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April 28, 2006

The Extreme Commute Is Not for Me

While flipping through this week’s Newsweek, this article, chock-full of fascinating statistics about how we commute to work, caught my eye. Not only did it reveal an increase in the number of extreme commuters -- those who travel 90 minutes or more each way -- but I discovered that the average commute is now 25 minutes, up 18 percent from 20 years ago. Especially in pricey real estate markets like the Boston area and California, more and more workers are moving to once-remote outposts so they can afford the mortgage, the tradeoff being the long commute to a job where they’ll make decent money.

I see this phenomenon a lot in my adopted home. I grew up seven miles north of Boston but moved 40 miles west in 2000, to a place I used to think was the end of the known universe. My city is the second-to-last commuter rail stop on the line that feeds into North Station in downtown Boston -- a trip that takes more than an hour each way. As evidenced by my town’s crazy pace of home building as well as the lines at the commuter rail stop, lots of local workers are among the ranks of extreme commuters.

Here’s what I think: While there are ways to embrace your commute, for the most part I want to make it as short as possible. When I was offered my job at Monster a year and a half ago, a major perk was that my commute would be cut in half. I had been driving to neighboring New Hampshire for three and a half years, 35 miles and 45 minutes each way, and I was tired of it. I often spent weekends catching up on sleep and recharging enough to do it all again the next week.

The Newsweek article quotes Robert Putnam, author of Bowling Alone, who found that every 10 minutes added to your work travel time translates into a 10 percent reduction in the time you give to your family and community. I truly enjoy my job, but my family, friends, volunteer work and other outside interests shouldn’t have to compete with my commute.

Exciting news: Monster Career Advice has been nominated for a Webby Award! Don't forget to vote for Monster Career Advice in the Employment category before May 5.

Posted by Christine on April 28, 2006 at 10:20 AM in The Daily Grind | Permalink | Comments (4) | TrackBack (0)

April 27, 2006

Rookie Mistakes

I’m two weeks into my new job at Monster but two years into workplace mistakes. Among the more egregious? My cubicle habits (not cuticle, though that may be a subject for another day). Having always worked in open-plan newsrooms or had my own office, I wasn’t well versed in cubicle etiquette until I came to Monster. Everyone in the department is now well acquainted with my cell-phone ring, Internet browsing habits on advertising-jingled sites and doctor consultations. Note to self: Cubicle partitions don’t act like walls; there is such a thing as volume control and mute.

I’ve canvassed colleagues and friends for other mistakes. The rookie ones are the best. There is my journalist friend who mistakenly erased the entire day’s stories a few hours before deadline. There is her nephew who emailed what his new employer charged everyone to the firm’s very best client. There is my husband’s colleague who answered the phone with the wrong company name. There is my friend who asked that the boss leave a voice mail for a colleague, because the name of his boss did not ring a bell.

There are larger, more abstract, rookie mistakes. The administrative staffing firm, Office Team, did a survey that found misunderstanding corporate culture to be a rookie’s biggest mistake. I’m certain I’m guilty of that (only I haven’t realized it yet). Also on that list is not asking enough questions (I wonder if asking too many should count? I’m trained as a journalist, after all).

CareerJournal.com tells the story of a newly hired vice president who got fired after 90 days. His offense? Criticizing his new employer as incompetent, among other things. Of course, the biggest mistake will probably turn out to be listing my mistakes on this company blog.

Do you have any rookie mistakes? We’d love to hear them.

Exciting news: Monster Career Advice has been nominated for a Webby Award! Don't forget to vote for Monster Career Advice in the Employment category before May 5.

Posted by Elizabeth on April 27, 2006 at 11:00 AM in The Daily Grind | Permalink | Comments (12) | TrackBack (0)

April 26, 2006

The Office Guide to Laughing at Work

Annabelle’s post on Monday got me thinking about all the silly things that can happen -- and have happened to me -- on the job. On my second week of work at Monster, for instance, I was accidentally hit it the face with a hackey sack. Yeah, I know. Stuff happens, and you just need to find a good way to laugh it off without breaching your workplace etiquette.

