Two groups of my co-workers have been at odds with each other for the past month. There was a disagreement over the way a project was handled and now it feels like the office is a war zone. I have tried my hardest to mind my own business but I can feel everyone involved trying to pull me in their direction. How do I stay out of the game of office politics?
Dear, Caught in the Middle:
Office politics is present in almost every work environment. Whether you are a forklift driver in a warehouse or an assistant in the executive suite, these games have been known to crash even the best office parties.
I have a few tips for you that will help you steer clear of political mumbo jumbo and center your focus on what matters most: your job!
Do not engage in gossip. Avoid involving yourself in rumors and off-work topic discussions. Seriously, do not touch it with a 10-foot pole. All it will do is get you caught up in the games even more. You will be no better than your coworkers who are in the midst of this spat.
Be a great listener. Not all gossip can be avoided, especially when it is shoved right into your lap. To not be rude or disinterested, practice your listening skills. The other person may need to vent about their opponent, but that doesn’t mean you have to give your opinion. Be a sounding board for their feelings and then politely carry on with your day.
Keep your personal life private. Keep your personal information just how it should be: personal. To avoid conflict, do not discuss politics or religion while you are in the office. Your opinions and preferences that do not relate to work are on a need-to-know basis. As for your coworkers, they fall under the “do not need to know” category.
Be positive and complimentary. Like your mother and I will always tell you, “If you don’t have something nice to say, don’t say it at all.” The same rings true in the workplace. You don’t want to start building a reputation of being a Debbie Downer.
Keep your interactions on an even keel. Be aware of how your interactions with your coworkers, superiors and subordinates are being perceived by others. Unequal treatment will be recognized immediately and could form a breeding ground for even more office politics.
Stay focused. Nothing can be better for you and your career than staying focused on doing your job well. If you keep your goals and tasks top of mind, you will not only be a more productive employee, but you will set a higher standard for your peers. The troublemakers will begin to see that you do not have time to engage in their quarrels or drama.
Readers, what tactics do you employ to avoid office politics?
Check out this video to see how to best avoid bad office politics:
I have just started looking for a new job, and recently I have been hearing about employers searching Facebook profiles before even interviewing a candidate. How can my profiles on social media sites impact my chance of finding employment? Thank you!
Dear, Fellow Facebooker:
Social media and networks have become an extension of our lives. We can catch up with old friends, learn about the latest news, and even get leads to open positions. But with all the positives that can be enjoyed, take your social experience with a grain of salt. Yes, employers are most definitely looking at the Facebook profiles of their candidates. After reading a post at one of my favorite blogs, TradePost, I was alarmed at how quickly Facebook screening is becoming a big issue in the employment world. For an idea of what I am talking about, read “Asking for Facebook Passwords: Good Screening or Bad Idea?”
Here are some of the dos and don’ts to adhere to if you hope make a great first impression.
Make your profile private. Put the security gates up before you start your job search. You can even hide your profile temporarily or make your name not appear in search results.
Keep your pictures G-rated. This includes your profile picture, pictures you have uploaded, and ones that your friends have tagged you in. Even if your page is blocked to the public, there may be a chance that the hiring manager is a connection with a mutual friend and can see your pictures. As a rule of thumb, steer clear of pictures of drinking activities, illegal drug use, sexually explicit images, and anything that you wouldn’t share with your grandparents.
Restrict wall posting privileges. We all have some friends who haven’t quite figured out what is appropriate (and what’s not) to post to Facebook. Be cautious on how much slack you give to these troublemakers and limit their ability to comment/post on your wall.
Untag yourself from professionally unflattering photos. Yes, we all have some great pictures that bring us back to our college days. Great for reminiscing, bad for business. Again, a G-rating is preferred.
Avoid controversial topic discussion. When it comes to politics, religion, and other social issues, it is best to remain neutral while hunting for a job. You are entitled to your own beliefs, but it is best to keep them under the radar on your Facebook profile.
