Monday, November 24, 2014

Are Your Co-workers Faking Their Company Potluck Baking?

A new survey from social app Skout finds that men and vegetarians are the most likely to pass off store-bought Thanksgiving food items as their very own. Beware, the "homemade" hummus dish at the company potluck might just have an honesty issue!

We've all been there, noshing on potluck food in the conference room when a co-worker blurts out with a mouthful of food: "Whof mathe thif?" Yes, who made this? Everyone in the room wants to know, because this comfort food tastes great, it feels very familiar somehow, and it's sure hitting the spot. It's this year's go-to dish, and it's getting snapped up faster than a football in the fourth quarter of the Super Bowl because when it's gone we're left with hamburger tater tot casserole and Cousin Edna's three bean salad. (Sorry, in my experience, the company potluck is a workplace ritual to be endured instead of embraced.)

Anyway, everyone is raving about this year's go-to potluck dish when the cook says with pride: "I made it myself, just for you guys! I'm glad you like it."

We swear, however, that we've tried this tasty potluck dish somewhere, but we can't quite put our sticky finger on where, and when, we've tried it. Then it dawns on us a day or two later: We sampled it at Costco last month while we were shopping! Or we tried it at Whole Foods, Trader Joe's, Wegman's, or at another potluck where it was touting a very distinct plastic wrapper and Nutrition Facts box. Now we're faced with a decision: Do we call fowl on our self-made co-worker for making us believe he made it himself (or herself), or let the moment collapse like a flan in a cupboard?

Is this a trivial workplace issue? Of course it is, but it's exactly the type of seemingly meaningless workplace issue in which this workplace blog specializes! It's the little things that drive us nuts at work and can drive an odd, little trust wedge between us and our co-workers.

There are four basic types of employees when it comes to company potlucks. There are the employees who bring nothing but manage to eat everything. There are the cooks who proudly go all out making their favorite dish. There are the employees who openly, and unabashedly, bring store-bought food items, putting plastic wrappers and Nutrition Facts boxes proudly on display. Then there are, we've come to learn, the employees who remove the store wrapper, put the food item on a pretty, store-bought plastic plate, and try to pass it off as their very own, hand-crafted creation.

We'd sure love the recipe, but it's a closely-guarded secret for some reason. According to the Skout survey, more than half (59%) of men admit to faking a store-bought Thanksgiving item as homemade, while nearly half of vegetarians admit to the same. Wait, these homemade, organic horseradish chive mashed potatoes are store bought?!

There's also the issue of trusting our co-workers to cook by committee in the first place. We've already discussed the trouble that some employees can encounter gaining access to the cooking circle of trust at work, only to be soundly rejected by the self-proclaimed office cooks. Oh, thanks for offering to bring a dish but we already have more than we'll need. You just bring the napkins again, sweetie. Thanks! And now that a survey shows at least half of men (and vegetarians) could be faking their baking during the holidays, will gaining access to the cooking circle of trust at work get even harder?

So where does this savory survey leave us? Well, don't trust our male co-workers and the office vegetarian, apparently. Trust, but verify, that their "homemade" breads and/or casseroles are, in fact, homemade. Or just stop wondering about it and eat it, for Pete's sake! It's free food made by somebody else for which we can all be thankful because we didn't have to cook it. Unless it's hamburger tater tot casserole, in which case we are free to complain quietly while we pass the Tums. Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

Friday, November 21, 2014

Don't Like Your Boss? Then Just Own It Like A Boss

Do you have a good working relationship with your boss, or not?

Well, if you're in a bad boss-employee relationship, a new study finds simply owning your bad opinion like a boss could help you do a better job. No more faking it until you make it to quitting time; it's time for a little more transparency in your bad attitude!

Researchers at Michigan State University find that managers and employees stuck in poor work relationships can actually gain motivation when both sides know the score. As in, "We don't see eye-to-eye and we both know it, so let's just be accept our sorry state of workplace affairs and move on because we have work to do, and by the way, I'm always right."

From the official press release:

According to the MSU-led study of 280 employees and their bosses, motivation suffered when an employee believed he or she had a good relationship with the boss but the boss saw it differently. The finding held when the flip side was true and the boss believed the relationship was good but the subordinate did not. The two were surveyed separately, meaning the boss did not necessarily know how the employee felt about him or her, and vice versa.

Interestingly, employee motivation was higher (and the employee was more apt to go above and beyond his or her basic job duties) when the worker and supervisor saw eye-to-eye about the relationship, even when it was poor.

So, there you go! You just have to let the boss know that you know your working relationship isn't all that great. It could be the start of a new workday for both of you! By acknowledging the reality that major personality and/or work style differences exist, both of you could find greater motivation to do a better job.

