At Work

Ugly Uniforms Deflate Employee Confidence

Ugly UniformsLast week, I attended a conference at a hotel in Florida where all the employees were dressed in terribly outdated, unattractive uniforms – faded royal purple and turquoise jackets with pleated beige blouses and royal purple pants with pleats and elastic waistbands.

I think uniforms in general are fine, especially in customer service jobs. They simplify getting dressed in the morning and help customers easily identify employees. Uniforms don’t need to look like something the employees could walk down the runway wearing. But, there has to be a happy medium between hideous and high fashion.

If a company’s uniforms are so unstylish and awkward that they make even customers cringe, are they really serving their purpose? They certainly aren’t impressing customers or encouraging employees to perform their jobs with more enthusiasm. Ugly uniforms bring down employee morale and leave customers with a less-than-positive feeling toward the company.

In my working life, I’ve had to wear lots of uniforms. Some of them were more attractive than others. In my tackiest uniforms, I remember feeling distracted and eager to hide my clothing and face from customers. Unattractive uniforms also made me anxious to leave work so I could change into something more comfortable.

In my current job, I wear something of a uniform – business suit, dress shoes, hose. But, since I’m able to tailor this “uniform” to my own style, I don’t have to feel awkward or like a fashion ad from 1987.

What do you think about uniforms? When do they help a business, and when can they hurt it? What are some of the best/worst uniforms you’ve worn?

Working in the Great Communication Gap

Do you ever feel like you and your boss never exactly see eye to eye? Do you sometimes wish you knew the whole picture so you could understand why you’ve been tasked a certain assignment? Have you ever been blindsided by change that impacted your job or work environment?

If so, you know how frustrating it is to work in an environment where communication is dysfunctional. In the work world, one of the biggest complaints of both workers and managers is bad communication. And, your relationship with your boss is the one that will probably impact your overall job satisfaction, as well as your career the most. That’s why it’s vital to proactively communicate with your boss. In the book How to Be the Employee Your Company Can’t Live Without, author Glenn Shepard phrases it this way: “Answer the questions your boss didn’t ask.”

This can mean volunteering for tasks before you’re asked, asking for help when you need it or telling your boss you are interested in career advancement opportunities. For more on this, check out our podcasts on the book. You can see how taking the initiative to communicate with your boss really can boost your career.

However, the best communication is a two way street. With that in mind, if you could tell your boss one thing they could do that would make your job easier, what would it be? Vote in our poll below.

Preparing for a Successful, Less Stressful Trip

Do you ever feel overwhelmed when you’re preparing for a business trip? Maybe you’re a seasoned pro and packing for such trips is no big deal. For some, like me, just trying to figure out what you need to bring on a vacation, let alone a business trip, is enough to cause a panic attack. From laptops to dress attire, packing for a trip is enough to shake even the most confident of travelers. If you tend to stress before going out of town, here are some tricks that will help you be better prepared for any trip.

Travel Light – Travel size items are great whether you’re going on a three day trip or a week long trip. Travel size lotions, shampoos, conditioners, cotton swabs, razor sets and other items that can be discarded when you’re finished, help lighten your load on the way back. Hotels often supply some of these items as well. Another option is to pack clothing items that can be interchangeable. Packing a solid black or brown pair of dress pants or skirt and wearing them with different dress shirts will not only allow you a variety of outfits to wear, but will also lighten your luggage.

Confirming Confirmations – Confirming your hotel, car rental agency, taxi or other reservations is always a great idea. This saves you from last minute surprises when you arrive at your destination. When confirming, make sure you get the name of the person you spoke with, and write it down along with the time of your phone call in case there are any discrepancies.

Making a List and Checking it Twice – Ever get on the plane and wonder, “Did I pack my dress shoes?” And then, a sudden wave of heat goes over your body as you begin to worry because you can’t remember if you did or didn’t. By making a list and checking it off as you pack, you can avoid that overwhelming feeling mid-flight of whether or not you packed all of your belongings.

Front Door Service – The night before you leave, set everything, I mean everything, by the door – your jacket, keys, tickets, wallet or purse, suitcase, shoes, anything that you want to take with you on your trip. That way, if you’re in a hurry to get out the door, you can be assured that you’ll still be sure to grab everything.

By following these tips, you will ensure that when the airline attendant says, “sit back, relax and enjoy your flight,” you’ll be able to.

Can’t Walk and Chew Gum

I reviewed my resume this morning. I’m not looking for another job – I was checking to see if I listed multitasking as a skill set that I possess. Thankfully it was not.

Attention everyone, “I stink at multitasking.”

At home I can do laundry, prepare dinner, empty the trash and check e-mail. What usually happens in the middle of this activity is I’ll lock up and forget what I was going to do. I’ll actually stand in the middle of the living room until I remember that I was headed to get a tissue.

Put me in front of the TV and rest of the world ceases to exist. My wife can ask me a question three times and I’ll not hear her. It’s frustrating to her because she multitasks well. She can have a conversation while reading a book and watching TV.

At work, my lack of multitasking ability is beneficial. Concentrating on one task and doing it well is, in my case, a stronger attribute because when I multitask to get everything done sometimes my work suffers.

When I approach a project, I break it down into multiple tasks. Take this blog post for example. I will research, write, edit, proof and post – five steps. That’s not multitasking – it’s accomplishing one task at a time. I have a to-do list each day of three to five significant work projects that need to be tackled one at a time.

I decided to admit my multitasking deficiency when I read an article in the New York Times that challenged “any man to talk on the phone, send a fax, reply to an e-mail, change a diaper, get a toddler a snack, monitor what your school-age children are watching on TV and add to the grocery list – all at the same time.”

I wasn’t up to the challenge. At best, I can listen to music while working, but that’s like counting breathing while walking as multitasking.

Do you think women are more naturally prone to multitasking? Are you a multitasker or a uni-tasker like me?

Don’t Make Me Use My Patronus On You

harry potter job searchHarry Potter. HARRY Potter. HARRY POTTER.

I can’t get away from him. He’s in the paper. He’s on the Internet, my radio and the television. I can’t escape him at the movies or in the bookstore (which I did not brave this weekend). All weekend I was force fed Harry Potter.

I wasn’t even safe at work, when at 7:55 a.m. Monday, a co-worker asked me if I bought the book and then offered me her copy since she was done with it.

That’s when I started thinking about what Harry Potter character she’d be (Ginny Weasley).

Who would I be? I was intrigued. I took several online quizzes at lunch and the results were inconsistent at best. According to the highly (non) scientific surveys I am the following HP characters:

Hermione Granger: Hermione is a wiz kid, so much so that at times people make her feel ashamed of her intelligence. She is a leader and will tackle anything she puts her mind to. However, she is a bit confused about her romantic interests (does not apply to me). When she goes with her gut instinct she is seldom wrong. In the workplace, Hermione would be ambitious and confident. However, she’d need a strong mentor or boss like Professor McGonagall to rein her in. Her desire to master everything could be her downfall by spreading herself too thin and burning out early.

Harry Potter: He is courageous and very loyal friend. He is not afraid of challenges and is always looking for adventure. Harry loves family but sometimes wishes he was just an average person, which he is definitely not. He is special and important. At work, Harry would be the one to question why something is done a certain way, and then he’d provide a better solution. In his unassuming way, Harry is an innovator. He’s the golden child with a one-way ticket to a corner office.

Draco Malfoy: He tries to influence people, but for all the wrong reasons. Draco picks on his schoolmates. He’s the classic workplace bully. His own insecurities feed his unhappiness and create the desire to harm others. Well, that and the fact that he rides his father’s coat tails and did not have the best family upbringing. One day he will cross paths with the wrong coworker (wizard) and lose his tough-guy status.

When I finished with the quizzes I thought about my high school teachers and how they resembled the Hogwarts faculty: geometry (Severus Snape), drama (Sybill Trelawney) and Spanish (Pomona Sprout).

I daydreamed some more and reflected on some of my past bosses. I ranked them according to how Voldemort-like they were. The list was impressive, but I realized I had never worked for a Dumbledore.

That gave me the motivation I needed. I could become a Dumbledore to my team. I might not ever make it, but it’s a much better path to walk than the path “He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named” took.

Do you work with a Harry Potter character? Do you hide in fear when your Voldemort-esque boss turns the corner? I’d like to hear your stories.

Care for a Mint?

Jerry Seinfeld shared the following quote during one of his monologues in season five of Seinfeld.

“I really feel as human beings, we need more training in our basic social skills. Conversational Distance. Don’t you hate these people that talk to you – they talk into your mouth like you’re a clown at a drive-through.”

In this episode (“The Raincoats”), Elaine’s boyfriend is a “close talker” (CT), a man who invades your personal space.

I ran into a close talker this week at a business lunch and it still has me shook up.

The man was the same height as me. We were both dressed in suits and ties, had similar builds and the same color hair and eyes.

He approached me with a question and steadily began entering my personal space like Napoleon plowing through Europe. In about 20 seconds I was pressed up against the wall, and I had yet to say anything. But I could tell he chose the tuna salad.

This experience was exactly like a scenario I read about in the USA Today on Tuesday. The article “Does height equal power? Some CEOs say yes,” offered some good insight into social domination.

In the article, Lara Tiedens, an organizational behavior professor at the Stanford University Graduate School of Business stated that people often use height, or the appearance of height (high heels or lifts) to look more powerful. She describes these power players who look directly at others, use an open stance and vigorous gestures, speak loudly in a deep voice, interrupt at will, and lean in close or otherwise reduce the space of others and expand their own.

Since “CT” and I were so similar, I contend he chose to invade my space to gain an advantage. I observed him speaking with others, mostly women, and he kept a comfortable distance. Then again he was taller than them.

Have you met a close talker? How do you think height affects power plays at work? Please share you experience.

Next time I run into a close talker, I hope he’ll pick the chicken salad instead.

Who’s Facebooking You?

The social networking site Facebook is now the most used people search engine on the
Web according to data reported by Inside Facebook, an independent blog dedicated to Facebook news. And, according to Wikipedia, the site is now the 7th most visited site in the U.S. and has 30 million registered users.

What does all this mean to you? That friends, acquaintances and employers could be searching Facebook for information about you. If you have a Facebook account, the thought of your boss or a random neighbor perusing your profile may not sit well with you – depending on what you have posted there.

The content on Facebook profiles has created career hiccups for some. For example, Miss New Jersey was recently involved in a blackmailing fiasco that threatened to end her reign as a result of some questionable photos on her Facebook page. 

According to CBS.com research, about 20 percent of employers are routinely scanning the Facebook profiles of applicants. When employers stumble upon racy or questionable content on applicants’ profiles, it can do serious damage to the applicants’ chances of landing an interview, let alone a job.

But just because employers are browsing social networking sites for information on candidates doesn’t mean you should delete your Facebook profile. Online profiles can actually be used to your advantage. For one, they give employers an inside look at your personality, interests and creative abilities – all of which can help you stand out from the crowd.

If you’re actively applying for jobs and you have an online profile, consider including some of your career strengths and interests on your profile in case a recruiter finds you online. Or if you have content on your profile that you don’t want prospective employers to view, make your profile private.

What’s been your experience with Facebook and other social networking sites? Have you searched co-workers, applicants or employees on these sites? How would you feel if you knew a recruiter had looked at your profile?