Outten & Golden: Empowering Employees in the Workplace

Posts Tagged ‘work-life’

Worst Jobs, Part 2

Monday, June 8th, 2009

Having written a column entitled Workplace911 and Working Wounded for fourteen years, as you can imagine, I hear from a lot of people with terrible jobs. Last time I addressed a few of my favorites, this week the worsts continue:

  • Worst Interview (some worst jobs start even before you get the job)
  • Worst Coworkers
  • Worst Boss
  • Worst of the Worst

WORST INTERVIEW
 
“I applied for a job as a researcher. I was informed before the interview that the director was chemically sensitive. She said I shouldn’t wear any scented products or even wash my hair before the interview. I complied, but when I arrived at the office, the director pointed at me from across the room and said, ‘She’s here, Bill. Could you sniff her?’ At which point, this big, hairy guy proceeded to do so—very up close and personal. Having passed the sniff test, I was allowed to approach the director and begin the interview. I later got a call saying I got the job, which, of course, I didn’t take.”
 
I’ve heard references to the “sniff test” at work, who knew that some people took it so literally?
 
WORST COWORKER
 
“The last straw for me was the guy in the next cube who would have long, loud conversations with his wife, totally in baby talk.”
 
Okay, admit it. The dumpster cleaning gig isn’t sounding so bad right now, is it?
 
WORST BOSS
 
For many years I included a worst boss contest in my speeches. I asked over ten thousand audience members for their stories. I heard some whoppers. But by far the worst all time boss story was told to me by a guy in Los Angeles.
 
“The worst boss I ever worked for? He asked his assistant to type her own termination letter.”
 
Ouch, you’ve got to be really tough to survive today’s workplace.
 
WORST OF THE WORST
 
“I had an office mate who muttered to himself and constantly interrupted me. I complained to our boss, but he wasn’t moved. His desk was directly under an old ceiling fan. One morning I left an oily machine nut on his desk. During the day I caught him glancing up at the fan. The next day I put a rusty bolt on his desk. The next, another nut and a screw. That afternoon, HE went to our boss and asked to be moved.”
 
This email gives an entirely new meaning to the phrase just dropping a hint at work.
 
Wait a minute, you’re probably saying to yourself. This guy used creativity and guile to get what he needed. How does this qualify as a worst job story?
 
Should someone really have to work that hard just to put themselves in a position to do their job? And that sums up the insanity of today’s workplace. And this guy’s not alone. Watson Wyatt, a management consulting firm, did a study that found that 62% of us report that we don’t have the information that we need to do our jobs. And another 57% report that we’re not given the skills to do our jobs. 
 
The most important lesson we can take away from Worst Jobs is not from the few really awful jobs out there, but that so many of us aren’t given the simple things we need to make ours a great job.

About the Author: Bob Rosner is a best-selling author and award-winning journalist. For free job and work advice, check out the award-winning workplace911.com. If you have a question for Bob, contact him via bob@workplace911.com.

Worst Jobs, Part 1

Monday, June 1st, 2009

Let’s start with my qualifications to discuss “Worst Jobs.” For the last decade I’ve written an internationally syndicated work advice column called Workplace911 (formerly Working Wounded). With a name like that, you can imagine the emails I receive on a daily basis. One example, “I decided to put a photo of my family on the wall of my cube. I got out a pin to attach it and suddenly I heard screams from the other side of the wall. Turns out my neighbor was bleeding and quite displeased.”
 
Let’s face it. We all get “stuck” once and a while at work. It’s inevitable. But this blog is about the very worst jobs out there, at least according to my email. I broke them down into the following categories and include an example for each:

  • Worst Working Conditions
  • Worst Assignment
  • Worst Employee (yes, bad employees can create a nightmarish job, too)

DISCLAIMER: A construction worker once emailed, “I’m just happy to come home each night with all my body parts intact.” The truly worst jobs are those that present a clear and present danger to your health and safety. Each year, according to the government, fishing and mining are usually at the top of the list of most dangerous jobs. We chose to not include dangerous jobs in this article because they’re just not that funny.
 
Worst WORKING CONDITIONS
 
“I once had a job steam cleaning dumpsters.  It was even worse than you imagine. I had to climb inside of these dirty dumpsters with nothing but me and my steam gun. This was before the days of protective clothing. As an aside, many of your readers have no doubt seen corner reflectors hung on sailboats, designed to reflect radar energy back to the source so that the boat will be easily seen. It turns out that directing steam into the interior corners of a dumpster works pretty much the same way. Everything that was once stuck in the corner of the dumpster gets blasted out and comes directly back to you—covering you from head to toe in an instant. A sort of putrid tsunami.”
 
This email sums up the real value of reading about someone else’s truly terrible job. It makes each of us feel so much better about our 9-5.
 