Accept friend requests and invites of people you know. It isn’t uncommon for people to create fictional profiles to gather privileged information. If you have anything that you wish to hide (hopefully you have gotten an idea of what I am talking about by now), do not give strangers access to your profile.
Whatever you do, do not provide employers with your log-in credentials. It may hurt your chances of getting the job offer, but this a serious breach of privacy – and several states have even made it illegal for employers to ask. I most certainly would not want to work with a company that was comfortable crossing those boundaries.
I hope this will help all of my readers become savvier when it comes to their Facebook profiles. Managers and Supervisors, a must-read for you as well is another post of mine called “Facebook – A Hiring Manager’s Best Friend.”
Readers, what do you think is the most damaging discovery an employer could make through Facebook? What is your #1 Facebook profile no-no?
And if you still don’t believe me, check out this news clip about Facebook privacy and employment:
For the past two weeks, I have written about the Affordable Care Act (ACA), or Obamacare, and how it affects large and small businesses. (Click here to view last week’s post.) I have also heard from several employees who are concerned about how this legislation will impact their lives. In truth, the law already has been in effect for over 3 years, but January 1, 2014 marks a new milestone in the way businesses and their employees are impacted. American workers are wondering if the cost of their health care premiums and coverage will go up as a result of this game-changing legislation.
Will your paycheck be affected?
Funding for all of the new expenses resulting from the ACA has to come from somewhere. Instead of increasing the deficit to fund the program, President Obama has introduced 21 new taxes; it’s estimated those taxes will negatively impact the incomes of only 2% of Americans, whereas 98% won’t see any change in their take-home pay. Click here for a full list of Affordable Care Act tax provisions.
However, on average, employers are expected to see a 6.5% rise in their rates from insurance companies, and that could create additional premiums for their employees. Obamacare forces insurance providers to offer coverage to all Americans, even those with pre-existing conditions, and those insurance companies may pass that increased expense onto employers. According to Mercer’s 2012 National Survey of Employer-Sponsored Health Plans, 58% of employers plan to pass a portion of their increases to their employees. It is at your employer’s discretion whether they will pass along that burden in some form or fashion; however, the Obama administration anticipates that benefits from the ACA will offset any reduction of income employees might see.
Will your coverage change?
The American Action Forum estimates that, under Obamacare, 35 million Americans will lose employer-sponsored health care coverage. Those employees will be forced into government-run exchanges, which the government is working to make affordable. The good news from just last week is that the exchanges may be even more affordable than previously thought. The Washington Post noted that the heavy competition among providers in California and Oregon is driving down costs to lower than what the Congressional Budget Office had anticipated. What plan you choose dictates what coverage you will have, which may or may not be different than what you were receiving previously.
Some Americans and their families will receive a tax break when purchasing their insurance plans through the exchange. The price for plans is capped at no less at 1.5% and no more than 12% of their income for health insurance premiums under the new law. The amount you will pay is determined using a sliding scale.
If your employer does not offer health insurance and you choose not to get an individual plan, you will be subject to a penalty of $95 or 1% of your income (whichever is greater) for noncompliance in 2014. Readers, you should expect this to rise in 2016 to $625 or 2.5% of income.
How should you prepare?
With all of the new laws, taxes, and regulations, it is important to plan ahead and prepare for the changes that are certain to take place. Your situation is likely to change in one way or another. You should start budgeting for an increase now, and be pleasantly surprised if it doesn’t come. If you have concerns over what will happen to your health care plan at your workplace, now is the time to have a conversation with your benefits administrator or human resources manager.
Readers, what are your employers doing to prepare for Obamacare in 2014? Have you developed a strategy of your own?
As the HR Director of a company with 56 people, Obamacare is on the top of my mind. My company is on the fence about what we should do. We don’t want to let go 7 people to be under the magic number of 50, but we want to avoid the steep penalties. What are your thoughts on how to best handle this new law as an employer or business owner?
Dear, Seeking a Solution:
Thank you for the question! Business owners and employers are all struggling with the looming question of how they will handle the coming implementation of Obamacare’s penalty provisions. I am glad to hear that my readers are already thinking about the subject and beginning to get their strategies in order now. In your situation with just over 50 employees, you are in the category that must provide affordable health insurance or face hefty fines.
