Talent Development Centre

Tag Archives: workplace

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

How to Handle Office Pet Peeves and Annoying Coworkers

This post by Joe Issid first appeared on the Monster Career Advice Blog

How to Handle Office Pet Peeves and Annoying CoworkersIf you’ve ever worked in an office, it is inevitable that you have held on to some unhealthy feelings towards one (or more) of your colleagues. Whether it is your impolite boss or a hygienically-challenged cubicle mate, ill-feelings can develop pretty quickly and can linger for longer than necessary. Personally, I have had my fair share of annoying co-workers over the years (my personal favourite was the co-worker who built a temporary wall to divide our cubicle because he suspected that I was stealing his work). I am also reasonable enough to admit that I must also be guilty of being that guy to other people with whom I have shared an office over the years. No matter the case, no one is immune to these feelings of frustration and we are all equally eager to rid ourselves of these regular annoyances. Here are some suggestions that may help:

Don’t suffer in silence

One of the worst things you can do in a professional setting is to hold on to grievances. If there are some elements in your work life that are not living up to your expectations, it behooves you to discuss then with the relevant people involved. I’ve seen far too many people suffer in silence, which only serves to further their feelings of frustration and alienation. So, if you share a cubicle with someone who insists on cutting their toe nails at your desk every week or floss right in front of you, it is probably best for you to address this before you get to the point of destructive confrontation. So, how do you do this?

Effective feedback

Whenever we consider providing feedback in a work context, it is usually perceived negatively as it is often associated with some form of consequence. As such, it is somewhat understandable why so many people refrain from providing unsolicited feedback. However, providing effective and constructive feedback is the single best option that you have to resolve any work issue you may encounter. According to Chantal Westgate, Adjunct Professor of Organizational Behaviour at McGill University’s Desautels Faculty of Management, “[for] feedback to be perceived differently, one has to convey that it is the only way we can improve.” So, if you have a colleague whose behavior is distracting and/or bothersome, providing constructive feedback is an excellent way to address an ongoing issue.

When to speak up?

While I would certainly advocate an open dialogue in all offices, there are certainly some situations that may be best left untouched. For example, a former boss did not like the fact that one of my team members came to work wearing a very short skirt and asked me to address it with her. After deliberating for a while, I chose not to raise this with the team as I did not feel that it had any real merit. Firstly, the company did not have a formal dress code, so my staff member was not violating any defined protocol. Additionally, her attire was not impacting her work nor was it impeding anyone else in the office from performing their work. As business was not being impacted, I felt that raising the issue may have had a negative impact on the workplace despite the fact that the boss’ sensibilities were being tweaked.

It’s not getting better

As with most work-related disputes, I would suggest you try and resolve them among yourselves. In some instances, however, you may need to escalate the matter if the issue has grown into something more substantial. Personally, there have been some situations where I simply could not reconcile the differences between a co-worker and myself. In such a case, you need to be honest with yourself and determine whether these differences are deal breakers. In some cases, these annoyances are minor and can be ignored when looking at the bigger picture. For example, are you really willing to go to war over a co-worker who noisily chews gum during meetings? On the other hand, is the issue significant enough that it is impacting productivity and happiness at work? If so, you may need to look into speaking with your boss or someone from human resources before the issue gets out of control.

Am I the problem?

To paraphrase a bawdy expression that my grandfather used to say: if everyone around you is annoying, maybe you are the problem. If you find that your default mood at the office is aggravation or hostility, you may want to consider the possibility that you may be the source of much of this negativity.

Over the course of my career, I have been very well-served by looking inward whenever I encountered difficult situations. Let’s face it: we’re not all perfect!

20 Biggest Mistakes of Your Career (Infographic)

Whether it’s your first day and you’re terrified of making a rookie mistake, or you’ve been working for the last thirty years and you may have gotten a little complacent, we have all made at least one of these seemingly harmless mistakes.  This list created by lostgenygirl.com is a great compilation of 20 easy to forget things that could be holding your career back.  Nobody intentionally does any of these things, but hopefully this list will make you more cognizant in the future so you avoid them.

