b Self-Helpless: True Tales of a Working Girl: October 2006



To email or not to email?

Apparently, that is the question. After viewing an article I saw on MSN Today, I followed a link to a message board where people were waxing pathetic about company email: is it ok or not ok to use company email for personal use?

What I want to know is: Why is this even a debate???

Since when is it ok to conduct personal business at the office? I mean sure, you have a lunch hour which allows the opportunity to get personal things done, but I don’t think that gives you license to use company property for something that it was not intended for. And people scratch their heads when they hear of someone getting fired for it. This should be a no-brainer folks.

THIS IS WHY THERE’S HOTMAIL, GMAIL, AND YAHOO! EMAIL ACCOUNTS! They’re free and you can access them during your lunch hour to check your personal email.

I’ll freely admit I had used company email accounts for personal use… but then I stopped doing that - years ago - when I realized (finally) that the company could totally access my account if they so desired. As it was, they could probably have made their way into my personal accounts, though I doubt they did. I became very careful about email for personal use when I saw how dangerous it could be.

Email can be tricky… however, a company email account should be used ONLY for company use. I mean, really.




The Obvious Faux Pas

While it may be no mystery that some of us hate our jobs (or just our bat-$#@%-crazy managers), it may not be so unclear as to why they hate US. Or maybe it is.

I was reminded of an incident that occurred some time back where an employee dug her own grave. While the feelings were completely understandable, her actions weren’t.

We all know how tricky email can be. Sometimes however, people let their emotions get ahead of them before they hit that send button. ALWAYS TAKE A MOMENT TO REVIEW YOUR MESSAGE AND KNOW WHO YOU’RE SENDING IT TO. I’ll bet it’s happened to every one of us that we’ve sent out an email or two to the wrong party.

Well, this one incident I’m referring to, precisely that happened. One bat-$#@%-crazy manager (and really, that’s putting it mildly), sent an email to their subordinates. One of them, I’ll call her Miss Treated, wrote a nasty reply and sent it to whom she thought were just the others in her group. What she failed to realize – until it was too late of course – was that she that she sent it BACK to the bat-$#@%-crazy manager as well as the others in the original email.

I don’t need to tell you the damage this caused her (but I will). Right away Miss Treated went into her manager’s office to apologize, and was reamed out for her actions – rightfully so. When she proceeded to tell everyone in the office what had happened, we all shook our heads and admitted that it wasn’t the smartest thing she could have done (sending the email as well as telling everyone about it).

She could have been fired for this, though she wasn’t. However, her career (and reputation) at the company never recovered. I’m just trying to emphasize how important it is to be smart about email. If you get caught doing something dumb like this, you deserve the consequences. Email is a tricky thing – and our emotions sometimes just crowd out the reason from our brains.

Another thing to remember is that company email is not your personal account! Whatever you send or receive can be viewed by others. Keep a Hotmail or Gmail account for personal stuff. Even still, if it's sent using company computers it may still be subject to another set of eyes.

Be smart about your email usage. Don’t let this happen to you.




Redeeming Value?

As I promised yesterday...

Once you’ve been voted out of the "in" crowd at the office, you should really just throw in the towel and move on. It is usually not code for “try harder to get back into our good graces”.

I had witnessed someone who, time and again, did whatever they needed to do to get back into favor with the powers-that-be. It was so pathetic. Unfortunately, what that meant was: Someone was going to be a casualty of this effort. Even “light” conversation around this person needed to be highly guarded as anything you might say would be twisted around and then presented to the head of the department ("See how I look out for us? You should torment this other person instead of me"). As I said, pathetic.

It was not uncommon for improper subjects to emerge in performance reviews given by this person (“So… I hear that so-and-so is involved with so-and-so…”). How is THAT relevant to anybody’s review? That’s GOSSIP, not valuable advice leading someone toward a higher career path.

If this person asks you if you’re interested in pitching for a particular job promotion and you’re reluctant to answer, beware: this person will still go to the head of the group (or your own boss) and tell them so that they look good and you get tossed into the hot water. As a note: this is a popular tactic for this ne’er-do-weller. Speaking of hot water: if you suspect that this going on around you, you should be on full alert: you might be like the frog who doesn't realize that he's in water that's getting increasingly hot. By the time you realize it, you'll be boiled... and oh yeah, dead (or at least in political terms).

When I heard the stories surrounding this person I always wondered why they didn’t “get it”. I mean, at some point, you need to just pack it in – I’m sure that the powers that be at that company were well aware of what this person was capable of and was probably not trusted. What a troublemaker.




