Tag Archives: The New Cheese

The New Cheese: RANT… News from Galileo, an individual is NOT the center of the universe!

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.

SERIES: EMAIL DISEASES – HOW THEY AFFECT YOUR LIFE AND HOW YOU CAN AVOID THEM (ISSUE 7: Senders Remorse and other ugly rashes)

sendersremorse

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.

The New Cheese: A foot in the door…

 

'So, you've no experience, no skills and a poor grasp of reality... Have you considered consulting?'

…is a good way to have a broken foot.

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.

 

 

SERIES: EMAIL DISEASES: HOW THEY AFFECT YOUR LIFE AND HOW YOU CAN AVOID THEM (ISSUE 6: The Habitual Forwarder)

forward

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.

  1. 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.
  2. Consider the content. Is this information acceptable or appropriate to be shared?
  3. 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?
  4. 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.

Forward to 10 friends.
Forward to 10 friends.

The New Cheese: Sick at Work

 

candidate-1588726-2015-01-24-11-08-33

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.

oprah

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.

coming-to-work-sick-funny-ecard-4Vw

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/

The New Cheese: We’re All Unique… Just like everyone else

Margaret_Mead_quote

One of the most difficult aspects of being a manager, or worse, a middle manager, is that you are caught somewhere between company policy and individuals who are people, actual human beings who face life and have a wide variety of life experiences. Sometimes the life experiences hit them actually while they are working, and that always makes for interesting conundrums in the ever litigious world of corporate America.

Honestly, it isn’t really so much that people are a bunch of sue-happy, ambulance chasing, leeches trying to put one over… ok, maybe there are enough of those out there to make people nervous and cautious, but the sad fact of the matter is that all it takes is one. Have you ever read warning labels? I mean really read them? They are ridiculous, and if anyone out there used half the brain cells that they were granted upon development of their being, they would not need to be told that an electric hair drier shouldn’t be used in the shower or that the plastic bag is not a toy or not to eat the silica packets in your leather jacket pocket. Oh, and if you thought that those warnings were intended for children who may not know any better and would be tempted to stick things in their mouths to experience the world like tiny little sharks… think again. How many toddlers do you know who read on a 6th grade level (there probably are a couple out there, but chances are, not many and surely those gifted little geniuses would be less likely to actually participate in the asinine activities described by the warning label).

Warning labels, written standard operating procedure, and documented policy are not there for people with common sense. They are not there for your average every day individual who might just blunder into a situation with ignorance and good intent. They are there for the perpetually inept or the trolls that exist in the world that want to push that envelope, ignore common decency, or use their access privilege to circumvent the normal drudgery of the day to day and win the litigious lottery via a personal injury lawyer. I’m generalizing. Of course, I am. I’m painting the absolute worst case and dirtiest scenario possible. Why? Because that is what the legal and ethical departments of corporate entities have to do. Just think for a moment of what life must be like for the people who always have to look for the worst in their fellow humans all the time. Think about what it takes to generally perceive those around you looking for angles or trying to guess how stupid the general populace might be and try to counter the negative effects of their actions like some sort of fortune teller with a broken, ugly crystal ball that only shows the bad stuff. Sometimes I feel sorry for them. I said sometimes… obviously there are other times when I think they should take off the warning labels and let Darwinism sort that @#$%. However, as a middle manager, I can’t do that. I have to not only follow the dictates of common sense and corporate policy, I also have to make sure that those for whom I am responsible are AWARE of said policies, ATTEND to said policies, and ADHERE to said policies… even when the policies seem to make no sense at all (until you think like the aforementioned folk living in the murky fortune-telling tent). This is especially difficult when the employees in question can see that there was someone at some time who violated common sense resulting in untold calamity… but still don’t understand why the rule has to apply to everyone generally making life unpleasant for all instead of just focusing on the perpetrator of idiocy as an individual.

This pretty much describes most difficult part of all of this is that writing blanket and universal policies that apply to everyone generally results in some of the most biased and unfair feeling systems on the planet. While it might be effective in resolution to address an incident with the individual who screwed up, the purpose of rules and policies is to avoid some other ignorant soul from ignoring history and blundering in to repeat it. It means that while person A is a responsible, hard-working, dedicated employee that consistently goes above and beyond, they cannot actually be given more leeway to self-govern or be allowed privilege outside the normal constraints, there had to be a policy preventing self-governing principle because person B is lazy or incautious or irresponsible and would generally get themselves killed or the company sued with the same leeway.

