Friday Catalyst: Are you still feeling it?

On Fridays, I have been sharing the fantastic presentations of the TEDtalks. Today, I’m meandering down a different road, highlighting the passion we might have for our jobs – and hopefully the excitement we feel for our career path.

How do you know when things need to change? How do you know when it’s over – and it is time to explore a new realm?

Well, I believe it’s all about anticipation.

How are you feeling about your work when you get up in the morning? Are you excited about what you do? Are the ideas already bouncing around in your head, by the time you pour your morning coffee? That’s the way it should be.

Are you anticipating what is going to come next?

Career Transparency and Women at Work

As women, we all have a personal story concerning the road we have taken to achieve work life balance. I have a career saga to tell – as you have your own unique story. All of the challenges and frustrations that we have experienced, are certainly ours to own and share. Of late, I am optimistic that we are moving to a new stage in the evolution of work for women, supported by the changing tide of culture and transparency. As organizations become increasingly open about who they really are and what they have to offer us, we might finally become more comfortable expressing who we really are and what we can realistically offer them.

Transparency, a force which has swept the workplace off its proverbial feet, is on course to set the stage for real communication in the employee-organization realm – and I am glad for it. Hopefully, this developing transparency will have a positive impact upon the unique set of challenges and stereotypes women face in the workplace. It remains, that many women would like to spend time at home at key points in their work lives. They should be able to freely to admit this, and have this need met without fear of reprisal or career suicide.

If you have had the opportunity to read the Atlantic article, Why Women Still Can’t Have It All, by Anne-Marie Slaughter, you’d know exactly where I am going with this. With a healthy dose of  work life transparency, there is an opportunity for women to know what they are really up against when entering the world of work. We all should discuss the realities openly – because the essence of being happy at work, might lie just as much in being honest about what we cannot do –  as much as what we can do.

In the early days of my career, I saw manifestations of the “super woman” myth on a regular basis. As a research manager at a large telecom company, I recall the story of one of our vendors placing  business related calls from her hospital bed, shortly after giving birth. Everyone seemed impressed and remotely amused by the story – but I found the behavior perplexing. I thought to myself; Why did she feel the need to do such a thing? But, the answer was really quite obvious – she had to prove to everyone that she was committed to her career, even though she chose to have a family. I am hoping that we won’t hear such stories in the future – and that there are less heroic displays of career loyalty required.

As Slaughter goes on to discuss, young women today are becoming more open about what their role will look like, in comparison to their spouse or male co-workers. I believe that subtle, yet real differences will remain, and it is wise to validate that difference. Offering women accurate information about combining work and family won’t necessarily predispose them to take on a less challenging career – it simply offers them the option to realistically plan for it.

In today’s world, young men and women have similar expectations concerning holding roles with increased responsibility, and opinions concerning the division of labor within the home are also evolving. Men appear to be developing a stronger  role within the home – a trend which will certainly augment honest work life planning  going forward. But, other issues need to fall into place as well. This includes the help of organizations to wipe out stereotypes in the workplace – a much-needed, deep-seeded cultural shift. Slaughter describes that problem perfectly, and open discussions concerning gender parity are in order. (In this regard, I am anxious to see how the career of Melissa Meyer develops as she embarks upon her journey.)

In the past it seems that the question posed to women as they embarked upon a career was, “what are you willing to give up to be a great success”. Going forward, I am hoping this becomes a thoughtful and honest discussion, with advantages to be reaped by both organizations and employees alike. Possibly a dose of transparency concerning the roles ahead, provided by those of us who speak from experience, can lead to more effective outcomes.

Dr. Marla Gottschalk is a Workplace Psychologist and coach. Connect with her on Twitter and Linkedin.

Problem Solving & Rest: Another Look at the Eureka Phenomenon

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Photo by Gerrie van der Walt on Unsplash

“It is my belief, you see, that thinking is a double phenomenon like breathing.” – Asimov

If you enjoy reruns of the classic television series House — you’ll find that every medical mystery is solved in the most unusual moments. Without fail, House’s uncanny ability to problem solve, kicks in while he sits in the hospital cafeteria, mid-sentence while talking to a team member or any other situation where he doesn’t outwardly appear to be focusing on the problem on deck.

