Tag Archives: Working

A Once Familiar Route, or Planning to be Disoriented

Every once in a while I become aware of the changes that have occurred in my routine for various reasons.  For years I headed east from my house – for work, family, errands.  Everything that I needed or wanted was pretty much east with the rare exception.  When my workplace actually moved closer to my home, my usual radius became about 6 miles, mostly east.

 

And then my life changed and now my well-worn route is south and north.  Work is south, with a slight alteration thanks to the onset of construction season.  (A quarter mile section of my regular road is being completely replaced, requiring me to go over a mile out of my way…)  New personal commitments and interests send me north several times a month.  Occasional jaunts take me to once familiar areas east of my house.

 

But I digress.  A person that I know is starting a new job this week, and my one of my sons started a new job a couple of weeks back.  Both are pleased with the opportunity for full time employment.  Both are interested in doing a good job and succeeding.

 

A new job is exciting. But it is also unfamiliar and disorienting.  A new routine, all new co-workers, tasks, procedures, culture, etc.  When we start a new job, we look forward to the additional money, the opportunities to use our skills.  We forget to think about the disorientation – all those new names and faces, the different commute – so much change.  That disorientation can really bite hard.

 

It wasn’t so long ago that I was in the midst of it myself.  At least being a writer helped me because of the necessary skills in observation and identification.  I never stopped being able to identify with new people at my previous job.  To help them to understand why their head was spinning.  Even still, I had to have more than one talk with myself when starting my current job to remember the plan.

 

How can a person plan to be disoriented?  A big part of the plan is just that – to know that it will happen, that it is a normal part of a new experience.  Normal means it happens to almost everyone.  The next part of the plan is to know that it is temporary.  Fairly quickly something will seem familiar, and then another something and another.  Friendly faces will offer assistance, ease the transition.

 

There is so much to learn and acclimate to in a new job, many go from being the person that everyone goes to for the answer to the person who feels lost.  But you are still you.  You still have the skills that got you the job, they just have to be applied in this unfamiliar place.

 

Long ago this was a familiar route to me.

Long ago this was a familiar route to me.

Things that we look forward to – a baby, a job, a house, a move, a marriage – are stressful because everything that was once familiar suddenly is shifted and disorienting.  If it was an anticipated change we have trouble figuring out why we are discombobulated, disoriented and we get frustrated.

 

Sometimes familiar routes cease to be current routes, but fairly quickly the new route becomes familiar.

 

© 2015 BAReed Writing | Practical Business, All rights reserved

Number Stories

(Originally posted on 9/25/14 to a shared blog – http://blogtowork.wordpress.com/2014/09/25/number-stories/)

photo credit: Huffington Post

photo credit: Huffington Post

Math and numbers have never resonated for me the way that words do.  I understand that they have a practical use – at least basic math – and appreciate knowing how to use them for things like balancing my checkbook.  And I’ve always been happy to know people who really get numbers so I can ask them for help when things get beyond basic.  It has only been in recent years that I have discovered an area of numbers that really is fascinating – statistics.

 

Statistics are stories told with numbers.  Why didn’t anyone ever tell me?  Not story problems like why did the train go faster from station a to station b or whatever nonsense.  No, number stories – data meets the story arc.  Very intriguing.

 

Why am I bringing this up here?  Because job search is loaded with statistics, some of them quite contrary, and all of it worthy of some attention by job seekers.  We all know about the unemployment rate, at least the national one that is regularly reported on the evening news.  But there are state and regional unemployment rates.  Rates based on ethnicity and age group, level of education and industry segment (healthcare, manufacturing, service, etc.).  Oh and make sure that you know how it is calculated because that is a whole other facet of the story for this number.

 

What about the workforce participation rate?  I don’t remember ever hearing about this one until the Great Recession.  This one is the percentage of adults who are working for pay.  This number is also at an all-time (read since this has been tracked, I believe starting somewhere in the 1970s) low and seems to be dropping.  The story is in understanding better why it is dropping.  And in comparing this data to the unemployment rate – if the unemployment rate is dropping, why is the workforce participation rate also dropping?

