Job Searching During Covid-19

Looking for work under normal circumstances is challenging. There’s resumes and cover letters to write, people to find and network with, interviews to prepare for and attend, traveling costs, phone calls to make and of course lots of time spent in front of a computer monitor trying to find the right jobs in the first place. That sounds like an exhausting process to undertake – especially when exactly how long you’ll be in job search mode isn’t known.

Now throw in the Covid-19 pandemic. Remember when it was just beginning? Nobody knew (or knows) exactly the length of time this pandemic would or will run. Will it be over by the end of this year or drag on well into 2021?

Living through 2020 hasn’t been easy for most people. Even if you’ve remained healthy, you’ve been forced to make changes to your every day routines. Shopping more online and using curbside pickups, having dental and optical appointments postponed, seeing your doctor over a computer monitor, more home cooking and far less eating out. And missing family. With every change, there’s a hit to your mental health; just another small stressor that forces you to adapt from your norm.

It’s scary for many to think of job searching at the best of times. If you’ve lost your job in 2020 however, you’ve likely felt it harder to reverse your fortunes and find employment. Why? Well, you either fear exposing yourself to people you don’t know who could transmit the virus to you, or you’ve had to learn how to meet and be interviewed over a computer screen.

Having had conversations with some unemployed people, I’ve found some put off the job search in the Spring because they thought the pandemic would be over quick. Why risk exposure? Then it dragged into the summer and these unemployed people ‘took the summer off’ to enjoy what they could. Don’t judge them too harshly; it may have preserved their mental health. With the rising numbers now in the fall, those same out-of-work folks are writing off 2020 entirely and looking to job search in 2021.

Some readers will feel that these unemployed people are likely the kind of people who are looking for excuses not to job search; and the pandemic is convenient. Like I mentioned earlier though, I can understand that protecting one’s mental health as well as one’s physical health is what they feel they are doing. To be blunt, people have died; a lot of people have died. Being out of work is pretty small compared with exposing oneself to a deadly virus and leaving loved ones behind for a new job at minimum wage.

Yet, despite the world-wide pandemic, people are looking for and finding work; employers are still advertising, interviewing and bringing new employees on board. The prudent thing is to be responsible and smart as you job search or hire. Take the time to look and you’ll see business owners being extremely mindful of increasing their safety measures. Hand sanitizer and facial masks are the new norms now, as is the 6 foot distancing rule. Handshakes are out, and while it’s taken some getting used to, we demonstrate that we are in fact a higher species when we adapt without exaggerating, “how simply impossibly inconvenient” these new norms are.  Those that complain about having to put on a mask to enter a store to shop for 10 minutes should try working as an employee and wearing a mask for a 7 hour shift.

Job seekers have had to learn how to use Zoom, Teams or Skype and mobile phones are no longer luxuries but mandatory items of business. Working remotely has happened in companies where it would not have been thought possible less than 6 month’s ago. Adapt or go under.

Those who do job search at this time are doing so in innovative ways, networking via LinkedIn and WhatsApp. Can you imagine the problems we’d all have had the pandemic hit when we had no cell phones? It sounds ironic and odd, but in some ways I believe we’re closer to people than we were before the pandemic. Truly, we care more, we reach out more and we collaborate more in remote team meetings etc.

Maybe we’re healthier too? With less cars on the road, maybe we get out to ride bikes or take walks more often. Maybe we take in the sun in our backyards while in team meetings rather than sitting congregated in office spaces without windows.

There are advantages to seize if you’re job searching if you look for them. When you are interviewed, you can have all kinds of resources on your desk that you couldn’t take to an interview. You’re in the sanctity of your own home and you never have to worry about wind-blown hair or excessively sweating in scorching sun before arriving for your interview.

You have to decide for yourself when it’s the right time for you to job search. Just saying, “Not now when there’s a pandemic” isn’t good enough though, because people – a lot of people – are having success doing so. Whether it’s right for you personally is another thing and it’s okay if now isn’t the right time. On the other hand, being safe as you job search has always been good advice whatever the year and whatever the circumstances.

Take care people.


Getting To Know A Co-Worker

You might be that person who hangs out after work with your co-workers; arranges Wings Nights, plays baseball or volleyball with some others and is generally the social bunny both at work and beyond. Like I say, you might be that person but I’m not.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m certainly not anti-social, I just like to separate my work life and my personal life, and the fact that I live in the Town of Lindsay but work 95 kilometres away in Oshawa Ontario makes hanging around after work to socialize more challenging. After all, I don’t want to arrive home with only an hour or two with my wife before hitting the sack and getting up to drive into work in the morning. My home life in my case takes priority.

