Nice Little Things You Can Do

Often I write about what to do if you are out of work and searching for it. Other times I write about what you can do to improve your chances of advancement. In both cases, the things you can do are designed specifically to move you ahead. Today however, I want to write about seemingly small gestures and things you can do that are not designed to move you ahead significantly, but are still nice to do nonetheless for their own sake.

For starters, saying please when you ask someone to do something, and thank you when someone does something for you seems almost too obvious to even note. However, if my own experience is any example, there are a great number of people who would be well advised to remember these two basic courtesies. Not only does their use brand you as someone with good manners, it demonstrates your appreciation for what others do in the case of the ‘thank you’ and your request instead of a demand in the case of the ‘please’.

If you work with the public, a smile and eye contact – both of which don’t require you to utter a word – are often all it takes to make someone feel acknowledged. Nothing is more dismissive to a customer or client than an employee who swiftly walks by with their head turned the other way or looking down at the floor in what is obviously an attempt to bypass them without having to interact with them.

Unless you are self-employed, there is a high probability that someone else cleans your desk, empties your garbage and recycling, vacuums your floor etc. If this person does a good job, you may never even think about them. Isn’t that worth a brief note left for them just saying, “Thanks for cleaning my space, I appreciate it?” And if they haven’t done a good job, leaving such a note might encourage them to do it better. Either way, it’s nice to let somebody working odd hours with minimal pay know they are appreciated.

You know much of the time I hear people that they don’t get enough recognition from their boss. I wonder the opposite however; how often have they themselves expressed to their own boss how much they appreciate them? What is it about your boss that you might recognize and appreciate. One way to get your boss to support you and act more the way you want is to reinforce that behaviour by praising it. So you help them and they might help you. But for once, maybe that shouldn’t be your prime motive.

On your way to work or during your break or lunch time, maybe you grab a coffee or tea from some entry-level fast-food establishment. What might it take out of your day to genuinely thank that person and perhaps – just perhaps mind you – tell them you appreciate their smile, their enthusiasm, or their quick service? If you don’t think you’ll be too comfortable doing this at a restaurant standing face-to-face, do it at a drive through after you’ve got your order, then you can dash off. You’ll feel good!

Are you required to leave a message on your answering machine each day? Does it sound like the exact same message, with the same flat tone, the same droning voice? How about having a little bit of fluctuating tone, a rising and falling pitch that sounds normal? Perhaps have a little fun with your Halloween message by pretending to be Igor and Dracula leaving the message for you in your absence. I did that today! Not only do people get a kick out of it, but if you regularly get annoyed people calling (thank goodness I don’t!) it’s hard to be overly annoyed if you’re laughing.

Whether you’re a man or a woman, holding the door open for someone behind you is still courteous and polite. And does it really slow you down on your busy important trip from point A to point B?

Put a smile on other people’s faces whenever you can. I see people in our reception area who are discouraged, frustrated, exhausted, numb and a host of other emotions. They are Social Assistance recipients waiting to talk to someone here. Even when I don’t know them and they aren’t here to see me, I stop often and look right at someone and say, “Where’s that smile?” Then I grin and they can’t help but grin back and then it breaks into a laugh. Then I say, “There it is! I knew it was in there somewhere!” and I walk on. They may ask the Receptionist who I was when I exit, but their engaged, alert and smiling now.

You know there are so many little things you can do to be nice, and some will go noticed while others not so much. Wiping the sink of all the water drops in the washroom when you’re done may never be noticed and therefore remarked on, but it’s still a nice thing to do. Make your workplace a nice place to work by being the change you want to see. Start it yourself with intended acts of kindness!

Should You Tell Your Employer You’re Job Searching?

Yesterday afternoon I was speaking with a woman whom I worked closely a couple of years ago when she was unemployed. She is working on a part-time basis, and is looking for full-time work elsewhere. In addition to looking for more hours and more total income, she has moved, and is now taking public transit from one city to another, a trip of 40 minutes.

“Do you think I should tell my boss I’m looking for another job or not?” she asked. My first reaction was to quickly say, “No!”, but I altered my view shortly. You see I know how difficult it was for her to secure the job she has now, and because the job she has is an entry-level job and people are easily replaced, I didn’t want her boss to fire her and then have her be totally unemployed again, prompting a future gap on her resume. True an employer shouldn’t terminate someone for this reason, but the poor employers will sometimes do just that.

However, then she mentioned that when she relocated, her boss was surprised she hadn’t quit to look for a job closer to where she now lives, and she added that he had said he didn’t want her to quit, he was just expecting it. That was a year ago, and for the past year, she’s been making that trip faithfully. However, with the approaching winter and the snows it brings, she’s motivated to look closer to home for employment.