 

Then there is the job opening ratio – the number of posted open positions juxtaposed with the number of qualified applicants who are actively looking.  This seems to be coming down a bit, there aren’t quite so many qualified applicants for each open position, but still too many for the comfort of each job seeker.  This is the number that directly affects another number – the average number of weeks or months it can take someone to land their new position.  Last year I know that this average was hovering around eight months.

 

There are plenty of other statistics, but you get the idea.  These numbers aren’t just for the media and politicians to bandy about – there are lives behind each one.  Stories of individuals affected, but also of how the information is collected and applied.  The statistic isn’t the end of the story, but the beginning.

 

It comes down to your number story, which is quite simple.  Back to basic math; one person who needs one suitable position.  At least knowing some of these number stories can give you discussion points with Aunt Betty the next time she asks you again why you don’t have a job.

Here You Go

Problem solving has been an important part of my job description for as long as I can remember.  I like to put on the detective hat and sift through things to find the parts that are important, put them together in the right configuration and arrive at a solution.  Sometimes it’s pretty straightforward to figure out and sometimes plenty about the situation is a bit ambiguous.

 

There is one thing about problem solving that got old a long time ago, but is part and parcel of the problem solver’s lot in my experience.  It is the person who makes it a habit to hand over partial information, or fragments here and there in multiple email or phone messages.  They want you to solve it, but they can’t be bothered to try to put anything together in any sort of cohesive single place.

 

public domain image

public domain image

I’ll take the person who isn’t sure what they want or need kind of problem over the person who dumps a mess every time.  Most times.  Every once in a while I use the big mess as an excuse to be left alone to puzzle it all into something coherent.  But mostly I see it as a different facet of rude.  That person’s time is more important than mine.  (Though I concede that there may be other ways of looking at it…)

 

Sigh.  Focus on the boost that I hope to get upon resolution and not on the drudgery of slogging through the junk. This is why there are stories of the really good stuff one can find hidden in junk.  Think of ways to prevent the junk dump from repeat offenders.  Get caught up in the chase for the best solution.

 

Don’t be a here you go, dump and run person.  Please.

 

© 2014 BAReed Writing | Practical Business, All rights reserved

Fragmented Experience

I was recently at the Salesforce1 World Tour in Chicago (they had Buddy guy play, which was awesome) and they used this marketing term while discussing customer experience and a light bulb went on for me.  Fragmented experience – that got tucked away for future mulling.

DSC03817

Having spent a few years in customer service/care/experience (whatever the current lingo), I am sensitive to providing clear, accurate and timely information and assistance to customers in a cohesive manner.  As a consumer for even longer, I am well aware of how many companies fall far short of this goal and I have had way too many fragmented experiences from the customer perspective.

 

(ATT – take heed!  A couple of months ago I called them to ask a question and the automated message said to contact them through their website for faster service.  When I hung up and tried that, the website told me to call them.  Yes, really.  Maybe not a fragmented experience per se, but I thought for a minute that I was in one of Dante’s circles of hell.)

 

So, what is a fragmented experience?  Any time when you get only bits and pieces of what you are after using one method of contact and you have to expend a lot of effort to achieve your goal of all the information or service that you are after.  Too many companies seem to do this on purpose to make people give up, which often results in a disgruntled customer who is paying more than they probably should.

 

I probably shouldn’t single out ATT for my fragmented experiences, but that is the one that is coming to mind just at this moment.  I’m sure that I could gather plenty more with a quick poll of my friends.  Sadly.

 

Plenty of companies in recent years have ignored the percentage of their employees who felt disengaged because the company saw no compelling need to address the issue.   Some of the same companies have allowed fragmented customer experiences to be the norm because they knew inertia would allow them to retain a large portion of these disgruntled customers.  What if that starts to change?  What if younger, hungry companies start to show customers a truly better experience?

 

What is your most egregious fragmented experience?

