Monday
Oct242016

Lots of Ways to Make Your Current Job Better - Part Two

 

Some of the primary causes of job dissatisfaction, and some topline suggestions for addressing them, are listed here below:

COMPENSATION

Who doesn't want to earn more money at their job? But recognize that some of the other factors listed below can have an equal, or even greater, impact on your job satisfaction. Nonetheless, you may succeed if you press for a raise at the right time and in the right circumstances (In other words, don't lobby for an increase if your firm just lost a client or a source of funding, or if your boss is having a bad week!). Your case needs to rest on the value you are providing, NOT on industry averages or how long it's been since your last raise or the fact that you just moved and have a higher mortgage. Emphasize concrete ways you are benefitting the organization, illustrating it with any numbers you can cite or significant qualitative examples such as client compliments, successful training of others, or positive publicity you helped generate.

Another suggestion - don't overlook the possibility of earning some money on the side if you can improve your productivity and thereby free up a little time from your current schedule (see below). Opportunities range from tutoring to freelance consulting to selling items on eBay.

WORK/LIFE BALANCE, LOCATION AND COMMUTING

A fifty to sixty hour workweek isn't something that most people enjoy; yet many workers routinely spend that much time at their jobs (plus commuting time, which can easily add another 10). There are, however, ways to effectively address this issue.

1. Organize better. Multi-tasking may feel like you're whizzing ahead, but studies consistently show decreased productivity when several tasks are being attended to at the same time. Set priorities, calendar assignments, plan out work flow.

2. Delegate more. Yes, you may be able to do something better and faster than someone you have working for you, but if you don't push them they will never grow. Hand-off some of your work.

3. Take care of yourself. Things like proper diet, adequate sleep, and exercise will increase your energy level and consequently your productivity, allowing you to spend less time working.

4. Explore the possibility of working remotely at least a few days a month. You'll save on commuting time and may find that you are more productive in the absence of distractions that inevitably pop up at work. As always, try to craft an argument about how remote work can benefit not just you but your organization. Recognize, however, that you need to be disciplined if you're working from home, and not allow the flexibility to do as you please sabotage good work habits.

COLLEAGUES

I often hear clients complain about working with difficult colleagues. Professional rivalry, racism, sexism, homophobia, or just plain personality clashes can make life at the job pretty miserable. One way of dealing with this scenario in certain (rare) cases is to ask for a transfer to a different department. A more broadly applicable strategy is to craft a win/win conversation in which you suggest to your difficult co-worker that there could be benefits in a more peaceful relationship. Those benefits could vary from sharing workload to teaming up to improve an organizational issue such as overly rigid departmental procedures, a micromanaging mutual boss, or crafting a strategy to deal with an obstreperous client. Please note that in order to maximize the chances that a strategy of reconciliation will work it needs to be sincerely proposed, so do the internal work necessary (counseling, self-affirmation, prayer, meditation, whatever) to get you into the right mental space.

ROUTINE

Many of my clients, particularly those in government, complain about the boring, routine nature of their work. It's a lot easier to complain about this than to take action, but here are some steps I'd suggest exploring to liven up your day:

1. Stretch yourself and ask your boss for some additional and new responsibility that involves work that is more interesting/challenging. If the boss agrees (by no means a sure thing, of course) you will have to invest extra time to perform this new duty competently, but if you think of it as an investment that will improve the odds of your moving off of your boring or dead-end assignment it will be worth it.

2. If you're in the government, consider requesting a "detail" to a short-term position involving work of greater interest. First you will need to explore detailing possibilities (some are posted, others can be identified through networking), followed by a persuasive argument as to why moving to this detail makes sense not just for you but for your superiors, who are unlikely to enthusiastically endorse losing body count, even if it's temporary.

3. SHAKE THINGS UP! Redecorate your workspace. Rearrange your furniture. Take a walk outside. Drive a different route to work. Start earlier, leave earlier (or later/later). Instead of coffee and a danish try tea and a scone. Strike up a new acquaintance with a co-worker. Join a volunteer group within your organization (e.g. Department of Commerce, United Way, Marriott Walk to End Breast Cancer, AIDS, or Acme Manufacturing astronomy club).

