b Self-Helpless: True Tales of a Working Girl: January 2007



Iowa Woman Fired for Journal is Denied Unemployment

Three words for this woman: what an idiot. I was glad to hear that her unemployment benefits were denied. This is the reason why some bosses go overboard with the micromanagement. After an experience like this, who blames a manager for wanting to know what their staff is doing all the time?

Frankly, I’d like to know how Ms. Bauer was able to maintain her 300-page handwritten journal for so long without being caught. And after she was told to cease and desist on company time, how long did it take for someone to notice that she was typing everything up on the computer? I mean, didn’t anybody notice?

I just find it interesting since so many people kill themselves at work to get things done. Many times, these are the people that either never receive proper recognition from their boss or – even better - they only get a hard time from them. It’s people like Ms. Bauer that give the honest workers a bad name.

Believe me, I’ve experienced a range of bosses and office cultures. When things were at their worst it still never occurred to me to slack off just because I was stressed. I’m sympathetic to Ms. Bauer’s depression or stress or whatever it was that made her write the journal in the first place – but come on. Grow up, get a job you actually like and are willing to work at and take some Zoloft until you can actually get into a more suitable environment.

In one of the news articles I read, she even goes on to say how she can probably put her journal into a book and sell it. The sad thing is, she can probably do just that. And I’d buy a copy.




Other Signs that Indicate it's Time to Bail at Work

On Wednesday (1/24/07), I talked about the implications of not being able to get out of bed for work in the mornings. This is one of the more obvious signs that you're dreading going in to work. Whether it bores you to tears or stresses you to tears, you need to pay attention to the signs. If these start happening to you, it may be time to dust off the resume, give it a facelift and march on to a different job somewhere else.

Here are some other indicators that you may be (ok, probably ARE) unhappy at your job:
  • You can't escape your bat-$#@%-crazy manager; he/she/it pops into your dreams and continues to walk all over your self esteem by telling you "it's not good enough" or correcting your emails for grammar and punctuation.

  • You spend far more time than usual looking at job websites and daydreaming about jobs elsewhere.

  • You complain to your friends about your job... incessantly.

  • You have trouble sleeping on Sunday night because you're afraid of what you'll encounter on Monday morning.

  • You call in sick when you really feel fine.

Again, these are just a few of the signs pointing to problems with your job. If you have issues such as these cropping up then you owe it to yourself to get on with it and find something you want to do. Eventually your boss and/or coworkers are going to catch on and when this happens, you're life will be even more miserable.

Do something while you can.




Watch What You Say at Work

Often it’s too late when you find out some uncomfortable truths about the people you work with. Just in case you feel the urge to blab, make sure you’re willing to walk out the door. People love gossip but hate a tattletale. This means the wrong people are on the hook.

It may be outlined in the corporate philosophy that honesty is the best policy, and an honor system is in place, but most employers pay this lip service. When a situation actually confronts them, they flail and look for someone to point a finger at (especially if it helps them to feel better about themselves).

There tends to be safety in numbers but good luck trying to get others to join in going up against a boss or coworker. They may put up a tough front all along, but in the face of human resources and managerial scrutiny they turn to mealy-mouthed mush. Don’t be goaded into acting on someone else’s behalf unless you want to be hoisted with their petard as well.

1. Making More Money than the Other Guy.

If you know Emery is making more money than Selma, even though Selma has been with the company for more time and has more education, keep quiet. Besides, many companies have confidentiality clauses in regards to salary disclosure. This can have some serious repercussions if you get caught in the middle. Of course there are those that may throw blame anyway (even if it’s completely unwarranted because that’s just how some people are). The point is, if you're guilty you run the risk of being found out and fired.

