Talent Development Centre

Tag Archives: workplace

All Talent Development Centre posts for Canadian technology contractors relating to workplace issues.

Is There a Place for Politics at Work?

There’s nothing wrong with being a political junkie and it’s positive to have an interest and opinion in what’s happening around you. Political debates can be healthy, lead to innovation and hold circles of friends together. They are also what can tear groups apart, ruin a party and, most relevant to this blog, harm careers.

The Negative Consequences of Talking Politics at Work

Is There a Place for Politics at Work?

Talking politics in the workplace is a slippery slope. In addition to being counter-productive to your actual job, the wrong topic can drive a wedge between colleagues, cause irreparable damage and possibly cost an employee their job.

For independent contractors, it can have even more severe consequences. IT contractors depend on their reputation to ensure regular gigs are coming through the door. Although talking politics with clients and their employees may seem harmless, you may be known as the person who brings a negative atmosphere to the office and sparks too much debate. Furthermore, if you cause enough trouble and break-up a team, that client will never want you back and word will quickly get out to recruiters.

Consider This Before Sparking a Political Discussion

As the introduction to this post notes, some groups of people fair quite well when they find a common ground in politics and the right bond can bring a team closer together. So, while we’re not recommending you never bring it up at work, we encourage you to carefully consider your situation.

First and foremost, know and understand the policies at your client’s site. Respect any rules or requests they may have on the subject of politics at work.

Secondly, know your crowd. If your peers and colleagues involved in the discussion are on the opposite end of the spectrum, or you have no idea where they lie, it may be best to stick to talking about the weather. People are not going to change their opinion simply because you made a valid point, so don’t think this is the time to start bringing them over to your side.

If the Inevitable is Going to Happen

If you must discuss the upcoming election, latest decision by the majority government, or hottest policy change while working, you should at least do it wisely. Never let these discussions get in the way of your own productivity or that of your client’s. If there’s one thing that will lead to a bad review at the end of your project, it’s costing them too much money without enough results.

Next, always be respectful of those with opposing views from yours. Ask questions, learn their perspective and be curious, as opposed to one-sided and confrontational. It’s also wise to avoid the really hot topics (you know what they are) and know when to end a debate before it goes too far and starts causing the damages described above.

Independent contractors have a reputation to uphold if they want to continue working for a specific client or even with a specific recruiter. While being opinionated and informed is a valuable trait, it can also be destructive. Speaking your mind too much while on a project, or even on social networks where recruiters are sure to be looking, can be detrimental to future opportunities.

Do you ever discuss politics at work? If you do, how do you ensure a meaningful conversation? Share your suggestions in the comments below.

The Truth About Annoying Coworkers

Regardless of the client, industry, project or location, if you have to work with people, you’re guaranteed to have some annoying coworkers. We scoured the world for tips on how to ensure these people never cross your path again, but all we learned is that annoying people are inevitable.

Given we can’t avoid annoying coworkers, the only next rational step is to accept they’ll be around and possibly try to understand them. This fun infographic from Olivet Nazarene University provides some insight into annoying co-workers in various industries, including what makes them annoying, how people have dealt with them, and where they’re most likely to be found. If you can’t change an annoying person, at least you can find solace in the fact that you’re not alone.

Do You Have the “Winter Blues”? It’s Time to Talk About It

Do You Have the "Winter Blues"? It's Time to Talk About ItLast week, the country’s social media accounts were once again taken over by Bell Let’s Talk, a day encouraging people to discuss mental health issues while raising money for mental health initiatives at the same time. In the spirit of that initiative, let’s talk about one of the most common mental illnesses to hit the workplace this time of year, Seasonal Affective Disorder or SAD.

Year-round, independent contractors are concerned with their health.  Not only is there a health concern but also a financial impact when taking unpaid sick days. Especially in the winter, you do whatever you can to avoid a terrible cold or flu but how much are you doing to treat mental health illnesses like SAD? Surely, this is also something that can lead to decreased productivity or prolonged periods of time off.

