Corporate Jobs That Don't Suck

Mad Men Casting Call — Vote for Tarek

August 8th, 2009

Written by Pamela Skillings

tarekmadmen

The new season of Mad Men starts on August 16th. If you haven’t yet discovered this addictive show set at a New York ad agency in the early 1960’s, set your TiVo for the new season and I promise that you won’t be sorry. Mad Men has everything — intriguing storylines, fascinating characters, great acting, and incredible 1960’s sets and wardrobe.

My fellow corporate escapees will also enjoy the peek at 1960’s office politics. Although much has changed about corporate life , there’s still plenty to relate to.

Of course, the players are much better looking than your average cubicle mate and their secrets are much juicier. And they all enjoy cocktails and cigarettes with every meeting. I’m sure that made the workday fly by more quickly.

Anyway, to celebrate the new Mad Men season, Banana Republic is sponsoring a pretty cool contest. The grand prize is a walk-on role in an episode of Mad Men. My brother’s pal Tarek posed for the stylish shot above for his entry. If he’s one of the top online vote getters, he may be chosen to enjoy 15 minutes of Mad Men fame.

So go vote for Tarek.  If he wins, he’ll report back with lots of juicy details from the set. I’m putting together a list of questions for Jon Hamm (Don Draper) and John Slattery (silver fox Roger Sterling) in anticipation of Tarek becoming best buds with them (post your questions and I’ll add them to the list). Plus you have to admit that T looks pretty awesome in the photo and would fit right in at Sterling Cooper.

So go on, click over and vote for Tarek to live out his dream of becoming a Mad Man. You can vote once a day through August 11, 2009.

By the way, you can still enter the contest yourself. Just pose for a photo that shows off your “mad” man or woman style and upload it to be judged by the masses. If you enter, post a comment here with a link and your campaign promises and I promise to throw a vote your way.

The Collapsing Corporation and Rise of Virtual Distance

March 19th, 2009

Written by Pamela Skillings

We’ve been hearing a lot about collapsing corporations lately.  Dr. Karen Sobel Lojeski, author and Professor of Technology and Society at Stony Brook University, says Virtual Distance may be to blame for many of today’s corporate problems.

Last night, I heard Dr. Lojeski speak at a lecture sponsored by the Project Management Institute.  She has spent the last several years studying the concept of Virtual Distance™, which she defines as  “the perceived distance between two or more individuals when their primary method of communication and  coordination is not face to face.”  Her research shows that our increasing dependence on technology for communication (even with those in the cubicle down the hall) and outmoded vertical corporate structures have led to failures in efficiency, collaboration, engagement, and innovation.

She is not proposing that we outlaw telecommuting, email, and conference calls. Instead, Dr. Lojeski has  identified some techniques for minimizing virtual distance within an organization, regardless of the geographic distance between team members. These include building in face time at key points in a project and forcing focus during calls (shut down your email and step away from distractions).

Most importantly, she believes that techniques for managing  successful virtual teams must be people-focused, not technology-focused. The technology enables, but there is no innovation without engaged human beings.

I must say that I agree strongly with that philosophy. And because  I value the flexibility of being able to work from just about anywhere in the world, I’m a big supporter of any research that will help make remote workers, telecommuters, and road warriors more effective.

Virtual teams are here to stay.  And if they are managed well, they can help companies achieve serious business and productivity benefits.

However, I do find that work relationships develop more quickly when I have already met someone in person. That’s not to say that I don’t have close and valued clients and colleagues that I’ve never met face-to-face.  I do, but it usually takes a bit longer to bond when you only communicate via phone and email.

Ask any sales guru — they always try to score an in-person pitch meeting because they know it will improve their chances with a prospect exponentially.

So what do you think? Does virtual distance make the heart grow fonder or is it a productivity-killer? Have you found successful techniques for maintaining strong relationships with virtual team members?

For more information about Dr. Lojeski’s research, check out her latest book, Uniting the Virtual Workforce (and look for her upcoming follow-up, Leading the Virtual Workforce, later this year).

The Latest Job Satisfaction Stats

February 5th, 2009

Written by Pamela Skillings

theofficedwightIn this economy, “job satisfaction” tends to be relative. Yes, many are grateful just to have a steady paycheck,  but you might be surprised at how many of the gainfully employed are searching for something better.

