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Put-in Peggy.

Put-in Peggy

Put-in Peggy

When a group of people set off on a river raft expedition, the initial launch site is called the “put in.”   Recently, my husband brought together a group of 16 people, a year’s worth of planning, hundreds of travel miles and countless logistics to begin an epic raft trip through the Grand Canyon.   At the put-in, he was met by the assigned park ranger named Peggy.   Our friend Peggy carried a clipboard and an overzealous want of authority.   Peggy’s mantra was: “No…   What is the question?”

Park Ranger Peggy was doing her job.   She needed to check all of the boxes on the sheets on her clip board to make sure this group of people met the requirements of setting off through the national Grand Canyon treasure.    Peggy knew she had authority to make or break this trip, and made sure the group knew that too. She held the investment of money, time and coordination of 16 people in her hands.

How often in the workplace, or in life, have you encountered a Peggy?   I’ve experienced this many times with vendors, at the DMV and with the cable companies.   The scenario is this:   I need to get something done and the person (gatekeeper) can only operate according to script, follow every rule to the “t”, cannot see the forest through the trees and is not the least bit interested in solving any hiccups…and a little drunk with authority.     For me, this scenario is maddening.   Instantly I can feel my blood pressure rise and find it easy to move to a defensive posture.   And I consider myself a professional that deals with people and behaviors regularly.   Imagine how difficult this can be for our kids at home that do not yet have the tools to successfully manage situations with “box checkers” in authority?

Thinking about the experience with Put-in Peggy gives an opportunity to cover some tips when a situation arises with someone who holds authority over the situation, refuses to communicate logically and cannot see beyond the boxes they need to check.   It is critical to future success to have these tools to guide through such situations.   They are inevitable.

  • Breathe: Take a deep breath and even tune out a little if you have to.   Sometimes the opening statements given by the person are required and the person saying the words just needs to get them out.   Listen patiently and tell yourself that you can take on this challenge and win by winning-over.
  • Read the classic “How to Win Friends and Influence People”: This is the handbook to dealing with people in the workplace and in life. I think it should be required reading in high school. People can be the best part of a job…and the worst.   Arm yourself with education.   This human interaction blueprint is timeless; first published in 1936.
    • Lessons:
      • You can only get someone to do something if they want to do it.
      • You can’t win an argument.
      • And how to get cooperation.
  • Ask questions: By engaging the person to offer their own expertise, the conversation can switch from a dictative one to an interactive one.   A better outcome will result.
  • Admit fault: Be willing to throw yourself under the bus a little.   This can ease any power struggles and allow the person continued authority but without any threat.

Learning to handle these situations calmly and smoothly can be a challenge but the long-term payoff is worth the extra efforts.   Ultimately the winner is you.

keep_calm_and_listen_to_a_park_ranger_mousepad

You’re fired.

There is a dark side of choosing a career in human resources and it is the task of telling another person they are no longer employed.   There are many reasons that a company may decide to end employment.   These reasons could be  downsizing, reorganizing or the person could not do the essential functions of the job or were the wrong fit.   It is not fun, for either side.   The reality is, it is part of adult working life and unless you are a part of a very small percentage of workers, it is likely to happen at some point during a career.

As discussions take place with your children about their careers, and all the excitement of educational choices and job searches, it might be worth reinforcing that sometimes the choice is out of their control and they could be fired.   And, it isn’t the end of the world and they will be ok.

email-fired

For this conversation, I would consider expressing the following pieces of information:

  • It’s not fun:   Please share that it shouldn’t be fun.   If it was easy or without emotion for either party, then the situation was not ideal to begin with.   If a manager seems to enjoy getting rid of people, it is not a company that your child should work for.   And, if getting fired didn’t sting at all, it’s probably time to reevaluate career choices.
  • The reason may not be clear:   Employers have a whole host of legal aspects to consider when firing an employee.   Sometimes the reason given is nebulous and vague, and it is done to protect the employer.   The employee may not be able to get any further information, but I would recommend asking anyway.   A question like: “Can you please give me the reasons of my termination so I may improve as an employee in my future endeavors?”   This is non-threatening way to gather feedback.
  • At will:   This is a term the employees will read and hear about.   It is written on most applications, in handbooks and may verbally be delivered during the termination.   “At will”  means the employee has no contract with the employer and either party can end employment with or without notice.
  • It’s ok to be upset:   Tell your kids that if they ever get fired they can call you and cry, complain or vent all they want.   As they get older they can use their spouse, partner, friend or a counselor as a resource to process the event.   After that, they are done.   Advise that interviewing for a new job does not include complaints on the one they were fired from.   At some point, stop talking about it and move on because future employers don’t want to hear it.
  • You’re still employable:   There are a couple of things to consider here:
    • If you were given reasons for the inability to do a job, work on them.   There are resources out there that can help on everything from technical skills to workplace behavioral skills.
    • Don’t lie in your next interviews about being fired.   Interviewers will most often explore the reasons of a term before they automatically eliminate a candidate.   But they will eliminate a candidate immediately if they lie.   Be honest, succinct and neutral when explaining the termination.
    • A termination is not necessarily a reflection on you.   Don’t be ashamed if you are laid off or part of a downsizing/rightsizing.   Life happens and companies sometimes have to make decisions that are based solely on financial data, not the person in the position.   It’s ok.
  • Breathe:   Take a breath and recalibrate.   Sometimes a decision that is forced upon you can lead to something better in life.   Many people get stuck in jobs because they don’t want to try something else.   Once the initial shock wears off, look at it as an opportunity.   The good news is the job market is good at this time and there are jobs.   And it is never too late to change career paths too.

First day toolkit.

start-new-jobI have worked with a lot of people on their first day on the job.   I have had a few first-days over the years myself.   The first day can be nerve-wracking, confusing and a bit overwhelming.   There are a lot of names, rules and general information pieces to remember.   Recall not just your first day on the job, but your first day on your FIRST job.

Parents are a good source of expertise regarding the first day.   Here are some things to teach your kids about their first day so they don’t turn into the type of worker that has a lot of “first days” and never seems to get how it all works.

Basic housekeeping information:     Talk to your kids about gathering the information they need ahead of time.   They may not think to ask about where to park (if they drive), if they need to bring a lunch, or which particular person they should check in with.   The whole process is foreign and it is important to gather some of the basic, logistical pieces of information that will make them less confused.   Here are a few more things worth discussing:

  • Does the company have a cell phone policy?   Talk to them about putting their phone away at work.
  • What is the dress code?   Tell them start out conservative until they learn the real environment.
  • Get there early.   Many people don’t factor in traffic, accidents or other delays.
  • Get some rest.   New jobs are exciting.   And it is not the time to stay up late or skip breakfast the next day.   Just like you talk to your kids about the proper approach to school testing, do the same for their first job.

A little anthropology:   Anthropology is the study of humanity.   This includes culture.   Each workplace has its own culture and behaviors of the humans that work there.   This can be one of the trickiest parts of fitting in at a new job.   Conversations with your kids about how to slowly join a new culture are valuable and sadly, often missed.   Many people, even seasoned workers, don’t understand how to ease into a new culture without quickly upsetting or even offending those that are already there.   Here are some ideas of how to do this:

  • Observe the workers first.   Listen more than you talk.   Take your time before you offer opinions or comments.
  • Look for unspoken rules or traditions.   These subtleties can make a team cohesive, but they won’t be written in print.   They are little things like using only company logo’d coffee mugs or not making a mess of the newspaper in the kitchen.   Being a bull in a china shop on your first day will not win over the longer term employees.
  • Avoid cliques, gossip and office politics.   Seasoned employees might like to quickly recruit new employees to their agendas.   Educate on how to be watchful of such ploys and recommend staying clear and avoiding commitments right out of the shoot.
  • Don’t EVER bad mouth the company or a previous employer…or anyone.   The world is small in this regard and you never know who might know someone else or who you might offend.   Keep opinions to yourself.

Safety: Many jobs are not in an office and job sites can have safety concerns.   This is one area where is it ok to speak up, ask questions and voice safety concerns. Many first time workers don’t understand safety protocols.   The good news is that most employers are very safety conscious.   However, it doesn’t hurt to talk about on-the-job safety.   Make sure your kids understand that if they do get hurt, they have the right to report it and cannot be adversely affected for reporting an injury.