At the office however I’m known as jovial, fun to be around, full of creativity, positive and use my interpersonal skills on a daily basis. If you find my self-description similar to your own, or if you want to know how to get to know your co-workers better within the confines of work hours, you might enjoy this read and try what I did just yesterday.

One of the new staff in my office is someone I’ve only known by name and face in the past when we’ve run into each other in training workshops we were involved in. Now that she’s here in our office on a full-time basis, I’ve been wanting to get to know her better and opportunity came  calling yesterday afternoon.

You see I was scheduled to facilitate a workshop which, unknown to me, she had approached her Supervisor for approval to attend. When she walked in ten minutes early, just the two of us were there and we started a quick conversation albeit about the topic of the workshop and her familiarity with the content or lack thereof. As the minutes rolled by, it became clear that for reasons unknown, no one else was showing up to this drop-in workshop.

Now normally that would be a huge disappointment for me, but the next 45 minutes would be the highlight of my day. I ran through my presentation for her quickly so she’d have a grasp of what the people we mutually serve normally hear so we could be consistent in our delivery and support each other as well as them.

Once completed, I seized upon the chance to move the conversation beyond the subject matter and more into a personal conversation designed to get to know one another better. The other option would have been for one of us to say, “Well I’ve got work to do; too bad no one showed up” and go our ways. All too often this happens. I’m telling you people, recognize these opportunities and jump all over them and get to know the people you work with. It was so much more productive than hanging out in a neighbourhood bar eating wings and trying to get into  multiple conversations with several people; well for me anyhow.

So what did we talk about that you might similarly talk about with your co-workers? Well it started with a question of mine (I know, big surprise there right?”) about why she made the move from Social Services Caseworker to Employment Consultant. I was thrilled with her motivation because it mirrored my own reasons a decade earlier. Like attracts like and surrounding oneself with others who think similarly to us is most often a good thing.

We talked what I call philosophy of service, and as much as I wanted to learn more about her thoughts and ideas, I took the time to share my service delivery thoughts and also how gratifying and privileged I feel to be in this role I find myself in. Here’s the real interesting thing that I’m sure you’ll acknowledge happens in conversations you have with others: the more we talked, the more the conversation deepened. We got past superficial surface stuff quickly and shared what we were passionate about.

I can tell you that by the end of our conversation I was thrilled to find a kindred spirit of sorts. She also expressed a future desire to join the team I’m currently on which would again transition her role to include workshop facilitation. This lead me to extend an offer of help, support and mentorship. After all, providing answers to her questions, general information and specifics about the most desired qualities to have on this team is good fodder for getting past a future interview and landing a job on the team.

What could have been a huge disappointment turned into a moment of magic. Well, not so much magic because anyone can do this; you can do this. We all have moments each day or several times a week when opportunities abound for dialogue and getting to know someone a little more intimately.

If your nervous or intimidated, breathe and start with, “Hey, do you have a few minutes? I’d like to get to know you a little better than I do if that’s okay.” Open with a couple of questions and you’ll find as they talk, you can stop stressing about your own comfort level and what to say next. Respond with genuine interest and share a little of yourself as appropriate.

When you know those you work with better, you can acknowledge others strengths and become stronger as a whole.

Doing Better And The Element Of Change

“We can be better.” Do you believe the team you work on and the organization you work for can be better? Is it productivity, results, customer service, a reduction in complaints, profit margins, quality of staffing, working environment or physical spaces to name a few things? Or do you honestly believe that there is no area in which your team and your organization can be improved in any way?

Okay, so here I make an assumption; if you answered objectively, you admitted there are ways in which your team and your organization can be better. The next step might appear to examine in what ways?’, but in my mind it’s actually, “Is there a willingness to change in order to become better?”

You see, if you jump to looking at ways to improve and do things better right off the bat, most people will get on board with this easily enough but a key stumbling block down the road to improvement down the road is being ignored at the outset. People generally agree on being better as long as it refers to others. In other words, the change required to be better requires that other members on the team adjust and work more like us. “Then we’d have a homogenous team and we’d be better because people would be more like me. And I work and act this way because it’s comfortable and what I’m willing to give to the work I do.”

However, if you ask everyone at the outset if there is a willingness to change in order to become better, then the starting basis for any further discussion is that everyone has to change to a lesser or greater degree, but change there will be. Now it might appear academic that to do better and be better, change is a given. Don’t make that assumption! From my experience, the world change itself is pretty open to interpretation. To some, ‘change’ could mean a minor adjustment to which they can point and say, “See, I changed.” To someone sitting right beside that person, their idea of change is nothing less than a massive overhaul that looks completely new and different.

It’s therefore a good idea anytime change is being discussed to determine a shared definition and understanding of the word, ‘change’. Failing to start with some shared comprehension of change can result in people eventually disagreeing on the scope of change being proposed. So while one person thinks a change in office furniture means new desks going in exactly the same locations as the old office furniture, another person sees new furniture, and an opportunity to change the layout itself to something different and in their view better.

