Monthly Archives: January 2013

You Don’t Need a Ph.D. to Practice Ergonomics at Work

ergonomics at workThere’s still a large debate in the workforce about sitting down vs. standing up at work. No matter what side of the debate you’re on, you can greatly reduce the risk of disease and injury by a common discipline called ergonomics.

Ergonomics is the principle of designing an environment or posture to optimize human well-being and overall system performance. It’s basically ways of positioning yourself and your surroundings to be as comfortable and less strenuous as possible.

You don’t have to have an office job at a desk to better fit yourself to your surroundings. From a corporate office to a shipping warehouse, there are several ways you can practice ergonomics in the workplace to keep yourself safe and comfortable.

According to the Human Factors and Ergonomics program at Cornell University, standing for long periods of time dramatically increases the risks of carotid atherosclerosis, a condition where the artery wall thickens as a result of the accumulation of fatty materials like cholesterol. That’s why it is important to take frequent breaks to sit. When standing, make sure you are shifting your weight periodically, dropping your shoulders down and back, and pulling your head straight up like someone is pulling it up with a string. You should also be aware of proper footrests, floor mats, and shoes to help relieve tension, increase blood flow, increase your energy, decrease anxiety, and make you feel better.

For those who sit at a desk while working, it’s important to lose the ridged 90 degree posture. Sitting at a slight slouch is often more comfortable and better for your back. Your chair should be low enough that your feet are touching the ground and the desk and keyboard should be where your wrists are straight. Any computer monitors, TV screens, or other electronic displays should be at least 24 inches from your face, but the farther the better.

You may not think about it, but lighting can have a large impact on your productivity and health. Bad lighting conditions can strain your eyes and cause head, back, and neck aches. Consider using portable or adjustable desk lamps to help direct the light where it’s most needed. This way you have enough light to read documents and avoid excessive room lights that can glare on computer screens.

Whether you’re sitting or standing, movement is vital to maintaining health. Sustaining any fixed, rigid posture for an extended period of time is one of the worst things you could do. Frequently change positions or shift weight along with taking full advantage of your scheduled break time to walk around or sit. Experts say that a quick 30 second pause every 10 minutes can be very effective if your break schedule is irregular.

The choices you make today can have a serious impact on your future. Don’t take the energy of your youth for granted by living a sedentary or overly strenuous lifestyle. What are your favorite ways to mobilize yourself at work?

To Be a Super Job Seeker, You Need to Sell Your Kryptonite

what is your greatest weaknessLast month, Movin’ On Up asked readers what they think is the toughest interview question to answer. With more than 44% of the vote, the toughest question was, “What is your greatest weakness?”

It can seem like a trick question at first. You’re supposed to be like Superman – flying in to save the needs of the employer. How can you talk about what you’re doing wrong when the whole point of an interview is to convince them you’re the best for the job? Even Superman, who is weak to kryptonite, still manages to save the world.

When you’re selling your personal brand to an employer in an interview, you have to stamp out the concerns an employer may have with hiring you. That’s why it’s important to be a candidate that is aware of your faults and working to improve them. It’s not as easy as it sounds, and the most common answers can do more harm than good.

Super Strengths Aren’t Weaknesses
Weaknesses are often strengths taken so far that they end up hindering you. Either way, most employers can tell you’re spinning these weaknesses as strengths. It’s important to know your specific weaknesses and avoid general strengths as weaknesses like, “I work too hard,” or “I care too much.” Superman being too powerful may make him a less interesting hero, but it doesn’t make him less capable of saving Metropolis.

During the 2008 Democratic presidential debates, the candidates were asked their greatest weakness. Hilary Clinton and John Edwards gave the typical answers of, “I get frustrated when people don’t seem to understand that we can do so much more to help each other” or “I sometimes have a very powerful emotional response to pain that I see around me.” But Barack Obama gave a different answer. He said, “My desk and my office don’t look good. I’ve got to have somebody around me who is keeping track.” President Obama’s honesty made him relatable, which helped him win the primary.

Super Honesty Isn’t Super Either
While you should never lie or stretch the truth about your weaknesses, there is a point where you can share too much, which can leave negative impressions on the employer after the interview. Be honest but brief when talking about your weakness. If they ask for more, stick with your two greatest, but end with a positive note about what you’re doing to improve them.

Superman with a Super Plan
The most important part about discussing your weakness is what you are doing about it. People aren’t so much interested in how you fall, they want to see how you get back up.  Superman may have been weak against kryptonite, but he always had a lead suit ready to protect him if he had to deal with it.

Being an introvert, I’ve always had to deal with my energy levels when interacting with customers, clients, or co-workers. When working long periods of time with several people, my work quality deteriorates and I tend to have a short fuse. That’s why I logged the times of the day I felt most energetic and planned meetings around those times. At the job I even resorted to pinning a color code to my apron so my co-workers knew when I was good to help them or when I had low energy.

To prepare, talk to your former professors, mentors, or managers to see what they see you need to work on and come up with a plan to improve those areas. You will never be without faults, but it’s important to an employer to know that you are aware of them and working on them.

As Superman has his kryptonite, every job seeker has a weakness. That’s a given. But what can separate you from your competition is what you’re doing about it. What are you doing to combat your weaknesses?

Top 5 Job Opportunities for Winter

Jobs during winter seasonWith January in full swing, you may feel like your job search has turned as cold as the weather. But, that doesn’t mean job opportunities have gone away to hibernate like a den of bears. There are plenty of jobs that peak in the wintertime, which can be used to your advantage.

While those with long-term career goals may not find these types of jobs to have a lasting effect, they can be great opportunities to help build work experience and get your foot in the door with employers and decision makers. Here are some jobs that see a spike in hiring during the winter months.

Tax Preparer
Two things are inevitable – death and taxes. While many tax payers wait as close to the dreaded April 15 deadline as possible, everybody will be receiving W-2 forms from their employers at the beginning of the year. With H&R Block expected to hire about 80,000 tax preparers from January until the end of April, now is a great opportunity for you to sign up with accounting and tax services for some short-term employment that could last until spring. Those looking for extra accounting experience should jump at the chance to work in and become familiar with potential employers of interest.

Fitness Trainer
With a new year come New Year’s resolutions, and the most common resolution is to get back into shape. Fitness center attendance and membership peak in January, which can be a great opportunity for you to meet the demand for personal trainers and gym staff. Just as people are exercising for a new beginning, you can work to achieve a new beginning in your career.

Many high school juniors and seniors are starting to focus on getting ready for college now that the school year is half over. Anyone looking for an educational career can always tutor students looking to get ready for the SAT, ACT, or any other test needed for college placement. It’s great experience teaching students in a small group or one-on-one and can provide a supplemental income if you want to take advantage of the increased demand for substitute teachers during the cold and flu season.

Cruise Lines
Depending on your location, cruise lines are always looking for extra help during their peak business times in February. Vacationers from cold climates are looking to escape snow and biting winds for sunshine and sea air. If you don’t mind staying away from home for long periods of time, you can find working for cruise lines a great way to work on customer service and other soft skills. That way, you can take a small break from the job search while still developing skills.

If you live on the coast, you can also consider working at beach hotels and resorts. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that housekeeping, food and beverage, and front desk opportunities nearly double during peak winter vacation time.

There’s No Business Like Snow Business
If you live in a colder region, there will inevitably be snow covering the ground. That means someone has to help plow the streets, tow the cars, and shovel the driveways. It may be manual labor, but it’s a great networking opportunity for you to get to know people in your community. Demonstrating your ability to work in any situation and grow relationships can help you find leads for a long-term job.

Don’t let the vernal equinox hold you back from finding work this year. If there’s a will, there’s a way you can find jobs that will lead to something greater and help you sharpen and develop useful skills. What are some ideas you’ve had for winter work?

Infographic: Job Market Forecast for 2013

Despite the findings behind the recent Movin’ On Up poll predicting a less than positive outcome for the 2013 job market, there are measures job seekers can take to be ahead of the competition this year. Some ways to do so include becoming  social media and technology savvy, being passionate, and continuously improving.

Take a look at this infographic from the Career Advisory Board at DeVry University that presents what job seekers can expect and what will be expected of them in 2013.

Job Preparedness Indicator

Stand Your Ground Against Workplace Bullying

Workplace BullyingWhen most people think of bullying, they picture the high school football player stuffing the lonely computer geek in a locker or the elementary school tormenter forcing the new kid at the playground to give him some lunch money. What most don’t want to admit is that bullying goes beyond schoolyard antics. Workplace bullying is very real and can greatly increase stress levels, panic attacks, and even depression.

In a study in the Journal of Occupational Health  Psychology, 71% of respondents reported experiencing workplace bullying during the past five years. It’s easy to believe bullying in the workplace doesn’t exist because grown adults should be above those types of childish antics, but it happens more than you think. It happens in the form of aggressive communication like insults or threats, manipulation like withholding paid time off, sabotaging others, and avoiding contact, or acts of humiliation like spreading false rumors, playing harsh practical jokes, or talking bad about someone to make others look good to management.

If you’ve been bullied at work, you may feel like you have no means of defending yourself or have no idea where to go for help. It seems all too real that you receive punishment while the bully goes unpunished or without reprimand. But fear no more! Here are ways you can make a stand to overcome bullying in the workplace.

Check Policies and Procedures
It’s best to take your bullying issues to counselors or organizations that are trained in dealing with these types of issues. It’s important not to make claims or allegations about someone bullying you to those who are not involved with handling these types of situations. Depending on your industry, you might have a Contact, Grievance, or Human Resources Officer or Union Official. They should be able to handle your issue as quickly as possible in a no-blame, confidential manner.

It’s also a good idea to keep a written record of incidents involving the bully that includes date, time, persons involved and present, and what was said or done. The records shouldn’t be used as leverage against the bully, but may be useful later if more formal steps need to be taken.

You can also check whether your employer has a policy and complaint resolution procedure for workplace bullying. It may be available in your employer’s induction package, included in the in-house newsletters, or displayed on notice boards. Depending on your field, there may also be grievance procedures in your industrial award or employment agreement.

Mind Your Mentor
If you want to deal with the situation before it has to result in a formal complaint, you can always seek the advice from a trusted mentor or supervisor who has dealt with being bullied or managed employees who were bullies. Avoid using names when talking to your mentors so they don’t get involved with the situation. You should also avoid talking about it to fellow co-workers or recruiting them to your side. The way you handle the situation professionally and maturely will allow them to make their own judgment.

Confront With Care
If you feel safe and comfortable doing so, you can make it clear to the bully, in a professional manner, that the behavior is unacceptable and unwanted, and will not be tolerated. Sometimes not saying anything only fuels the continued torment and could possible get worse if you stay silent.

Don’t sink to a bully’s level – stay as calm as possible and refrain from yelling or threatening. This type of confrontation is what many bullies look for and it will encourage them to come back for more. Just because you avoid using the same tactics a bully uses doesn’t mean you should show weakness. Be confident and stern but also professional and courteous.

Spread the Word
Bullies are trying to tear you down for their personal gain. One way to fight that is to demonstrate how good of an employee you are. Let your managers know how your projects are going and share what you’ve accomplished in the past few months. Bullies often try to spread rumors about their victims underperforming, but will fall on deaf ears if your supervisors are aware of how much you’ve accomplished.

Your co-workers can also be a great support group. While you shouldn’t involve them in your conflict or rally them to your side, it’s important to foster and grow your workplace relationships so the bully can’t isolate your or make you feel isolated.

The days of schoolyard torment are over. You shouldn’t have to go to work in fear of other co-workers. It is a problem in many workplaces, but depending on your area, it’s illegal and you don’t have to tolerate it with these guidelines. What kind of bullies have you stood up to? Tell us your stories in the comments below.