Apparently the employer not only said he was surprised she hadn’t quit to work closer to home, he added that he’d be happy to give her a good reference that changed my mind. In her case, the employer fully expects part-time employees will want to secure more hours, and if they can’t provide it, they know you have to work to survive, so it’s natural you should be looking. Telling your employer you are job searching then should come as no surprise. And if you add that you will give your employer a minimum of two weeks notice, they should appreciate your situation.

If you can be open and honest, it makes it easier than to approach your boss and tell them your job search progress, especially if you plan on providing their name and contact information to an interviewer when asked. If the current employer is supportive, they’ll then be honest and fair in return by providing a good assessment of your work. In this situation, entry-level staff needed on a part-time basis are relatively easy to find too, so a lengthy employee search is not their primary concern.

However, you always run the risk of an employer feeling threatened, thinking you might put in a lot less effort, maybe start taking home products or possibly poorly influencing other co-workers. For this reason, some poor employers will let employees go for fabricated reasons within 24 hours. This is unfortunate but true. But should you realistically be expected to work part-time for ever at a minimum wage? Would they in your shoes?

The best employers actually help their employees grow. If you are a good employee who adds value to the organization, and there is no room for advancement or for additional income or hours, some employers encourage their staff to take their new or growing skills and look around for other opportunities. These are the very best of employers, because they want their people to succeed, and if they move on, not only will they speak well of the company, but they derive pleasure from helping others.

I myself have taken different steps in my own past. Sometimes I’ve alerted the employer about my intentions and other times, I only indicated I had applied elsewhere after an interview. At the interview, I’d tell the interviewer that they are welcome to contact my current employer for a reference, but added that they have not yet been advised of my situation and then requested the following day to let them know myself. That prevents any awkward surprise for the current boss, and shows respect for them, as well as showing the interviewer how I might leave them one day.

It really all comes down to several questions. How good is your relationship with the current employer? How long have you been employed? How easy or difficult will it be to replace you? Why are you leaving? Are you the only one leaving or is it a steady stream of high turnovers? Are there things you are working on that make your presence essential or not?

In short, there is no black and white answer to this question of whether or not to advise the employer you are seeking another job. Even the best advice may backfire on you because as much as you think you know your boss, you may touch a nerve and be surprised at their reaction.

The best advice however is to leave on the best terms possible. Don’t say anything you’ll regret later, let them know you appreciate their support, and remember you might need their willingness to be a positive reference for years to come. While it may come as a shock, affirm your desire to work hard, help train a replacement, and give as much notice as you can. Always work to save the relationship.

The Unemployment / Self-Esteem Connection

Of the many things one loses with unemployment, perhaps there is no greater loss than that of self-esteem. I say this because there are many I know who are unemployed and have lost the ability to believe in themselves.

You see for many, the initial period following a loss of employment or commencing a job search after training can actually be euphoric; a period of optimism as the thought of working somewhere outweighs the current lack of work. The job search is new, there’s been no rejections, and they have a sense that they’ll be hired soon. For the person just getting out of school or moving into a new town, there can only be reason to be positive.

However, when the weeks of searching turn into months, and the months start mounting to the point where a year is fully in view, that optimism often turns to pessimism; and the frustration will often get a person looking inward. “What am I doing wrong?”, “What’s wrong with me?” These are two questions people will often ask. And you know it might be easy after seven months or so to look at the person and tell them that they aren’t going about it on a full-time basis anymore, putting in a seven hour daily job search, but realistically, how fair is it to expect someone out of work that long to maintain that level of enthusiasm for a job search that’s become a source of reinforced futility?

Think about it for a minute. Day after day, waking up and in those first few groggy minutes as you lie in bed, your unemployment snaps into sharp focus and your mind starts racing; filled with negative thoughts, self-doubts and depression. The link between unemployment and self-esteem isn’t so strange is it? After all, just see someone get a job and you’ll see a smile, a twinkle in the eye, quickness in their step, and you’ll hear relief and enthusiasm back in their voice.

Now maybe you might argue that a strong person should be able to intellectually separate unemployment from how they view themselves; after all, their unemployment may be impacted severely by factors beyond their control. This is true of course; the economic engine driving hiring cycles may be sputtering or running in high gear, but how often can you expect some job seeker to be ignored completely or rejected from not taking things personally?

Every now and then, when counselling someone out of work, I’ll encounter someone whose self-esteem has become so frayed, that they will literally break down. When those eyes become glossy, and the rapid blinking begins, its only seconds until a waterfall of tears cascades and rolls down their cheeks. There is a real injustice I think linking unemployment and self-image, but it’s there nonetheless. Why is this?

So much weight is placed on who we are as defined by what we do. As I’ve often said, it’s because we often ask, “So what do you do for a living?” when we meet someone. Can you imagine if we were sincerely able to turn that question into, “Hi. So what would you like me to know about you?” (Think about it; this is often a version of “Tell me about yourself”; the dreaded interview opener!)

This low self-esteem issue is tied inexplicably to one’s belief in their abilities and self-recognition of their positive qualities. It can be so low during unemployment, that when asked what they like about themselves, the unemployed often can’t name much. And the other group who generally can’t name much they like about themselves are victims of physical or sexual abuse. So are the unemployed seeing themselves as victims? That would be a study wouldn’t it; linking the connections between the unemployed and victims of abuse. And that doesn’t diminish I hope true victims of assault and abuse, but rather I hope emphasises the impact of long-term unemployment. In a way, people in both know they should ‘get out’ as it were, but feel powerless to bring about the change without help.

I myself have had periods in my own life where I’ve been out of work. I applied for a job in August one year, and after applying, writing a test, having two interviews and waiting, I got a letter telling me I was now in a pool to be selected from when hiring would occur. Eventually, I did start work – in March of the following year! All during that period I searched for other work, but my exertion ebbed and flowed, and it was isolating. I have never forgot that feeling, and each day bring that empathy – and sympathy if truth be told, to the workplace.

Tying our image to our employment is unhealthy in so many ways. How many times do you hear about someone who recently retired and was looking forward to it, suddenly finding themselves with little purpose, and needing to get out and do something? Why? Boredom and lack of purpose. When you go from being someone as defined by a job to being ‘just’ a person seen around town a lot, part of your identity is gone. For this reason people will often say to people they meet, “I USED to be a _______. In other words, they want you to recognize them not so much for who they are now, but who they used to be.

Remember, you’ve still got lots of good qualities. If you are having trouble believing that, it’s not you, it’s unemployment distorting your perception.

Why Trying Many Jobs Is Good Advice

How many people do you know who have been with the same employer for thirty-five or forty years? I’m willing to bet that you know a very small number of people who fall into this category. However, once upon a time a person’s success was often measured by how many years they had spent with the same firm.

Loyalty, dedication, purpose; why a fellow who stayed with one employer for his entire adult life not only was seen as having these desirable qualities, but they were also seen as reliable, a good egg all ’round, and probably a good family man too because they could provide. Now on the other hand, someone who frequently switched jobs every few years might be seen as shiftless, lacking backbone, jumping out when things got tough, lacking follow through, and thoroughly undependable. You might not want to loan that fellow a sizable amount of money because he might default; oh his poor wife!

Thank goodness those kind of thoughts have largely dissipated, and have been replaced with a greater appreciation for those who have diversified experience. This doesn’t mean that those who stay in one job for an extended number of years are not as valued, it just means that those who try many different jobs are being recognized for being able to bring all those past experiences with them when applying for new positions.

One of the most often asked questions for a young person is some version of, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” So when exactly on a calendar does this magical, “all grown up” event occur? Some people are very mature in their early twenties, others mid-thirties, and some like Peter Pan never seem to grow up. Could it be that what the questioner is really asking is, “What job/career do you think you’ll eventually end up with when you settle in for the long haul?”

When you work in a variety of jobs, those jobs can either be in a single field, or they can be wide-spread across multiple fields. So you may be a Cashier at a garden centre, a labourer working on a sod farm, try your hand at running your own lawn care business, and then turn your hand to working for a lawn maintenance outfit before applying for work with a landscaping company, but it’s all in the same field.

Now contrast this with the person who supervises staff running outside school hour supervision programs, then is self-employed teaching others to play, works in variety store, a bowling alley, sells shoes, then works in social services, say as an Employment Counsellor. One could hardly make the case that in this case they were all in the same field of work. For here there is self-employment, recreation, retail and social services.

The challenge for the person who is seemingly all over the map with respect to their working life, is to position themselves in the mind of potential employers as bringing all those past experiences and diversity of experience to the table. In other words, bringing value because those past experiences have given the person a broader perspective, an understanding of different lines of work and the people who thrive in them; and it is this diversity that separates them from the person who has been solely in one field since their university or college days.

Of course trying out many different jobs and finding out the things you want to do, can also be beneficial because you may well learn the things you really don’t want to do! Working in a factory might be very valuable summer income, but you may learn that the monotony of assembly line work is not a stimulating as you would like. Conversely, someone else might value coming in, knowing exactly what would be expected of them every day, and having no curve balls with added responsibilities thrown at them. The job itself is right for some and not for others, but the job itself is neither good nor bad; it’s the reality of the job but perceived as a ‘good’ job or a ‘bad’ job when the human condition is brought to bear.

Rather than feeling the pressure to get into the right line of work immediately, (and what is the ‘right line of work’ anyhow), good advice may be to try many things. Down the road, you may find that you need transferable skills which you used fifteen years ago on an everyday basis, and your competition or your co-workers lack those essential skills. So all those years you spent working in retail may have honed your interpersonal skills, your marketing skills, your negotiation skills, and your organizational skills.

You may have developed all kinds of skills that you can bring to bear on your present or future employment, but it is equally essential that you recognize this truism and be competent enough to market yourself, drawing on all these past experiences.

Oh and my personal favourite answer to, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” Older!

Stress + Unemployment = ?

Right off the bat I am pretty sure some people who might benefit from reading this post will pass it by just based on the title. Why? Why the use of the word, “Stress” in the title.

As humans, it’s natural for us to avoid at all costs things that probably will be uncomfortable or unpleasant. So why then read about stress and throw in unemployment for good measure; especially if you are unemployed and feeling beat down under a mountain of stress? What possible good could come of that?

The answer is that understanding stress, and the relationship of stress and unemployment can help put some things in perspective, answer a few nagging questions, the most notable being, “Why do I feel so bad all the time?” Stress is almost always thought of in a negative way, but stress itself is inherently neither good nor bad, and in some situations stress can be the very thing that prompts action necessary to survive.

An example of the above might be when you’re walking home at night alone, and you feel fearful of dark recesses and alleys. So what happens when a cat shrieks out and races up a tree? Your heart pounds, your alertness accelerates, the body produces more adrenalin and you immediately flee to a safety zone or turn in a defensive pose prepared to face the source of the danger. This is the classic fight or flight response. Stress in this case is useful as a survival mechanism.

However, unemployment in the later quarter of 2013 has dragged out for many job seekers, well beyond what they believed would be their personal period of unemployment. What may have appeared to be short-term, a couple of months at most, may have been stretched to over a year or even two. During that time, a major drop in financial reserves, perhaps a need to move to cheaper accommodations, selling off of valued items, a loss of status in social circles, a growing isolation may have brought on depression and hopelessness.

It’s pretty safe to say that people aren’t expected or equipped to deal with multiple sources of stress to the extent they are, over such long periods of time. The body is well-equipped to deal with sources of stress in short-term situations; like that cat in the alley, but to deal with unemployment over years or many months and at the same time handle all the other things life in 2013 brings can be downright unbearable.

So what’s the answer? Well let’s look beyond getting a job, because that smacks of an easy fix. But just for the record, while landing a job does eliminate many sources of stress, such as replenishing income, improving healthy eating and better housing, it brings on new and generally welcomed sources of new stressors. There’s a new boss and co-workers to get along with, new expectations of high performance, job responsibilities to learn, maybe debts to repay.

To counter the long-term effects of negative stress, there are some things that you can do, even on a fixed income. Get regular exercise. Establish some routine that gets you out in the fresh air each day, even if it’s a gentle start like going for a walk. Appreciate what you see as you move around the neighbourhood, note the changing seasons, home renovations, watch some progress in construction, say hello to those you pass. Not only are you working your legs and your lungs, you’re now feeding your brain with data with stimuli that is beyond you and your problems. Saying hello to other people keeps you connected, approachable, and one day could result in more than a simple greeting and who knows if your next job lead isn’t out walking her dog right now?

Design and work a plan. Thinking back to the early days of your unemployment, you may have had optimism and more energy to find work than you do now, and that’s to be expected. So working a plan is something you may have let go. Recapturing some of that plan and then in small steps working the plan can give you a feeling of progress and accomplishment. Build in ideas like making connections, looking up past co-workers and calling on past employers.

Updating your skills can be costly, but there are some things you can do entirely free. Use a computer search engine and look for free on-line keyboarding programs to improve your typing speed and accuracy. Learn how to use Excel, the latest version of MS Word, drop in at a library or call ahead and ask about courses and free classes. Contacting a local employment agency might reveal a free program to help with gaining employment that you are unaware of.

Look in the mirror too, and pick up that razor and maybe get back to the beardless man you might have been when you were working; or trim things up so you look better. You’d be surprised at the impact on your spirit just by looking better on the outside. And that resume that obviously isn’t working or hasn’t been used of late; time for an objective look and perhaps an overhaul. Get someone with expertise in that area, and maybe someone who is employed in the field you want to work in to look it over. Listen to their recommendations and ideas.

All the best.

Empowering Others

As an Employment Counsellor working with recipients on Social Assistance, quite often I deal with individuals who have lost their self-esteem and self-efficacy. With that drop in confidence, things which in the past they may have done with conviction and assurance, they now do with trepidation or not at all until giving permission to. Have you made similar observations?

One of the most rewarding aspects of my own position is reminding people of the power they have, pointing it out when it makes an appearance, and reinforcing the good that can come from seizing that power of thought manifested in actions.

You see when you apply for social assistance, you are required to produce information normally kept in private such as your identification, financial records, how much rent you pay, who resides with you, your accumulated debt and creditors. With every piece of paper you turn over, along with those documents goes some of your self-respect, your dignity, your privacy, and your self-perception. This is why many people say something to the effect of, “I never thought this would happen to me”.

Interestingly, another comment made in the early days of being on assistance is, “I don’t intend to be on this long”. What this really translates into of course is the assertion that the loss of autonomy and self-reliance is not comfortable or desired, and employment represents a recapturing of independence and a bolstered self-image.

So what about empowerment? Empowering others immediately at first meetings reduces the chances of slipping too far into financial dependence and discourages attitudes and behaviours that will be self-destructive. Someone who has been out of employment for an extended period will more often than not use language that betrays this loss of power, and their actions differ from when they had confidence.

So why is empowering others important, and why should we who work with the unemployed remind ourselves to try with every interaction to empower others? For starters, it’s significant to bear in mind that for a time, many unemployed form their opinions of themselves based on their interactions with others. If someone is told they are completely dependent on others to do things for them; such as making a resume or applying for a job, they may actually start to believe they lack this skill and will stop revising and targeting their resumes because they doubt their ability to do so unaided.

The irony of this for someone who is helping them construct a resume, is that the job seeker reverts to using a resume made for them for many jobs, including those the resume isn’t entirely relevant for. This can frustrate someone providing the help, and mistakenly have them thinking the person lacks the ability to do this for themselves; but in reality they have the ability, but it hasn’t been recognized and nurtured. What’s become reinforced is the dependency on some professional to do everything for them.

So empowering someone in the example of providing help with a resume, may be to sit down together for a longer initial meeting than one might expect otherwise, and not just making changes, but explaining the thought process behind the changes being made. When shown the process and the reasons behind it, and validating the good aspects of the resume first presented, the client is more apt to draw some confidence in their own ability and make concerted efforts to do for themselves what otherwise they would not.

Unemployment often means isolation from peers, but isolation from daily routine and isolation from the person they once perceived themselves to be is of even greater significance. One fellow I worked with recently over eight days in a computer class started off knowing absolutely nothing about computers except what he saw others doing. It was like learning an entirely new language. He had an extensive background however in the music industry, repairing amplifiers, mixing sounds etc. At sixty years old, here he was learning how to use a computer. Every time he remember to correctly name a computer part, clicked or double-clicked on the right icon, or remembered the first time how to get to his newly created email, I reinforced that learning by praising him in front of the class. His confidence grew, he sat up straighter, and at the end he thanked me extensively and said he had the confidence to do for himself what he was asking others before to do for him.

The steps to regaining employment and self-reliance may be many, but one of the smallest kindnesses that you can do for someone is to empower them to do for themselves. Initially, it’s faster and often easier for we the helpers to just do things for them. However, and I include myself in this as well, when doing something quickly for others, you and I might be doing this for our benefit not theirs. This could be because of tight scheduling, having to see multiple clients in short periods of time or other reasons.

When you can therefore, remind yourself about the immense impact of empowerment and as you are able, give this to those with whom you work with enthusiasm. The small sparks you may create then have the possibility of igniting something wonderful in others.

The Transportation Problem

When it comes to transportation, there are two types of job seekers; there are those who have their own transportation, and then there are those who rely on public transportation or the generosity of others. Both groups will tell you there are pros and cons of their situation.

The owner of a vehicle will cite rising gas prices, insurance, repairs, snow and all season tires and parking fees as problems. Those without cars complain about having to confine their job search to transportation routes, late pick-ups, overcrowding, schedules that make it inconvenient or impossible, or if relying on others for rides, lack of dependability. Transit of course isn’t free, so they share money concerns with drivers.

Very little of this is of concern to the employer. In a market where there is a large pool of job applicants, if one person is unreliable in getting to work on time, they can quickly replace them with any number of other people who will commit gladly to showing up on time if hired. You may be more qualified than others, but if you can’t get to work in the first place, they’ll pass you by.

So with this transportation issue in the forefront, it’s interesting to me the number of people who make some errors when it comes to job searching. For one thing, I’ve seen job seekers who apply for a job in another city, and then when they actually get an interview after going months with none, will bemoan the traveling time it will require to get to the employer. Surely it would be wise to either only apply for jobs within the geographical area you are comfortable traveling in, or at least consider alternatives like relocation or exploring options like carpooling with existing employees who may live in your area and drive.

And yet, there are numerous people who go to the interview, get offered the job, and then turn it down or worse yet, accept it and quit after two days because it was too much time to get to work. Without ever having explored other options like carpooling, it always strikes me as peculiar that someone wouldn’t have checked out public transit schedules when applying to determine exactly how long that ride might be if they worked at a company. Too much time and inconvenience? Don’t apply in the first place.

Another scenario that occurs often is when someone relies on buses to get to work, and with a changing shift schedule, the bus operates when going to work, but then doesn’t run when the person gets off and wants to return home. This is a genuine problem as no one wants to get out at 2 a.m. in the dark off a bus route, and face a long walk to a bus that is running. But why immediately quit without exploring the option of hailing a cab to run you to the bus route on the way home? If you call ahead and make arrangements, the cab could be waiting at the door when you get out, run you to the bus line, then one fare and you’re on your way home. And again, you might ask around on your first day and see if any other shift workers live either in your area or could run you to a bus route that is running and eliminate costs here altogether.

Now myself, I once held a job for 3 years where I drove two hours to work and two hours home. I did it but eventually moved to another town closer to work, and then I looked in to another job doing the same work closer to home and shortened the distance therefore at both ends. But I didn’t quit the job without having the other job to go to. My commute now is one hour to work and one hour home. Sure gas prices are higher than I’d like, but I switched years ago from an SUV to a SMART CAR and cut fuel costs as much as I could.

One fellow I worked with two months ago took a job in the City of Toronto but lives in Oshawa. His commute using transit is about two hours and he hates it but likes the pay cheque. He won’t move closer for reasons of his own, but is sticking it out for the present. He’s communicated a traveling issue which is causing him to arrive late by ten minutes every single day and the employer and he have come to an arrangement where he can keep arriving late for work but the employer has given him notice that he’ll be replaced in a months time. So he doesn’t quit but will be laid off, and in the meantime is getting work experience and a valuable lesson in negotiation and commitment. He’ll have a great story to share at future interviews – which I for one hope are closer to home!

If you are on transit, use the time to read, rest, listen to music, keep up on the news of the day, plot your strategy for the day ahead, chat with other riders, watch the progress of construction or enjoy the changing seasons. Rather than grumble about your commute, get what you can out of the time you’ve got.

How you view your commute is up to you. How you solve your transportation problem defines your problem-solving abilities.

Is ‘Honest’ Overused On A Resume?

All too many times I see people who are working on their resumes insert some line on their resume under the heading, “Qualifications”, that refers to them as an honest person. This I suppose is to differentiate themselves from all those other candidates out there who are dishonest! Really? And does plunking this word – honest – confirm for the reader that you are honest just because you say you are?

I’m not sure why people overuse this word, but I suspect it is because they really aren’t reading the actual posting and matching up what they offer with the expressed needs of the employer. Of course, let me assert that if the employer has actually listed honesty as a trait they are looking for, then by all means it should go on your resume. However, isn’t it assumed by every employer that they want honest people? I mean isn’t it a given?

True, it would be nice to see, “honesty required’ on some job postings; say politicians for example! Ah but why dream and hope of things that will never be. But I digress. By now, there is a fair consensus that in order to pass the resume stage and move into the interview stage, your resume has to communicate that you match up well with what the employer is looking for. Honesty however, is like the quality of showing up for work; you’ll be expected to do that too.

Okay so let’s look at what honesty might really mean, even though it might appear to be obvious. For one thing, you’ll be expected to not steal from the employer. Yes, the Retail sector comes to mind for most people when they think of stealing; the old, ‘hand in the register’ cliché is best avoided. But cash isn’t the number one thing stolen from employers, even though it’s the first thing that usually comes to mind. The number one object removed from companies by employees intent on stealing is…believe it or not…toilet paper. Wipe that grin off your face, because to the employer this is apparently quite the bummer.