Perhaps getting it all out in the open creates a new-found sense of mutual respect? Eh, I don't know; it takes courage to tell a boss that your working relationship is a daily exercise in exasperation, even if it's fairly obvious to everyone else in the office. Plus, there's always the risk that your boss might have a workplace epiphany and say, "You're right, we don't get along! It's been nice working with you, good luck with your job search!"

You'll both know where you stand by stating the obvious, however, which probably means you're standing in the middle of the office, passing each other verbally like two ships in the night as you debate who is right for the third time this week. Hey, nobody said the relationship was going to get better, just the work.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Storm Warning! Dealing With Weather One-Upping At Work

If you've been following the news, then you know that Buffalo, New York has received a whopping six feet of snow with three more feet to come. Wow, that's a lot of snow.

It got me thinking of the nice people I've met from Buffalo and other snowy, cold parts of the country, who always seemed to remind me that they're from those places whenever we received a dusting of snow on the ground. "Businesses and schools are closed for this?" they would ask in utter disbelief. "This is nothing! When I lived in Maine..."

Okay, let's stop there, because we know what comes next. Generally, a detailed account of Real Snow and how today's light dusting of snow that has shut everything down is a mere trifle not to be taken seriously. We lack the perseverance (and the driving skills) to cope with it.

Now I truly admire Buffalo residents' fortitude and expertise in dealing with such weather. Coping with that much snow in one fell swoop takes skill and perseverance. But allow me to get to the point of this blog post: We can all slip into a "This Is Nothing!" weather attitude as soon as we relocate somewhere else and the forecast calls for the extreme type of weather we used to deal with all the time.

I'll go ahead and use myself as an example. I grew up in the Pacific Northwest (the super soggy side). In fact, I was raised in the armpit of a rain forest just like Mick Dodge, so I went months without seeing the sun. It rained almost every single day between October and May. Our local rain gauge would top 6 feet of rain annually. We're talking downpours with random, 90-mile-an-hour winter wind storms thrown in for good measure that, for some reason, were never referred to as hurricanes. By the way, why does it always look sunny on episodes of National Geographic Channel's "The Legend Of Mick Dodge"? Do they film solely on the five sunny days per year? Am I the only one who notices a lack of rain in the rain forest?

Anyway, imagine I'm talking to someone from the East Coast who says: "It's been dark and cloudy for forever and I can't deal with it! It's so depressing!" Wait a second, though. We've had only a layer of overcast for three days, it hasn't done more than mist here and there, it's early May so the days are longer, and we're expecting the sun to return in full force tomorrow for the foreseeable future. Please come back and talk to me when it's been raining for 90 days straight, you have to ring the water from your clothes when you get home thanks to sheeting rain, a 35-mile-an-hour wind gust blew your umbrella inside out again and broke it, and you feel lucky you slipped only once today on the mossy sidewalks.

This rain snob would never say these things, of course, but I might think them with a little bit of confusion. I love a glorious, gray sky. My favorite weather is 70s and overcast with a slight breeze. Yes, I know that's weird, but to me it's familiar, comfortable turf. Too much sun can get boring. Give me some cloud cover. On a cloudy day, I'll look up and try to differentiate the shades of gray in the clouds. It's like counting the colors of a monochrome rainbow. I get excited when it rains after a long, dry, sunny spell. I'm right back in my element.

But complaining about cold weather to a co-worker originally from, say, Fairbanks, Alaska? Now I would expect this co-worker, and probably rightly so, to respond to my comment that 31 degrees is "way too cold" by saying: "this is nothing." DC is cold in January? Get real! Try a long winter in Fairbanks and then get back to me.

Touche, my friend. Touche. What goes around, comes around, and now I'm the one out of my element. I don't know how to deal with five inches of snow, other than to make a cup of tea, hand the car keys to someone else, and look out the window as I mutter to myself, "Oh, wow, that's a lot of snow. Who wants to clear the sidewalk? Anyone, anyone?"

Then I look outside to see a neighbor who grew up in Maine confidently, and with admirable precision, using her Super Enormous Shovel to clear the sidewalks for her neighbors and I think: "I'm so glad she's here. She knows exactly what to do in this weather!"

In the context of an office environment, we can either look at our weather one-upping co-workers as a source of in-house expertise or as a source of in-your-face annoyance. Perhaps we've survived a few summers in Phoenix, Dallas, or Las Vegas and now we're dealing with co-workers who think 80 degrees is scorching hot. Perhaps we lived in Florida for 10 years, for all 12 months of the year. August in Miami? Ding! I think we have a one-upping winner in the office's "summer in Minneapolis isn't as hot and uncomfortable as summer in..." sweepstakes!