After doing some research and evaluating the options, I have determined that the best course of action for businesses like yours is to move your excess employees over to a staffing firm’s payroll. Here is how I came to this conclusion.
By migrating 7 workers to a staffing firm’s payroll, you can cut your “full-time equivalent” staff below the 50-person limit, which means your company will not be subject to fees and penalties. The staffing company becomes the official employer of record and is responsible for providing health care or absorbing the penalty. In our reader’s case, if they were to move the 7 people from their payroll to a staffing company, it could save them $14,000 in penalties and potentially even more in insurance costs.
Lower insurance rates for your employees. Larger staffing firms have so many employees on their insurance plans that they are able to negotiate great group rates. This cost savings can be passed on to you.
By moving your a portion of your workforce to a staffing firm, you will not be required to comply with the complex reporting requirements. The employer must report regularly to the IRS, its employees, and to all states in which the company does business. This will reduce costs and provide a savings in administrative overhead.
On a recent episode of his CNBC show Mad Money, financial analyst Jim Cramer noted that the demand for temps is mushrooming, “fueled in part by the pending implementation of Obamacare.” He says: “Businesses of all sizes are searching for ways to cope with this law, and the easiest way to avoid paying these expenses is to hire more temps.”
Employers, what are your plans for managing the Obamacare mandate? Will you be turning to staffing firms for help?
I have finally hired a new employee for an open position at my company with the best candidate out of the bunch. It was a tough decision as we had a lot of great applicants but I think I have made the best choice possible. How should I politely and professionally let the other candidates know that the position has been filled?
Dear, Respectful Rejection:
Filling an open position is a great accomplishment. Congratulations on nailing down the leader of the pack! The downside is that you are now charged with breaking the bad news to the other candidates. It’s a tough job, but somebody has to do it.
I am always hearing from job seekers that it is often more discouraging being left in the dark on whether a position is still available than not getting the job at all. As a common courtesy, it is important to be open and honest with the status of the opening and send the candidates you didn’t select on their way. They can move on past this opportunity and discover another that lies ahead.
Below are some tips that I suggest you try out when crafting your candidate rejection letter. Once you have the structure written, you will have a template to use in the future.
Always type your rejection letter on company letterhead. Never handwrite the letter as it can become more personal than it should be. Alternately, if the candidate applied via email, you may send an email response with the letter content.
Address the letter to the candidate. Do not use something generic like “Dear,
Applicant.” Rejection is painful enough. No need to twist the knife by not acknowledging the person’s name.
Thank the candidate for their interest in working with you and for the time and energy they spent during the application/interview process.
State that the position has been filled. You can expand on this if you wish, but I believe it is best to cut to the chase.
If you want to lessen the sting, a compliment or two may be included.
Wish your candidate the best of luck in their future endeavors.
Let the candidate know you’ll keep their information on file should your needs change.
Sign the document or insert your signature.
Be sure to send the rejection letter in a timely manner — neither immediately after the interview nor four weeks after the position is filled. Think of Goldilocks and find just the right balance. You want the candidates to believe that you thought long and hard before selecting your new hire. At the same time, you do not want to leave them hanging.
My mother has recently become very ill and is soon going to be requiring full-time care. Are there any protections for me so I do not lose my job over this family emergency?
Dear, Fear of Being Fired:
Thank you for the question. Caring for a sick family member or parent can be a very challenging and time-consuming ordeal. Luckily, there are some protections and support for you in case an emergency strikes — namely, the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA).
Under FMLA, companies that have over 50 employees within 75 miles from the company are required to offer 12 weeks of job-protected unpaid leave to take care of a spouse, parent, or child with a serious health condition. It also covers the birth and care of an employee’s child or that employee’s adoption or foster care of a child.
In order for an employee to qualify, he/she must meet the following criteria:
Employee must be employed by the company for over 1 year.
At least 1,250 hours must have been worked in the last 12 months.
