A Little Laughter Doesn’t Hurt: The Most Read Posts of 2013


The close of another year always brings a moment of reflection. So many things come to mind — the challenge of workplace engagement, the need for truly inspiring managers, how loving our work drives us forward. This year there was a good deal of attention focused upon accepting ourselves for who we really are, and learning to transact those strengths into fulfillment at work. I feel hopeful that we have reached an inflection point — where individual differences will be embraced and valued. When we have the opportunity to share the best of ourselves at work, great things can happen. Engagement can soar and we feel a much needed sense of connection.

Transparency continued to be a guiding theme. Whether we were considering how we manage our time or developing our own personal brand, honesty seems to be the policy of choice. As such, we should feel free to not only embrace who we really are —  but our mistakes, as well.  On a final note, humor is still, and should always remain a priority —  as #5  illustrates. It seems that the option for a good laugh, is still a very handy workplace tool.

Below are the 5 posts that received the most activity (views + shares) at The Office Blend during 2013.  I’ve also included a second “Top 5” list — my favorite posts from around the web.

I’d like to thank all of you for supporting The Office Blend, with your time (and shares) in 2013. Happy New Year to you and yours!

Top 5 posts:

  1. How Not to Manage an Introvert
  2. Brand Yourself as a High Potential
  3. The Ugly Truth About Time Management
  4. Why We Should Still Practice the “70-20-10” Rule
  5. 5 of the Funniest Workplace Commercials of All Time

Some remarkable posts from around the web:

  1. Three Tips for Overcoming Your Blind Spots, John Dame and Jeffrey Gedmin, HBR.
  2. What Losing My Job Taught Me About Leading, Douglas Conant, HBR
  3. Google’s Quest to Build a Better Boss, Adam Bryant, The New York Times
  4. How to Sell Ideas Like Gladwell, Jonah Berger, LinkedIn.
  5. Always, Always, Always Show Up, Whitney Johnson, HBR.

What are you striving for at work in 2014? Share your hopes and goals.

Dr. Marla Gottschalk is an Industrial/Organizational Psychologist and coach.  Read more of her posts at LinkedIn.

More Options for Today’s Working Women: Leaning “Homeward” vs Leaning “In”

Work life balance

Many women would opt for time away from the traditional “9 to 5” work life to remain home with children — and a growing body of research supports this.  I reached this inflection point a short time after finishing my degree. Happily entrenched in a growing HR consulting firm (with a fair amount of career momentum on my side), it became obvious that my best laid plans for melding home and work life weren’t going to materialize. At the time, my decision to “lean out” may have appeared ill-advised — but as time would pass, it became clear that it was truly for the best.

Our young son didn’t sleep nights. He couldn’t tolerate formula. He seemed particularly distressed when we left him with a sitter for even a few hours. When I compared stories with other working mothers, things just weren’t adding up to a “lean in” scenario. The guilt and compounding stress were overpowering. I was torn between two disparate worlds that just weren’t meshing. My instincts told me to stay at home if at all possible. Luckily, after weighing both emotional and financial concerns, the option to complete some project work at home came into play. I happily chose this option — too exhausted in the moment to even begin to evaluate the long-term ramifications of that decision.

Knowing what I know today about work life integration, I would have sought a more permanent part-time solution (with an option to return when home life became more predictable). A recent article in The Atlantic, Moms Who Cut Back at Work Are Happier, explores the often difficult quest for women to find balance with their ever-evolving roles. The piece discusses research which reveals that many married moms would indeed, rather work part-time at specific points or “seasons” in their career — “leaning homeward” instead of “leaning in”. Furthermore, many who have the opportunity to embark on such a career “sacrifice” are happier overall. A recent CBS/New York Times survey echoes this sentiment, where it was found that nearly one-half of working women with children under the age of 18, would prefer an option to work part-time.

The fact remains, that it is challenging for many women to carry on their careers after children, as if nothing has changed. Dialing down the pressure should be a viable option — but keeping meaningful work in plain sight should also be part of that equation. With women making a significant investment in both their education and career, this has become a growing necessity — as we should have the opportunity to continue to contribute in a manner that remains fulfilling.