2. History of Sexual Harassment/Drug Use.

Technically, drug use is a confidential issue. Ms.Workerwitnesseseverything emailed me a story about how she was working in an office where one employee’s drug screen came back positive for cocaine. Within seconds everyone knew. What's worse was the guy could tell that the word was out. I’m guessing he wished the earth would open and swallow him whole. (This is just another reminder about how careful you need to be when it comes to disclosing anything about your personal life. Do what I used to do: lie [of course I dated a coworker which is why I lied]. The people that were my true friends knew where it was at, anyone else, I could have cared less. Being a writer has its advantages – it allowed for some creativity in my day. Besides, people will make up details as they want anyway. They need to get a life!)

3. Inappropriate Rewards or Expense Account Approval

Don’t let the “informal nature” of chatting with coworkers fool you. If they ask about what kinds of spending your department is doing on advertising or how big the expense account statements were for March, be tactful. Most companies have people who exploit their expense account by entertaining new business clients to the limit. They always leverage knowledge of another employee’s approvals against the boss and the accounting department. Don’t give away this ammunition or you will be costing the company money. Guess what happens when this news gets out?

Just some things to think about.




Waking Up is Hard to Do

And it's particularly hard to do when you have no motivation to face your job. This is a sign that things might not be so great with work. You need to think about that. What's causing it?

I always used to wake up early on my own and had no problems hopping out of bed (and yes, I used to hop). Even on Mondays. Snooze was not a word in my vocabulary. But then things started changing for me at work and I ceased hopping out of bed. Then I *gasp* started hitting snooze. Then I snoozed so many times that I had to set the time 10 minutes fast and account for the amount of "snoozing" I'd do.

Then I moved my alarm clock to the other side of the room so it would force me out of bed. What happened? I either hit Snooze and jumped back into bed or I let the bad morning radio program I had it set to ramble on. Most morning radio programs are pretty annoying too.

For me, I knew I despised my job (which I used to love). There were things about it that were never going to change and I knew it. For a long time I hunted for a new job until the bright idea came to me that I could just work for myself. I'm now back to waking up with a spring in my step ( and I never let the radio alarm sound off for more than 3 seconds).

But if you have this kind of trouble getting out of bed, it can mean that you're dreading the day ahead of you. Is it your responsibilities that are dragging you down? Too much monotony? Maybe you can ask for a new project for a shift in responsibilites. If that fails, seek a transfer to a different department at your company.

If it's the boss that's creating the worries then make it a point to have a sit-down and see what happens. Don't gripe about how miserable you are; ask about new challenges you want to undertake. You will appear motivated for stepping up to the plate. If sit-downs fail, or if your boss is simply a jerk (or coworkers for that matter) then it might be time to move on.

Think about it.




Trouble Brewing at the Office?

There are usually signs pointing to trouble at the office before any big changes like termination come along. The general idea is to be tuned in to such changes so you’re not completely off guard.

As laid out in Firing Back: Power Strategies for Cutting the Best Deal When You’re about to Lose Your Job by Jodie-Beth Galos and Dr. Sandy McIntosh, these changes include:

· Changes in the behavior of your co-workers, subordinates, and boss (co-workers won’t want to catch the “bad luck” or “failure” disease and the boss who previously gave you leeway to get your job done now has you on a really short leash)

· Changes in job performance feedback (either you now receive none or your previously good reviews are now dismal… and you don’t know why)

· Changes in your assignments and responsibilities (you’re plucked from a high-visibility position [and it’s given to your subordinate!] and shoved into a darkened corner where it is expected you will be completely forgotten)

· Changes in your perks (they’ll be noticeable like you’ll take a huge hit in your bonus – or you won’t have one – and your prior freedom coming and going to the restroom now comes under ridiculously close scrutiny)

· Changes in company management (changes in management can sometimes mean change-ups in staff)

· Changes in the company’s financial position (whether it’s from merging or just the market’s gone bad or any number of other reasons – keep your eyes and ears open!)

You should beware: the first four of the “changes” listed could very well mean that management wants you out but has no backbone to fire you. It could. However, if you notice these things going on, be wary… and start giving serious consideration to finding a new job or implementing a gameplan for if the day comes when you are let go.




When You Don't Like the Boss

I came across this blog post and had to mention it. It's about what it means when you don’t like the boss.

