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5 Activities to Strengthen Your Career Muscle

Planting words on my MacBook Pro stimulates me emotionally and intellectually as I sow client career stories from bud to blossom. This focused, brain-powered activity, though invigorating, is physically sedentary and potentially unsustainable if not combined with the appropriate amount of physical activity.

In Joe Lavelle’s recent post, “Exercise Like a CEO,” he underscores the importance of exercising your body. He asks, “What do you do routinely to exercise your body … to maintain mental acuity?” For many, the addition of a new or enhancement of an existing exercise routine will work wonders to add muscle to a soft career or even jump-start a stalled career.

A selection of other energy- and focus-boosting activities that will both propel your productivity and strengthen your career muscle follows:

1) Simplify Your Space

Simplifying your space may mean unwrapping yourself from a visual security blanket of ‘clutter.’ Doing so can free your mind and emotional energy to concentrate on individual projects and goals – the task at hand, if you will, versus the distractions all around you.

You may consider de-cluttering your primary work area into a clean, open, airy space that includes soothing paintings, memorabilia and perhaps even a desk-top water fountain to cultivate calm and inspiration. If you must express your clutter, identify a behind-closed-doors nook and, within these boundaries, go wild!

2) Big-Picture Your Schedule

Though your talent in creating calendars, check lists and project action steps shines, you also may find that you feel yourself drowning in a sea of details and deadlines, particularly as your career and business initiatives grow. If this describes you, consider big-picturing your schedule.

White-boarding your projects-in-progress as well as crafting a two- to three-month running whiteboard calendar of meetings and deadlines may quickly quell calendar chaos by creating a bird’s-eye view snapshot of your overarching initiatives.

Remember, project ‘detail-collecting’ within the associated project lists and files will provide the information you need to deep-dive into the specifics of your big-picture initiatives when needed. By maintaining this glimpse-able overview, you can better manage existing tasks and respond to new requests to which you commit your time and energy. With a quick glance at your calendar/project whiteboards, you can quickly accept or decline new projects.

3) Recognize That Little Choices Matter

Choosing a glass of water instead of sweet tea may be the linchpin to stay within you daily caloric intake parameters. As well, with business communications, that latest email, Tweet, Facebook message or LinkedIn invitation typically does not require your immediate absorption.  If you must, take a five-minute break every couple of hours to simply confirm receipt of new communications without fully partaking of a communications swap until a later, scheduled time.

And when faced with that emotionally-wrought virtual request for you to “drop everything and help me now,” remind yourself of the adage, “Lack of planning on your part does not constitute an emergency on my part.”

4) Make Peace With Perfectionism

Though your next project for your boss or your customer may mean the difference between a promotion or a career-defining sales deal, most of the time this is not the case. When you single out and assess your initiatives, you likely will find that the results of your next deliverable, though important to the recipient, will not require you overextend and go that extra 10 miles to prove you are the #1 Sales Producer, Human Resources Leader, Marketing Manager or <fill-in-the-blank>.  Stop placing so much pressure and importance on yourself at every given moment of the work day.

Instead, allot yourself a reasonable number of minutes, hours or days to achieve the project goal, and then deliver!  You likely will be reminded of how sometimes the extra-mile projects fall flat while the, “I did my best and infused this project with my years of value and experience without over-analyzing” projects often net the most kudos and bottom-line results.

5) Align Yourself With Complementary Others

Finding colleagues, mentors, friends and cohorts who think a bit differently than you do may be a key to unlocking doors to new ways of thinking. Seeking to explore outside your comfort zone is an admirable trait and one we all must be reminded to tap into from time to time.

By connecting with individuals or groups of folks whose intellectual capital, like the arteries of a road map, shepherd you through unexplored and sometimes uncomfortable highways and byways, you may find new direction toward achieving the destination goal that you have been struggling to reach.

Image Credit: RightIndex

The HR Technology Disconnect…Not What You Think

Last week on May 25th and 26th, Las Vegas hosted the 2011 HR Demo Show in conjunction with the HRO Today Forum, including the RPO Summit. The point of the demo show was to showcase the best and latest HR and talent management technologies. Organizations that presented were Kenexa, Guidant Group, Epicor, CareerBuilder, Taleo, iCIMS, RECSOLU, JSTN, OneWire and many more. Throughout the two days, I closely followed the main hashtags for the event, which were #HRDemo and #HRTech. I also paid close attention to the Blog Squad, particularly the ones I personally knew—Geoff Webb, Meghan M. Biro and Jessica Merrill.

During the event, the weekly #TChat that I am religiously a part of focused on “Innovation Gap Realities Workforce Technology.” From my perspective it was probably one of the most active #TChat’s that I have ever participated in because the focus was on innovation, or lack of innovation when it comes to HR technology. Here is the high level “Jeff Waldman Brain-Dump Summary” of what I discovered during this chat, which is also inspired by the #TChat Recap: “HR tech innovation should keep us all in business.”

  1. Most HR technology is focused on recruitment and talent management.
  2. People think that innovation must be something new or a re-imagining of how technology can drive efficiencies in HR, and contribute to the business.
  3. HR practitioners need to better educate themselves on the use of technology in the workplace.
  4. Technology “users” think that existing HR technology is NOT innovative but “providers” think otherwise.  As Meghan M. Biro of TalentCulture stated, “HR and recruiters just are not perceiving what’s out there as innovative, perhaps because most of what we’re seeing isn’t screaming cloud, mobile application.”
  5. There is huge disconnect between technology providers and technology users regarding their perception of how valuable technology is in completing work.
  6. Technology cannot replace the human element.

What’s the main point in all of this?
The one thing that I heard consistently was that a huge gap exists between HR technology providers and HR technology users (a.k.a. HR practitioners). I could not agree more with this. But… yes, there’s always a “but!”  But, I strongly believe that the reasons that were discussed for this disconnect missed the boat.

