Thursday, October 30, 2014

Workplace Trends: New App Blocks Work Email At Home

You've got no new messages! It's the message stressed-out, off-the-clock employees have longed to receive for years now, and a new workplace app is finally making it happen!

It's no secret that our work-life balance is off-kilter these days, thanks in part to technology that makes us available at all hours to get back to micromanaging bosses and demanding clients. Why, oh why, can't we watch our favorite television shows at home without the distraction of work-related emails and messages?

Well, a company called Winward Studios has created a new app called "Enforced Vacation" to take the pressure off employees to always be "on." It's going to withhold our work emails from us as soon as we go home! Now we can watch a new episode of The Daily Show in peace!

According to a Yahoo! News article:

Enforced Vacation has an aggressive name, but the result it's banking on providing is more relaxation and peace of mind for workers and employers alike. The enterprise email app wants to put an end to 24/7 email access, a freedom that actually results in subjection to work well beyond office hours. It does this by essentially putting a power switch in the hands of the employees, allowing them to turn off work emails during personal time.

“We give people back their personal time. Staying constantly connected has become an addiction for many. For many others it's a weight they think they have to carry,” explains David Thielen, CTO and Founder of Winward Studios, the creators of Enforced Vacation.

Sounds great. Of course, the success of this type of app depends in large part on our human ability to stop reflexively checking our messages every few minutes. Can we go more than 5/10/15/20 minutes without aggressively checking our gadgets for incoming information? What's our personal best when it comes to refraining from checking, or even wondering, what's in our inbox? Will we think: "I can't stand it anymore, I'm deleting this app so I can read my work emails at home! I'm going crazy wondering what's in my inbox!"? The fault lies not in our apps, but in ourselves. Or we can blame the Great Recession. Okay, let's do that instead.

And why isn't there an app called "Enforced Attention Span" to make us pay attention in the moment, because that's what we really need, don't we? Hello? I'm talking to you guys, could you please look up from your phones?!

Enforced Vacation does allow employees to access their new, work-related emails if they're desperate for some reason, and they can personalize the app to their individual work-life schedules, which is nice.

Could Enforced Vacation be the answer to our work-related burn-out woes? Managers who are serious about work-life balance could introduce this app to show they're serious about work, unplugged. Perhaps management can send out an urgent, company-wide email about it at 11 p.m. and ask for an immediate reply.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Are You the Employee Who Never Wears A Halloween Costume?

Halloween is almost here, and you have to come up with a costume to wear to work, or to the company party. Who, or what, will you be this year?

After some thought, and more than a little bit of foot-dragging, you've decided to go with a Halloween wardrobe selection that's sort of crazy and "out there," a little now, a little wow, a little weird-looking compared to your Party City-clad co-workers.

You're going as yourself this year. Again.

You, my friend, are that employee. The One Who Never Wears A Halloween Costume. Here's how you can make yourself even a little bit more scary.

While your co-workers (or friends, as the case may be...) are amusing each other with their glowing vampire teeth and 1970s hair wigs, you're sitting there wearing what you always wear. You're not planning on changing your basic position on this well-worn issue, either. It doesn't keep everyone in the office from asking you (yet again) what is wrong with you. Hey, where's your costume? How come you never dress up for Halloween? You're no fun!

Wait a second. Just because you're not wearing a Halloween costume doesn't mean you're no fun, and it doesn't mean you're not having any fun. You can rock on with your socks on just like all the Elsas and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles in accounting.

Besides, you have your list of reasons for not wearing a Halloween costume, and here they are in no particular order:

1. You like Halloween, just not enough to put any real effort into it;

2. You don't have time for costumes;

3. Store costumes are expensive, and you don't want to spend the money on one;

4. You find the costume selection process overwhelming;

5. You don't want to choose wrongly and potentially offend anyone;

6. You think Halloween costumes are for kids;

7. You feel awkward and conspicuous wearing a Halloween costume as an adult;

8. You have religious reasons for not dressing up, or you don't like the consumerism of the holiday;

9. Wearing a costume at work strikes you as incredibly unprofessional;

10. You don't want to end up in someone's online news feed wearing clown shoes and a stupid grin;

11. All of the above.

Sound familiar? Yeah, I thought so. But that's okay. You're the office renegade, the one who follows his or her own drum, who has the courage of his or her personal convictions to simple say to co-worker after co-worker after co-worker with a nonplussed shrug: "Nah, I didn't feel like wearing a costume. I'm going as myself this year***. I like yours, though. Very clever." It's all good, and your co-workers shouldn't dress you down for not dressing up.