So what does it mean? Here's the gist of it:

Bosses are there to guide and support their staff. They’re also there to “maintain work harmony between team members.”

The article goes on to say that conflicts with the boss are either personal or professional. I agree with what the author writes – I do. HOWEVER… there's a lot left out. The article suggests that it’s because there is a problem with the employee that the employee has the problem with the boss and ends up leaving. Considering all the evidence and studies so recently done on this topic, I’d say that perhaps he needs to rethink that.

I mean, what happens when the boss fails at being a good manager?

Are there bad employees out there? Of course there are. However, evidence points to the fact that it is because of bad bosses that people leave their jobs.

Another thing to consider is the “set up to fail” syndrome”: it sometimes happens that bosses (both good AND bad) inadvertently set their employees up to fail [in a nutshell: an otherwise good employee fails on a project or idea and the boss comes down on them to “fix” the problem but ends up interfering too much which diminishes morale and then the employee and manager slip into a vicious cycle. [Of course I’m massively paraphrasing here.]

Perhaps there are great bosses out there… there are certainly great leaders. But, let’s be real about boss/employee relations. It’s a 2-way street. If things are as this article suggests with the employee to blame for THIS much trouble (the article cites lack of skills or ability, ethical issues, theft, absenteeism, addictions, failure to do quality work, failure to do the work on time as issues from where professional conflicts are rooted), then the employee probably deserves to be disciplined and/or fired.




There’s No Eliminating the Boss

When I talk to people about what I do and how I decided to do it, I always mention the “I-didn’t-want-to-work-for-someone-else-anymore-so-I-quit-my-job” routine. This is a big reason why people go into business for themselves. It’s not the only one, but it’s up there on the list.

Lately though, it seems that there are those that would remind me (as if I could forget) that I may not go to work for another company and have someone torture the hell out of me, but I still have others to answer to. There are clients, vendors, banks, and the like. They are the ones to tell you where it’s at, not the other way around. Of course it’s important to remember this because it is technically true: I answer to these people. I traded one tyrant for a potential gaggle of them.

But it’s funny… I just don’t view it that way. Yes, the clients dictate the type of work, the volume and the frequency, but overall – it’s either going to be something I want to do or not. Plus it’s all negotiable. Granted, it’s only been less than a year for me, but I’ve worked with a variety of clients and vendors. If it “clicks” with a client, you get more work, if not… you move on. You learn what people want and you give it to them. You learn from mistakes. No one’s going to beat me up over my mistakes more than I am – or remind me of it everyday like some bosses might. This is one big learning process – and I’m in control of what I want to take on or learn.

I guess maybe it boils down to a control thing. Maybe discipline too. So, although these people may call some of the shots, at the end of the day I still consider myself The Boss and sleep very well at night knowing that.




Just How Involved Should a Manager Be?

Let’s face it; some people are just not good with confrontation. However, if you’re going to promote someone into a managerial position (one that supervises their own staff), you’d better be damn sure that they know how to work with people. Just because someone’s good at their desk job does not mean they’ll be good at managing people. For some, it comes naturally. For others… well, let’s just hope that they someday get hope – or are removed from the fray.

Ultimately, managers that have no people skills have no business managing others.

Once upon a time, in a galaxy far, far away, I had difficulties with a coworker when accounts were changing hands. This individual gave me such a hard time that all my other work (the new accounts) were getting tied up since this person made me spend all my time walking them through the old stuff.

It got to the point where I was receiving extremely detailed emails/memos about what needed to get done (didn’t this person have ANYTHING else to do???). In these emails were elaborate embedded images of files, cut and pasted information, and bullet-pointed questions, problems, and instructions on how to split the atom. Since there was no talking to this person, I went to my manager to make him aware of the situation. After some back-and-forth, he agreed to hold a sit down meeting with myself and this other coworker to settle these affairs.

