Entries in Work-Life Balance (6)


Too Much

My husband was carrying our two-year-old daughter up the stairs at the end of a long Thanksgiving Day, which had started with watching the Macy’s parade, continued with learning the game of hide-and-seek from her older cousins, and finished with a delicious feast.  Our daughter was exhausted, and when my husband commented that it had been a busy day, she sleepily replied “Too much!”

She probably meant that there had been too many activities crammed into one day, but her comment started me thinking about having a special day for giving thanks.  One day a year isn’t really enough; most of us have so many things we should be thankful about that if we really tried to give thanks for all of them in a single day it would indeed be too much.

I’m not talking here about giving thanks in a religious or spiritual sense, though that can also be important.  I mean giving thanks to people who have helped you with your job or your life, and made you the person you are.  Of course, common politeness prompts you to say “thank you” many times a day – when you receive your change at the grocery store, a co-worker holds an elevator door for you, or your spouse passes the salt at the dinner table.  But while such daily thanks are an important social lubricant, generally only the most trivial services get thanked in this manner, and sheer repetition robs the phrase of much of its meaning.

Make a regular practice of thanking people who help you

Pick some regular time – once a week, once a month – to thank someone.  It could be your boss for giving you some good advice, or a co-worker who got you the information you needed to complete your report.  It could be your neighbor, who always plows your sidewalk with his snow blower when he is plowing his own.  Or it could be your eighth grade English teacher who introduced you to Jane Austen – though you may have to do some searching on the internet to track her down.

Of course, giving thanks shouldn’t be limited to this regular schedule – any time you encounter exceptional service or assistance is a time for thanks.  We’ve all had the experience of poor, inattentive service at a retail store or an airline check-in counter, and may have grumbled something about writing a letter of complaint to the management.  But it’s when you receive great service, and the salesperson or check-in clerk goes above and beyond to find the shoes you need or get you on the right flight, that you should be writing a letter, to let the person and their manager know how much you appreciated the help.

At this point in the newsletter I would usually give a client story, a concrete example of how one of my clients followed my advice and it helped his or her career.  But I’m going to break from tradition here because career advancement is not the reason for this suggestion.  Sure, thanking people is a great networking tool, allowing you to keep in touch with people and making them feel positive towards you, but that’s not why you should do it. 

Instead, you should thank people because it makes you feel good – it forces you to remember how many people have helped you and continue to help you every day, and showing gratitude can take you out of yourself and give you greater enjoyment of life.  And you should thank people because it’s the right thing to do; too many people do a great job of helping people and never receive a word of thanks.

So I’d like to end this holiday edition of the newsletter by thanking all of you, my faithful readers, for allowing me to share my views with you over the years, and for the many encouraging comments you have sent me.  Thanks, and happy holidays!


Taking stock on anniversaries

Many large corporations have institutionalized management techniques that are beneficial in theory, but detrimental in practice.  One example is the annual performance review.  It sounds like a great idea – at least once a year, managers and employees should sit down and talk about what they’ve done in the past year, discuss what worked and what didn’t, and make plans to improve things in the future.  If approached in the right spirit by everyone involved, it can be an extremely useful exercise. 

But in too many companies, the review process has turned into a burden for overworked managers and employees, who have to take time out from getting things done to compose elaborate “goals and objectives” documents that are already obsolete by the time they are approved; the process becomes one more distracting bureaucratic hurdle standing in the way of getting your job done.

Still, the idea if not the typical practice of an annual review is a good one, and whether you work for a company with a dysfunctional review process, or are self-employed or otherwise free of an imposed review, you should schedule time with yourself to consider what you have done in the past year, and what you want to do differently in the coming year.

Periodically review your accomplishments and opportunities, and decide what to change.

This self-review should look at what went right and what went wrong in the past year.  Sometimes you can do it all by yourself, but often you will need to solicit feedback from people you work with or who are affected by what you do – your co-workers, your manager, your clients, or your customers.  Based on what you learn, you can then decide what changes to make for the coming year.  Unless you discover you are completely on the wrong track, these changes don’t have to be numerous or large -- often small, incremental improvements are best.  And remember to schedule time in another year to look at things again, and see if you actually carried out the changes and what impact they had.

You don’t need to review everything you do at the same time; often it makes sense to consider different projects on their own.  For example, September marks the first anniversary of this newsletter, so now is a good time for me to look back at what I’ve accomplished with it, what problems I’ve encountered with it, and what changes I want to make in the future.

Overall, I’ve been quite pleased with how it has gone.  I’ve had favorable comments on the newsletter and simply getting twelve issues of the Positioning People for Success Newsletter out in a year meets the goal I set for myself when I started.  But timeliness has been the biggest problem; you may have noticed that issues have been slipping later and later in the month, and the August issue was so late in the month that some of you received copies that were accidentally labeled “September.”  So my resolution for the next year is to get the newsletter on a firm schedule, with issues going out on the 2nd Wednesday of every month.

However, I can’t really objectively review my own creation, and I have to turn to my readers for help.  Send me an e-mail to let me know what you think of the first year--what I’ve done wrong, what I’ve done right, and how I can improve it in the coming year to make it most useful to you.  Then next September we can both look back and see how I did.


Negotiation: it’s not just about the money

It has finally happened.  After sending out countless resumes, enduring endless interviews, and waiting by the phone for weeks, you’ve at last had a job offer from your dream company.  Your first impulse is to immediately accept the offer – after all, it’s what you’ve been working so hard to get – but you need to pause for a moment and decide if you are completely happy with the offer, or if you want to try to negotiate something better.  Money – your salary, bonuses, stock options, and such – are usually what comes to mind in job negotiations, and sometimes it is indeed possible to negotiate for increases in these areas.  But just as important for your ultimate satisfaction with the job can be intangible, non-monetary forms of compensation.  And given your new company’s budget constraints, negotiations for increased non-monetary compensation are much more likely to be successful than holding out for an increased salary. 

