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.

Sick Employees Think the Boss Appreciates Their Presenteeism

Staples Advantage's fifth annual flu survey is out this week, and it says that the percentage of employees coming to work with the flu has dropped for the first time in five years. Now for the bad news.

While fewer employees are coming to work with the flu, four in 10 office employees Staples surveyed said there is simply too much going on at work to stay home when they're feeling sick.

The most alarming statistics, however? Nearly half of the 1,500 employees surveyed feel a need to "tough it out" at work when feeling sick, while nearly one-third surveyed (31%) will come to work sick because they think the boss "appreciates" it. Apparently, these employees think the boss will see them as a dedicated team player for showing up, anyway.

What a trooper! Thanks for powering through it and staying productive!

With flu season on the horizon, now is a good time for managers to tell employees that they're not going to earn any brownie points for coming to work sick. Not only does coming to work sick set a terrible example in the long term, it could make our co-workers nervous in the short term. Employees might also wonder what precautions the employer is taking to keep them from getting sick. A company-wide reminder could be just what the workplace doctor ordered.

Meanwhile, more than one-quarter of employees (27%) in this year's Staples Advantage flu survey said that workplace illness is worse for office productivity than a security breach, a natural disaster or a product/service issue. Let me repeat that: Worse than a security breach or a natural disaster. And that was before this week's news cycle put everyone on edge.

Creating open lines of communication with employees about how to proceed at the first signs of illness would be a smart move for management at companies large and small. Let's look out for each other on the job, and everywhere else. And let us not be afraid to tell our clammy-looking co-worker to go home until he or she feels better. Now that's something all of our co-workers could appreciate right now.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Sure Thing? Study Finds Uncertainty Can Be A Motivator

Uncertainty. It's everywhere these days, and nobody likes dealing with it. Or do we?

A new University of Chicago Booth School of Business study reveals something very interesting: We humans can be more motivated to succeed when we don't know exactly what's going to happen. Let's turn the page to see what it could mean for the workplace!

For sake of simple example, say our supervisor offers to pay us a $5 bonus for a job well done. Are we feeling stoked yet? Ready to tackle the work in return for a sure thing? Well, we might feel more motivated to get the work done if the boss had posed his or her offer something like this:

I'll pay you a bonus of anywhere between $2 and $5, depending on how it goes. Now get out of my office, slacker, and don't let the door hit you on the way out!

How does it work? I'll let the press release clear up any last-minute reservations:

In "The Motivating-Uncertainty Effect: Uncertainty Increases Resource Investment in the Process of Reward Pursuit," Professors Ayelet Fishbach and Christopher K. Hsee of the University of Chicago Booth School of Business and Luxi Shen of the University of Hong Kong compared the time, money and effort that people put into winning a certain reward versus an uncertain reward, and found that the uncertain reward was more motivating.

The researchers ran several experiments that established this motivation. For example, in one study they asked college students to drink a large amount of water in two minutes. Some were told they would receive $2 for completing the task, while others were told they would receive either $1 or $2. They found that more people finished the water to receive the uncertain amount of money. The team calls this phenomenon the motivating-uncertainty effect.

So a sure thing can make us less motivated, not more! Could the "motivating-uncertainty effect" work in the workplace to "incentivize" employees? Is "incentivize" actually a word? It is rather clunky, as most nouns tend to be when verbified for business purposes. Hmm. We're still feeling rather unmotivated to research the word "incentivize," and working up the energy may require a monetary incentive of anywhere between $2 and $5. Those $5 pumpkin spiced lattes don't buy themselves, you know.

However, if you're a manager who is having a hard time motivating employees even when very clear rewards are offered, then creating a bit of swag uncertainty might be just what the high-priced management consultant didn't think to order.

See? I just saved you anywhere from $5,000 to $10,000 in random consulting fees, and you didn't even have to use the cloud! All you had to do was access this silly workplace blog post for free and watch a Michael Scott scene from "The Office." I do accept bonuses on a sliding scale, however. I'm negotiable.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Workplace Stress Is Shortening Women's Life Spans

New research finds men are getting a lot healthier, while women are succumbing at younger ages due to workplace stress. Can we get a hot cup of tea and the soothing sounds of Enya over here, stat?!

Britain’s Office for National Statistics recently analyzed (with a "z" because I'm American) the mortality rates of men and women over age 50, and you know what it found? I'll let an article in The Telegraph (U.K.) explain:

But the new study, which compares death figures from 1963 and 2013, also singles out the effect of the transformation of women’s lives over the last half century.

It concludes that while men are becoming healthier than ever, women could now be being held back by patterns of workplace stress and associated traits such as smoking and drinking once more commonly associated with men.

Women are still outliving men, but the gap is narrowing. Women of the labor (without a "u") force: We can't have it all, or at least, we can't have it all at once. We'll need to pace ourselves, delegate here and there, and let some things slide. Oh, and stop smoking and binge drinking. Something's gotta give, somewhere.

So I totally support your decision to turn off your smartphone as you dine on leftovers for dinner before deciding you can't deal with folding six heaping baskets of laundry tonight because you're tired after a very long day. And that's okay. Now go find a way to relax, stat.