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February 28, 2005

Embrace Your Commute

After college and before I bought a car, my movements and career choices were confined to public transportation routes. I would read a couple of books a week, was able to keep my magazine pile to a minimum and desperately longed for my own vehicle so I could control where I went and when.

I recall that time fondly. Sure, I didn't always have a seat, but I could read standing up. Whenever I brought work home, the 60 minutes or so it took me to go six miles usually provided enough time to get it done. And for one of my first jobs, I was actually able to walk to work in nice weather. Maybe I couldn't read while walking the two miles, but I got some good exercise in -- even if I ended up taking the bus home. But now that I drive, I feel like I can't take quite as much advantage of the time.

Yes, sometimes I complain about my commute. It's not the amount of time it takes, but more that once I'm done with my day at work, I have yet one more thing to do before I'm relaxing at home. But this article from CareerJournal.com reminded me of some of the benefits of commuting.

First, it definitely is worth it to have some time to unwind. One time, I ran into a former professor and his wife downtown. They lived in a condo only a couple of blocks from where she worked. She told me how sometimes she had to walk around the block a bit before going into the house, because she didn't have enough time to separate herself from work.

A couple of years ago, I was on a mission to make my driving time more productive. I was all about book tapes. Not only was I accomplishing something, but boy did time fly. I even tried to teach myself Russian, but the tapes I took out of the library were dependent on the book.

The point is, your commute is your time, so be sure to treat it like it is.

Posted by Norma on February 28, 2005 at 10:15 AM in The Daily Grind | Permalink | Comments (6) | TrackBack (0)

February 25, 2005

Even Happy Workers Get the Blues

My weekend emotional rollercoaster ride starts with euphoria on the Friday morning drive. Another week is almost over, and I'm going to have a couple precious, hard-earned days off. By Saturday morning, I'm practically whistling while I do housework or spend time with my husband. But on Sunday morning, I realize that all good things must come to an end, and I'm starting to anticipate another week in the grind. By Sunday night, I'm a bit depressed. And I like my job. At past jobs where I've been miserable, Sunday dinner has felt like the last supper on death row.

This article let me know I'm not alone, and that there are good reasons for a little bit of trepidation when starting a new week. A lot of it goes back to dreading going back to school on Monday. When I was in college, I had a job interview with a trade magazine, and I remember telling the interviewer, "When you're in college, your weekends are precious." He laughed and said, "When you work full-time, your weekends are precious!"

For me, part of battling these Sunday night blues is squeezing every last drop of doing out of those short two days off. I'm a multitasker; I can't sit on the couch and watch a movie or read unless there's a load of laundry going or I'm soaking out the toilet bowls with bleach. When I feel like I've gotten the most out of my weekend, I feel better about going back to work at the end of it.

And when the new workweek finally beckons, we all have our little routines we do to get ready for it. When out on an adventure with the boys of "Seinfeld," Elaine once said, "I'm going to miss '60 Minutes.' You know, I hate to miss '60 Minutes.' It's part of my Sunday weekend wind down." I like my tea, a good book and some quiet time. I certainly try not to do any work on Sunday night, a phenomenon Maya discussed in a blog post a while back. Whatever you do, enjoy your weekend -- while it lasts.

Posted by Christine on February 25, 2005 at 09:57 AM | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

February 24, 2005

Manage Your Manager

I ran into a coworker yesterday who has just been told he has a new boss, his eighth new manager in a year and a half. He told me how his new boss will probably change the way he does a lot of things, and he hopes it works out, as the constant changes are killing him.

Getting a new boss every couple of months can really upset your daily work life. You have to adjust to a new personality, work behaviors and the new boss’s needs. I have had my share of boss turnover and have been managed in a variety of ways.

First there was the "micromanager," who wants to control your every move and forces you to spend so much time reporting on what you’ve done that you get nothing accomplished. Then there was the "frantic delegator," who is disorganized, leaves early and puts his entire workload on you while taking full credit for your accomplishments.

Finally, there’s my current boss, the "proactive coach," who has mastered the art of career development and positive reinforcement. With weekly meetings and updates, he is in the loop enough to keep you on the right track while allowing his employees to make their own decisions and take responsibility for their actions.

