Work Management

When a Job Is So Bad It Hurts

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By Sue Shellenbarger
March 29, 2011

It’s often believed that working is good for our mental health. But what if it isn’t?

Some jobs are so bad that they are actually worse for employees’ psychological well-being than not having a job at all, according to a new study in the journal Occupational and Environmental Medicine. Researchers from the Australian National University analyzed annual data over several years from 7,155 adults, evaluating links between the nature of their jobs and their mental health. They found “the mental health of those who were unemployed was comparable or superior to those in jobs of the poorest” quality.

Poor-quality jobs were defined as those with high demands, low pay and a lack of autonomy and security. Participants were asked, for example, whether a job was “more stressful than I ever imagined,” whether it was “complex and difficult,” or whether it caused them to “worry about the future.” The worse the job, the poorer the worker’s mental health, after controlling for other factors, including personality and financial hardship.

To make sure the pattern wasn’t caused by a selection effect – that is, unhappy people tending to land in bad jobs because they were already unhappy – the researchers studied what happened when the unemployed subjects finally landed work. They found those who moved into high-quality jobs showed significant improvements in mental health. But those who took poor-quality jobs showed clinically significant declines in mental well-being, compared to their own previous mind-states and to their jobless counterparts. Mental health measures included how often participants had recently felt nervous, depressed, calm or happy.

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No Work-Life Balance? It’s Your Fault.

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By Rachel Emma Silverman
April 7th, 2011

I went to the South By Southwest Interactive conference last month, attending a bunch of thought-provoking discussions about the future of the workplace and evolving company culture.

A big theme that emerged over the course of the week was that employees shouldn’t wait for their managers or their company as a whole to instill a culture of work-life balance. Instead, if you want more time for other pursuits, like family, friends or exercise, you need to take matters into your own hands and set your own life-friendly practices. (Sample-–and revelatory– SXSW panel titles: Company Culture: It’s All Your Fault; Stop Working Nights / Weekends and Get a Life!; and Rehabbing Corporate Culture. )

In essence: You’ve got to carve out your own work-life balance. If you don’t, according to conference panelists, it’s your fault (at least in part.) Forget blaming your boss for bombarding you with “urgent” emails after-hours or your co-workers for pestering you in your cubicle so that you never seem to get anything done during the workday. It’s up to you to set limits and expectations — not responding to every message after you leave the office; leaving work at 5:30 PM if you’re done, even if your colleagues choose to stay until 7 for appearance’s sake; or making sure to set practices (such as noise-canceling headsets) so you’re more productive during peak work times. To paraphrase Smokey the Bear: “Only you can create work-life balance.”

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Does Having Kids Dull Career Opportunities?

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By Sue Shellenbarger
April 6th, 2011

We have posted before on the high cost of expanding your family. Beyond ballet lessons and child care, having more babies also changes how mothers and fathers perceive their opportunities for advancement on the job, new research shows.

With each new child, women believe that windows of opportunity on the job are closing for them, says a new study by McKinsey & Co. But men see their career potential expanding as their families grow, says the research, presented this week at a Wall Street Journal conference on women in the economy.

Women and men are equally eager to advance before they start families, with about 82% of both sexes expressing a desire to move up to the next level, says the study last February of 1,000 and 525 women employed by big companies or professional services firms.

But women regard their opportunities as dimmer after they begin having children. While 78% of childless women believe they have the opportunity to advance to the next level, that percentage drops to 74% among women with one child, and to 70% among women with two or more children.

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So Now You're the Boss

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by Dennis Nishi
July 10, 2010

You finally got that promotion and now you're the new boss. Things might not feel much different in the beginning, but managing former peers requires a major adjustment on both ends. How you handle the change at the outset can affect the long-term harmony and productivity of the group.

Embrace change
Accept that your relationships with co-workers will inevitably change, say experts. This can be hard if you were friends with someone you now supervise. You don't have to give up the friendship, but you do need to have a frank discussion outlining the new parameters of your relationship in the office. "This includes what you can and can't do," says Stephen Xavier, president and CEO of Cornerstone Executive Development in Chapel Hill, N.C. "Obviously, you can't participate in workplace gossip or any negative talk about co-workers." You also can't be as chummy as you were before and you might, say, have to give up your regular lunch dates with your former peer.

Get educated
If the company doesn't provide management training, take a class, get a coach, read books and observe how other bosses handle subordinates. You want to strike a good balance of authority, says Bonnie Hagemann, CEO of Executive Development Associates in Oklahoma City, Okla. There's a tendency for new bosses to manage too harshly or be too lenient.

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Bosses' Small Gestures Send Big Signals

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by Joann S. Lublin
December 2, 2010

Welcome to the executive suite. But beware: Your smallest acts can cause big consequences.

Consider Linda Parker Hudson, promoted last fall to run the U.S. arm of BAE Systems PLC, a global defense giant.

She told her top lieutenants that she expected "rapid responses" to email around the clock. To her surprise, several started sleeping beside their beeping BlackBerry so they could answer her 3 a.m. messages right away.

Ms. Hudson says she repeatedly reassured these colleagues that they could sleep at night and tried to lessen her nocturnal BlackBerry use. But "it was probably a few months before we all got used to each other,'' she concedes.