It is always intriguing to watch.

However, we shouldn’t be surprised about why this happens. You see, our brains function in curious ways.

Your Brain Revealed
In the classic essay The Eureka  Phenomenon  (1971), Issac Asimov explores why these moments of inspiration occur when we least expect them. Asimov’s theory is quite simple, posing the notion that thought includes both voluntary and involuntary components. Moreover, opportunities for both types of thought must be present to become highly effective. Essentially, we can be thinking about one thing on the surface, yet ruminating on another topic below — the involuntary part of the equation.

The Eureka Phenomena sheds an interesting light on how we might become more effective in the workplace. As we all have experienced, if you are focusing too long and too intently on one topic or issue, you can be unsuccessful. Asimov would say that involuntary thought was not allowed to flourish and that contributed to the failure.

He recollects that when he was in the midst of a problem he could not solve, he shifted his focus and “shuffled” off to the movies. This action ultimately, allowed him to work through his challenge. He also tells the story of Archimedes — and how a visit to the public baths helped him to discover the concept of volume.

Of course, you may find that taking a walk or baking does the trick, but the process is of no less importance. You must give your brain the “down time” it needs to succeed.

Office Life and Involuntary Thought
There are millions of individuals who have the responsibility to process information concerning people, places and things for a living. Many attempt to accomplish this in an office environment. Of course, working in a traditional office does have merit. There are opportunities for collaboration and serendipity — yet obstacles to productivity abound. As discussed by Jason Fried in his classic Ted Talk, many aspects of office life (such as interruptions), can prove to be huge offenders, curtailing deep, meaningful thought.

During the course of a typical office work day, an individual may complete a multitude of activities and appear outwardly productive. However their brain power may not be maximized, as there are few opportunities to rest, reflect and digest information.

The Eureka Phenomena Applied
You must remember that while thought doesn’t require physical output, your brain is still hard at work. So, while you may not perceive that you are fatigued, your brain may actually be exhausted. As studies have shown, allowing the brain time to rest is critical. In this way, the brain finds the fuel it needs, so that energy can be funneled to the involuntary mechanisms that promote deeper thought. If we can learn anything from Asimov — it is that the brain cannot be bullied into becoming effective. It must be respected and nurtured.

Be mindful to offer your mind a bit of rest and identify those activities which help your brain relax and build them into your day.

Ultimately — don’t feel guilty if you feel the need to “shuffle off” to the movies.

Dr. Marla Gottschalk is an Industrial/Organizational Psychologist and workplace strategist. You can also find her on Twitter and Linkedin.

Too Much Information? The Case of the Job Interview

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I recently finished reading “Blink” by Malcolm Gladwell — a very clever book which poses the theory that we don’t need to process the entire story to actually grasp the “gestalt” of that story. Of course, the real skill lies in knowing what information to consider and what information to ignore. While reading, I couldn’t help but think of how this concept of making decisions on thinner “slices” of behavior or information could apply to workplace practices.

Is less information better? Well, in some cases it might be.

Consider the traditional employment interview for a moment. When you think of all the business practices we openly malign (yearly performance reviews for example) employment interviews have really escaped their fair share of deserved criticism. Why is this? One reason is that employment interviews have simply been a fact of work life — an accepted way of doing business. It seems that when you consider the prospect of a new job, an interview is always the first thing you anticipate.

The Down Side

You might think the run of the mill interview does a pretty good job at doing what it was supposed to do. But this is not the case  — they are a bit like a living fossil in the world of business practices. In actuality, the predictive validity of the standard interview is quite low, primarily attributed to subjective error. Shocked? As told to me by a professor, “People by nature are hopelessly curious. The idea of making decisions about a candidate without speaking with them in person makes us feel uncomfortable, even at the cost of making our decisions less accurate”. We just seem to want all of the extra information that can run us in the wrong direction – and resist evaluating candidates based upon key qualifications, tests and work history alone. We allow ourselves to think that we “just know” who is right for the job. That’s the first mistake we make.