Say you’re nervously preying on a pen during a meeting and it explodes on you, your coworkers, etc. Do you laugh? Apologize? When in doubt, follow these tips from a recent article we ran about workplace gaffes:

  • Know Your Audience: Gauge the sensibilities of the people you work with. Know the difference between what makes them laugh and what they find hurtful, offensive or just plain stupid.

  • Poke Fun at Yourself: Tell the truth, and blame the gaffe on yourself; don’t take yourself too seriously.

  • Consider the Situation: If you made the blunder, feel free to laugh at yourself -- but if it's someone else, be sure that person enjoys a laugh at his expense before you risk joining the ranks of the unemployed.
What was your worst office blunder? Leave us a comment, or check out our Laugh It Up at Work message board.

Exciting news: Monster Career Advice has been nominated for a Webby Award! Don't forget to vote for Monster Career Advice in the Employment category before May 5.

Posted by Maya on April 26, 2006 at 10:37 AM | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack (0)

April 25, 2006

Are Layoffs Creating "The Anxious Class"?

Climbing the business book sales charts is Louis Uchitelle's The Disposable American: Layoffs and Their Consequences, a look at the all-too-common practice of using layoffs to fix ailing companies.

New York Times economics reporter Uchitelle's book includes a number of first-person reports from the ranks of the downsized and the offshored. One interesting tale is the story of Donald W. Davis, former CEO of ubiquitous toolmaker Stanley Works in New Britain, Connecticut. In this lengthy excerpt, Uchitelle highlights the lasting psychological impact layoffs and the reorganization and relocation of work can have on all of the members of the affected community -- not just those who received pink slips.

Uchitelle's thesis is that economic self-interest on the part of upper management and investors plus bad business decisions has created new workforce participants -- what he terms "The Anxious Class" -- who are perpetually concerned about losing their jobs and the stability and status that comes from secure employment.

I don't think all of Uchitelle's proposed remedies are appropriate -- one only has to look at work rules in France and the recent unrest there to understand that legislating hiring or discharge policies for private employers will not create a growing labor market.

But his stories and the phenomenon of "employment anxiety" are very familiar to me. I've received a pink slip twice in my career and have handed out a few as well. Neither feels good -- but it certainly feels a lot worse getting one than giving one.

Having been on both sides of the receiving line, I can appreciate the remorseless economic logic of layoffs. That is the most anxiety-producing aspect of this issue for me. When you can identify with and understand the reasons why an employer must choose to deprive you of your current livelihood, there's no outlet, no opportunity for an emotional release. You just pack up your things, take the severance policy envelope from the HR functionary and head out the door to start your job search all over again.

Leaving a job -- even unwillingly -- can be a freeing moment. But when you see it happen again and again, to friends, colleagues or even total strangers in other industries, the anxiety stays with you. Judging from the stories in Uchitelle's book, there are a lot of anxious workers out there.

One way to cope is to make sure you stay in charge of your career. These resources can help:

Exciting news: Monster Career Advice has been nominated for a Webby Award! Don't forget to vote for Monster Career Advice in the Employment category before May 5.   

Posted by Ryck on April 25, 2006 at 12:21 PM in The Daily Grind | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack (0)

April 24, 2006

Humor Therapy for the Recently Redundant

This blog was submitted by actress Annabelle Gurwitch, the author of Fired, Tales of the Canned, Cancelled, Downsized and Dismissed.

When you find yourself suddenly made redundant, it can be a very disorienting experience. When I was told Woody Allen “wanted to go in a different direction with my role” while working on a play with him, my first thought was that perhaps he wanted to rewrite my character differently. However, once the bearer of the bad news started wishing me good luck, I knew that this was showbiz-speak for “time to look for a new job.” 

