Appreciating Co-Workers


May the 16th isn’t, “Co-worker Appreciation Day”. Come to think of it I don’t know that there is such a day, although if there is I’m confident someone will point it out to me. Good thing actually in my opinion; I mean do we really need a day to remind us to appreciate the good in those we work alongside throughout the year?

Maybe the answer to that question is yes. I mean we have a day for Administrative Professionals called Secretaries’ day in some jurisdictions. That’s often when the various Supervisors in organizations get the Administrative team members out for lunch in our organization and an email goes out reminding us all to show some gratitude for the support we receive.

Seems to me that real gratitude should come from people without reminding or prompting, and it should come throughout the year not just on a specific day on a calendar. However, like Mother’s Day and Father’s Day, it’s a day of celebration and I’m certainly not going to suggest we abolish any of these. Some people do need a reminder to say thanks, whether it’s for a parent or those in the workplace.

I wonder though if we do enough of a good job thanking those we work with for being the people they are; for making our own workplaces more enjoyable places to work. Our co-workers do make our places of employment more enjoyable don’t they? If you can’t think of anyone where you work who deserves a word of thanks, could be its high time you moved on. Good co-workers are first and foremost good people and good people are a treasure to surround yourself by.

It’s these people who ask how your day is going, who mean it when they say you seem different from your normal self and ask if there’s anything wrong or something they can do. These are the ones that celebrate your birthday, tell you to go easy on the days you’re not at your best, and cover for you as best they can when you’re away. If you’re lucky, you come back after vacations to find less work on your plate than you might have otherwise accumulated.

Your co-workers are the ones who support you and compliment you on the quality of work you do. Count yourself fortunate if you share your personal workspace with someone who you see as integral to influencing the kind of worker you’ve become. They might mentor you officially or not, but the way they go about their business surely rubs off on you to a lesser or greater degree. When it’s them on their holiday, doesn’t your work area miss them? Isn’t there a big part of you that truly hopes that they are really enjoying their time no matter what it is they are doing? You know how much they put in when at work and so you wish them sunshine, good weather, lots of reasons to smile and laugh. Most of all you hope they come back feeling relaxed, rejuvenated and you’re one of the first to ask how they enjoyed the time off.

If you haven’t really given much thought to the one who shares your space, just imagine walking in and learning they or you will be relocating to another part of the building. Even if you enjoy change and the idea of working in close proximity with someone new is appealing, hopefully part of you acknowledges the good times you’ve shared together and is grateful for those moments.

In my case, I’ve shared my two-person office with the same person for 10 years now. Wow! 10 years! I’m very appreciative of him and know the positive impact we have on each other’s performance. Even when we swing our chairs around and talk of our families, sports news, plans for the weekend or vacation plans, it’s all productive time. It might not seem productive of course to others, but building and nurturing a relationship with someone you spend this much time with has to improve your working relationship tremendously.

The time will eventually come when one or both of us moves on, either to another place in the office we work at or to another site completely. While the change will be good and the new office mate welcomed, the relationship we have together will never be truly replicated. I’m grateful in the here and now and I know he is too; and that’s significant to note.

The others I work with, be they on my team, at reception, my Supervisor, those on other teams of course are all important too. If I were building my, ‘dream team’, I’d count many of these people among those I want on board. Of course it’s not that every single person has to be a, ‘best buddy’ or a close working associate. I imagine I’m not on every single co-worker’s list if they assembled their dream team either. That would be unreasonable to expect. However, what is important is that each person get their due of credit for what they do contribute.

Consider thanking those you work with not just for a day but each day. What might you point out that you appreciate in your co-workers. Could be the word of thanks you pass on is just what they needed to hear. These people you work alongside make your workplace what it is.

Recognition At Work


Recognition; having your peers, Supervisor and/or end users acknowledge your effort, good work habits, results achieved and attitude. In short, are you getting enough?

In some workplaces, employees report only getting positive recognition at their yearly performance appraisals. That means they go 364 days between hearing words of appreciation and having what they do on behalf of an organization recognized. I don’t know about you but that kind of working environment is one I’d rather not work with. No, I want to work in a climate where I hear words of encouragement and gratitude on a regular basis. Tell me I’m appreciated and that the work I’m doing is of a consistent high quality and I’m far more likely to invest myself in what I do and strive to do even better. Ah but that’s just me.

Now to be clear, I’m not advocating that employers have recognition ceremonies and awards dinners on a weekly basis where everyone is the employee of the month. That would get expensive, lose it’s meaning rather quickly and certainly would come across as less than authentic. Nonetheless, good employers; the best of the best mind – find ways to recognize the good works of their people on a regular basis. The interesting thing is that it need not involve what most people would assume would be the number one reward; money.