The Technology IS There!
There are so many phenomenal platforms that HR practitioners can strategically leverage to help them add more value to their clients. Off the top of my head, awesome platforms that come to mind that I have used include Rypple, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, ZuzuHire, SurgeHire, StickyHQ, Yammer, ClearFit, FreshTransition and BranchOut.

Now, I want to note that I bring a unique perspective to TalentCulture because I work in Canada, and the majority of my professional experience is with Canadian organizations. Here is the problem… the HR community in Canada does NOT possess the knowledge and understanding of HR technology, the necessary technological skills or the ability to evaluate the strategic impact of HR technologies. They inadvertently avoid the conversation about HR technology because they have not a clue where to begin.

So, it does not matter how good the technology is, the Canadian HR community as it currently exists will never get to the point where they will be on the same page with technology providers.

Change is Change… “We” Don’t Like Change!
Technology is a tool. It is not meant to replace the human element or the responsibility of performing the activities that impact “brand building”—e.g. talent attraction, employer branding, employee engagement and the overall employee experience. Integrating new technology into the workplace represents a change.  It could be a huge change, or it could be a small one. It doesn’t matter; people naturally are not very good at coping with change.  So let me ask you this question. If the majority of HR practitioners are unable to even begin the technology conversation, do you think HR technology providers are able to lead and manage change?  Hmmmm…. I don’t think so.

Case in Point…

A couple of years ago I was brought into a very entrepreneurial, yet small organization that possessed an extremely strong corporate brand. They sold really cool things, and employed some really neat product marketing and promotional tactics. This company was really just starting to build its HR infrastructure, and they were in the process of implementing a technology to help them with the full recruitment cycle, all the way to on-boarding.

They retained a PMP (Project Management Specialist) to lead and manage this project. He did an absolutely stellar job of identifying business needs, potential technology platforms, engaging most of the right internal players to select the platform, all the way to “flipping the go-live switch” on the new platform. Sounds great doesn’t it? Well… the execution failed miserably for one simple reason. He completely ignored the end-user. To add fuel to the fire, the technology providers were completely hands-off with the people change management components of the execution; they just focused on the technical aspect (of course, this is where their expertise lies). The failure basically boiled down to a couple of things:

  1. The end-users (HR practitioners) were technologically illiterate.
  2. The end-user was never engaged during the technology selection and implementing process.
  3. The end-user was never trained on the new technology.
  4. No platform testing was performed with the end-user group during the project phase.
  5. The end-user was simply directed to “just do it”.


Conclusion…
Technological innovation is NOT the problem right now. The problem is a severe lack of technological competence within the HR practitioner community and a complete disregard for change management being fully embedded in the technology integration process. If you can resolve these two fundamental problems, the perceptions of providers and users regarding technology innovation and work-related value will be pretty close, and the result will be favorable.

Work-Life Balance? It's Just "Life" #TChat Recap

 Sometimes we find zen. A moment of harmonic convergence in our lives when all things family, friends, co-workers, employers, work and life become one.

Sometimes. Work-life balance. [sigh] Wait, who are we kidding, right?

We don’t time zone travel with a head cold on a flurry of work trips for balance. We don’t wake up every 1-2 hours for to soothe the savage 8-month-old baby “beast” for balance.

That’s me and my family at any rate this past few weeks. But, we wouldn’t give it up for all the zen in China because the intrinsic rewards outweigh the work-life imbalance — enjoying what we do and loving our family. In fact, it’s not even really about balance or imbalance — it’s the highly integrated work-life world that we ride for joy (and that runs us down in fear).

And if I’m your employer, I’m going to do everything I can to foster the emotional connectivity and encourage the internal motivational drive, as well as moving the motivation needle externally with “rewards” when appropriate. But I want you to work hard, I want results, I’m going to focus on pay-for-performance and if your position allows, I’m going to let you do it as you see fit (when, where and how). I will be empathic and trust you, but I will not be a pushover.

And if I’m your employee, I’m going to demand flexibility in exchange for regular, quality output whenever, wherever and however I’m doing it. I want to take time off when I need it, regardless of the reason, and I don’t want to be questioned. I want your empathy and your trust and I will reciprocate. I want to to be pushed and pulled and challenged to learn as long as I’m enjoying what I’m doing in the context of what you’re doing.

And as China Gorman suggested and I concurred: “It’s just life.”

Cali Williams Yost and Leanne Chase, two of our insightful #TChat-ers, have some innovative ideas about work-life flexibility: Find a way to like what you do and keep doing it, over and over again. The mindful workplace presence of frenetic zen will take care of the rest.

If you missed Monster Thinking’s pre-cap, you can read it here: Desperately Seeking Balance: Reconciling Work and Life. And here were the questions from last night:

  1. Who’s ultimately responsible for managing work-life balance: the employer or the employee?
  2. What are the benefits/drawbacks of being salaried/exempt vs. hourly/non-exempt? Which would you prefer?
  3. How does company culture effect work-life balance?
  4. What role does technology and social media play in the work-life mix? Is connectivity a blessing or a curse?
  5. What are some things employers and managers can do to improve work-life balance?
  6. How important is work life balance to top talent when assessing new opportunities?
  7. What are some of the most effective or creative “perks” your company offers for work-life balance? Which do you wish they’d offer?

Also last night, we gave away two tickets to the Care.com Care@Work event, Focus Forward to @DrJanice and @leanneclc – Congratulations!

With a dash of worklife flexibility luck @MeghanMBiro may even make an appearance in New York City!

See you next week. We are already looking forward to it. Thanks very much for joining us.

Balance: Reconciling Work and Life: #TChat Preview

Originally posted by Matt Charneyone of #TChat’s moderators, on Monster Thinking Blog

It’s interesting that the genesis of work-life balance really started, with, well, Genesis: somewhere, between creating the heaven, the earth and all things in between, even God needed a day off to rest.