 

© 2014 BAReed Writing | Practical Business, All rights reserved

Loving What You Do

We are told in so many ways to choose to do something that we love to make our living. It has become almost a cliché.

 

“I honestly think it is better to be a failure at something you love than to be a success at something you hate.”

~ George Burns

 

Is finding work that you love one of our modern myths?  It certainly can be tremendously helpful to feel positive about your work because we spend a great deal of our time working.  But plenty of people have found a way to be capable at work that is probably just a means to an end.

 

A garden is a work of love.  Hopefully these plants come back this year.

A garden is a work of love. Hopefully these plants come back this year.

Is it possible to excel at something that you hate enough to be successful doing it?  I’ve noticed in myself and those around me that we usually stay where we feel valued and we think that we can provide value to others.  That doesn’t mix with deep dislike in my book.

 

My first job was babysitting.  A pretty standard method of earning money for a girl back in the day – not as much now, I think.  It helped that I was the oldest girl on a block with plenty of kids.  I had a great career for a few years until the opportunities kind of drifted away as the kids got older and I got involved in high school activities.  I did love to babysit.  I miss spending time with kids.

 

Next I got into food service.  It was a relatively easy job to get without much experience, but not one that I was particularly good at because I just wanted to earn some money.  I also did not fit in particularly.  But food service jobs were available so I got one after another for a period of time.

 

A lot about the jobs that you get has to do with expediency, not love.  I probably would have been better suited to general office work but I had no clue how to obtain such a job.

 

Along the line, I took a brief stab at retail work in a small shop that sold natural remedies.  I do have an interest in the holistic approach and in natural remedies plus it didn’t hurt that a friend already worked there.  I’d tried to get retail jobs back before I got my first food service job, but no one was interested in a person without experience.  It was a means to earn some money while my life was in flux.

 

Eventually I got an office job.  I was a single mother in need of steady income and regular hours – so, highly determined that an office was a good choice.  That determination looked like confidence, which I had sorely lacked in my early forays into the working world.

 

I didn’t love office work, I loved my boys and wanted to find balance.  I wasn’t doing what I loved, but I did learn to love what I did because I found plenty of things to spark my curiosity.

 

Love what you do, do what you love, love why you work, love what you can do because you work to support yourself – there are plenty of options, I think.

 

© 2014 BAReed Writing | Practical Business, All rights reserved

A Workday in Increments

5:49 am – Oh no, no, no.  I still have 11 minutes to sleep.  Shhh…

 

6:49 am – Breakfast done, half-way through my morning ablutions.  I want to make sure to have time for some extra stretching since my back is a little tight.

 

7:49 am – Nearly done with my morning commute.  Slow & steady is winning the race this morning, that guy who raced past me first chance he got is now back behind me as we merge.

 

8:49 am – Phone tag isn’t nearly as much fun as tag was as a kid.  Maybe he’s an email person.

 

9:49 am – Oops, almost forgot about my meeting at 10.  Do I have everything that I need?

agenda

10:49 am – After meeting catch up and if I’m lucky I can sketch out some of my to-do’s while they are still fresh in my head…

 

11:49 am – Come on lunch, I’m hungry.

 

12:49 pm – Next meeting coming up.

 

1:49 pm – I am not sleepy, I am not sleepy

 

2:49 pm – I won’t think that our team might wrap up the week well, I won’t jinx it.  I definitely will not say it out loud.

 

3:49 pm – A nice stretch of time to do some project planning.

 

4:49 pm – Finished planning, only 11 more work minutes to the week and then weekend.  Don’t want to wish too hard for these next few minutes to go by fast, that seems to have a bad effect on the weekend and its Monday again before I know it.  A little email clean up and Monday prep should just about fit.

 

5:49 pm – Hmmm, what to do about dinner?

 

6:49 pm – Once again I have failed to do any planning for the weekend.  Wonder if anyone has any free time?

 

7:49 pm – So nice that it is still a little light out at this hour, longer days feel so overdue this year.