Kill Your Career or Sell Your Soul?

In this Kiplinger article, one of the stated career killers is avoiding office politics.

While I generally view office politics as a negative thing, there are, of course, pluses to dabbling in it. Getting in with the upper powers-that-be can be beneficial to your career. Just be careful what you agree to or the information that you give away. Just because you want to advance your career does not give you license to throw others under the bus.

For me, I just see way too many downsides to it. It’s far too easy to fall in to disfavor with those powers-that-be. Once that happens, it’s too late to have any redeeming value – even if you do a great job.

Is it fair? Of course not, but that’s not the point. There is no such thing as fairness in business.

Tomorrow I’ll tell you a story about someone who continually tries to redeem themselves in the eyes of their superiors – often to the chagrin of their coworkers.




Lead, Follow, or Get Out of the Way: The Official Book Marketing Low-Down

My book is on its way! It'll (finally) be available around Thanksgiving - I'll keep everyone posted. The following is some of the marketing material provided by the printer/publisher that will accompany the book's release:

"Gail Hamlin's new book, Lead, Follow or Get Out of the Way: Tales of Survival From the Corporate Battlefield, tells the stories of embattled employees in the United States, struggling to do a good job, while at the same time having to put up with a moron for a boss. This is a widespread problem that the upper management of most American corporations invariably dismiss as rare or inconsequential, and thus not worthy of their attention. Even Big Media has generally neglected the plight of white-collar workers made miserable by the excessive demands, harassment, and overall stupidity of their so-called "superiors."

The book's stories are true, and are intended to inform, horrify, and entertain the reader, all at the same time. The book informs the reader as it provides an accurate overview of exactly what is happening in far too many workplaces in America. The book horrifies in the sense that, even for readers who are veterans of management idiocy, they may be stunned to learn of true incidents that can boggle the mind. The book entertains through its genuine humor, irreverent perspective, and satirical tone.

Yet the book also offers help and hope, because each chapter offers a lesson to be learned from the corporate management problem upon which it focuses, as well as thoughtful commentary which can serve as an effective starting point for the employee -- or the wise organization -- to begin addressing and solving the problems, before further damage is done to the workers who make such organizations even possible."




Think Getting Promoted is the Hard Part?

Think again! It’s great that you finally got that promotion into a managerial position, but now you’ll have to prove that you’re worthy of the spot. Believe me, that’s easier said than done. While you most likely have the knowledge of the job which is what got you in, you now need to know how to supervise others.

Unfortunately, you don’t usually get a neat little handbook on how to effectively manage a team. However, there is a general guide you can follow. (Incidentally there’s an interesting article about this very topic here). While I won’t get into all of it today, I will start with the following:

Just remember – it’s never about you. So, while YOUR boss may love you to death, one wrong move with your staff and you’ll drown. If you have terrible people skills (and if you just don’t care) you can very easily misguide your otherwise bright employees. Don’t laugh: I’ve seen it happen. I’ve seen talented people reduced to ashes once the wrong manager got through with them. It’s such a shame.

On the other hand, bright employees see what’s going on and hit the road fast. They realize that a bad manager will anchor them in the bulls***. Then you’ll be responsible for losing good employees. Of course, if you’re that bad, you’ll believe that they’re the problem and then seek to make them look even worse to your boss (who will probably continue to stand behind you).

Don’t be a bad boss… get a clue… ask for guidance and realize that your team is not the enemy.




The Executive Coloring Book

Someone shared this with me and gave me a good laugh. Check it out and enjoy:

The Executive Coloring Book




Quit Your Whining!

Plain and simple: everyone whines. However, there is a line between what is tolerated and what isn't. Here's what I mean: You come home from a miserable day at the office and just want to wallow in self pity to anyone who will listen. Most of your friends or family will be sympathetic and lend you a shoulder. Over time though, people get tired of hearing the same tune (believe me, I KNOW!).

Here's my beef with listening to someone else's sob story: You have my sympathy when it comes to dealing with a bad boss, coworker or whatever it may be at work (or in any other aspect of your life for that matter). I offer my advice when solicited and hopefully I make you feel better about your situation. If you do not follow my advice(or anyone else's), that's fine too. But if you do nothing and choose to pursue no course of action, then you will CEASE to receive my kind words. Frankly, I'll probably tell you to buzz off and get over it until you decide to take control of your situation. If you don't help yourself, then no one else can (or will want to) help you either.