We can do better. That was the opening premise. Okay so now that you have a discussion about getting your people all on board with the fact that to better, it goes hand in hand with change, the discussion moves to the question of how. This is where the fragile are going to lock down and resist change, because for some, the instinctive thing to do is protect whatever it is that we hold most dear. Will being better mean doing things differently? Yes. Will doing things differently mean I’ll be uncomfortable, giving up or sharing control, maybe being displaced altogether? Maybe that occurs, but not necessarily. Remember, some people think change is a good thing; as long as we’re talking about other people.

We can do better; we choose not to. This is the complaint consumers, customers and clients often have of the services and goods they receive from organizations. Ironically, listening to consumers, customers and clients is at the very heart of what should drive change. Yet, there are countless examples of organizations and teams of people who plan in isolation, designing and implementing what they believe to be best for these groups only to find they’ve missed the mark.

Choosing to do better usually but not always involves an outlay of cash. This outlay of cash should be seen as an investment in the people who will benefit from the way in which your team or your organization changes. If that new office furniture makes the employees perform safer and more efficient work; if there are less injuries because the design itself becomes more ergonomically friendly, then less time away from the job due to injury improves the customer service experience. Go for it.

So does your team acknowledge that it can be better? Is everyone on board with change as a necessary requirement in order for the improvement to occur? Does everyone have a shared understanding of what change itself implies as it may apply to them and how they do things at present?

These are some of the necessary questions at the early stages in the process of improving. One of the worst things that an organization or team can do is decide in isolation on change, then implement changes on other people without properly involving them in the process. This is the classic; “We know what’s best for you and don’t need your input” approach. Sometimes it works, more often it doesn’t.

As a member of your team and the larger organization, look for opportunities to improve; talk with your customers, consumers and clients, listen to their ideas. Embrace change as inevitable to doing business and be receptive to learning new methods of delivery. 



Disrupting Behaviour Leads To Innovation

Innovative and creative people are also some of the most disruptive people in an organization. These are the people who appear to be rocking the boat, stirring things up, challenging the status quo and make some others around them anxious and unsure. And these are their good qualities!

There’s a saying I hear in various versions time and again that goes, “If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always got.” The irony is that the people speaking these words are usually trying to get other people out of their comfort zones and open to trying something new. When they themselves are presented with new ways of doing their jobs, suddenly they can become defensive and resistant to change.

Some people don’t want to embrace change as a rule of thumb. These people are satisfied with the known and the idea of trying things that are unknown to them makes them uncomfortable. Imagine if you will a meter with a pendulum that swings left and right. When the pendulum swings a little out of position one way or the other, they are the kind of people who immediately take whatever steps possible to bring that pendulum back to the middle. The embrace the, “if it’s not broke don’t fix it” mentality. This philosophy is embraced by people who like to come to work each day with a high degree of certainty when it comes to what they’ll be doing and how they’ll be doing it.

Now on the other hand, innovators and creators are constantly challenging themselves. They look at what they’ve done and are seldom if ever entirely satisfied that the way they are doing things is the very best way. Rather than seeking change for the sake of change, they seek change for the betterment of processes that impact on users. They are always evaluating the experience people have – whether those people are co-workers, subordinates, customers, clients, supervisory personnel or the general public.

Take for example facilitating a workshop. Those people who facilitate workshops on a regular basis have two general options. One is to take a set workshop and deliver it again and again with no variation; use the same forms, tell the same jokes, have the same discussions. The presentation is packaged in such a way that the subject matter, the delivery, the handouts are consistently shared. The facilitator in this case is either completely satisfied that new audiences will benefit equally from the presentation, or has plateaued themselves, and is not motivated to create anew.

Another facilitator of a workshop may however continually re-vamp their handouts, add anecdotes from previous workshops participants have shared, and may replace content or how they deliver that content striving to get a higher level of engagement from their audiences. They become known for delivering unique workshops, where no two are identical even when the subject matter is the same. They seek out new material, new ways of presenting that material, have passed on PowerPoints and use Prezi’s.

Now disrupting behaviour is often portrayed as undesired behaviour, especially when the person doing the disrupting works under a person who is resistant to change and where the existing culture is to fall into line and do things as they have always been done.

Disrupting behaviour however is what has always sparked new inventions; why the very things which improve our quality of life on a daily basis were created by people who looked for something new. At one time people used horse-drawn carriages to move about and the automobile came along only because someone disrupted the norm. Instead of a faster horse, they rocked the establishment and created what we take now for granted.