With these different personalities, it’s no wonder our careers are affected by who we report to. Managers can clear the way to a successful career path, or they can create a roadblock that keeps you from achieving your goals. These toxic managers must be dealt with carefully. In any case, you must really learn how to manage your boss. Stay positive, and realize that in today’s world, things change regularly, and it’s up to you to keep your career on track.

Posted by Jayme on February 24, 2005 at 11:00 AM | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (1)

February 23, 2005

Blog at Your Own Risk

You never know what might get you fired nowadays.

The candid world of blogging has bred a distinct playground for the blend of art and commerce. In it, one can dish on anything from his favorite fabric softener to his controlling boss to his latest interview -- for the audience of, well, anyone and everyone who has access to the Web. In this sense, blogging has become technology’s answer to the “reality” television craze: Supposed real glances into the lives of people who, through the process, are celebrated and scorned. But just as reality TV can bite you in the you-know-what, apparently so can blogging.

Case in point: A recent Google at-will employee was fired shortly after posting frank comments about his new employer on his personal blog, Ninetyninezeros. While the blogger was never given a clear reason for his termination, he suspects that his posts, which were read by 60,000 people on one day -- the blog’s record high for unique visitors -- were the culprit. While it isn’t clear right now what sensitive information was revealed (the posts have since been cleaned of this information), there are a few lessons to be learned here, as suggested by the blogger himself in his side of the story. 

This sobering situation begs a few questions: How candid should one’s blog -- whether personal or corporate -- be? And what say does a company have over an employee’s right to free speech? At first glance, I would assume the answer would be cut and dry: If I signed a nondisclosure agreement by my employer (standard procedure for hires), I am legally responsible for divulging any of the information indicated on that agreement, whether I revealed it electronically or otherwise. Whether the Google ex-employee adhered to any such agreement is unknown. Chances are, however, that if there were such a clear breach of contract, the blogger would have probably been given that reason when he was let go.

Whatever the case, I would agree with the blogger in suggesting that one should take the time to get to know his or her work environment, in all its political splendor, before making any claims. Also, I would suggest that the blogger really think before posting: Is revealing this information going to benefit you, and possibly others, beyond any harm it may bring to you or others? Moreover, are you 100 percent sure about the claims you are making? While it is important to shed light on criminal activity, for instance, it might not be as important to reveal that your employer is making poor business decisions.

While you may like to think of your blog as a personal diary, you need to be realistic about the fact that it is open to a wide array of people. Posting something online opens you up to the kind of scrutiny that writing something in a paperback journal does not.

Posted by Maya on February 23, 2005 at 10:44 AM | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack (0)

February 22, 2005

International and Provincial, All in One

I pride myself on being something of an internationalist, if only in my own mind. I’m not a frequent international traveler, I don’t speak five languages, and I don’t have a truly thorough grasp on geopolitical affairs. When I claim to be an internationalist, it’s more a matter that I think people ought to treat everyone respectfully, regardless of where they are or where they came from. While that’s pretty simplistic, it’s also clear that we don’t dole out respect in equal doses for everyone.

For example, it seems to me that US immigrants have to endure far too much harsh treatment from Americans that are born here -- from obnoxious side comments to unfair treatment by the police and employers. Listen to a lot of talk radio, and you’d think that Mexican Americans are somehow second-rate Americans. Yet anyone who knows anything about our economy realizes Mexican Americans are a vital part of our free market.

On the whole, I agree with something Chris Rock once said: Given the fact that immigrants had to work a whole lot harder to become Americans than those who were born here, the immigrants are the true patriots among us.

This internationalist outlook is also what drives my thinking when it comes to the debate over jobs being exported from America. Millions of people seem livid over the fact that jobs once done here are now being outsourced to Ireland, China, India and around the rest of the globe. But to me, it seems that people in these countries are surely more needy of jobs than people in the US; after all, we are among the wealthiest people in the world.

Yet another side of me comes out when I end up dealing with internationalism on a more practical level. The other night, I was making phone calls trying to buy plane tickets. I called an airline and ended up talking to someone with a thick accent. I didn’t ask him where he was, but I immediately assumed India, because I know airlines have started setting up call centers there. Truthfully, I don’t even know if this guy had an Indian accent. He could have been some Malaysian man in a call center in Virginia for all I know. But I do know that I could barely understand him. In fact, that’s putting it favorably; in the end, I ended up cutting the phone call short, because I just couldn’t understand a good deal of what he was saying.