Ms. Hudson experienced "executive amplification," a widespread phenomenon that can significantly affect your career. When you land a senior post, staffers constantly will scrutinize -- and possibly misconstrue – your deeds, dress and words.

Yet power makes you "less aware that your behavior matters,'' cautions Adam Galinsky, a professor of organizational behavior at Northwestern University's business school. "That can be a career killer by demoralizing your troops.'' Even lack of eye contact with them as you walk down the hall conveys your disapproval, risking alienation.

Amplification also can work to your advantage because effective, small moves often improve employee motivation. You must recognize that "leadership is a role, and you are always on,'' says Gary Bradt, an executive coach in Summerfield, N.C. "Make sure you send the messages that you want to send.''

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Employers Tread a Minefield

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by Jeanette Borzo
January 21, 2011

Firings for Alleged Social-Media Infractions Sometimes Backfire on Companies

Facebook gaffes that can cause trouble in the workplace aren't unique to drunken college students anymore. As more companies and their workers tap into the world of blogs, Twitter and Facebook, employers are tripping over legal potholes in social media.

Next week a National Labor Relations Board judge will consider whether a medical-transportation company illegally fired a worker after she criticized her boss on Facebook, in the federal agency's first complaint linked to social media.

In another case, workers sued a restaurant company when they were dismissed after managers accessed a private Myspace page the employees set up to chat about work.

Job seekers and employees have long been warned that risqué revelations on Facebook can jeopardize career prospects. But now companies are facing their own challenges for alleged blunders in dealing with social media.

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Managing Relationships

Leading and managing people has been a constant challenge in a workplace as everyone has his or her own way of thinking and behaving. The reality is we need people to drive our businesses, to get things done and to realise our business vision and mission.

Organisations only function with the cooperation of their staff. We all know that ineffective organisations can be very frustrating. We also know that effective organisations can demand so much from their employees that those people have nothing of themselves left for life beyond their work environment. Either of these scenarios can result in personal and relationship stress or breakdown at work and at home. Thus, a sound relationship building is not only a want but a necessity in today’s business world. A strong, mutually beneficial relationships with the people around us can not only help us realise our potentials and aspirations both in our career and personal lives as a person, a worker or a leader but it can also contribute to us having a healthy relationship with our family and loved ones.

One common issue posed by many working people is work-life balance, that is juggling or managing between fulfilling the demands at work and familial duties at home. And especially when job pressure increases, leaving work on time to spend quality time with the family has slowly become a desired goal for many of us. Building good relationships in the workplace is in many ways similar to building good relationships outside of work. Similar to making friends outside of the work environment, we need to realise that relationships can often seem like fragile things – especially in the workplace where they are often built and destroyed by the actions we take. However, quality and lasting relationships can certainly be built by reinforcing them with a few simple principles such as these:

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How to Recover From a Bad Performance Review

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If you’ve received negative feedback about your job performance, don’t panic. The first step to recovering is to digest the news with poise. While it’s natural to feel defensive or angry during a bad review, career coaches advise against acting on these emotions to avoid making matters worse.

Take a day or two to let things soak in. Then schedule a meeting with your boss to find out why you received a bad grade. Listen carefully and take notes. If your boss doesn’t offer specific examples of poor performance, ask for a few. This way you can learn from your mistakes and also be sure that he or she isn’t making any false or misguided assertions. When the meeting is over, thank your boss for the feedback.

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How to Quit a Job

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Should you stay or should you go? There’s no surefire sign that it’s time to look for greener professional pastures. But there are a few clear reasons that could signal it’s time to change jobs.

First, ask yourself if there is a culture clash. Is your entrepreneurial nature always at odds with the collaborative style of your co-workers? Do you need a social, mobile work environment to keep your creative juices flowing, while your office is neatly divided up into closed office spaces? A company’s core culture isn’t likely to change over night, so if you’re not happy, it might be time to look elsewhere.

Another sign that a job change might be in order is a lack of performance-based rewards. Maybe you’ve received the standard raise yet again, but weren’t awarded a new title. Or you consistently exceed the limits of a company’s bonus structure. Most employees need incentives and rewards to feel valued, and if you’re not getting them, it might be time to dust off that résumé.

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Tips for Training Your Boss To Be a Better Manager

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by Arlene S. Hirsch
April 15, 2008

Work can be miserable when you and your boss don't get along. At times, quitting may seem to be the only option.

When she was a working journalist, Jill Geisler decided she didn't want to work for someone she remembers as a "gloriously imperfect" boss. "Picture Anthony Quinn, Vince Lombardi, and Hawkeye Pierce all rolled into one man," she says. "Volatile. Demanding. Larger than life."

Ms. Geisler, now a group leader in St. Petersburg, Fla., for the Poynter Institute, a training center for journalists, sought advice from a mentor, who counseled her to get to know her boss before making a rash career decision. Now she's glad she did.

She and the man she didn't want to work for are good friends who laugh about their rocky start 15 years ago. Despite differing styles, they both valued high-quality journalism and community service. Once Ms. Geisler had earned her supervisor's trust and respect, she could question and challenge his decisions and even nag him about his idiosyncrasies.

One reason the relationship succeeded is that Ms. Geisler took responsibility for making it work. Her candor became the foundation for a close and fruitful professional partnership.

If you work for an imperfect boss, what are you prepared to do about it? These suggestions from consultants and employment experts can help you to improve your relationship with a new or long-time supervisor:

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