While I knew that my manager was behind me (and I really did have every reason to believe this based on the faces he made when speaking about my coworker [which indicates other issues of course], he certainly wasn’t on their side!), he gave me absolutely no help. The meeting was a forced face-to-face in which he said nothing. Yeah… Hi: YOU’RE THE BOSS AND THIS IS HOLDING UP WORK SO YOU NEED TO PUT YOUR FOOT DOWN AND MAKE A DECISION. This is where your managerial skills come into play. Remember what those are? Oh no? Not acquainted with how to manage people? Then step aside and let someone who does get involved.

I mean, I get it: coworkers should be able to work through stuff on their own and the boss really should not have to deal with these types of conflicts. But I got news for you: when it starts to prevent work from getting done you need to step in! I recently heard a story from a friend who had a whopper of a dispute with another supervisor (not her supervisor). Her boss knew and did NOTHING. It was so bad, she up and quit her job.

My point is, if want to play at the managerial game, you need to learn some of the rules (I know, some are meant to be broken). But you must – MUST – know how to deal with people.




Working for Myself: How I Knew What I Wanted to Be When I Grew Up

When I tell people how I came into my new career, they shudder and tell me how brave I am. It’s funny, because when it comes to taking dramatic risks in my life I don’t think I’m that brave.

So many say, “I really admire you for doing this, after all – I could NEVER just quit my job and start my own business.”

Let me tell you: I never thought I would quit my job and strike out on my own either. I am someone who thrives on the secure… I work, I make money, I put it in the bank and put some towards retirement. Never did it enter my mind that I’d ditch that security for a completely insecure existence.

However, I gradually became that person. As I spent day after day (and subsequently night after night) stewing in excessive stomach acid and depression as a result of my growing distaste and sheer unhappiness with my former career, I woke up one day and knew I could just not do it anymore. Things went from bad to worse… I tried to work harder and harder to make things work out, and the worse off I was.

As I searched high and low for a new job and interviewed at various places, I was dismayed when I saw nothing coming to fruition. The more I thought about it, I knew deep down that I’d only be going from the frying pan into the fire. I decided my life was too short to try to make anyone other than myself happy. In my experience, people very rarely appreciated it. So why bother?

Once I made that decision I had to give serious thought to what I was going to do. I mean, it’s all fine and good to decide not to work “for the man” anymore, but I had to do something to support myself and have a solid future.

Then it came to me.

I was steeped in books and research trying to find ways to make it work with bosses; I learned new management techniques and styles and enrolled in communications workshops – all to make my (now former) career work. I did it so much that people came to me asking my opinions on issues. People wanted advice from me. Then I started getting asked to do workshops of my own. Then I started this blog and decided to write a book. That’s when I knew I saw the beginnings of a new career take shape. Just to be sure, I took personality tests to confirm my aptitude and interests (I took the MAPP test).

I got my financial ducks in a row and hired a business coach who walked me through all the steps I needed to take before “quitting the day job”. He helped me construct a business plan and an income plan. I put myself on a strict (ok, semi-strict) timeline as to when things would get done (one of the biggest lessons I learned: things take a lot longer than you originally plan).

As hard as the journey’s been, I have never regretted my decision. It wasn’t easy to make the leap, but let me tell you, it was harder for me to stay behind. The way I see it, I was more or less forced into action. Some people are naturally inclined to take risks, others are propelled by outside forces. I’m one of the outside forces people. And I think I’m better for it. At least now I can look at myself and feel good about what I do and look to the future with a newfound sense of hope.




Top 10 Downsides to Working for Myself

1. If I fail, I can end up in the street.

2. Health insurance is damn expensive!

3. You don't always have feedback when you need it.

4. Having the discipline doesn't come easy; it's a learned talent.

5. Since there is no more "9 to 5", it's not as easy to put the pencil down and go home. I often work 7 days a week, including holidays.

6. That also means no sick days. If I don't work, I don't get paid.

7. Work doesn't always appear when I need or want it.

8. It's a LOT of work with no instant gratification or payment. There's a reason why I freelance in addition to running my business.

