Jean-Baptiste Alphonse Karr wrote ‘plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.’ The phrase means literally that the more things change, the more it’s the same thing. I don’t know if that is actually true. Change can hit in a number of different ways. Sometimes those ways are good. They mean progress, improvement, innovation, and avoidance of stagnation. However, sometimes those changes don’t feel so good. They feel uncertain, destabilizing, and confusing. The unknown and the new are sometimes scary. While JB expressed his experience as nothing ever being truly new, and that eventually it all amounts to the same thing, I think the sentiment and underlying meaning is that change is more a part of constancy that is just life. The one thing that seems omnipresent in the world is change, every day something new or different. Sometimes things move so fast, it’s hard to keep up.
Why am I talking about change? Well, it is a new year. It is a time when a good number of people consider changes in their own lives. It is a time to consider the things that may have become stagnant or even unhealthy that could use a refresh, a new habit, improvement to what we choose to do and how we live our lives… But that’s not the only reason that I’m thinking and writing about change. Not really.
In the past few years, I have, myself, experienced a lot of changes. I have watched people I care about face other changes. Not all of them were good. In fact, many of them were distinctly unpleasant. There were significant losses. There were obstacles and health issues and heartbreaks. I have watched those I love battle crippling despair and agonizing decisions. It hurts.
But there have been other changes as well. There have been changes born of growth. There have been graduations, weddings, births, new opportunities, and new relationships. There have been moves and new places. There have been new ideas and plans.
I’m distracting myself again. I do that. The reason this particular post is in TNC is because I want to talk about change in the workplace. You had to know that it was eventually going to wind around to job, right? In the past year, my team has dealt with drastic and overwhelming changes. There have been team reorganizations, a complete program change, manager changes, and then a documentation platform change… and that was within less than six months! And they rolled with it. They handled it better than any team with whom I’ve previously worked. I could not be prouder to be a part of them.
And now… in the new year, they were hit with change again. Another reorganization resulted in almost my entire team shifting to a different manager and another group being assigned to me. I’ll be honest, it hit me pretty hard. I am a bit of a “mama bear” when it comes to my direct reports, and I mourned that loss, hard. It helped that the manager to whom they were given is one of the best people and best leaders I know, but it still shook me up. I can only imagine what my new team is experiencing, but I suspect that there may be a good deal of anxiety and trepidation as we all have to learn about each other and develop these new relationships after years of understanding the in’s and out’s of a different leader and leadership style. I know it came as a shock for most. Maybe some are excited about the change, but I expect a lot more are worried about how the “new boss” will be.
It took me quite a while to shift my own mood and thoughts and acceptance. But I know that we are all still working for the same team and the same people and serving the same deserving population that are given into our charge each day. Who knows, now that I’m not “boss lady” to some of my former direct reports, there may be friendships and colleague relationships to further nourish and bloom in a different way.
Change is hard. Sometimes it feels bad initially, but hopefully it can push us, motivate us, and help us keep moving in a positive direction to be better and grow more. I think it is really about perspective. Acknowledge the discomfort, but don’t get stuck in it. Look for the opportunity and let the change move rather than control. So, with that, I’m going to go back to our friend JB for another quote that I like better…
“Some people are always grumbling because roses have thorns; I am thankful that thorns have roses.’
I believe I’ve actually addressed this issue previously, but for the life of me, I cannot recall. I want to discuss for a brief span the concept of time off.
When we talk about time off, typically we are talking about time away from the workplace. And by workplace, that means paid for employment from an external source (differentiating between caregivers and parents who work hard, but are not necessarily reimbursed by an external agent in monetary form). There are different sorts of time away from work. These can be both paid or unpaid. For some there is differentiation between vacation and sick leave, but many employers have gone to a straight paid-time-off (PTO) system where a set amount of days or hours are given dependent upon pay grade and time in grade, and those hours/days can be used for whatever purpose needed. There are a bunch of other statutes and intricacies of labor law, such as short term disability and family medical leave act (FMLA) that govern other types of issues related to time away. Different states and countries have laws and regulations that govern these workforce and labor concerns. For the current discussion, we will not be including paid holidays, bereavement, or mandatory closures (weather, weekends, drill/military, emergencies, disaster, etc.).
Let’s delve a bit into history. There are some who would say that things like employee paid time off, paid holidays, sick leave, etc. are a modern invention in response to concerns for workers rights and health and unions. Turns out, probably not. It seems that there is archeological evidence to show that as far back as 1500 BCE the pharaohs of Egypt provided disability or sick leave for tomb craftsmen and workers while they received state sponsored health care to get them back on their feet (ancient workman’s comp claim… who knew?!?). So, it seems that there has been an understanding for a long time that it is cheaper to take care of trained workforce and keep them healthy than to deal with constant turnover and training new replacements every time you break one.