Friday
Oct072016

Lots of Ways to Make Your Current Job Better - Part One

 

After working for a while in a job that you dislike it’s only natural to focus on how to find a better one, usually at a different organization. Unfortunately that’s a process that could be frustrating, lengthy, and ultimately even unsuccessful if, as many do, you wind up in a job that isn’t much better than the one you left. That’s not to say by any means that a job change is a bad idea - it’s often the only smart solution. It’s just that I’ve often found that clients who make a genuine effort to change things at their current job quite often experience significant, positive change in a number of areas, and so can avoid or postpone the inevitable disruptions and learning curve associated with a new place of employment. Today and next time I will go over some common areas of dissatisfaction and will propose some ideas and techniques to smooth the way towards major improvement. 

First a general pointer: avoid engaging in negative conversations about your workplace and steer away from constant complainers. Of course there’s a lot that could be better where you work, but you need to be focused on what’s good rather than solely on what’s bad. Clients who come to me because they’re miserable at their current jobs are often surprised when I ask them to tell me about the positive things - the things which it turns out had essentially disappeared in the litany of negatives.  I recommend making a practice of noting at the end of each work day three things that you enjoyed or that went well at work. Maybe you overheard someone speaking positively about the organization’s latest proposal, maybe someone offered to buy you a coffee, maybe your boss returned a draft with only a few minor revisions, maybe you noticed that the reception desk had some pretty flowers on it. You may be surprised at how, in a short period of time, your overall attitude will start to shift. Training yourself to focus on the positive will highlight what works for you and dim what doesn’t.  

Your Boss/Client 

Certainly one of the most important factors in job satisfaction is your boss (assuming you have one who is fairly involved with your work). If you have clients they’ll often play an essential, and similar, role. Just contrast a boss or a client you’ve had who shows appreciation and respect (I hope you’ve had at least one) with one who is constantly micromanaging or reluctant to accept your ideas, and reflect on what a big difference that’s made to you. You may think that the person is just “that way” and that there’s nothing you can do to change their essential nature. But what I’ve found in talking to hundreds of clients is that their boss’s intrusive, overbearing behavior often comes from the boss’s or clients’ fundamental lack of trust* That trust is essential for you to gain. If you’ve made anything other than a minor mistake in producing work for that person there will inevitably (and appropriately, I think) be reliability question in the back of her/his mind. That question can be removed if you diligently apply yourself to accuracy, to adherence to agreements, to meeting deadlines, and to a productive flow of information, among other things. Don’t disappoint!  

Another key to improving the boss and/or client relationship is for you to determine their key issues. Particularly at the outset of a new business relationship you ought to work much harder on making their lives easier rather than yours. The appreciation and trust that you build up will pay innumerable dividends down the road, whether it be through compensation, autonomy, power, or function. Learn about their goals. Looking good to the powers that be or avoiding getting fired? Breakthrough thinking or don’t rock the boat? Besting a peer or allying with one? You may not hold the same goals as she/he might, but at least become aware of them and see if you’re able to go along with them.*  

Finally, there’s the super important issue of your personal relationship with him/her. One of your primary goals in any job in which you’re dealing with a boss and/or a client is to build the relationship person-to-person. I DO NOT!!! mean brown-nosing. I mean exerting at least the same effort that you would in cultivating a new social friend. You probably wouldn’t gush all over that person, but I imagine you’d focus on their positive qualities, compliment them more frequently than you might a casual acquaintance, and look for opportunities to bond (whether around interests or to extend an invitation to grab a sandwich together at lunch, or to go to the baseball game or a concert). Your colleagues might accuse you of brown-nosing…if so, let the accusation stand. Making your primary relationships at work work, where you probably spend 40% of your waking hours, is a perfectly valid goal. 

Implementing these suggestions won’t be a “magic bullet.” Building, or turning around, key relationships will undoubtedly take some time, and there are certainly exceptions with whom nothing will work. But in many, many instances you can definitely improve those two key relationships. Next time I will address colleagues, compensation, function/routine,  commute, work/life balance, and location. 

*Or from a deep-seated fear of losing the job because of poor performance, Beware of that situation - you’re in line to be a potential scapegoat! 