The Bright Side

Researchers have investigated practices that help improve the “hit rate” of the employment interview as a selection technique. Of course, these practices attempt to keep decision makers on track and help them focus on information critical to the job in question. The practices are designed to limit the subjectivity of the interview process and idiosyncratic interviewer practices. You can read more about that here, if you wish.

Utilize the time with a candidate wisely. Here are some key findings from past research which you can apply within your organization:

  • Finalize the job description. Be sure it is accurate and up to date. Jobs will evolve and “reshape” over time. Be sure that all of the current tasks and responsibilities are captured.
  • Utilize the job description to hammer out a set of meaningful questions. I would suggest a set of core questions about the job in question. Use “critical incidents” for the job as a basis for questions. These are behaviors that separate excellent employees from the pack.
  • Pose the same questions to all the candidates. This allows a comparison of answers after all of the interviews are completed – a fascinating process.
  • Use behaviorally anchored rating scales to evaluate core areas of skill or knowledge. This process helps make ratings concerning candidates more straight forward. Learn more about that here.
  • Train interviewers to convey accurate information about the job and the organization. That way a candidate can decide if there is a real fit between person and job. If possible offer an RJP (Realistic Job Preview) before the interview begins.
  • Have more than one interviewer evaluate a candidate. A panel works well if you have the manpower. More than one view of a candidate can begin an active discussion about a candidate’s qualifications for the job in question.
  • Pause, digest, then decide. Train interviewers to delay the actual decision until after the interview and all relevant candidate information has been reviewed. A little time and reflection can go a long way — no “gut” feelings allowed.

Interviews aren’t going away, that’s a given. So let’s manage the “information overflow” wisely.

Dr. Marla Gottschalk is a Workplace Psychologist located in East Lansing, Michigan. Contact her practice at marlagottschalk@comcast.net. You can also find her on Twitter and Linkedin.

Dealing with That Difficult Person at Work

 

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Photo by Zhen Hu on Unsplash

It is a simple fact that just like family, you cannot choose your co-workers. It’s also likely that at some point, you will be forced to deal with a seemingly erratic or mean-spirited individual in the workplace. It’s difficult to prepare for this scenario. However, when it does occur, most of us are shocked, dismayed and at a complete loss for words. But take heart, you are not alone.

One co-worker that really gets the blood pressure going, is the individual who loves to discuss, dwell and highlight your mistakes. “Sorry that presentation wasn’t a total home run…”  they quip. Or after witnessing a bit of a criticism directed your way, they chime in to agree, “Yes, I was thinking that was a weakness of the plan.” Their timing is always perfectly awful. My all-time favorite, after a less than stellar showing — “Wow, are you upset with how that went?” (Take a guess, what do you think?)

Most of us aren’t able to react in the moment, as the interaction catches us completely off guard. (You silently kick yourself later for not responding.) But don’t be too hard on yourself. This is a common reaction to this subtle type of workplace bullying. You have to train yourself to respond effectively, and this takes a good deal of practice.

More than likely, the memory of the interaction will get stuck on replay — as you mull over the interaction and your lack of an effective response. This is completely normal. However, you cannot allow the individual gain access to your stores of self-worth and start a potentially negative internal script. Talk yourself through the situation with a calm clarity and put the interaction where it belongs — completely out of play.

Remember that the intention of the interaction was most likely to rattle you, so take control and starve the feedback loop.

Your first reaction might be to duck around corners to avoid your offender. To the contrary, you must take the attitude that you can handle any situation that comes your way. Remember the goal should be to end the negative behavior and retain your dignity, not to sling another insult in return.

Accept that you cannot change this person, only how you digest and respond to their anti-social behavior.

Above all, you need a method to deal with the madness. Try to take control and master the situation.