According to the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA), SAD, also sometimes known as the Winter Blues, is a type of clinical depression that can last until Spring and is the result of shortening days with less sunlight that result in people feeling extra gloomy. While it’s common for us to have down days, those affected by SAD feel the symptoms for longer periods of time.  Inc. recently published a post describing 9 of these subtle signs:

  1. You’re irritable and sensitive to stress
  2. You get into little arguments
  3. You have low energy
  4. You dread previously enjoyable social activities
  5. You feel a general sense of apathy towards your goals
  6. You have trouble concentrating
  7. Your appetite changes
  8. You have trouble making decisions
  9. You need more recovery time

If you find you experience these symptoms for long periods of time, the CMHA recommends you schedule an appointment with your doctor to discuss options. There are a number of treatments including light therapy, medication and lifestyle changes. Melody Wilding, a social worker and blogger committed to helping women overcome emotional challenges of success, also provides 3 quick and simple ways to stave off the winter blues:  Put effort into getting dressed at work, try a negative detox, and bookend your days.

How do you ensure you remain healthy throughout the Winter?

Contractor Quick Poll: Do you check social media at work?

Don’t worry, responses to this quick poll remain anonymous! Social media is one of the greatest tools for job seekers and independent contractors who want to network with like-minded job seekers, professionals and employers around the world. Unfortunately, it’s also one of the greatest time-wasters in today’s workplaces.

This month’s contractor quick poll, we’re digging to learn how often our readers check social media at work (be honest, we won’t tell). Do you think social media is a hindrance on the office where you work or should it be accepted as a necessary evil? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

7 Workplace Myths Disproven by Research

Are you responsible for leading a team or helping a client hire new employees or contractors? If so, then you already know the importance of reading people, being able to tell which applicants will succeed, and knowing how to properly motivate others. What you may also know are a few “facts” that in reality are workplace myths.

It’s common to make assumptions about how people act in the office and what makes them (or yourself) high achievers. This infographic from O.C. Tanner sets out to debunk some of those myths. For example, they refuse to believe that people are only productive for 8 hours, that resumes dictate the best hires, that money is motivation and more. Check them all out below. Would you agree with O.C. Tanner or from your experience, are some of these completely factual?

7 Workplace Myths Disproven by Research #InfographicYou can also find more infographics at Visualistan

2017 in Review: Being Awesome at Work

2017 in Review: Being Awesome at WorkWe frequently provide advice and tips for performing better at work. These softer skills may not be what brings your rate up, but they will be the differentiators that get you positive references and more likely to get you your next gig.

These posts are fantastic for time management…

And these will help you work better with and manage others…

Are there any other topics you’d like to see more of to help you improve soft skills and perform better on the job?

The Workplace of the Future? The Answer is Probably Somewhere in the Middle

Cameron McCallum By Cameron McCallum,
Regional Vice President at Eagle

There are a number of generally accepted theories as to what the workplace will look like in the near future. With the advent of new and more powerful technology, change is inevitable. And while it is fun to imagine a world of AI, advanced robotics and other marvels of the future which will make our lives so much better, the truth probably lies closer to the middle in that for every potential win for humanity, there is likely an offsetting loss and which side you are on might be as simple as the circumstance and geography to which you were born. Here are some of the most common predictions with a cold, hard look at what it might really mean.

  1. The Rise of the Freelancer

Much has been made of the fact that today more than at any other time, the use of freelancers is expanding. In the information technology field, independent contractors are seen as an essential part of the labour mix. They bring specific experience not available among client’s employees or they help to shore up a project that requires a temporary increase in manpower. But ideas like the “Taskification” of work whereby companies tap into a global pool of freelancers who perform work or “tasks” for a fee is also seen as a growing trend. Taskification allows for employers to tap into a global pool of workers but with no obligations to those individuals. Simply hiring the lowest-priced labor with no concern for their well-being or the conditions under which they deliver their labor is potentially no different than the existing issue of the sweatshops of developing countries.

