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Category Archives: life lessons for kids

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.

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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.

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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 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.

 

 

Wait your turn.

Wait your turn.

Wait your turn.

Vacation means standing in line.   Lines form at the airport, car rental, hotel check in, the ice cream stand and the water slide at the pool.   Everywhere we travel, we stand in line and wait our turn.   Fortunately kids have this societal norm down pat.   From a very young age they  learn to stand in line and not unfairly jump ahead of those that are waiting before them. In fact, when someone does try to jump ahead, those in line feel slighted and carefully watch for the reasons of the shortcut.   The group dynamic taking place is powerful and no one wants to feel they have had to wait longer than rightfully so.

Think about this in terms of the workplace and waiting in line for a promotion, more responsibility or different title.   Repeatedly I read that the next generation of workers doesn’t put the weight into a title or promotion that the Gen Xers or Boomers have historically.    Yet, the next generation also seems to not want to wait in line for their turn.   Many Millennials that are college grads feel entitled to start their careers in a management role.   No conceptualization for those that have worked for years and have experience and institutional knowledge.   What will the Gen Zs that are still at home expect when they get to the workplace?     This dichotomy is interesting because the very children that were raised to understand how to consistently wait their turn, have no desire to do so when they get to the workplace.

Millennials were raised with a lot of attention and praise and feel they have an abundance of value on day one on the job.    With that dynamic, what can parents and professionals that are in the middle of our careers say to them to guide a more realistic path that educates on the realities of a new career, instead of unrealistic expectations?   A few thoughts:

  • Your boss will not be like a parent:   Yes, parents tell their kids how great they are.   And, have we gone too far by rewarding them for every-single-thing they do?   Real life means some level of failure and/or disappointment.   Talk to kids about how a boss would view their actions.   That may help level-set their expectations of the workplace.
  • Access:   Technology means that kids can short cut the answer to any question.   All they have to do is look it up online.   What does a CEO make?   Google it.   What are the best jobs?   Google the answer.   Other generations didn’t know this until they ventured out on their own and learned the answers.   Now the “answers” are instantly accessible; and not all that realistic.   Be another powerful voice to your kids and talk about how the workplace works and don’t let their only resource be online searches.
  • Experience:   Impatience is a trait in an age of instant gratification.   There are ways to combat this at home by not supplying every need, instantly.   A new game or new toy might mean working for it with some chores and earning it over time.   The more easily things are given, the less they are appreciated. Communicate your own experiences of times when the years you have worked have paid off in a situation that you would not have handled well when you were in your 20s.   I have many examples of instances when experience got me through a contentious meeting, not education.
  • Connectivity:   I do love that I can text or contact my kids at most any moment throughout the day.   And, the same is true that they can reach me.   This is how it works now and I don’t see it changing.   At the same time, is this creating an unrealistic type of communication?   If an employee contacts me with every small question and expects an answer almost immediately, I find myself completely frustrated.   They are not considering that I cannot always respond right away or that I would expect them to research an answer before they simply ask.   It would be great for my kids to learn to “think” about how to find an answer and wait an appropriate amount of time for a response. When possible and appropriate,  have your kids figure out things on their own.

Millennials and Gen Z have many wonderful qualities that they are bringing, and will bring to the workplace.   Education from home that speaks to the values of waiting in line for their turn will help mitigate the sting of unrealistic expectations of them walking into a first job as the CEO.   Education on the values of gaining all levels of experience and honoring each step will serve them well.

Tools in the yard.

N9pRwacr1l1UWyLzThis week I have my kids at my childhood farm in Iowa. For the most part my kids are “city kids” and when we get the farm there are some new rules.   When the kids play in the garage at home, putting tools away is required but the ramifications of leaving them out is not much more than getting lectured by the parents. However, when the kids are at the farm and leave a tool in the yard, the ramifications are costly.   One hammer left out can completely ruin a very expensive riding lawn mower.  And, when the yard is several acres, it is hard to check the grass ahead of time.   The kids don’t have the wherewithal to see the ramifications of their actions; until they learn the hard way or are told.

This scenario makes me think of a similar phenomenon in the workplace.   Business needs people who are willing to venture out into the “yard” with their tools to drive GP and grow.   However, often the business development people leave their tools in the yard for the fulfillment side of the business to pick up.   Common behavior…and annoying behavior.

To teach these next generation workers to think beyond their own actions, consider having some of these discussions:

  • Thinking: Are you doing the thinking for your kids?   Each time there is an action that has an effect on someone else, are you handling the situation for them?   Or asking them what the potential outcome might be?   When the hammer was left in the yard, should we have picked it up and put it away?   Or was there a better option?   Managers at work are guilty too.   Solving all problems with no explanation to the actions does not benefit the organization.   If a sales manager over promises, a fulfillment manager might under deliver.   No one wins in that situation.   Rather, if the sales manager spent some time looking at and thinking about fulfillment or fulfillment took the time to communicate their process, they would both be less likely to sell a potential mess.
  • Logic: Ask kids to explain the next steps in any situation.   When traveling, ask them (age appropriate) questions about how to find out if the plane is on time, the next gate or where to find ground transportation. Don’t lead automatically and let them blindly follow you. Logical thinking leads to better behaviors in the workplace and when kids are taught at home it will be inherent.
  • Relevancy: When I asked about the hammer in the yard, I get all the reasons why they needed the hammer.   I don’t care. That is not relevant. They didn’t put it away.   That is relevant.    How often at work do you pose a question to get the answer to a different question?
  • Accuracy: “Yes.   What is the question?”   Often kids jump into something and then figure out if it is a good idea later.   At work, the goal is to drive business and saying “yes” to everything is pretty easy.   It is better to find out if something is actually possible and communicate an honest “no” than to try to please upfront.   Teach kids to look at the facts and make accurate decisions.

Sound decision-making is arguably the biggest part of getting a promotion in the workplace.   Teaching this at home can offer kids a huge advantage when they start their own career.   Parenting with this in mind takes more time and sometimes more pain, but teaching why they can’t leave their tools behind is the right thing to do.

 

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.

 

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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