We are indeed making progress in this area. However, widespread acceptance of part-time options will likely not materialize until we acknowledge the need for a pervasive change in mindset. If you have had the opportunity to read, Why Women Still Can’t Have It All, by Anne-Marie Slaughter — you’d know exactly where I am going with this. We have to step up and vocalize what we really need to remain both happy and productive. With a healthy dose of transparency, these changes may come sooner than later. We  should discuss the realities of melding work and career life, openly and often — because the essence of being truly happy at work, might lie just as much in being honest about what we cannot do — as much as what we can.

Suffice it to say, that my instinct to remain at home was on target. I needed to be there for a variety of reasons. Years later, it is apparent that I’ve had a fair amount of explaining to do in reference to the gap in my career. However of late, I no longer feel the need to either hide the reason — or the fact that I did so without hesitation.

I would like to think that in the future — working women won’t have to make these decisions bleary-eyed and exhausted.

Have you shared a similar experience? Were you able to adjust and work part-time? Share your story.

Dr. Marla Gottschalk is an Industrial/Organizational Psychologist.  Read more of her posts at LinkedIn.

Considering a Change in Direction? How to Deal with Non-Believers


Career growth can be both an exhausting and exhilarating experience.

You have already dealt with the internal struggle — realizing that a change was necessary. Then, there is both the commitment and possible sacrifice necessary to ensure that real change occurs. (You may be juggling coursework or tackling a stretch assignment in addition to your assigned tasks).

We expect that the process will be challenging.

However, it can be disconcerting that the most surprising aspect of ordeal, are those around us who just cannot seem to get on-board. Already well outside your comfort zone — it can be difficult to squelch all of the “nay-saying” from those around you. Those that just cannot seem to let you evolve.

How do you handle individuals who are less than supportive? The off-handed remarks and the reminders of the obstacles that may come. Remember that you can’t change others or how they see your path. However, you can filter their remarks.
Consider these points:

  • Some people will not see what you see. Goals are very personal. Explaining why you seem to be flinging yourself toward shaky ground, can seem frightening to some. Remember that you are the only that truly understands why you need to embark on this journey.
  • Jealousy does exist. Career bravery on your part — can sometimes elicit a note of career envy from others. Watching others make progress can be hard to digest for some.
  • Ubiquitous disengagement. There are many people who are unhappy with their own role, yet do not recognize where they are. Do not allow their malaise to affect your resolve.
  • Some people are mean. Shocking, but true. There are individuals who just do will not play nice. They will revel in pointing out the obvious (that change is hard) and will never offer credit, when it is due.

What to do next:

  • Consider the feedback. Try to take the stance that all feedback is useful. Listen to all that is said, but process the information carefully.
  • Tell them what you need. Just as Don Draper expressed in Mad Men, if the conversation is headed in the wrong direction — “change the conversation”. When skepticism and doubt are all that is presented, remind them that the journey is challenging and solicit their support.
  • Plan your re-brand “roll out”. Any career shift certainly requires a re-branding “roll out”. Plan to inform others about your new direction and how it might affect your work. Try developing an “elevator pitch” that nicely explains where you are headed.
  • Let it go. In some cases, you need to simply ignore the negativity and move on. There are those who hold a “fixed mindset” and do not believe that people can evolve successfully. Prove them wrong, then lend support to others who also aspire to evolve.

Have you ever met resistance when you were venturing onto a new career path? What strategies worked for you?

Dr. Marla Gottschalk is an Industrial/Organizational Psychologist. Read more of her posts at LinkedIn.

When It’s Time to Go. A Look at the Psychological Contract

Photo by Sora Shimazaki on Pexels.com

We’ve all grappled with the decision to leave an organization. By any measure, this is a difficult impasse to consider — often involving an agonizing “push” and “pull” of emotions. One day we might feel momentarily energized to “stick with it” for the long haul, only to have core issues re-surface in an amplified form.

Should we continue to hope for things to improve or cut our losses and begin the process of moving on? Previously we’ve discussed avoiding career regret and why we shouldn’t give up too quickly. However, there are some situations where we need to realize that enough — is well — enough.