This isn’t the first time something like this has happened to me. On many occasions, I’ve gotten through to people I don’t understand on technical support calls, I’ve been at linguistic impasses at fast-food restaurants, and I’ve been unable to fully communicate with employees at airports. And without fail, at these times, I find myself in a state of righteous indignation.

At first, I get irritated with these people whom I’m trying to understand, then my umbrage turns to the companies that have the audacity to hire people whose job it is to communicate with English-speaking Americans, yet can’t be understood by them. I have an almost visceral response to the whole experience. I become a bit less international and a hell of a lot more provincial.

I know there’s more of this to come. Whether I’m an internationalist or provincialist, the world is becoming more and more integrated. There are going to be more call centers overseas. I’m going be hearing more accents and not know what their origins are. And we’re all going to be hearing a lot more about this dynamic on talk radio. As an internationalist, I’d like to say it’s going to be a smooth transition to a more unified planet. But as the provincial guy getting pissed off because I can’t understand some call center ticket agent, I know it’s going to be a rocky road.

Posted by Thad on February 22, 2005 at 09:40 AM | Permalink | Comments (16) | TrackBack (0)

February 18, 2005

Does Your Work Imitate Art?

Originally released in 1999 to mediocre box-office results, Office Space caught its second wind on video, which is where I discovered it. Why is it so popular? It speaks to office culture like no movie I've ever seen. Here you'll find Milton the put-upon office wacko, who constantly mumbles about burning the building down, as well as the lady on the other side of the cube wall who answers her phone the same annoying way 200 times a day. ("Corporate accounts payable, Nina speaking. Just a moment.") Main character Peter Gibbons, who hates his slimy boss and his job updating lines of bank code for Y2K (yes, the movie's a little dated), gets yelled at in that oh-so-polite office way for forgetting to put a cover sheet on his "TPS reports" and brawls with the printer that keeps telling him there's a paper jam when there's none. Here are some great, if off-color, lines from the movie.

Peter boils down the movie's message in this one line: "Human beings were not meant to sit in little cubicles staring at computer screens all day, filling out useless forms and listening to eight different bosses drone on about mission statements."

The truth in that statement is probably why this movie remains a favorite for so many. Indeed, according to IMDb, director Mike Judge has said more people talk to him about this movie than any project he has worked on, including "Beavis and Butt-Head." So many people just hate their jobs. But life isn't like the movies. At one point, Peter tells his girlfriend, "I don't like my job, and I don't think I'm gonna go anymore." That wouldn't fly in my world, and it wouldn't work for most other people. Even if money weren't an object, what would you do all day?

Yes, life in the office can sometimes be filled with annoying people, pointless tasks and even office machine breakdowns. It can also be a rewarding experience if you can learn to look past small daily irritants and embrace the bigger picture: What you actually do.

I'm one of the lucky few -- I've known I wanted to be a writer since I was 8 years old. To those of you still looking for career happiness, hang in there. And rent Office Space for some much-needed laughs.

While you're picking out videos this long weekend, here are some other work-themed movies you might want to check out.

Posted by Christine on February 18, 2005 at 09:44 AM | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

February 17, 2005

Warm Weather Dreams

It’s only February, and I already have spring fever. My nose is running and I have three layers on to keep warm -- and that’s just while I’m inside. My daydream of lying on a beach holding a mai tai is the only thing keeping me from quitting my job and heading to Mexico. It’s vacation season, and as I watch my coworkers leave for their extravagant cruises and trips to Europe, I wonder -- why didn’t I plan a winter vacation?

Our company just switched over to a paid time off (PTO) plan, so we have a bank of vacation, sick and personal days. Instead of planning a vacation in a warm location, I have become a squirrel, hoarding my days off. Something about having them all together and never knowing if I’m going to get sick or need time off for family emergencies has kept me from planning the three weeks of vacation I have earned. And I’m not the only one who’s wary. When the PTO plan was first announced, Norma wrote about her concerns with this issue in an October blog post.

If you’re looking for a job and find PTO is one of the benefits, here are some tips on managing your time off.

Posted by Jayme on February 17, 2005 at 10:06 AM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

February 16, 2005

Is Procrastination a Gift?

By the time you’re in college, you know which category you fall into: You’re either a procrastinator or you’re not. If you’re not, you might have always deemed this breed of seemingly disorganized people as chronically lazy or even perfectionists. In other words, you might have judged procrastination as a disease that impedes one from doing what she really should be doing.