9. Just because I don't have a boss doesn't mean I don't hear the word "No" a lot.

10. There is no "job security".




Top 10 Reasons Why I Like Working for Myself

1. My work speaks for itself. I was tired of my boss constantly looking over my shoulder and telling me I wasn't good enough. The feedback I get from my clients is truly attributable only to myself; no one can take that from me.

2. Office attire now consists of slippers, yoga pants and a hoodie. And yes, I start everyday with a shower.

3. No more “9 to 5”. If I want to work at 7am then take a yoga class at 11am, I can. Likewise if I choose to sleep in a little and work late. Plus, I love those afternoon siestas!

4. Plenty of opportunities to make WAY more money. I am no longer slave to the “you’re-not-worthy-of-your-full-bonus-even-though-there’s-no-reason-you-shouldn’t-have-it-other-than-I-don’t-like-you-and-I-want-a-new-in-ground-pool-installed.”

5. I create my own challenges and accept the projects I want – and at the rates I choose.

6. I am no longer “stuck” with a boss or colleagues; I get to choose who I want to work with.

7. More freedom to meet and network with people. If someone asks for a coffee meeting at 10:30 in the morning, I don’t have to tell the boss where I’m going or make excuses. I just go.

8. I get to spend more time with my cat.

9. Lunches don’t come in plastic containers; I make it all fresh.

10. No more office politics. I play by my own rules.





Here's a little game to keep you occupied while dodging your boss:




When Bad Bosses Emulate Their Bad Boss Heroes and Mentors

In a recent Wall Street Journal article, it is suggested that managers look to their past bosses in order to avoid making their mistakes. (The article is titled “Recall the Mistakes of Your Past Bosses So You Can Do Better” from 1/3/07).

That’s all fine and good, but what can employees do when their bat-$#@%-crazy managers actually choose to emulate their current and/or past supervisors? This article suggests that managers actually want to be “good” managers. Or perhaps they believe that sabotaging their team, setting employees up to fail, stealing – or hiding – the great ideas that employees come up with, is “good” managing.

Let’s look at this for a minute. So what does it mean when:

- Bosses hand off work that looked like a 5-year old did it? Are they trying to recapture the lost innocence of their youth along with their immaturity? I once had a superior hand off work like this for me to decipher. It was atrocious. The boss they’re emulating: Their 5-year old child.

- They pick up smoking to have “meetings” with their current manager? I get it; this is a ploy most people learn in school… high school. All those “cool” kids will one day have cancer. Bravo.

- The boss makes threats of physical violence if the work isn’t complete and on their desk in 3 seconds? Maybe their boss hero was Attila the Hun. I’m sure that one works really well… especially when the lawsuits hit.

- The boss incessantly corrects and rewrites every email you send out – even though you’ve been doing the job since the year of the flood? Then again, maybe this makes sense if they’re a former English-teacher-turned-corporate-tool.

- Antisocial behaviors emerge that make the boss try to blend in with the wall rather than say "hi" to anyone? Maybe their mentor was a hermit or a germaphobe.

Once again, these great ideas sound good in theory… but suppose these “bad” bosses are already taking notes from the ones that came before them or their old mentors? And maybe they’ve been doing it for so long they no longer have any clue which is “right”? I mean, that would have to be the case because who would possibly do these things and actually think that they were a “good” boss?




The Bossary

In my unending quest for bad boss stories and other related workplace information, I came across this blog: savetheassistants.com. They posted their own "Bossary" which is a glossary of various bad bosses. I got a kick out of it.

See which one you work for.




Starbucks Loses the Trans Fat, but Corporate America Keeps the Losers

If Starbucks is capable of making such a big change to remove what’s bad for us, how come business can’t do the same?

Yahoo! posted an article the other day that suggests 40% of bosses don’t keep their word. Somehow, this doesn’t surprise me. Now at least I know there are others out there that see what I’ve been talking about. Does that make me feel better? Hardly. Now that we have the statistics we should do something about it.

