Thursday, October 26, 2006

Bad Bosses

Think you have a bad boss? I know I do. But I also realize that it's all relative. My current boss wasn't always the ogre he is today. When I first joined his group, he just seemed disorganized and too busy to meet with me. I thought this was just a minor issue, but after a year working for him I realized this was a big problem. He'd ask me to do something (in email, of course) and it wouldn't be quite clear what he wanted. So I'd ask for clarification. I'd try to call him and he'd be busy in a meeting. I'd email him a few clarifying questions and he'd take a day or more to get back with me. What's worse, he'd be angry and impatient that I asked questions. Several times, my questions revealed errors in his assumptions, which made him angrier. So he'd look for mistakes in my work to make himself feel better. What a clown!

But as I said, it helps to keep it all in perspective. Here are some great examples of bad bosses who take their titles to the extreme:
http://www.theimproper.com/Template_Article.aspx?ArticleId=1063

Now if you'll excuse me, I'm going to go watch The Devil Wears Prada.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Corporate Greed

There is something inherent in the large corporate environment that nurtures a certain trait in many people. Some see the behavior as competitive, a necessary skill in general for a business to stay on top. Competitiveness drives people to excel and perform, a positive activity that is rewarded. But too much focus on the individual can drive this trait out of control. Some self-serving individuals have found that the easiest way to achieve recognition and success is by taking advantage others. They prey on idealistic co-workers who actually believe that the corporate ideals of teamwork means everyone contributes and everyone benefits. They have no problem with stealing the work of others and putting their names on it, and justify their actions as some twisted example in their own minds of teamwork. I have worked with a few of these insipid individuals in my cubicle-riddled career, and I believe that while these snakes are found in all types of work environments, the large corporate world with its ID numbers and rubber stamp procedures adds a degree of anonymity that allows for a higher density of sleazy workers.

Because so many of them find rewards in their underhanded tactics, they remain and thrive while good and true human beings drop out, either in despair or disgust. So the density of disingenuous denizens increases. Many of these plagues on society move up the food chain into management and become the bad bosses that we encounter again and again in our careers. If their tactics continue to be rewarded, they move up to executive positions and are given limitless power. Some crawl their way up to CEO and CFO, where they can spread their rot throughout the company. There they can remain for a long time, safe in their caves, using people more and paying them less.

We can only hope that karma or justice or something else will eventually knock them loose. It does happen, occasionally. Look at Enron. The slimebags Lay and Skilling bilked employees and shareholders out of billions and ruined many lives so they could buy yachts and expensive parties for themselves. But justice eventually was served. In the case of Lay, it was the ultimate justice—he died before his sentencing was given (my condolences to his family) for his conviction of 10 counts of fraud and conspiracy. For Skilling, his 19 counts of fraud, conspiracy and insider trading landed him a 24-year sentence in a federal prison, which is basically a life term for this 52-year old slime, provided he doesn’t get out of it on appeal. So take heart, you overworked cube-dwellers…Justice sometimes does prevail.

“At his best, man is the noblest of all animals; separated from law and justice he is the worst.” --Aristotle

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Achoo!

Working in a cubicle farm has many disadvantages, which I have frequently discussed in past articles. The fact that people are packed in closely together and offices are open but windows are not means there are a lot of us all sharing the same air all day long. Which becomes a big problem when Jerry or Sally comes in to the office with a bad cold or the flu. Achoo!

Why do people come in to work sick? A recent poll by Kronos, Inc. has found that 98% of people surveyed said they went in to work when they were sick. People said they felt guilty staying at home and they had too much work to afford missing even a day in the office. I’ve often heard very sick folks dragging themselves around the office, sniffling and coughing all day long. It’s really surprising that here at cubetown, where most of us are given a company computer and access to our email and company files from anywhere in the world where we can find an internet connection, people still decide to drag themselves into the office, hacking and sneezing, so they can sit in their little cubicles. They think they’re doing something good for their company, but in truth they’re making everyone less productive, as they spread around their germs and infect others.

Some fun facts:
A single germ can multiply to 8 million germs in one day.
A sneeze can propel germs at 80 miles an hour across a room.
Viruses can live 2 hours or longer on a doorknob or desk.