**Sometimes even if you’re not it still may make sense to abet, but certainly not oppose, your boss’/client’s agenda, at least until you’ve either found a new job or implemented some of the ideas herein!

Tuesday
Sep062016

Career Testing vs. Career Counseling for Twentysomethings

Career choice is often made with less deliberation than one would imagine. Certainly that’s true of initial career choice. Twenty somethings’ are very much swayed by the opinions of family, peers, and popular culture, and their career choices often reflect (I would say excessively) those influences. 

A vitally important step in narrowing down a career path is to make an effort to filter out the "noise" of these outside influences. The book Roadmap (in my opinion the single best book dealing with career guidance) offers some useful exercises to help you do just that.

But if you want to avoid making the wrong choice, what exactly should you take into account? Strengths (e.g. “I’m a natural when it comes to technology”)?  Likes (“I enjoy rap music, animals, travel, Pokemon Go, and gardening”)? Personality (I’m kind of shy and like to spend time by myself”)? Values (“I really want to help women in the third world achieve their potential”)? Passions (“I feel most alive when I’m defending the goal, or when I’m singing”)? Aspiration (“When I watch “Downton Abby or “Entourage” I dream of being incredibly rich”)? Aptitudes (I always do better on verbal measurements than math”)? Interests “(I love to read about politics)? Expertise (“Friends always ask me for help when there’s something wrong with their computers”)? Heritage (“My grandfather was a doctor, as is my Dad - it’s kind of in my blood I guess”)? Spirituality (“I know I’ve been put on this earth for a reason, and I believe I can find the answer through prayer”)? Hero Worship (“The Jason Bourne movies make me want to work for the CIA”)?

Then there are more “diffuse” factors: such as being right, winning, or using one’s imagination. The process of “figuring out*” the right career path needs to be informed at least to some degree by ALL of the above. 

Most career tests attempt to factor many of these elements into pointing you towards the best career. The problem is that they don’t do a very good job of factoring, and therefore of pointing. I can’t tell you how many people walk into my office with their Myers-Briggs or their StrengthsFinder reports only to acknowledge that the analyses don’t tell them anything they don’t already know, or fail to really ring true.

Good career counseling offers you the opportunity to explore in depth the factors that are most salient for you, something a career test simply cannot do. It also serves the invaluable purpose of eliminating paths that a “one-size-fits-all” career test can’t. A couple of examples: A test may assess you as being an ideal candidate to become a doctor, but suppose you faint at the sight of blood? Or you may appear to have a promising path forward in advertising, but you don't like to live in big cities (where most advertising jobs are concentrated).

In fact there is room in your career planning for counseling and for testing, but please don't make the mistake of relying solely on the latter.

* I asterisk the phrase “”figure out” because it’s a term that I feel is generally unhelpful. “Figuring out” is a mental process; career choice certainly involves mental processes but even more importantly it involves exploration and experimentation. Please see my blog post titled:

    http://jimwein09.squarespace.com/blog/2010/5/29/figuring-out-a-new-career.html

Tuesday
Aug232016

Analogies to Help You Plan Your Career

 

I've been working for a few sessions now with a bright young client who is exploring his career options. He majored in engineering and landed his first job in computer programming, a technical field that plays to his quantitative strengths but isn't giving him much satisfaction or fulfillment. In talking with him about the things he DOES find fulfilling he mentioned cooking. As our discussion progressed he came up with what I think is a brilliant way of characterizing two fundamentally different approaches to career planning, based on his familiarity with preparing food, contrasting baking with cooking.

One approach, he said, is similar to how he does baking. He finds a pastry or other kind of baked good he would like to create and then meticulously follows the recipe, using the precise types and quantities of ingredients called for, baked at the requisite temperature for the amount of time specified. To vary from the plan is to wind up with what will most probably be a sub-optimal result, but following the recipe with precision is quite certain to lead to a successful result. 

The other approach is the one he tends to follow in cooking. Let's say he wants to prepare a meal for a dinner party. He will go to the market to find out what's fresh and abundant. He will combine those main components at home with the ingredients he has on hand, improvising as he goes along. Not an approach that works very well when baking. True, there's a chance that his improvised main course will turn out to be a bomb. The baked item has a higher probability of being "just fine." But the improvised dish has a much stronger creative component and thus offers him more satisfaction in preparation, even if the final product falls short.