In a way, you're already wearing a costume. Your costume of choice is going as a stressed-out, khaki-wearing, shell-of-your-former-self, beleaguered employee of the 21st Century who is tethered to a smartphone and tablet 24/7/365. That's already a scary enough proposition in these modern times.

There are (many) employees who quietly can't wait for Halloween to be over so they don't have to feel the vague stress that comes with neither planning, nor wearing, a Halloween costume (again), and then having to explain their rationale to their co-workers. When you think about it, and I have, Halloween is the only holiday we celebrate that requires us to totally change our appearance in order to celebrate it in style. Nobody ever says, "Hey, man, where's your Thanksgiving costume? You're no fun!" Okay, someone might hand us a pair felt reindeer antlers in December, but that's not the same thing, is it?

So let's have some compassion, and understanding, for The Employee Who Never Wears A Costume On Halloween. He or she is not a stick in the mud, a terrible team player, and a thorn in the side of the office Halloween bash. He or she is simply an unassuming individual who is trying to get through the Halloween work day in "normal" clothes. And he or she can have fun, and be fun, too. Now go knock this co-worker's socks off with your costume choice this year.

*** And every year.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Say, What?! The 12 Worst Things An Intern Can Say At Work

The Millennials. We can't work with them, and increasingly, we can't work without them.

For Gen Xers, it feels like only yesterday when we were the lowly-paid (if we were paid...) intern fetching coffee, making copies and answering the phones.

Now we're watching the Millennial generation navigate the average internship and...oh, wow, do they have a few basic things to learn! Of course, on-the-job training is what the average internship is all about, but what is up with the younger generation? I mean, some of them are totally amazing interns, while others need help learning the very basics.

And by "the very basics," I'm talking about one-on-one, professional interaction with co-workers on the job. Without further delay, here are the 12 Worst Things An Intern Can Say At Work:

1. Can I leave early today? Perhaps it looks like rain and the intern forgot an umbrella, or it's simply Friday afternoon and he or she wants to get an early start on the weekend. Will you be nice and let the intern leave early on short notice, or will you say "no" and make the intern stick it out until quitting time? And what will everyone else in the office think if you say "yes, go ahead and leave early while we all keep working"? Interns: Please don't ask to leave early unless it's a completely urgent matter. (Psst, wanting to leave early to play ultimate Frisbee is not considered urgent.)

2. Do I really have to do that? Unfortunately, menial tasks are a part of most internships, but they do serve a workplace purpose. They take care of the work long-time employees can't be bothered with anymore, while having interns take part in a time-tested rite of workplace passage. That is, grunt work. Your co-workers did the same, mundane tasks when they were interns, and now it's your turn. This set-up probably isn't going to change anytime soon, either. No whiners.

3. I have a better idea! The intern spots a problem and wants to "fix" it. Oh, no. I can't believe you guys haven't thought of this solution already! Sometimes the intern can have a truly brilliant idea, but more often than not it's probably something that's been tried before and doesn't work for whatever reason. And why does every new intern have the same "new" idea? Hmm...

4. I'm tired, I feel like I was just here! Yes, yes, don't we all. There are only 24 hours in a day, and the best of them tend to be spent at work. It was a wake-up call for all of us. Needless to say, it gets tiring to listen to an employee go on and on about how tired he or she is today. It's best to keep this tired commentary to yourself, interns, and get more sleep!

5. That's why I'm never having kids. The school (or camp) calls during the work day and asks our beleaguered co-worker to pick up his or her child. This is when the intern launches into a soliloquy regarding his or her future non-family plans, which is fine for a 1 a.m. dorm room debate, but not in the workplace where taking unplanned time off for childcare can be a very tense, underlying issue among co-workers. It's best to keep your thoughts on this topic to yourself.

6. My mom is wondering when she can stop by. Suddenly, employees wonder if they'll be cornered in the break room by a mother with a big purse and a ton of intrusive questions. Bringing a parent around the workplace for a tour isn't a very good look in general, since every other generation had to learn to wing it and fly alone in the workplace. Maybe Mom or Dad can swing by to take you to lunch instead, Millennials?

7. I'm soooo bored. The working world is marked by short spurts of activity (usually hours before a deadline) followed by long periods of boredom as we wait for a co-worker or client to get back to us. It's called "Tuesday." In the meantime, we all have to find something else to do. It's called "busy work." Your parents taught you how to manage downtime effectively, right? Busy hands are happy hands.

8. Why do you still work here? Um. This question would be fine minus the word "still," which seems to imply some rash career thinking on our part. Yes, why do we still work here? What's wrong with us? Remember, interns: It's all in the phrasing, even in our quick-paced, 140-character culture. Still.

