Do you tell employees about potential layoffs?

Here is the dilemma, you are a middle level manager, and changes or potential layoffs are coming to the organization that could possible have an impact on your employees’ lives.  You were told by upper level management not to disclose anything as yet, what do you do?

I think it’s ok to disclose some information, and here is why:

  1. Imagine that you were in your employees’ shoes, and about to make some big purchase or decision, wouldn’t you want to know that layoffs could be coming?
  2. Secondly, I think trust is very important.  If you want to maintain the trust of you team, they need to know that you care about them, and not just about the talking points of the management team.
  3. There might be rumors going around the company, and if asked, and you lie, eventually when the layoffs come, that would not be good for your relationship with the remaining team members.  You would either look like a liar or a fool, not to be trusted.

So now that we have gone over the reasons to disclose some information, how do you go about doing it without causing panic and work disruption?

  1. First of all, be honest with your team, let them you that you cannot share all the details, but you want to inform that that some “changes” are coming.  Don’t use the word layoffs!
  2. Identify with them by sharing your concerns as well, and that you too might be vulnerable (one never knows!)
  3. Let them know that you value them and so does the company, so whatever happens, you and the company will try your best to get them a fair deal, and try to keep their talents in house; after-all, the company has invested time and money in training each of them.
  4. If you know that someone on your team will definitely be affected by the layoffs, there is no need to share that specific piece of information.  This may cause problems for you and the company later, as you would be giving a heads-up to one person.  What about others from other teams?  Be careful here!  Just saying some change is coming is sufficient to trigger actions in employees if they feel the need to look around for new positions.
  5. Offer your support for internal placement to all on your team whether it’s needed or not.  Let them know that if anything happens you will support them as best you can.  Don’t promise another job or retention, as this could be potentially out of your control.
  6. Don’t ask your employees to keep secrets, however, ask them not to disclose to other teams, as you’d prefer others to learn of the changes from their respective managers.
  7. Since you are not keeping secrets, you need to inform your manager of you pre-emptive action letting him know that you thought this was best.  Hopefully you have a relationship in which he trust your judgement.

In the end, managing is about relationships, not just about work, money and company profits.  Treat your team as you would like to be treated by your manager.

 

 

 

 

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Why Won’t Americans Take Vacation?

I have been working now for over 20 years in the technology industry, and in every company that I have worked, people will complain that they don’t get enough time off, but still refuse to use the vacation times that are given.

When did the phenomenon begin?

Back in the eighties, it was said that the Japanese were hard working and that Americans were lazy.  I think this caused an industrial complex to develop in the USA, especially in the technology industry.   We resolved to do better, and catch up with the competition, and in doing so we created a work culture of not necessarily working smarter, but of working harder.  Engineers in American are now working themselves to death (known as Karoshi in Japan), similarly to what the Japanese did in the past.  Recognizing that there was a problem then, the Japanese government implemented a possible fix with the mandate of required time off work with pay.  So the Japanese are smarter yet again, realizing the value of family and time off work, and has left us stuck with the legacy of this unhealthy competition. Some might claim that our work culture has enabled us to have better standard of living, but this is debatable, and even if it did, at what cost to our families!

For a summary on how much vacation times are given in some countries including the USA, take a look at the site from a CNN special on the subject.

Our attitude towards vacation

If we compare Europeans and Japanese with Americans, there is a distinct difference in how personal time given by companies is viewed and used by employees.  I am now working for a company based in Europe, people there get roughly two times the amount of vacation times Americans get per year, and for the most part, they use every bit of this time to unwind and spend time with their families, they cannot even be reached when on vacation.  Compare that to how we use our time in America; at the end of the year, the companies I have worked for has to beg us Americans to take time off, some vacation times end up being rolled over and eventually paid out, and others are oftentimes lost.   Also, when Americans are on vacation, many still keep in touch with what’s happening in the office, still answering emails, and frequently checking into the office to see if they are needed.  There are many reasons Americans are afraid or hesitant to take a vacation, one of this is the fear of competition and another is uncertainty of the future due of the struggling economy thus the fragility of the labor market.
Bloomberg’s Businessweek magazine addressed the issue of our reluctance to vacation in the article, “Do Us A Favor Take A Vacation.” In the article, the argument for Americans to take a vacation is addressed.  Very interesting read, and mirrors most of what I am saying here.