The long-term effects of colds are still being discovered. A study just published by the Mayo Clinic found that there is a link between colds and memory loss. They found the family of viruses that cause the common cold caused memory loss in mice. That means that in addition to being annoying, those who valiantly come in to work sick may actually be contributing to the long-term breakdown of their company’s workforce. So unless that is your goal, stay home, stay in bed and get well. We’ll all benefit.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Careers and Growth


We change over time. Our jobs change over time. If we are lucky, the two change together and in the same direction: our jobs continue to be satisfying, the pay keeps getting better and we look forward to going to work every day. But too often, our jobs don’t change at the same rate that we do and we find ourselves less and less excited about Monday mornings. I have found this especially true of cubicle workers in large companies, including me. At first, as we’re learning it’s all exciting. We’re challenged to prove ourselves and apply all the skills we acquired in previous work or in college. That paycheck keeps us smiling as we plan ways to spend or save it. That first raise causes us to beam with pride and work even harder to show we deserved it. Eventually the newness wears off and we settle in, and often the job becomes easier and somewhat routine. If we are lucky, we might have a manager that is also a mentor, one who is secure in his/her position and puts effort into helping us grow in our careers. We are given more responsibility and more autonomy and eventually earn a promotion. If the work environment is good and the company is performing well, we may stay in our position for a long time.

Unfortunately, things don’t always work out that well. Reduced profits force large corporations to trim expenses and employees are a big liability, so staff gets cut. Those remaining are left to pick up the additional work and hours become longer and meetings multiply. Employees start to feel the strain.

I have witnessed this happening to my company over the years. Ten years ago, most people you spoke to here were proud of their jobs and work and never considered leaving. Today, the environment is different: everyone is seeing their collegues get layed off and all conversations are around promising jobs at other companies or early retirement.

I have done a lot of soul-searching over the past several months, after dealing with two really bad managers in two years and unending indigestion and loss of sleep. Fortunately the web is a great resource when you’re looking into alternatives to your current job. Not only are there numerous sites for posting your resume, like monster.com, dice.com and careerbuilder.com, there are resources for researching most larger companies, from their own corporate web sites and finance.yahoo.com to employee surveys on vault.com. You can even set up a Google news alert on the companies you’re interested in to stay up to date on their latest news—a handy bit of info as you head into that interview.

I am new to the online job searching game and can’t recommend one site over the other yet, but as I dig deeper into the process I’ll post my favorites here. I’d love to hear your experiences as well. Please post your comments below.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Celebrate Your Good Manager!

October 16 is Boss’ Day

There are a lot of less-than-perfect bosses out there, for various reasons. One of the most common causes is lack of experience. A new boss has something to prove and has to deal with a lot at the same time. Balancing your time and support between your higher up boss and your team is indeed a challenge and can become quite daunting for the new manager. Sadly, some managers never learn this skill and focus all of their efforts on advancing their own position further at the detriment of their team. They want to prove to their bosses that they are valuable and smarter than the individuals on their team, which they are constantly worried about losing their new and higher position to. This insecurity puts a strain on the team and often causes the new manager to constantly degrade the work of his or her own team. These bosses will put all of their efforts into finding something wrong with your work, no matter what. If you create a presentation with perfect wording and data, they will tell you the fonts are too small (or too large, or the wrong color, …). They will also try to control your time as a way of watching your every move. They’ll schedule a meeting with you and then force you to reschedule at the last minute, or they’ll show up 10 minutes late. They’ll send you an assignment on Friday at 4:30PM that takes you at least 2 hours to finish so they can assure you don’t leave early. The most neurotic will send you questions or demands on the weekend to see if you are logging in and working. They may copy their own boss on these emails to show how dedicated they are vs. you. Sadly, some new bosses never learn to become more secure and drop these manipulative tactics and go on finding new ways to control their teams to the point of micromanagement.

Unfortunately, I have had my share of these types of bosses. They have helped make cubicle hell what it is today. But, luckily I have had a few good ones, too. I don’t call them bosses--since they aren’t really bossy—I call them mangers, since they manage to keep their team happy and are successful and secure in their own positions. They take the time to ask how your family’s doing and encourage you to take a break from time to time. Good managers direct their team on activities but don’t take complete control. They know that a happy and effective team will only add to their position as a good leader and so they give their team opportunities to grow and to take credit for their own work, realizing that their own viewpoint is not always the best. These managers are true role models and I recommend you seek them out in a company and stick with them if you can. Show them you appreciate their help and remind yourself how lucky you are to have found one of these unique individuals. Remember them on Boss’ (‘good managers’) Day, which is October 16, and give them your gratitude year ‘round. They are few and far between and will help make you successful and happy in your career.

Some Interesting Links: