What’s Your Favorite Way to Celebrate the Holidays at Work?

wokplace holidaysThe holidays are a time of celebration with friends, family, and for many, those you work with. Just like families have holiday traditions, many workplaces offer different ways to recognize and celebrate this giving, joyful time of year. Do you have a favorite workplace celebration or cherished on-the-job holiday memory? Let us know in the comments below, and vote in our poll!

3 Ways to Improve Communication with Your Boss

Are you getting the support you need from your boss? If not, you probably feel frustrated and overlooked at times. To improve your relationship with your boss, it’s important to focus on communicating your needs in a respectful way. This means being willing to open up and start a dialogue with your supervisor. The following tips can help you talk with your boss about your needs so that, together, you can create a work environment you’ll thrive in.

1. Help your boss help you.
Your boss isn’t a mind reader. If you don’t have the resources you need to do your job, it’s your responsibility to let your boss know. But before you approach your boss with a request, be sure you’ve done your research. You’ll want to be able to answer basic questions such as “How much will this cost?” “How much time/money will this save?” and “What’s the problem with our current system/resource?” More than likely, your boss wants to help you be successful but will need to be persuaded that what you’re asking for will really do the trick.

2. Let your boss know how you like to receive feedback.
Everyone has a unique communication style. That means that you and your boss may not always be on the same page when it comes to giving and receiving feedback. Some people like to receive praise in a group, others in private. Having weekly in-person meetings works best for some, while others prefer to discuss matters through e-mail or over the phone. If your communication style is clashing with your supervisor’s, focus on creating a happy middle ground. For example, if your boss frequently interrupts you during the work day, request to have a weekly meeting to discuss all non-urgent tasks then. To keep your boss from being offended at the suggestion, phrase the request in a way that shows you value your boss’s time and your own. “I know how busy we both are these days. What do you think of setting up a weekly huddle up to discuss these projects?”

3. Give credit where credit is due.
To improve communication, it’s important to show appreciation for what your boss is already doing right. Do you like the way your boss encourages brainstorming or praises you for a job well done? Don’t keep it to yourself! If you want to see more of a behavior, praise it. When you give thanks it encourages your boss to strive to be the best leader possible.

Do you ever struggle to communicate with your boss? What have you found to be the most effective way to improve your relationship?

Overcoming Office Distractions – 5 Tips to Keep Your Focus

A recent study by a New York-based research firm, Basex, found that the average knowledge worker loses 2.1 hours a day of productivity, or 28% of the workday due to workplace distractions. Even the most focused employees can have a difficult time remaining on task under a barrage of e-mails, phone calls and visits from uninvited co-workers. If workplace distractions are breaking up your concentration, check out the tips below to get back on task and in the zone.

Give Your Outlook a Break.
E-mail is a great tool for streamlining business communications, but at times the sheer volume of messages can defeat its purpose by overwhelming you with information. When you need uninterrupted concentration, use your e-mail’s out of office function, and then close the program for a few hours during the day.

Even if you don’t think e-mails are really a problem for you, you may be more distracted than you realize. A University of Illinois study reported by Globe and Mail found that when workers were frequently interrupted, it took them longer to finish projects. They also made more errors and experienced greater frustration and annoyance. If e-mail notifications are dinging in your ears or appearing on your screen every few minutes, chances are you’re losing focus and productivity. So when you need to focus, give yourself and your co-workers a break by going “e-mail free” for a few hours.

Just Say “No” to Unnecessary Meetings.
How many hours do you spend in meetings each week? Now, ask yourself how many of these meetings did you really need to attend. If you’re not contributing or learning something new from a meeting, it’s probably a waste of not only your time but the company’s as well. Another good way to evaluate whether you really need a meeting is to ask yourself whether the information could be handled just as effectively through an e-mail, memo or conference call.

So, think twice before you schedule your next meeting or accept a colleague’s meeting request.  While you probably won’t be able to avoid all meetings, keeping these tips in mind will help you better evaluate when you really need to attend or schedule a meeting.

Hang it up.
In some offices, the telephone is the preferred means of communication. While the telephone is more personal than e-mail, it also tends to take a little more time. If phone calls interrupt your focus every few minutes, it’s time for you to take control again. Instead of jumping to respond every time your phone rings, let your calls go to voicemail. To ensure that callers know what to expect, change your voicemail greeting to let them know when you will be checking messages. By only checking messages at designated times throughout the day, you’ll reduce the number of distractions you encounter, giving you a greater ability to stay on task.

Send a Message.
When you’re working on a tight deadline or just really need to focus, it’s best to keep social visits from co-workers to a minimum. To discourage unexpected drop ins, shut your office door for an hour or two while you work. Or Monster.com suggests if you sit in a cubicle, put up a sign that says something like “working on deadline,” and adjust your workstation so that visitors see your back when they enter. This helps because once you make eye contact, people feel it’s an invitation to stay and chat. Of course, you won’t want to keep your door closed or the sign up at all times or else colleagues will view you as antisocial.

Leave Your Surfboard at Home.
According to a recent survey by Salary.com, the average worker wastes nearly two hours of every eight-hour workday. Of the 2,700 people polled, 52.0% cited web surfing as their No. 1 distraction at work. Imagine what you could accomplish if you harnessed those hours to do something productive instead.