For those that may have a more complicated situation and need to care for someone who is not a legal or biological relation, you will need to prove that the person needing your care is in loco parentis with you.You might be asking yourself, what in the world is in loco parentis? According to the U.S. Wage and Hour Division Fact Sheet #28C, in loco parentis refers to a relationship in which a person has put himself/herself in the situation of a parent by assuming responsibility for a child to whom they are not legally or biologically connected. In other words, the person who needs your care is not your biological or legal parent but took care of you as if he/she was.
To prove your situation qualifies as in loco parentis, be prepared to provide the following information:
How old was the employee when in loco parentis care began?
How dependent was the employee on the person during childhood?
What was the extent to which duties commonly associated with parenthood was provided?
Did the person provide the employee with day-to-day responsibilities of care or financially supported them as a child?
I hope this helps shine some positive light on your situation and that it will help lessen your job-security concerns. As always, in these situations, consult your Human Resources representative to make sure you are all on the same page and to keep them informed on your situation. The more you know and can prepare, the better off you will be.
Readers, have you ever been in a similar situation? What recommendations do you have for Fear of Being Fired?
Here are some additional resources that are worth reading if you are faced with this situation:
I am currently on the hunt for new employment opportunities and, with my busy lifestyle, I am finding it difficult to look for jobs while I am out and about. Recently, I have noticed that a number of companies have developed applications for mobile devices.
What are your thoughts on these applications, how will they help me, and where should I start my first download to maximize my efforts?
Dear, Tech-savvy searcher:
Thank you for the question about such a hot topic, considering 77% of job seekers use mobile job search applications. Nowadays, you can find a mobile application for almost anything you can imagine. Everything from child distractions to restaurant finders to major time wasters! All are right at your fingertips. But the best thing to come to job seekers since the résumé are employment apps for mobile devices.
As you have mentioned, only a few companies have put their resources into developing productive and user-friendly applications for job seekers. And since yours truly has finally stepped into the 21st century and picked myself up a nifty smart phone, I figured it would be best to take a test-drive of these applications.
Some great things to note about job seeker apps on your mobile devices:
Many of the best applications are FREE to users. Utilize the free options before trying any of the pay-per-download apps. I think you will be just as surprised as I was by the functionality of these free apps.
At all times, you are able to have the tools needed to apply immediately to an opportunity. You can provide contact information, apply with your LinkedIn profile, and more with a few taps on the screen.
GPS is often used to determine the distance that you are from a job you are interested in.
Scroll through and share positions that you, your friends, or your family may be interested in.
If you are currently employed, you can discreetly search and apply for positions on your lunch break.
I have started to notice that when I am in a fantastic mood I tend to have a much better day at work and get so much done. My positive attitude even has an effect on the rest of the team. From now on, I want to set a positive and proactive tone throughout my office. How can I send my staff and myself down the happy path from the start of the day to the end?
Hello, Happiness Helper,
Thanks for the great question. Nothing makes your day go by faster and better than a good mood. I think it is the number one determining factor of how we act, feel, and present ourselves. Even if we do not verbalize how happy or upset we are during the day, it is easily communicated through our reactions to stress, body language, and overall demeanor. I have seen my share of up and down days during my long life but have come up with a strategy of my own to overcome almost anything in my way.
Every night, I set my morning alarm to go off 15 minutes ahead of schedule. I use this extra time for what I call “positive reinforcement.” It is the time when I can do something positive for myself without any interference. I will usually read some selected positive affirmations, look at the nature outside of my window, or spend some time playing with my cat, Clew-cifer, before any outside nuisance can sour my mood. Choose an activity that takes little effort and gives you something to smile about as the day progresses. Coffee or your favorite breakfast meal can be added in here as well. Doesn’t breakfast in bed sound good to anyone else?
Many people view their commute to and from work as a daunting and unpleasant task. Being behind the wheel, navigating through traffic, and steering clear of worldly hazards sounds stressful. What I have done is switch my mentality on the commuting conundrum. Instead of dreading it, I look at the drive as 30 minutes of ME time! I put on my favorite mix tape (created by yours truly) and get myself excited for the day ahead. It is where I only focus on myself and the things I look forward to accomplishing today.
