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My Part One covers two most popular scenarios in office politics, and they are generally centered around individuals who are plain lazy and who just want to get by every single day waiting for the pay cheque to come.  Who doesn’t want that really?  Yet we should have the decency not to cause harm and inconvenience to others in the process, and that is just plain and simple professional courtesy.

Though the other biggest war field of all times is:

  • Power and control

Maybe you are a star employee and you are a high performer at work.  Instead of focusing on your own business you can’t help but notice whispers and gossips from people around you.  No, you seldom hear it directly from the originators.  These rumors have been circling around the office floor for weeks or even months before you get to hear them, perhaps from a trusted colleague.  And you can be sure these whispers are everything but complimentary.  Some include contents that you are the boss’s boy (or girl), that you are just lucky to land the biggest client, that you are playing favorites, or even contains rumors that your team is going to be taken over by them altogether, only as a way for them to eliminate competition altogether. 

Remember what your parents as well as teachers used to tell you when you ran into bullies in primary school?  Don’t take the bait.  It’s tougher when you were young since it’s pretty hard to detach yourself from a physical fight, if that’s the case.  However no matter how tempting it could be, fist fights at the workplace are still frowned upon, so we are mostly restricted to verbal and written fights which are actually nothing less hurtful.  I take my childhood learning seriously.  Don’t take the bait.  Don’t stoop to their level.  Remember what they said, and try to find out more facts and background why they said it and what their grand plans are.  Don’t confront them without gathering all the facts.  Keep your ear to the ground.  Analyze what you have heard, and synergize with your allies if available.  Is there any truth to the rumors?  Personal defamation is utterly wrong, but rumors about your team being absorbed, outsourced or even eliminated may not be a vindictive rumor but truly a managerial decision.  What do they gain from all this?  What will you lose if at all?  Contemplate all the possibilities and be prepared.  It’s no time to be hazy and reckless especially when you are at the receiving end of hateful office politics.  Keep yourself poised and confident.  Losing your ground is the number one cause of future politics.

Evaluate your options.  If you believe you have nothing to fear considering the fire power of both sides, you can take the high road and ignore these rumors, but be on the lookout for the best timing to let people around know that you are well aware of the whispers around town.  Projecting the image that you are well-informed warns others not to underestimate you, and also a subtle way to let people know you are well-connected with people you can trust.  If the rumors turn out to be less than flattering, the number one rule is still to hold yourself together, and then consult with your trusted mentors, colleagues or superiors.  Be humble and discuss what options you can take.  Can you volunteer for some meetings or tasks to showcase what you are good at?  Can you initiate a brown bag lunch session to talk about your line of work so as to invite more open dialogues that are honest and professional?  Can you have your internal and external customers provide recommendations or testimonial for you in times of need?  Remember, what you are proposing does not only apply to yourself, but to your colleagues and most likely to those who fire the bullets in the first place.  They will need to be measured accordingly and they need to be put under the same test as well. 

I am fully aware that the above is not universal to all workplaces based upon variations in cultures, seniority, level of autonomy and experience.  But you get the drift.  Today’s workplace is way more complicated than worrying about cliques, sides, fights and insults.  Much more is at stake now including our own jobs and even the livelihood of people working under us.  Don’t underestimate office politics.  It’s actually part of the work itself, and it will get worse and even more sophisticated.  If the job is so straightforward that we just need to mind our own business from start to finish, chances are we won’t even have that job to begin with.  It can well be outsourced to others half our pay.  Our job is also about getting through hurdles, aligning people, managing friction, influencing tough minds, and coming up with innovative programs to reward everyone better according to individualized motivators. 

“It’s not my job,” many would say.  But honey, that’s why you are hired in the first place.

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The term “office politics” sure has a negative tone.  Most people use sentences like “I hate that workplace because there is just too much office politics.”, or “I like working for myself so I don’t need to get involved with all that meaningless office politics.”  Yes we all have a million stories about how we end up being victims of cunning office preys and jealous co-workers.  It is certainly no fun to be involved in unproductive games and exchanges with people we don’t like, especially when we believe that is all they do at work. 