Salary.com just released its 4th annual survey of employee job satisfaction and it revealed some interesting trends:

  • Approximately 65% of respondents said they were “somewhat” satisfied, but less than 15% said they were “extremely” satisfied. Meanwhile, employers believe that 30% of their workers are “extremely” satisfied. As usual, management is out of touch (maybe that’s because we know what’s good for us and have learned how to put on a happy face at work even when we’re seething inside).
  • The most satisfied workers are the Working Retirees and those in the Healthcare and Internet industries (I wonder if anyone has done a Blogger Job Satisfaction survey).
  • The least satisfied workers are the Millenials (those under 30) and those in the Financial Services industry (no shocker there).
  • 65% of employed survey respondents said they are looking around (up more than 17% this year). 60% said they plan to intensify their job search over the next three months despite the economy.
  • Nearly 80% of responding managers do not believe that their employees will initiate a job search in the next three months. Workers are smarter than managers realize. We might be willing to settle for a steady paycheck in the short term, especially during a tough job market, but we are always keeping our eyes open for a more rewarding opportunity. So don’t think you can treat us like crap forever. We’ll put up with it only as long as we absolutely have to.
  • Those who plan to stay in their jobs will do so because of a best friend at work, a good paycheck, or an easy commute. It’s rather telling that none of these factors have anything to do with the work itself.

Check out more results from the Salary.com survey.

Give Thanks for Your Crappy Job

November 25th, 2008

Written by Pamela Skillings

To help you celebrate Thanksgiving, here is a new and improved version of my post from last Turkey Day — a call to express thanks for the good things in your life, which is especially important in the midst of our current economic rough patch.

Forget about all of the pilgrim crap. The best way to think about Thanksgiving is as a time to express gratitude for all of the great things in your life — your friends, your family, your health, your access to massive quantities of poultry and pumpkin pie.

And don’t forget to say a little thanks to the universe or your deity of choice for your job if you’ve got one. You’re probably rolling your eyes right now if you’re stuck in a stressful or mind-numbing corporate job. Or if you’ve been recently downsized or restructured or otherwise unceremoniously shown the door by your corporate overlords.

But trust me, there are plenty of things to be grateful for if you really think about it:

Give Thanks for Your Paycheck — If you’re collecting regular paychecks or severance payments, you’re doing better than a lot of people. That’s not to say that you should settle for a job that’s only about the paycheck or avoid taking risks to find more fulfilling work. You can have both a paycheck and a meaningful career. And you will.

Give Thanks for All That You’ve Learned — Your experience in Corporate America has made you wiser. You have learned valuable business skills, developed a network of helpful contacts, and built a resume. You’ve also learned a lot about what you DON’T want to do for a living. All of these things will come in handy in your dream career — whether it’s starting your own business, becoming a third-grade teacher, or writing the Great American Novel. Yes, your bosses can always lay you off but they can never take away any of that hard-earned experience or your talents, skills, or wisdom.

Give Thanks for the Fire Under Your Ass — Sometimes, people need to be miserable in order to find the motivation to change. If you know anything about Joseph Campbell’s hero’s journey or have seen a few Hollywood films, you know that the hero must go through crisis in order to achieve victory. A wise woman in one of my writing workshops put it this way — "a character doesn’t change unless you light a fire under his ass." What this means for you is that you will probably never take a leap until you feel flames on the seat of your pants. That fire could be the burning passion for your new career or it could be the slow, smoldering misery and/or frustration of a job that doesn’t inspire you. Whatever your inspiration, if you find yourself giving thanks for a brilliant new career by next Thanksgiving, you have that fire under your ass to thank.

Give Thanks for a Day Off — Most good corporate citizens in the U.S. get a paid day off for Thanksgiving. Many even get two (say thanks twice in this case). And if you’ve been laid off, look at it this way: You can do whatever you want for Thanksgiving and you don’t have to clear your plans with any boss this year. Take a break from the job search and do what so many terminated executives say they’re going to do — spend more time with your family. Or ditch your family if they’re a pain in the butt and spend time with people who are more supportive. Eat well and wear loose-fitting clothing.

And I want to thank you for reading this blog and sharing your thoughts and feedback. I am deeply grateful to everyone who has supported me over the last year as I published my first book and started a new and exciting chapter in my career. So many people shared their advice and expertise and helped me spread the word about Escape from Corporate America. A sincere thank you to each and every one of you…and you know who you are.

So You Want to Work for Dunder Mifflin Scranton

September 29th, 2008

Written by Pamela Skillings

I am so happy that new episodes of The Office are back. I sat down to watch on Thursday night even though my other favorite shows are piling up on the old Tivo (sorry, America’s Toughest Jobs, I’ve been busy but I still love you).

It was a great episode. Unlike some fans, I’m not obsessed with the Jim/Pam romance thing (even though I think John Krasinski and Jenna Fischer are awesome). The highlights for me were 1) the humble return of Temp Ryan and his subsequent groveling to Kelly and her tapeworm; 2) another glimpse of Dwight with his rumpled, half-dressed, post-workplace-nookie glow; and 3) an update on my man Toby and his sad escape attempt from Corporate America. It was so nice to have them all back.

