Energy Vampires at Work

Dear, Anita,

At work, we have a large special project and I have to work with a guy from another department on it. He is turning out to be hypercritical of everything I am doing. (My boss, in the meantime, seems to like and approve my work.) I go home feeling both mentally and physically exhausted. How can I deal with this [jerk] for the next few months?

Businessman_Fangs_iStock_000007557585_SmallDear, Feeling Drained,

Psychiatrist and author of Positive Energy, Dr. Judith Orloff, identifies six types of “energy vampires” and their antidotes:

  • The sob sister (or brother) loves to complain about their situation. At work, you’ll have to set clear boundaries to keep the “poor me” stories to a minimum.
  • The drama queen (or king) makes mountains out of molehills. Again, you’ll have to set limits and not get caught up in the drama.
  • The constant talker may be entertaining at first (or not), but you may have to interrupt this self-centered coworker to get back to your task.
  • The fixer upper wants your help with everything, from unjamming the copy machine to serving as a go-between in a contentious interoffice relationship. Offer solutions, but don’t rescue the fixer-upper all the time.
  • The blamer makes negative comments and tries to make you feel guilty for not getting things just right. Orloff suggests visualizing yourself in a cocoon of white light. If that sounds too new-agey, just think of it as ignoring the comments whenever you can. (Remember that kids’ chant, “I’m rubber; you’re glue. Whatever you say to me, bounces off me and sticks to you!”)
  • The go for the jugular fiend cuts you down with no consideration for your feelings. Don’t drink the poison; try not to take the pointed barbs personally.

Your coworker may be a mutant of the last two psyches (or Psychos, if the wig fits). Clinical psychologist Dr. Sophie Henshaw suggests a two-pronged approach to dealing with energy vampires. First, assess your emotional capacity to see just how much of this person you can take. Second, assess how much of a threat the vampire is to you. She even has an energy vampire quiz to help you with your appraisal.

Long dayCrazy coworkers are not the only energy vampires at work. Some of your very own behaviors can suck the life out of you. According to entrepreneur coach Helaine Iris, keeping details in your head instead of a system is not a good idea. Remembering everything on today’s to-do list – without the actual list – consumes the mental energy you could use to, say, write that major report. In an article, “Top 10 Office Energy Drains,” Forbes lists multi-tasking, technology, workplace noise, an uncomfortable environment, sitting still, clutter, boredom, and resentment as other vitality zappers in the workplace.

Feeling Drained, hang in there. Fight fang and nail to avoid the draining situations you can control, and minimize your interaction with your office vampire. It’ll be a treat once the project is complete.

Readers: Is your biggest energy vampire a coworker or one of your own self-sabotaging habits?

Do you have a job-related question? Ask Anita.

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Stop Over-Apologizing

Dear, Anita,

I’ve recently been made a manager in my department, and I think I’m adjusting fairly well. One of my friends within the department called me out the other day, though, for saying “I’m sorry” too much.  I think it’s my way of coming across as sympathetic (as in, “I’m sorry, but the VP wants you to redo this report to include the new sales figures.”) As a woman in management, does this really make me appear weak?

Dear, Brenda Lee,

OverApologizing_Manager_300Is this something new, or have you always been an over-apologizer? It could be you’re feeling a little insecure in your new job. A people-pleasing mentality may be overshadowing your people skills. What new manager doesn’t want to be well-liked?

Saying you’re sorry in and of itself is not a form of weakness. It shows that you are socially aware that your actions may impact others negatively.

It’s a widely held stereotype that women apologize more than men. This Pantene commercial illustrates the all-too-common phenomenon of women apologizing for situations where they are not at fault.

In recent studies, Karina Schumann at the University of Waterloo discovered that women did in fact apologize more than men, but they also reported committing more offenses. (Men apologize less frequently than women because they have a higher threshold for what constitutes offensive behavior. I won’t apologize for saying, That figures!)

Your “I’m sorry” in your question above doesn’t mean you are apologizing for something that was your fault (“I’m sorry I didn’t get you those new numbers before you finished your report”) but is more of an “I’m sorry this happened to you and our department.”

There’s something to be said about women using our hardwired peacekeeping skills in teambuilding. But women managers have to tread a narrower line than men between appearing to be a powerless doormat or a strong ice queen.

Saying sorry too often can trivialize the act of apology, making the important ones less significant. Remember the boy who cried wolf? Save your “I’m sorrys” for when you really need them.

Readers: Do you find yourself over-apologizing a work?

Do you have a job-related question? Ask Anita.