Designate before work, break times and after hours for your online shopping, bill pay and other web surfing activities. Or, just make it a priority to do all of your online perusing at home. That way, you’ll keep your Internet usage from interfering with your work.

What’s your biggest distraction at work? What do you do to stay on task and keep your focus?

Changing Jobs during the Holidays

The holidays tend to be a busy and expensive time of year. If you’re in the process of changing employment, you already know the added stress job hunting brings. To make searching for and switching jobs around the holidays easier, follow these tips.

1. Understand that the hiring process may be slower due to personnel managers being out of the office. Be patient, and don’t get discouraged if it takes longer than usual to hear back from employers.

2. Since it can often take a month or more before you receive your first paycheck at a new job, keep costs down this holiday season. To save on gifts, consider playing Dirty Santa or drawing names with a group of family and friends instead of purchasing gifts for each individual.

3. Accept that as the “workplace newbie,” you may have last dibs on requesting time off. To make up for this, try to schedule a few days off between jobs. That way, you’ll get a few days away from work without having to request time off.

4. Consider taking a seasonal or temporary position to keep a paycheck coming your way while you’re searching for a more permanent position. Remember, both seasonal and temporary positions can be an excellent way to get your foot in the door and land a full-time job.

While changing jobs during the holidays can be stressful, it can also be a great time of year to start a new job. For example, workloads are often lighter toward the end of the year as major projects have already been wrapped up. This downtime can make learning the ropes of a new position easier. Additionally, the holidays are also a time for frequent food and festivities. These “lighter moments” can present an excellent opportunity for getting to know your new co-workers and discovering company culture first hand.

Have you ever changed jobs during the holidays? If so, what tips can you offer to others?

Office Gossip: Friendly Chatter or Hurtful Conversations

Gossip in the workplace is a form of social interaction between two or more co-workers in which speculation and opinion about other individuals becomes the topic of discussion. Gossip can usually be dismissed as idle chitchat, but if you’re not careful, workplace gossip can turn into malicious behavior that can tear teams and departments apart.

In a recent survey conducted by Harris Interactive, more than 2,000 employees were asked to pick their biggest pet peeve. Sixty percent picked workplace gossip as their No. 1 annoyance.

Some companies are taking drastic measures to ensure workplace gossip doesn’t interfere with productivity and employee morale. Empower Public Relations, a Chicago PR firm, has taken steps to prevent workplace gossip by dubbing their workplace “a gossip-free zone.” If anyone is caught engaging in small talk about another person that they wouldn’t say to their face, they are immediately terminated.

According to the CEO of Empower Public Relations, Sam Chapman recently said in an interview with CNN, “Gossip can ruin people’s lives.” A small not-so-pleasant observation made from one employee about another can blow up into a major firestorm of negative comments from co-workers about the employee, ultimately resulting in the employee establishing a bad reputation by no fault of their own. If the issue that was being talked about by other employees is immediately addressed, the problem that existed could have been resolved without jeopardizing the other person’s career or reputation.

Here are a few simple ways that can stop you from engaging in workplace gossip.

  1. Don’t surround yourself with individuals who gossip.
  2. Don’t be afraid to report the gossip to your superior.
  3. Do keep your personal life private.
  4. Do let any gossip you overhear end with you.
  5. Don’t be afraid to let others know that it makes you uncomfortable to be a part of those types of conversations.

Let’s face it, it’s human nature to want to engage in office conversations and often times, individuals enjoy the juicy details of potential drama in the workplace. But you must remember, a real person is involved and the potential damage you or fellow employees can create can be devastating.

If you find yourself in the middle of a conversation that you think might be hurtful to the person you’re talking about, try using these guidelines and eventually, your co-workers will start to realize that you don’t want to participate in workplace gossip.

Professional Crossroads – How to Choose the Right Career Path for You

Professional CrossroadsHave you reached a point in your career when you know it’s time for a change, but you’re not quite sure what your next move should be? When you come to a professional crossroads, it’s important to look at where you’ve been to determine where you want to go in the future. Your past successes and even failures can provide excellent insight into what direction will ultimately be right for you.

1. To begin, make a list of all the responsibilities you’ve had through current and past jobs, volunteer activities and hobbies. Label the responsibilities you enjoyed and excelled at with stars or smiley faces. Then put a line or an x through the tasks you disliked, as well as those you didn’t excel at.

2. If you’re not sure whether you excelled at something, think back to the type of feedback you received on that particular task. Also, consider the level of accuracy and speed with which you completed the responsibility. If you consistently received positive feedback and were able to fulfill the role in a timely and error-free manner, you excelled.

3. Once you’ve organized your past and current responsibilities by category, take inventory of the tasks that you enjoyed and excelled at. These items are your road map to finding the career path that’s right for you.

4. Now that you have a clear understanding both of what you like to do and what you’re good at, you can look for careers that rely heavily on these skills. Of course, most jobs will probably still require you to spend some time on tasks you don’t find 100% exciting, but the important thing is to acquire a position where the majority of your time will be spent on tasks that you really enjoy and excel at.

When you’re working in a career that plays on your strengths and stimulates your mind, you’ll find that you’re more professionally fulfilled, productive and satisfied.