Yet when you think again, there really is no way to escape such dealings no matter where you work.  Even if you have your own business, your relationship with your employees as well as clients and partners constitute much of the same thing. 

My advice to almost every pet peeve is to embrace it with an open heart.  As long as you understand why people do what they do and what their intentions are, you will be able to rise above it and learn to tackle it with the right spirit.   Let me take a few common scenarios as examples.

  • Colleagues taking credit for your work

This is probably by far the biggest complaint anyone could have made, and sometimes it is your boss instead of a colleague who is in the wrong.  Instead of merely bitching about the nerves they have, put a mark on your work by making yourself more prominent but not in a cocky way.  If you still don’t know how to articulate that, you may deserve to be taken advantaged of.  No I’m not trying to be mean, but come on, bragging about something not yours is wrong, but letting people know of what you have come up with is your eternal right.  No one can take that away from you, so fight for your own recognition.  For bosses however, I learn to take a step back most of the time.  If my boss looks good, I look good too.  That’s why I get paid and I don’t mind contributing to the common good.  However, you better make sure you will be rewarded at the end of the day.  Knowing how to “tango” with your boss is an art that needs years of trust and mastering.  For that to happen, you have to be honest with each other.

  • Colleagues are lazy and they keep shredding their responsibilities

Yes most people don’t want to move their butts until they absolutely have to.  “It’s better be someone else’s problem than mine,” most would think.  I don’t care if they want to shred their responsibilities, because more often than not they would be caught sooner than you think.   I am eager to cross my arms and witness how it plays out.  However, why would I become the victim?  If you find yourself being blamed or positioned for something that you are indecently accused of, stand up for yourself.  No, not to your boss since it will look whiny and childish like getting abused in a school fight.  Stand up by following paper traits.  Put exchanges on paper.  Don’t resort to verbal fights as you will end of looking as bad as the other party.  Take a deep breath, write a calm and logical e-mail stating why it is in their own turf rather than yours, and state how sympathetic you are.  “Oh I just want to focus on the issue and have this resolved for the good of the department or the company, but would it work out even better if that comes from my dear colleagues instead?”  If you make it sound like you have risen well above the silly issue and manage to focus on the overall good, you can toast your victory.  Remember, let your boss know that you are a problem solver instead of whiner, even if it’s your arch-rival who has stirred all this up in the first place.  Being silent and passive is not likely to do yourself justice.

Chances are, someone is always going to review the facts if the issue turns bigger and uglier.  There is no way to ignore black and white texts on e-mails, so use that to your advantage, wisely.   Better yet, those who review it (including your boss) will realize that you are not to be underestimated.  Bravo.

 

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“Did you know that Guiness employees…

  • Enjoy free happy hours on Thursday nights at a onsite pub;
  • Receive a liquor allowance each quarter;
  • Can take advantage of partially paid gym memberships;
  • Enjoy on-site services such as health clubs, laundry and dry cleaning services, film development, tailoring and banking services;
  • Are paid well and receive great benefits?”

This is an e-mail I received from Vault.com to market its company profile and insider information services aimed at job seekers. 

Interesting.  Free alcohol on work site.

Though this is hardly unorthodox at all.  At least they are an alcoholic beverages producer, and who can testify their products better than the employees?  I once conducted a e-sourcing training program for Nestle in Beijing.  During break I found fridges packed with ice cream bars that are free for employees to indulge themselves, let alone all the other coffees and soft drinks.  How they managed not to weigh 200 pounds was a mystery to me.  What’s truly amazing, is when companies like accounting firms, investment banks and law firms, offer Friday parties and fully paid gym memberships to the employees as an attempt to promote workplace harmony and work-life balance.

Undoubtedly we all love our perks and benefits.  Other than the critical medical and insurance benefits that I think everyone should be entitled to, I am not too crazy on the perks above.  It’s a nice gesture, but I do get a paycheck from my employer.  If I think that paycheck is fair, I will be as loyal to the company as the reciprocal treatment is evidential.  If my colleagues want to complain about not getting free wine, free office furniture, free fancy stationery or even free meals on company dime, I am happy to see them leaving for the folks that do.  We all have a choice, and it’s not like our employers have tricked us staying for good.  They might have in other aspects, but that is a whole different story, and one that shouldn’t be mixed in the same pot.