  1. The Disappearance of the Bricks and Mortar Office

The downfall of the corporate office workspace and traditional employee has been predicted for years. I can remember during the dot.com boom everyone talking about the new economy and how a much more flexible workplace would mean that more and more tech workers could work from home or from random geographic locations. “Co-working” and “Digital Nomads” offer two solutions and address both the problem of isolation that freelancers experience working from home as well as the wander-lust that more and more workers exhibit. The benefits of co-working seem obvious, a “social” space whereby individuals work on their specific assignments while networking and sharing ideas sounds great. But individuals using these spaces report frequent interruptions, difficulty in locking in on their tasks and constant chatter about new and exciting opportunities…which just might be better than the one they are currently working on. And having a workforce, spread across the globe working off their laptop, probably on a beach in the tropics sounds idyllic. But even with the most disciplined worker, is it unfair to suggest that they might just be more inclined to disengage from work when presented with a constant temptation of leisure and recreational activities?  We are already in the middle of a trend that sees workers move jobs more frequently than at any time in history. The effort that goes into acquiring, training and retaining talent is already daunting. While co-working and digital nomads might not exacerbate the trend, I’m not convinced that it is the answer to productivity and retention.

  1. Driverless Cars

This is not so directly related to work but I was struck by this while I attended a presentation recently at the faculty of Engineering at the University of Alberta. The topic was driverless cars and looked at a future of networked, people movers which would move citizens and therefore workers to their destinations seamlessly and without accidents or other human-induced glitches. While the idea of relegating gridlock to the pages of history and reducing the human carnage of vehicle accidents is vastly appealing, the presenter mentioned that networked vehicles would also give the worker of the future a “work pod” connected at all times to their place of work while they travelled throughout the day. As we already know, it is getting harder and harder to disengage from work and the thought of a vehicle designed around my desk at work tends to make me cringe. Sure, we’ll also use the vehicle for fun…

 

  1. Retirement will be a Thing of the Past

For some, the ability to continue to work well past their retirement years is an attractive proposition. If you are in a job you love, retirement may not be something you aspire to. And with advances in health care and medical treatment, people are living longer. Demographic changes and an aging workforce may mean more opportunity for our seniors to stay gainfully employed. But for those who are looking forward to retirement their choices may be considerably more limited. Personal debt is at an all-time high and for many workers, the cost of living in large cities where the jobs are presents a massive strain on their budgets. People are living longer, putting more stress on their savings and the same advances in health care and medical treatment mentioned above, means that individuals will have to plan for longer lives. Seniors may very well represent a viable labour force, and for many of them, that may be a good thing. But for those who dream of a life of travel or fishing after their work years, those dreams may be out of their reach.

The future as always, holds the promise of fascinating advances in technology and with these advances, opportunities for humans to experience the world in new ways. Work is and will continue to be impacted by these changes and many of them should be positive. But we also need to be aware that none, in and of themselves, will work for everyone, nor solve all challenges and that the answer, probably does lie somewhere in the middle.

When Co-Workers Interrupt Your Discussion

This article by Mark Swartz was originally published on the Monster Career Advice blog.

“And now for the key point of this articlWhen Coworkers Interrupt Your Discussionse. It’s that –“

“Hey,” says an interrupter, “I have a question. Also I disagree with what you said earlier.”

“Umm, we can come back to that shortly. Now…ah, where was I?”

Getting cut off while speaking is irritating. At work it’s like handling a heckler. You get disrupted and your idea is hijacked.

A good communicator can deal with interjectors. Even for chronic disruptors there may be no need for drastic measures.

Allowing Interruptions Can Harm Your Credibility

Part of any job is conveying your thoughts and ideas effectively. If you frequently allow colleagues to walk all over your words, what sort of impression do you make?