We’ll leave interpretations up to the theologians, but there’s a pretty firm, historical precedent that’s been followed for millennia: everyone deserves a break now and then.

In our increasingly interconnected age, however, omniscience and omnipresence aren’t Biblical constructs, but the burden of having a Blackberry.

The real price of real business in real time is that real time is rarely one’s own. The movie 9-5 (“It’s a way to make a livin“) seems a historical anachronism for more than its polyester pant-suits. In a blink of an eye, the 8 hour day that the title (and oh so catchy theme song) suggest seem to have all but disappeared.

But it doesn’t have to be that way.

Increasingly, employers are realizing that the key to attracting and retaining top talent, and getting the most out of employees, requires creating a work-life balance that’s actually balanced. And workers are starting to realize meaningful work, and by extension, a meaningful career, aren’t mutually exclusive from having a life outside the office.

Tonight’s #TChat will explore work-life balance and it’s far ranging implications on the world of work (and life). Join the conversation at 8 PM ET/5 PM PT as we look at ways that work and life can coexist, and even thrive, in today’s business environment.

#TChat Questions and Recommended Reading (5.10.11)

Here are tonight’s #TChat questions as well as some recommended reading designed to inform, and inspire, tonight’s conversation about work-life balance:

1. Who’s ultimately responsible for managing work-life balance: the employer or the employee?

Read: The Case for Work/Life Programs by Freek Vernermeulen.

2. What are the benefits/drawbacks of being salaried/exempt vs. hourly/non-exempt? Which would you prefer?

Read: Family Friendly Employee Benefits: Create A Win-Win For Hourly Workers by Donna Fenn.

3. How does company culture effect work-life balance?

Read: 5 Great Ways To Create A Winning Company Culture by Carmine Gallo.

4. What role does technology and social media play in the work-life mix? Is connectivity a blessing or a curse?

Read: Technology at Work: The Creation of the Anywhere Worker by Connie Blaszczyk.

5. What are some things employers and managers can do to improve work-life balance?

Read: 5 Keys to Staying Civil When Work Calls On Your Off Time by Judy Martin.

6. How important is work life balance to top talent when assessing new opportunities?

Read: It’s All About Engagement by Jayson Saba.

7. What are some of the most effective or creative “perks” your company offers for work-life balance? Which do you wish they’d offer?

Read: Do You Have Work Life Balance? by Thad Peterson.

NOTE: We’ll be extending this conversation at Care.com’s Care@Work event series, Focus Forward at the Times Center in New York City on June 1st and we want you to join us. Tonight after #TChat, we’ll be giving away one ticket to this invitation and innovation only event focused on shaping the future of work. We will randomly select someone from tonight’s #TChat to attend.

Tune in tonight to find out how and learn more about the Care@Work event at http://www.icareatwork.com/

Our Monster social media team supports the effort behind #TChat and its mission of sharing “ideas to help your business and your career accelerate – the right people, the right ideas, at the right time.”

We’ll be joining the conversation live every Tuesday night as co-hosts with Kevin Grossman and Meghan M. Biro from 8-9 PM E.T. via @monster_works and @MonsterWW. Hope to see you tonight at 8 PM ET for #TChat!

HR + Leaders: Don't Overlook the Outlier Employees

Just having returned from HRevolution, I was filled with tons of ideas, approaches and philosophies. My head was swimming with where to go next. I was trying to land on what aspect of HR resonated with me coming out of this UnConference. Then I remembered . . .

I had a conversation with Dwane Lay and William Tincup about the state of HR and what we all thought, and one term kept coming up . . . outliers. Now, this isn’t the same as the recent Malcolm Gladwell book – Outliers. (I’m a huge Gladwell fan!!) What we were talking about was the tendency for HR to manage to the exception.

I agreed with this wholeheartedly! I know that it’s difficult to work with people, but that’s why we chose HR. There are so many amazing people who work in and around us every day. However, companies tend to focus on people who are exceptions, who underperform, degrade and possibly detract from moving the company forward. Instead of focusing on the mass of talent that rocks it everyday, we follow the outliers. If the entire company was made up of people like the outliers, there would be a lot of trouble. So why should HR mainly focus on a group that is not the driving force of the company? Yes, they are a portion of the company that is important and should be acknowledged, but to base everything around them is taking it too far.

You can look at policies, handbooks and procedures that are written by companies in HR every day that focus on such a small percentage of people. This hurts the majority of employees who are doing their jobs each and every day. While the outliers shouldn’t go unnoticed, the average employees are the ones who account for most of the population.

So, what can we do?

HR needs to understand and own that one thing we have to our advantage is the ability to be consistent.  This is different than being “fair.” It really is. If we are consistent in how we engage, deal with and lead people, we add incredible value!! If people in HR would take this approach and practice consistency, the outliers would take care of themselves. With a consistent HR, variability is decreased between their actions and the actions of the employees, making everything much more stable.

Take a look around, HR. Where is your focus? If your systems give employees the ability to thrive, contribute and develop – you’re doing well. If your systems look to constrict, deter and confine – you’re following outliers.

Now, some may say that the group that gathered at HRevolution are “outliers” to the norm of the HR community. I’d beg to differ. You see in Gladwell’s book he talks about outliers that are successful, move things forward and also lie outside the norm.

Outliers are not always a bad thing; although they should not be the basis of HR’s views on a company, often times they can produce something great. The group I was running with is pushing the boundaries of HR to open up new frontiers in order to set new norms.  Why don’t you join us?

IMAGE VIA CarbonNYC

When Employers Aren't Our Biggest Fan: #TChat Recap

If you’re supposed to be my number 1 fan, then why do you treat me like a dirty bird?

Sometimes being on the job is just plain “Misery”. Maybe you’ve read the Stephen King novel or watched the movie starring Kathy Bates and James Caan, but if not the story is about a fan (fanatic) who holds captive the object of her obsession, the writer who keeps her entertained with his romantic novels — until he no longer does.