Which of these rules are you breaking and how will you change that?

20 Biggest Mistakes of Your Career

Graciousness in the Workplace… Where Did it Go?

Frances McCart By Frances McCart,
Vice-President, Business Development at Eagle

Graciousness in the Workplace... Where Did it Go?In today’s fast paced world full of never-ending negative social media blitzes, over-hyped reality television, shock-jocks/journalist rants, and larger than life politicians, it appears that the concept of being gracious to one another has been lost.  People are too focused on trying to get our attention with outrageous and unkind behaviour.  They fail to see that the simple act of being gracious can have a more positive and lasting outcome and, yes, get our attention too!

In speaking with contractors, I always ask them why they left their last place of work.  Did the contract end? What were the people like? What was the work environment like? I often hear how negative workplaces have become, how managers and executives don’t seem to care, and that everyone is too stressed out to focus on basic human decency.  This is one of the main reasons contractors do not take an extension with a current client or want to leave a project early. On the other side of the coin, “Was a candidate gracious?” is not the top reference question a client asks, but they do ask if that person was a team player and were they easy to get along with. Therefore, there’s an argument for everyone, clients and independent contractors, to bring graciousness back into the workplace. So how do we do that?

The simple act of saying THANK YOU goes a really long way.  Often, people will stay in a busy work environment if they know they are working with great people in a team who recognize their effort.

Another easy way is by being in the moment — giving someone your full attention and time. When you are in a meeting, or even more importantly, speaking with someone directly, put away your device.   It shows the person you respect them and value what they have to say.

Give positive feedback along with the negative.  People want to hear the good and the bad but want to hear it in a constructive manner.  Graciousness goes along way when working with others on how to improve their work.  You can still get the same message across without being overly negative.

Be open to helping others.  How?  Some simple ways:

  1. If a new person joins the team, introduce them to others.
  2. Say HI to your co-workers
  3. Recognize people’s achievements – privately and publicly
  4. Be genuine
  5. Share your project knowledge capital and help them get set up for success
  6. Be responsive

I know graciousness is sometimes hard to embrace because it demands our time and it can seem counter intuitive to business strategies that promote looking out for #1. However, graciousness does lead to a better workplace.  A better workplace leads to happier people, and happier people lead to better project outcomes, which lead to better references and more work in the future.  WIN-WIN-WIN for all!

How Technology Will Change the Workplace Forever

It’s an awesome time to be alive! The world is changing at accelerating paces and, as long as you can keep up, the ways technology changes our lives are nothing short of exciting. One area that’s seen some change and still has plenty of space for technology to revolutionize, is the workplace. While there will always be a place for humans, this short video from The List explains that the office as we know it today will be drastically different in the near future.

Before Sending a Rude Email, Ask These 5 Questions

5 Questions You Need to Ask Yourself Before Sending a Rude EmailMost people don’t intentionally send rude emails to recruiters, clients or fellow independent contractors. As stress increases, time decreases, and tense situations arise, though, it’s easy to fire off emails that quickly send your recipients into a defensive mode, and leave you perplexed as to why they’re so sensitive. What is even worse, though, is that you can damage your reputation and chance of getting future IT contracts without even knowing it.

If you’re still scratching your head to determine why people are being put off by your emails, have a look at the list below. Next time you’re sending an email, especially one that’s potentially sensitive, take a couple of extra minutes to ask yourself these questions and ensure you’re not going to start an unnecessary conflict.

Did I start and end the email nicely?

Some emails should be no different than a face-to-face conversation (many should be an in-person discussion, but that’s a different post all together). If you walk into a client’s office, blurt out a bunch of comments, and then leave, without the slightest greeting or closing, you can bet they’re going to be lost and offended. Since the average person types 40 words per minute, “Hello” and “Thank You” should take you all of 2 seconds to write. Please don’t be lazy.