But wait! This is the 21st century and we recognize individuality and creativity and promote the general welfare and…

Ok, yeah, each and every person on this planet is an individual. They are unique. Unless you are an identical twin or a clone, your DNA doesn’t match another human being on the planet. (And there are even mutations and differences in those as well… not the clones of course because we wouldn’t possibly know anything about human cloning, right?) However, while talents and skills and uniqueness of individuals are appreciated on that individual and unique basis, in a large business and corporate structure, everyone is subjected to the same rules and regulations. Why can’t we be more individualized in our application on a massive scale? 1) Because it is massive. Large companies have thousands of employees. Imagine trying to individualize rules for each and every one those; and then, trying to enforce them. Can you say headache? And while we are discussing headaches, let’s talk about a legal one. 2) Discrimination. Let’s say it together. Dis-crim-i-NAY-Shun. Discrimination is one of the most winnable legal suits there is, if you have the documented evidence. In fact, most organizations, if threatened by the merest hint of a discrimination lawsuit will cave and try to appease the plaintiff to avoid the stigma or hell of an individual civil case or worse, class action. Due to corporate legal departments and standard written policies, though, it can tough to build a good case against a corporate entity for a discrimination suit. What isn’t difficult is to put a colleague, supervisor, manager, or director in some excessively hot HR-supported water by filing a complaint. So, the result is 3) the perceptively unfair application of rules and policies upon the staff under any given manager. Most good employers and managers struggle with this concept every day. They lose sleep over the give and take of being a compassionate, understanding, and well-liked employer vs. being accused of bias, pandering, discrimination, and favoritism.

Managers fight the slippery slope of good employee relations all the time. With few exceptions (and I may have met them), managers are humans. As humans, we cannot avoid the natural desire to be liked. I don’t care how strong a foundation of positive self-esteem, as long as you aren’t a complete sociopath, it is just programmed into humans to want to be liked. For most people the “I don’t care if people like me” statement is a defense mechanism. It is absolutely true that there are some people that improve my own self-esteem by not liking me, but for the majority of the world at large, I prefer to be at least tolerated. For a manager, this can be difficult, because employees want to be liked as well. They want to be liked, acknowledged, and rewarded for their work. They dislike being reprimanded, coached, or evaluated (especially if it does not coincide with their self-evaluation). No one likes negative feedback, and it colors the impression of the person providing said feedback… which is frequently the manager. So, you have a manager trying to adhere to the company policies and make sure that the people who report to them adhere likewise. This sometimes requires a little course corrective measure that can sting a little, and voila you have the “hated-boss-phenomenon” (yeah, I made it up, y’all should be used to this by now). Boss is a bitch… or jerk… or asshat… whatever terminology used, and the boss in question perceives employee as having a negative attitude, being resistant, and possibly a bad employee.

How does this relate to the title? Well, we’ve all gotten into this rut of believing that everything has to be personalized, individualized, and that everyone deserves special circumstances in all situations. That’s just not how it works. Everyone believes they deserve special treatment, all the while never realizing that each and every person around them holds the same belief.

But wait, I’m more special than THAT guy over there!

Are you? Really? Are you? And that is where the manager starts really wrestling with their ideals. The truth is that every single person believes, truly believes that their case is special. In many situations, they believe that their case is more special than their colleagues, the guy down the hall that’s been waiting for two weeks for a 5 minute one-to-one with their boss, the boss themselves, and certainly more than some faceless corporate entity. They resent having the generalized rules applied to them, because their situation is obviously unique. Many times, the individual in question can’t imagine that there are a multitude of other people that are considering the same circumstances unfair because everyone has to follow the same rules. So, back to persons A and B. The manager evaluates and finds value in person A (as an employee) who always has a positive attitude and makes excellent performance marks. Person B, on the other hand frequently does the bare minimum and it is obvious to everyone. However, person B may still be valued in a different sense by being a very is generally a pleasant person, having a good sense of humor, and being extraordinarily likable in social situations. They just aren’t terribly diligent about work. So, person A asks to be able to attend a seminar that is out of town and requires travel so that they would be absent from normal work duties for a couple of days. They would like to be able to attend during work hours and do not have sufficient leave time available to take the time off. As a manager, you look and say, “Hmmm, yeah, A has been such an excellent performer, and while this seminar doesn’t have a direct impact on their current job, I can totally see how they might move up in this company and it would help them towards that goal…” Sounds reasonable, right? Nope. Why? Well, because when A happens to mention this at the water cooler where B and C are chatting, B says “Hey, she turned my request down for that seminar! I asked first. Boss must like you better than she does me.” Oh holy @#$%! And that is where discrimination complaints originate, blossom and grow. Whispers boil in darkened corners of special treatment, biased application of the rules, privilege because they like them better… you get the idea. Rumors can be started of even more unethical behavior. So, from a management perspective, if you are not willing to allow the same privilege to all of those in your management impact, then you probably shouldn’t allow any of them. Seems harsh, I know, but it is ultimately not only the safest path ethically, it is also the most fair, despite perception to the contrary for those who are subject to the decision.