People may begin to think you lack confidence to assert boundaries. Your ideas may be viewed as less valuable since you don’t protect them from interference. A lack of protest could also imply they can take credit for your ideas with few repercussions.

Why People Don’t Let You Finish Talking

Not all interruptions are bad. Sometimes colleagues have something really helpful to add. They simply don’t want to risk letting the moment pass. It could also be their brain works faster than yours does. They’re impatient to comment. Or culturally they’re still learning Canadian business norms, not realizing they are being rude.

Then there are creeps who try to undermine or one-up you. Their intent is negative. These are people – along with chronic offenders – who’ll need special treatment.

Could It Be Your Fault Too?

You probably aren’t a trained communicator. So it’s possible you’re making some basic conversation errors. Here are several that invite listeners to jump in abruptly:

  • Be concise and highlight your main point early. Otherwise people interject to stop you from being longwinded.
  • Speak at a level that people can hear easily. If you’re too quiet it might be interpreted as a lack of confidence.
  • Did you prepare adequately? How about rehearsing to reduce hesitations such as umm, ah, mmm or long silences?
  • You get nervous and start losing your place, saying the wrong thing, not speaking with authority or conviction.

Keep an eye on your body language too. Facial expressions, the way you sit or stand, eye contact and hand motions can support (or work against) your spoken words.

 

How To Stop Interrupters

Handle transgressors appropriately. Coworkers who seldom disrupt can be treated very politely. Announce as you begin that you’ll gladly deal with questions and comments as soon as you’re done speaking. If one or two people interject anyway, acknowledge them but remind them of your earlier instruction.

When that fails try more aggressive approaches. Start by asking for input from others. That can block repeat interrupters from taking over. Next fight fire with fire: cut the person off and tell them you are going to finish now. A brasher tactic is to speak over the offender until they stop.

Chronic interlopers should be spoken to in private. Be pleasant. Point out that you’ve noticed their actions and wonder if they realize the effect they’re having on you and others. Hear them out. If possible reach an agreement to be mutually respectful from now on.

Defensiveness Can Backfire

Over-reacting to getting interrupted reflects poorly on you. Keeping your cool shows you’re made of the right stuff. But try to avoid letting yourself be a doormat.

Is it your boss or their supervisors who won’t let you finish? Communicating with managers takes special care. It may be worth letting them say their piece.

Save your objection for encounters you have a better chance of winning.

The “Taskification” of Work

Cameron McCallum By Cameron McCallum,
Regional Vice President at Eagle

“My father had one job in his life, I’ve had six in mine, my kids will have six at the same time” – Robin Chase, Co-Founder of Zipcar.

The “Taskification” of Work It would seem that up until recent times, human ingenuity focused mostly on increasing the efficiency of work. Improvements of basic tools and machines, completely new inventions and the change from mostly rural, agrarian economies to large-scale, urban-based capitalism changed forever the kind of work we did and how we did it. And through all these changes, workers have had to adapt. Globalization, free trade, off shoring and automation have all impacted workers.

So what are the new or next big disrupters? Lots has been written on the future of automation and the outsourcing of work to machines. Artificial Intelligence and machine learning is fascinating. And the “Gig Economy” is already here. Studies vary but some are saying that by 2020, upwards of 40% of Americans will be involved in some sort of freelance or contracted work (a “gig”). Uber is a great example of that new model. But this model is being refined even further. “Crowdworking” refers to websites or “apps” where users/employers can advertise simple or repetitive tasks and gain access to thousands (millions?) of potential “employees” around the world who undertake the tasks advertised. Sites such as Amazon Mechanical Turk or Microtask act as the gathering point for requestors and workers. Instead of hiring employees or negotiating complex freelance contracts, anyone who needs a job done that can be done on a computer can simply go to the market and instantly pick from any number of willing workers. Need a group of photos labelled “Scotland”, or the contact information for businesses in a specific area confirmed or a set of images described in French, there are countless workers who will do it.