At the end of the day, all I am saying is that as long as I am compensated appropriately, I’d rather make use of my paycheck and spend it on dinner parties, gym memberships, home furnishings, investment and vacation plans with my family and friends, my way my time.  If you find that you are not receiving your paychecks lately, call the Labor Department now instead of stealing office supplies.

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What a term: Evil, Sadistic Obstructionists.

Thanks you Dilbert, you have brightened my day, even if it is only in form of dark humor.

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If you are working in a sizable multinational company, or have the experience working in one before, chances are that you have already undergone countless number of company prep talks on corporate culture, employee welfare, and training sessions on change management, handling virtual teamwork, and last but not least, team building activities and outings in all shapes and forms.

Pep Rallies

Such trainings and workshops are undoubtedly beneficial and inspirational for fresh graduates when they are new to the corporate world. However, are you still pumped and excited over these sharing and physical activities when you have sat through eight of them across various employers in your career? Furthermore, as your experience grows, you start to realize that nothing ever change after every motivational prep talk or initiative. People fall back to their original bad habits, and because of normal attrition everyone need to take the refresher talks to keep the new joiners up to speed. The worst of course, is if you find yourself forced to listen to pointless motivational speeches by what you label as hypocrites in the workplace. Alright, that’s politically incorrect, but face it, they are everywhere.

How to sit through these workshops gracefully and attentively while trying my hardest not to roll my eyes is probably my biggest accomplishment over the years.

Please Make Us Better

How about those anonymous employee surveys? I completely respect my human resources colleagues and their profession in designing and collating the results and meanings of these surveys. There is indeed a scientific backbone to all this. Though after all these surveys done every quarter or so, I find that I can’t feel anything anymore. I don’t want to be perceived as a whinny weasel who complains about anything. When I sign in to a job, I know what I am getting into and I seldom ask for more other than proportional recognition of my work performance. If I find my job or my company starting to fade away from my aspirations, in whatever means, I will make it clear to my superiors and consider my options if the gap can’t be bridged. I really don’t believe any anonymous venting can bring about substantial changes. No matter how comprehensive the privacy measures are carried out and announced, most survey participants are still apprehensive of the consequences. To flip the coin to the other side, you may also find it frustrating to see your work being criticized by anonymous comments of other colleagues that are borderline hateful. Why do we now have to resort to using surveys to replace face-to-face discussions in a civilized, dignified manner? We all better “man-up” for our opinions as well as mistakes. It’s gutless to hide behind a survey.

Want Fun?

The team building activities have changed color progressively. It started with gut-wrenching physical stunts like those you would see in “Fear Factor”. We are supposed to learn how to face our fear, unleash hidden talents, build inner-strength, and develop trust amongst team members during the exercises. Then slowly because of cost constraints and the increasing trend of virtual teams across countries and continents, such activities become less viable. In some cases a few teammates of the same office are given a certain budget to conduct their own team building activities. Nothing stereotypical here, but in Asia it often means eating it away. Okay, perhaps we will put on same colored shirts while we are at the dining table, take a few snapshots, and e-mail them across the global team, as proof that food brings everyone together.

Freebies Anyone?

Since the dawn of very high-profile survey of “best companies to work for” in America, all major companies have put employee welfare as one of their high prioritized goals. Staffs are sometimes “encouraged” by their management to “vote” for their company in the annual survey. The better companies also make it an effort to establish company-wide social clubs, or nicely labeled employee engagement committees. I have the privilege to be invited to join or even chair a few of these committees across several of my employers in my career. It is no easy work. It takes us literally weeks to plan every activity, from the most popular annual balls, spring dinners to bowling or mahjong tournaments, open days for kids, charity visits and auctions, to distributing free t-shirts, windbreakers, umbrellas, breakfasts, lunches, so that there is always some kind of giveaway or activity for the staffs every month. To be honest, this sounds more like bribery to me. I enjoy my time working with my fellow committee members, but at the end of the day, all of us care most about getting satisfaction from the jobs we do and paid for. Getting a pat on the back for a job well done by my boss beats getting a free mug from the office safety club, hands down.