There are, I know, a good deal more erudite folks on the matter of labor laws than I am with my Google searches and perusal of HR Direct mandatory policy and legal documents. However, I’ve had to develop some significant upgrades to my knowledge for my own occupations and assisting both my own employees and patients to navigate their benefits and job protection.
As I stated earlier, some organizations, states, or countries have differences between sick time and vacation. Sick leave would be paid time for the purposes of attending to health. What are the benefits? Well, you don’t have people coming into the office and bringing plague to coworkers, patients, or customers. That’s a perk. Burnout is a thing, let me tell you. Employees who do not attend mental health and revitalization are less likely to provide quality service to customers or patients. Vacation time would be paid time that can be used for anything… namely, though, vacation, right? Time to do something for leisure. Some places give the paid time off as a lump at a designated time of the year (often January 1). Others set up accrual systems so that paid time is gained through out the year in increments (often based on time in service and rank). There are still a number of organizations that have unpaid time off, and typically to have paid time of any sort, you have to be a full time employee (so, somewhere between 35-37 hours per week minimal to qualify). Many places can get by not having PTO benefit by not having full time employees. If a worker is out, they just don’t get paid. Many hospitality roles do not have a paid time off benefit. This also applies to the self-employed and entrepreneurs out there. Independent contractors, business owners, free-lancers, etc… If you don’t work, you don’t get paid. That’s just the way it goes. However, that being said, the wise and wiley among the self-employed also build this into their business plans and taxes and all that jazz… but I digress.
What about those other categories I mentioned? The short-term-disability (STD, gotta love that, but seriously that is how it is frequently listed in the policy manuals… threw me a couple of times when reading those) and the FMLA. What are those about? Well, these are two very different things. The FMLA (Family Medical Leave Act) has different pieces to the puzzle. This law protects those that qualify from losing their jobs if they are absent due to their own illness or due to mandatory care-taking duties for children, family, partner, etc. FMLA can also apply to maternity or paternity leave with some organizations who do not have such built in separately. FMLA can be all of a single block of prescribed length of time or it can be “intermittent.” We see a lot of the intermittent type with folks who may have other caretaker assistance, but will need to take time (sometimes without warning) to deal with issues related to the care of a loved one. The important part to take note of here is that FMLA does not supply income. It literally just protects the employee from getting canned due to work absence. Which brings me to the STD bit… Short term disability is the income piece. While FMLA is actually a reference to labor law and has legally regulated measure through state and federal government, STD is actually not a requirement or mandated benefit. Employers do not have to offer this. It is something that can be offered like healthcare benefits or life insurance. Sometimes, you will see it as a deduction from pay receipts. STD must also be approved. This usually requires some evidence supplied by an attending provider. If the evidence supplied through medical documentation is insufficient based on the criteria set by the governing agency of the claim, the STD will be denied, and this means that there may be no income.
This is all a bunch of super-complicated intricately interwoven aspects of being off from a paid employment position. I am exceedingly happy to know that there are a bunch of people who have more extensive knowledge and “back-of-the-hand” understanding of these elements upon whom I can rely to help me navigate for myself, my own staff, or my patients. However, I’ve developed in the past decade or so probably enough knowledge and understanding to be exceedingly dangerous… So, here goes with an example:
Employee A (we’ll call him Bob) wants to go on a vacation with his family this summer. He earns a set amount of hours paid time off every pay period. At the first of the year, he starts banking those hours (we’ll assume he had no rollover hours from the previous year… because that just complicates things for our example). Bob wants to take the week, and his normal pay week is 40 hours. Bob earns 6 hours of PTO per pay period. He needs to work 7 pay periods to have the 40 hours. Now, some employers will allow staff to borrow against future PTO if the employee is in good standing. Again… we’ll not delve to avoid complication. The problem for Bob is that any unplanned time off needs to either dip into his PTO or potentially be unpaid if he wants to be paid for that week at Disney with the family.
Let’s say that poor Bob has an unexpected injury that resulted in a hospital stay or prolonged absence from work. Bob’s manager (or Bob himself) would contact HR to set up FMLA. The first part of that is to safeguard Bob’s job position so that he is not laid off or terminated during this recovery time. However, this does not actually solve any issues with Bob’s income. Depending on policy, Bob may be required to utilize any PTO accrued before application for STD or being eligible for same. However, some employers may allow STD to be applied without exhausting the PTO. This would, of course, be better for Bob and his family (Disney looming, remember). Depending on the medical details and information provided by Bob’s attending physicians, Bob may not meet criteria to be approved for STD. Bob then has a choice (again, depending on the policy of the organization) to take unpaid leave or exhaust his PTO.