I've said this countless times before: you have options. HR may not help you; but it still should be considered if you have tried other paths with your supervisors or those you are in conflict with. You need to do what you can. If that all fails, and sometimes it does, you can always quit your job. It's not usually smart to do so without a plan, but you can put one together and give yourself a target cut-off date. Do one thing everyday - regardless of how small - to help you move toward a better situation. I tried this approach (and it wasn't easy either), but it worked!

So quit your whining and start planning and doing!




There IS An Answer!

I picked up a new book recently called 21 Dirty Tricks at Work: How to Beat the Game of Office Politics. While I have many issues with this book (for instance: Did anybody EDIT this thing???), I did come across a chapter that practically left me salivating for more. The reason: it offered a real answer.

I mean, how many times do you need to hear that you need to document workplace incidents and then take them to Inhuman Resources (who’ll probably never do anything with them anyway)? Of course, this is a “right” answer, it's just not the answer that works most of the time.

So let me tell you the scenario and what this book says about it that I like so much. This poor schmoe Jerry receives an offer for a “development opportunity” from his idiot boss, Ben. As most of you are aware, as soon as you hear the words “development opportunity” you usually duck and cover. We know better; this is rarely a good situation to be in.

What this is really about is office politics. The problem that arises much of the time from being caught in such a spot is that we never really know the best way to proceed. Well, these authors have a good solution: ask questions. I don’t mean just any questions about how to move forward with the project at hand, but more probing questions that diplomatically let the other person know you’re aware of what they’re doing to you. These questions also allow them the opportunity to level with you about whatever project or task they are giving you, or it can plunge them further into a lying mess. However, at least you will know if they’re lying! How great is this???

So, if you get tapped for a project that no one else will willingly touch, here are some questions that you can ask. If you try these, let me know so I can hear what kinds of answers are given.


These are just some of the questions the authors laid out. Let me tell you, I love these questions so much I wish this book had been available at the same time my bat-$#@%-crazy managers made me swallow the miserable “development opportunity” they gave me a few years ago. It would have been great to hear their answers!




Don't Take That Job!!!

Obviously any time you interview for a new job, one of the key things you ask yourself is, “Will I like it here?” and, “Will I fit in?” I know one big thing on my mind when I went on interviews was, “What is this potential future boss going to be like?”

Forget about things like skill and talent. There are other things that you pick up during an interview that help determine the likelihood that you will choose THEM, let alone them choosing YOU.

What kind of vibe do you get when you meet your interviewers? I’ve been on plenty of interviews to know that some scenarios will not work out. However, I also know that when you’re totally desperate you’ll accept almost any job offer. You need to be careful of this: you could be jumping from the frying pan into the fire. I was completely desperate to get out of my job. I don’t just mean desperate: I mean D.E.S.P.E.R.A.T.E.

Interestingly though, I did not jump at every single bite. Of course I wanted to get out… but I knew deep down that some companies would have been a bad fit. There’s so much to consider. One job I was offered I had to turn down because the salary was too low; I could only take so much of a cut. That was a real shame too, because the hiring manager was someone I truly would have enjoyed working with; there was a real connection when I met with this person.

Although, I had a very different experience on another occasion - at another company. I had had an interview scheduled at lunch. It was on the west side of Manhattan and I worked on the east side (I always worked on the east side). I’d been trying to get an appointment with this particular individual for months. I finally got a shot and off I went to meet with them. After an hour of waiting (right outside this person’s office – it’s not like I was waiting at reception and they forgot about me), I had to go to an assistant and find out if I needed to reschedule because I had to get back to work. As it turned out, they called me in right after that. But I then only had fifteen minutes for the interview because I was in a rush to split and the interviewer knew it. Even after keeping me for so long, I didn’t receive so much as an acknowledgement of the delay, let alone an apology for it.

So I walked out of there completely pissed. Desperate as I was, I basically scratched them right off my list. If they couldn’t honor an appointment time, what else were they not going to honor or show respect for? They knew I was on my lunch hour. This is a popular time for people schedule to interviews!

I am not completely innocent on this account though. One time I scheduled an interview for a candidate. Turned out, I swallowed an Idiot Pill that morning and I went into a meeting with my own manager. I totally forgot about the appointment. This poor candidate waited for an hour!!! I felt so terrible about it and was convinced that I’d never hear from them again. I did exactly that which I despised. Luckily, the person wanted the job and came back for subsequent meetings (I never overlooked another appointment!). We eventually hired them.