 

8:49 pm – A little newspaper reading, a little TV watching…

 

9:49 pm – Best moment of the weekend, I can turn off my alarm and wake up on my own tomorrow and Sunday.  Here’s to a great, restful and yet purposeful weekend for us all.

 

© 2014 BAReed Writing | Practical Business, All rights reserved

Complaint or Solution?

It’s been a long week of varying sized hassles after last week’s hassles and the week before that.  Hassles, snarls, frustrations – don’t have to move very far in any particular direction to slam into one.  It is what it is.  Job security.  Life.

public domain image

public domain image

 

 

“If they would just…” begins the statement – ‘they’ being some power-that-be at work – and so formulates the complaint.  ‘They’ should fix something to make my work go more smoothly.  I can’t meet my deadlines because ‘they’ make the process more difficult.  And on and on in hundreds of permutations goes the complaint.

 

More personally, ‘she’ – when a person accepts a position as a boss that person must expect to become part of ‘they’, a representative of management induced worker frustrations – ‘she’ expects too much.  (If you aren’t ready or willing to be ‘she’ or ‘he’ – personally representing ‘they’ – then think twice about being a boss.  It comes with the territory, even in the best of circumstances.)

 

The complaints slip out as an easy release when coworkers talk in pairs or groups.  Sensible, short term stress relief.  But also potentially toxic.

 

Complaints aren’t a be all and end all, but a starting point for a solution.  If you want something to get better a complaint by itself isn’t going to accomplish anything.  A complaint by itself is an abdication of any responsibility for improvement.  A complaint by itself is acceptance of the hassle as part of your lot.

 

com·plaint Dictionary.com

[kuhm-pleynt]

noun

  1. an expression of discontent, regret, pain, censure, resentment,or grief; lament; faultfinding:
  2. his complaint about poor schools.

 

In order for a complaint to become an effective long term method for hassle reduction, it has to move into being a solution.

 

I’ve seen the echo of ‘she’ coworker complaints on plenty of faces over the years.  More than I can count.  But I can count the number of times that someone on my team has come forward to ask for clarification, to talk further, to want to discuss a potential solution.  And I don’t mean guns blazing accusations, but measured discussion.  Seeking understanding.  I wish I could say this approach was utilized more.

 

Nobody really intends to create hassles – well, ok some small subset of the population gets a kick out of it.  Plans filter down from senior management to middle management to the people that get it done day after day.  Honest discussions about improving the plan can happen at any level.

 

© 2014 BAReed Writing | Practical Business, All rights reserved

A Chance to Lead

You decide if this post is about group dynamics or individual leadership.  Several things have gotten me to think about leadership from different angles recently.  Talk about leadership is everywhere, a distinct meaning of what it really is, is not so prevalent.

 

Have you ever been in a group where everyone is trying to lead – whether there is an established leader or not?  Everyone is working to get the upper hand for their own agenda and chaos ensues.

 

George Washington in 1775 (public domain image)

George Washington in 1775 (public domain image)

Have you ever been in a group where no one wants to take the lead – even if there is a designated leader?  Aimless chaos usually ensues, along with plenty of finger pointing when nothing is accomplished.

 

Have you had opportunities to lead?  How did they come about?  I had an employee once who would regularly tell everyone and anyone that she never got any opportunity to lead.  Because she expected the opportunity to come gift wrapped with a tag that read ‘This is Your Chance to Lead’.  When she would ask me about leadership opportunities, I would start to enumerate specific recent instances that were opportunities to show leadership – to direct a circumstance to her expected outcome.

 

Have you been on a team with a leadership vacuum?  How did you respond?  If you created your own method to get your work done and perhaps to help your coworkers do the same did you see that as leadership?

 

Have you ever known a leader who complained that they had to do everything because otherwise it wasn’t done right… because the only right way was their way?

 

A boss should be a leader, but a true leader doesn’t have to be a boss.  I know I have quotations about leadership, being a boss and the distinguishing characteristics of each in a quote book that I keep, but those will have to go in a future post on leadership.