Now Bob’s buddy (we’ll call him Carl… I borrowed these guys from a friend, don’t judge) has a situation with a family member which requires his close attention and a good many hours of his time to arrange and manage care. Carl has obtained caregiver support through the family member’s own healthcare benefits, but that doesn’t pay him for his time. He is still often required to take the family member to appointments and be present as, perhaps, medical power of attorney. And so, Carl faces some issues. He, too, would like to have some vacation/leisure time with his family, but the frequent demands on his hours of work do not technically fall into the STD criteria. Carl applied for and was granted intermittent FMLA which allows him to take frequent absence from work without anxiety about losing his position. However, he doesn’t get paid for that time. So, Carl has to pick and choose his use of PTO accrued (which may not allow much for a planned vacay with the family) or take the time away as unpaid to save the PTO for the planned use later in the year. Depending on Carl’s employer, he may not have a choice and be forced to exhaust his PTO before taking time as unpaid. The point being, Carl will likely need to consult his own HR guru at his place of employment for guidance.
As you can see/read/whatever, there are intricacies and specifics, and all of them are dependent upon the policy of the employer and what benefits are actually provided by the organization. There are, unfortunately, employers who are a bit dodgy and will try to get out of paying the time off benefits. However, there are a good many studies showing that the benefit to the employee is often a benefit to the company in the long term.
And… before I wind this particular piece up, let’s talk about the new challenges of modern time away. I’ve often written about the challenges and issues with the modern technological conveniences upon the work-life balance. While technological improvements and evolutions have provided opportunity to shorten commutes to literally a few feet down the hall, it makes it a bit too convenient to access job when allegedly being away from job. It has created some interesting concerns and solutions. For instance, I have a horrible habit of calling into meetings or checking email when I am supposed to be on vacation. Part of this is my own work-life boundary issues, but also it is stress due to expected work overload when I return. Because of the fast pace of corporate environment and (let’s be honest) a little lack of boundaries on the part of the organization, emails, phone calls, projects, and such do not get put on pause while any given employee is absent. That train just keeps on rolling, and there is an anxiety that develops about being pushed out or possibly made superfluous by merely taking time off. It’s probably an unrealistic fear, but with the current job market, anxiety is there. The other part of that work-life issue is coming back to over 1000 emails and having to spend a week or more just trying to figure out what happened while you were out. I often tell peers and employees, “Do as I say, not as I do.” I’m trying to get better about staying away and delegating, but old habits die hard. And did I mention the anxiety?
Which brings up another, slightly trickier issue. What about those legal categories? Not the planned vacations or unplanned brief sick leave, but what about the STD or FMLA? These present some significant issues for telecommuter culture. With normal workplace culture, people on STD or FMLA simply do not come to work. They aren’t working because they are not there. For a telecommuter who can work from home and has access to work through technology, how does that work?!? So, that has presented some interesting issues. It might not seem like a big deal, but legally it is. If a person is on FMLA or STD but is also working? Yeah, that develops into ugly words like fraud or abuse. Anyhow, it’s difficult to police or monitor work and lack thereof when the person doesn’t actually come to an office and clock in, right? The solution to this in some companies is to shut off access. The literally turn off the ability for the employee to log into the workplace network. It solves the problem, but it adds that layer of complication and difficulty with the IT department and the employee when they return to work. Bottom line? They can’t just *poof* come back. There are forms and requests and logic to reprogram, oh my…
In wrapping it all up and tying with a bunch of red tape, I think there is more positive to be said for allowing employees paid time off than not. I encourage my self-employed and independent contractor folks to program that into their own budgets and schedules. Physical and mental health is easier to protect than try to reclaim when overtaxed physical and psychological systems burn out. I’ll tell you all, as I tell all my staff, “The advice is good, even if I’m not terribly good at listening to it myself.” I’m a work in progress, what can I say?
So I can chase my tail with less expenditure of energy…
I sometimes feel like I run in circles with a lot of energy going into constant activity with relatively little to show when I get to the end of the day. It really makes me question my efficacy and efficiency. There are days when I feel like I’m one of those performers with plates spinning on the rods… running back and forth to give each one a push and spin to keep them going. What would happen if I stopped… would they all come crashing down? Shattered plates all over, right? That’s pretty much what it feels like. It’s deceptive, too, because I’m pretty sure that if I did just take a breath, take a break, and slow it down, everything would likely just keep on ticking along.