Did I include enough information?

A vague email can lead to terrible miscommunications that seriously hurts an IT project. Depending on how vague it is, it can also leave the recipient making their own assumptions about your mood. To solve this problem, start with a clear subject line so they know exactly what the email is going to say. In the body, ensure you let them know precisely what you need, why you need it, and include any timelines. Feedback should also come with some context.

Additionally, refrain from blank, or nearly blank, emails, especially when forwarding. Jeff Bezos’s famous “?” emails are effective at Amazon, but you’re not Jeff Bezos. Including context clarifies your tone and keeps out the guess work.

Finally, although it’s important to have enough information, too much fluff is also an issue. People are busy and don’t want to read your emails as you dance around a topic. Be polite, but be direct.

Am I making them do the work?

When you send an email that references another document or email, do what you can to prevent the recipient from having to dig it up (and possibly dig up the wrong thing). At the minimum, including the date range and recipients of an original email so it can be sought out is better than “Find that email from Jane where she talks about that thing.” For attachments, also copy and paste the information directly into the body of an email. Many emails are checked on mobile devices and previewing attachments can be a hassle – your recipient will appreciate being able to scroll rather than download.

Did I include negative undertones?

This is the most important question to ask. It happens when we’re in a hurry and for many of us it’s just a bad habit, but negative undertones are easy to include in your emails without knowing it.

First, look at the basic punctuation. DON’T YOU THINK WRITING IN ALL CAPS WITH MANY EXCLAMATION AND QUESTION MARKS IS RUDE???!!!!????!!!! We do, and so do your other recruiters, clients and colleagues.

There are also more subtle signs to consider. Negative words such as “don’t” can affect the tone of an email. “Try writing it differently” sounds nicer than “Don’t write it like that.”

Even who you copy on an email could cause unwanted tension if it is perceived as tattling or pointing out mistakes to belittle. Think about who you are copying and why it’s important for them to be included.

Am I straight up being rude?

As much as you think that that lazy team member or neglectful recruiter deserves it, very rarely is a rude email going to solve your problem. Avoid barking orders, being pushy, or harshly criticizing. Instead, ask questions and provide solutions. If the conversation is going to be rough, then pick up the phone or walk over for a face-to-face conversation.

The moral of the story is that independent contractors should never send a rude email. It’s easy to fall into the trap during busy times or when you’re under pressure. When you know you’re at risk, take a few extra minutes to review what you wrote. You can also try saving it as a draft and returning to it later or asking a friend to review it. Remember, friends don’t let friends send rude emails.

How to Communicate Effectively at Work

A couple weeks ago, we shared a post with tips to come across as confident, not arrogant, either when working with clients or meeting with a technology recruiter at a staffing agency. This is just one element of great communication that can make a difference in a job interview, but even more importantly, while on contract.

The ability to effectively communicate your point helps explain requirements to clients, provide instructions to employees, and sell your ideas. Even if you think you’re already amazing in this area, we recommend you have a look at this infographic from Davitt. Especially when discussing complex technologies, great communication can be the difference between a project’s success or failure.

How to Communicate Effectively at Work the Ultimate Cheat Sheet #infographic

Resolving Conflict at a Client Site (Video)

We all have a story of a company with such awful customer service that we swore we would never return and told all of our friends to never go back either. When companies handle just one situation badly, it can have drastic effects on future business for a long time. The same holds true when you’re an independent contractor.

As an IT contractor, you are running a business and customer service should be as important to you as it is to any other company. The way you interact with clients, project managers, your team, and any of the client’s employees will play a role in where you work in the future. A negative review by any of these people could affect whether or not the client extends your contract, your agency calls you for a new gig, or a colleague recommends you to a recruiter down the road.

A common downfall in customer service is conflict resolution. You’re challenged to ensure problems are solved, the blow to your business is minimal, and the client leaves happy.  This is a hard balance. Fortunately, this video from Executive Leadership Training can help with great advice for resolving conflict around the office.