There are so many resources out there for finding a new position for yourself, including Monster, but for my part, I’d like to offer some humor and perspective to help get you back out there in the job market.
Here's my top firing stories of the week. First, a classic:  I received a call from a gentleman who had found himself unemployed -- fired for passing gas in a small office! Yes, we can all learn from this one. Note to self: Remember to avoid brussels spouts, kimchi or other flatulence-inducing lunches when working in close quarters.

Another winner: Fired for refusing to trim boss’s nasal hairs! Yes, this was a request made to an administrative assistant, not to an esthetician. This employee felt this activity was a little removed, so to speak, from her regular duties, refused and was fired right then and there. We all have to draw a line in the sand somewhere, and this may not be a job you want to keep. Again, note to self: Be sure to check all duties when accepting a job, and let’s all wish this former assistant a great new job whose duties don’t include nasal depilatory!

In another memorable firing, it turns out that the Stanford tree mascot was recently relieved of her duties. Yes, the tree, who appears at basketball games, was spotted imbibing alcohol during a game and had begun prancing in the middle of the basketball court -- whereas usually the tree confines herself to prancing under the basket. This overenthusiastic prance attracted attention, whereupon the tree was promptly tested for -- and failed -- a sobriety test and uprooted, as it were, on the spot!

Ironically, a spokesman for the band noted, "She was just jumping and dancing. The tree's movement is usually consistent with that of someone who's had something to drink.'' However, no one wants to see a tree actually drinking; that’s just against nature and well, violated the terms of her employment contract. Try having to explain that to your family.

Wishing you all great luck out there this week and good gastronomic health!

Exciting news: Monster Career Advice has been nominated for a Webby Award!
Don't forget to vote for Monster Career Advice in the Employment category before May 5.

Posted by AnnabelleGurwitch on April 24, 2006 at 02:34 PM | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack (1)

April 21, 2006

Keep It Green at Work

Tomorrow is Earth Day, and millions of people are gearing up to celebrate environmental conservation and recommit themselves to practicing it. Even though my job as a copy editor doesn’t directly affect the environment like that of an environmental accountant or a worker at the EPA, to name a few that do, I like to think I keep it green at work when I can.

I’ve always lived in Massachusetts, except for two years in New York for college, so recycling is a way of life -- both states are among the 11 that have bottle bills. Here in Massachusetts, you pay a nickel extra for your carbonated and alcoholic-beverage bottles and cans, money you get back when you return them for recycling. So I’ve kept all such recyclables in a milk crate under my desk for years. And I do try to make use of the recycling bins Monster provides to help save a tree or two -- important when you consider commercial waste makes up 40 percent of municipal solid waste, according to this article. Finally, I drive a fairly fuel-efficient car to the office every day.

But as Thad pointed out to me recently, if I got a nickel for every sheet of paper I recycled, I’d be more apt to do it. I’m not saying Monster should institute such a policy, but while individuals need to pitch in, so do companies to help pave the way for such efforts. Here’s some advice on how companies can create a green atmosphere.

Let’s all do our part to help the environment this Earth Day and beyond. And if you’ve got any office-based conservation tips that work for you, do share.

Exciting news: Monster Career Advice has been nominated for a Webby Award! Don't forget to vote for Monster Career Advice in the Employment category before May 5.

Posted by Christine on April 21, 2006 at 10:17 AM in Current Events | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

April 20, 2006

Week One at the New Job

On day two of the new job, I returned home from work to hear my 10-year-old daughter (coded Z on the newly posted family schedule) tell me, “I liked it better when you were working from home.”

This came from a daughter who only six months prior had latched onto the phrase 24/7, employing it most often in a slightly derogatory tone when referring to the amount of time she spent with me as opposed to her father. This comment came following day-one-on-new-job when seldom-ill, never-miss-a-day-of-school daughter said she had a stomach virus and needed to stay home (I sent her; it was day one, for goodness’ sake). It also came after child number three (coded O) had not one but two visits to the school nurse; child number one (that’s her) had been left stranded at a piano lesson; and the carefully calibrated afternoon carpool schedule of child number two (coded B) had been completely bungled.