Discussions that cover these topics at home will give your kids a huge advantage when they move into the working world.   Questions will come up and parents are wonderful resources.   Start the conversations.

First job toolkit.

First Job

First Job

Over the years I have witnessed countless first-job employees struggle through new hire documents.   Many of them have a parent with them or are texting or calling every other minute to help them understand what they are signing.   Federal tax forms, drug tests, policies and badges are confusing and even a little scary.   Most young adults that get their first job are hesitant to ask questions and fear looking naïve.

Typically one, if not both parents or care givers have a job outside the home, or did at some point.   The new hire process we remember as an inconvenience is something foreign to our children.   Even if it has been many years, think back to how overwhelming it felt the first time.

This is a great opportunity to talk to your kids as they approach the age of a first job and what they will experience in the scary HR office.   And, in case you forgot, here is a quick checklist:

  • I9 – The form I9 is a federal form that proves a person is eligible to work in the United States.   All employers are required to have employees complete this form.   If you haven’t had a job change in the last few years, the form has changed and can be viewed here.  A list is included of acceptable documents, which are often a driver’s license or school ID and a social security card.   It is up to the employee to choose the acceptable documents and an employer cannot mandate which ones are presented, as long as they meet the criteria on the list.
  • W4 – I have yet to meet a first time employee that had a clue about what to claim for tax status.   Please do your kids a favor and download the W4 from the IRS site and help them decide what to claim.   Also let them know they can change what they are claiming at any time.
  • Drug tests – Many employers require an initial drug test before an employee can start.   Drug testing is a complicated topic but if it is a private employer, most circumstances will allow them to conduct drug screens.   In my experience they are typically urine tests and can be done either at the job site or the candidate is sent off site to a lab.   Talk to your kids about the process and ensure them it is typical and not to feel nervous (unless they are doing drugs).   It may feel embarrassing but is often part of the process of getting a job.   There is a lot of information on the Department of Labor website regarding employment drug testing.
  • Internships:   Very few internships qualify to be unpaid.   The unpaid internship requirements and definitions can be found here, as part of the Fair Labor Standards Act.   If your child comes home saying they have been offered an unpaid internship, question them further.   An internship can be done anywhere, as long as they are getting at least minimum wage.   I have come across many employers that try to use this as a loophole to free labor.
  • Independent contractor:   Another tactic some employers will try is to tell a person they are hired as an independent contractor.   The IRS has a strict 20 point checklist to truly define independent contractor status.   Please review this at home if this topic comes up.
  • Handbook:   Employers spend a lot of time, money and resources to have a good employee handbook.   Sadly, many employees don’t take the time to read them and either get caught in a policy violation or ask questions that are spelled out for them.   Stress the importance of this piece and encourage them to read it.   If it is their first job, ask them to bring it home and go through it with them.   I’m sure your kids will have questions.
  • Reporting time worked:   Most first jobs are paid by the hour (nonexempt).   It is critical your kids understand that reporting time worked needs to be accurate.   Some first timers could get lured into to checking in for a friend that is running late or encouraged to falsify their time for an extra hour here or there.   Help kids understand that doing such things will get them fired quickly, with no recourse or unemployment.   Conversely, also help them understand that employers have to pay them for time worked.   Meaning, they can’t “flex” their schedule one week to get out of paying over time in a different week.   As long as the employer is in the private sector, they have to follow the laws of the labor board.   Each state is different in this regard but information is easily accessible by searching your states labor board website.
  • Honesty:   Depending on each situation, your child may have something they are not proud of that could come up during the new hire process.   It might include being fired, inappropriate social media pictures or maybe even a misdemeanor.   Most employers have plenty of experience with all of this and honesty is the best policy.   With internet access, it is nearly impossible to hide something.   Tell your kids to convey something negative in the most succinct and honest way and confidently explain how they have improved.   The honesty strategy will offer more successful outcomes than not.

Taking a few minutes here and there to prep your kids for the logistics involved in their first job will put them leaps and bounds ahead of their peers.   They will appreciate it when they realize that they are better prepared and unsurprised at what to expect.