 

What do you have to say about group dynamics, leadership, and bosses?

 

© 2014 BAReed Writing | Practical Business, All rights reserved

Change: Affinity vs. Ability

Life is so much nicer all around when we like what is happening; what we are doing, where we are living and so on.  Sometimes we forget that there is a difference between liking, affinity, and skill at a task, or ability.  We all have skills that we could use to our advantage but often don’t because we just don’t have the affinity.

 

I’ve met plenty of people who, without saying it straight up, think that they will know they are on the right track because everything will snap into place – life will be easier and smoother if they are in the right place.  If things are difficult, it must be the wrong direction or place or whatever.  How many times have you been in a discussion with someone who shuts you down on a topic with something like, ‘oh, I’m not any good at (fill in the blank)’?

 

The world is ever changing.  (public domain image)

The world is ever changing. (public domain image)

Math doesn’t have any sort of magic for me like words do, I just don’t have much of an affinity.  But I have come to understand the importance of having a math competency – in financial dealings at the very least.  I will never gravitate to math, but I can be proud that I can master the more important math concepts and make use of them in my life.  And I have discovered that there are fascinating parts of math – statistics and economics do stir my curiosity.

 

We don’t get to arrange all of the pieces of our lives so that we can focus only on those things that we like.  (We’re lucky to arrange most of them, the big ones hopefully.)  And it isn’t always clear to see when you are on the right track, because that track might be just as bumpy and difficult as the wrong one.

 

Writing is a skill that makes plenty of people grimace, I both understand and feel consternated about this fact.  But like math for me, it is an ability that can be developed to serve your overall purpose.  You can like what a competency in a certain skill brings you without having an affinity for the concepts of the skill.

 

© 2014 BAReed Writing | Practical Business, All rights reserved

What’s for Dinner?

Thoughts on dinner have been trending in my mind.  My son, now the primary cook in our house due to his culinary interests, has been involved in other things these past few days meaning that I am coming home after work and fending for myself.  At Toastmasters earlier this week the Table Topics were all about tables and invariably dinner was part of it too.  And I have been remembering my changing role in dinner activities over my lifetime to date.

 

The 50’s cliché was the male breadwinner coming home to sit down to the family dinner cooked from scratch by his lovely wife all dressed up including pearls.  I’ve experienced some of this ideal in different ways and can see benefit.  When I was growing up mom and dad both put high importance on having a family evening meal.  Mom did the stay-at-home thing which included dinner from scratch for most of my childhood.  She didn’t have much interest in cooking per se, but she did have enough interest in healthy eating.  Her forte was conversation, the exchange of ideas once we were all at the table.  Even once she was working and going to school, we managed to keep the family meal going.

 

One of my son's most recent creations.

One of my son’s most recent creations.

I became a stay-at-home mom cooking the dinners from scratch, ready when my husband came home and before we had to head back out to whatever event or practice my boys had going.  I had a greater interest in cooking than my mom had shown, along with an equal interest in the exchange of ideas while we ate.  Feeding our minds and bodies, as well as feeding the family bond.

 

Even after becoming a single mom working a full time job, I felt it was highly important to keep up the tradition of a sit-down, scratch-cooked dinner.  The actual cooking part wasn’t so important, but the shared experience and time together was something that I could give my boys.

 

And now I would be hard pressed to find the energy and mental capacity to whip up a dinner every night.  I am happy to leave this task to my son who is caught up in the magic of creating maximum flavor experiences with food.  When he isn’t otherwise occupied at dinner time.

 

Being a ‘foodie’ is trending now along with an interest in fresh, sustainable ingredients.  The shared familial experience, the flow of talk and ideas doesn’t seem to have the same esteem though.  Dinner might just be another meal that we squeeze into our day, perhaps not one that even two people in a family have at the same time.

 

How do you feed your mind, body and the family bond these days?

 

© 2014 BAReed Writing | Practical Business, All rights reserved

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