So when my daughter made that remark, I did what any good parent does: I smiled knowingly, a smile that was meant to say, “One day you’ll understand that there’s so much more to it, dear.” Like most children, my daughter is much brighter than that. She’d bring it up later. We both knew that.

I was feeling a little harried at that point. After five years of working from home and with my youngest now in school for a full day, I had returned to an office job full-time. No longer was I available in the home office upstairs. No longer could they holler to me from the base of the stairs and be reprimanded for it. No longer was my time away limited to short visits to publishers, research sources or publicity events. My at-home office was empty, and we were all adjusting to it.

I’d been running the figures past them -- and myself -- for weeks (albeit in a more diluted form to them). This was how most families lived; about 70 percent of mothers with children under 18 worked, and most not at home. I was working the same daily hours as most women (OK, 8 hours is close enough to 7.8, isn’t it?). I was part of a new generation of women (Xers, to be precise), 77 percent of whom work. I was now the norm, even if it didn’t look like that at school pick-up.

So last night, one week into the new job, my daughter brought the issue up again. She talked about me working away from home in a way that children often do, a way akin to how they reach for your hand -- not head on, but from the side. “You know, Mom,” she said as I snuggled beside her beneath her duvet. “Women do a lot. They might not be the president, but they do other things, important things.”

“What do you mean?” I asked, anticipating she’d provide me with a litany of achievements from the likes of Harriet Tubman, Helen Keller and other female heroes she’d studied at school.

But she got me from the side, once again. “They go the extra mile,” she said. “They rock.”

“What do you mean?” I asked.

“Just that,” she said and smiling knowingly, she kissed me goodnight.

For more articles on work/life balance and figuring out what’s right for you and your family, check out:

Exciting news: Monster Career Advice has been nominated for a Webby Award! Don't forget to vote for Monster Career Advice in the Employment category before May 5.

Posted by Elizabeth on April 20, 2006 at 02:11 PM in Women at Work | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

April 19, 2006

Is Your Job Killing You?

I’m a sick puppy today -- congested to the brink of watery-eyed blindness, the works. I’ve probably been getting sick for a week or two, but have been trapped in the day-to-day bustle so much that I haven’t noticed that I’ve been feeding the illness with the loop of exhaustion and dehydration (i.e., making up for lost sleep with caffeine, etc.).

It’s no secret that working yourself to death can get you physically sick, but what’s now surfacing (and I find this particularly interesting, given the overwhelming response to the Toxic Boss Contest) is that toxic work environments -- not literally toxic, but emotionally -- are often infested with physical illness as well. This is the theme in employment consultants Katherine Crowley and Kathi Elster’s new book, Working With You is Killing Me: Freeing Yourself From Emotional Traps at Work.

Crowley and Elster recommend taking the following steps to heal yourself from job-related strains that might otherwise cause emotional or physical angst:

  • Step 1: Unhook Physically:Calm the body and release unwanted negative energy so that you can see your situation more clearly,” the authors advise. “Physical unhooking begins with focusing on your breath, because emotional discomfort normally produces shallow breathing, which inhibits your ability to think clearly. As you consciously breathe in deeply and gently, you can also scan your body to determine how and where you may be holding tension.” Then take a walk, go to the gym, etc. to release the extra energy.
  • Step 2: Unhook Mentally: Tell yourself not to be intimidated by another’s behavior and/or a situation; you’ll find a way be heard. “The rational part of your brain must help the emotional part of your brain cool off, calm down and strategize,” the authors explain. Ask yourself:

  • What's happening here?

  • What are the facts of the situation?

  • What's their part?

  • What's my part?

  • What are my options?

  • Step 3: Unhook Verbally: “Find the words (or sometimes the silence) to protect yourself and get out of a workplace trap,” the authors suggest. “Verbal unhooking may involve finding ways to say no without jeopardizing your job, speaking up when you feel overlooked, or tolerating your boss's temporary silence immediately after you ask for a raise.”
  • Step 4: Unhook with a Business Tool: “A business tool is any standard procedure or written document used in a business setting,” the authors explain. “It includes contracts, timesheets, job descriptions, memos, performance reviews, company policies and procedures, and other forms of documentation. Business tools help depersonalize challenging situations by providing objective ways to track events and measure performance. To unhook, survey the business tools available to you, and identify which ones can help improve your situation.”

