Opposing Office Politics

Hi, Anita:

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.

Office_GossipI 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!

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5.  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.
  6.  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:

Have a question you would like to ask? Visit http://anitaclew.com/ask-anita/.

Warm Wishes,

Anita

Responding to Reference Check Requests

Hi, Anita:

I received a call from a company requesting a reference for a former employee on my team. What am I allowed to say and what information should I keep confidential?  I want to be as professional as possible while being honest. Thanks.

Dear, Reference Check Responder:

More and more companies are requiring that reference checks be performed before bringing on new employees. It is a great way to get the inside scoop on an employee that you are interested in hiring and serves as a great second opinion that you are making the right or the wrong choice.

Many employees/job seekers are under the impression that it is illegal for their previous employer to disclose anything besides the dates of employment, salary information, and job title. Though it may be your current company’s policy to disclose nothing more than dates, pay, and title, there are no current federal laws in place that prevent additional employment information from being disclosed to potential employers. Each state’s laws are different so it is best to check the Department of Labor for your state to make sure you are within the protections of the law.

reference

Keep in mind that there are laws against defamation of character (slander and libel) or invasion of privacy that you must be very careful not to break. It is important that you give an accurate description of the employee in question but an exaggerated and personally charged negative reference should be avoided. Not only can it open the door for potential lawsuits, but it may also damage your credibility and professional image to peers outside of your company.

Some simple guidelines that will help you:

  • If you feel a question is too invasive, you can politely say that you are not at liberty to discuss this topic due to your current company’s policy.
  • Give responses only to questions that you feel comfortable answering.
  • If the employee left the company on bad terms, I would refer the call to your Human Resources department. These colleagues are trained to handle these situations properly.
  • Avoid giving detailed information of an employee’s negative performance.
  • Only comment on your direct observations of the current or former employee’s performance. Hearsay should not be relied on or involved in your description.
  • Medical conditions and other personal health information should never be discussed.
  • For your protection, keep a log of all reference inquiries that show the date, name of employee, name of reference requestor, and name of prospective employer company. This document should be placed in the former employee’s folder and be made available upon request.

In any situation, personal or professional, always use your best judgment. Never feel like you have to divulge more information than you feel comfortable giving. Each company is different and may have a standard procedure for handling reference requests. Always consult your supervisor or Human Resources department for additional information.

Good luck!

Anita

Readers:  What are the most difficult questions that you have been asked by a reference requestor? Have you ever had a former employee ask for a reference that you felt you should not offer?

Bad Credit Can Cost You . . . Your New Job

Hi Anita,

I just came from a job interview where I was asked to sign a form permitting the company to run a credit check and I’m really worried this will cost me the job. I’ve been out of work for several months and have been living on my limited savings and credit cards (which have all been maxed out). I’ve paid many of my bills late and my credit scores continue to fall. Is there any way to fix the situation and not lose my chance on getting this job?

Dear, Concerned about Credit,

I certainly feel your pain. Getting rejected for employment based on your credit report begins a cycle where nobody wins: you lose a job, which hurts your credit, which prevents you from getting another job, which only pushes your credit further into the dumps.

Yikes!

In an effort to stop this insanity, state governments are starting to step in and restrict or prohibit employers from using credit reports in making hiring and other job decisions. Ten states have passed these laws so far, and more are considering similar legislation.

Key to SuccessThe Federal Fair Credit Reporting Act protects the privacy and accuracy of the information in your credit report, requiring employers to get your written permission to conduct the check. Can you refuse? Yes, you can. But you really don’t have much choice if you want the job.

So why are credit checks run in the first place? Well, it does make sense in some cases. For example, a company may not want an employee who never pays bills on time to manage a department budget, prepare economic forecasts, or have free access to a company credit card. Some employers firmly believe your credit report reflects your ability to be responsible and diligent – two attributes most companies like to see in their employees.

Let’s take a closer look at your dilemma. Late payments and maxing out your cards are definitely red flags. But the fact that prospective employers must get your consent before they pull your report at least gives you the opportunity to explain. Use it.

Now listen up… be proactive and honest. If you are, nine times out of ten, the interviewer will not see a low score as an indication that you’re irresponsible but rather as simply an indicator of your circumstances.

