educated workforce) operate on the philosophy that if you use one up, you can get another for cheaper anyway.
Harsh, I know, but sadly true. Again, I’ve wondered from the point… but not really, because it is all a foundation for what I’m saying.
Because the modern employer and modern company generally do not acknowledge that humans become ill and perhaps shouldn’t be worked until they drop, many employees also choose to ignore the physical limitations of the human body. Also, a part of that modern system is that many places do not have separate sick time and vacation time. Most role it all into something called “Paid Time Off” or PTO. PTO can be planned or unplanned, and some companies have rules about how many “unplanned” absences you can have as well. The point is that people do not want to take off when they are ill unless they really just cannot function. They would rather save that rather valuable commodity of PTO for things that are more enjoyable like a vacation or time off around the holidays.
The result? People come to work in all manner of conditions. I’ve been guilty of this myself. People suffering from colds, mild flu, varying degrees of contagion… they all push themselves to show up for work because they do not want to miss work for something as simple as a stuffy nose or coughing fit. They don’t want to use the PTO, or they may not have the PTO to use if they have used it all for more enjoyable reasons. This is the problem with not having designated sick time. People come to work when they are sick.
Sounds very self-sacrificing and diligent, doesn’t it. Sometimes people legitimately will say that they have too many projects, deadlines, etc. that cannot afford a delay of them staying home. That is all well and good… so, maybe not so well, and perhaps not so good. People who come to work with their illness and germs share that with their workspace… and colleagues… and that is how entire office buildings end up sick. What people do not think about when they come to work with their head cold or slight flu is that everyone with whom they come in contact is at risk to catch their illness… and take it home with them. It’s a fine line, and I know it. What constitutes a legitimate threat of contagion to the point that you should ditch work for the public health? Some companies will actually send announcements out during particularly virulent outbreaks. Some organizations sponsor flu and pneumonia vaccines for all their staff. Still, there is usually a few times per year that some disease gets passed around an office.
Telecommuting has provided an opportunity for some employees to stay away from the office petri dish but still work their ducky little hearts out from home. Sadly, this doesn’t necessarily improve productivity. What I’m saying here is not new. There are several articles in the past few years cautioning people about going to work sick and the actual costs to the business that range in the 9-figure range (Bratskeir, 2015; Rasmussen, 2013)… that’s right over a hundred billion dollars lost due to people being so diligent that they come into work when they are not well. It is called presenteeism. Yeah, I didn’t realize there was a name for it either until I started thinking about this post.
Technology has made it possible for us to work straight through almost every situation including hospitalization. That doesn’t make it wise or the best choice. Just because one can work while convalescing does not mean one should work while convalescing. The whole point to being off while you are ill is to get better. Most prescriptions for your average cold or flu involve rest and fluids. The body heals best when resting. So, working while one is ill can actually prolong the suffering and sometimes the contagious period.
I know… I really do. Taking time to get well puts you behind or leaves someone in a jam or any number of other reasons not to stay in bed and drink fluids from a bendy straw (Gaskell, 2015). I am one of the absolute worst and will probably work until lunch on the day of my funeral. However, I do try to avoid spreading my plagues, and if you aren’t going to stay in bed and take care of yourself when you are sick, at least try to stay away from the rest of us. Thanks.
Bratskeir, K. (2015). Global study shows why sick people go to work – http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/why-employees-go-to-work-sick_us_5640dab9e4b0307f2cae408c
Gaskell, A. (2015). Why coming into work sick makes you a villain not a hero – http://www.careeraddict.com/why-coming-into-work-when-sick-makes-you-a-villain-not-a-hero
Rasmussen, D. (2013). The real cost of going to work sick – http://www.careerealism.com/real-costs-work-sick/
A blog about a few thing I picked up along the way… Hey driver, where are we going?!?