But a recent Wall Street Journal article suggests procrastination may actually be an aide, perhaps even a creative gift that preserves self-esteem. According to this article, 20 percent of adults identify themselves as procrastinators. When asked why, some procrastinators argued that their thought “disease” was actually a method to cope with inefficiency. For instance, how many times have you been asked to do something, just to later find out you didn’t need to do it or that you needed to do it differently? This situation occurs maybe once a week for me. In this respect, waiting until the last minute would be an efficient way of completing a task and focusing your time and energy on the jobs that actually need to get done.

Moreover, some procrastinators suggest that delaying their responsibilities gives them a better sense of control over themselves and their actions, which, in turn, grants them a better sense of self. You can choose to start on that assignment, for instance, or clean out your inbox, your closet, etc. While the decision ultimately lies in your hands, acting on that knowledge builds your awareness of it and, therefore, your self-esteem.

And these arguments don’t even account for what you can learn when you are actively looking to evade responsibility; your method of procrastination may include reading this blog, for instance.

Of course, if procrastination gets in the way of your overall productivity, it may become a problem. If you never get anything done, you won’t be feeling that great about yourself -- and you probably won’t be employed for long. So while the delicate art of procrastination works for some, it may not for others.

Just for the record, in writing this blog, I stopped to get some tea, check and respond to email, chat and update my elusive to-do list. Sigh. Back to work!

Posted by Maya on February 16, 2005 at 11:57 AM | Permalink | Comments (13) | TrackBack (3)

February 15, 2005

Let Smokers Lose Their Jobs

In Maya’s post last month, “Lighting Up Can Get You Fired,” she talked about a Michigan company that decided it will no longer employ people who smoke -- even if they’re not smoking during the workday. In fact, they have already fired four employees for refusing to take a test that would show whether or not they smoke cigarettes.

As a talk radio addict, I’ve heard a good deal of banter about this issue in the past few weeks. It’s an interesting debate -- should companies make employment decisions based on factors clearly not related to work? It should be noted that the company’s founder says there is a distinct business rationale behind the policy: Keeping healthcare costs down.

Maya described this practice as “a borderline autocratic move by an employer. As long as that person’s habit does not infringe on another employee’s human (or work-related) rights, the company shouldn’t intervene.”

In thinking about this, I’ve come to the opposite conclusion. While it may be autocratic, I think the company has every right to put such a policy in place. If smoking negatively affects the bottom line, why shouldn’t it deny smokers employment? After all, smoking isn’t exactly a civil right.

I would even go so far as to say there’s a certain nobility in what this company is doing. Most of the company’s smokers have quit since the policy has been put in place – a victory for both the company and the ex-smokers. And in a small way, this small company is putting smokers everywhere on notice: Smoking can have a negative impact not only on your health, but your employment status. In my mind, that’s a commendable message to send.

Posted by Thad on February 15, 2005 at 01:19 PM | Permalink | Comments (22) | TrackBack (0)

February 14, 2005

Valentine’s Presents at Work -- Hit or Miss?

The first year I was dating my boyfriend, he sent two dozen beautiful roses to the office on Valentine’s Day -- I was ecstatic. I proudly placed them on my desk and welcomed any chance to chat about how wonderful a man I had.

But what if your significant other doesn’t like the attention? One of my old coworkers received roses at the office one year, and I have never seen a man so red. He actually kept the flowers in the middle of our two cubicles and snuck out early to avoid any attention. While as his coworker, it was fun to have some ammunition for future jeering, you really have to think about the impact presents may have at work.

If you’re with someone who might get embarrassed by these types of things, you can still express your love without embarrassing the heck out of them. Here are some fun ideas:

  • A love note in your loved one’s lunch or briefcase. There’s nothing better than getting a fun or even dirty note when you’re not expecting it.

  • Replace your other half’s daily newspaper with the paper from the first day you met or your anniversary.

  • A food gift basket for your sweetheart’s entire group. Believe me, my coworkers would love it if I got a basket full of cookies and cakes I could share.

  • E-cards are also a more discreet way to get the point across at work. But be careful, because most companies monitor email, so you don’t want to be too naughty.

Posted by Jayme on February 14, 2005 at 10:24 AM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)