Back to being on the miserable job. Back in the mid 1990’s I worked at a university and had a boss who had a boss who made us both miserable. That combined with limited resources to do our jobs, and the fact that I managed a group of 50+ student employees in a condemned building on campus, and the fact that one of my colleagues who worked in the same building invaded and poked holes in my personal space daily, became unbearable.

My boss and I told each other that when the work day ended and the crying began, then it was time to leave. (Which is a lot less painful than being hobbled.)

It was time to leave. For both of us. First me and then him within the year.

Fast forward to today, two downturns into the 21st century with misery everywhere. According to Matt Charney‘s @Monster_WORKS pre-TChat write up:

The upcoming seismic spike in employee turnover will look different than any we’ve seen in the past. A recent Monster.com survey showed that fully 82% of fully employed workers have updated their resumes in the past 6 months, and a whopping 96% of employees with tenures of over 5 years are openly exploring opportunities.

Now flip that on its head and read this from recent Accenture survey:

Only about two of five (43 percent) professionals are satisfied with their jobs; however, 70 percent plan to stay with their current employers, according toReinvent Opportunity: Looking Through a New Lens, a survey of 3,400 professionals in 29 countries by the New York-based global management consulting and technology services company.

And then there’s a recent study by Harris Interactive and Plateau Systems that finds:

…Nearly three-quarters (74 percent) of workers would consider a new career opportunity if approached — but they aren’t actively looking for new jobs.

Both of these were from a recent HRE online article titled Staying Put that I recommend you read as well as Matt’s highlighted Monster Thinking reads.

But wait, does all this misery make for upwards of 90% of the current workforce passively active or actively passive?

Sure, I understand how fluid these numbers can be and of course what I’m feeling changes how the world appears. But employers obviously haven’t been making many of us feeling any better, although they’re not there to make us feel better. They’re there to make make stuff and sell stuff and hopefully keep their employees “engaged” as much as possible along the way so they stay to make stuff and sell stuff. Plus, engagement is just a buzzword for, “You like what you do? Let me make sure I take care of you for that.” Then there’s, “You don’t like what you do? Did I ever tell you I’m your number 1 fan?”

Employers should communicate with their employees much more regularly beyond the annual perform-dance review. They should talk to them about the business, where it’s at and where it’s going. Transparency and inclusivity lead to ownership, intrinsic rewards and a more productive and happy workday.

Unfortunately change is always painfully glacial for many of us. Even with exciting technological advances changing the landscape of how we work and how we manage the workforce — mobile, social, collaboration — we’re still way on the front end of mainstream with many of us kicking and screaming along the way doing way too much with way less support.

We don’t live in the 1950′s. The US isn’t the only superpower economy fueling booms (and busts) and creating fairly stable (yet volatile) middle class job markets. The fact that the contingent workforce does continue to increase in the wake of high unemployment and uncertain markets tells me that we’re never going back. The full-time job with benefits and a pension and a secure retirement has fast become a retro shadow.

This is the new age of individual as startup and business owner — our personal businesses. Jacqui Barrett-Poindexter said it best last night: “We’re just looking for fair compensation, fair personal treatment and respect, and not getting sick to our stomachs every morning.”

Oh, and a little work we enjoy. Being happy never hurts.

Amen.  As I’m sure you’ve gathered, last night’s theme was “Should I Stay Or Should I Go? Workplace Culture Factors to Consider Before Leaving Your Job.” You can see our reach from last night here and the questions are here:

  • Q1: Almost 90% of workers report being “open” to looking for new jobs. Why is this number so high?
  • Q2: How can employers take advantage of these trends to recruit and hire top talent?
  • Q3: What factors should employees consider when looking for a new job opportunity?
  • Q4: What can business leaders do to improve retention  rates and morale among top talent?
  • Q5: What’s the difference between an active and a passive candidate, if any?  Does it matter?
  • Q6: What are the most significant factors employees look at when deciding to stay or leave?
  • Q7: What are some ways employers and companies can help turn the tide?  Or is it too late?

Thank you again for participating in #TChat. Next week’s topic will be: “Am I A Temp, A Consultant, An Entrepreneur or a Small Business?  The Changing Identities of Today’s Workforce.” Yours truly will be moderating.

Until then, Happy Working from all of us here at TalentCulture.

7 Steps: Critical Thinking in the Workplace

Written by Chris Jones

It’s About Time, Skill and Permission

Today’s workplace is often hectic, and it’s easier than ever to become overwhelmed in a death spiral of missing information and critical decisions. Things we need to know pile up in our inbox, unread. Decisions await quality cycles that never seem to materialize, often due to lack of information. Meeting after meeting demands our precious time, only to see us fall victim to smart phones signaling the arrival of still more unreadable emails.

So the vicious cycle continues.

It’s a small wonder that work is accomplished anymore. Often, it is not, as we mistake activity for real progress.

To me, the moral of the story is clear:  the ability to seek a deep, rigorous understanding of our challenges – call it critical thinking – tends to escape us when we need it most.

I’ve started to unpack the scope and scale of it (as here). But here are some ways that we can breathe purpose and intent back into our problem solving:

  • Using data to drive decisions: Replace guesswork with facts and data. Add lead time to decision cycles to accommodate data capture and trending. Challenge decisions that materialize without supporting data.
  • Do your homework, and share it: Citing sources isn’t just a technique of academics, it’s the basis for making a strong case, helping explain pro’s/con’s of the decision at hand
  • Vet your conclusions: Get help from others. Diverse perspectives almost always ensure a more viable solution.
  • Know your SMEs: There are experts out there in your organization, and more than likely, outside it. Find them, and get to know them. Social media is a powerful way to accomplish that.
  • Get past “face value”: Don’t settle for surface impressions. What are the root cause factors of problems you’re trying to solve? Can you get to the source issues, and address those? Think about mowing weeds in your lawn, vs. pulling them out, root and all. Which do you do?
  • Build your skills: Read. Or, better still, write. Have in-depth conversations on important, complex topics. Explore current events.  Education reformers are debating whether schools are pulling away from thinking skills in favor of recitation of facts. If you have kids, what better way to bolster your own thinking skills than by helping them with theirs?
  • Prioritize “think time”: Time constraints will always be the enemy of deep thought. Try to “time box” your problem solving for top problems.