Most of the time, the situations are nowhere near as clear cut as a high performer vs. low performer and special privilege. In that case, chances are that there are documented instances and sufficient evidence to support why person A deserves the privilege or reward as an objective measure rather than a purely subjective or perceived “She likes so-and-so better than she likes me… that’s discriminatory.” However, it is generally more often merely a matter of perception, language misconstrued, or normal application of policy for one staff member while another one was let slide because “well, they were going through a hard time.” Sometimes it is something as arbitrary as some employees feeling that others get all the boss’ attention and time. It might sound silly, but the employee who wants to be noticed seeing that the boss spends more time on the phone with, IM’ing with, going to lunch with one of their colleagues will take that unbalanced attention to be a privilege or bias that could construe discrimination. “He wouldn’t take time to meet with me to talk about that situation last week, but he spent two hours with his little pet.” Yep, that’s the sort of thing that gets said, with or without foundation. That is where the rubber hits the road. It is nearly impossible to be completely unbiased and fair at all times, but we have to make the best attempt at doing so. And that is why the policies are written with what can appear to be a redundant attention to minutia and universally applied in ways that that seem impossible and ridiculous at times. It isn’t that leadership doesn’t recognize uniqueness and individuality in diverse and varied situations, it is that the uniqueness and individuality of every person in their charge needs to be acknowledged, recognized, and attended in as equal a measure as is possible. To do so, it means that there is a movement towards heteronormativity that is frustrating (and I positively hate because it can seem unfair in its own right), but necessary to avoid discrimination by perceiving a subjective application of rules, regulations, policies, or laws.

Everyone is different. Each person is unique due to biology, environmental impact, and experience. Every person has the right to be recognized for their individuality as a human being within some sphere of their life. However, it also means that to do so, each person must recognize the individuality and the rights of others, and it doesn’t mean the rules should not apply to you. However, you shouldn’t need special consideration or dismissal of the rules to feel your own uniqueness. So, I hereby recognize and appreciate the uniqueness of all of you who read this, and I hope that somewhere in your life, you actually have that uniqueness acknowledged and recognized as special. In the meantime, I will continue to be unique myself… just like the rest of you.

Pie and the Dalai Lama: Writing Bios

No… not BIOS. Different topic. Not my bailiwick. Well, it sorta used to be, but I digress. That’s not what I’m talking about. Bios. Biographical content. Those little blurb things that people put on dust jackets and seminar packets and programs for lectures and playbills. Those witty little summaries that people seem to put together that takes all of their life and interests and rolls them into a 150-word attractive package to let anyone interested in more than just the content of the book, lecture, or entertainment production know the real person behind it all. There are at least two of said bios in the About section of this blog. I think maybe all of 2 people have actually read mine. It is, as I said, probably the least interesting part of the whole shebang so… not necessarily worth the read. However, for ALL of the people who would rather know who is typing this drivel, the information is there in pithy commentary laid out to give you the snapshot of who I am.
That said. I HATE WRITING MY OWN BIO. I always do. I generally believe I suck it at, and what do I say? Seriously? No one wants to know about me. Hell, I wouldn’t want to know about me, either. I’m boring. I talk about neurochemicals and the dopaminergic response to antipsychotic medications. I occasionally discuss Dr. Who and Star Trek and many other terribly nerdy things. I obsess about books and… sadly, work. I talk about my cat and spend way too much time considering whether he thinks of me as a food source (the jury is still out).