Boomers and Gen X Find Common Ground With Millennials

This article by Mark Swartz was originally published in Monster’s Career Advice

Boomers and Gen X Find Common Ground With MillennialsAre young workers resentful of older ones? Do employees over 40 fear and loathe Millennials?

Much has been written of generations clashing at work. Boomers clinging to privilege and rank. Gen X pushing out 60 year olds while blocking Millennials from rising. Youth fighting tooth and nail for a leg up.

To diffuse possible resentments, it helps to find common ground with other age groups. An understanding of shared values (or experiences) can smooth tensions. It can even lead to mutual gain.

What Generation X And Millennials Have In Common

The age gap between these two cohorts is significant, not vast. Gen Xers range from their mid-30s to early 50s. Millennials are in their 20s and early 30s. As a result there’s much these generations both relate to.

Comfort With Technology

  • Who entered the workforce just as computers hit it big? Gen X! They started with “dumb terminals” and sluggish desktop PC’s. Faxes evolved into email; the Internet sprouted, and mobile phones shrank from the size and weight of a brick to today’s pocket marvels.
  • Millennials have been wired from the get go. Their comfort level with virtual transactions is remarkable.

Difficulty Getting First Good Job

  • Millennials are struggling to get established. Competition is intense. 20-somethings may have to take on unpaid internships plus big student loans. Underemploymentis a real issue.
  • Gen X’ers also graduated into tough times. A recession left many to take first jobs substantially beneath their level of education.

Blocked From Advancing Quickly

  • Ask anyone in their 20s what’s holding back their career progress. “All those people over 40 clinging white-knuckled to their jobs,” is a likely reply. Boomers and Gen Xers make up nearly two thirds of the workforce.
  • Gen Xers also must deal with older workers hanging on longer. The financial crisis of 2007 – 2010 scaled back retirement plans for many 60+ workers.

Importance of Worklife Balance

  • Gen Xers wanted jobs that left time for other priorities. Unfortunately workplace demands, family obligations and economic realities made it tougher to achieve balance.
  • Millennials are using technology to free themselvesfrom workplace shackles. Remote work and flexible scheduling can mean greater freedom. Except employer demands continue to conflict with personal time.

What Boomers And Millennials Have In Common

Four long decades separate a 60 year old from someone turning 20. The world’s values have shifted in that time. And technologies that futurists could only dream of back then have altered almost every single job.

So what could Boomers and Millennials possibly have in common?

A Shared Sense Of Self-Management

  • Boomers (and older Gen Xers) lived through a drastic change in employer-employee relations. It used to be that a job for life was common. Loyalty to an employer was repaid by security and upward mobility. That’s all shifted since the mid 1980’s. Managing your own career path is now essential.
  • Millennials saw their parents work hard yet get tossed by employers. These days younger workers face less stability than before. Hence 20-somethings are practicing self-direction, grudgingly or otherwise.

Gender and Orientation Are Much Less Of An Issue

  • Boomers were pioneers on gender and orientation equality. Before them, discrimination against females and LGBQTs was mostly unchecked. Current laws that protect everyone’s human rights at work were advocated for by people who are now in their 60’s and 70’s.
  • Building on those initial successes, Millennials are bringing an embrace of diversity to new levels. Barriers are falling in ways Boomers applaud.

The Importance of Social Responsibility and Environment

  • In 1961, the book Silent Spring by Rachel Carson first raised mass awareness that earth’s resources are limited. From then on, many Boomers have been champions of ecology.
  • Millennials prize Corporate Social Responsibility. They want their employers to aid in endeavors from social justice to carbon reduction to workplace democracy.

From Common Values To Common Causes

Age can get in the way of cooperation, it’s true. Inter-generational resentments are easier to nurture than unified values.

For inspiration, consider a recent shining example. At the Paris Climate Change Talks in 2015, a Gen X world leader (Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, born 1971)) worked together with dozens of head-of-state Boomers being mentored by eager Millennials.