On any given week, my work calendar looks a bit like I lost a game of Tetris. (Oh yeah… that’s what the annoying musicis…). Just opening my calendar program is enough to raise the blood pressure, and that is truly a bit excessive and possibly unnecessary. I recently received a request from my superiors to share my meeting calendar with full details (It was sent to all of my colleagues actually; I wasn’t singled out or anything). My first response was, “Um… why?” with a side of “Big Brother, is that you?” However, when I did step back and reread the email, I realized that perhaps it was more along the lines of leadership wanting to make sure that we aren’t being obligated to meetings that are truly just redundant or in which my participation is not necessary. There isn’t anything private or confidential on there. The only things on that calendar are meetings that have been set by said leadership. It still felt a little intrusive, I have to admit, but that was just my own knee-jerk response. I’m working on it. No one was asking to monitor my every moment. I need to let that go. Letting my boss see my calendar might mean less double and triple booking issues (which happens to me quite a lot during the day).
Recently I broke my own record by being in two conference calls at the same time with four different Webex instances, 17 instant message windows and all while trying to respond to multiple emails that continued to come into my inbox every moment. My spouse coming in the office to ask if I needed some coffee was apparently just too much, and I didn’t even hear him ask. (He’s gotten used to this over the years, and so thankfully did not take it personally.) But in truth, it was all too much. How much quality attention could I possibly be given to any of these instances with that much over extension of my various senses. It. Was. Too. Much. And I’d done it to myself, or at least allowed it.
We all do it these days. The world moves at a very fast pace. In fact, if I am very honest with myself and anyone reading, I feel anxious and antsy when I am not moving at warp speed trying to get everything done. It is sad that I cannot seem to appreciate what has been termed “down time.” I’ve lost the knack of relaxing. Maybe some of you have as well…
Even when I feel like I am coping well with my busy life, I have to take a step back and really listen to my tone of voice, my interactions with my own employees, my family, my friends, my clients… When I’m over extended my voice gets clipped. My tone gets a bit sharp, and I find myself angry when the situation really doesn’t warrant it. So, when that time comes, I need to remember that my chair spins away from the desk, and taking a break will not result in shattered plates everywhere. It’s ok for me to take my leadership’s offer to take care of me. It won’t kill me to let go and say no occasionally. It’s a work in progress, but at least my chair spins and my coffee is full.
They are contagious, you know. In fact, they are some of the most virulent agents of ill that are completely undocumented by the CDC or FDA or any other official sounding acronym that I could come up with to illustrate the point. While I’m pretty certain that a Perpetually Positive Polly would spark homicidal rage in the most stable of breasts, treading too long in the dark is draining, exhausting, and just not productive.
Can often be found hanging out with her buddy Debbie Downer. She and Debbie can find the cloud around every silver lining. Nothing can brighten their bad day. Nothing suits them quite so well as being able to share something horrible about someone who has had a run of good fortune. Prognosticators of pussilescence, they will be the first to predict misfortune and a downturn of luck when things are going well. They never have a good word to say about anyone, and while they are always willing to share all the juiciest gossip (especially if it is bad news), they are not the group in which you want to confide… since their next news story might be about you!
Quick to point out all the flaws, Clarie can spot all the ways that something can and will go wrong. Clarie’s glass is always half empty… if not entirely dry. Without fail, CC will always doubt the potential of any plan. She will find every single hole and stumbling block along the path… Not so bad, you say? Maybe not. We all need someone who can be devil’s advocate and plan for the potentiality of failure, but she’s not so forth-coming with the solutions. For CC, it’s not so much the potential, but the eventual, and she is absolutely certain about negative outcome. Clarie also likes to complain about her situation, the behavior of others, and the general condition of her surroundings, but she is completely uninterested in the contributed solutions of friends, colleagues, or family, Offered options are often met with “Yeah… but…” It’s like she doesn’t want anything to improve… she just wants to bitch about it. Finding the failure and pain points is all well and good Clarie, but how do you suggest we fix it?!?
Bless his heart. He’s the workplace version of Eeyore. Not so bad a character, but after a while, hearing about how everything is going to go to hell in handbasket can get a little rough on the ears. Everything is always horrible, and Gus never has anything good to report. Whether it is his work performance or his physical aches and pains, he will regale any unfortunate listener with all the depressing details. I don’t know that Gus is just deliberately trying to sabotage a positive workplace, but he’s enough to suck the life out of everyone around him. Much like CC, Gus isn’t interested in your advice for how he might alter his own circumstances. He prefers to wallow in his own misery… and he wants to share that misery with company. He’s his own worst enemy, and he can’t figure out why no one wants to go on break with him.
