Trends and Statistics

Do Temps and Consultants Have “Mental Health Issues”?

August 14th, 2009

Written by Pamela Skillings

ryanthetemptheofficeAccording a new study, workers hired for temporary or contract work face a higher risk of developing mental health problems such as depression.

The study was authored by Amelie Quesnel-Valleehe,  a medical sociologist at Montreal-based McGill Unviersity. The research, quoted in the excellent Workforce Management, raises some interesting issues.

However, I bristled a bit at quotes from Quesnel-Vallee that seem to caution employers against hiring these “unstable” temporary workers.

According to Quesnel-Vallee, “Employers need to be mindful of the fact that obviously they have economic imperatives and there is temptation to go with a more flexible workforce, but the bottom line is that it may not be as obvious as they might predict.” Read her other quotes about the productivity risks of hiring contract and temporary workers.

These quotes annoy me for a few reasons. First, consultants and freelancers face enough challenges without having to overcome employer stereotypes that they are more vulnerable to mental health problems.

Second, this study is based on records collected between 1992 and 2002 and focuses on workers who “don’t expect to be with their current jobs for more than one year.”

The options for free agents were much more limited before 2002. And those who are free agents by choice would be unlikely to use the phrase quoted above. If you’re a contractor by choice, you probably consider your job to be working for yourself. Even if your current assignment is unlikely to last more than a year, your “job” as a contractor will continue.

For me, leaving a steady 9-to5 gig to work for myself has improved my mental health dramatically. I no longer feel depressed on a regular basis. The joys of freedom, flexibility, and control over my own destiny more than compensate for the stresses. I know many others who feel the same way. read more…

Right Brain Help Wanted — Left Brains Need Not Apply

July 15th, 2009

Written by Pamela Skillings

left-brain-right-brainMarco della Cava at USA Today wrote a great article about how to retrain your brain to succeed in the new economy. He makes the argument that right brain thinking (big picture, creative) is more valuable than left brain thinking (linear, logical) in new economy careers.

This is one of my areas of focus right now — helping job hunters and career changers become more entrepreneurial and creative (both of these qualities rely heavily on the right brain). Marco quoted me in the article, along with A Whole New Mind guru Daniel Pink and several career changers who recently made the leap from left-brain careers to right-brain careers. He also wrote an interesting  related article about how to train kids for a “right brain future.”

Obviously, no one is purely “right brain” or “left brain.” We all need both sides of that wrinkly grey organ in order to thrive. For entrepreneurs, that is particularly true. We rely on our right brain for vision, innovation, and big-picture synthesizing and strategy. At the same time, we must tap into that left brain for managing our employees, keeping our finances in order, and staying on top of our task lists. We have to be able to switch back and forth between our left-brain and right-brain personalities (or hire/partner with people who have the skills that we lack).

Right now, I’m working on developing seven new training programs for three different clients in three different but related topic areas (this is why my blog posts are kind of few and far-between these days). This has required frequent right brain/left brain switching — from researching to big-picture strategy to organizing to writing to PowerPoint formatting, etc.

The right-brain stuff always comes pretty naturally for me. I have had to train myself in the ways of left-brain thinking — and it can be learned. Twelve years in Corporate America certainly helped with my left-brain development. But ultimately, I had to escape from Corporate America because all left-brain and no right-brain made me a very dull (and unhappy) girl.

Some people say that you can’t learn right-brain thinking, but I strongly disagree. I have led many creativity workshops and watched left-brainers learn to tap into their inner creative genius. For those in career transition, I highly recommend starting a right-brain workout plan. It may very well help you find and/or qualify for a more rewarding career path in the new economy.

Hypnotize with Your Words — Learn Persuasive Writing Skills

July 2nd, 2009

Written by Pamela Skillings

Learning how to write to persuade can really pay off in the business world. Your writing can sell a product or service, score you a job interview, justify a promotion or raise, establish credibility with a client or boss, motivate a difficult employee, or win support for your cause.

In the current hyper-competitive business environment, persuasive writing skills are more valuable than ever before. That’s why I worked with the American Management Association (AMA) to develop a live 90-minute webinar that teaches the 12 proven techniques for writing persuasively.

The webinar will take place on August 6th from 1-2:30 pm and we have worked hard to pack it with valuable information and exercises that will help anyone be more effective at work — even if writing isn’t a major part of your job. In fact, persuasive writing is an essential skill for managers (write convincing emails and performance reviews), entrepreneurs (write winning proposals and pitches), and career changers and job hunters (write brilliant resumes and cover letters).