Fear of Competition

The culture of layoffs in the nineties did not help; it has exacerbated the problem as now American workers are figuring that if they work harder, then they might not be chosen in the pack to be laid off when that time comes.  In addition to the fear of layoff, there is also the fear of being replaced by more savvy and lower paid worker.  As companies turn more and more to imported labor, bringing in  skilled foreign professionals into the country, workers are becoming more fearful of being replaced, and to ally this fear, they spend more time working harder with the hope that their value will be elevated.  This is not a healthy situation, and hopefully as the economy recovers, some of this fear will be reduced and people will get back to the point where they feel safe enough to stop and spend time outside of the office.

Looking to the future

As I think about what the future holds for us and our children, I don’t foresee any improvements in the near term as the job market gets more and more global each day. Workers here and elsewhere have to prove their worth, and the best way most people know how is to work harder. However, some newer and younger companies are beginning to realize that employee overwork is an issue, and that innovation cannot be driven in this climate, so they are giving employees incentives and time to be innovative, that is encouragement to be working smarter instead of harder. With this approach, although the job market is expanding, and there is more competition for available job, if employees are allowed to build their knowledge base even while working, if they are laid off, or have to change jobs for any numerous reasons, they could still be marketable since they will still have current skills that the market demands. If workers feel safe in their knowledge, chances are they will have a more relaxed attitude in knowing that they can recover from any job situation, and thus will tend to spend less time being overworked, and more time with family. Although the future is bleak, with the right company culture, changes can be made.

Finding balance yourself

There must be balance between work and life, we need to work hard to meet our obligations and fulfill the contract we entered into with our employers, yet we still need to step back from time to time, relax and enjoy our families. Let’s examine our motives for working long hours, and make sure, it’s not insecurities that’s driving us, but a genuine desire to be a contributor. In addition, If your job is one that does not encourage employees to be cross trained and be updated in the latest technology, instead of spending all the overtime in the office, invest in yourself, and get some external training to ensure your marketability, and thus improve yourself worth. In the end know where you are on the job and what your needs are for job satisfaction, rest and relaxation. There must be balance.
So if you fall into this category of the overworked, go use your time off, work to live, not live to work!

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The Office Survival Guide

How do you keep your sanity, stay above the fray, and perform at a high level of expectations in the office? The workplace today is very diverse, with people of different ethnic backgrounds, educational levels and social upbringing.  If one is not aware of how to navigate the sometimes murky waters on the job, valuable time can be spent putting out fires instead of working and performing.  There are many situations in the office that can be distracting and should be avoided at all costs, two major ones to deal with are:

Gossiping In the Office

Gossiping in the office is a no no, there are disgruntled employees everywhere, who walks around the office and infect the workplace with venom.   Getting caught up in office gossip can not only ruin your career it can also damage your reputation and that of others.  If someone comes to you complaining about others, the first question to ask is if they have talked to the person about the situation.  If they have not, then advise them to.   Same approach should be when they complain to you about their bosses, ask if they have approached him or her.  If you do feel the need to give some advise, and possibly have a good grasp of the situation, find ways to give advise without bashing or contributing to any negative attitudes.  Remember that there are two sides to every workplace story, and you might not have the opportunity to hear the other.

If you are the person complaining, be careful who you complain to.  Remember, if you go to another manager you are not guaranteed any manager-employee confidentiality.   Managers sometimes have alliances, and your issue might be discussed even though you might not want it to be.  The rule of thumb should be if you can’t tell it to the person you have a grievance with, then you should not tell it to anyone else.

Unprofessional Behavior

There is never a good reason to curse or swear at anyone in the office.  Disagreements should be welcomed as often-times this is how great ideas are generated.  There can be no growth or innovation if there are no arguments and discussions around different ideas for problem solving.

Of course there will be others on the job who you might have like or get along with, and that’s ok.  We are not there to be buddies, but to get a job done.  If you find buddies in the workplace, then that’s a bonus, and a point to be appreciated.  Try and avoid the people you don’t get along with as much as possible, if you need work related information, you should be able to ask for this in a cordial manner, and hopefully the request will be received similarly.  There may be cases wherein you might need to talk to the human resources department if the relationship gets out of control.