Keep these points in mind:

  • Don’t feel the need to defend yourself. These individuals are not the ultimate judge of your work. When all is said and done, only your supervisor’s opinion and your own assessment truly matter.
  • Limit the “payoff” of their negative behavior. Stay calm. Without the anticipated reaction from you (to be thrown off-kilter) the motivation to converse about your work is greatly reduced. As a result, the possibility of a repeat performance is lowered.
  • Role play for the next time around. You’ll likely have another opportunity to set things on a better course. You can alter the dynamic with a new internal script. Re-play the scenario in your mind, but this time respond diplomatically to the comment. If you are armed with some quick responses — you can approach a similar situation with a bit more confidence

Some suggested responses:

  • “I am so glad you’ve pointed that out — I’ll be sure to consider it.”
  • “It wasn’t perfection. But, I’m more than OK with how things went.”
  • “Is that how you saw it? I am actually satisfied with the outcome.”
  • “Live and learn.”
  •  My personal favorite: “Gee, (fill in the blank), I hadn’t looked at things that way. But, thanks so much for your concern.”

The next time a co-worker shows an unhealthy interest in your blunders — take a moment to collect yourself. Then remember the words of Eleanor Roosevelt:

No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.”

Dr. Marla Gottschalk is an Organizational Psychologist, coach and speaker. Find her on Twitter and Linkedin.

The Evolution of Work: Permalancers, Slashers & the Career Pivot

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Change is inevitable, and when a strained job market has to flex with the increasing pressure of a sluggish economy, something has got to give. Not necessarily to the betterment of organizations. Not necessarily to the advantage of employees. What occurs is simply Darwinian theory applied to work. Jobs evolve – and mutate.

The structure of work and its evolutionary past
Often the impetus for the change comes from the external environment, and over the course of time jobs have changed to meet the state of the world. From the inception of the role of apprentice to effectively transfer needed skills through the generations – to the needed presence of women in the workforce during World War II – the world of work has changed to adapt to the state of the world.

In our current economy, organizations can be fragile and funds are often tight – limiting the number of full-time employees that can be supported. In response, changes have occurred to the structure of work to deal with these imposed constraints. Whether these changes are transitory in nature, or here to stay remains unclear.

Trends to note & observe:

  • Permalancing – The notion of permalancers, those freelancers who spend long periods of time at an organization without actually being considered a full-time employee, raises all sorts of legal and ethical questions. Of particular concern is the obvious lack of job security and its eventual impact upon job satisfaction and performance. In a nutshell, these employees do not enjoy the same benefits or security as other employees within the organization. Some have viewed the positives of the arrangement, as flexible and realistic.  However, are these employees able to fully commit to organizational goals? Are freelancers distracted by their search for a permanent home?
  • Slashing – When full-time jobs are few in number, employees might have to take on more than one role to meet their financial obligations and fill a 40+ hour work week. Slashing, a type of career “multi-tasking”, has provided some workers the opportunity to pay the bills and stay afloat. Many may actually enjoy the variety of their roles – others may prefer a less dissociative career path. Sometimes, slashing can allow an individual to pursue an entrepreneurial dream, while still working at another role. But, how many of these individuals will choose to stick with this option when the economy stabilizes? What are the long-term ramifications for careers and pay?
  • Career Pivoting – Pivoting often entails a change in work setting or industry, where components of the current skill set are applied to a new role. These more “controlled” career path revisions seem to be occurring more and more often. Often the pivot emerges out of the need to follow the work, in other cases to pursue an improved career fit. How pivoting is actually accomplished will be a research focus, as vehicles such as mid-career internships become more popular. How many career changers are choosing a pivot instead of a more drastic career change? Are there opportunities for career pivoting within organizations? Will internships be available for those who require a mid-career revision?

The evolution of our world of work will continue in the coming years.  Learning how these changes impact employees and organizations is certainly the next step.

Dr. Marla Gottschalk is a Workplace Psychologist. You can find her on Twitter and Linkedin.

Career Interrupted: Another Note to Millenials About Surviving the Job Market

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It’s been a couple of years since my last note concerning the economic downturn, and unfortunately the job market remains a challenge for younger employees. We are all wondering when the job market will snap back to its old self – but it’s just not happening. It seems that some form of evolution in the workplace environment has already taken place. As a result, adapting to meet these changes is the best way to proceed. Tackle this head on.