However if you look beyond objects you could drop into your bag, purse or coat pocket, the number one thing stolen from employers is time. Be it coming in late, leaving early, extending lunch and breaks, surfing the internet, answering personal emails, making personal calls, reading, talking etc., it all adds up. The same employees who don’t really agree they are stealing time from an employer, might feel wronged if the employer short-changed them on their paycheques for time not spent productively doing what they were hired to do.

Oh and me? I’m guilty of this too from time to time. By the way, I’d wager you are too. And you hiding in the corner over there, yes you. We all steal time be it in any of the ways described above. While we might argue that checking an email from our children, or taking a personal call from them to let us know they are home safely each day after school allows us to concentrate better on our work at hand, it still means we aren’t doing the job we were hired to do at that time.

When a supervisor comes in to your cubicle and sees you on the web looking for the best price to come and do some lawn maintenance at your home, how are they to know how long you’ve been doing this for, whether you are on a break, or stealing time from the employer? Should they bring it up and ask or would that appear to be lacking trust in you? How would you feel if they questioned your use of work computers for personal business? What impact does that surfing have if multiplied by every worker in your workplace over the course of a day?

And then there are pens. When a company that produces pens makes an ad on television, I hear them talk about how nice it writes, how easy it is to grip etc., but I’ve yet to hear them talk about how long the ink actually lasts. After all, don’t most pens disappear long before the ink in them does? Home they go in pockets, briefcases, purses, with clients; all most inadvertently, but if there were security guards posted at the exits each day, I suspect a number of pens would turn up to be returned.

Most employers though focus on productivity. You were hired to do a job, so do it. Invest and apply yourself to the work you’ve been hired to do and put in an honest days work. Punch out and go home honestly telling yourself that you gave it your best and put in an honest days work. That’s where the phrase comes from.

Floaters are those that roam around the office, chit-chatting and being social butterflies, but who accomplish less than they might if they focused on completing their work. Put in an honest days work, and your chances of keeping the job you have and moving up increase. Finding the balance between social networking in your workplace and consistent high productivity is a good mix to aim for.

When You Miss Work – Like Me Today

This past Saturday, I woke up and it was like any other Saturday where I mentally thought about the various things I wanted to do. High on that list was getting the garden furniture all put inside for the winter, and the canvas off one of our gazebos’ put away too. I got all that done; but shortly thereafter, I was done too.

For the first time I felt something tighten up in my lower back, and I suspect it happened when I put two plastic cushion storage boxes up high in the garage on a shelf. It wasn’t so much they were heavy, but I think it was the twisting of my body while on the ladder to grab them both, hoist them overhead, climb another rung and put them on top of each other on a shelf overhead.

So Saturday afternoon and all day Sunday was spent walking around hunched over like I was 95 years old. Sleeping was awkward and fitful, and nothing seemed to work for long to relieve the pain.

Now this morning I called in ill, and the clerk on my team had a good laugh at my predicament, (all in good fun) because I hardly ever take any time off work at all. Usually, I’m the guy she tells first on the team when someone is away, and I try to figure out a solution to cover the absentee employee’s responsibilities for that day.

So I’m fortunate in that I’ll get paid for the day even though I’m at home. My record is otherwise excellent when it comes to attendance, and I don’t have to worry much about what’s going on at work or the reception I’ll get upon my return.

However, if you work for a company where you don’t have such benefits, or you haven’t reached your probationary period, you might find at the best you lose a days pay, and at the worse, you lose your job. Oh I know, that shouldn’t happen and workers should be protected, but companies have businesses to run, and employers sometimes cut a person loose and hire someone else. This is generally true if you have an entry-level job and the position is one you’ve only been at a short time.

The person looking for work can take some comfort knowing they didn’t have a job to go to if they are ill or unable to get about, but it’s also a day that they might get a call for an interview over the phone, and that might not be able to be accomplished. If you are normally in good physical shape, how do you convince someone on the other end of the phone that today is the one day a year you fell ill, and not a regular occurrence?

So here I am, ice packs and heat in alternating measures, trying to loosen up a back that feels stiff as a board. The weather outside is dreary, cool and wet, and so I’m confined to the couch with both the laptop and the T.V. changer. The only sound in the house otherwise is the persistent quiet call of the fridge beckoning me over to explore it. How long can a guy’s willpower be expected to win out?

Tomorrow when I return, (and there’s optimism for you) I will want to thank the team I’m on for covering for me; and in particular the person or people who had to adjust their own plans to do the job I was assigned to do. There will be the obligatory time sheet to fill in and record my absence, and the inevitable jokes about me getting older! All in good fun.