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No Payroll Deductions

Dear, Anita,

I work for a small company. My employer pays me with a personal check and I never see the break out of my taxes. Is the employer required to give me a break out of my taxes? Also, my 18-year-old niece just got a job at a coffee shop. Her boss pays her in cash. Is that legal?

Pay_Stub_iStock_000006469037_SmallDear, Worried About Taxes,

If you are an hourly or salaried employee and not a properly classified independent contractor, your employer is required by law to withhold payroll taxes (Federal income, state, and any local taxes, along with Social Security and Medicare). Whether or not your company must provide an itemized pay stub varies by state. According to the American Payroll Association Basic Guide to Payroll, the only states NOT required to provide deduction information on an employees’  pay stubs are Alabama, Arkansas, Arizona (only required if paid by direct deposit), Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, Nebraska, Ohio (oddly the law only protects minors here; employees over the age of 18 do not have the right to an itemized pay stub), small South Carolina employers (who have less than five employees for the past year), South Dakota, Tennessee, Utah government employees, and only on request in Virginia. Ask your boss to clarify the issue. If you are not satisfied with the answer, check with an employment attorney.

Cash paymentNow let’s talk about your barista relative. Some businesses pay cash “under the table” (restaurants and the construction trades are notorious for this). The IRS and your state’s employment taxation agency do not look kindly on this practice. Employers who are caught during an audit face the consequence of penalties and interest in addition to payment of back taxes and may be subject to criminal prosecution.

What happens to employees who receive cash wages? They won’t have check stubs, a Wage and Withholding Statement (Form W-2), or a way to verify their earnings (advise your niece to keep records of her own), and they may be subject to an income tax audits for not reporting the wages. Note that the IRS doesn’t care if an employer failed to take out taxes; each individual is still responsible for their personal tax obligations. Your niece is not paying into Social Security or Medicare, which will affect her ability to collect in the future. I know, an 18 year old is probably not even thinking about those far-distant retirement issues. But if or when she needs to file for unemployment (UI) or state disability (SDI), benefits may be delayed or even denied.

Your niece should not accept being paid off the books. If her employer is unwilling to abide by its legal obligations, I would recommend she find another job. Whistle-blowing is optional.

Readers: Have you ever had issues with an employer not withholding the proper deductions?

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Show Your “Soft” Side on Your Résumé

Dear, Anita,

I recently heard the term “adaptive skills” and that I should add these to my résumé. What are they, exactly?

Dear, Mad Skillz,

In human resources jargon, an adaptive skill is a general skill necessary to succeed at any job. More commonly referred to as “soft skills,” these are subjective personal qualities and abilities that are more difficult to quantify than “hard skills” or such job-specific occupational skills as typing speed, forklift certification, or event management, to give a random sampling. Sometimes there is a third category – transferable skills, which are abilities you can perform in different environments. Think of it this way:
– Soft Skills are “I AM” skills such as reliability, cooperation,  positive attitude, and friendliness.
– Hard Skills are “I KNOW” skills such as web design, foreign languages, or accounting practices.
– Transferable Skills are “I CAN” skills such as researching, teaching, or budgeting.
To pinpoint adaptive abilities you can boast about, check out this expansive list of soft skills at About Careers.

Soft skills concept on whiteMany soft skills are more visible in the interview process, but you have to actually land that interview to show off your enthusiasm, verbal communication skills, or artistic flair. A cover letter may be the best place to highlight those nebulous adaptive skills. Some companies don’t read cover letters though.  While you definitely want to hit the hard skills the employer is looking for when you tailor your résumé, be sure to include soft skills here too. Whenever possible, back up soft skills with hard facts. Quantify your accomplishments using time frames, number of people, and/or dollar amounts.  If you are highly persuasive person applying for a sales job, tell the story with some statistics about how many signatures you got on a recent community petition. Work well under pressure? Outline some specific project deadlines that you met or exceeded.  Did your attention to detail uncover an invoicing discrepancy that saved your company thousands of dollars? Boast about it on paper!

While the hard skills may be the first criteria an HR manager will evaluate, backing up specific job proficiencies with your soft skills may give you an edge in the hiring game.

Readers: How do you best highlight your soft skills on your résumé? Paste your best résumé blurb in the “Leave a Reply” area below.

Do you have a job-related question? Ask Anita.

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Anita Clew's blog posts are intended for general guidance and should never be taken as legal advice. In all instances where harassment, inequity, or unfair treatment is believed to be present, please consult your HR Department or legal representation.
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