Sign up now if you’re interested in learning how to convince, inspire, and influence with your writing. The email just went out the the AMA database and spots are filling up, so I wanted to give everybody here a heads-up now. Learn more about the course.

Are You a Super Commuter?

May 4th, 2009

Written by Pamela Skillings

trafficjamHow many hours do you spend commuting to and from work? How much more time would you be willing to spend commuting for a great new job or client?

Long commutes can be stressful and exhausting. In fact, a British study found that commuters can experience more stress than fighter pilots or riot police do.  But sometimes you do what you’ve got to do to make a living.

In the current job market, are you more willing to sign on for a longer commute just to land a job? If you’re a consultant or entrepreneur, are you willing to commute further for the right client or business opportunity (say, cheaper office space)?

Let’s take it a step further. Would you be willing to commute to another city for the work week and see your family (and/or home, cat, etc.) only on the weekends? If so, a reporter for a major New York publication wants to talk to you. She’s doing a story about New York super commuters who have recently taken on jobs or work situations that force them to commute to and live in a different city during the work week.

If this sounds like you or someone you know, contact me at story @ escapefromcorporate.com and I’ll connect you with the reporter for your 15 minutes of fame.

Even if your commute is not quite that super, please  share your commuting horror stories and commuter sanity-saving tips in the comments. Or go ahead and gloat about your work-at-home commute from bedroom to desk.

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).

Good News on Friday the 13th

March 13th, 2009

Written by Pamela Skillings

puppySick of all of the depressing headlines? Granted, we can’t afford to live in denial. But it’s not all doom and gloom. I decided to round up some good news for you this Friday the 13th.

Even in the toughest times, there are opportunities — and it’s hard to grab those opportunities when you’re stuck in panic mode. So if you’re feeling overwhelmed, it’s time to accentuate the positive.

There ARE job openings out there

Bernie Madoff is going to jail

Michael J. Fox is optimistic

Acts of kindness abound

A one-man stimulus package

Puppies!

Love and Money

February 13th, 2009

Written by Pamela Skillings

i-love-money-megan_lIt’s Valentine’s Day weekend. I have seen enough pink hearts to last me a lifetime and I am sick of trying to find synonyms for “romantic” for my About.com Valentine’s Day lists. But I’m still looking forward to my champagne and professions of love this Saturday.

In honor of the big, pink, champagne-drenched and candlelit holiday, I thought it would be interesting to look at how Americans are thinking about love in the midst of a tough economy. Is the recession forcing us all to re-evaluate what’s really important and decide that all we need is love? Are job losses and money woes cramping our dating style? The answers may surprise you.

The Bad News — Recessions Aren’t Very Romantic

According to the January 2009 PayPal “Can’t Buy Me Love” survey:

  • 43% of U.S. couples say the recession has caused them to argue more frequently.
  • 10% of U.S.couples say that the role of primary breadwinner has changed over the past six months due to job losses or salary decreases.

But Poverty Has Made Us Less Shallow

  • 73% of women view financial know-how as more important than attractiveness when choosing a potential partner, according to a 2008 study by Money Management International, a nonprofit credit counseling agency.

And We’re Still Willing to Splurge on Romance

  • 49% of men and 35% of women said that they will not curb their dating spending in a tight economy, according to a 2008 TRUE.com survey.
  • 70% of respondents in relationships are still giving gifts to their significant others for Valentine’s Day, according to the 2009 PayPal survey.

Most Importantly, Money Still Can’t Buy Us Love
A February 2009 Zoomerang Survey found that job losses and tighter budgets haven’t  ruined our love lives.

  • 70% of Americans say their love lives have not been impacted by the weak U.S. economy.
  • 36% of couples said that the economy has brought them closer.
  • 56% say trust is the most important aspect of a love relationship, while 0% listed money as the key factor.

I hope you are feeling the love this Valentine’s Day.  Even if you hate the commercial Hallmark circus of a traditional Valentine’s Day, February 14th offers a great opportunity to show appreciation for those you love –  significant others, family members, friends, loyal pets, and Sports Illustrated swimsuit models.

Raise a glass to all who love you for you and not for your job, title, salary, or disposable income.

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.