Suppose you were working away in your job today and one of your colleagues sticks their head in the door and says, “Hey you got a sec? I just wanted to thank you for your help yesterday. I really mean it, that was very kind of you.” Or your boss comes down to the area you’re working away in and in front of your co-workers casually remarks, “Thought I’d let you know that the idea you brought forward a couple of weeks ago is being strongly considered as a pilot project. Keep up the good work.”

Now neither of the above has added a single cent to your financial wealth. There’s no new certificate hanging on your wall, no champagne uncorked or free tickets to a sporting event in your mail slot. Yep, it didn’t cost anyone anything to pass on words of recognition except perhaps the effort it took to physically approach you and say thanks. Nonetheless, I’m guessing you’d feel a surge of gratefulness, your disposition would improve, you’d feel positive about yourself and most importantly you’d feel thankful for that recognition.

Further imagine that this kind of behaviour was duplicated with a fair degree of regularity. Perhaps it’s you acknowledging the good work of a colleague, that your boss high-fives one of your teammates on the assembly line for going another week without any quality issues or the Receptionist sends you a brief email telling you how highly one of the customers you just helped out thinks of you. Wouldn’t that be the kind of workplace where the overall mood of the employees was elevated? Think how positive the culture would be, where people felt those who worked there really cared about not just the end results but the people they worked alongside.

In reality, the kind of culture I’m describing does exist. It isn’t however exclusively up to Management with a capital, “M” to initiate it and officially sanction such behaviour. To achieve this kind of supportive workplace where people are recognized as well as the good works they do is a collective effort. Sure it could start with some organization-wide announcement and training. However, it could also start at any level in the organization with any single employee; it could even start with…dare I say it…you.

It’s true isn’t it? Sure it is. You could make the effort to watch out for people around you who work with a solid work ethic and comment on that. You could tell someone how much you admire their excellent attendance, let them know how you value their experience and helpful attitude etc. As long as it’s genuine and authentic, why couldn’t you make it a regular practice to verbalize what you recognize and admire in the people you work with 7 or more hours a day? Yes it certainly could start with you; and then, what if it started to spread?

Too often I think we expect such things to start as a Management initiative; top down. We figure that they make the most money and therefore they are the ones who should be recognizing our good work, our efforts, our positive outlook, our safety record or excellent results. Why can’t it work the other way round? I imagine your boss or another Supervisor you work alongside in your workplace would also feel good about themselves were you to pass on a word of recognition to them. “Hey boss, I really appreciated your flexibility when I needed to leave an hour earlier yesterday. I know it was short notice and it was one less thing to worry about when I had to get to the hospital and see my dad. That meant a lot to me.”

One constant in all organizations is the involvement of other people. Even if you work remotely from home, you’ve undoubtedly got others you interact with online or via the phone. A small word of recognition goes a long way.

Remember too the customer and end-user; a genuine, “Thanks so much for your business, it’s appreciated” goes a long way.

 

Not Fitting In? This Could Be Dangerous


No matter whether yours is toxic, harmonious, creative or chaotic, you’ve got one at work. You are also responsible in part for the way it is and more importantly the way it could be. It may change slightly or greatly with each employee departure or addition. What is it? It’s the climate or atmosphere you work within.

Every so often you may hear of someone who loses their job or quits and says, “I’m actually glad it happened. I was suffocating there”. You can substitute the word, ‘suffocating’ for any number of adjectives such as: dying, withering away, frantic, isolated, overwhelmed, steamrolled, etc. The point they are really making is that the person they became was increasingly at odds with their authentic self, and the stress and anxiety they were under as a result of not being true to their nature was wearing on them.

Aligning yourself with the proper workplace atmosphere is more important than you might think. Some job postings make crude attempts at describing the atmosphere with phrases such as, fast-paced environment or sales-driven atmosphere. The problem with these phrases is that they are so over-used, applicants don’t really understand what they mean anymore; the words are almost invisible. How fast is fast-paced anyway? One company’s fast-paced isn’t another’s.

If you find on a Sunday afternoon or early evening that you are edgy or downright agitated as the thought of going to work on Monday morning pops unexpectedly into your conscious thought, it’s likely that the atmosphere you will enter as you walk into work is at odds with what you’d optimally like to experience in the workplace. If you find yourself having to be someone you’re really not to fit in at work, over time this can become easier to do on a daily basis but you run the risk of waking up one day and realizing you don’t really like the person you’ve become. If that happens, you’ll be unhappy, unfulfilled and disillusioned. Wait too long to decide you need a change, and you might find yourself feeling trapped by your seniority, the pay and benefits, the number of weeks you’ve got coming as vacation. Then you’re really facing a sentence of sorts; dragging yourself off to a job you don’t feel anything but loathing for, and hating yourself for being afraid to do anything about it.