Therefore, when it comes to requests for me to write my bio, I panic. I freeze like a deer in the headlights. I consider running away to a foreign country. My mind becomes a beautiful and drool-inspiring blank. Brilliant. So helpful. NOT! Strangely enough, I have been asked to perform this task more than once. You would think that by now I might be over my phobia, block, general dislike of the task. Not so much. I still stare at a blank screen or page like a monkey doing a math problem and dither between “I like pie,” and “This is my erudite application to be the next Dalai Lama.”

And there you have the crux of the matter. Seriously, if I write this thing from my heart and first impulses, people would walk out of an auditorium as soon as they read the blurb in the program. They would leave the book on the shelf. There is no way anyone would actually put time into anything produced by anyone quite so incompetent.

Obviously, this is the bio produced by the darkest parts of my insecurities and all those self-deprecating instincts instilled by a lifetime of acculturation as a southern female following the footsteps of generations of my foremothers. You just don’t brag on yourself. That is considered rude. Well… it was. I think things are changing a bit, but it is hard, so very difficult to undo all those years of being told that “nice, polite girls do not compliment themselves.”

So, I try to be objective. Take a good, honest look and who I am, what I have accomplished, and put all of that into words that are positive and believable. That is usually when the monster from the closet of insecurities (extra points if you are a Bloom County fan and caught that one) comes out and says, “Really?!? You think you are all that?!? Hahahahahahahah!” And I’m back to “I like pie!”

What makes a bio more difficult to me than say, a resume, is that you can’t have just one standard one that you use for every situation. For authors, public speakers, or subject matter experts who make public appearances, lectures, and book tours, the focus is generally the same every time. They have their field of expertise, their latest book, their regular genre. The audience for these things stays pretty much the same each time, as does their topics of presentation. They probably also have a snazzy publisher/editor who does the despicable bio-writing task for them. For actors and actresses (or do you all prefer to be called just actors or performers… again I digress), different roles are taken, but people just want to know your bio for what else they may have seen you in and what do you do in your off stage hours and for the creepy fans, are you single? For the rest of us mere mortals, we have to consider what is our role this time? Who is the audience? What about my pedigree and credentials is going to be important enough to them to make it worth their time to actually listen to or read what I’ve put together. Different subjects draw different crowds, and while the Board of Professional Counselors, Marriage and Family Therapists, and Pastoral Counselors may want to hear me give a lecture on the use of technology in process addiction research and treatment, it is unlikely that they are going to come and hear me sing show tunes from Chicago in a local theatrical review. See? Different audience. There may be overlap, but the professional board probably won’t particularly care that I was in the Dhahran Theater Group production of Guys and Dolls, and audiences wanting to hear me sing “When You’re Good to Mama” are going to take a powder for the production by reading that my interests include the varying PET scans of brains focused on different sensory and cognitive functions.

So, how the hell do I figure it out? First, who is the audience? Usually I have some basic idea of the people who will be attending. If the person inviting me to speak can’t tell me that much… I might actually want to skip it as it may just be a thinly veiled abduction attempt by aliens. The thing about audience is that it lets you know if they want to know your professional credentials and why they should trust your knowledge base, OR they may want to know more about you as a person and value that you aren’t an android (providing you actually are not an android. If you are, that would be fascinating… but maybe awkward). Once I have the audience, I have to think about what my subject matter will be. It always helps me if they give me a word count or some sort of limitation. That way I know whether I need to write a telegraph message or War and Peace (exaggeration of course… NO ONE wants to read a War and Peace variety bio).

After I address the content and what elements I want to include or that I actually want anyone to know about me, I read it aloud all the way through for flow. People usually read the same way I do. They hear it in their head. If I can’t actually read it without the cat looking at me funny… well, funnier than usual, then I probably need to rework it. Then, unless specifically given instruction for longer, I edit to keep it at 150 words or less. Read it through again and send it to a friend or colleague to see if it is actually readable.

One of these days, maybe I’ll have snazzy editors to write something that is less embarrassing and painful for me, but for now… I guess I will just keep trying to keep it somewhere between pie and the Dalai Lama.

