Sunday, December 28, 2008

Working with a FOB (friend of the boss)

Last summer, our President offered a friend of his family a permanent position as our HR Manager. Her original introduction into the company over a year ago was not handled well resulting in all sorts of problems. She was never given a detailed job description and our employees did not have a clear understanding of her role in the company. This allowed her to create her own job description stepping on many toes in the process. Over a year later, employees still do not embrace her or her ideas. They do not trust or respect her as an HR Manager. This is probably for good reason, her main objective since she arrived was to create a permanent job for herself and her loyalties clearly lie with the owners. Others feel she received special treatment, such as an extremely flexible schedule and a higher than normal salary that would not have occurred if she wasn’t a friend of the owner.

I am one of her few confidants, yet I have also had my differences with her. As I look back on 2008, I realize too much time and energy was spent by me and my department resisting her and her ideas. I have come to realize if I were to become her rival everybody loses; her, the company and especially me, since she is the family friend. In 2009, I vow to develop the best possible relationship I can with her.

As a peace offering, I am sending her a note (written on the note cards she gave me as a holiday gift) thanking her for her support and encouragement in 2008 and wishing her a Happy New Year and a successful 2009. Perhaps others will follow my example and as a group we will begin focusing our energy on the real problems at hand such as the lousy economy.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Stephen King writes, "Only 5% of writers can support themselves with their work"

Stephen King's book On Writing didn’t inspire me to quit my day job as it did Trent on The Simple Dollar, but I did enjoy the book.

For me, this paragraph alone made the book a worthwhile read:

"Another argument in favor of writing courses has to do with the men and women who teach them. There are thousands of talented writers at work in America, and only a few of them (I think the number might be as low as five percent) can support their families and themselves with their work. There’s always some grant money available, but it is never enough to go around. As for government subsidies for creative writers, perish the thought. Tobacco subsidies, sure. Research grants to study the motility of unpreserved bull sperm, of course. Creative-writing subsidies, never. Most voters would agree, I think. With the exception of Norman Rockwell and Robert Frost, America has never much revered her creative people; as a whole, we’re more interested in commemorative plates from the Franklin Mint and Internet greeting-cards. And if you don’t like it it’s a case of tough titty said the kitty ‘cause that is just the way things are. Americans are a lot more interested in TV quiz shows than in the short fiction of Raymond Carver."

FYI, King feels critiques given by fellow participants at writing workshops are useless and may even be detrimental to your writing process. He recommends writing the first draft quickly for yourself and the second draft for your readers. Questions and comments from others while writing the first draft breaks your concentration and could change the course of your book.

I haven’t read a lot of King’s fiction, but I am familiar with most of his work through movies. I enjoyed his autobiographical section, learned a little bit about writing and was touched by the moving account of his near death accident and the challenges he encountered in recovery.

I rate this book 4.5/5.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Scaling Back This Holiday Season

December is typically a busy month for me both at home and at work. In addition to holiday activities, I am closing my company’s books and finalizing next year’s budget. This year has been exceptionally busy; it’s my turn to host my extended family’s holiday meal. Last week, in the midst of shopping, decorating, and cleaning I realized I had three parties to attend over a two day period all of which required I bring a dish to pass. To save my sanity, I decided I had to scale back. This is what I came up with:

The neighborhood cookie exchange:
I am not going to participate this year. I don’t have time to make 5 dozen cookies, nor do I need to eat them. Plus, my husband doesn't particularly like the exchange. He can’t understand why I give away his favorite cookies only to receive ones he doesn't like.

Holiday cards:
I am not sending cards this year. This isn’t a new practice; I didn’t mail cards last year either. My thinking is if I don’t take the time to write a note, send something creative or purchase cards from a charitable organization what is the point. Hopefully, my friends and family don’t feel slighted by not receiving the token Hallmark card with just my signature on it. I love receiving their cards especially the ones that are handmade and include family photos.

Volunteer work:
I am not attending my professional organization’s mid-year board meeting. I am no longer on the board and am not sure why I feel obligated to travel across town during rush hour traffic to attend a meeting in which I most likely will be persuaded to chair another committee.

The work pot-luck:
I am bringing Frito snack mix as my dish to pass. A bag of Fritos is mixed with plain M&M’s, peanut M&M’s, peanuts, chocolate stars and chocolate peanuts. No cooking. No cleanup. No hauling of crock pots and no searching for room in the work refrigerator. This is my kind of dish.