What are the Biggest Barriers?

Beyond skills and time, I come back again and again to the impact that culture has on shaping behavior in our workplace. It effects everyone in subtle and powerful ways, including many of those – dare I say, even people like us, ready to challenge the status quo – who fall far too quickly into the old traps and habits.

We need cultural dynamics that encourage – even, give permission – to take the extra time needed to think things through. The ideas listed above are for the individual.

Try These at the Organizational Level

  • Encourage adoption of a learning culture: Define success as “raising the bar”, seeking a measurable increase on the emergence of deep thinking across the organization. It would champion collaboration and knowledge sharing. And it would place a high premium – if not a mandate – on critical thinking as the means to make rational, well-supported business decisions.
  • Foster a learning organization: Whether it’s Senge or Wheatley or Argyris that inspire your view of it, the culture and skills that embrace critical thinking can transform what an organization is capable of achieving. Put it on the road map. Make it happen.

And if we don’t?  We all know that world. We make snap decisions, falling pray to past formulas and taking the default path of playing it safe.

Isn’t it time to make the time for critical thinking?

NOTE: This post was originally contributed by Chris Jones. He is an IT Strategy & Change Management consultant, with a passion for driving new levels of engagement and learning in the modern organization. His research areas include the dynamics of organization culture, and more recently, the importance and implications of critical thinking. Check out his blog, Driving Innovation in a Complex World, for more insights.

Image Credit: Fotopedia

Play Devil's Advocate: Create Collaboration in the Workplace

Written by Kirsten Taggart

I’m currently taking a course called Media Criticism where we students reflect on how news organizations responded to major historical events. Perhaps made obvious by the title, our main focus is geared towards moments where journalism has “failed” society, or more precisely, failed to practice critical thinking and challenge the norm. What’s surprising is that the press’ mistakes could have been avoided simply through effective communication.

The void in communication may be due to a lack of questioning.  I’ve come to think that there is a lack of “why” in present day workplace culture. As always, there are exceptions to this theory, but overall I feel that people have become hesitant to ask questions in the workforce, new media, school, etc.

Of course no one particularly wants to challenge their superiors (although a good leader shouldn’t make you feel intimidated or afraid of confrontation!), but I guarantee that without asking critical questions, creative and corporate progression will be compromised to an extent.

A diverse staff with contrasting views and opinions is the most effect way to build a constructive workplace community, and it doesn’t require a monumental shift in work ethic to change a workplace full of “yes’” into one of “what ifs?”  Who will be your Chief Collaboration Officer?

Teach your team how to effectively play devil’s advocate:

  • Allot a certain amount of time each week to sit down as a group and talk. Encourage people to speak openly and offer ideas and opinions. This open communication will encourage co-workers to bounce ideas off of each other and improve proposals with constructive criticism
  • Opt to work with people who will challenge your thought process
  • Remind people that they should avoid being defensive and instead be open to suggestions
  • Create an environment that encourages openness

The point of collaborating ideas is to advance as a group and reach a collective goal. With positive thinking and a creative atmosphere, the workplace can become the ultimate environment for innovative thinking and new ideas.

Do Generations Matter At Work?: #TChat Preview

Originally posted by Matt Charneyone of #TChat’s moderators, on MonsterThinking Blog

In 2012, the first members of Gen Y turn 30.  And while thought leaders and academics continue to depict millennials as this strange, unprecedented breed to be studied and analyzed (Bieber fever being an obvious symptom), that generation’s cutting edge has been busy acclimating into the workforce, where they’ve been for over 5 years.

Of course, this potentially disruptive force on the workplace entered a market where the workplace was already disrupted by forces far stronger than helicopter parents and socialized narcissism.

Contrary to popular myth, it’s not Gen Y who’s changing the workplace; it’s the workplace that’s changing Gen Y.  Those lucky enough to get the paucity of jobs are no longer naïve idealists, but battle hardened survivors.

While some Gen X and Boomers struggle with being overqualified, most of Gen Y haven’t had the chance to pick up those qualifications.  This new world of work, of virtual offices and inter-connectivity and contract gigs, looks a lot like the kind of impact Gen Y workers were supposed to have made. Instead, they’ve inherited what’s become their – and our – collective reality.

They call Gen Y digital natives, but in fact, most of those millennials in the workforce remember life without an internet; those who can’t remember life without social media are still in diapers.  When those true “digital natives” enter the workforce, the millennials of today are going to look a lot like Gen Xers do now.  Who’ll look a lot like Boomers today.

For Gen Y, home ownership is likely a dream that will never be realized; so too is the possibility of a defined and linear career path, job security, employer benefits, pensions or a gold watch at retirement.  Even retirement itself looks iffy.

So, it  turns out that generations in the workplace share more in common than a workplace.

We’re all just trying to do the best we can, while learning as much as we can along the way.  And aspiration is a trait that transcends generations.  We’re hoping to do the same with tonight’s #TChat, where the topic tonight is: “Do Generations Matter At Work?”

Do Generations Matter at Work?  – #TChat Questions and Recommended Reading (3.1.11)

Whether you’re a Boomer, a Gen Xer, a Millennial or an “other,” we hope you can join the #TChat conversation about generations at work tonight at 8 PM ET.

Here are the questions we’ll be discussing, along with some recommended reading to help inform, and inspire, your understanding of tonight’s topic of generations in the workplace.

Q1)  What myths exist about workplace generational dynamics? Generational realities?

