Bullying In The Workplace

Do you have a person in your workplace that you dread running into during the day? Do you find yourself looking over your shoulder, taking precaution to walk around with other staff, getting sick to your stomach just walking to your car at the end of the day; and all because you’re living in fear of a fellow employee? Sounds like you might be having an issue with a bully.
Some people tend to thrive on exploiting the vulnerable, and those exploited don’t always have to be the stereotypical nerdy girl or guy picked on by some muscular good-looking ex-football star. The real world is much more complex than that. And it’s sad really when you think about it; somebody gaining satisfaction from the power they have over someone else. There isn’t sufficient space in this blog, nor do I have all the answers that might explain what’s going on in the head of a bully, but I want to focus on what you might do if you find yourself the victim of this anyhow.
And this situation has to soon be remedied or you’re going to have some long-term anxiety issues. Some victims have been known to quit their jobs outright just to eliminate the power of the bully over them in the workplace, and if the community where they live is small, some pick up and move to other neighbourhoods or even other towns. This doesn’t really address the issue or change the behaviour of the bully, but it does offer the victim an immediate solution, even if it does create other issues like finding a new job, bearing the financial cost of a move or being isolated from family and friends who may live in the old neighbourhood.
Imagine if this were our child in primary school. As parents, we’d probably have a talk with our youngster when they came home and tell them a variety of things. We might suggest they stand up for themselves, tell the bully to stop, and we might put in a phone call to the school Principal, or make an appointment in person to advocate for our child and get the authorities to intervene. Maybe things would improve, and maybe they wouldn’t. If this was in high school where kids tend to see each other outside of the school itself, we might even hope the school transfers the bully to another school, or get our teen to another school.
But when the problem is more personal; we’re the one being bullied and we’re an adult, we don’t tend to follow our own advice. The idea of confronting a bully that you may have to work with all day long is sickening. It requires assertiveness, courage and that may be something we don’t feel we have. And while you may think about going to your boss, what if the boss shrugs it off, tells us to deal with it our self, or even doesn’t see there’s any problem at all? Then what?
Thankfully, there is more acceptance in 2014 than in years past for coming forward with these kinds of issues in the workplace. Many employers have policies set in place to deal with workplace harassment, some have employee counselling programs in-house, or will cover the cost of external counselling services. To get these solutions in place however, you have to alert your organization that you are experiencing a problem. Rather than see this as aggravating the problem with the bully or stirring up a hornet’s nest, see this as being a proactive step to resolve your issue.
Other options include asking your boss to set up a meeting with the employee, yourself and a third-party. Yes, you will probably be ill just thinking about that scenario, but it may be preferable to doing nothing and allowing the situation to continue. Your focus isn’t on getting them into trouble, it’s about maintaining or regaining your mental health and working free from harassing behaviour. Some bullies don’t even see there is an issue. How can they not? Well it’s true. When they do know they are being a bully, they alter their own behaviour and really do try to change how they may have been interacting with you.
In other situations you may be able to apply for a transfer to another office or workstation, where you don’t run into each other, and this preserves your job. If this is an option, you may not even need to raise the issue with anyone at all.
If you feel that you are a victim, good advice is not to join the bully and start beating yourself up too. What do I mean by that? You know, feeling miserable because you tell yourself you should do something or say something and yet you don’t so you get mad at yourself. Beating yourself up over your reluctance or inability to take action only adds to the problem. Bullying is wrong and should not be tolerated. One way or the other, you must take action and sooner is better than later.
Anyone can be a victim of bullying. You would be surprised how many well-adjusted confident people have someone in their lives at present or in the past, whom they have found themselves bullied by. Hard to imagine maybe, but ask them and you’ll find it’s often true. Bullying is not just your problem, it’s everybody’s business.

No Job: No Identity…No Purpose

“Why do you want to work?”
“I need to do something and I’m getting frustrated.”

This is a question and answer that comes up relatively early in conversations that I have with people. While the question isn’t surprising, you might find that the answer is. Why? Because you might expect the answer to be about needing money to eat and pay rent. But those basic needs aren’t the crux of how the unemployed person sees their biggest challenges often.

And I suppose that’s why social assistance or employment insurance are so valuable in a society, in that they take care of the most basic needs if little else. So with rent and food addressed, even those on social assistance who are unemployed have identified that work is about so much more than making money. And you might have thought money was their paramount reason for seeking employment. But really, it’s about finding an identity and having a purpose in life.

It takes about 7 minutes I’ve found to get past the pleasantries and surface talk and have someone hone in on why they really want to work. I think it’s not too much of a stretch to agree that one of the early questions we have for people when we first meet them is, “So, what do you do for a living?” in some form. What do you DO? The second ‘do’ implies employment, work, contribution. Rephrase the question then to what’s implied: “So, what employment do you have that contributes to society in order to pay your bills and how does your life have purpose?”

To the above question, imagine yourself suddenly feeling inadequate with the answer, “I’m out of work at the moment”, in some version. Some might say they are between jobs, unemployed or such-and-such by trade. Any of these translate however to being currently unemployed and out of work. So the answer in long form to the question in the previous paragraph becomes, “I don’t have employment at the present, and don’t contribute to society, can’t pay my bills independently and no I’m don’t really have a purpose with respect to work at this point.” And now you’ve hit on the real issue of why it is so critical for many people to work.

We are often identified and validated by the name of the company we work for, and by the work we do. Some titles are very broad – like a Social Worker. Being a Social Worker could mean you work in a hospital, for the homeless, advocating for those with addictions, on welfare, even in schools or homes for victims of abuse. And that’s a short list. So the next thing is the provide context by naming the employer. “I’m a Social Worker with __________.”
When you fill in the blank, the listener who asked the question, “What do you do for a living?” now has two pieces of information, your job title and employer. With those two pieces of information, they will assign you some kind of credibility in their mind, much of that based on their own past experiences ultimately giving you a high or low value in their opinion.

An example? Okay so I say I’m a Mechanic with a well-known automotive manufacturer; a fast-food franchise owner, a Cashier in a grocery store, an Investment Banker with a top 5 bank. Your own perceptions of these companies and the role I’ve identified will either leave you feeling impressed or not, but you’ll put me in some kind of pecking order. If I have no job and no employer by association, I’m at the bottom of the list in your value system because I can’t be fit in to your mental list. And this is why some unemployed say, “I’m a Carpenter by trade” when they are unemployed because they are trying to get onto your list in a higher position and save face themselves even though they lack the second component – the name of an employer with which to gain credibility in your eyes.

It is this identity, and having a purpose, that the unemployed often tell me they need most of all. When they get rejected outright or ignored by companies to whom they apply, they try again with another employer. Get ignored or rejected again, and the message that they start to internalize is that they are no longer valued as whatever it is they used to do or are trained and educated to do. And now they have a loss of identity themselves. “If nobody sees me as a Carpenter and wants to hire me, what else can I do? I’ve got no idea.” And you now have a lost soul trying to re-identify themselves.

When employed, you’ve got a purpose when you roll out of bed. Think about it. You get dressed in your, “work” clothes don’t you? You drive or take the bus to “work”. Run in to someone at the coffee shop, and you can’t stop to talk too long because, “I’ve got to get to work”. Then you come home and someone says, “How was your day at work?” When your relatives call you on the phone they say, “How’s your job coming?” It all centers on your work which is really all about purpose and contributing.

Unemployed people don’t always just want to work as much as they NEED to work. What they really need and crave is the identity and purpose that goes with it. That’s why they get so ticked when ignored entirely by companies who don’t acknowledge their applications with even confirmation of an application. It hurts, and it hurts the ego bad.

Work is only part of who we are and how we define ourselves, but it’s a huge piece. Give a person a job and you’ll be giving someone a new identity and purpose. Watch for the change in ego, growing pride, but most of all relief.

Got Problems? You’re Normal

Whether you found this blog on your own, or someone happened to send you the link with the suggestion you read it and benefit from it, I’m glad you and it came together and thanks for that. So you’ve got some problems in all likelihood. Some of those problems are small, some big, and maybe you have ones held deep inside like a secret you keep hoping no one will ever expose.

Having problems to deal with is normal and I’ve yet to come across anyone who hasn’t got any whatsoever. Sure there are times when people say they haven’t got a problem in the world, but that’s not entirely true in my opinion. I think it’s more accurate that they don’t have a problem in the world they can’t overcome. Wouldn’t that be nice? To be able to overcome any problem that cropped up?

So what is a problem anyhow? Let’s look at a problem as an impediment to being able to accomplish something you want. Some problems are external ones, like a flat tire. That flat tire is impeding your desire to get somewhere so it’s impacting you, but the flat tire is on the car not you personally. Still you have to deal with it. So you fix it yourself or you call for help if you lack the skills or need a good tire and don’t have one yourself. Problem solved.

Some problems are personal or internal on the other hand and often are viewed as harder to overcome. The loss of a leg for example is highly personal, yet while some without one see it as disabling and life-ending, other’s adapt with artificial limbs and refuse to be held from moving forward. They create a mindset of a new ‘normal’, instead of seeing themselves as disabled. Note how many ‘disabled’ athletes just went to Sochi Russia for athletic competitions but they didn’t call it the Disabled Games?

When a problem crops up, it’s normal for the brain to process what the issue is, and next attempt to develop ideas for removing the problem so you can accomplish the goal. Look at an external problem first. So if the problem is that the printer didn’t spit out the document you were trying to print, you would investigate. Is it out of paper? Is there a paper jam? Is it plugged in. Once the problem is fixed, you’d hit the print button and see if that fixed the issue. If it did, your brain would learn this solution, and the next time something didn’t print, the problem wouldn’t seem so big, and your anxiety wouldn’t be so high initially either. Eventually after fixing the printer many times, it would be a very low stress problem to deal with.

But on to the big problems. The problem may be something you have been trying to deal with on your own for some time. It could be days, weeks, months, years or a lifetime. Big problems in your opinion, and your opinion is what matters isn’t it? How YOU see the problem because it’s your problem. Please consider however that maybe because of the very reason you see it as YOUR problem and yours alone to deal with, that kind of thinking is the very thing that is keeping you from coming up with a solution. Just think about that.

Remember that flat tire example? The solution was either to fix it yourself if you have the skills or call someone to help if you don’t have the skills or a replacement. The same is true of big problems you can’t handle on your own. If you and I assume you want to resolve your problem and move past it, what’s keeping you from sharing that problem with someone who can either help you directly or suggest someone who can?

Is the problem embarrassing? Are you afraid someone will think you’re being silly to worry about it? Are you trying to overcome your shyness or change your appearance in some way to feel better about yourself? What’s the problem? There are very few – and I do mean very few – problems that are new and no one has ever had to deal with before. So it stands to reason then that others have had the problems you have now and have somehow overcome them completely, or are working on resolving them. How do they do it? More importantly how did they get started if that’s another problem you have right now.

Consider first sharing that problem with someone you trust. When you share your problem or problems, you don’t burden the other person with your issues, you actually give them a wonderful gift; as weird as that sounds. You give them the problem yes, but you also give them your trust and an opportunity to help. The right people will appreciate what you are doing, and if they are in a position to help they will. Don’t be discouraged if you tell somebody your problems and they say, “Suck it up. Think I don’t have problems of my own?” That just means you haven’t found the right person to help you yet.

We all DO have problems to overcome. It’s not a contest to see whose problems are worse. The bigger the problem, the more you’re going to feel a huge rise in your self-esteem when you overcome it. Share with someone who cares.

Don’t Believe, “You’ll Never Amount To Anything! You’re Useless!”

Would you consider the person at the receiving end of comments like the heading of this blog as someone being abused? Would it have to take a slap against the head, a yank on the arm or some other physical contact in your opinion to qualify as abuse?

It is abuse of course; not physical abuse, but it’s still abuse. In this case its verbal abuse and it can have a life-long profound affect on the psyche of the person who hears that message twenty times a day their entire childhood and teenage years. By the time they get to adulthood, they see themselves as damaged goods, not worthy of a normal life, they mistrust authority figures and may paint all men or all women with the same mistrust and anxiety.

As a man in social services, I often come into contact with vulnerable people who have been victims of – or more correctly are still victims of – abuse. I’m aware even now that as I write this there are abusers among my audience who are smiling broadly and laughing as their abusive behaviour just got validated. You see that’s the sick pleasure they get out of their abusive behaviour in the first place; they feed on creating fear and submissive behaviour in their victims, and want nothing more than the knowledge that their victims know it for the rest of their lives.

But I want to address those who are trying to move ahead and make a future for themselves. If you’ve been told for a long time that you’re not going to amount to anything, it will take some time to change your view of yourself and see yourself as someone who has something of value to contribute to an employer. Often I help people, (mostly women) who are victims of abuse, and they have been isolated from having friends, have been kept from working, or made to work in degrading jobs and followed there and back to make sure they don’t do anything other than make money for the abuser.

You have skills first of all that you may not think are of value to anyone. And yes it’s probably true that you may not honestly be in a position to see those skills as being valuable to anyone for a long time until you come to like yourself. Just liking something about yourself may be difficult in itself. Just a single thing. And if you’ve never experienced abuse first-hand or dealt with those who are victims of abuse, this seems incredible to believe.

Think of your survival skills, and how you coped and just got through those days when things were bad and you got ill-treated. Your goal was just to make it to the pillow at night and you found ways to do it. You even went out of your way perhaps to try your very best to please the very person who mistreated you, and it was never good enough. You may not know it, but you might be excellent therefore at dealing in some kind of customer service job where you are entrusted to provide customers with superior service in the hopes of getting them to be loyal and repeat customers. Why? Because you’re genuinely concerned about making sure customers are treated well; they way you yourself would wish to be treated.

You may have had only a small amount of money to make due with, and had to budget every cent, pay bills, deal with debt collectors and deal with strong personalities. It could be said that you would do well with some proper training, to occupy a position in an organization of minding a company’s finances, because you know the value of economizing, and can maximize the dollars they do spend.

Moving on from being a victim is tough. It’s not as easy as just forgetting about the abuse or the abuser and ‘shaking it off’. Even someone who thinks they are fairly past those feelings can have something trigger an emotional anxiety or fear that isn’t immediately obvious to other people. But move on you can.

Sure there’s counselling, and I really do recommend you get the service of a counsellor. Find someone you trust and have a good chemistry with and pour it all out over time. You will feel better, and you’ll learn more coping strategies and get suggestions on people and places you can safely go to receive support and guidance. Trusting others may be something you find impossible or at the very least challenging, but please understand that the more you distrust everyone, that abuser is still having an influence over your current behaviour. Try from time-to-time to give others a chance with an open-mind and see if your trust isn’t justified. It will help your mental outlook to do so.

And you will amount to something and you aren’t useless. That’s a myth that abusers drill into their victims so they believe the only person in the world who cares at all is the abuser. Instead of supporting you and having you view yourself as a beautiful person to be treasured and well cared for, they chose a long time ago to demean and bring you down to a level beneath them. And that’s often because they are the one with mental health issues themselves. They themselves need help to see their own behaviour as wrong.

But you? You are someone who deserves a good life. Oh yes you do.

Consider Taking An Entry-Level Fast-Food Job

Answer honestly now. How do you feel about applying for an entry-level fast-food job? You know, flipping burgers, churning out French fries or assembling submarine sandwiches. Is this the kind of job you could see yourself happily doing or not? Would you feel proud of your role if you ran into some old friends and they said, “So where are you working these days?”

For some, these kind of jobs are a joke; they are used often as a measuring stick that refers to a job at the bottom of the success ladder. These may be the kind of jobs that you envision a teenager having as their first job ever. In your mind it might be okay for somebody else to have this job, but not for you personally. And why is that? I think it’s safe to say it’s because of your own views and those of society in general. There isn’t a great deal of prestige associated with these positions. And they are the job that many people think anyone can do as evidenced by comments like, “Why don’t you just go work in fast-food for a while; just get a job man!”

But hold on. What really makes you think just anybody can work in these jobs? If you’ve spent any time at all in a donut shop, a hamburger joint, pizza or pita shop, chicken or sandwich chain, you would see there is a difference even here in the people who are motivated, pleasant and successful, and those that are poor fits and don’t last long. If anybody can do it, why can’t some?

Think of the skills these people use in their daily jobs. Someone is on a headset taking orders at a drive thru, (speed, accuracy and listening skills), someone is reading a monitor and assembling the order (teamwork, speed, accuracy, collaboration), and someone is handing you the product and sending you on your way (interpersonal, public relations and problem resolution skills). And in the restaurant itself? You can see a team in the back cooking at their stations, assembling products and orders, moving quickly and a Manager keeping everybody moving and helping out where and as needed. In addition to this, you’ve got someone else mopping up spills, cleaning tables, refilling condiments and utensils, emptying garbage and recycling bins, tidying up the outside property and everybody’s favourite, washroom detail. Whew!

Some employers look favourably on applicants who have spent some time in the fast-food industry. The reason is that they have generally learned what teamwork and hustle are all about. So in the jobs they need filled, someone who is motivated to work and works well in fast-paced team settings can take those same skills and apply them in their own workplace, even when that job is in a high-rise office setting. Different job, same skills.

And while some of those people in those entry-level jobs have ambitions to only work there a short while until something better paying comes along, there are some who make long careers out of working in the fast-food industry. They go one to become Managers, Supervisors, Franchise Owners, or they start-up their own businesses using the skills they picked up when they were on the front line themselves. And some are more than content to work for years in these roles on the front line; in fact it’s a great fit.

You’ll not only see the stereotypical teenager in their first job serving you if you look. You’ll notice the 50 something employee who appreciates an employer giving them a shot at a job. You’ll find adults working there part-time day after day because the schedule fits with other things going on in their lives. And you’ll never be able to see it with your eyes and appreciate it, but yes you’d also find some people with broken self-esteem and mental or physical health issues working in these jobs, pushing themselves to see what their bodies and minds can actually handle.

Some take these jobs a few hours a week to get out of the house, get connected to others and keep from being socially isolated. Fast-food joints aren’t hiring these people as charity cases however so don’t make that mistake. They hire people based on their ability to do the work and build the brand. And have some appreciation for the high turnover rate of people coming and going and the constant hiring process the Manager’s have to undergo.

A fast-food job is something to be proud of on a resume if you have the good sense to speak of it with pride and not embarrassment. If you can highlight the skills you used on a daily basis these jobs can work for you in demonstrating your capabilities. Think about it for a second. Doesn’t providing appropriately cooked food products, delivered with exacting consistency to customers who demand speedy service count for something? I’d say that’s a pretty significant job. After all, don’t you think customers are quick to complain if the order takes a couple of minutes longer than they’d like or the pop is the wrong flavour, or you got fish instead of a chicken burger?

Reconsider that fast-food option, and apply with your head held high. At the very least smile when you go in for your coffee, compliment that front counter server and make their day by thanking them for their great customer service. You’ll put a smile on their face, and maybe – just maybe their boss will be within earshot when you say it!

Applying For Jobs And Getting Ignored

A major source of frustration for some people is firing off a resume to an employer, waiting for the phone to ring and hearing nothing. I hear this complaint quite often from job seekers I speak to.

My normal response to the people who tell me their frustration with this situation is to request a look at what they are sending the employer in the first place. Sometimes it’s obvious to me within two minutes or less what the real problem is. I start off asking to see the job posting to see if they kept it. Without it, I’ve got nothing to gauge how much or little they’ve matched the resume to the job.

Next I ask to see the resume they sent. If it’s a general one they’ve sent off that’s actually been saved under the name, “My resume 3”, I’m right on to the problem and it isn’t at the employer’s end. And then I ask two remaining questions: 1) Can I see the cover letter you sent it and 2) What follow-up did you do after you applied? Again if there is no cover letter, and they’ve done no follow-up, the problem isn’t with the employer, it’s 100% the applicant’s issue. Yes 100%.

Are you taking issue with me blaming somebody whose already out of work and seemingly hitting them when they are down? That couldn’t be farther than the truth. It’s critical to determine what the problem or problems are with someone who never gets a response from employers in order to best assist them in changing those results. If it’s clear to the employer that you’re putting out the barest of effort in applying for a job, that translates into you’ll put out the barest of effort when on the job if hired.

But what about people who do target their resume to specific jobs, write cover letters and still get no reply? Identifying issues here needs a closer look. Some basics are to make sure the cover letter is addressed to the specific person where some effort on their part could produce a name. Then the cover letter needs a review to see if it would prompt the reader to be interested in reading the resume. The resume itself must address the employer’s needs. Does it tick off all the boxes for the employer or is it just regurgitating worn out standard resume statements that list your past responsibilities in past jobs?

Perhaps the most significant piece of data a helper however is the answer to the question: “Did you follow-up and if so, how?”

You’re either applying for jobs where you’ve identified the employer, or you’re using ads or temporary services where the employer is not immediately known. Play detective and ask yourself what you could do to find out who the employer actually is. Some people put out no effort at all and defend a lack of action by saying the employer doesn’t make it easy to find out who they are for a reason – they don’t want contact with applicants. That’s partially true. They do want contact with qualified and talented applicants however.

In years past, employers sent out a form letter to all applicants who didn’t make the interview stage thanking them for their interest but rejecting them. That cost money for envelopes, stamps, and the time someone had to go to in order to address and mail the letter. That money is no longer being spent. Hence the ads often say, “We thank all who apply but only successful applicants will be contacted”. I think we can all understand that polite way of saying it costs too much time and money to reply to everyone who might apply.

Following up on a job application is one of the best things you can do in order to pursue a job and show your enthusiasm for the position you are applying for. Now someone can hear your voice if they receive a call, they can see you and get a strong first impression if you walk through the door, or they can see your dogged determination and professionalism if you follow-up with a thank you note for an interview, inquire after your initial application etc.

Of course it works the other way around too; they can hear your poor verbal skills on the phone, get a weak first impression if you walk through the door, and hear guess your apathy if you do no follow-up at all.

Some ads specifically ask you not to contact the employer. So don’t walk in their door and bug them. But what if you walked in the door and just stood there soaking up the atmosphere. When someone says, “Can I help you?” you say, “Why thank you but no. I’ve applied for the position of __________ and it was clear no follow-up contact was desired I decided to drop in to just get a feel for the atmosphere, check dress codes etc. but I don’t want to jeopardize my application by asking to see anyone.” What could happen next is someone takes your name, buzzes your through to meet someone based on your availability and theirs, or at least takes your name and comments on how smartly dressed you were. Why you could even get an interview. Hey, it happens. How might that compare with the results you’re getting now doing it your way?

Clean Criminal Record? Keep It That Way!

Over and over again and again I hear many adults I work with complaining that their criminal past is preventing them from even getting considered for employment. Now to be fair, they aren’t always complaining that the employer is wrong for wanting to hire people who have a clean record, no they’re complaining more about how difficult it is to erase the record via a pardon when the crime was 2D – 25 years ago.

This message to stay clear however is likely to have minimal if any real impact on someone who is either bent on committing a crime, or who makes a spontaneous but poor decision to do so. Let’s face it, it’s highly unlikely at the precise moment someone is weighing the choice to do something illegal or not, that they will stop and ponder 20 years into the future and contemplate the lasting impact on their future earnings. That’s rare, but rarer still would someone be who would stop just because they read a blog on the consequence of committing a crime written by me; someone they don’t know whatsoever. Still, I’m going to try.

Now while I’ve never had a criminal record, those I work with often do, and they usually fall into one of two categories; those whose crime was years ago, and those who habitually re-offend. I’m going to focus on the person who has a single crime from years ago rather than the repeat offender.

Employers are demanding more and more from their applicants. They want higher education, experience and yes, clean criminal records. The clean criminal record translates into having to pay less insurance on you as an employee than you if you have a record. It also gives the employer less to worry about if you have a clean past, and they can put you in a place of trust more often and with increasing confidence. Many business owners also report that their customers feel better when they are dealing with someone who has a clean criminal history.

The importance of employing people with a clean criminal record is heightened if staff go into client’s homes such as movers or those repairing appliances. “Are your people all bondable?” is often asked. You can imagine that if someone had their home robbed and it turned out to be committed by the employee of a company who was contracted to perform some kind of in-home service, the company wouldn’t be too willing to publicly state they don’t check the criminal records of their employees. The victims would be on television talking to a reporter saying something like, “Had I known such-and-such company didn’t screen their employees, I’d never had given them my business.” And that publicity would kill the business.

This doesn’t mean those without criminal records will never commit a crime, but it does provide some measure of reassurance and increase the probability that new employee will continue to have a clean record.

Two comments I hear repeatedly are these: “I was totally qualified and had a great interview but my record kept from getting the job” and “I did something stupid years ago and have done nothing illegal since; all I need is some company to give me a break so I can prove I’d be a good employee.” And maybe these people are right, and they’ve never re-offended, or if you tend to be skeptical, maybe they have and they just haven’t been caught. But either way, they have no recent criminal history.

However, as long as the number of people looking for work remains high, and that in turn gives employers a large pool of people from which to select their next employee, it isn’t hard to see that employers will raise their standards in terms of who they would hire. This basic principle is something even children understand. Watch them pick teams for a game and here’s what often happens: two kids get elected to be captains and pick their teams. They always start with the most athletic or best suited for the game, then eventually work down to whose left. In the adult world that translates into whose the best qualified for the job, but unlike a kids game, they don’t have to find a spot on one of the teams for everyone. So those with a criminal past are often left out altogether even when they do have the skills and qualifications to be selected.

This article is not about applying for pardons and what to do if you have a record. No this is as the name suggests, encouraging people with clean records to keep them clean. The allure of something immediate, acquired through crime is perhaps exhilarating, but it’s short-lived and if caught, you’ll find the excitement quickly gets replaced by the consequences of doing the crime.

Some employers do give breaks to those with a record. While that’s good on them to do so, they are very rare. If you know someone who runs a business, ask them about this topic and get their take on it. I’d welcome as always readers to add their point of view, especially from those who most directly impacted either as employers or job seekers with criminal records. Your voices matter and carry more weight here than mine.

The Single Parent Job Search

I want to preface this piece with an appeal to lay aside any of your own prejudices you may have about single parents. There are many people who find themselves raising a child or children on their own who believed strongly at one time that they would have a partner to share this experience with. So whether by design or accident, or by choices the other person in the relationship made, someone finds themselves in the situation of raising a child or children alone. That being the premise, let’s look at that person and the attempt to find employment.

Single parents have some added barriers to job searching that other people do not. Most obvious is the issue of child care if the children are not old enough to go to elementary school, and even if there is child care available, it now becomes an issue of finding enough money to pay the provider, and making enough after paying the provider to make a living independently.

I recall many years ago when I worked as a Social Services Caseworker in another jurisdiction than I do now. On my desk landed a file and the composition of the family was one adult and thirteen children. Some were multiple births, some in school full-time, some in pre-school and some not in any school at all. Just imagine the amount of money that person would have to be bringing in to not be on some form of social assistance. Again, refrain from somehow blaming the person for their predicament if you find yourself doing so. Without all the details, you’d only be guessing how anyone could be in this situation, and you might have a great change of opinion were you to know the details which I’m not sharing here.

More common is the situation where a parent of one or two children is looking to be financially independent. This adult; male or female I’ll argue, has unique challenges that people without children, or who have adult children do not face.

First of all many people will advise the job seeker to focus all their energy into their job search. How then does one do that with the responsibilities that come with single parenthood? After all, children need feeding, cleaning, clothing, watching and you can’t really expect most kids to amuse themselves for hours on end. In fact, just trying to keep some children occupied for a few minutes is challenging for some parents. Add to the mix a child with any kind of physical or mental health issue, a parent who themselves had parents with poor parenting skills from which to learn or a combination of the two, and serious job searching becomes problematic.

However, it is possible. It’s not only possible but it happens with regularity. The key as with anyone is to first take care of the basics such as a roof over the head and food on the table. Stabilizing just these two things for some takes years. When you have a place to call home, you’ve got a place to secure and buffer yourself against the pressures of ‘out there’. Once the raw essentials are in place, building a support system is critical.

A support system involves a combination of friends, family, contacts, social service agencies, health and child care providers and more. All of these in various combinations unique to each person’s situation provide the adult with the ability to devote some of their precious time to the job search and accept a job with supports in place. This is often the biggest reservation employers have with single parents. While they may love the work the single parent does, they are fearful of their dependability.

And it’s interesting that a potential interview question such as, “Tell me about an accomplishment of which you are proud”, can’t be answered honestly by many single parents in an interview the way they’d like. Relating the achievement of successfully raising a child, (or several) alone and having them be well-adjusted, especially if another adult left you high and dry to fend for yourselves is a fantastic personal story of resiliency and survival. And wanting more for you kids and a better life for all has great appeal. Unfortunately it’s a red flag from the other side of the desk most of the time however, as it raises the issue of absenteeism, and if you aren’t at work, you’re not productive.

So it’s advisable that the single parent who is job searching keep their children and their marital status out of the interview. Choose to talk of your skills, your ambition, your value and your willingness to work hard. The pride you feel in yourself as a single parent and your children themselves should be left for the future when you’re already receiving those pay cheques.

I can see the employer’s point of view on the matter, and I suspect you can too. But I do wish the single parent who was looking for work would be evaluated on their skills, qualifications, attitude and performance first and their status as a single parent much lower on the list. But take heart single parent, for you have 100% control over what you choose to reveal about yourself in that job interview.

And one last thing. If you are a single parent looking for work, when you get frustrated and ask why even bother, ask yourself what motivated you to start in the first place. They’ll thank you for it.

Who Benefits When You Get A Job?

If getting a job generally comes easy to you when you start looking for one, it also follows that you have less of an appreciation for what it finally means to get one after you’ve been without one for a long time and looking. So the most important to benefit from getting a job is the person themselves.

I am in a position where I see that joy and stress release first-hand because I work with the unemployed and the underemployed on a daily basis. Some literally jump with joy, others shed tears of joy, but they all smile and I know how much the job is going to help restore their self-esteem, self-confidence and self-image.

But have you stopped and thought about who else benefits from the fact you get a job? There’s a long list of people who benefit directly and indirectly. The most obvious would be your spouse or partner if you have one. They not only share in the financial money that’s coming into the house, but they also have a load taken off their shoulders. They may not have said it bothers them that you’ve been without a job, but perhaps that’s because they didn’t want to add to your own pressure and make you feel worse.

Children also directly benefit because mom, dad or both are happier now and easier to be around. There’s some money for a few things that last month couldn’t be purchased; from the inexpensive like a meal out to a long anticipated purchase they’ve been really wanting but either stopped asking for, or now tell you how much they want. Depending on their age, they’ve been carrying some guilt and stress too.

Now beyond the nuclear family, there’s the extended family – you know, mom and dad, sisters and brothers, aunts and uncles, etc. All those people may have expected more of you and made it pretty clear, or they may have been more subtle about it, but you’ll see that change I hope as they share in your success.

But what if you are single and have no family? Well people you may not realize still benefit from your employment. The mortgage holder or the Landlord you rent from will be much relieved if you were falling behind in your payments. And this goes for creditors like insurance companies, credit card companies, department stores where you have an account. Some people still have student loans to pay off years after going to school, and they’ll be happy to see you start making those payments again.

If you let your car insurance lapse and then couldn’t afford the gas to fill the tank, you’ll also feel better getting that car back on the road. That’s going to help you get around more and not just to and from the job. It’s easier now to bring home the groceries in one trip instead of several a week, take the kids to school etc. And back on to the kids, maybe you can now afford those music lessons, sports leagues or your spouse’s fitness classes.

And then there’s your hairdresser who will be happier to see you on a more regular basis. Your good fortune is now helping their bottom line too. The farmer who grows the fruits and vegetables comes out a winner too, because you’re buying better quality fresh foods instead of cheaper processed foods, and his supply is more in demand from the grocery store. This is true too for the person raising the cattle who produce the dairy and meats that you’ve cut back on while out of work.

The local businesses that clothe you; putting shoes on your feet, shirts, pants or dresses on your body all make a few more sales, and the cab driver who’ll now get a call more often or the bus driver who now sees you as a regular all benefit from your employment too. And there’s the small business owners who run specialty stores, like a hobby, electronics or craft store, they’ll hear you ring that little bell on their doors more often too.

And if any major appliance should stop working, you’re now in a position to call in the expert to repair it or replace it instead of making do without. Even your neighbours benefit if for no other reason than you are in a better mood when they see you.

And what of the dentist who you saw less often because you were worried about paying for needed work? When you make that appointment, they come out a winner too as do you for getting the work done before it becomes a bigger problem. If you are a homeowner, maybe you can now contract with the local landscaping company to fertilize and kill your weeds like you did in years past before your unemployment.

And that trip you were promising the family or yourself when you got your next job? Whether near or far, the hotel or campground owners, the chambermaids and summer staff – they all keep their jobs because you and others like you keep them in business with yours. And thinking small, even the birds in your backyard win if you start filling up the bird feeders again because you can afford it!

There’s a lot of people who have an interest in your employment status. And I suspect you can add many more!

They Want My Money OR Want To Give Me Theirs

I’m pretty sure that somewhere I’ve won a lottery or contest of some sort; that itself is unusual because I don’t buy lottery tickets. The number of people who are asking me for money is growing at an alarming frequent rate and I suspect you similarly might be affected.

This week, (and it’s only Tuesday), I’ve learned that the energy supplier I subscribe to has decided to raise what they charge by 40% due to a lot of heat being used by homeowners this winter. Uh, this is Canada an in the winter it gets chilly. How unfortunate that the weather didn’t follow the schedule the provider forecasted in terms of the fuel homeowners would require this winter. I went home and lowered the thermostat.

This morning I heard that the three large cell phone providers in Ontario have simultaneously raised their rates by $5.00 for new subscribers. Now there’s fines for collusion, but the three companies have denied doing this, they just all happened to make the same announcement quoting the same increases, for the same new clients. Were I to start with a cell phone plan, I’d be hit with this.

When I filled up my little SMART CAR this morning, it was quite low on fuel, and I paid $42.25 for gas – the most I’ve ever paid to fill it up. The guy who took my money was smiling, laughing, and overall quite merry, and I couldn’t help but feel he enjoyed doing his job of filling my car at 6:40a.m. But gas I need, money I pay.

From time-to-time I get phone calls from various organizations or someone knocking on the door asking for a donation to a cause; the cause being any one of a large number that if you weren’t being asked to provide money you would agree is a good one. But when you’re asked to fork over some money to a stranger, you can’t help but wonder about a scam.

Now on the flip side, I’ve been getting some emails that are interesting. It appears that there is a woman who passed away in Africa who of all the people in the world, instructed her solicitor to contact me directly and notify me that I’ve been designated to receive just over $2 million dollars. Yes I’m to take some of that for myself but also to pass on the money to charities and causes I support. I can hardly wait to get the money and it seems all I need do is hand over my banking information and this stranger is going to deposit it all in my account. Oddly, I won’t be doing this.

And if memory serves, it was late last year when I was notified that a horrendous mugging had taken place in South America and one of my relatives was being treated in a hospital there and needed a money wire in order to pay their bills and return home. Now I’ll admit that I’m getting more forgetful but the relative in question didn’t immediately come to mind, and unless some of my extended family has children unknown to me living somewhere, these people don’t exist.

It seems to me that if you are on the computer a great deal, the more you surf, the more likely you are to somehow come up on someone’s list as a potential sucker. Case in point, I’ve been contacted by The Royal Bank of Canada, (RBC) to verify my account details or my account will be closed. How do you close an account when I’ve never held one at RBC in the first place? But apparently all I have to do is give them my account details where I do bank now, and everything will be magically taken care of. Although St. Patrick’s day was yesterday, I see no pot of gold waiting for me.

But what I do suspect is that these appeals and scams work. After all, scammers on the internet can cast a very wide net and they only need to get a small percentage of people to respond in order to make a fortune. And while many job seekers are focused on their job search, I’ve seen less savvy and dedicated job seekers opening and reading these emails and saving them in their inbox. Why? Best not to even open the email that looks suspicious in the first place. Then there’s no lasting digital trail to your inbox.

Now I don’t want to judge anyone, but have a look at your own inbox. Do you have emails from horoscope providers, dating websites, people offering you free computers, surveys that will pay money for your opinion, or possibly an appeal for money? Most if not all are hoax emails. They send messages back to the scammers that you may be a potential victim, and so you get an increase in this scam.

If you are looking for work but can’t resist the urge to indulge in all these kinds of requests for your money and promises of love, fortune and success, do yourself a favour, and anyone who is helping you along. Create a separate email used exclusively for job searching. Don’t tell any of your friends or family about it. Use it only for contacting and responding to employers. Keep that other email for your social life.

IF you follow this advice, see if your job search email doesn’t stay free of spam…oh and could you all send me $10 for this advice please?