Buying gifts for family:
Instead of spending hours searching for the perfect gift, I have asked for gift ideas from my recipient's spouses and their children. I have been surprised by their practical suggestions; slow cooker, gloves and socks. (Also, as a group my family decided to lower the spending limit for our gift exchange this year.)

Giving gifts to co-workers:
I am not going to rush out to buy a gift for my HR manager just because she gave me one. It's kind of weird; she gave only me and one other person in my department a gift. To reciprocate I wouldn’t feel comfortable giving a gift just to her; what about the other people in my department or the employees I work closely with in other departments. I've already participated in my company's gift-exchange. I am going to leave it at that.

Holiday Dinner menu:
After a failed trial run making slow-cooked wild rice, I've decided to serve Uncle Ben’s wild rice out of a box as one of my holiday meal side dishes.

Scaling back doesn’t always have to be about money, sometimes we need to step back, evaluate our situation and be realistic about what we can and can’t easily accomplish in a tight time frame.

Friday, December 12, 2008

"I hate my supervisor"

Alyssa asks:
Two years ago I was promoted to a different department within my company. I love what I do and have been performing very well. The problem is my supervisor; I hate her and she hates me. She inherited me as a subordinate when my department merged with hers last January. Things got pretty bad earlier this year, forcing me to file a harassment suit against her. HR performed an investigation and determined no harassment had occurred. They did, however, send her to an all day training seminar. Since then, we both go out of our way to avoid each other, but I am constantly on edge thinking she is plotting to get rid of me. My old department has sought me out and offered me my old job back. I hate the idea of giving up my current position, and salary, yet the thought of working for this woman another minute literally makes me ill. What should I do?

I think your best bet is to seek employment outside of your organization. Your company does not have your interests in mind. They have already demonstrated this by neglecting to help you work through the problems you are having with your supervisor. Keep in mind with the economy in the doldrums; it could take several months to find a new position outside of your company. Worst case scenario it may take a year to find a new position. Do you think you could work for your supervisor another year?

“2008 was the worst year of my working life. Working for her another whole year! No, I really don’t think I can.”

You have just answered your own question. Working for a boss who dislikes and harasses you affects your work performance and mental health. Go back to your old job where you are wanted and appreciated. Start networking with family and friends letting them know you are looking for position similar to the one you have right now. Enlist your former boss (the one that originally hired you for your new position) to give you a reference. Good luck. Hopefully, with your renewed confidence and the 2nd-quarter projected economic turnaround, you will have a new job before you know it.

As to giving up your position and salary, a few years ago I took a pay-cut and gave up a title to escape a bad boss and have never looked back. With-in one year I was making the same salary as what I had given up. As to the title, a title is just that a title, I was working on more interesting projects in my new position working for a "great boss" than when I had the fancy title.

Sunday, December 07, 2008


Greenatopia is the fictional start-up company Sara Walker works for on ABC's “”. In last week’s episode, Sara and her partners describe their company as follows:
We're talking about an eco-friendly company with an exciting revenue model. You input your zip code, the product you want, and voila! We give you all your local options. The customer base is there. Everybody's dying to buy local. The starting demographics of a site like Greenatopia are users with an income average of between $150,000 and $200,000 a year. This is a low-cost company with global growth potential. Not to mention, we might actually do some good for the planet.”
I think most people have good intentions and like the idea of buying local, green, and organic, but most do not go out of their way to seek out these options. Other than buying a few tomatoes at the local farmer's market, few people I know make an effort to buy local.

Why don't consumers seek out eco-friendly products?

First, the demographics listed above for Greenatopia users, family incomes between $150,000 and $200,000 a year, are probably realistic. A couple of months ago, I asked a group of women who were discussing healthy food options, whether they bought organic products. Not a one of them did. All of them were concerned with chemicals and food additives being in the food they fed their children, but felt their budgets were stretched just purchasing regular produce, let alone organic.

The second drawback is the time needed to sift through all the purchasing options available. Today's consumer is overwhelmed with choices. It's more convenient to shop at the local Wal-Mart or Costco where most of the items needed can be found and purchased at a low cost. Extra effort is needed to seek out green products.

I think as a society we need to start making more conscious decisions about what and where we buy. We can’t afford to buy the best of everything, so we need to make trade-offs. How many $7.00 shirts from Wal-Mart do we really need? By buying less and making decisions based on need rather than want, we might be able to fit more eco-friendly items into our buying mix. Greenatopia is a clever idea; if the information was easily assessable more people from all incomes would be able to make better choices.