Read: Age Ain’t Nothing But A Number by Matt Charney

Q2)  Are there emerging personality traits, skill sets for hiring GenY, GenX, Baby Boomers, etc.?

Read: The Non-Generational Talent of American Workers by Peter Weddle

Q3)  Who is currently the most “invisible” generation in the workplace and why? Most “visible”?

Read: Just Shut Up and Listen to What Younger Workers Have to Say by Ron Thomas

Q4) How do savvy workplace cultures recruit, engage, manage and lead all generations?

Read:A Modern Perspective on Generations and Engagement by Ryan Estis

Q5) How does new media and global connectivity help/hinder generational gaps in the workplace?

Read: The Aging Workforce and Gen Y: Bridge the Social Media Generation Gap by Rob Salkowitz

Q6) How can inter-generational workforces spark innovation and evolve culture?

Read: The ‘Whys’ for Gen Y: Workplace Culture Considerations by Heather Huhman

Q7) How does the term “reverse mentoring” help bridge generational divides in the workplace?

Read: Manager’s Tips to Mend Intergenerational Communication by Kate Wildrick

Visit www.talentculture.com for more great information on #TChat and resources on culture fatigue and how to overcome it!

Our Monster social media team supports the effort behind #TChat and its mission of sharing “ideas to help your business and your career accelerate – the right people, the right ideas, at the right time.”

We’ll be joining the conversation live every Tuesday night as co-hosts with Kevin Grossman and Meghan M. Biro from 8-9 PM E.T. via @monster_works and @MonsterWW.  Hope to see you tonight at 8 PM ET for #TChat!

Workplace Presenteeism Redefined

The majority of organizations today have employee support programs to help with workplace absenteeism.

Examples include sick days, short term disability, long term disability, return-to-work, workplace accommodation, vacation, emergency family care, and the list goes on. The goals of these programs are to reduce costs to employers, improve employee productivity and ultimately top and bottom line financial results.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, American businesses lose an average of 2.8 million work days each year due to unplanned absences, which costs employers more than $74 million. Some thought circles put this number close to $200 million. Regardless, the numbers are staggering, and with our aging population and increasing life expectancy these numbers will continue to escalate.

But…

The figures above deal with workplace absenteeism ONLY, and not workplace presenteeism. What’s the difference? We’ve defined absenteeism to be the employee being absent from work due to health reasons. According to Dr. Gary Cooper, who pioneered the term “presenteeism” in the mid-90’s, this is where employees show up for work even if they are too sick, stressed, or distracted to be productive.

There is an underlying medical issue that is causing the employee to be unproductive at work.  They’re physically there but not really THERE!  The result?  Poor productivity and performance, which often negatively influences colleagues and peers.

The above definition of presenteeism originally coined by Dr. Cooper focuses on health being the reason for non-performance and productivity at work. There are many reasons why presenteeism exists, and through my experience and research, I would argue that our mental states are the key drivers of presenteeism. Corporations have spent so much time, money and resources reducing absenteeism that it has created a culture of fear and anxiety towards being absent from work. Businesses have even gone as far as rewarding employees for not taking sick days, or using sick-related benefits. This has pushed us to behave and act in ways that are in fact more detrimental to our own physical health, and personal productivity and performance.  At the end of the day, we are scared to death of not satisfying the “butt in chair” optic.

The Canadian Mental Health Association of Ontario provides a more precise and detailed description of the reasons for presenteeism, which relate to stress and sub-par psychological state of mind.

Case in Point…

With our world literally turning itself upside down every single day; natural disasters, gigantic hostile takeovers, corporate cuts, war, political upheaval, the technological explosion, WE are scared to death. We have bills to pay, mouths to feed and simply staying alive and covering basic survival needs has never been more at the forefront of everything we do and think about. Decisions are made so quickly, and through our natural “fight or flight” human responses, our actions are dictated by our emotions. Simply put, we’re afraid of being pushed aside or marginalized in the workplace.

Let’s Add a Twist…

We’ve been talking about presenteeism defined as being at work when sick or unhealthy. I am jumping out on a limb here and am going to argue that presenteeism is also about being at work when you ARE perfectly healthy but spending time doing other things completely unrelated to helping your company achieve and succeed on its business objectives.  What about people that are physically there but simply wasting time by choice?

This Doesn’t Make Any Sense…

My explanation… we are unbelievably connected socially through technological means with anyone, anywhere, and at anytime.  We are a culture of “checking in” (e.g. FourSquare, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, email, blog and the list goes on). When using a laptop we typically have multiple screens open at once, flipping back and forth constantly from Hootsuite to email to LinkedIn to Facebook to blogs. Our iPod’s are raging 24-7, mobile phones buzzing constantly from incoming texts, emails, tweets or phone calls, and this is all happening at 10,000 miles an hour. Our attention spans are probably 10,000% shorter than they were just 10 years ago and our concentration levels are limited to the 10 seconds of complete silence we actually get in a given day. Our social connections, technological “connectedness” and instant and constant real-time communication habits result in our available time that should be spent on work is being eaten up doing other things and being unproductive.

The Point? Perfectly healthy people are wasting incredible amounts of time at work, as are unhealthy people. This is ALL presenteeism to me!

What Are the Costs?

I made the argument that technological waste needs to be part of the definition of presenteeism. Research does exist to show that presenteeism is significantly greater than absenteeism but currently I would consider the research a bit sketchy because a) it only deals with presenteeism that is related to medical issues, and b) the statistics are all over the place. Research has been done, primarily in the U.S., Canada, the U.K. and Australia.

The Journal of Occupation and Environmental Medicine argues that “presenteeism costs employers as much as 3 times the dollar amount as absenteeism in terms of lost productivity”.

Statistics Canadaargues that “productivity lost from presenteeism was 7.5 times greater than productivity loss from absenteeism”. They also argue that “stress related health problems could increase the ratio to 15 times greater”.