Here’s the chance to let HR groups everywhere redeem themselves by actively supporting programs that keep an eye on managers. HR needs to do more than cover the company’s hide. Those responsibilities should fall under the heading of, “How we can get away with s*** and not get sued”. Human Resources should be about Humans. Yeah, let’s try that.

So let’s get back to the employees who work under bad bosses. The article goes on to say that, “Employees stuck in an abusive relationship experienced more exhaustion, job tension, nervousness, depressed moods and mistrust, the researchers found. They found that a good working environment is often more important than pay, and that it's no coincidence that poor morale leads to lower production.” Oh, really? You don’t say.

The article also points out that employees don’t leave their job or company… they leave their boss.

Changes are needed. Perhaps 2007 will be the year these changes are heralded.




Cubicle Life - In Stealth Mode

After all this time of tracking bat-$#@%-crazy managers and bringing to light the idiocy that corporate management inflicts on the lower ranks, I might have to pause and shift focus in a different direction for a little while.

Whenever I submit a blog article to Digg.com, or some other social book marking site, other “related” stories tend to crop up. One of them that came up this week was ”Cubicle Hacks”.

While I found the article written in a style similar to my own caustic, witty, and irreverent voice (which is probably why I liked it), something made me pause at the end of it. Then it came to me: it wasn’t the article that made me stop, it was the bevy of readers’ comments at the end of it.

Mr. Urban Monarch describes 5 things to ease life in cubicle hell. All of them save one (I have shared your pain over the miserable cup o’joe in the office… thus I started drinking tea) were about how to get away with not doing what they were there to do… the job! However, as I said, it wasn’t the article itself that bothered me – I laughed, I cried, it made me want to try some new tricks back in cube hell but… oh wait – it didn’t persuade me quite that much. It was funny and right up my alley – I had a good laugh.

Then I read the comments that followed. Here I go crusading against incompetent (ok, stupid) bosses, and I see something like this. I KNOW that everybody goes online at some point to handle personal business during work hours (it’s totally naïve to believe otherwise) – or to check the weather or read the latest headlines on CNN… whatever. But these comments suggested a complete slacker attitude – and it made me feel that they deserved whatever micromanagement they had coming to them.

Perhaps too it’s an age thing. “Highly seasoned veterans” don’t carry on like that… and if they do, well then maybe those are the managers I have talked about. It didn’t seem that way to me though. These comments sounded like they came from internet-savvy Gen Y cube dwellers that should get used to the close confinement their little space offers them… with those tactics they’ll have a hard time moving up.




A Book Review - Lead, Follow, or Get Out of the Way

As reviewed by New York Times best-selling author Ellen Tanner Marsh:

"Anyone who thinks that more than enough books have been written about corporate America has another “think” coming...as well as a pleasant surprise. Gail Hamlin’s Lead, Follow, or Get Out of the Way: Tales of Survival from the Corporate Battlefield is an eye-opening, forthright, and often downright hilarious view into what makes—and breaks—workplace survival and success.

Hamlin clearly knows of what she writes. After years in corporate America—from serving as a television rep to slogging through the brutal world of advertising sales—she finally walked away...and lived to write about it. Lead, Follow, or Get Out of the Way is a compendium of more than a few jaw-dropping examples of employee abuse, coupled with the author’s wise guidance for those who wish either to prevent the abuse typically heaped on by the boss, or to nip it in the bud before it starts. Hamlin, who views her corporate time as a sentence served, is spot-on in her descriptions of the obstacles every employee faces at the mercy of the jealous, often unscrupulous employer.

Lead, Follow, or Get Out of the Way is a highly recommended book for everyone who works with others. (While her book is directed at employees, most employers could also benefit from its sage advice, especially those who have climbed the corporate ladder and may have forgotten what it felt like at the bottom.) Those readers with no sense of humor, or lacking the ability to see humor in distress, might want to steer clear, which would certainly be their loss. For everyone else, run, don’t walk, to get this book. As lighthearted as it appears, it offers solid solutions to very serious worksite problems."


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