Month: October 2014

Cold Call on a Friday Afternoon

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I made the mistake of answering an out-of-state call from a number I didn’t recognize. A salesperson, of course, squeezing in the last of her cold calls before the end of the week.

“We can help you to write your anti-bullying policy,” she said, after stating the name of her company, which I didn’t bother to catch, but had Solutions in it. Seems they’re all called Something-Something-Solutions or Solutions-Something-Something nowadays.

“Why would I want that?”

“Over half of employees have admitted to being bullied in the workplace,” she said. I caught the hint of a Boston accent.

“And so, you are going to write a policy for me, and with the stroke of a pen, all of this bullying will go away?”

“Without a policy, you leave your company open to serious legal claims from employees.”

“So the policy won’t stop the bullying, it will just make sure that if someone is a victim, we won’t get our asses handed to us in court?”

She hesitated, no doubt consulting her script and deciding to reboot rather than answer me. “Don’t you want to stem the tide of bullying in the workplace?”

“Define your terms.”

“I don’t understand.”

“This survey you mentioned, what constituted bullying?”

“The respondents said that they were treated rudely at least once a week.”

“Just once? It’s obvious they don’t have teenagers.”

I managed to get her to laugh, but she persisted. “Bullying is on the rise”

“I doubt it. What’s on the rise is our awareness of it, and companies like yours seeing a chance to make a buck off it.”

“So you approve of bullying?” I got the feeling that she was leaving her script and headed into uncharted territory.

“Of course not. Look, growing up, I was both the bully and the bullied, and I’m not proud of either. And being a jerk to other people is bad for the work environment and bad for business. Everyone should be treated with respect. But I don’t think it’s going to go away because we add a few paragraphs to our employee handbook. It’s about culture. Remember right after the Clarence Thomas hearings, when sexual harassment became the big issue like bullying is now? I worked at one place that had a well-crafted sexual harassment policy. There was one guy there, a buddy of the boss who was great at his job, kept touching female employees, making them uncomfortable. Only thing that happened was that he was told to stop. He would for a while, and then start right up again. The policy didn’t mean a thing.

“Another place a worked for had an electrician doing some work on the building. The electrician kissed a manager. The manager’s manager fired not only the electrician, but the contractor who hired the electrician. Nothing about doing this in any policy. That sent a message that resounded up and down the organization. It meant more than words.”

“Still, you must have a policy to start with,” she said.

“How about this – Be Nice.”

“That’s not much of a policy.”

“Where I work, it’s not much of a problem. We aren’t always perfect, but from the CEO to the rank and file, we try to treat each other with respect, and deal with it if we don’t. So why don’t you hang up and harass some sucker who might actually buy your useless service?”

“There’s no reason to be rude about it.”

“Sorry to have bullied you.”


Boss’s Day – The Saga Continues …

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This shows you how well my staff listens – time to start ruling by fear.




An Open Letter to My Staff Regarding Boss’s Day

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I have a very important announcement to make. No, no one’s getting laid off and we aren’t implementing pay cuts. It’s bigger, more important than that. It’s about the upcoming Boss’s Day.

This year, don’t bother with a present or even a card. Instead, use your time, energy and money on something worthwhile.

Boss’s Day is a stupid holiday. Our organization pays me to be in charge. I don’t need a day.

Yet every year on October 16, staff in offices around the country feel obligated to take up collections and buy token gifts for someone who makes more money than them. They struggle to say nice things on greeting cards passed around from one to the other, as painful as trying to figure out what to write in the yearbook of that kid you barely spoke to in algebra class (2 Good + 2 Be = 4 Gotten).

And we can’t even blame Hallmark for this holiday. In fact, Hallmark makes it clear that the holiday started in 1958, and they didn’t start coming out with cards until the late seventies. When Hallmark won’t even take credit for a made up holiday, you know it’s bad. So who did start it? Some secretary named Patricia Bays Haroski began it for her boss in 1958. She picked his birthday for the date. She wanted to show appreciation for how hard he worked, and help subordinates realize it.

This boss also happened to be her Dad.

Some boss’s do work hard. They look out for their staff, and deserve some appreciation. But I don’t think forcing employees to appreciate their boss is a way to do it, especially if they are the other kind of boss – the ones who take credit for your work, blame you for their mistakes and would fire you at the drop of a hat if it meant bigger bonuses for themselves.

Don’t get me wrong. I appreciate the gifts of chocolate and coffee and the cards I’ve received over the years. I especially value the mug you gave me one year with all your pictures on it. Who doesn’t feel good about getting presents? But you all are busy, both at work and at home. The last thing you need to be doing is figuring out some way to please me, fearing I’ll be offended if I don’t.

