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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.

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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 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.

 

 

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.

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