WORST ASSIGNMENT
 
“My job was to sort through used men’s and women’s undergarments after lingerie shows across Europe (instead of discarding the unmentionables once the shows were over, the undergarments were shipped back to Winston-Salem, presumably for tax purposes). The problem was that each was different, so they needed someone to type up a description for each pair of panties, briefs, and thongs, which numbered in the hundreds. I was put into a cubicle with a computer and Hefty sacks full of the ‘inventory.’ I was assured that the garments had been washed. Scraps of paper were pinned onto each piece written with names like ‘Jean-Pierre’ and ‘Bridgette.’ I soon found out both by sight and smell that the laundry had NOT been done. I became intimately familiar with both Bridgette and Jean-Pierre and gained much unnecessary insight into French toileting habits. Because no one in the office could find me a pair of rubber gloves, I continued my task by pinching each undergarment by the least offensive part I could find and learned how to inhale through the mouth.”
 
Finally, an explanation for the question we’ve all pondered—what was Victoria’s Secret?

WORST EMPLOYEE
 
“I once asked one of my people to stop reading a People Magazine at her desk and to get back to work. She began to cry and went on disability for two days.”
 
That’s what I’d call people who really need people!
 
Next time I’ll return with more worsts:

  • Worst Interview (some worst jobs start even before you get the job)
  • Worst Coworkers
  • Worst Boss
  • Worst of the Worst

About the Author: Bob Rosner is a best-selling author and award-winning journalist. For free job and work advice, check out the award-winning workplace911.com. If you have a question for Bob, contact him via bob@workplace911.com.

What Will First Lady Michelle Obama's Work-Life Balance Efforts Look Like?

Tuesday, November 18th, 2008

We have heard for some time that Michelle Obama’s pet concerns on the campaign trail, which she hoped to be able to continue while in the White House – and will indeed be able to after last week’s dramatic election finish for her husband, President-Elect Barack – are helping families create a healthy work/life balance and easing the struggles for military families.

It’s no wonder the former is an issue that’s close to Mrs. Obama’s heart.  This article from the UK-based Telegraph newspaper talks about her own work/life balance struggles, in three distinct phases of her life: while growing up on the South Side of Chicago and seeing an ailing father continue to work hard, and leave business matters at the office; while herself transitioning from the legal field to civic and community work after marrying Barack and having their two daughters, Malia and Sasha; and most recently while Barack was on the campaign trail.

Mrs. Obama even wrote a heartfelt essay on the topic of work/life balance last month on the popular BlogHer community of women bloggers.  Here’s how she spells out the plight for working women:

As we all know, our country is in the midst of a major economic crisis.  And we’re all feeling the effects.  …

And folks are feeling it at the workplace.  Because right now, thousands of women across the country don’t have family leave at their jobs.  And those who do can’t afford to take it because it’s not paid.  And 22 million working women don’t have a single paid sick day.

That’s just unacceptable.  Families shouldn’t be punished because someone gets sick or has an emergency.

This is from the employee perspective, but Obama’s cause has direct implications for small and midsize business leaders.  Morra Aarons-Mele, a graduate student specializing in women and leadership, framed this exceptionally well recently on The Huffington Post,

Why should we care about “work life” issues when our savings and retirement funds are literally halving by the day?  Because “work life,” as nondescript as it may sound, is the stuff that keeps American families afloat.  Work life refers to issues ranging from sick leave to health care to early education and child care.  It also encompasses flexibility and better work-life balance, which have strong effects on companies’ bottom lines and employee productivity.

So what would organizations’ employee engagement activities geared toward helping workers achieve a more harmonious balance look like – ideally – four or eight years from now?  Obama hinted at this during a plenary address she gave at our annual small business leadership conference two years ago, when she spoke about creating relationships between businesses and the community.

Community organizing didn’t just help Barack become President-Elect; it has also helped his wife use resources at her present employer, the University of Chicago (and later its Hospitals) to transcend both entities from simply a “name” in their neighborhood to a visible, tangible source of inspiration and assistance.

As we spelled out in our article summarizing her remarks at our event, Obama pointed to the creation of such initiatives as school “Principal-For-A-Day” and community fitness programs as ways to not only bring the University’s and Hospitals’ employees out in the open, but to better connect their passions to their work.

This model has been readily adopted, to great effect, by some of the firms we’ve since honored as Top Small Workplaces.  For instance, 2008 winner The Redwoods Group, an insurance provider for YMCAs and Jewish Community Organizations that’s based in North Carolina, requires its 100 employees to volunteer 40 hours of service annually to nonprofits.  A condition of their employment, the company argues this has contributed directly to their steady employee growth (27% over the last two years) – including the ability to recruit cost effectively – and industry-low turnover (less than 6% on average the last two years).

So one plausible – again, ideal – work/life balance scenario is the government serving an encouraging, perhaps advisory role in helping small business leaders adjust their employee engagement best practices so employees can focus their passions on helping their communities, while at the same time benefitting the organization through enhanced workplace team building and lower rates of absenteeism and presenteeism.

Do you concur?  Or do you see Obama’s work/life-related efforts playing out differently?

Cross posted at Winning Workplaces

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