All I’m saying is; don’t get so ahead of yourself that you fail to consider your interviewer’s personality or habits before accepting a job with them. You could be grateful for it later.




Here’s to the Bad Boss?

In this article I saw in the Times Online, the author suggests that bad bosses are good for us. They’re good because those of us who are mediocre (I’m not mediocre!) get the opportunity to really shine.

You see, this is where I have the problem. I mean, in theory, this is a good idea. But in reality; how often does this actually happen? Let’s look at it this way: if it’s true that 80% of the people leave their jobs because of bad bosses, then my guess is that they’re not getting any opportunity to do anything without the boss screwing it up for them.

Take myself as an example. It seemed like the more I succeeded, and the more I did to succeed, the more the bad things would happen. On top of that, when I tried to call out for help (and yes, I had documentation), Inhuman Resources sided with my bad manager.

**There is almost nothing you can do when those that are supposed to help you side with the enemy!**

Not only that, but I attempted to go over her head, which backfired. The fact that I had dozens of commendations and references did absolutely nothing. Everybody knew how good I was at my job – and it didn’t matter that she wasn’t as good.

So, is it possible to outshine these people? Absolutely. Just showing up with a pulse most of the time puts you at an advantage. But if no one around is going to notice (or if there’s nothing they can do about it), it just won’t matter. Then hopefully, you’ll be snagged by another company to shine there. And your bad boss will probably get another promotion... because they almost always do.




The Verdict’s In… As If We Didn’t Know

So I read this article today that further bolsters the belief that working in a toxic environment results in negative physical consequences. Well, no kidding!

What is interesting in this article is something that the head of Working America points out. Karen Nussbaum remarks that while people have suffered through bad bosses for years now, the types of bad bosses that we see these days are much worse than they were years ago. Nowadays, bad bosses aren’t laughable; they’re horrifying.

There's a funny story of a boss who made his staff wear a rubber chicken around their neck when they made a mistake (I would have tied a cinder block around my boss’ neck and tossed them off a bridge), and an agonizing story of a boss who refused an employee the afternoon off when their mother was dying. You know, if there’s a dying parent in the picture, you know that employee isn’t taking off for giggles.

Furthermore, a quote from an HR rep in the article says that they don’t “have time” to be nice to employees. Oh I’m sorry, since when has it been okay not to have the common decency to show another person some respect? And please tell me why this person is working in HR!?!? The sad thing is, this isn’t the first I’ve read or heard about this phenomenon. What I don’t understand is why no one does anything about it. It really costs nothing to be polite to someone.

So, the people that are trapped in these situations (and I used to be one of them) need to have alternatives. They need to do a little of something everyday that makes them feel better. Personally, I don’t think it’s enough to pick up a new hobby. Hey, my job sucks because I have a mean boss, but hey; I know how to crochet now so I can make my own noose to hang from! Yippee!

No – people need to do things like work on their resume and either contact a couple of people each day in their network looking for a new job, or take a class that will give them a new skill to use to make them more marketable for a new job, or make preparations in order to quit. These things do not happen overnight. However, if a person can take these small steps on a daily basis, they will at least know that they are making progress toward a goal that makes their current stressful situation more finite.

Keep in mind: help is out there and there are always options.




What Are You Looking At?

Eye contact is important. This simple, yet personalized, greeting or salute makes people feel important. Eye contact is extremely important for meaningful communication. Always remember; treat people the way you want to be treated.

I’ve seen firsthand the results when a manager refuses eye contact with their subordinates; it gets people talking and starts the gossip. Why? Maintaining eye contact helps to build trust and confidence with those you come into contact with. When that doesn’t happen, people notice. Not only that, they begin to think (whether they’re right or not) that something is wrong with the person.

If you notice too, it’s not that natural. I’m not talking about being distracted by something, like working on your computer. While it is rude, it’s not the same as sitting across from someone and having them stare at their desk – at nothing – while you’re giving them an update on a project. It’s a little weird.

So people begin to think things about this person. Their actions and motives become suspect. If establishing eye contact builds trust, then avoiding eye contact becomes suspicious. What are you trying to hide?

Who knows, maybe deep down they realize they’re an idiot manager and just don’t know how to pull themselves back up. It’s never too late to brush yourself and try again. What I find interesting is that people like this get to move up in the world. Just how exactly does this happen?

You know, researchers also say that people that have trouble making eye contact also have problems making friends. Of course they do. What kind of person would want to be friends with someone who can’t even look them in the eye. It’s just not inviting.


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