9. How much do you make? Oh, yikes. Everyone wonders about it, but most employees know not to ask this question of each other directly. It's simply not done in most workplaces. It's Workplace Etiquette 101. Now our salary-obsessed co-worker's neck is craning quietly at the copier as the intern stands at our desk, waiting for our reply as to how much we make, and perhaps our starting salary. Just don't go there, interns. It's. Never. Okay.

10. I just posted it to Instagram! Or Facebook, Vine or Twitter -- or somewhere else where everyone in the world can see us stuffing a piece of office birthday cake into our mouth without our prior, expressed approval. Ugh. Millennials, we know you're used to posting everything, everywhere, all the time on social media without thinking twice about it, but please, please, please think twice about it in the modern workplace. Chances are good that at least a few of your co-workers will not be okay with being included in your online news feed.

11. Let me show you how to use the Internet. Your technical abilities have been heralded far and wide by many a business journalist, Millennials, but Gen X is pretty good at the technology thing, too. In fact, we might not appreciate being coached on the finer aspects of the latest app or social media site. We can figure it out ourselves. Besides, we remember Netscape. Now go finish that Excel spreadsheet, and don't forget to interpret the data. Thanks!

12. When I start working here after graduation... To our knowledge, no one at the company has extended a job offer yet. We know you're incredibly optimistic; it's one of things we like about you! We also appreciate your youthful energy, but be careful in making assumptions. If you like this workplace, then you can communicate your interest in future employment while working very hard to do a great job every day. Work ethic for the win!

Now Millennials, please know that we Gen Xers made our fair share of embarrassing mistakes and verbal snafus when we were interns. It happens. And I, for one, want you to succeed in your internship. I really, really do. After all, you'll be funding my future Social Security payments, and the sooner you can learn the fine art of workplace social graces, the better off you'll be in the long run. You'll rise quickly through the work ranks thanks to your brilliant social skills, while I'll be able to call Life Alert if I fall down and can't get back up. See? It's a win-win for both of us!

Now get out there, Millennials, and win the workplace today as you plot your way to the corner office! I know you can do it -- right after you win the Internet -- and I'm rooting for you. But wait, everyone works in an open office environment these days, don't they? Scratch the corner office idea, then. Perhaps you can snag a desk in the back corner near the big window, after you impress everyone with your superior soft skills. Good luck!

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

How Should We React To A Co-worker's Plastic Surgery?

It seems like everyone is talking about Renee Zellweger today. Specifically, everyone seems to be wondering what has happened to adorable Dorothy Boyd from the 1996 movie, Jerry Maguire. Great movie.

Personally, I've always liked Renee Zellweger, who seems very personable and down-to-earth for an Oscar winner. Like she'd be fun to hang out with over a cup of coffee, if she drinks coffee. I'm not going to speculate one iota about her "altered" appearance, as if anyone would care about my opinion, anyway. All I will say is: If she's happy (and she says she is!), then I'm happy for her. She's in a tough business for women of any age.

How should we react, however, if a co-worker walks into the office one day looking...noticeably different? Perhaps it's a fuller chest, a forehead that is suddenly as smooth as a newly-opened container of margarine, or something else that makes us wonder whether or not they may have had something "done." This co-worker has said nothing so far, but something seems to have changed, even if we can't quite put our judgmental, non-manicured finger on it. Should we say something? Is it any of our business?

It's a question I hadn't thought about until about an hour ago, but it's a trendy question given recent statistics. Americans had a startling 11 million cosmetic "procedures" in 2013, which is six times the number of cosmetic procedures we had in 2007.

The reasons behind it are many, not to mention easily identifiable. Job seekers in a tough job market want to appear younger, current employees want to do the same, we live in a youth-oriented culture, too many of us are still watching the "Real Housewives" franchise for some reason, the pernicious, self-obsessed social media "selfie" culture is out of control, cosmetic procedures are "evolving" over time, and why can't our co-worker seem to move his eyebrows anymore? His eyebrows used to dance whenever he got worked up during a staff meeting. Now we find the stillness in his staff meeting monologues vaguely unsettling somehow. What happened?

Well, we don't know what happened. I mean, we have our suspicions but is it okay to ask our co-worker what's been going on? Here's an excerpt from a brave Canadian advice columnist for Chatelaine who faced down a question from a reader regarding what to ask a co-worker who seems to look...different...all of the sudden:

You might feel weird about [a co-worker's] change in appearance, but you are at work. That means it is totally inappropriate to ask your co-worker questions about whether or not she has had plastic surgery. After all, how would you feel if someone at work started asking you super personal questions about your medical history? Enough said.