The warm, fuzzy feelings got me thinking that Dunder Mifflin Scranton might not be such a terrible place to work. Yes, the boss is totally incompetent and inappropriate and discriminates on the basis of race, gender, sexual orientation, and irrational dislike. Yes, employees spend their working lives devoted to the manufacture and sale of office paper. But a career at Dunder Mifflin can have its advantages too:

1) Flex-time — At Dunder Mifflin, it’s no problem to take time away from the office to maintain that elusive work/life balance. Pam is apparently on a sabbatical to study design in New York. Jim takes very long lunches for romantic rendezvous. Dwight and Angela take frequent bomp-chicka-wow-wow breaks in the supply room. Phyllis took time out of her work day for a long workout (even if it wasn’t intentional).

2) Every employee is special — The Dunder Mifflin party planning committee makes sure that every employee’s birthday is celebrated with cake (or fruit if they’re too fat) and conference room camaraderie. When an employee is feeling sad and weak from hunger, she is encouraged to stand on a chair and hear positive commentary about her butt and wardrobe choices. And if an HR rep believes than an employee is a little bit extra “special,” she will go out of her way to support him.

3) You get to live in Scranton — What could be better than living in close proximity to both the Anthracite Museum (with its awesome ride) and the Steamtown Mall? Here I must reveal that I have spent a lot of time in Scranton, PA over the course of my life. I grew up in a town that is approximately an hour away from Scranton and so small that we had to drive to Scranton for such cosmopolitan fun as shopping at a mall or getting served at a “club.” I still have fond Scranton memories of drinking underage and shopping at Claire’s Boutique.

4) It’s better than a Costa Rican hospital — Poor Toby. He summoned up the courage to quit his job and move to Costa Rica and ended up trapped in a full-body cast. Let his experience be a cautionary tale for all of us. When escaping from Corporate America, always remember safety first!

Middle Managers, Rejoice!

March 27th, 2008

Written by Pamela Skillings

middle managerFinally. Some encouraging news from the corporate trenches. Despite job cuts and rising unemployment rates, it seems that middle managers in several key industries are in short supply and companies are willing to pay higher salaries than ever for the right candidates.

In a recent survey, HR executives at both Fortune 500 and smaller firms said that they expect a shortage of mid- and senior-level managers in 2008 and estimate that they will pay 5 to 15 percent more in salary to fill manager slots in accounting, finance, marketing, sales, engineering, information technology, clinical, and midlevel management.

The survey, conducted by recruiting outsourcer Hyrian, also found that 78% of HR executives felt retention would be their most pressing business issue in 2008.

These results don’t seem to be make sense given the recent economic and job market headlines. However, the demand for talent in accounting, healthcare, and other industries is continuing to grow despite the unemployment rate. At the same time, many baby boomers are moving toward retirement and most companies have been neglecting succession planning and training and development because of budget demands. The result is a shortage of qualified managers in many cases.

This is definitely good news for middle managers. And how often does that happen?

Office Holiday Party Survival Guide

December 11th, 2007

Written by Pamela Skillings

It’s that time of year again. The office holiday party is supposed to be a festive occasion, but we all know that some people can take a good time a little bit too far. That can be incredibly entertaining to watch, so remember to pace yourself and let somebody else be the poor chump that everyone will be smirking about tomorrow. After all, the drunks at this party are the same people who may be determining your year-end bonus and you can’t count on them blacking out and forgetting all of your transgressions by morning. The following are some common office holiday party blunders that can continue to cause shame and regret well into the new year:

  • Inappropriate Intoxication — Keep your drinking to a minimum, especially if you’re a lightweight. There’s a fine line between happily tipsy and embarrassingly inebriated. Beware of open bars as free drinks tend to go down much more easily. At my first-ever office holiday party as a recent college grad, I watched as one of the young associates got ridiculously drunk, passed out on the dance floor, and had to be taken away by ambulance and treated for alcohol poisoning. The CEO rode along to make sure he was okay (probably for liability purposes). It was no surprise when the poor guy was transferred to the Bombay office soon after.
  • Inappropriate Affection — It’s generally best to avoid drunken public make-out sessions with bosses and/or coworkers. What happens at the holiday party never stays at the holiday party especially if there is tongue involved.
  • Inappropriate Attire — Leave the Santa sweater at home. You may think you’re being ironic, but you still look like a doofus. It’s hard to see executive potential in somebody wearing a Santa sweater. At the same time, avoid trying to look too hot (I know that’s hard for you). Showing off your goodies at work (even a work party) is likely to lead to gossip and attention that you don’t want.
  • Inappropriate Dancing — Take a lesson from Elaine. Displays of spastic dancing will not soon be forgotten by your peers.

Telecommuting Is Good For You (And Your Company)

November 28th, 2007

Written by Pamela Skillings

Your dilemma: You’d love to work from home a few days a week but your boss thinks telecommuting is just an opportunity to slack off and watch Oprah. Well, I’ve got just what you need to make your case: Real numbers from an academic study that shows that telecommuting is better for both workers and bosses.