An even more apt and detailed analogy is proposed by a senior official of the Department of Justice, Brittan Heller, in the wonderful career guidance book titled ROADMAP.

"There are two ways you can think about your career. One is a paint-by-the-numbers approach. In that way you're trying to create this picture, you have this toolbox of all the different colors. And you go about it systematically knowing all along what the picture is going to be. That's the path of least resistance. I like the other way. The 'connect-the-dots' approach, where you start off with one idea, or a conviction, something that really grabs you. Then you take the next logical step. You learn more about it, you learn more about yourself, and then you take the next logical    step. You're not sure what the picture is going to look like when you're at the beginning phases, but as you proceed you gain speed and you see suddenly that it's a circus seal with a ball. You may not have known where you're ending up, but you're confidant that it's a good place, and that the final picture will be right." 

Finally, ROADMAP offers another analogy for career planning:

"A career is a container, nothing more. We are each too dynamic and unique to cram into a one-size- fits-all mold. Choosing a career forces you to make a decision about something when you have limited experience about what that something really is. But those who've climbed out of the career ladder* tend to find exciting, unexpected ways to connect personal satisfaction to financial stability and success."

* "Climbing out of the career ladder" means opening up your vision of career to embrace a more flexible and broader-than-traditional view. This can perhaps take the form of what I call the "potpourri career" which may have numerous components (e.g. one could spend 15 hours a week doing career consulting, five hours tutoring English, five hours trading on eBay, and five hours every Sunday at the local farmers market selling home grown flowers or vegetables). Or, ideally, it may allow for the integration of several core interests and strengths, as for example does my career as a life consultant, allowing me help others while earning an excellent income, to combine my interpersonal strengths with those in language and ideation to both teach and to learn, and to promote both creative expansiveness and regimented organization.

 

Sunday
Aug072016

The Influence of Gender on Parental Expectations of Your Career

 

Please excuse the academic-sounding title of this post!

Just the other day I received an email from a concerned mom who was worried that her son, recently graduated from an excellent university, was floundering in his job/career search. She wanted to talk with me about the possibility of working with her son to “put him on the right path.”

I get emails and phone calls like this several times (or more) a month, and what strikes me is that the parents who contact me (yes, dads reach out to me too, but more so moms) is that the overwhelming majority are requesting assistance for their SONS. At least ten times more frequently than requests to help their daughters. 

I can’t help but wonder why this is so, and have come up with several hypotheses:

1.  As a man I am a relatively rare bird in the career consulting field. The vast majority of career coaches are women; perhaps parents feel that a man will have a better chance of helping their sons than will a woman (although out of hundreds of contacts I have only heard this rationale used once by a parent). In fact I do believe that young men can relate more comfortably with another man around issues of "success," which despite tremendous societal changes is still an issue that appears somewhat more salient to men than to women.

2.  It may be that the changes in career possibilities and expectations for women and men (mainly the expansion of possibilities for women) have led to diminished confidence on the part of young males as it relates to work. Popular culture (TV, movies, books, and of course social media) features women pushing the boundaries of what was previously "acceptable" for them as workers and in career choice. As young men see more competition from capable women, might that lead to greater insecurity?

3.  The parents who contact me, all of whom are Baby Boomers, might be stuck a bit in the past, expecting their sons to be the primary breadwinners and therefore feeling that they need to get an early and confident start out of the gate. Of course they want their daughters to also have good careers, but to many Baby Boomer parents the possibility of marrying into success seems larger for their daughters than for their sons. This is particularly true of parents who contact me who are immigrants from traditionally male-dominated cultures in Asia (South and East, not to mention the Middle East). There is surprisingly little information on this subject online, and it apparently has not been researched to any significant degree. I am curious to hear from my readers any other ideas they may have to explain this phenomenon. It seems to me that uneven career success expectations based on gender are not only unfair but also seem to be having a depressing effect on quite a few of the young men with whom I work, an effect I work hard to counter.