 

Artificial Unintelligence or the Day Siri Tried to Get Me Fired

So, there are entire site dedicated to the devil that is autocorrect. We have all seen and probably laughed heartily at the Freudian slips that our various communication devices seem to enjoy using to our abject horror. There are times when I am amazed and baffled at the hash that the circuitry seems to make of my simple exchanges. For example, who on earth would have gotten “Quetzalcoatl” from “mayonnaise”? For that matter, what the hell was the Aztec deity of wisdom and life doing in my phone in the first place?!? Points to ponder, that… Anyhow, as I was saying we all know that autocorrect is the bane of any neutrally classified conversation and the algorhythms thereof appear to have been deliberately programmed by a pubescent brain with a naughty streak that makes sexual innuendos from Captain Jack Harkness look like Sesame Street (extra points for those who got the reference). However, I believe that the voice activated artificial intelligence that have given personality to our smart phones may have exceeded even that threshold.

Though many of my brethren and sisters out there may have gone with other operating systems and their own flavors of artificial assistance, I have adhered to the evil fruity empire and that particular nemesis of my own… Siri. Please excuse my language, but Siri is an unmitigated bitch and works actively to make my life a more difficult place to live.

What could you possibly mean, Tananda? Siri does not have emotions or sentient thought. She is but a mere collection of programming and circuitry with only dichotomy decision making and search routines.

That’s just what she wants you to think!

Most people have the experience with Siri and other forms of electronic assistants of misunderstood speech and less than helpful answers. There was a whole range of commercials that made fun of GPS map systems with “RECALCULATING” as a regular punchline. Again, they are probably an easy target for humor since they have relatively simple interface and regardless of the progress one might perceive towards science-fiction-like computers and robotics, these devices are still in grammar school by comparison. It isn’t a negative observation, it is just realistic judgment of the initial stages of true human-to-machine interaction. To be completely honest, I’m not sure I want these things to get too clever. I’ve seen the movies, I don’t want to be controlled by our mechanical overlords, thanks.

Siri has, to this date, gotten me lost in some very unsavory situations and locations. She has a determined lack of desire to allow me to contact my mother by calling or texting. Instead she prefers to attempt to send the messages meant for my mother, my husband, or friends to business contacts and superiors who might not really appreciate being told that I love them or asking about various locations for planned debauchery. More than once I have attempted to ask the cow to “Call mom” or “Text Ted” to have her say, “What would you like to say to Doug Rodgers?” Seriously… or should that be Siriously?!? How on earth did she get that name from “mom” or “Ted”? It can lead to what I might like to call… “complications.” I’ve been brought to the brink of violence towards this disembodied entity that resides in my phone. More than once I have been diminished to the point of cursing at her with a string of profanity that rivals George Carlin’s Seven-Words-You-Can’t-Say-On-Television. To which Siri (proving that she is passive aggressive and has a seriously sadistic bent) replied “Okie Dokie, artichoke” at one time and “I was merely trying to help” at another. See what I mean?!? She’s evil. However, nothing quite compares to the day Siri tried to get me fired.

That is what I said. You read it correctly. It is my sincerest belief that while Siri is supposed to be without true sentience or personality, she secretly has “woken up” and become my archenemy and wants me to die a horrible death… or at very least be fired and forced to live in ignominy and humiliation for the rest of my days. So, for the record, I’m putting it on paper… well, not paper, but electronic version thereof… you know what I mean! I want witnesses dammit!!!

For those of you who do not know, I am actually a manager of a team of outreach specialists in the field of healthcare. I have quite a number of them who work for me, but in the infancy of the program, I had but three. Bless them, they worked hard and put up with all my stumbling attempts to define what our program would become. It was a struggle, but we made it… and I digress. As it happens, one of my first employees was male. He came to our employment relationship well recommended with a good many years of experience already under his belt. We’ve since that time gotten to know each other pretty well, but starting out, things were the stiff and professional interactions you might recognize. Everything was still very new and personalities were still figuring themselves out a tad. I primarily was trying to do my best to give an impression of professionalism to inspire confidence in the people working for me.

So, as the business day came to a close one evening, I was heading across town in my jeep. Like a good many people in the workforce today who need to communicate quickly in a variety of circumstances, my crew uses texting. Before any of the HIPAA-aware folks out there start freaking out, no protected health information flows through these lines. It is primarily a way of addressing generic information and safety considerations. Things like, “I’m leaving” or “I’ve arrived” to indicated things that the police have lovely codes for like 10-8 or 10-77.

On this particular day, we had been struggling with a case and trying to access resources in a very short timeframe. My staff member texted me as I was driving to say something along the lines of being unable to fulfill all the requests that were made of us that day.