Exciting news: Monster Career Advice has been nominated for a Webby Award! Don't forget to vote for Monster Career Advice in the Employment category before May 5.

Posted by Maya on April 19, 2006 at 02:42 PM | Permalink | Comments (19) | TrackBack (0)

April 18, 2006

Lessons from Enron: Who Do You Trust?

The Enron trial has entered the main event phase. One of Enron's top Smartest Guys in the Room, former president Jeffrey Skilling, has been on the witness stand for a week. Last week, he was testifying in his own defense; this week, he faces cross-examination by prosecutor Sean Berkowitz.

According to the excellent coverage of the trial on the Wall Street Journal's Law Blog, Skilling appears to have made a good impression on the jury and courtroom observers during the defense portion of his testimony last week. So far this week, the prosecution hasn't landed a knockout blow.

The defense team contends that what Skilling and his codefendant, former CEO Kenneth Lay, did at Enron was, in fact, not illegal. But in all the testimony so far, one thing seems clear to me and to other observers: So many people -- customers, employees, bankers, investment analysts and stockholders -- trusted these executives and the company they created to fulfill their obligations. As it turns out, they did not deserve that trust.

Trust is something most of us take for granted in our work relationships. We have to -- it makes business possible. Without it, we'd be conducting cash-only commerce among entities no larger than what one person could supervise.

But this trust cannot be taken for granted. We should make sure everyone knows just how central it is to business and personal success. And it starts at the top.

Here are just a few of Monster's career advice resources on the importance of building and maintaining trust and ethical relationships at work:

Exciting news: Monster Career Advice has been nominated for a Webby Award! Don't forget to vote for Monster Career Advice in the Employment category before May 5.

Posted by Ryck on April 18, 2006 at 01:31 PM in Current Events | Permalink | Comments (9) | TrackBack (0)

April 17, 2006

Watch What You Say to the Waiter

One of my brother’s first jobs was as a waiter at a major chain restaurant. His location had just opened, so the kitchen staff didn’t have its act together yet. When his customers’ orders got screwed up, my brother wound up being the bearer of bad news, taking the requisite abuse -- and comping a lot of meals. Unfortunately, some people did the tip math literally, leaving him 20 percent of free. He finally quit in frustration.

But he never forgot the people who took someone else’s screwup out on him. Like many other restaurant-industry veterans, he is almost deferential to the waitstaff when dining out.

Apparently, he’s not the only one taking note of such bad behavior. According to this USA Today article, how you treat this seemingly inconsequential person whose job it is to serve you reveals a lot about how you were raised -- as well as your interpersonal skills on the job:

People view waiters as their temporary personal employees. Therefore, how executives treat waiters probably demonstrates how they treat their actual employees, says Sara Lee CEO Brenda Barnes, a former waitress and postal clerk, who says she is a demanding boss but never shouts at or demeans an employee. “Sitting in the chair of CEO makes me no better of a person than the forklift operator in our plant," she says. "If you treat the waiter, or a subordinate, like garbage, guess what? Are they going to give it their all? I don't think so."

The anonymous author of the Waiter Rant blog has this to say about the Waiter Rule:

So the next time you’re mean to your waiter, the next time you cry out, “You’re just here to serve me, so shut up,” remember -- that attitude may cost you your next job.

My advice? If you won’t show good manners to someone in a service position for altruistic reasons -- i.e., to be a better person or make the world a better place -- do it for selfish ones, like your job security. You never know who’s watching.

Monster Career Advice has been nominated for a People's Voice Webby Award! Don't forget to vote.

Posted by Christine on April 17, 2006 at 01:24 PM in The Daily Grind | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack (0)