Beware of people who say things like, “I’m the sort of person who likes to get things done.” They almost always make this remark when trying to impress an interviewer, colleague, or manager. The implication is that while all the losers around them are busy being losers, these are the stars of your organization. Often, though, they’re just jerks, or walking clichés at the very least.
The reality is that all of us like to accomplish things. That’s why I hate the term results-oriented to describe anyone.
Know what else I hate? Best practices. So you can imagine how I feel when I hear pundits, executives, and everyone else preach that a best practice for building a results-oriented workplace is to recognize employees who produce…results.
It’s a line that so many people repeat so many times that it’s easy to mistake it for a fact.
It’s actually an alternative fact, an opinion disfigured into a recommendation because it makes intuitive sense. If this seems intuitive to you, too, your intuition is fooling you.
Rewarded for Luck
A while back, I spoke to Michael Mauboussin, Credit Suisse’s head of global financial strategies and author of The Success Equation: Untangling Skill and Luck in Business, Sports, and Investing. He explained something that you probably already feel in your gut but might be too panicky, egotistical, or deluded to admit: Many of your achievements—the same ones that earn you praise (or punishment)—are largely beyond your control. Mauboussin explained:
There’s a continuum of things that are pure luck on one end and pure skill on the other. When your outcomes are truly a reflection of the work that you’re doing, a results-oriented evaluation is not unreasonable, like in manufacturing, which is very skills-oriented. But things like launching a successful R&D project are inherently probabilistic, with a lot of randomness and luck to them. There are profound influences that are hard to anticipate.
And get this: The higher you are on the ladder, the greater the role that luck plays in your work. You know what else grows with each rung? Compensation. All of which means that a four-leaf clover increasingly determines what you earn in cash and recognition as you move up a hierarchy. Continue reading
Someone in your family just died. That’s really too bad, and work must be the last thing on your mind. You’ll obviously need time to grieve, attend a funeral, blah, blah, blah, but you’ll be OK enough to head back to the office really soon, right? Like, perhaps in three days? Sound cool to you?
Of course, you may take longer than that, but things may get…um…you know…kind of complicated to figure out. But really, you should take whatever time you need. Still, three days should be sufficient, right?
That’s essentially the response that many workers get from their employers after a loved one dies. While few managers or HR professionals would ever say the above, they don’t have to. They have policies to do it for them. Nationwide, the average length of paid leave for bereavement of immediate family members is three days. One day for your cousin Shelby.
Ain’t no way I’d be able to work, let alone function semi-normally, that soon. And I doubt you would. Neither would anyone who works in HR—you know, the same people who craft or uphold these egregious edicts.
So why not change the rules? Continue reading
There’s a really popular article on LinkedIn called “A Human Resources Career Is Not for ‘Nice’ People.” So far, it’s garnered more than 20,000 likes, almost 2,000 comments, and nearly 10,000 shares.
It’s not hard to see why: When you read something implying that friendliness and human resources are incompatible, you think Wow! or What? or Huh? or But I’m in HR and I’m nice!
Is Nice Enough?
The problem, as the article insists, is that too many HR people think that their jobs are all about helping people. They consequently assume that “being a nice person is qualification enough for the function.”
Who are these people? Who are these professionals that believe that grinning from ear to ear at work is all you need to do your work? Many of the HR peeps who I know have “MBA,” “SPHR,” or a host of other acronyms trailing their names. What idiots! They spent all that time and money and energy growing their knowledge when they could’ve gotten by with a mere smile.
The post goes on to detail how hard HR can be. It cites examples of professionals who must lay off people, have difficult compensation conversations, and do other not-fun things. All of which point to the notion that “nice is not enough.”
Well of course it isn’t!
The article eventually explains that we should replace “niceness” with “empathy.” Fair enough, but can’t we embody both? Shouldn’t we? Continue reading
Do you check your work email outside of work? Gallup says that you probably do. Maybe you’re excited to tell your colleague about a new Excel trick you learned. Perhaps you want to remove an item from your plate. (Listen up: Your plate will always be just as full no matter what you do.) Or maybe your boss or company has a policy—probably unstated—that you reply to messages while on the toilet, in the shower, and during your sleep.
It’s especially because of the last reason that France recently enacted a new law to “ensure respect for rest periods” and maintain “balance between work and family and personal life,” according to the French Ministry of Labor. The “right to disconnect” provision states that companies with more than 50 employees must create a system to prevent work emails from intruding on employees’ lives during nights, weekends, and vacations.
Fact vs Problem
Good intentions, for sure, but you know about the road to hell—it’s paved by governments and HR departments. It seems that French lawmakers are acting like misguided HR practitioners by trying to engineer the workplace through well-meaning but meaningless rules.