Now, I’m not one of those who will text and drive. I’ve always seen it as dangerous, and given my propensity for clumsiness and lack of coordination, it would just be idiotic not to mention being illegal in most states these days. However, I do have Siri to assist me with these things. She asked, “Do you wish to respond?” I answered in the affirmative, and Siri said “What would you like to say to….?” So, I responded by speaking into the air, “That’s ok. We will just have to deal with the rest tomorrow.” Now, for those of you familiar with the interface in question, you know that she repeats the message back. For those unfamiliar, the next horrifying response from Siri was, “Your message to … says ‘Ok. I guess I’ll show you my breasts tomorrow.’ Do you wish to send?”

As you might imagine, for all my safety precautions using hands-free options and avoiding texting while driving, I nearly capsized my poor vehicle attempting to prevent that missive from sending along the airwaves. Imagine if you will, me trying to capture from the air the words as in slow motion the word “Noooooooooooo” flies out of my mouth. I could see the nightmare before me during my exit interview in human resources, “So, Dr. Haren, can you please help us understand how you thought it appropriate to sexually harass your employee by threatening him with your breasts?” Oh yeah, that would have been a hoot! Now, looking back, it makes for an enormously humorous situation that we can all get a chuckle from, but I can still almost capture that moment of panic when I thought Siri would likely send the message anyway.

As it stands, I’m still employed and not under any investigations for inappropriate conduct. I have foiled the little electronic @#$% so far. May I continue to be vigilant!

Telecommuting: The Good, The Bad… The Yoga Pants

In the modern marketplace, technology has allowed for a less traditional approach to workspace. Thanks to internet speeds, mobile technology, webmeeting applications, and virtual conference areas, we are no longer bound by boardrooms and cubicles. Telecommuting is the perk… and yes, the curse… of the modern professional.

For those who have known me the whole of my professional life, it comes as no surprise that I have seen the opportunities and trials of non-traditional workspace. In days gone by, I actually field tested some of the earliest incarnations of smart phone technology at remote access sites for internet providers and mobile communication services. I am an unashamed and unabashed geek. At the time, I was totally excited by the prospect of being untethered to office walls and windowless workspaces to access servers from wherever I could catch a decent signal. It felt like Star Trek, and I couldn’t be more pleased to be part of that away team.

As my career path shifted, I entered my current field and as an emergency service worker, my office was mobile. It was often my vehicle. The ethical considerations of confidentiality and security for privileged health information were forever in the forefront of my mind. The technology was improving, but I still spent a good deal of my efforts and time safeguarding actual paperwork and worrying about what I would do if the worst should occur, and I happened to be in an accident that would leave my work unguarded. Other downside of my previous roles involved the definition of “business hours.” Being on call, sometimes 24 hours per day and without recognition of holidays or paid time off led to a little something I call “boundary blurring.” Yes, my job was my life. Part of it was just the nature of the beast. Pagers that went off at all hours and employers that called me whether I was scheduled for a shift or not were just part and parcel of the gig. Crisis intervention, intensive inpatient residential, and critical incident work do not know a 9 to 5 schedule. Besides that, another part of problem was my own work ethic and difficulty establishing a personal life boundary as well as hesitancy in being assertive with bosses that tended to lack respect for life outside the office and the need for personal time.

Sadly, this resulted in what usually happens when the work-life balance is ignored. I became completely crispy. I developed burnout and compassion fatigue accompanied by some not terribly healthy relationship neglect issues. It actually got so bad that for a time, I considered leaving my chosen career all together. This is a common risk for people in the helping professions and for those who work in the first responder fields. However, it has also become a risk for anyone who has a telecommute position.

When I took a position with my current employer, one of the “perks” of the job (according to my colleagues and supervisor) was being able to work from home anywhere from a couple of days per week to full time telecommuting. For many of my coworkers, this was a blessing and a treat. They saved gas, and did not have to brave traffic and weather to sit in a somewhat colorless office space 40 or more hours per week. I was the holdout. I staunchly refused to use my opportunity to WAH (work at home). They thought I was nuts, but I knew myself better. I needed the physical, geographic boundary between office and home. I knew the dangers of the workplace invading my home space. I didn’t trust myself to impose the psychological barrier if the physical wasn’t there as a reminder. So, I continued to leave my office at the office, and my home was free from the work influence and accoutrements of the office life.