Bottom line: If you think she looks great, then just say, “You look great.” Otherwise, keep the prying questions and judgey gossip under wraps and wish your co-worker and friend the best.

Bravo. If we don't have anything nice to say, then it's best we do not say anything at all. And if, and when, our co-worker is ready to comment on his or her new and (we hope?) improved appearance, then he or she will talk about it. At work, or maybe after work over an Awesome Blossom at Chili's. The point is, this co-worker is the one who starts the conversation.

Until then, the rest of us can keep up our own appearances at work by keeping our mouths shut and our minds focused on the job at hand. We might also need to be the one putting on a brave face to (gently) tell our gossiping co-workers to stop speculating as to why a co-worker's hands look different lately. She seems very happy, and really, it's none of our business. Now don't you go raising your eyebrows at me.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Management Scandals Can Hurt Our Future Job Search

A new study finds that scandal in the C-suite can make it harder for even the company's entry-level employees to land future jobs, even if they've done nothing morally or ethically wrong. Trickle-down economy, indeed.

The fascinating study, entitled "Moral Suspicion Trickles Down," was published recently in the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science. It concludes that less-than-honest corporate behavior in the C-suite can leave the average, well-meaning, scandal-free job seeker tainted by association.

In fact, the research finds that low-level employees linked to unethical leadership can incur more damage to their professional reputations than being associated with an ethically-challenged, but lower-ranking, co-worker. Is this finding really all that surprising? Somehow no, especially in these tough economic times when employers have their pick among new hires, but it's still interesting to ponder. We can almost hear the thought process of hiring managers as they flip through a stack of resumes:

He certainly has the job experience, but he worked for them, and I'm having a hard time getting past that in my head. Otherwise, he'd be in my top 10. Too bad. Next!

The researchers apparently refer to this phenomenon as "moral spillover." As in: "Hey, Mr. or Ms. Leader, your clear lack of professional ethics and morals is spilling over into my job search!" So what can we do if we're job seekers with strong morals, ethics and integrity who used to star in a supporting role for that company? And there have been a few of "those" companies over the past 15 years. Pity.

Well, the research seems to offer a few suggestions. It sounds like we can help ourselves by working for morally and ethically upstanding leaders from the beginning, but if later on we find these leaders aren't very morally or ethically upstanding after all, then we should tell potential employers that these personally-flawed leaders do not reflect accurately the rest of the company (read: Hire me already, I'm not morally bankrupt!) while hoping said leaders don't take responsibility for what they did because that might, for some reason, taint us even more by association in the eyes of those interviewing us.

Whew. I think that's mostly right, and boy is it a mouthful! Now let's get to work explaining our tenure at that company in five sentences or less as a suspicious hiring manager scans our cover letter and resume with a frown. The Oughts were quite a wild economic ride that left a lot of damaged resumes in its wake. Perhaps self employment isn't that bad after all.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Does Your Company Need A Chief Birthday Officer?

Some many co-workers, so many birthdays. How is a harried office manager supposed to stay on top of it all?

Well, Edible Arrangements, which makes yummy edible arrangements, has come up with its own solution to this age-old, company-wide problem! It's hiring for a brand-new position called Chief Birthday Officer.

The Chief Birthday Officer is a C-suite role, and this new hire will "act as a designated birthday ambassador, social media maven and the go-to person for all things birthday" at Edible Arrangements. The CBO's job responsibilities include handling internal company birthday celebrations.

In other words, planning the employee birthday party!!!

As we digest our lunch and wait to leave early for the weekend, I have to wonder if the Chief Birthday Officer is an idea whose time has come. I mean, it's a natural fit for a party planning-oriented employer such as Edible Arrangements, but what about a 20,000-employee technology company? Would it work there? Well, we do know that the Silicon Valley Chief Birthday Officer would have the technology to put together quite the stellar birthday e-card.

Still, having the internal birthday planning function run through one management-level hire could be a wave of the future that can start happening now. We already know that the average office manager would absolutely love handing off all the birthday planning to the Chief Birthday Officer. Office managers already have too much on their plates to worry about birthday cakes, too.

Employees could react very positively to knowing that somebody in the C-suite cares enough to remember, and potentially plan something for, their birthdays, especially since employers pulled back on celebrating employee birthdays during the recession. Let them eat cake, indeed.

But that's so 2012! Just imagine nobody hitting you up for $10 at your desk anymore to fund co-worker so-and-so's birthday present, when you just threw $10 into the pot last week for the boss's birthday. Now that's a change many employees might love.