Think about it. Are most employers going to tell you that it was the credit report that caused them to hire someone else? It’s easier to find another excuse or not give one at all.

So tell me, dear readers, have you been turned down for a job and think it was the credit report that broke the deal?

Best wishes,
Anita

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Respectful Rejection

Hi, Anita:

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?

Thanks!

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. EnvelopesIt’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.

Best wishes,

Anita

Have a question you would like to ask? Visit http://anitaclew.com/ask-anita/.

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Be Happy – All Day, Every Day

Hi Anita,

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?

Happy People

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?” Happy!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!

Have a question you would like to ask? Visit http://anitaclew.com/ask-anita/.

Warm Wishes,

Anita

Working With the Office Monster

Dear Anita,

I have been at my job for a few years and have finally become fed up with working and dealing with my horrible co-worker every day. To our supervisors and higher ups she is overly nice, but she treats the rest of us like dirt.  I cannot stand her antics and the bullying she is doing around the office. Can you please offer some advice and shed some light on this awful situation?

This reminds me of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde!

It looks like you have a very difficult and unbearable co-worker on your hands. As much as we wish the office to be a safe and drama-free workplace, unfortunately a few poisonous apples can manage to slip through the cracks. These are Witch of Workpeople that you do everything in your power to avoid and they still manage to weasel their way into your day. They are incredibly difficult to please, nasty, unethical, and are on a mission to make others’ work lives miserable. They are also incredibly skilled at manipulating others around them. Luckily, your pal Anita has a few tricks up her sleeves to help handle these intolerable creatures.

Do your best to remain as far away from them as possible. This does not mean you need to switch jobs, hide under a rock, or flee to the closest neighboring country. If there is an open desk away from the office monster, talk to your boss or human resources manager about making the switch. If you feel comfortable, you may want to mention the reasons why you are requesting the move — something along the lines of “I feel that my current location is not a neutral or conducive environment for me to work as efficiently as possible.” If a new location is not an option, invest in a pair of noise-cancelling earphones. It is one way to drown out the chatter and unpleasantness.

It is important to remember that most bullies will end up digging a hole so deep, they will find themselves out of a job. Many act the way they do to get an edge over potential competition by emotionally and professionally damaging their co-workers. Do your best to avoid engaging with this individual. If you have to interact with him or her on a daily basis, be prepared to handle any disagreements or friction ahead of time. When we are caught off guard, emotions kick in and we are less likely to think rationally. If you have a strategy, you can handle the situation like the professional you are!

As any normal person would, you may begin to feel that retaliation is in order. After putting up with and being put downScary! by this behavior, it only seems fair to fight back. It is very important that you hold back with all your might and do the opposite; kill them with kindness. It is the best way to handle your emotions. They will have little-to-no reason to continue to engage you in their antics or become frustrated with not being able to get a rise out of you.

Hopefully by now, this individual has begun to back off of you, and you are getting back to what is important: work. But don’t, for a single second, think that the situation has left the premises. Most unpleasant people are habitual bullies. They will wait until they see you at a weak point and will attack like a wild animal. Ever hear of the saying, “keep your friends close and your enemies closer”? The manipulator will wait until they have an opportunity to exploit you or bring you down again. In short, keep up your guard and continue to watch your back.

If further action is needed, I suggest you call a meeting with your boss and human resources manager. It will be more meaningful to all parties involved that you are being proactive, and it will be a big wake-up call to your horrible co-worker that you are no longer going to tolerate this bad behavior. Again, leave your emotions at the door. Be strong and stand up for your right to a psychologically safe and sound workplace. State your case, but try not to point fingers. Your boss or human resources manager may request further explanation or encourage you to briefly go in to detail about how you are feelings. It will be helpful to check out my post on Tackling Employee Tensions to be prepared for a conflict resolution meeting.

Have you ever encounter an office monster? If so, what did you do to diffuse the situation?

Have a question? Ask Anita Clew! Visit http://www.anitaclew.com/ask_anita to submit your tough one!

Have a Spook-tacular Halloween!

-Anita Boo

Disclaimer

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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