Canadian Occupational Safety provides a good perspective on the problem of presenteeism and argues that it is 4 times bigger than absenteeism in terms of hours lost. The COS also includes research completed from Watson Wyatt Canada that puts the ratio of presenteeism to absenteeism between 2.5 and 8.6 times, with the top 3 medical causes of presenteeism being depression, fatigue and insomnia.

Another Wrinkle in the Cost Argument…

If you have heard me speak in the past or follow my blog, you have likely heard me talk confidently about the positive correlation that exists between employee engagement and business results. The more engaged your workforce is the more successful you will be in achieving your corporate strategic objectives. In terms of a definition for employee engagement there are many, but I have typically used something close to the following:

“An intimate emotional connection that an employee feels for the company they work for that propels them to exert greater discretionary effort in their work”.

Now throw in what I have talked about regarding presenteeism into the mix. Do you think perfectly healthy employees that are physically at work but choosing to do other things is an example of strong engagement? I didn’t think so. Earlier I threw around a bunch of figures for what presenteeism costs business today, and nowhere in this research do these numbers reflect what employee disengagement caused by presenteeism costs. I am NOT going to try and take a stab at what this number may be but the point here is it would be profoundly staggering and it’s a huge problem.

Conclusion…

Pis a much more costly problem than absenteeism, yet corporations focus mostly on reducing absenteeism. I also argue that the current definition of presenteeism only relates to medical reasons, but should include lost productivity and performance as a result of perfectly healthy employees doing things completely unrelated to the business.

These other things are directly related to technology and our “check in everything now and now” mentalities. I also argue that presenteeism is a significant drain on employee engagement, which strongly correlates to business results.  Finally, presenteeism is a huge problem, and by taking on a more accurate understanding of what presenteeism is, the problem is epidemic-like and should be the focus of organizational improvements today.

Taking Work-Life Balance By The Horns

(Editor’s Note: All of us in the TalentCulture community mourn the loss of our dear friend, brilliant colleague and mindful mentor, Judy Martin, who passed away unexpectedly on January 31, 2014. Her message and her life are a lesson for us all. We will forever fondly remember her humor, warmth and wisdom.)

A colleague recently told me she was suffering from anxiety about heading back to work, after a week off.  In gory detail, she described a nightmare in which her manager littered her office with big black hairy spiders. Pretty much how she feels at work, she effused.  “The creepy crawlies never seem to go away.”

That type of stress dominates her work life experience, and it’s not foreign to many of us. And sharing news and tips on how to reduce that work life stress is where my focus will be here at Talent Culture.

The American working pool has been thrust into what I refer to as “a work-related field of cognitive dissonance.” Stuck in a vacuum of perpetual information overload, courtesy technology and our human response to it, we’re also pressed to pay attention at work and excel or suffer potential consequences.  Survey please! The numbers tell the story:

An American Psychological Association survey on work-related stress found that sixty-two percent of Americans hold work as having a significant impact on stress levels.

A survey by Princeton Survey Research Associates found seventy-five percent of employees believing that on-the-job stress has increased compared to the previous generation.

We are under enormous pressure to perform. To deliver. To excel. We juggle our working and living experience, but often fall into a merry-go-round of stress in what I refer to at WorkLifeNation.com as the  “UPED U” Cycle which is described below.

In simple terms, “UPED U” is the chaotic cycle we enter when our work life merge gets out of control and  “ups” our stress level leading to emotional turmoil and potentially less productivity.

The solution – to find creative ways to throw a kink into that cycle.

Here’s what happens in that cycle, along with a few pointers on how to stop the insanity! I’ll be writing more about the antidotes to these cyclical monsters in future posts.

1.     Unlimited Incoming:

A barrage of information continually comes our way.

NEW RULE: Consciously limit your news intake. Aggregate your favorite news sources and blogs on line and choose one time a day to focus on them. Depending on your job, determine the best time of
day to check e-mails and stick to it. If you are addicted to web surfing –limit your time doing that.

2.    Perceived Availability:

We’re all wired to our families, work and communities and everyone else knows you’re tethered to technology so we’ve created the perception that we’re always available.

NEW RULE: Come to agreement with the most important people from work and in your family that you communicate with regularly. Speak with them and share your daily work life scenario. People will assume that you are available unless you tell them otherwise.

3.    Expectation of Instant Gratification:

That perceived availability leads to other people’s needs to be attended to. They want to be heard and answered in the moment.

NEW RULE: Unless your work requires it, do not respond to e-mails in the moment and limit your texting.  This takes a lot of discipline and you will break this rule a lot depending on the circumstances.

4.    Desire to Deliver and Excel:

Our nature is to not fall short. To nurture and want to please in what is a competitive working environment. To make our boss or clients happy, we desire to deliver and excel to keep up with the Jones’.

NEW RULE: Don’t be so caught up in how other people define success. Be confident in your work your deliverables. Only you know how productive you are andwhat might need to change to up your game. There will be times when you might have to enter into the extreme work zone, but be aware of your limitations to avoid burnout.

5. Unlimited Interruptions:

In order to please everyone at the same time, we are often taken out of the moment, are
lead astray from the initial task and surrender to multi-tasking.

NEW RULE: Stop the insanity. Find a place in the cycle to make that tiny aberration in the stream of chaos to offset the tumble effect. It’s really about you taking control a little more control. Being conscious that the choices you make can mean the difference between burnout and a productive work life merge.

The trick is to monitor your incoming, and make concrete choices somewhere in this cycle to stump the system. Where do you think is the best place to stop the cycle? Please share your solutions to avoid an “UPED U.”

The Art of Saying "No" for Work/Life Balance

Written by Kirsten Taggart

How many times have you said “Yes” when you really wanted to say “No?” We strive to make our friends, family, and employers happy by doing favors when asked, but sometimes its okay – necessary, even – to just say no.  This doesn’t make you selfish or rude, but the way you say it shouldn’t leave the inquirer in bad spirits. When it comes time keep these five tips in mind.