Researchers from Pennsylvania State University looked at data on 12,833 telecommuters and found that telecommuting programs have beneficial effects for both the workers and their employers. Study results showed that telecommuters reported more job satisfaction, less motivation to leave the company, less stress, improved work-family balance, and higher performance ratings by supervisors. Managers supervising telecommuters also reported that their performance was not negatively affected by working from home.

And if your boss argues that face time at the office is necessary to foster good work relationships, you can oh-so-diplomatically beg to differ. Telecommuters who worked away from their offices for less than three days per week did not see their work relationships suffer Those who were out of the office for three days per week or more, however, did see their bonds with co-workers diminish.

If you have been fantasizing about telecommuting, now may be the time to pitch the idea to your boss. Approximately 45 million Americans telecommuted in 2006. If you want to join their ranks, your best bet is to put together a written proposal for your boss. Address any of her potential concerns and explain the business value of the arrangement for the company. Perhaps you will be able to start work earlier or work later because you can cut out a long commute. Or maybe you can deliver higher-quality work in an environment away from the cubicle-farm distractions where you can focus. Cite the results of the Penn State study to help make your case and show that you’ve done your homework.

Be prepared to compromise. If your manager remains skeptical, offer to do a trial run for a few weeks and see how it goes. Then bend over backward to show that you can be even more productive from home than you can be in the office.

If all goes well, you will soon be be enjoying the benefits of the telecommuter’s life. Of course, there are also challenges to making telecommuting work, but most find that the increased flexibility and the reduced commute time are well worth any effort required to adapt. Just ask those guys from Penn State.

Power Shift — Top Talent Can Afford to Be Picky

September 11th, 2007

Written by Pamela Skillings

A new survey from recruiters Robert Half International and CareerBuilder.com reveals that the war for talent is in full effect and that top candidates are taking advantage of their bargaining muscle. A few very interesting stats:

       

  • 6 out of 10 hiring managers complained of difficulties in finding fully qualified people. Nearly two thirds felt that the environment will be just as challenging next year and more than a quarter said they believe that hiring willl be even more challenging.
  • 6 out of 10 candidates said they would be likely to negotiate a better compensation package today, compared with just under 3 out of 10 who felt the same way last year.

What do these numbers mean? "With an employee-driven market comes a shift in negotiating power," Matt Ferguson, chief executive of CareerBuilder.com, said in a press release.
The survey also found that hiring firms are responding to the shift by intensifying their efforts to attract and retain star performers. Nearly a third of firms had put new staff retention programs into place over the last twelve months.
Interestingly, the research also revealed that companies and workers have different ideas about which benefits inspire loyalty.

Companies focused on offering bonuses and higher pay (23% and 16% of responding companies, respectively). While more money is always a good thing, employees said that they were more likely to choose one job over another based on factors such as flexible schedules (65%) and telecommuting opportunities (33%).

I think that both companies and employees should pay a lot of attention to this survey. Its findings closely correspond with what I heard from hundreds of corporate employees during the research for my upcoming book.

If you’re a hiring manager at a big firm, the message is clear. Flexibility is extremely important to today’s best and brightest. Yes, people want to be paid fairly, but they also want to have lives outside of the office.

If you’re a top performer, this research is a good reminder that there is no need to settle for working at a company that doesn’t treat you well or in a job that doesn’t inspire you. You’ve got the leverage to pick and choose.

Don’t be afraid to ask for what you want and deserve when it comes to compensation and benefits. I know firsthand from my interviews that there are companies out there that are willing to invest in you and keeping you happy and productive.

Vacation Innovation

September 4th, 2007

Written by Pamela Skillings

Beachvacation_3 Tired of hoarding vacation days and justifying every moment out of the office? Maybe you should send your resume to IBM. At IBM, every employee gets three weeks or more of annual vacation time and the company doesn’t keep track of how much time is taken. The downside is that IBM also doesn’t let workers carry vacation day over from year to year. You either use it or you lose it.

According to a recent New York Times article about the policy, IBM employees like the accountability and rate the firm’s laid-back attitude toward work and vacations as a top reason for staying at IBM.

Of course, some IBM employees interviewed for the article didn’t seem to be making the most out of their vacation freedom. Several noted that they check their voice mail and email frequently while on vacation and that bosses sometimes ask staff members to cancel time off in order to meet deadlines. Some complained that heavy work loads made it difficult to take much time off at all.

I think IBM’s policy is a step in the right direction. A corporate-wide attitude of flexibility toward time off can only be a good thing. However, it’s also important for work loads to be reasonable and for all managers to encourage their staff members to take time off when it’s due to them. Innovative policies only get results when people are actually allowed to use them.