A Time For Innovation

January 21st, 2009

Written by Pamela Skillings

thinking_out_of_the_box“Our workers are no less productive than when this crisis began. Our minds are no less inventive, our goods and services no less needed than they were last week or last month or last year. Our capacity remains undiminished. But our time of standing pat, of protecting narrow interests and putting off unpleasant decisions – that time has surely passed. Starting today, we must pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and begin again the work of remaking America.

For everywhere we look, there is work to be done. The state of the economy calls for action, bold and swift, and we will act – not only to create new jobs, but to lay a new foundation for growth.”

– President Barack Obama’s Inauguration Speech
January 20, 2009

Among the many eloquent words spoken at yesterday’s inauguration events, these stood out for me.  As an entrepreneur and a career coach who sees the challenges of the current economy up close every day, I know it’s tough out there right now. But that doesn’t mean that opportunities don’t exist.

In fact, it’s more important than ever before to tap into your creativity and get innovative.  Most of the people I speak with these days are counting on President Obama and his administration to lead innovatively. Government as usual certainly hasn’t been working.

For entrepreneurs and job hunters, innovative thinking may be your only hope for thriving during the downturn. In the February issue of Entrepreneur, there’s a great article that highlights an intriguing pattern: some of the most innovative ideas in history have emerged during tough economic times. These breakthroughs include the transistor radio, the pacemarker, McDonald’s, Microsoft,  Diet Coke, Prozac, and the iPod. [Note: The article doesn't seem to be on the Entrepreneur web site just yet, but it's worth picking up the February issue to check out]

The article goes on to outline some tips for thinking more innovatively. My friend Lisa Bodell, founder of the innovation consulting firm futurethink, also has some great innovation resources. Futurethink’s specialty is practical innovation. Take a look at their free diagnostic tool to see how well your company is innovating today and their free starter kit for tips on where to start improving.

And finally, one more piece of encouraging news. Even though consumer confidence is at a depressing low, Forbes says people are still spending money on some things.  We’re still buying SmartPhones, videogames, gym memberships, personal care products, toy building sets, car maintenance, sensible shoes, fast food, and movie tickets. Could the demand for these items represent opportunity for your company? Maybe right now is your chance to launch one of the great innovations of tomorrow.

Your Career in 2009 (and Beyond)

October 27th, 2008

Written by Pamela Skillings

The World Future Society has released ten fearless forecasts for 2009 and beyond. If these predictions come to pass, they will mean major changes in our work lives and how we manage our careers.

1. Everything You Say and Do Will Be Recorded by 2030. “By the late 2010s, ubiquitous unseen nanodevices will provide seamless communication and surveillance among all people everywhere. Humans will have nanoimplants, facilitating interaction in an omnipresent network.” This is the terrifying one, at least from my perspective. It’s bad enough that our emails are recorded. Soon we will have to worry about every stupid thing we say coming back to haunt us someday.

2.  Careers, and the college majors for preparing for them, are becoming more specialized. “Instead of simply majoring in business, more students are beginning to explore niche majors such as sustainable business, strategic intelligence, and entrepreneurship. Other unusual majors that are capturing students’ imaginations: neuroscience and nanotechnology, computer and digital forensics, and comic book art.” I like the idea of colleges and companies offering more diverse opportunities for people to find work that they love. And I love the idea of being able to major in comic book art. I do worry a little bit that super-specialization can make it easier to get trapped in the wrong narrow niche. A focus on career specialization should be accompanied by plenty of support in exploring your options before you commit to a course of study.

3.  Professional knowledge will become obsolete almost as quickly as it’s acquired. “Most professions will require continuous instruction and retraining. Rapid changes in the job market and work-related technologies will necessitate job education for almost every worker. At any given moment, a substantial portion of the labor force will be in job retraining programs.” This may sound a little bit daunting (after all, how are we going to fit more training into our already-overstuffed schedules?). At the same time, I am thrilled at the prospect of companies offering employees resources to continuously evolve and grow. It will be a lot harder to get stuck in a bad career if all careers are constantly changing and periodic career changes are viewed as standard operating procedure for all workers.  The average American worker already changes careers several times over the course of a lifetime. Won’t it be nice to have more resources and support when it’s time to change things up in our work lives?

Read up on the World Future Society’s other predictions — including their forecasts for the death of the car, the growth in urbanization, and the evolution of religion in the Middle East.