Now what about you? Are you the kind of person that constantly challenges the known and is known by your peers as the creative one? Are you the innovative type that overhauls the workshops you lead, envisions new processes that reduce customer wait times, that isn’t just opening another childcare centre, but one that operates solely for children who are ill so their parents can work?

We are all different and have different strengths. Those that are innovative and creative also regularly experience many more ideas than they ever actually implement. They may think of an idea, try it out on a sample group, reject it or modify it, then try it anew. If it works they keep it and share it, and if it doesn’t work, they remain inspired and learn from the failure coming up with other ideas – some of which will still not work but some that will.

There’s nothing wrong with being the kind of person that works best with the status quo. Some people become receptive to new ideas not the first time they hear them, but perhaps the sixth or seventh time. They need to process the new information, mull over the impact on them personally and because it may mean doing things a new way, have to wrap their heads around new skills they will have to develop in order to transition from what they know to what they don’t.

It is equally bad form to force those who prefer the status quo to embrace change overnight as it is to stifle those who embrace change and innovation. You may find your workplace is made up of both types, and getting along together is essential.

Stressed About An Under-Performing Co-Worker?

Everyone has strengths and weaknesses. What do you do however when you work in a setting where one of your co-workers is not providing the best service to your customers or clients? What if anything do you do about it and exactly how do you proceed?

Can we make two broad assumptions?

  1. Most of us get better in a job as we spend time in the role.
  2. Most of us genuinely want to improve.
You work with others on an assembly line, in a restaurant, on a team or at an office; you someone is underperforming regularly. They may be friendly, love a good joke, be a fun person to be around, but the quality of their work is questionable.
Now there’s one line of thought which is that as a colleague, you should just worry about your own responsibilities and doing your own job the best you can. After all, if the customers or clients have a problem it’s up to them to complain or question the value of the services they receive and up to management to do something about it if and when it comes to their attention. The problem with this is that you may be aware of the inferior service people are receiving from that individual but the customers and management may not; especially in settings where employees have the latitude to work alone.
If you believe in customer service excellence, knowing customers are receiving inferior service where you work will bother you; be it because it reflects on you too, you have high personal standards, or you know what management expects. If and when those customers or clients realize the poor quality of service they’ve received, they may not just be critical of that one employee, they may generalize and paint all employees (including you) with the same brush, telling others they’ll get poor service if they get products, goods or service where you work.
You can bury your head in the sand and pretend you don’t see, hear or know about the poor service a colleague delivers. In a perverse twist, you might even be somewhat glad that the co-worker is underperforming because it makes you look good by comparison. This in my mind is very short-sighted, because while you are providing superior service to your customers, the total number of clients or customers bringing their business may drop substantially if the reputation of the poor service spreads. You are guilty of being complicit, or enabling the poor service to continue by doing little or nothing about it.
So the problem is what to actually do. Should you share your concerns with management and let them take whatever action they see fit? You may or may not want to remain anonymous because you have to work alongside this person every day. No matter how you visualize the situation you feel you’re squealing. The uneasiness you feel is actually because you yourself wouldn’t want a co-worker going to management over your own poor performance as a first step. Yet if you speak with the co-worker first and there’s no improvement, going to management as a 2nd step, makes it certain it was you who identified them.
One option is the straightforward meeting with the person and sharing your issues. You might fear backlash, worry that you’ll damage a relationship with a co-worker and have elevated tension in your workplace making it no longer a place you enjoy working due to stress you’ve created, but doing nothing is causing you stress too.
First identify if the other employee is in fact meeting company expectations. Could be time has made you wiser, better, etc. and the person is performing much like you yourself when you were younger. So is it the learning curve, poor service, a bad attitude or an indifference to improve where they’ve plateaued and are not improving that’s a problem?
You could check with other colleagues to see if your concerns are shared, but what if they are not? Be aware you run the risk of having one of those people pass on your opinions to the co-worker in question. That could get ugly so you definitely need to make it about the service not the person.
And here we’ve hit upon the answer. De-personalize the problem so you’re not focusing on the individual but rather, the gap between expected service standards and the service delivered. When you come at things from wanting to standardize service excellence across your team, you provide a non-threatening way to address issues. You always need to remember however that discipline and training issues are probably not your areas of responsibility or authority so don’t go there.
Offering to provide support, guidance, the benefit of your own experience and being helpful may get you much further than appearing to attack the person themselves. Your focus should be on what you want to improve – the overall service levels received by your collective customers. You can also achieve positive results by praising and re-enforcing good behaviours when you observe them.
A last suggestion may be a team review of performance expectations and standards where everyone present takes responsibility for doing more, being better and providing better service. Sometimes the people who need this most tune out and those that are already doing excellent work may feel unfairly targeted but it may be an important step.
Please, weigh in with your thoughts and ideas.