Job negotiations are about more than just money.

Non-monetary compensation can include the number of vacation days you receive, how often you can work at home, whether you get a window office (or an office at all), who you report to, and your job description.  And sometimes you can find indirect ways to increase your compensation without increasing your salary, such as tuition or parking reimbursement – because they are accounted for differently with different tax implications, companies sometimes have more flexibility in these areas even when they are unwilling to increase direct compensation.

I had one client, a software designer, who suffered from Seasonal Affective Disorder, which meant that he was more likely to feel low or depressed when deprived of direct sunlight for long periods.  Thus, when he moved to a new job, it was in both his and his new employer’s interests to make sure he had an office with a sunny window.  The company wasn’t able to provide him one when he was starting, but they promised that he would have one within six weeks, and in the meantime agreed to let him work two or three days a week from home.  The company was happy to do this since it didn’t cost them anything and ensured a productive employee, and my client was happier than he would have been with a higher salary but an inside office.


Looking beyond your job

It seems that everyone wants to offer you one stop shopping.  Your cable company wants to sell you cable television, internet access, and local phone service.  Your bank wants to give you a checking account, sell you a mortgage, be your stock broker, and handle your life insurance.  And your supermarket not only wants to sell you any kind of food you might want, it also wants to be your florist, your pharmacist, your bank, and your video rental store.

While these attempts at offering one stop shopping can offer convenience, they don’t always provide the best goods and services, or the best prices.  When you want the best bread, you may have to stop at a good local bakery in addition to the supermarket, and the cheapest stock transactions may come from a discount broker rather than your bank.  You can get a lot from one stop shopping, but you can’t get everything.

Because we spend so much of our lives in our jobs, it is important to find a job that satisfies our own individual needs –  (Newsletter #7 A winning “Success Formula”).  But just as it is rare to find a store that truly offers one stop shopping, it is not always possible to find a job that satisfies all of our needs.  In such cases, it is useful to remember that while a job is an important part of our lives, it isn’t our entire life.

You don’t need to get everything from your job.

If you’ve decided what is most important to you, and can’t find a job that provides it all, consider what things you can get outside your job.  If you love traveling and meeting new people, you may find a job that allows you to travel, but if you can’t, perhaps you can find a job with sufficient vacation days to allow you to travel on you own.  If you have a strong social consciousness and giving back to the community is important to you, you may find a job with a social service element, or you may find that you are otherwise more suited to a different kind of job, and show your commitment through donations and volunteer work.

I had one potential client who contacted me because she was dissatisfied with her life.  Although she enjoyed her work as the leader of a new product development team at a technology company, she felt there was something lacking, and wanted my help in discovering a more satisfying career.  She was in her early forties, and was afraid that if she didn’t make a move now, she would be stuck with a vague dissatisfaction for the rest of her life.  But when I talked to her during the initial free consultation, I discovered that despite her professed dissatisfaction she actually loved her current job, since it met most of her needs – the opportunity to work on a variety of intellectually challenging tasks with smart people.  The only problem was that the job provided no outlet for her strong artistic instincts. 

Rather than working with me to attempt to find a new job that would use her skills, allow her to continue to work on a variety of intellectually challenging tasks with smart people, and would also have an artistic component, I suggested that she look for an artistic outlet outside of work.  She had always enjoyed paper crafts, and she decided to commit herself to taking at least one class in paper crafts a month, and devote more time to this hobby while continuing at her job.  She never did become a client, but I still count her as one of my successes, since she told me several months later that she was now happy in her life and her job.  She had it all, even if she couldn’t get it all at one stop.


A winning “Success Formula”

One of the games I liked to play as a kid was Careers from Parker Brothers, which prepared me for such typical jobs as astronaut, uranium prospector, and Hollywood star (though I’ve noticed that today’s children, playing the latest edition of the game, have to make do with conservation, teaching, and entertainment).  The game’s twist is that before starting, each player secretly chooses their “Success Formula” – some combination of money, fame, and happiness.  You win the game by being the first player to achieve success as defined by your formula.

Though not a terribly accurate portrayal of adult life, Careers does capture an important truth: everyone has their own idea of what it means to be successful, and you can only “win” if you are successful on your own terms, and not someone else’s.  One person may measure success by the size of her house, while another person measures it by how many hours he gets to spend with his family.

Unfortunately, it’s easy to forget what’s most important to you, and mistakenly feel like a failure.  Our society, and especially our business culture, tends to emphasize measures of success related to money and power, so that many people put undue emphasis on their salary and job title, ignoring other equally valid measures, such as the number of times they smile each day, or how many books they read.

Figure out your personal “Success Formula.”

One of my clients felt like a failure when he came to me.  He and his best friend had both started their careers at the same time, but while his friend’s career had really taken off – he was already a vice-president with a large salary – my client’s career was stalled, with little prospect of advancement.

To help my client get some perspective on what was most important to him – what his “Success Formula” was – I used a favorite exercise of mine, and asked him to write the eulogy for his own funeral.  Reading the eulogy, I noticed that nothing in it had anything to do with his career; it was all about his family.  I pointed this out to him, and it helped him realize that for him success at work wasn’t really about having a big title.  Rather, it was about being able to provide for his family, spend time with them on vacation, and put his kids through school.  Far from being a failure, by his own formula he had already won his personal game of Careers.