The idea of breaking down a job into simple or micro components is not new. Think of the classic assembly line with each station responsible for a specific repeatable task. Off-shoring used this logic to remove the more “mundane” tasks of customer service and call centers or even computer programming from high cost labor centers to countries with a well-educated and populous workforce where wages were low. And while these workers were expected to learn about and be connected to the task owners business, in the case of crowdworking, the workers have no relationship with the task owners at all, except as a point of revenue.

The success of the model means that larger businesses are investigating the usefulness and utility of posting jobs to these sights. The “taskification” of jobs might mean that companies start looking at any number of simple tasks that make up a full-time or part-time employees’ day which could more economically be carried out by a worker in Bangladesh who has a master’s degree and is chronically underemployed vs the North American worker earning $50,000 a year.

And as was demonstrated by off-shoring even traditional knowledge worker roles can be “taskified” into smaller fragments. This on-demand, task-based approach offers companies the ability to tap into an unlimited network of resources including technical experts, seasoned professionals, robots or simply human labor to complete a wide variety of tasks. What this means for the future of work will be played out soon and one thing that we can count on is that new generations of workers will once again, be forced to adapt.

Stack Overflow Says This About Developers in the Workplace

We recently shared some results of the 2017 Stack Overflow Developer Survey, specifically as they pertained to technologies used around the world. The survey was completed by over 51,000 developers and covered off a myriad of topics from technology trends to work habits to values and opinions. For example, the majority of professionals use both Agile and Scrum methodologies and less than 20% of developers work remotely more than half of the time (only 10% of Canadian respondents work remotely full-time).

Job Satisfaction Among IT Professionals

If you’re not satisfied with your current career path and think it’s normal for professionals in the technology field, think again. Most of the respondents rated their career satisfaction 8/10, with a high percentage rating it a 9 or 10. Interestingly enough, that satisfaction had a slight jump for IT professionals who had four or more years of experience.

Keeping in mind that a large proportion of respondents were full-time employees as opposed to independent contractors, there were some evident priorities that developers look for in a job in order to be happy. Compensation and benefits packages, as well as the technologies they get to use were second and third most important, respectively, but topping the list of preferred perks is professional development. It’s safe to conclude, then, that most developers and technology professionals understand the importance of keeping their skills up-to-date. If you’re not, it won’t be long until you fall behind and become less competitive.

Developers’ Values in the Workplace

Understanding what developers value and what they expect from their peers is a helpful way to fit in with a new team while on contract or manage a client’s employees should you end up in that position. Stack Overflow took a thought-provoking approach achieve this by asking developers how they would recruit and manage, if they had the opportunity. First, respondents agreed that the top priorities for hiring a developer should be communication, a track record of getting things done and knowledge of algorithms and data structures. Note how the ability to perform the specific role isn’t even in the top 3! Once on the job, they prioritized customer satisfaction, completing projects on time and budget, and peer ratings as the top performance metrics for people in their field.

As Cameron McCallum, Eagle’ Regional Vice President pointed out on in a recent post, diversity in the IT industry not only exists on a large scale, but it’s extremely valuable for companies. In his article, Cam points out that the industry still has a ways to go but Stack Overflow shows that we’re making good progress. In fact, almost 90% of respondents agreed that diversity is important in the workplace. It’s interesting to note that of all survey participants, women were more likely to value diversity than men.

The Really Important Findings

Stack Overflow works hard to understand important trends among developers and, thankfully, they captured answers to the questions that make us lose sleep, like if developers prefer tabs or spaces and their true thoughts on noisy key boards. Perhaps the most urgent is the proper way to say the word “GIF” and those results are displayed in the graphic below.Stack Overflow Says This About Developers in the Workplace

This is just a very quick summary of the many, many details you can find in the complete survey results. If you find this interesting (and you have time to kill) take a scroll through the results and see how you match up against the developers who took the 2017 Stack Overflow Developers Survey.