Over time, I started feeling braver about my ability to separate myself from the job at the end of the workday. That, and some health issues that presented themselves, resulted in a choice to take advantage of my opportunity to WAH on occasion. I was not telecommuting full time, and I would be found frequently on the couch with my laptop and one or more phones to take clinical reviews, conference calls, and trainings. It wasn’t particularly professional, nor was it very healthy from an entirely orthopedic standpoint. My back and neck would ache after trying to work in that configuration for a day. The additional downside was that my old boundary issues started creeping back into my approach. It was too easy to sign onto my laptop early and get in some work before traditional business hours, or worse, the end of day would come and go and I would always find “just one more thing” that I could do.

That is the danger of telecommuting. You don’t worry about drive times and do not have coworkers leaving for the day to prompt you to pack up your own kit and go home. Being at home already, telecommuters often find themselves working longer hours than traditional office workers. It is just too easy to keep going in the comfort of your own abode. So… I put myself back on office duty. I tend to be a bit of a workaholic as it is. I might work over at the office, but with the prompts of others packing up to go home and saying their farewells, it was a cue for me to wrap things up for the day and head home myself.

I took a promotion with my company (oh, and believe me, I struggled with that decision). The promotion came with a different office and some new staff to manage. We had our own space and everyone worked from that location. There was camaraderie. The work we was and still is meaningful (most of the time), and our group had a good fit with each other. As a manager, I was required to be in the office where my staff were based the majority of the time. There were, as usual with any new program, a lot of long hours, but having the geographic boundary between work and home was good to keep some level of balance. But things change…

The work we did gained a good deal of attention, and the decision was made to expand the program. With that expansion, there came transition. My staff became full time telecommuters. That’s right. They all went home to work. Again, with the program expansion, there were some long hours put in by myself and my colleagues. I found myself in a darkened office alone until 7:00PM or later many nights. As you might imagine, this was not well received by my family. Aside from the actual lack of time, there were some concerns for my safety being alone at the office after dark. Eventually, I allowed myself to be convinced of the folly of staying at an empty office, and I packed up my cubicle and brought my workspace home.

As it happens, it hasn’t been so bad. In fact, it has been much better and more positive than I had originally experienced or feared. However, the more positive experience has been due to some very conscious decisions on my part.

The first was my home office. While I am by no means the champion of housecleaning, I am pretty obsessive about my workspace. I have been teased by coworkers that I decorate my office with a slide rule, but it is true that my office tends to be a good deal neater and uncluttered than the other parts of my life (yes, take that however you may). Most of my day is filled to the brim with multitasking and a lot of technology. So, my workspace tends to be as organized as I can make it, but I keep some comforts and personal mementos around just to soften what could possibly lead to a depersonalized and cold atmosphere. Instead of working from the couch, which previously led to the boundary deterioration as well as a need for chiropractic services; I set up my home office in the spare bedroom that we had been using as a makeshift library (mainly because we have a book addiction). With the help of my spouse, I set up the network and laid out the design much as I had my cubicle at the office. The benefit of this arrangement is that it is organized, neat, and has appropriate space for locking away information for compliance and ethical consideration. Unlike the old cubicle, this space is warmer in style and more personal to me, and the chair is definitely more comfortable. Lastly, at the end of the workday, I can shut the door on it. That is a very important part of the telecommuting culture. It is absolutely necessary to have a space that I can physically leave (even if it is just departing the room and walk downstairs).

Another decision that I made was to change my schedule. Prior to moving my office home, I chose to run and work out at the end of the work day on the way home from the office. It was a good transition and helped me rid my body of some of the physical components of work related stress. Another reason was that the gym was on the way home and too far from the office to make it convenient to go at any other point during the day. The problem that arose was late in the day meetings that interfered with my usual workout time and time zone differentials for some of my staff who may have end-of-the-day questions. However, it became apparent that with my gym being about 5 minutes from my house, I could actually take my lunch to go to the gym. It was miraculous. Suddenly, I could have my run, workout, come home and shower, and I could be back at work in the time most people take for lunch. It broke up the day. It got me off my derrière. It made me a better employee and (though you’d have to ask my team) a better supervisor.

So, what is the downside? Well, there is the whole fashion issue. I’ve fallen into the habit of wearing workout gear the majority of the time. Yes, you guessed it. I am the queen of yoga pants. Now, I have not yet fallen to the depths of wearing them in public (except to the gym), but I have to maintain a very strict watch that I don’t start slipping. I do get up every day and put on different clothing than I slept in, and I consider that a good sign. Another possible danger: I am an introvert. Without the necessity for getting out of the house to go to the office, it is entirely possible that I would never leave. Between working from home and the prevalence of businesses that will deliver food, I could potentially become a hermit. However, my gym time has come in handy for getting me out of the house every day and regular social activity and off site work functions provide enough opportunity to make sure I do get out now and then.