 

 

Triangles.

triangles_20pernrose_20borromee_1_Have you ever felt like you were pulled into the role of a third-party to a conflict you had no intention of joining?   The phenomenon is called triangulation and happens regularly in most of our lives.   Triangulation can take a couple of different forms.   One person could be designated as the messenger between two others or designated as the communicator between the other two (the go-between). Or, a form of “splitting” takes place, with one person (person A) playing the third person (person C) against the family member or coworker (person B) that they are upset with.   This is playing two people against each other and the person doing the “splitting” usually assassinates both characters in the process.

Triangulation in the workplace is an unproductive behavior that chips away at the culture.   It can be indirect and subtle, therefore, difficult to manage.   And, if you are the triangulator, it’s worse, because you are largely unaware.    If you were raised or work without awareness in such an environment you may not know any differently and continue perpetuating unintentionally.

The best place to combat this behavior is at home.   By recognizing, not tolerating and ultimately educating on such behaviors, we can send better prepared workers to recognize occurrences of triangulation and combat them at the root.

Here are some signs it is happening in your household:

  • Two stories: Kids regularly tell mom one thing and dad another, and reactions are based solely on the child communication without checking with the other parent.   The child quickly learns they control the environment and raises the levels as their cognitive abilities grow.
  • Two styles: If one parent is strict and the other is lenient, the lenient parent might over compensate for the behavior of the stricter parent.   The child gravitates to the easier parent and creates the image of the “bad guy”.
  • Conflict or divorce:   These are situations ripe with triangulation possibilities.   If there is conflict under one roof, the child feels the strain to pick sides.   Worse, parents start to communicate their partner frustrations and splitting occurs. In divorce household, these problems can be magnified.
  • Blended families:   Now introduce even more parents (people) into the mix and the complexity grows.

From all the scenarios above, imagine them in the workplace.   It isn’t too hard to do.   Ideas to avoid or reset triangulatory behaviors are:

  • Explain:   Some degree of conflict is normal and expected.   Explain this and teach how to address the upsetting situation or words directly with the person in conflict.   Using a third-party is not an option.
  • Don’t interject:   If it is between siblings, let some of the little conflicts get resolved by themselves.   Teach that tattling and complaining does not fix the problem and don’t reinforce that by listening to endless chatter about another child.   Tell the child to explain the problem, offer solutions to resolve and move on.
  • Bite your tongue:   Easier said than done. If a manager talks to employees about other employees, triangulation will be seen as acceptable and part of the culture. The same is true at home.   Don’t let yourself get pulled into the triangle and rise to the occasion.   The occasions will be presented and you will be tested.
  • Don’t be a third corner (of the triangle):  The best way to cut off the behavior is to not participate in the behavior.   Don’t feed the problem.   As hard as it is to not engage, don’t.

 

Baby steps.

Photo credit:  Celeste Johnson

Photo credit: Celeste Johnson

I snapped this photo with my iPhone when I was in Bratislava, Slovakia.   The little boy is standing on what was formerly a military bunker in the Iron Curtain zone along the Danube River, across from Austria. What I assume is grandpa, is a person that remembers a much different time.   A worse time.   The little boy has no idea what came before him and finds the old, bullet ridden bunker a fun piece of playground equipment.   I don’t know these people and this picture hangs in my office as a profound reminder to me that the world can and does get better.

 

I believe the workplace gets better too and generation Z will find some fantastic opportunities there.

Here are some human resource changes and laws that are improving the workplace for the next generation of workers:

  • Diversity and equality protections:   There are laws such as Title VII that make it illegal for employers to discriminate and most companies have recognized and embraced the value of diversity in the workplace.   Our grandparents faced this challenges, our kids will find it less so.
  • Ability to work from anywhere: Technology has changed the working landscape.   Many jobs are now capably of being accomplished from anywhere.   A web designer can log in from the lodge at the ski resort and an accountant can audit and file tax returns from their own living room.   Not every job will move in this direction but if a person wishes to seek out a remote career, the possibilities are there.
  • Rewards that align with values: This Harvard Business Review article talks about how companies are understanding how to convey their value and be rewarding to the workers, not just the shareholders.   This can be accomplished through open communication, recognizing strengths and allowing for individual ownership in jobs.   These types of employers exist today and are becoming more prevalent.
  • The entrepreneurial spirit:   According to this article from Forbes only 13% of Millennials want to climb the corporate ladder, whereas 67% want to start their own business.   This is exciting!
  • Green technologies: Caring for the environment is not new, but doing so through company policy is.   The next generation workforce will not only seek out green policies, they will expect it.
  • Wage and hour laws: Wage and hour laws are strict and nearly all employers comply.   The days of misclassification and avoidance of overtime are diminishing.
  • Corporate Social Responsibility:  Companies are learning that doing work outside of the walls and into the community continues the cycle of good workers.   The Millennials are driving more of this and it will be part of business for Generation Z.
  • Self-Expression: Within the last 5 years I have seen more and more companies loosen their standard business professional dress policies.   There is wider acceptance to tattoos, piercings and hair colors.   These types of self-expression are no longer contained to niche industries but found in legal, medical and educational services as well.
  • Communication and information access: This drives all of the bullet points. Like no other time in history, communication is accessible and unlimited.   Our incoming workforce has grown up with technology and lives on information platforms online.   Companies can’t hide and will lose if they have ulterior motives or hidden agendas.   Instead, companies are embracing new transparencies and acting in everyone’s best interest and using that as their competitive strategy.

Retaining your kids.

Johnsons 2012. Photo credit:  Kristy Renee Behrs

Johnsons 2012.
Photo credit: Kristy Renee Behrs

Many of us hold organizational culture and the specific culture of our workplace in high regard.   If we are job seeking, we use tools like Glassdoor to help us peek inside  a potential employer and get the real scoop on culture.   When the culture is great, the business thrives.   Employees stay and A players send resumes to join the team.   A great culture isn’t a matter of luck or happenstance, it is great leaders that drive the beliefs that manifests into behaviors that are supportive, innovative and fun.   Consistently pay and shiny options are not at the top of the wish list for workers. Instead, it is culture.

How many of these workers, that believe in culture and make it their mission to seek certain jobs based on culture, go home to their families at night and “manage” with a completely different standard?   A manager may speak patiently, use manners, motivate and make constructive decisions during the day.   Then go home and bark orders, yell at family members and ask children what they want for dinner when the choice is in no one’s best interest.   Why?   Does this create future workers that will thrive and eventually lead their own organizations with enviable cultures?   No.   I am guilty of this too and if I were taking a moment to recalibrate, here is what I would try to do:

Define the mission:   It might be as simple as deciding dinner, or more complex like planning a trip.   Communicating the plan and gathering feedback gets buy-in.   Dictating orders does not.   Sound decision-making is what helped you professionally. Gathering ideas and input and making decisions that are focused and best for all is part of your job.   Then, does it make sense for your 3-year-old to tell you that they should eat macaroni and cheese again? Take control in the same collaborative and consistent way and keep the mission on course.

Communicate:   Sometimes the last thing I want to do is to remember to convey more information.   The list never, ever ends.   And I know that when the kids know what is coming and what we are planning, it all goes smoother.   Driving the vision at home is just an important as it is at work.

Speak kindly:   No one wants to work for someone who yells or over reacts.   A manager’s actions are under the microscope and the position does not forgive meltdowns.   Not one.   What if parents thought of their actions in terms of a manager and the kids were employees?   Would the daily characteristics change?   Would the parents act more “professionally?”   How we handle ourselves will be the direct lesson in how our children one day handle themselves at work.

Keep the turnover low:   Of course you won’t turnover your kids (though sometimes you want to).   But you can lose their engagement with the family at times.   Explore the cause.   If you kept losing good employees, would you start considering reasons?   Of course.   Your kids are the biggest investment of all and benefits can come from looking at the family from the perspective of the logical manager brain.

Mistakes happen:   When an employee comes to you and makes a mistake, are you forgiving?   Usually.   What about at home?   My kids have made a lot of mistakes.   I try to remember to tell myself that it isn’t the end of the world and not over react.   It is their mistake to make. Not mine.

People are waiting to join the team:   If I don’t think about the culture in my home, others will have a stronger influence.   There are a lot of people out there recruiting my kids and not all of them have the right motive.   Culture is powerful, whether it is positive or negative.   If the culture in the home is not worth staying for, eventually your kids will find another one…just like workers do in the workplace.

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