Just imagine a head-to-head Buffalo-Fairbanks snowy weather match up at work. These two employees could one-up each other all day long. You know what we call 10 feet of snow where I'm from??? TUESDAY!!!

Bottom line: Many us of have relocated from a part of the country that offers a weather extreme of one form or another. Complaining about today's weather doesn't make our co-workers wimps, it simply means they are coming from a very different perspective. What's nothing to us, weather-wise, can be more than a little something to our co-workers. We need to respect where they're coming from, and vice versa.

Besides, we can't all move to San Diego, where we wouldn't even have to think about the weather anymore. It would be 75 and sunny almost every day of the year. I'm not going to look up San Diego's seven-day forecast. Now that would be depressing.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Women Now Equal To Men In Getting Yelled At On the Job

A new report finds that men and women have finally attained equality at work. Well, at least when it comes to verbal abuse. Yay, equality?

That's right: When it comes to verbal abuse unleashed at work, women have finally caught up to men! Or have men finally caught up to women? Anyway, gender inequality on the job could be a thing of the past -- at least when it comes to having a supervisor get all up in our faces about missing a deadline or whatever.

A researcher at the Institut universitaire de santé mentale de Montréal in Quebec, Canada (whew, I hope I got that right...) conducted the study. Hey, aren't the Canadians known for being very, very nice, though? Let's not muddy matters here, however. Any sense of chivalry seems to have given way to shouting, and we need to figure out what all this gender-neutral screaming means for the workplace. It's been going on since the fourth season of Mad Men. Yes, Peggy. It's your job! That's what the money is for! Now stop complaining and get back to work!

The researcher studied employees working in the health sector, which tends to be women-dominated in certain jobs. So there is a question of whether the male employees in the study are "conforming" to their work environment by "adopting certain behaviours" [sic] to smooth the work waters. Male employees in female-dominated work environments may also "adopt a protective attitude" toward their female co-workers that could make them more vulnerable to verbal abuse on the job.

It's a multi-faceted, incredibly fascinating topic that deserves further research. In the health care field in Canada, however, both genders appear to be getting yelled at in equal measure with equal access to a potentially hostile work environment. That's...workplace progress? Hmm. Verbal abuse at work in front of either men or women is always awful, it's never productive, and employees of both genders, and at all levels, need to control their tempers. Civility, and lots of it, is the best choice we can make both on, and off, the job.

So let's practice random kindness and senseless acts of beauty just like the bumper sticker says, even though the bumper sticker doesn't really make sense. I mean, what are "senseless acts of beauty," exactly? Let's ponder as we idle in neutral.

But I'm quickly getting off track and we have things to do, such as restraining ourselves from yelling at a subordinate who messed up (again) for the client and doesn't seem to care about it. Remember: random kindness, along with a reminder not to do it again, or else. Now I'll let you get back to work, women of the workforce, before you get yelled at for wasting time on this silly workplace blog.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Survey Plunges Into the Depths Of Employee Restroom Use

Everyone is talking about Facebook developing a workplace network where employees who don't work at Facebook will be able to chat with colleagues and share documents.

Just imagine all the high-level corporate managers who will be storming into the conference room of the future to say: "Hey, guys! I have a great idea! Why don't we start chatting about our proprietary company information over Facebook, because if there's anyone we can trust to protect the privacy of our proprietary company information, it's Facebook! Let's. Do. This!"

But I'm the furthest thing from a technology writer, and the closest I'll ever get to storming into a corporate conference room in designer duds is wandering into the kitchen in yoga pants to pour another cup of coffee while I talk to the cat, who never does what I say, anyway. (The "herding cats" mentality? It's true.)

What we're not discussing, however, is how our future, proprietary Facebook At Work chats with co-workers could happen from the comforts of the company can! Global hygiene company SCA has released its 2014 Global Hygiene Matters Consumer Survey that reveals what, exactly, our co-worker (more likely, a male co-worker) is doing in there. The survey, in fact, is flush with information about employees' various restroom habits. Let's hold our noses and go in, shall we?

For starters, SCA calculates that exactly one-quarter of American employees (25%) have used the highly non-hygienic company bathroom for texting purposes, while nearly one-quarter (23%) of employees have bee-lined to the company bathroom for some alone phone time. And our verbal diarrhea tends to reverberate, because public restrooms typically have great acoustics, sort of like Bastille performing their biggest hit inside The British Museum. Living the dream.

The survey finds more men than women are prone to working in the bathroom, too. A full 11% of male employees admit to working in the company restroom, versus 6% of women surveyed.