Too often, government and corporate leaders rush to pass new directives to solve what they see perceive—or misperceive—as problems. In this case, people are checking work emails at various times. That’s a fact, but is it a problem? Consider these Gallup findings:
- Seventy percent of Americans say that using a computer, tablet, or smartphone to work remotely outside of business hours has been a positive development.
- What’s more, 1/3 say that they check their work emails frequently.
- What’s even more, 17 percent of those people are likelier to report better overall lives compared to those who never check email outside of work.
- Still, many of them also say they have more stress.
So what does all this mean? Continue reading
There’s an old Russian proverb about two farmers that goes something like this: One farmer grew enough potatoes to power a Wise factory for years (clearly, I’m modernizing). His neighbor barely sprouted a potato to distill into a shot glass (stereotyping, too).
One day, a genie comes to the unsuccessful farmer and offers to grant a single wish. What do you think the peasant asks for? A better harvest? Riches to retire in Crimea? Tickets to Hamilton?
“I wish for you to destroy my neighbor’s farm,” the poor farmer pleads.
This story is supposed to symbolize a historic attitude among many Russians—that tearing down those around you brings more satisfaction than lifting yourself up.
Russians aren’t the only ones afflicted with schadenfreude. I recently came across a couple of not-so-new studies suggesting why some employees go low when other achieve high. In “Victimization of high performers: The roles of envy and work group identification” and “Is it better to be average? High and low performance as predictors of employee victimization,” researchers delve into how less successful coworkers sometimes attack their more accomplished counterparts. They lie, gossip, undermine, deny resources—basically, they become Regina George.
Not like you need a bunch of papers to confirm what you already know: Envy mixed with an inferiority complex can cause people—maybe even you—to mutate into total jerks. At the same time, workers who overestimate their performance and don’t get the respect they think they deserve may also conspire to undercut peers.
At one company I worked, there was chitchat about two senior leaders cheating on their spouses with each other. True or not (probably not), I sensed that some people were wielding the rumor as a weapon.
So, how can companies promote a high-performing culture in the face of a spiteful counterculture? One recommendation is for flourishing employees to consider “downplaying their accomplishments and maintaining a humble outlook to avoid potential victimization in the future.”
Wait. What? No. Continue reading
I really wish the title of this post ended after the first three words. Instead, I got screwed in a different way. Turns out that both types of experiences are pretty similar. They yield a weird mix of sadness and excitement, they involve a mess to clean up, and they leave you questioning life choices.
It went down like this: Two weeks ago my boss called me. “Would you mind coming up to our HR rep’s office?”
Of course I mind! Those words can only mean that I was being called into the principal’s office and about to get expelled. But then, I thought: Hmm…maybe they want to give me the raise and promotion I requested a week prior. (I cringed just typing that last sentence.)
So I stepped into the principal’s office and said, “OK guys, this is going to go one of two ways.”
My boss replied, “Well—”
“And there you have it,” I said.
And there I have it. But what do I have? I’m still not sure. It sucks getting laid off, and I’m sure you’re thinking, “Vadim, how can a company be so stupid to get rid of you. You’re so brilliant, intelligent, creative, funny, attractive. You have such a great fashion sense too!”
I know! I thought the same thing!
On the other hand, I feel enthusiastic and optimistic about my future, even if I still have no idea what I want to be when I grow up. Actually, it’s not that I have no idea—it’s that I have too many ideas. I just need to grow up.
That’s why I’m rebooting this blog. More than two years ago, I launched Ethical Escalator, a blog about ethics (you can still view its posts, dated before this one). But I got lazy. I’m also a great liar, so what do I know about ethics? Besides, I’d found a job in HR that I let take over my life, so I let the blog die.
Today, I’m breathing life back into it. A new title, a new focus, a new me! It’s a Weight Watchers commercial!
I’ll be writing about workplace issues. Because I know about workplace issues. Because I’d written about them for 14 years at a magazine where I was a senior editor (see how I snuck in a credential to give the illusion of authority). Because I recently worked at a Fortune 100 company (I did it again!) managing talent engagement and doing internal communications focusing on leadership, learning, development, performance management, and more. Because I care about creating better workplaces. Because I work.
We all work. We all have all sorts of feelings about our jobs, our managers, our companies, our careers, our lives. I want to share mine with you because…why the hell not? I love challenging the status quo and provoking thought. And this is a better outlet than Facebook, where no one cares what anyone says anyway.
I hope you’ll join me for this ride. I also hope you’ll comment publicly or send me your thoughts. I especially love when someone challenges my own thinking, so tell me when you think I’m right, but also tell me when you think I need a lobotomy. I love praise as much as hate mail. (Actually, I enjoy one of them more. Guess.)
In the meantime, below is the farewell letter I wrote to my work colleagues. It best explains how I feel and offers some thoughts on workplace culture. Continue reading