One factor which is often a silent contributor to this decision, is the status of the psychological contract that exists between ourselves and our employer. Often the inevitability of leaving — has been cast long before the final decision to pull up roots has been made — as the very core of the employer-employee relationship has already been significantly damaged. The damage occurs when we have been let down in some way, or perceive that a promise has not been fulfilled. As such, it becomes increasingly difficult to remain committed, as we begin to lose focus and quietly disengage. In this regard, our physical departure only represents a ceremonial farewell. Truth be told, any investment in the employment relationship has already been halted.

The psychological contract that exists between employer and employee, plays a vital role throughout our work lives. Described in this research, the contract is “an individual’s belief regarding the terms and conditions of a reciprocal exchange agreement between that focal person and another party”. The health of this contract can affect the development of key workplace attitudes and behaviors (job satisfaction, trust, intention to turnover, etc.) While both parties contribute to the”give” and “take” of the dynamic — the contract is re-calibrated over the course of an employee’s tenure. Ultimately, when either party perceives a problem with balance, a breakdown can occur.

Let me offer an illustration. Recently I had a conversation with a highly competent marketing executive. Unfortunately, many obstacles had emerged in his current role, among these, the lack of a well-suited path for career growth and development. Over a period of time, he began to experience doubt that his employer had his best interests at heart. On the face of things he professed that he would remain committed — rock steady that he would continue to do his best to fulfill his role and make things work. But, in reality I observed that his psychological resources were waning as he was subtly disengaging. On a basic level, I believe he perceived that the psychological contract with his employer had been breached. (He did depart a short time later.)

Overall, the on-going viability of this contract is critical to our work lives. When problems arise, the strength and tenor of contract can become stressed. Ultimately, it is often difficult to acknowledge that the contract has been irreparably broken and admit that it may be time to explore new horizons.

What might be holding us back:

  • Attribution of failure. We may delay a departure because on some level we feel personally responsible for the current state. In our minds, the failure of the relationship equals a personal failure — which is often not the case. So, we remain to seek resolution.
  • Others seem happy. In some situations, the organization is just not the right environment for the specific employee, with a specific career need. Keep in mind that although opportunities might exist within your current organization, these opportunities may not be right for you.
  • Separation anxiety. Often we develop strong bonds with our colleagues, making a departure even that much more traumatic. We stay for them — when we should really be leaving for ourselves.
  • The “one more try” vice. If you have already done your best to bring core issues to the forefront without satisfactory resolution, it is difficult to find the energy to continue. You’ve likely done your part. Offer yourself permission to move on.

Often we have disengaged long before our physical departure from an organization or role. Have you ever experienced this? Tell us your story.

Dr. Marla Gottschalk is an Industrial/Organizational Psychologist and a charter member of the LinkedIn Influencer Program. She is the co-founder of Goba — a consulting practice that helps people & organizations build stronger work life foundation through core stability. Her thoughts on work & organizations have appeared in the Harvard Business Review, Forbes, BBC Work Life, Quartz and The Huffington Post

The Gift of Focus

alfonso-reyes-712273-unsplashI’ve been stuck on the word “focus” for the past couple of weeks.

Focus, or rather the lack of it — appears to be a growing problem in our work lives. At work, our attention has become infinitely divided; calls, e-mails, meetings, devices. We all need become acutely aware of the need for focus or I fear the quality of our work will slowly diminish.

The reasons to allow time for focus are many. However the core justification really rests deep within our brains.

While we possess the ability to switch between tasks, we simply do not have the ability to attend to all of them effectively. (Research at Stanford has shown that heavy multi-taskers have trouble mastering even the simplest of tasks.) So, I’d like to pose the question: How are you doing focus-wise? Are you taking control of the issue?

Here are a few practical suggestions to help you bring more focus into your work life. It all starts with one small step.