Stress in the office is not a good reason to be unprofessional.  I have seen people yell and scream at others at work, then blame it on being stressed.  This is not a good reason.  Find ways to deal with the pressures on the job without taking it out on others, do thing such as taking a walk, listening to music or whatever it is you do that can relieve the stress of the job.   I usually tell people that after the milestone has been met, take a day off, so that you can refocus, regroup, and re-energize.

Other things that can lead to unprofessional behavior in the office are inappropriate around politics or religion.  These should be avoided as much as possible.  If you do engage, be aware of who you are talking with, the topic at hand, and where the discussion is taking place.  Even when you are having discussions with colleagues who you think are close to you and think the way you do, your words can come back to haunt you later if things go sour down the road.  If you don’t believe this, just ask any politician running for office. You know what is and is not appropriate, so use good judgement.

Emails and Voice Mails

Should you have some personal guide regarding office emails? You absolutely should!  My advice here is, if the topic is personnel related and sensitive in nature, don’t send email, talk to the person face to face.  Also, never send negative emails about another person, since emails like texts don’t go away, and can again come back to haunt you.  The same guide can be used for voice mail, never leave negative voice mails about someone in the office, if you need to have a discussion about something problematic, see the individual to be dealt with in person.  The electronic age is wreaking havoc on our ability to be discreet, and to trust that we are sending emails to just one person, the ability to blind copy, do email forwarding are just two of the ways our words can be blasted out to many more people that we intended.   Again, the rule is simple, if you can’t say it to the person’s face, then don’t send email.

Putting It All In Perspective

At the end of the day, your job should not be your life.  You should let your family, and life away from work be your focus.  So when things happen on the job or people get in your way, the thing to remember is that this is not your life, it should only be a small part of it.

I had a colleague once who used to say, “I work to live, not live to work.”  If you use this mantra, you will put yourself in a mental position where things at work will bother you at times, but not consume your person.  The office is a place to work and make money, keep it as professional as you can and try to get along with all regardless of race, religion or gender.

 

 

 

 

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Tips For A Successful Job Interview

There are some obvious things to consider when going on a job interview, however there are also other subtle points that we might need to be reminded of from time to time. I will be discussing some of these here.

I expect that you already know the obvious, such as dressing appropriately, arriving on time, and having copies of your resume available, so I will not discuss these here, except to say don’t forget…..these are key prerequisites.

 

One of the very key things when going on a job interview is to “know your resume”:

It is very embarrassing when people come into interviews and have phrases on their resume such as, “expert in……” Unless you are truly an expert, please leave that out of the resume.  It’s ok to use phrases such as knowledgeable in, experienced with or even familiar with.  Don’t feel obligated to call yourself an expert just because you have been in the field for a while.  That is fodder for the interviewer to give you the 3rd degree.  You might come across an interviewer who “wrote the book” so to speak, and then you will be called upon  to really show your true expertise.  So again, unless you are really an expert, leave that word out.

Be able to talk about your experiences, if you don’t recall what you did on a particular job, then go back to their website and review their product or technology, re-acquaint yourself with their process.  If that fails, call and ask someone in your previous department what some specifics were.  If you can’t get forgotten information about a past job, or don’t have it, take it out of the resume.

 

Be aware of your body language, attitude and facial expressions:

This is one of those points that people sometimes make the most mistakes with.  An interviewer might oftentimes ask you a question that you consider to be stupid, answer it with the same expression and seriousness that you would the sensible ones.  The interviewer might be looking to see how you respond in different situations, or maybe not.  In any event, you expression will be key in how your are perceived.  Sometimes, you might find that you are smarter than the interviewer, don’t be condescending, if this person is interviewing you, it means they might have the power to turn down a possible offer to you.

Another body language to be aware of is the slump.  Sometimes you might be asked the same question over and over again by an interview panel, instead of being bored and letting your body slump, use this as a positive, take points learned from one interviewer to the next.

Never walk into the interview and assume that the person interviewing you will be a walk over, you never know, this might be the toughest interview.  I have had people leave the office after an interview cycle, and said, “I thought so and so would be a softie, but boy was he the toughest of the lot.”  Be careful with this, as you might be flippant and overly cocky with someone, thus costing yourself the position.