Life at work has changed

“Mutations” to jobs – such as permalancing have occurred –  and these changes are emerging as the new “normal” for many across the country. These job mutations can bring along a whole new set of issues, such as “free-floating ” job insecurity and its eventual impact upon job satisfaction. It seems the old issues are still there – such as just trying to get established – along with these new issues to round out the list.

Still looking for meaningful work? Not meeting your key career goals? The bottom line is that you have to be willing to do what it takes to succeed. It’s tough out there, and you’ll have to be tougher.

Stay razor focused

If you are looking for work and your dream job is not on the horizon, attempt to find a role that is related to your target. Look for jobs that develop a skill that you will need down the line in your target job. (Check job boards for your dream job and note the job qualifications that are discussed – work on developing one or more of those skill sets). If you have reached the interview stage, do “strategic” research. Be armed with information concerning your match to the role, including what is unique about you and how you can help to accomplish organizational initiatives.

If you are currently employed, make your commitment to the organization known. This remains crucially important as senior employees will have an edge if things get tight staff-wise. If you are viewed as someone who is a part of the organization only until your “real work life” begins, you could be considered a possible cut, even if you are a high potential employee. The awful thing about this – the decision will be made without guilt, because they think you really want to move on.

Be ready to justify why you are needed. As we discussed, you may still have to sing for your supper – and that’s OK . Everyone has to at one time or another in their career. Really take a hard look every now and then at your contribution as compared to your colleagues. Don’t throw everyone else under the bus, but be ready to defend your right to work and your real value.

Strategies to remain competitive

  • Focus on the bottom line. Whether you wish to join a specific organization or are currently working, keep your eyes open for ideas which can improve areas such as operations and customer service. Sometimes a very small idea can lead to a big payoff.
  • Embrace intrapreneurship. You may not have the flexibility to find a new job – but it is possible to still branch out. If you have an idea for a product or service which could complement the current work within your organization, explore the idea with your supervisors. You can read more about that topic here.
  • Develop project management skills. Most employees who land jobs (and advance) within an organization require skills in this area. Knowing how to manage resources, meet deadlines and monitor metrics are key career skills.
  • Continue to volunteer for tough, unpopular, or even boring assignments. Showing that you don’t mind putting forth some extra effort may help you stand out in a decision maker’s mind if more staffing cuts do occur. If it is an assignment that elicits groans and rolling eyes at the staff meeting, you have found pay dirt.
  • Work on your own career “brand”. Know who you are as a contributor and promote this – especially if you are still looking for work. Ask yourself: “What do I stand for career wise?” This process well help define your future career path and what you have to offer an organization. Find that niche and  work that angle.

This job market requires flexibility and clear view of who you are as a contributor – keep your goals in focus and try to be positive, but remain realistic.

Dr. Marla Gottschalk is a Workplace Psychologist and Career Coach. Connect with her on Twitter and Linkedin.

Back to Your Future

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It’s tough out there — and anyone who has been out of the world of work for a period of time has some serious catching up to do. Before you venture out and throw yourself into the new, technologically nagged world of work, there are a number of areas you might want to consider.

Whether you are a stay at home Mom re-entering work life, or you have left for additional training or education, the same issues apply:

  • Your resume. Granted, not novel advice, but critically important. Resumes today do not just list completed tasks, but are designed to represent you in a 360 fashion. Make sure you include an updated career objective which includes the type of role you are seeking. Have a professional take a look  if possible.
  • What the job is really like now.  Jobs evolve and “reshape” over time. I always suggest contacting people who currently hold your “target” or “dream” job. Conduct an informational interview about daily tasks, responsibilities and even possible stressors. Remember to keep the interview brief (15 minutes) as the incumbent isn’t paid to help you out.
  • The evolving workforce. Millennials have made their entrance into the world of work and they are a group to be reckoned with. They are not a different species – but their view of work – might be at odds with yours. But, they are quick, brave and creative. Learning from each other is key.
  • Setting your limits. Most importantly your technological boundaries. Many people allow their employers to have 24/7 access to their lives. If this is not something you can live with, think of what you can allow. Consider this early, as it is quite difficult to reset the parameters later.
  • Know what ideas are percolating in your industry. If you haven’t picked up the biz section of the newspaper or visited the Wall Street Journal for many years – start. Being aware of the general business climate in your industry will give keen insight into the minds of the employers that will interview you. Knowing the challenges a business may face today can only help you make a connection with a potential employer.
  • Your attitude needs to change from “I” to “We”. Most importantly you need to have a quick reality check as to your importance in the whole gestalt of it all.  When you had a schedule change on your own, you were in control. Now you must consult with others to determine how it will impact them. You are no longer a lone wolf. Thinking you don’t need to work at the office on Fridays, for example, will not fly unless it is advantageous to your employer.

Dr. Marla Gottschalk is a Workplace Psychologist in East Lansing, Michigan. You can reach her practice at marlagottschalk@comcast.net

Even More About Mentors

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Much has been said about mentoring, since an early discussion of the construct in the Harvard Business Review. Since that time — volumes have been written — and the topic has been examined and reexamined, from various vantage points. This has included the functions of mentoring (career-related vs. psycho-social support), intended outcomes (skill attainment, compensation, promotions) and its impact upon work life, in general (job satisfaction, retention).

Mentoring is by no means a new concept — although it remains one of the most powerful workplace constructs. If you consider the term for a moment (think of Socrates), you’ll discover that mentoring has existed for ages. Because of the sheer power of the mentoring relationship, mentoring will continue to evolve with changes in both organizational culture and technology. Of course, the basic concept of mentoring is simple and brilliant — you spend time with someone who possessed great knowledge or experience about a specific subject  — you observe, reflect and absorb information that enhances your work life.

There has been evidence that the process may work a bit better for men than women. But whether we are discussing men or women, problems with mentoring may arise because some basic tenets are not followed. Other problems can arise because we are not utilizing newer, more creative applications of the process.

Here are some guidelines to help power the process:

  • Are you seeking a mentor, a sponsor (a form of mentorship) or both? Where a mentor may help with a skill set or knowledge base — a sponsor might focus on moving you through the organization, helping you to secure challenging assignments or enhance your visibility.
  • Mentoring relationships must be mutual, not assigned. The matching process should be left to ultimately to choice — where the mentor and mentee agree to work together. If possible, consider more than one potential mentor to ensure there is potential for a real bond. In an ideal world, formal programs would allow mentees the opportunity to meet a number of possible matches before a choice is made.
  • Define the goals of the relationship. If you feel it is imperative to enter into a mentoring relationship, you should outline a clear picture as to what you really require and where you’d like to go.  Set specific long and short-term goals with your mentor or sponsor. Do you want to master a specific skill or knowledge base? Are you seeking increased visibility? Have the “goals” discussion early and often.
  • Think outside of the box when choosing a mentor. There has been an interesting suggestion to convene a “Board of Directors” for your career — a group that would not be entirely left behind if you should change organizations. So, you would not only seek an internal mentor or sponsor, but a group of external experts to help guide you as well. Moreover, don’t rule out less established or younger employees as potential mentors. If an individual is an expert in an area, actively consider them a mentor candidate.
  • Be open. Don’t subscribe to the notion that “dissenting opinions are not allowed”. Strive to embrace constructive criticism (some tips for that here). This can be a challenge, but remember you are in the relationship to learn. What you don’t know can hurt your career — so be open to whatever honest feedback comes your way.
  • Be respectful. However, don’t trade things running smoothly at the cost of a productive relationship. Ask for what you need and “rock the boat” just a bit if necessary. Be diplomatic, and voice your concerns if you find that the relationship has reached an impasse.

All in all, mentoring should be a positive process, however things can go wrong. If you have a concern that the dynamic is less than stellar — you may need to explore moving on.

Dr. Marla Gottschalk is a Industrial/Organizational Psychologist. She serves as an adviser at MentorCloud. You can also find her on Twitter and Linkedin.