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I read from the vault guide that there are now actual internship applications with candidates listing “excellent Facebooker” and “highly skilled Tweeter” on their resumes.  Apparently the ability to connect with thousands of Facebook friends is an accomplishment, and I take my hat off to them. 

But seriously?  What are they thinking?

Hold that thought.   Continuing on from my thoughts yesterday, when today’s post-80s, or Generation Y, are ready for more senior roles in the corporate world, the scene may be totally different.  While social networking skills may not be something worth bragging about now, a few years later the absence of such will be considered fatal disqualifiers for Generation Y hiring managers.

Social media usage will only grow further with younger generations as they mature, contrary to some beliefs that they will grow out of such sites.  With the increasing leverage of social media sites for corporate advertising, loyalty programs, public awareness and even hiring, the next time we try to shrug our shoulders reading those social networking attributes, let’s get real for a second and think again.

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“Post-80s” (generation born after 1980) or “post-90s” continues to be a popular topic in the media lately.  According to a local paper, many corporations are seeing post-80s employees as one of their top human resource challenges these days.  Apparently there are now training courses organized for managerial staff to understand and interact properly with our next generation of workforce. 

The human resource consulting firm being interviewed reports the top 9 characteristics of post-80s workforce:

  • Poor concentration
  • Poor reading skills
  • Impatient
  • Difficult to communicate
  • Overly confident
  • Poor punctuality
  • Poor personal conduct
  • Irresponsible and poor accountability
  • Overly temperamental

Though I am sure there is a bunch of people who are guilty with such characteristics, it’s also time for employers to start adapting their managerial style according to the times.  Many younger recruits are not used to listening to orders because of their unique ways of being brought up.  Family sizes are smaller, there are fewer siblings, and many of them are used to being pampered by all material and financial means.  The new generation is often confident in their own ways, and they are raised to question authority at all times.  Managers who still stick with announcing orders without rationalization are only asking for trouble.  A new managerial style has to be adapted, and the first step to do is to learn how to embrace the new generation of workforce.

What are the new rules?  I am no expert, but off the top of my head I can come up with a few.

  • Don’t be condescending.  Attitude is important, and it should be a two-way street.  Assuming rightaway the post-80s is a group of whining needy kids will only add to the tension.  Don’t talk down to them, and don’t use phrases like “You know how lucky you guys are?  Back in the days, I wished that someone would have spent the time to teach me like I am doing for you right now!”
  • Get rid of the “Because I told you!”  The new generation needs to be convinced through lots of questions and answers.  Their new thinking may spark new solutions which is well worth the added time invested. 
  • Be patient.   Like raising kids, sometimes you have to let them make their own mistakes.  I know it is definitely costly for corporations to allow their staff to make mistakes, but think about it, his other departmental colleagues or external clients are of his generation as well.  What we view as mistakes now may be a norm in the new era.
  • Focus on results rather than the process.  Since the process is going to be challenged anyway, why not allow them to make up some rules themselves?  However, the new rules still have to be socially accepted by others, meaning no one can skip work claiming they are “working from home”.
  • Nurturing.  I know, the workplace is meant for business, but if we understand the social reality of the new generation, managers nowadays also need to be the psychological coach of new recruits.  There is no guarantee that the new joiners will prove to be a valuable asset to the company, but not spending the time to teach them responsibility and accountability, for example, will only lead to disastrous results.  Set the expectation low, and there is no harm to overly communicate. 
  • Positive reinforcement.  When staff feels that they are being rewarded or acknowledged of an accomplishment, the motivation is often so strong that a momentum will be created.  Don’t be stingy with the compliments, be humble and take advantage of their creative juices and unorthodox thinking.

All in all, bitching alone will never bring any solution.  We should all face the reality and ask ourselves what is something we can do to bridge the gap.  After all, who says the negative qualities are possessed only by the post-80s?  Aren’t you equally mad at that other colleague of yours who have been around forever and unwilling to accept any new ideas?

Let’s make sure we do not turn into those we used to despise, period.

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