When you get to the office, be sure to get your work day started with a big smile. Smiling is contagious and will spread like wildfire. Even if you don’t feel happy or in a great mood, research has shown that even fake smiles have a positive effect on how you feel. When someone asks “How are you doing this morning?” or “How is your day treating you?” respond with something positive. I try to stick with responses like “I am great! How about yourself?” or “Today is going great so far!” Be sure to add in that smile! Refrain from telling others all about your troubles or how awful you feel. I’ll bet that 9 times out of 10, a positive response is better received.
Most employers allow their staff two 10-minute breaks throughout the day on top of a lunch break. Get your blood moving and the endorphins pumping by taking a short walk outside. This is and has been a great stress reliever for me for some time now. I find that I am much more productive and more alert, which contributes to my overall sense of happiness and well-being. It gives your brain a break and lets you refocus your energy on the positive.
As the closing bell rings, be sure to leave your work at the office. The evening hours are there for you to partake in non-work activities and do something you enjoy. If that is reading a book on your couch, grabbing dinner with a friend, or catching up on the latest football game, be sure you allow yourself time to indulge in simple pleasures. Before calling it quits for the day, try your best to remove all negative thoughts from your mind and think of what was positive during the day. What were you able to accomplish? Remember a few things that made you smile. It can be as small as enjoying a candy bar after lunch or seeing an improvement in your productivity. Just end your day on a positive note!
A friend of mine shared this great video that I can’t help but smile at. We should all try to be this happy and cheery in the morning.
What do you do to make your days pleasant and positive? I would love to hear them!
Virtually nothing can be heard as loud and clear as body language. Even if you keep your lips sealed, unconsciously you are sending hundreds of messages by the way you present yourself, the way you hold your arms, your posture — the list goes on and on. During a job interview or at a networking event, you may have rehearsed your elevator speech and practiced your answers to those grueling questions, but if you are “saying” the wrong things with your body language, you can do significant damage to your professional image. By reading and putting these suggestions into practice, you can be sure you make, rather than break, a deal.
My number 1 rule to starting out a good conversation or introduction is with a strong handshake. None of this wet noodle stuff. Your handshake should be firm but not inflict pain to the recipient. Make sure it is long enough so they know you aren’t running for the door but short enough that a nervous sweat doesn’t develop. (Gross.)
When you are standing, keep your head held high, shoulders back, and back straight. This presents the image of confidence and ease in social situations. Slouching will give off the message of low self-confidence or laziness. The latter two attributes do not work well when looking for a job or instilling a positive first impression.
Same advice goes for when you are sitting. Most likely, you will be sitting during a job interview or client meeting, so focus on nailing these points first. When addressing your interviewer or other person in conversation, keep your shoulders square on the person. You want them to know they have your full attention and you are not intimidated by their questions or approach. Men, keep your legs crossed or in front of you. Women, avoid crossing your legs. Instead keep your knees together and put one ankle behind the other for support.
Nodding in acknowledgement is also encouraged but refrain from becoming a life-sized bobble-head doll. The goal is to project understanding and agreement, not to attempt self-inflicted whiplash. Also, try your best to not to touch your face, play with your hair, focus on your hands, or pick at your fingernails (clean them ahead of time) during the conversation either.
Remember to smile! A pleasant expression on your face will send off messages that you are interested and welcoming of the conversation and discussion. It will relax the person you are talking with as well. But be sure it is a natural smile. Plastering a fake smile on your face can read as if you are just trying to be as tolerant as possible.
Hands are also a straight signal to how a person is feeling at the time. Fidgeting can send signals of uneasiness or aggression. If you are one who talks with your hands, be subtle and only use at appropriate times. When in doubt, put your hands by your sides while standing and folded in your lap while sitting.