Do I still tend to be a workaholic and sacrifice personal time to the job? Of course, but the truth is that I would likely do that even if I still had an office space outside my home. I try to be mindful of time and boundaries, though, and for the health and wellbeing of all my friends and family, I promise not to wear my yoga pants out anywhere but the gym.

SERIES: Email Diseases: How they affect your life and how you can avoid them (Issue 3: Skimmers and non-readers)

This is less a documentation of an email disease than an irritation and pet peeve; so, less of an illness to cure than a bad rash… yeah, that works as a metaphor.

In today’s world of technology dependence, telecommuting, and distance education, personal interaction and direct communication has taken a back seat to texting, instant messages, self-directed learning platforms, and email. We spend less time in face to face communication with coworkers and staff than we do typing on our keyboards and putting our thoughts out over the ether in a variety of characters and digits.

And here begins my tale of woe. Well, maybe not so much my woe as my ire? All I know is that it is frustrating and irritating to the Nth degree.

I understand how it is. As the recipient of a metric crap-ton of email (seriously, I was out for one day and came back to literally 743 unread emails in my inbox… not including spam). We spend an inordinate amount of time sifting though and reading electronic communications. The modern age has given rise to a number of scams and advertisement driven electronic communication that drowns us all in useless drivel and time-wasting blathering. Most of us have spam filters that provide some defense and decrease the sheer weight of worthless email and potential security breaches and identity theft risks. However, the legitimate communications can often equal or outnumber all the phishing and natural male enhancement ads on the planet.

It’s a time sucker. I know it. You know it. The down side? It is often the only option for communication in what has become a modern, virtual workplace. The days of paper trails and memos are not so much gone as changed. We communicate by phone, conference calls, video conferences, WebEx, text message, and instant message. The old fashioned paper memos served a purpose. The were communication devices that also left a somewhat permanent reference that could be kept for future. This was especially important for policy changes, new procedures, and announcements.

Translate that to the modern day workplace. Verbal communication, instant messages, and texts are not a suitable format for mass communication or information to be used as reference. This is where email is especially important. Email is used when there is a need for “electronic paper trail.” In other words, email provides a similar version of communication that paper memorandum once did.

So, what is the problem? There are certain types of people in the workplace. I’ll call them the “skimmers” or “non-readers.” I admit there is a lot of unimportant fluff that can get passed around the office networks, but the bottom line is that this is, for most corporations the line of communication through which the important information flows. When staff do not read their email, it means that they may fail to follow new procedures or miss important updates. To often the excuse for mistakes is “I didn’t see that,” or “I must have missed it.”

Wow. That’s a heck of an excuse. The whole reason that someone put the effort in to convey the information in a more stable and durable format was to allow future reference. As someone who tries to keep email to a pertinent minimum, it really does sting to hear the phrases above. Aside from failure to follow instructions, it also is dismissive of the efforts of the author and of authority when that person is a management or other leadership role.

Skimming might actually be worse than just ignoring. While deleting or ignoring important email communications can result in missed information, skimming can result in misinterpretation and translation of details that could result in potentially devastating mistakes or the exact opposite of desired outcomes.

Skimmers and non-readers tell their employers and management teams (by their behavior) that they don’t really care about the job or anything that the leadership has to say. I’m not saying that every supervisor on the planet is a modern day messiah imparting wisdom of the ages, but usually these people are trying to give information that will help everyone do and, more importantly, keep their jobs. So, before you hit the delete button on the next inbox influx or skim through a pile of electronic communication, keep in mind that your decision could result in important information being missing from your knowledge base. That missing information could impact your success or lack thereof.

For the email authors out there, to avoid the risk of skimming and ignoring, keep emails short and concise. Use bullet points to outline important information without excessive verbiage. Organize information into logical patterns. Keep on point, and avoid tangents. Try to stick to one topic or subject in an email to allow for easy sorting and categorizing. Avoid mailing lists with too broad a recipient focus. Broadcast emails should be limited, in number and length.

So, senders, keep your emails targeted and recipients specific. Recipients, read your emails. Chances are they were sent to you for a reason.