Not to brag (okay, maybe just a little), but I know you appreciate me. I realize that if for some reason I were to change jobs, I’d have to skulk out in the middle of the night, like the Dodgers leaving Brooklyn, or face your wrath. That means a lot to me. With a staff as great as all of you, every day is Boss’s Day.

The best thing you can do to celebrate boss’s day is to come in and do the best job you possibly can. Look out for each other. I can look out for myself.

Time to go now – I’ve just been reminded that I need to sign a card for my boss.

Better to be Gilligan than the Skipper: Workplace Lessons from the Famous Castaways

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Who would you want with you if you were stranded on a desert island?

Your first response might be someone you are physically attracted to – Ryan Gosling or Megan Fox or that new grad in finance who wears the short skirts and high heeled boots. But if you think about it, these wouldn’t be the best choices. You’re going to need food and water. Building a fire will be key. You’ll need to build a shelter. A pretty face doesn’t mean much when you’re cold and hungry and dying of thirst. I doubt Mr. Gosling or Ms. Fox would be much help in these circumstances. Maybe that young lady from finance was a girl scout and would be of some use, but she’d have to find some sensible shoes. No, you need someone around you who can help you survive and even thrive, perhaps also aid you in getting rescued. You also may be on this island a long time, and want someone with whom you can get along. Beautiful eyes don’t mean much if there’s no brain behind it.

The workplace is like being stranded. When you’re hired, you are put in foreign surroundings with people not of your choosing. You are depending on these people for your success. If these people aren’t the right sort of people, you either won’t make it, or you’ll end up going crazy.

So when determining what sort of coworkers you want, and what type of coworker you want to be, it helps to think of it as if though you were all castaways on a remote tropical island.

And what better castaways to look to for examples than those famous survivors of a three hour cruise, the characters on Gilligan’s Island? They may be over-the-top caricatures, but in one form or another each can be found in most workplaces.

The Skipper: Captain of the S.S. Minnow, the boat that got struck aground during its three-hour cruise.

At first, you would think this leader and war veteran would be great to have with you. Think again. Not only is he brash and moody, physically striking Gilligan when Gilligan messes up, he’s also incompetent. He was the captain, in charge of the safety of his crew and passengers, and what did he do? He took them out on the ocean despite an impending storm. Worse yet, he blames Gilligan for it. Good leaders don’t blame their subordinates when something goes wrong.

The Professor: A man of science who could probably build a nuclear reactor if he had enough coconuts.

Not only is the Professor smart and resourceful, he’s also a nice guy. He’s a problem solver. Without him, the castaways would probably all be living on the open beach, without even a radio to listen to for the latest news. Sure, the argument has been made that if he was so resourceful, why couldn’t he build a raft, but how long would the show have lasted if he did that?

Thurston Howell III and his wife: A snobby millionaire couple, one of whom sounds remarkably like Mister McGoo. I lumped them together because they are basically the same character.

Okay, let’s get past the fact that if this couple was so rich, why didn’t they have their own yacht instead of taking the rinky dink USS Minnow out for a spin? They’re entitled and self-absorbed. They never lift a finger to help anyone, and don’t care about their fellow castaways. I wonder if the Minnow wouldn’t have gone down if it wasn’t weighed down by all their luggage. In the workplace, or on a desert island, you want people willing to dig in and get to work, not people who expect you to do the work for them.

Ginger: The movie star who was more Kim Kardashian than Marilyn Monroe.

Ginger has nothing but her looks and some credits in B movies. Like the Howells, she never lifts a finger to help. Instead, she tries to get by solely on her looks. As I said before, looks are fine, but you’ve got to have something to back them up. And her looks weren’t all that great to begin with.

Mary-Ann: The farmer’s daughter and all around girl next door

Ah, Mary-Ann, the complete package. Unlike Ginger, her looks aren’t her only asset, but an added bonus. She cooks, she cleans, she sews, and does it all with a smile. I bet she has 100 different ways to serve coconut, so that you never get tired of it. Sure, she has stereotypically domestic skills, but it was the 1960’s. Today, she’d probably also be able to hunt wild boar with nothing but a sharpened stick. You’d certainly want her on the island with you.

Gilligan: The bungling first mate of the USS Minnow.

Most of you are probably saying “No Way!” to having Gilligan working with you. He’s incompetent, not very bright and accident prone. He certainly isn’t the best worker we’ve ever seen. Why would we want him? But I think Gilligan would be a pretty good choice. Sure, there are limits on what he can do, and you probably have to check his work over after he’s finished it. But he’s a good guy with a good soul who genuinely cares about others. He’ll also do whatever you ask of him, and can be fun to have around.

So there you have it – If given the choice, be a Gilligan, not a Skipper, but by all means, even if you have the money, never be one of the Howells.