I Resolve… to Increase Performance at Work

Dear, Readers,

Let me ask YOU a question for a change. We’re a few weeks into the new year. This is the time when all those good intentions about going to the gym, eating healthier, and reducing debt/spending less seem to go by the wayside. If one of your New Year’s Resolutions was to increase productivity on the job, how are you doing?

Athlete Running Through Finish LineIncreasing performance at work is a common goal for professionals and organizations. It may come in the form of raised sales quotas, heightened customer satisfaction, or expanding your company’s reach digitally or through traditional brick and mortar.  But how can you take concrete steps to make these pie-in-the-sky targets a reality? Question everything.

Get Organized. January is a great time to take a look at your operational and project systems already in place, right down to the in-boxes on your team’s desks. Keep in mind that your organizational style may differ from your employees or co-workers. A pristine desk may help you concentrate, but Barry over in accounting can miraculously find any piece of information requested in all those piles on his desk! If you spend way too much time and aggravation trying to find past correspondence in Outlook, spend an hour or two now to organize for the coming year. I like this article, 10 Tips for Organizing Your E-mail, because it doesn’t give a one-size-fits-all answer.  You decide if you’re a searcher, a filer, or a tagger, and it suggests solutions for you.

Work Efficiently. Analyze your workday for inefficiencies. Return phone calls when people are more likely to be in their offices (8:30-9:30 a.m.), rather than in meetings or at lunch (10-2). Set aside blocks of time to check e-mail, deal with paperwork, or your odious task of choice. You’ll get more accomplished if you don’t interrupt yourself by feeling the need to read every e-mail the instant it dings. In fact, turn that alert off! Figure out your most productive times, and schedule your most difficult tasks according to your own circadian rhythms. You may need to let staff and co-workers know when you are not to be interrupted; a closed door is usually a pretty good hint.

Minimize Distractions. A recent survey from Ask.com found that noisy colleagues are the biggest distraction for workers, not Facebook or texting (though they are up there in the top 10)! It may be difficult to get complete peace and quiet in an open office environments. Wearing earbuds or noise cancelling headphones can help. Did you know that room temperature can also affect productivity at work? As one who is perpetually cold, I completely concur! Office environments that are either too chilly or too warm can lead to a loss in performance, so set that thermostat at a nice Goldilocks “just right” temperature.

Productivity keyMaximize Meetings. Industry Week once called meetings “the Great White Collar Crime” and estimated they waste $37 billion a year. While it would be silly to imagine a business environment without meetings, always have an agenda and always start on time (those tardy Teddies will soon get the message). No one likes to spend more time in meetings discussing the work than actually doing the job. If team members have trouble keeping it brief, suggest standing meetings to keep powwows on point!

Fine Tune Communication. Communicate yearly goals clearly to staff and colleagues through verbal as well as written instructions. If there has been a communication problem with a certain coworker, try to figure out how to better reach that person. He or she may have a different learning style (i.e., visual vs. aural), so see if you can tailor your interaction to accommodate.  Set up check-ins with all vested parties to make sure the train is still on the right track and project tasks are being completed on schedule. You don’t want to micromanage, but still want to keep tabs on projects in which you are involved.

By taking a fresh look at the status quo now, you’ll reap the benefits by meeting those end-of-year goals in December.

Readers: How do you plan to be more productive at work this year?

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

Want to receive these tips by email? Simply subscribe for once-a-week advice for career success!

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

Emergency Preparedness in the Workplace

Dear, Anita,

Every time a natural disaster makes headlines, I start to worry about our office safety. What if something happens during work hours? Can you offer me any tips to implement an emergency preparedness plan for my workplace?

Dear, Dorothy,

Tornadoes and hurricanes and earthquakes. Oh, my! As if natural disasters weren’t enough, workplaces sometimes have to deal with broken water mains, fires, accidents, and rare cases of disgruntled employees going postal. While I’d like to be an eternal optimist, I find it’s wise to observe the scout motto, “Be prepared.”

TornadoThe American Red Cross website is a great place to start your emergency preparedness planning: http://www.readyrating.org. Membership is free in its Red Cross Ready Rating Program, which offers an online self-assessment tool, along with resources to help you implement an emergency plan for your workplace.  Steps include obtaining safety equipment, writing both an emergency plan and Continuity of Operations Plan (COOP), and educating employees.

Part of the plan will be evacuation procedures. How will all employees be alerted? What is the emergency escape route or the shelter-in-place site for your building? Where is the external assembly area to account for employees after an evacuation?

Medical assistance may be required in some emergencies. Are your first aid kits up to date? Even if one person is designated to call emergency personnel, it never hurts for anyone and everyone to dial 911.

What happens if your office space does sustain some damage? The Continuity of Operations Plan establishes a back-up plan for daily operation of essential business functions. Reach out now to suppliers, vendors, and other businesses to create procedures to implement in the event of disaster.

Once you have your company’s emergency preparedness plan in place, be sure to communicate it to every single employee. Schedule an annual practice drill. You’ll find most staff members won’t mind a break from their usual tasks to protect their personal safety and the source of their livelihood. For a few laughs, and some pointers on how NOT to conduct your mock training exercise, enjoy this fire drill clip from the sitcom “The Office”:

Readers: Does your workplace have an emergency plan in place? When was the last time you practiced a building evacuation drill?

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

Want to receive these tips by email? Simply subscribe for once-a-week advice for career success!

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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