Solution Sally (Marginal Member of the Negativity Collective)
She’s the antithesis to Clarie and all her complaints. Sally is always telling you how to do it better… But that isn’t such a bad thing to have a person who is always looking for the way to fix things, is it? Sally isn’t so bad, most of the time. Where our solution-seeking gal (or guy) becomes a potentially less than positive influence is when there isn’t anything that needs fixing. You know the saying, “If it ain’t broke…” Well, our gal Sal doesn’t even notice that things are working, she always sees a different way, though not always better, and she’s quick to jump in and tell you how her way is the best way, even when no one asked. We love solutions, Sally, but listening is an important skill to embrace before trying to fix something that isn’t broken.
Hanging around with these people too much can lead you to a convalescence in the Bitter Barn. Trust me, you do not want a permanent bunk in there. The accommodations are pretty poor and comfort levels are abysmal. Of course, that is how the regulars like it… always something to complain about, right?
The truth is that sometimes it is really hard to stay positive. When things are stressful and just not going your way, the simplest thing in the world is to dive into morose sense of the futility… and of course bitch about it. We’ve all done it (except for PPP… and she’s just a little too chipper for everyone). There are just times when the day… or week… maybe year… just sucks. We get down. We get cranky. Sometimes, we get angry. It’s ok. Those are human emotions and natural responses to aversive stimuli and unpleasant situations. It’s not fun or enjoyable, and I think most people would find it completely acceptable for any normal human being to have those emotional responses. It’s also quite natural to vent and share our displeasure verbally. However, there is a time and place for everything… and a limit.
Negativity is one of those things that has a contradictory nature of sharing. For some negative impact issues, bottling up our emotional responses can create something like an affective abscess that bursts at inconvenient times or stews and simmers to grow into other problems down the road. On the other hand, venting can sometimes be a self-feeding spiral that just drags the person sharing into a more and more negative mood… not to mention either coloring the mood of listeners or just alienating everyone (remember what I said about the contagion factor). It’s a fine line.
So, when is it ok? And when is enough… enough? First of all, remember your environment and your audience. While honesty is generally the best policy, lambasting the boss in front of other leadership personnel may not be the best strategy for continued employment. Additionally, while everyone understands the occasional dissatisfaction inspired complaint, a continual diatribe without any contributing solutions may not be appreciated in work or social settings. Watercooler talk or an afterwork social gathering is always subject to the occasional griping, but no one wants to hear constant negativity.
How can you tell if you are becoming one of the negativity tribe? One key factor that can clue you into the “enough is enough” point is when the venting doesn’t make you feel any better. We’ve all had those moments where faced with a frustrating or infuriating set of circumstances, we just want to fly loose with “!@#(&%)!@$~@#!” In the normal course of events, your friend, partner, or sympathetic coworker responds with, “Feel better now?” and if done correctly, the answer should be, “Yes.” That is venting. It lets off the steam that had built up to explosive levels. Once the pressure has been released, it clears the system for more productive focus. The danger of chronic or constant venting is that there is no cathartic feeling of “Aaaah that feels a little better after saying it.” With the continued diatribe or spewing of vindictive spleen, the spewer and the spewee just feel worse and worse with each instance… and each passing moment. Sometimes this conversation can degenerate into one-upmanship or “you think that’s bad?” and from there it’s is race to see who can be the most negative. This is a pretty good indication that venting is not therapeutic or helpful any longer.
So what to do? Suppressing emotions just because they are not the happy peppy ones isn’t healthy, but feeding the darker emotions with continual negative energy isn’t good either. Having someone who is safe to process stuff with is a treasure. Don’t abuse them. Make sure that if a friend, partner, or trusted coworker is willing to listen that you give them the same courtesy and do not monopolize that avenue of communication. Also, how do you know that you are talking to Nelly, Clarie, or Gus… if you consistently feel drained and exhausted after every interaction, it’s probably one of these folks from the Bitter Barn. Best defense is changing subjects, but when all else fails, walk away. Use your own energy to fuel something more positive instead of letting it be drained away by the perpetually negative.
Stay encouraged and curious, folks, and stay out of the Bitter Barn!
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.
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.
Happy and safe journeys folks!
A blog about a few thing I picked up along the way… Hey driver, where are we going?!?