 

How familiar should you be?

I have read some articles that state you should call the interviewers by first name, as this shows that you are interested and have learned their names.  I totally disagree!  With the workplace being as multicultural and diverse as it is, this can be a mistake.  Many people don’t like familiarity this soon.  To be on the safe side, it’s best to call people by their last names, Ms. Jones or Mr Jones.  Let them ask you to call them by first name.

If there is someone you knew from another life, you can show recognition, but don’t launch into a conversation about your past association unless it is mentioned by the interviewer, and when it is, let he or she lead the conversation.

Another point is mutual colleagues, if you have mutual acquaintances in the past or present, again let the interviewer broach that subject and take the lead.  Be careful not to be lead into a negative conversation.

If the interviewers joke about a particular topic or make any comment that you deem inappropriate, don’t feel obligated to laugh or comment, just wait for the next question.

 

Off Limit Topics

It is always best not to discuss your private life unless the job responsibilities might conflict with family interests. If you think there is any possibility of this happening, talk to the HR person on the interview, not the hiring manager.

Never discuss politics, race, or religion, or give your personal views on any subject outside of the interview topics.

Lastly when asked why you are looking for a new position, don’t bad mouth your old company or manager.  Simply state that you are looking for new opportunities; that will always be true.

 

Interviewing skill is truly that, “a skill”, the more you do, the better you will become, however, no one wants to just be an expert interviewer, so improve this skill by reading, and doing mock interviews with friends as well.  Before you go to the interview, find out about the position you are interviewing for so that most of all you can be prepared.

 

 

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Get the Salary You Want Upon Hire

As a manager at a large company, I have seen many people complain that they are not making enough money, and are asking for huge increases to make up for the deficient salary request they made coming into the position.  What are the guidelines you should use when being hired and requesting a salary?

 

Be aware of all factors influencing salary

  1. Research the general salary range of the position for which you are applying, make sure you know how much you are worth.  Factors are typically years of experience and educational level.
  2. If you know someone on the inside ask what the salaries are to get an idea of what to ask for
  3. Know the typical salary for the region of the country in which you are living or moving to?
  4. Is the position with a private organization or with a government agency? Generally the government agencies salaries are a fraction less than the private companies
  5. Is the position an entry level one or one that requires years of experience?

Know Your Salary Bottom Line

  1. What are your financial obligations?
  2. What do you think you are worth given all the above factors?
  3. Don’t ask for the bottom of the range from the research above, this will give some room for negotiations
  4. What is your current salary?  know if you can survive with a lateral salary move, or if you need to have an increase
  5. Will it be worth your while leaving your current position if you were not offered an increase?

 

In the end, after doing the research and analyzing your situation, ask for the salary be want, but also be willing to negotiate within predetermined limits.  If you decide to take a salary decrease, be willing to live for some time knowing that it will take a while to get back to where you want to be, and know that your manager cannot be held responsible for the decision.  I have seen many individuals come into a position asking for less than they really want in order to secure the position, then within the first year or less, they bemoan the salary, make themselves and everyone around them miserable.  This is not the position to be in.

Know your worth, know what you want and ask for it!

 

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The Real Issues of Working Women and Mothers

Last week, I was really disappointed, it was Women’s day on March 12th, and most of the week was spent on debating contraceptives.  Did we really address the issues that concern us? and why did we not? [Read more…]

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Being A Woman In The Workplace Today

Do you worry that you have to give up your femininity in order to fit into the technical workplace and be respected? Should you be one of the guys? If you do, will you get or lose respect?  OR should you be the lady of the group, all feminine and motherly?  My opinion is, you can be both feminine and assertive in your role without losing yourself. [Read more…]

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Should You Quit Your Job To Stay Home?

This is one of those topics that I think about time and again  I like the idea of being independent and working, but I also like the idea of staying home with my kids, I guess I am one of those women who could have gone either way if given the opportunity, but the idea of staying home was never presented to me growing up.  How many of you reading this could have gone either way as well?  [Read more…]

Working Mom vs Working Non-Mom – The Salary Divide

I read an article on Business Week Magazine a while ago that discussed the disparity in wages between the salary of the working woman vs the working mother. [Read more…]