As the old saying goes, your eyes are a window to your soul. Maintaining eye contact seems to be the hardest thing for people to do during an interview. Some feel uncomfortable just from the thought of it. It is important to keep eye contact with the other person who is speaking. This is a surefire way to show you are confident, attentive, and genuinely interested in what they are saying. All are great qualities you look for in an employee or potential business contact.
If you put these tips into your daily routine, they will become second nature. Practice them with your friends and family to get the hang of it, and once you are ready to put them to the test, try them out in the real world… then come here and tell me how they worked for you!
Forbes posted a great video with Christine Jahnke, author of The Well-Spoken Woman, discussing how to make a lasting impression through body language.
And a quote to round out this week’s post, one which I love to think about when entering a room of strangers or going into a job interview, is one by Henry Ford that says: “Whether you think you can or think you can’t – you are right.”
Readers, what do you do to boost your confidence and portray the professional individual you are through body language? What have you noticed in what others do that have had a positive or negative effect on how you view them?
Today, we celebrate the courageous actions and valor of the servicemen and women who served in our country’s armed forces. Let us take a moment to thank them for their service and sacrifice in the name of freedom this Veteran’s Day and every day.
After last week’s post offering advice to recently returned veterans, I have been inspired to take it one step further. Hiring managers, I am talking to you. The large pool of skilled and accomplished veterans is some of the top talent available. Many of you may ask what skills and traits military personnel have that are applicable to your businesses.
There are many!
Veterans hold specials sets of skills that are so engrained in their being, they have become second nature. Determination, dedication, and drive are some that come to mind — all three highly valued qualities that any business owner, supervisor, or hiring manager would hope to bring to their teams. I could go on and on, but I will simply highlight the top 10 reasons why you should put our veterans on your payroll!
Leadership – The most successful military personnel are incredible leaders. They have the traits and characteristics to inspire and motivate those around them. The ability to lead and get the best from the members of the team is a priceless attribute.
Global experience – Veterans have experience in a wide variety of regions around the world. They are used to adapting to different cultures and experiencing life/business from other viewpoints.
Exceptional learning curve – Upon entering the service, military personnel must quickly master a series of skills and competencies that are required for survival. This experience allows veterans to quickly adapt and accomplish tasks that may take others months to achieve.
Teamwork – Individual and group productivity are required in the military setting. Servicemen and women are familiar with working together as a team and understand the importance of personal responsibility to one another and accountability in a group setting.
Ability to deliver results under pressure – Resourcefulness and adhering to tight time schedules are common occurrences in the military. Veterans are trained to organize and tackle priorities no matter what difficulties they are faced with.
Respect for authority and procedures – Military vets understand the importance of structure to an organization. They value and encourage a clear set of rules and regulations that help maintain and support strategy.
Integrity – This is a characteristic that is hard to come by in today’s environment. Veterans understand the value of hard work, persistence, honor, and honesty. Many have been involved in missions that require high level of secrecy and security clearance.
Adherence to safety standards – Safety is a major concern in the military with regard to fellow servicemen and civilians. Military personnel believe in maintaining a safe and healthy environment; protection of colleagues and equipment is a top priority.
Working knowledge of technology and machinery – Veterans are trained to effectively use the latest computers, machinery, and technology to achieve goals and accomplish tasks. If they are unfamiliar with a piece of equipment, I’ll bet my favorite set of knitting needles that they will be heads down until they can operate it with their eyes closed.
Positive outlook – Even under the most dire circumstances and grim futures, military veterans have the intrinsic knowledge and skills to triumph over adversity. As mentioned in the beginning of this post, drive, determination, and the desire to achieve greatness and success for the team are of the highest priority.
As if all that weren’t enough… thanks to the Returning Heroes Tax Credit, employers will receive tax credits for hiring veterans — 40% percent of the first $6,000 in wages (up to $2,400) for short-term unemployed vets and 40% of the first $14,000 in wages (up to $5,600) for vets who have been unemployed longer than 6 months.
Employers, what are you doing to recruit and hire military veterans? If you are uncertain of hiring veterans, what is your reasoning?
Here is a video sharing the many ways that you can help support our veterans.
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.