It gets even weirder, however, because 10% of male employees admit to exercising in the company restroom (4% of women do this) which might be followed by having a snack (9% of male employees). Smoking (8% of men, 3% of women) and napping (6% of men, 4% of women) are also popular employee restroom activities. Napping? Well, I suppose if there's a mini-sofa or a big, comfy chair?

What I find fascinating, however, is how the company restroom is becoming an at-work sanctuary of sorts for stressed-out, smartphone-tethered employees. Increasingly, there's nowhere to hide in today's open office environments if we need a moment to ourselves. The survey finds women are more likely to escape to the company restroom to deal with their workplace frustrations (23% of female employees vs 17% of male employees), while male employees go in there just to get some time away from co-workers.

The saddest statistic? One in 10 employees use the company restroom to cry. Yes, to cry. The restroom-as-cryroom goes for 14% of women and 6% of men on the job. I hope the day gets better for these employees. Hang in there, you're awesome!

Some surveys have shown employees skipping the company break room in recent years, not to mention skipping break time in general, and now we might know why. They're all sneaking off to the company restroom for their short breaks, undoubtedly wishing that an awesome A cappella group could be waiting in there to perform the acoustic versions of all their favorite songs. Well, we already know the acoustics would be fantastic.

Oh, snap. Perhaps this is partly why companies are starting to employ trendy bathroom usage monitor apps that can tell managers who is in the restroom and for how long? Now our restroom cry sessions can be timed on an app. That's what we can all call 21st-Century workplace progress, I guess.

In any regard, it's a fascinating survey. You can read more about it right here. And please remember to replace the roll of toilet paper in the company restroom when it runs out, too. Your co-workers will thank you.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Employees Want A Holiday Party, Just Not At The Time Chosen

A new OfficeTeam survey finds many employees would like to have a company holiday party, if only the company could pick a time that works better for them. Let's talk about the timing and inconvenience of the company holiday party!

The invitation to the company holiday party -- er, email -- arrives in our inbox and...oh, no. The party planning committee couldn't have picked a worse day and time to fit our jam-packed lives! The company's time coordinates simply do not work for our daycare arrangements, our appointment television schedules, our previously-scheduled engagements, and our social media enragements. All those "look at me!" Facebook humblebrags and Twitter hashtags don't write themselves, you know.

Or so it seems, according to the new OfficeTeam survey in which more than half (52%) of employees surveyed said they would most like to celebrate the holidays at work with a company party, but more than one-quarter (27%) cite "inconvenient scheduling" as the least-favorite aspect of the whole "holiday party" thing.

In fact, inconvenient scheduling" ranked first as the most rank thing about the company holiday party, ahead of "boring activities" at the party (cited by 21% of adventure-seeking employees); peer pressure to attend (16%); co-workers misbehaving (15%); and co-workers dressing inappropriately (10%).

The "inconvenient scheduling" statistic is one of the most interesting in the entire survey, because it says something about our modern mindset. We like a party, just as long as it's held at the perfect time. We have things to do, after all. Our own time is precious, our own time is money, our own time should be well spent on our own terms, and we think the time chosen for the party conflicts with something in our schedules. We're always seeking the perfect timing for everything, when really we're always juggling and reshuffling and finding creative workarounds to make everything work. That's life.

Now I have sympathy for all the intrepid company holiday party planners out there who are trying to nail down a day and time that works for everyone. It's never an easy feat getting four of our friends to agree to a day and time that works, much less 400 far-flung employees. The company party planner has five basic scheduling options to choose from, too (negative thought stream included): A party during work hours (is this really a party since we're still at work?); a party immediately following work (we're tired, can't we just go home?); Friday night (we're really, really tired, can't we just go home?); Saturday night (great, even more time with our co-workers talking shop); and Sunday afternoon (there's no way we're missing the football game for this).

The company holiday party planner will have to pick one, and for at least 27% of employees it will be the worst possible time. If we listen closely, we might hear the company holiday party planner's inner monologue as employees gripe and mutter about the time selection. Hey, employees! I did the best that I could here, given all the options. If you think you can do a better job picking a day and time for the company holiday party without anyone complaining about it, then. Be. My. Guest!

Eh, employees are content to be a griping guest rather than an under-appreciated company party planner, but thanks for asking!

So where does this survey leave us? Well, I suppose with the thought that there's never a good time for the company holiday party, even if we want to go to one. Many employees are sure to feel inconvenienced, but someone has to say "when." As in, when to show up. Once we've begrudgingly reshuffled our schedules and arrived at the company holiday party, we can start looking for the perfect time to leave. Remember to thank the company party planners for all their hard work before you go home. Happy holidays, everyone!