1. Be polite and respectful. A graceful rejection will leave a much better impression than a defensive one.

2. Don’t lie. Saying no is best in its simplest form. You should never feel required to state your reason, so don’t feel pressured to give an excuse.

3. If it’s a task that can be completed another day, let them know that you will be able to help at a more suitable time.

4. Offer to ask around to see if someone else is available instead.

5. Hold your ground. If they ask again, calmly apologize and reiterate that now is a bad time.

It’s important to prioritize and choose your “yes’” wisely so as not to become overwhelmed. Don’t lose sight of the importance of personal time!

Communities Go Mobile With Real World Exploration Apps

Thanks to a new set of location-based mobile applications that have cropped up over the past year, our social interactions online are beginning to impact our real world lives in very real ways. Here’s how they work now:

  1. Users open a location-based mobile application like Whrrl, Foursquare or SCVNGR and find recommendations from other users for how to experience different places near them.
  2. Within the applications, users bookmark recommendations that they want to do.
  3. Users then use their virtual to-do lists to explore the world around them.

Here’s a use case: I’m waiting in line at the ticket booth of the San Diego Zoo. To kill time, I open my Whrrl application. I view a few recommendations from other users who have been to the zoo. One recommendation from a friend of mine says, “Get to the back of the zoo right when it opens. You’ll get to see the lions eating their breakfast.”

I think to myself, “I don’t want to miss that!” and I dog-ear that recommendation. Forty minutes later, I’m watching the lions chow down with a few other spectators who were wise enough to download Whrrl. The rest of the park is waiting for the sloth exhibit in the front of the zoo to open. I click the “I did this” button on Whrrl and my friend who made the recommendation about the lions receives a reward within Whrrl.

That reality is evolving quickly, and with it, affiliate marketing is about to change forever.

Recently, Foursquare released its “Add to Foursquare” button, which allows anyone to tag places (and eventually recommendations) into the Foursquare network from anywhere on the web. Here’s where the fun begins. Remember that old  pay-per-click model affiliate marketers used to base their income on? It’s about to be taken to the real world. Here’s how these location-based exploration apps are going to work after a couple of more years of innovation:

  1. An affiliate marketer or influencer will be given designated links to specific recommendations and will plant those links using technology like the Foursquare button.
  2. Users will add those recommendations to their virtual to-do lists, and the marketer or influencer who planted the recommendation will be compensated for the real world “click.”
  3. If a user acts on the recommendation on his/her to-do list, the marketer will be paid even more.

When this world becomes a reality, my friend who made that recommendation at the San Diego Zoo will be compensated with a real world reward (monetary or otherwise). That new incentive may be enough motivation for mass adoption of mobile applications that guide real world experiences.

This is how technology will drive real world action. This is how social influence online can translate to the real world. So what does it mean for your social community? It means that with every new innovation in location-based technology, we are closer than ever to breaking down the boundaries between online and offline experiences.

Twitter chats and LinkedIn groups are on the verge of becoming experience-based, not just interest-based. Niche social networks on Ning will provide digital incentives for real world experiences. Facebook groups will be married to verticals of exploration and activity. As community managers, we no longer need to limit our thinking to what our communities can talk about on discussion boards, chats and blogs. We can now start to strategize about enriching our community members’ lives while they aren’t sitting at their desks pounding away on their laptops.

If you haven’t tried out a location-based app like Whrrl or Foursquare, I highly recommend it. Understanding the dynamics those applications use will be key to running a successful community in the very near future.

Falling Asleep at Work Increases Productivity

(Editor’s Note: This guest post is by our talented colleague, and friend Cathy Taylor. Cathy is a social media expert who helps businesses develop comprehensive communications strategies to achieve business goals and objectives. More of Cathy’s insightful articles can be found on her blog.)

Imagine going to work and finding the boss has roped off a section in the back of the office for the new sleep pods set to arrive next week.

Sleep pods? Are you serious?

A few minutes later you wander past the HR director’s office and she confirms an order was placed for ten new sleep pods. She adds that a new policy will go into effect next quarter. All employees who need a nap during the day will be encouraged to use the sleep pods for twenty minutes after lunch. As you walk back to your cubicle scratching your head you are reminded of that day last month when you locked yourself in the bathroom stall to catch some Z’s. It couldn’t be helped. It was either take a nap or startle your coworkers with a thud sound as your head hit the desk.

This sounds like a far-fetched idea but more companies are beginning to embrace the idea of sanctioned naps during day. Companies like British Airways, Google, Nike, Pizza Hut and Procter & Gamble have implemented policies that allow employees some downtime in the office.

The concept of workplace napping is attributed to former Harvard researcher Sara C. Mednick. She advanced the idea in her book, “Take a Nap! Change Your Life!” Feedback from employees who are afforded the opportunity to snooze at work say it’s so much better than a cup of coffee in the afternoon or a snickers bar.

However, there is no denying workplace napping is counterintuitive in the United States. It begs the question: How long before company leadership begins to view napping as a competitive advantage?

Here are some compelling arguments for workplace naps from Dr. Mednick’s research:

1) It results in increased memory and productivity among workforce.
2) Dr. Mednick cites epidemiological studies that show decreases in heart disease and stress.
Workplace naps restore proficiency in a variety of critical skills… and can produce improvements previously observed only after a full night of sleep.
3) 51% of the workforce report that sleepiness on the job interferes with the volume of work they can do.

At the moment, workplace napping is still a long way from becoming prevalent in the U.S. According to a recent survey by the Society for Human Resource Management, only five percent of employers allow their workers to take a nap during the day.

Scheduling nap time at work requires a huge shift in the way we think about work. And as more employers look for ways to fill job vacancies, enhance employee engagement and retain the best workers taking a nap might not be such a bad idea. Nap time at work may no longer be just for slackers!

Image Credit: Stock.xchng