Q. I joined Blue Company three months ago. Since then my department has experienced a 40% turnover. I can see why. It’s disorganized and outdated. Our boss expects us to put in long hours to do meaningless work.
Time to leave?
The key question seems to be:
Many years ago, when I was a college professor, we had a dean who could be more than a little temperamental. Department heads would come out of meetings swearing and upset. They rarely stood up to the dean. (If you’re not familiar with academic hierarchy, deans are like directors and department heads are more like section leaders or managers.)
Our department head was an easygoing guy who had seen combat as an Air Force pilot. He used to come out of meetings whistling and he would laugh about them. He said, “This guy’s nothing compared to the flight instructors I had during my training.”
One of the strongest indicators of career success is the ability to respond to criticism, rejection and even harsh, hostile remarks, whether they’re justified or not. Some people easily let critical remarks wash over them. Others have reactions ranging from anger to depression. A few – very few, fortunately – make headlines when they respond with violence.
Dealing with criticism, along with frustration tolerance and likeability, are among the skills you rarely learn in business school, but they predict career success more than many other qualities. Yesterday’s New York Times featured on article, Learning To Love Criticism by Tara Mohr, on the way women handle criticism, nothing that women receive more personal attacks and often do not respond well to any type of critical remarks.
Mohr says, “Many women carry the unconscious belief that good work will be met mostly — if not exclusively — with praise.” Realistically, good work is often taken for granted; praise can come across as a little patronizing, even as a substitute for genuine work. For a long time managers were told that women (and many men) responded more to appreciation than to tangible rewards.
As women become stronger and men become more open about expressing feelings, perhaps some of the gender differences will become smaller or disappear altogether.
Read the article here and tell me what you think.
This post was inspired by a letter to the “Workologist,” an advice columnist who fields questions about office politics every week. Read the post here.
First, there are many good reasons to consult a career consultant instead of writing to an advice column (even a workologist!) and the limits of seeking columnar advice will be pretty evident.
Now let’s look at the facts.
Anonymous writes that he (or she – we don’t know – but for simplicity I’m going with “he”) must deal with a colleague who’s “one title above him,” who’s “passive-aggressive, narcissistic, selfish and a terrible manager.”
Let’s call her “Griselda.” Although the article is titled “The Insufferable Colleague,” we don’t know whether Griselda is the boss or just troublesome. “Colleague” covers a multitude of sins.
First, let’s explore Anonymous’s role within the company. Will he ultimately get promoted and transferred away from Griselda’s malevolent influence? Can he ask for a transfer within the company?”
If the answers to these questions are “No” and “No,” then Anonymous can forget about Grisela and focus on the bigger picture. He’s stuck in a company with limited promotion possibilities and should take a look at where his career is going. He needs to become more marketable, which might involve something as small as repackaging his current skills, to returning to school, to starting up a business venture.
My next question would be, “Instead of labels, let’s look at behaviors. What exactly does Griselda do that is so awful? Can we have a few examples? How is she affecting Anonymous’s work: Making it impossible to accomplish, or just unpleasant? Is her impact hourly or monthly?
We’re told that Anonymous has focused solely on dealing with this difficult colleague. What has he done?
Well, he’s confronted Griselda. We could have told him he’s wasting his time. People who are passive-aggressive and narcissistic usually aren’t up for these conversations. In fact, even people who are just a wee bit difficult tend to avoid those heart-to-heart talks.
He’s also brought his concerns to the president. Most executives don’t want to deal with personality clashes and you’ll lose respect when you raise these issues. If you’re on the fast track, you’re expected to solve these problems, even if this expectation is totally unrealistic. Some people actually get promoted because they’re skilled with difficult people, even if their contributions seem otherwise limited.
Once you focus on a person as a problem, you get labeled as the problem. The only exception might be if the other person were caught attacking you – literally – in the presence of six eyewitnesses. Even then, some companies will pay you to go away if they perceive the offender is more valuable.
Anonymous says he’s “asked around,” discovering others feel the same way. Anonymous needs to learn that “asking around” can be construed as rebellion. He might be wondering, “If others feel this way, how are they surviving?”
So what should Anonymous do?
Anonymous’s first step is to pitch the president for a new role that would take him away from Griselda. That’s a marketing challenge: he needs to come up with something that will bring in revenue (or an intangible the company really values) and volunteer to take charge.
Maybe the company has a product that needs to be sold, in person, in Outer Mongolia (or remote parts of the US Midwest, which some East Coasters say is the same thing). Maybe they have a project that calls for a specialized team with unique skills that Anonymous happens to have.
More important, Anonymous needs a longer-term career strategy. Sure it’s hard to find a new job but if he can’t move within the firm, he’s way overdue to plan his next job search. If he can’t find a job, then he needs a complete career makeover. Even if things were going great, these days you can’t afford to be stuck in a company where you’re getting less marketable by the day. If you can’t move, the company owns you.
People form unions when they’re stuck because it’s the only way they’ll get raises. You rarely see a push for unionization when everybody’s marketable. Not happy? They just jump ship. You’re always in a stronger position when you’ve got market forces on your side.
So Anonymous needs to beef up his skills. He could benefit from reading my ebook about what to do when you hate your job, so he can use his current job as leverage for a new career. And he could sure use a strategy session or two.
If Anonymous feels open to introspection, he might wonder why he has been in the corporate world so long without recognizing that organizations play games. He says he tried to play Griselda’s “game,” whatever that is, but prefers to keep his head down and work. Not realistic!
Of course if you’re facing an intolerable boss, I’d be happy to brainstorm three-dimensional solutions with you. Just go here to learn more.
You can also submit your own question for me to answer in this blog, as space permits.
And of course you’re invited to share your opinion in the comment section below.
Last Sunday’s New York Times included the story of a really Bad Hair Day. It’s the second story on this page.
Here’s how it goes.
A woman works in Hong Kong for a Paris-based fashion house. She dyes her hair bright red. She gets some compliments from her coworkers.
But then a few months later she gets a warning from the Human Resource department. In her words, the HR person “suggested that I change it before I received any formal warnings, and even implied that I could be fired. She said that either brown or black would be appropriate.” The explanation was that her hair could “affect the image of the firm.”
The New York TImes columnist, a/k/a The Workologist, said the answer was crystal clear: choose between your hair color and your job.
So what do you think?
The Workologist doesn’t mention the company’s location, but you inevitably run into cultural taboos when you cross international lines. A re-haired person might stand out more in Hong Kong than, say, San Francisco. And in some countries it’s legal to discriminate openly based on sex, age, religion and marital status.
The Workologist doesn’t raise the question of this person’s visibility. Is she publicly identified with the company? If you saw the movie about Vogue Magazine and The September Issue, you’ll recall that some Vogue staffers aren’t exactly glamor queens.
Most importantly, The Workologist hasn’t dealt with the role of the HR person. In some cultures – corporate and national -the HR person might be used as a go-between so the boss doesn’t have to confront an employee, especially if you’ve got a male boss and a female employee.
In some companies, a warning from HR can be ignored; the HR person needs to get a life. Butt in others the HR department is charged with maintaining the dress code, rules, ethics and more.
The Workologist comes with a disclaimer:: The Workologist is a guy with well-intentioned opinions, not a professional career adviser.”
Which is why it’s rarely a good idea to seek career advice from the newspapers. I’ve addressed this topic before.