If you find yourself with a day off, it’s a good practice to ensure you contact your Supervisor directly, explaining the reason for your absence, and to do this prior to your normal starting time. As each workplace is different, knowing your specific responsibilities is critical. Some employers will perhaps require a medical note verifying your absence, and if not for a day or two, they may if the absence is drawn out for three or more.

Have you got the kind of employer who respects your privacy while at home dealing with illness, or do you have an employer that feels it’s proper to call you and check in with you? I remember when I first started out in Social Services, one person told me I should always leave my desk in an ordered fashion, so if I broke my leg and couldn’t come in, things would still be easy to find, and others would be able to know my plans with a short time looking. How does your desk look?

Small mercies are always appreciated. In my case, I don’t have a bad cough or anything which would cause me to involuntarily snap and tighten my back further. And I’m glad I’ve got some movies to watch, and a bed just a room away; but I have to pass the fridge to get to it!

Passing On Opportunities To Help Others

You know those pedometers that people clip to their belts? You’ve seen them I’m sure; they measure how many steps you take in a day and the ideal number is apparently 10,000. Well, even if you haven’t, you’ve got a mental image now. What if you had one of those clipped to your belt and instead of steps, it measured how many times you passed on the chance to help someone out in a day?

It’s only 7:48 a.m. and already I’ve passed up on twenty that I know of. As I was driving to work, I passed individuals waiting to get on buses along the way. Now here in Ontario, I’m at the point in the year when it is black when I leave my home, and full daylight only really arrives at the same time I roll into work an hour later.

So as I come upon those people – and almost all of them are young people waiting for buses to get to school; I often want to roll down the window and extend the offer of a ride. My problem is this; first of all I drive a SMART CAR and only have one passenger seat so they can’t bring along someone else if that would make them comfortable. Secondly, there are too many stories out there where men are in the news for trolling neighbourhoods and targeting kids and young people, attempting abductions etc. The last thing I want to do is frighten someone or have them snap a picture of my car licence and have the police show up at work to question me over some alleged wrong-doing.

While I totally understand the need to be cautious, it’s sad to think that just offering someone a ride when you’ve got the room and are headed the same way could land you in more trouble than it’s worth to be nice.

At work during your day, do you ever find yourself perhaps quickly exiting a room just as you hear your name called, but you keep going pretending not to hear because you’re on your fifteen minute break or lunch? Or if a co-worker is off for a week or two, do you duck the general request made for someone to water their plants in their absence? When someone is ill, have you ever decided not to check their phone for messages, or tell them the next day that you couldn’t get to all their calls, even though you made a minimal effort in the first place?

My guess is you’ve inched your car ahead rather than let someone enter your lane on the road, looked the other way walking down the street pretending to ignore the hand extended, or looked down at your shoes instead of dropping a coin in some guys open guitar case.

Rather than make the case that we all need to be more helpful to others and preach that we be better examples of charity, I want to suggest you should actually pass on opportunities to help others; sometimes.

So for example, suppose you have had a rather challenging morning, you skipped breakfast, got interrupted on and off and finally found the time to turn your attention to the first item on your personal to-do list. Then, just a scant ten minutes into that, someone calls you and your phone displays the name of a frequent caller; someone who seems to call more to hear your voice and connect to someone rather than having some pressing need. However, that call will consume a typical fifteen minutes, won’t really address any pressing problem, but serves the need of the caller just to feel connected because they are so isolated. Should you answer it or let it go to voice-mail?

I think in a case like this, voice-mail is the preferred option. You can return that call when you have the time to do so and have accomplished some work which may directly impact on clients or customers as well. Allocating and prioritizing your time is critical to be efficient and accomplish all the things you need doing in a given day. So in this case, passing on the opportunity to help immediately is okay as long as the call is returned within whatever time frame is approved of in your workplace and of course appropriate based on the message left. After all, you may assume it’s the same old usual call to chat, but it could be an emergency.

Co-workers who ask for a moment of your time or your expertise may be surprised if you politely decline when normally you’d jump at the chance to help, but if you quickly explain you’ve got a few pressing things to do of your own for others, hopefully they understand. Again, it may depend on your past behaviour and whether you rarely or routinely pass on opportunities to help others.

Some opportunities are directly presented as in when people come right out and ask for your help. Others, and there are far more of these in a day, are when you are in the vicinity of someone in need of aid, but you haven’t been singled out as the one being asked. This is like the person asking for help on the street with an extended cup for change, an open guitar case, or perhaps someone you see struggling to figure out the photocopier and you’re close enough to see them.

And if you did wear a device that counted your missed opportunities to help, how many might you have in a day?