What they shared was an agreed necessity of saving our planet. The accord they reached is a lynchpin in achieving this lofty goal. Isn’t that proof that generations can cooperate for the benefit of all?

Contractor Quick Poll: Where do you work most?

Canadian winters are known for an abundance snow and terrible driving conditions. If you’re lucky, you’re set-up so you can work from a home office on those days and avoid the miserable traffic. What about the other days? Do you tackle the commute to get to a client’s office every morning, or, for the most part are you able to work from your home office? There will always be exceptions, like bad weather or specific meetings, but this month, we’re curious to know where our readers do most of their work.

4 Conflict Resolution Tips for the Office

Cameron McCallum By Cameron McCallum,
Branch Manager at Eagle

4 Conflict Resolution Tips for the OfficeJudging by what makes news these days, conflict is a prevalent human condition and one that is responsible for a great deal of stress and anxiety in the world today.  And judging by the level of conflict going on around us, one could make the assumption that as a species, we are not real good at figuring out and resolving these situations.   In the staffing world, it’s interesting to note that our clients often start a job interview with “situational” or “behavioral” questions centered around how you, as an employee or contractor, handle conflict.  The very fact that you are being evaluated on your ability to answer a question around this issue is evidence of just how important it is to organizations.  According to CPP Inc., publishers of the Myers-Briggs Assessment, in 2008, U.S. employees spent  on average 2.8 hours per week dealing with conflict.  That accounts for approximately $359 billion in paid hours (based on average hourly earnings of $17.95), or put another way, 385 million working days.  The economic impact is obvious, but the emotional strain and stress may not be, and is just as important.  So how do we manage workplace conflict?  The following are some great strategies for managing conflict when it arises:

  1. Rip off the Bandage!

Covering up the wound and ignoring the conflict is the worst thing that can happen.  Most of us don’t enjoy dealing with uncomfortable situations and it is easier to think that things will just fix themselves, or fade away with time.  The truth is they won’t.  In fact, what is likely to happen is that the transgressions responsible for the initial conflict will only escalate, causing direct stress to the participants and indirect stress to those who work alongside them.  Workplace stress can lead to increased sick days, personal leave and in the worst cases, employee turnover

  1. Ask (nicely)

Communication is essential to any conflict and often lack of communication or misunderstandings are the prerequisites for conflict to occur.  So if you don’t understand someone’s viewpoints or you can’t for the life of you understand what upset the other party, just ask.  But don’t forget, how you ask is just as important as what you ask.  Try “Say, I was wondering why you did X yesterday?” or “I believe you are upset with me and I’m not sure I understand why?”   These tend to work better than “What the #$%@ is wrong with you?”

  1. Be Prepared to Take Some Blame

It is very rare for one party to be completely blameless in any conflict and once you have asked, be prepared to take some blame.  The best way to diffuse a conflict is to admit some culpability, apologize and explain a) why you behaved the way you did or b) what may have been the cause of the misunderstanding.  It’s amazing how as soon as you are willing to take some responsibility, the other party will do the same.

  1. Write the Rules

Once you’ve had the conversation and are comfortable with the results, make sure you finish the discussion with some rules around further interactions.  Reiterating what were the causes of the conflict in the first place by promising to do your best to avoid them in the future is a great way to ensure that you don’t get into old habits.  Say “Moving forward, I’ll be more respectful of your ideas in meetings” or “I won’t make disparaging remarks about your favourite (fill in the blank) in the future.”

Finally, conflict in the office can take on a life of its own and can be complex and intimidating to address.  But the costs can weigh heavily on your well-being and to the bottom line of the company.  If you absolutely don’t know how to move forward, there are always folks who can help.  Your direct supervisor or someone in HR will be able to assist you and if you are temporary or on contract, don’t forget to ask your staffing agent for help.  They will not only give you great ideas, but they will know how to escalate things appropriately.