In today’s economy where jobs are seemingly more and more difficult to come by, those of us with good paying jobs and seniority are increasingly aware that to jump ship and start with another organization comes with increased risks. If we quit one job for another and that new company cuts back its workforce, we might be number one on the chopping block as the newest hire. Then we’re out of work entirely and job hunting again. On the other hand, sticking around in a job within an organization where the atmosphere is eating away at us can cause us tremendous personal anxiety. Health problems may start appearing more frequently resulting in absenteeism, medical leaves and burn out.

It is for this reason that one of the questions many people ask at a job interview has to do with gauging the working atmosphere or chemistry of the workplace. It can be difficult to get at the information you want to really know however. Imagine the tired old question, “Can you describe a typical day?” and getting an honest reply like this:

“You’ll wake up agitated from a troubled sleep, rush around taking short-cuts to compensate for then sleeping through the alarm. As you inhale your last breath of fresh air in the parking lot and walk in to the office you’ll be greeted with unfinished work on your desk and a fresh new pile of invoices to deal with. Your co-workers in other cubicles will play their daily symphony of annoying sounds from flatulence, nail filing, sniffling, snorting, grunting, sighing and cursing. The tapping of keys on keyboards will only be interrupted with the popping of lids on antacid pills and headache medications. Eventually you will be given the combination to the chain around your leg – once at noon and again at the end of your shift. The combination will change daily. You will repeat this process for the next 6 years until you are mentally fried and your increased wages no longer make you an asset to the company. You will unceremoniously be removed and replaced by a leaner, hungrier version of yourself.”

Ouch! Well let’s hope this description doesn’t ever apply to you. However, what if this is exactly your reality and you’re sitting there saying, “Oh my gosh, you nailed me to a tee! But I’m stuck and can’t afford to quit!”

Perform a self-check with your work happiness. How well does both the job and the culture or atmosphere of the workplace fit with your personal preferences? If things don’t align up to your liking, update the resume – now. Look for other opportunities while you have your present job and start mobilizing your network of contacts. Outside your work hours, look into organizations that appeal to you, talk with people there and ask about the chemistry and climate of the workplace. Leaving when it’s your choice is preferable to leaving by termination; or worse yet, staying when every fibre of your being has come to hate your job.

 

Fitting In And Standing Out


Ironic isn’t it that heading into a job interview you try to find ways to stand apart from the competition, yet at the same time try to fit in with the people currently working there. Let’s look at what these two mean and how you can accomplish both, thereby increasing the odds of receiving a job offer in the process.

Let’s first look at this idea of fitting in. Your goal is to convince the people in hiring positions that by bringing you onboard, you’ll reinforce whatever values and beliefs they uphold. From the moment an organization comes into contact with you, they initiate a process of assessment; determining if you’ll complement or contrast with others, upset or add to existing team chemistry. In short, do you look, think, behave and act like the people who currently work in the organization or do you present as different; the square peg trying to fit in a round hole.

So the question for many is how to possibly know what the team chemistry is or how the people look, think, behave and act if you don’t work there. The answer lies in the research you do. Many people don’t do any research whatsoever. They reason that the effort required is wasted time when there are other jobs to apply to; a better use of their time. If the organization doesn’t accept them for the person they are upon meeting them, then they don’t want to work there anyhow; no conforming for them!

Some others of course do believe in the value of research, but they don’t know how to research people and workplace culture. They may visit a website; memorize values, mission statements and some history of the company instead. This shows more effort than those doing no research at all, but this basic research doesn’t overly impress company personnel.

If you really want to work for a company, you need to do more than just state your strong interest. Investing your time so you project an image that is similar to those working there will make it easier for them to visualize you as one of them. You can watch people ahead of your initial contact walking in and out of the workplace, observing how they dress, speak, move, and groom themselves. Do you see buttoned shirts, ties and suit jackets, or do you see polo shirts, khakis, wild beards and sneakers? Do the people stride purposefully with strained faces, carrying briefcases or do they move at a leisurely pace, joining up with others, smiling and laughing with their pees?

This is only one of many ways you can assess the people and infer the culture. There are social media profiles of the people who work at the company you could look at too. How and what are people saying? What’s their career path leading up to where they are? What causes do they care about and how do these align with your own views?

However, at the outset I also mentioned the irony of doing your best to stand out from the competition; in other words, come across as uniquely memorable. Remember that when things are different and stand out, they can stand out in either a pleasing way or an unwanted peculiar way. Just about everyone can easily imagine how to stand out in a odd way, but it is harder to imagine for many how to stand out and be unique in a positive way when your competition is simultaneously trying to achieve the exact same thing. Questions interviewers ask that give you the opportunity to demonstrate your uniqueness by the way can include:

  • Why should I hire you?
  • What did you do to prepare for this interview?
  • What do you know about us?
  • Why do you want to work here?