Strategies to consider:

  • Tame those e-mails. Seriously, e-mails are going to be the death of us — as they insidiously rob us of focus each and every day. (Do you feel like you are falling down the rabbit hole?) Forward thinking organizations are beginning to ban e-mails during designated time periods or specific days, to allow employees the opportunity to focus on their work. First rule to tame this problem, courtesy of LinkedIn CEO, Jeff Wiener — if you want fewer e-mails, send less of them!
  • Segment meetings. Many meetings lack direction and become the antithesis of focus. One method to solve this, is to use a targeted agenda to thoughtfully segment the time spent in the meeting. For example, if you plan to meet for 60 minutes, segment time to allow for no more than 2-3 topics. Devote 20 minutes to each — enough time to review information, discuss and gain some closure. Identify a “time-keeper” to keep things on track and record topics to be addressed later.
  • Control your calendar. Only you can take the steps to make your spent time count. Review your schedule for the past week and ask yourself the following question: What you can eliminate to make room to focus on the tasks that matter? Then offer that gift to yourself.
  • Look around you. If your work environment doesn’t allow time (or a bona fide quiet space) to really focus, start making waves, While offices are designed for efficiency, open floor plans can become an enemy of focus (How about a few well placed walls?) Discuss options with your manager to provide an appropriate space to collect your thoughts.
  • Set a routine that works for you. Be sure set the right scenario to allow for focus. Consider elements such as the time of day that you seem sharpest, and the physical elements most conducive for you to think deeply (Personally, I require music). Aim for a 30-minutes of focus each day, to start. Of course, remember to build in breaks, as this allows your thoughts to coalesce.

How do you build focus into your day? Share your strategies here.

Additional reading:

Tame the E-mail Beast, Entrepreneur.com
Make Time for the Work That Matters, Julian Birkinshaw and Jordan Cohen, Harvard Business Review
Control Your Workday, Gina Trapani, Geek to Live

Friday Catalyst – Larry Smith: Why You Will Fail to Have a Great Career – The Ted Talks

Finding Career Chutzpah: Why We Don’t Ask for What We Need at Work

Photo by Damiano Baschiera on Unsplash

It is difficult to ask for what we need career-wise.

But, that hesitation doesn’t make us less deserving. We all have something we need, whether it is guidance, a more flexible schedule, increased challenge or exposure.

But we are fearful. We hesitate. We role-play the potential outcome of the conversations in our minds.

To progress in today’s world of work, mastering “the ask” is an absolute necessity. Wherever you find yourself in your career journey — asking for what we need is simply a challenge we must overcome. If not we begin to “whither on the vine”.

How do we address this common problem? Rather than examining the “hows” of asking for what we need — let’s examine the “whys” behind our hesitation.

A few things that hold us back:

  • We’re in the dark about our performance. In some cases, we are simply unsure of our actual worth. Why? Because we don’t seek honest feedback. Asking your boss, clients or colleagues, “How did you feel about the work I completed?” is a fair and reasonable question. So — ask away. We need to know where we stand to feel we are in any position of power. Gathering the facts is really the only way.
  • A couple of “hard knocks”. In part, this is all a confidence game, and we have all experienced setbacks at work. Because of these experiences, we can develop a bit of a “blind spot” concerning our true value. We become guarded and hesitate to take risks. In the end, we have to look at failures as learning experiences — then commit to looking forward. Just remember, you are in good company.
  • We hate to brag. This is really tough one. Most of us feel we shouldn’t “toot our own horn” or play up our strengths. However, to secure that needed “leg up” — we need to ensure that others are noticing our work. A little well-placed “Marketing” is a necessity. Mention skills and accomplishments as “data points” that directly relate to the opportunities that are being discussed.
  • We don’t like to ask for anything. You may not like to depend on anyone to help secure your future. You may even think this would cause you to appear needy or less competent. Remember that no one is an island. It actually takes many people to build a meaningful career.  So open yourself up to reach out.
  • We’ve made unreasonable comparisons. Sometimes we feel unworthy because we are drawing unhealthy comparisons in relation to the careers of others (and judging ourselves harshly). We feel we don’t measure up and don’t have any claim to valuable outcomes. The imposter syndrome can also be at play — so be sure to face your doubts, as they are likely unreasonable.
  • We are afraid of the word “No”. The prospect of being rejected is never a pleasant — and hearing a negative response is a possibility. However, remember that we have the ability to recover.

This dynamic takes time to overcome. Simply start small and work your way forward. Asking for what you want or deserve might be difficult the first time around — but the process will get easier.

Just remember this: If you ask —  you just may get.

Have you been faced with this dilemma? What happened?

Dr. Marla Gottschalk is an Industrial/Organizational Psychologist. She is a charter member of the LinkedIn Influencer Program. Her thoughts on work life have appeared in various outlets including Talent Zoo, Forbes, Quartz and The Huffington Post.

The Untold Resume Story


Last week, I attended a client meeting discussing the merits of candidates for a key position. At one point, the conversation turned to a current freelance contributor with whom they had developed a long relationship . The conversation went something like this:

Company Executive A: “What about bringing in Erin on this one? Her work is beautiful.”

Company Executive B: “We should think about the required progress on this project — we need to keep things moving along quickly.”

Company Executive C: “I really would like to see Erin here, but I worry about her ability to handle the schedule when the pressure heats up.”

Hmmmm. The information shared by Company Executive C was certainly never mentioned previously. This candidate had completed multiple projects with the company quite successfully. Her work was described as “inspired” — and she usually hit budget targets. However, it appeared that a portion of her “invisible” or “unwritten” resume was affecting her chances with the current opportunity.

This poses an interesting aspect of resumes.

It is likely that we all have an alternative or unwritten resume —  which effectively captures what is not included in the more formal version. (See a great discussion of the topic in this classic HBR post.) This unwritten version, might include aspects of our work life including attitude, performance under pressure and our overall ability to collaborate.

We all have a side to our broader career story that we may be overlooking — and its elements may have a significant impact on our future. We need to ascertain the complete story and address it. The sooner the better.

So what do you think might be included in your “invisible resume”?

Time to think on that.

Dr. Marla Gottschalk is a Workplace Psychologist. She also writes for Linkedin and US News & World Report.

Strategy Break – Angela Lee Duckworth: The Key to Success? Grit – The TED Talks

Strategy Break: Let’s Bring Back Lunch and Other Retro Workplace Traditions

workplace 1960sThe workplace has evolved at such a break neck pace — that we often struggle to comply. So many things have transformed. Social media has revolutionized the tenor of communication and we have all jumped on the mobile carousel. However, 21st century developments, do not necessarily demand that we abandon every example of the “old” ways of doing business. Sometimes, tried and true traditions still hold quite a bit of workplace punch.

In that vein, here are a few methods to enhance your work life with a bit of “retro” flair.

  • Do lunch (and not at your desk). I love social media, Skype and a great Google hangout — but there is nothing like having a conversation with a colleague or friend over a bite to eat, at your favorite lunch time joint. Try this once a week and see what develops.
  • Hold an “unplugged” meeting. You may not remember what meetings were like before the ever-present distraction of devices, but that doesn’t mean you can’t give it a whirl. At your next meeting turn all phones, computers and tablets off  — then place them in the center of the table for the duration of the meeting. I dare you. Really.
  • Say “thank you”.  Showing gratitude — now there is a topic that never goes out of style. Has someone gone above and beyond as a contributor? Gone out of their way to make your work life easier? Send them a hand written note. (Yes, these still exist.)
  • Start early or stay late. I don’t know about you, but working when there is no one else around can be a liberating experience. No calls or interruptions — simply dedicated time to think deeply. Everything knocking around within your mind has a chance to ferment and just “be”.
  • Celebrate a success. I don’t mean landing on the moon – I mean “We completed that Goliath of a proposal” or “We dealt with that important client or customer problem effectively”. Buy a cake – bring in coffee drinks. Any small gesture to mark the occasion.
  • Engrave something. We may not stay at a single organization for 30 years – but many of us do achieve a healthy level of tenure. A gold watch might not be feasible, but marking the occasion of a 1, 5 or 10 year anniversary deserves more than a moment of recognition. If you are a freelancer, mark your relationships with organizations in the same manner.

Taking a cue from the past is not always the wrong way to run a business. What “retro” practices would you like to see make a comeback?

Dr. Marla Gottschalk is a Workplace Psychologist. She also writes for Linkedin and US News & World Report.