These questions are designed to assess your motivation and interest; steps you’ve taken to determine if the fit is good for you and most importantly they give you a chance to impress or flat line. If you haven’t researched the job, company, culture or climate and don’t know their product or service, interviewers will infer that if hired, you won’t invest yourself in what is important to the company; the job they hire you to do. Rest assured that at least some of your competition is doing their homework and will come across as wanting it more than you.

Another key to standing out positively is looking at your skills, experiences and education and determining how your past – unique for every applicant of course – can be leveraged to appeal to the interviewer(s). Your research might reveal some issue that you are uniquely positioned to address. Perhaps you’re a customer yourself and bring the consumer perspective, or your contacts and connections will follow you to the new employer thus boosting their business.

To wrap up, invest yourself in learning about the opportunity you are pursuing. Ask questions of people, make exploratory phones, set up an information gathering meeting, drop in ahead of an application and observe, listen and take the pulse of the workplace. Not only does this help you get a job, it helps you land the right job with the right employer; in short, find the right fit.

At the end of a job interview, summarize your key values; leave a lasting impression of how your research has uniquely positioned you as meeting their stated needs.

“Why Don’t I Fit In?”


“If we stripped away everything you present to the world, what would I be left looking at?”

This is a question I occasionally ask of people I’ve been assisting to find employment; people I’ve known for a while when I’m trying to find out more about them and discover barriers to employment. Upon hearing the question, some go to the obvious; make some comment about being naked and laugh, some pause to think, while others say, “I don’t know, I’ve never been asked that question before.”

If I wait a few moments without saying a word more, they realize I’m expecting an answer on a deeper, more personal level, and then what comes out is often quite helpful. You see, the person we present to the world for some is the person we really are. We are authentic, genuine; consistently the same person both on the inside and outside. There are however many who for whatever reason, work hard to ‘become’ someone else; they take on traits they only assume in public or at work. They are seldom really comfortable when around others, always trying to find ways to fit in, to be comfortable, be accepted. They put out a tremendous amount of mental energy, strategizing who to talk to in a group, what to say, worried about how they’ll be perceived, what people will think of them, etc. It’s exhausting.

These people are really just trying to do what others appear to do naturally; gain the respect of others, be included in the workplace or social gatherings. Have you ever found yourself thinking someone doesn’t quite fit in at work? They appear to be trying too hard to be liked; in workplace social gatherings they often end up alone or included out of necessity instead of by choice. They appear to be alone even in a group of people, standing off to the side, or while they appear to be mingling, if you followed them closely, you’d see them circulating with a series of brief conversations and they may be among the first to leave and get back to their work.

For these kind of people – and you may be one of them yourself – the importance of recognizing and understanding this behaviour is integral to finding the right work environment, giving the person the best opportunity to be successful. It’s fair to say that when applying for jobs, most of us don’t list fitting in as one of the deciding factors in whether we should or shouldn’t apply. Yet once hired, we do want to fit in; and while fitting in means different things to different people, we will likely be happiest and find it comfortable if our need (high or low) for social interaction is similar to the other people who work in the same space.

Perhaps you’re the kind of person who on the surface appears confident; who others would say initiates conversations with people. That’s good. However, you may at the same time be the kind of person who after a few minutes finds continuing the conversation and finding mutually interesting things to talk about hard work. While the other person is talking, you’re only half listening; you’re brain races to find things to mention of interest the moment they stop speaking. You fight to remember a local or national news event, something amusing, what someone else said that others found interesting. You’re good in the short-term, but soon feel uncomfortable and make an excuse to circulate, start again with someone new, and you feel relieved when everyone returns to work where you feel the stress of mingling subside.

Now sharing this reality with an Employment Coach, a Mentor or Employment Counsellor is extremely useful if you want to land a job where you’ll succeed. It is of vital importance. It’s not enough to look at a job posting and only look at the qualifications and responsibilities and then apply. If you go about looking for work only doing this, you may have found that while past jobs are ones you could do, you found yourself saying again and again, “Why don’t I fit in? Why can’t I be like the other people? Why am I so awkward? What’s wrong with me?”

Truth is there’s nothing wrong with you; perhaps you’re approaching the situation asking the wrong question. The question, “What’s wrong with me?” I’d replace with, “Is this job I’m qualified to do with an organization where the culture and the atmosphere work for me?” So this becomes one of your questions at the conclusion of an interview; “Tell me about the work atmosphere in the area I’d be assigned to”, or, “Describe the social interaction among employees or is a ‘task-oriented’ culture favoured?”

Remember, it isn’t only about finding a job but, the right job and the right employer. Ignore the culture of a company and you’re gambling on the fit. A good interviewer can sense when you’ve got the skills but your personality doesn’t mesh with their chemistry. Being rejected in such a case may be the best thing for both them and you in the long run.

Consider thinking of this when finding your next job; some people choose the work atmosphere over the actual job in fact, or pass promotions because the ‘fit’ is so good where they are at the present.