A gaffe

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I just shook hands with a very nice engineer who decided to introduce himself after we bumped into each other in the kitchen several times.  I then washed my hands because that was my original intention upon entering the kitchen. I did not wash them because I shook his hand.  The poor engineer probably assumes I was disgusted by his touch.  Oops!

Have you ever made a social gaffe like this one at work or in another setting?  How did you recover from it?

Cringe-worthy

Yesterday, my boss sent an email containing the famous Forrest Gump line, “Life is like a box of chocolates.  You never know what you’re going to get.”  The problem is she typed “your” instead of “you’re.”  This immediately made me cringe.  My boss has a Master’s degree.  Shouldn’t she know better?  She sent the email from her phone, so perhaps the text settings defaulted to “your,” but, still…come on.  This is cringe-worthy.

What do you think?  In an age of relying on auto-correct, should we forgive errors like this?  In this case, of course, auto-correct failed.  I’ve heard arguments for eradicating the “your/you’re” distinction as language evolves and grammatical rules change.  I’m not likely to adapt to this suggestion as I believe a word with one meeting (a pronoun indicating possession) cannot replace another (a contraction of “you are”).  If we subscribe to this model of language evolution, then we might as well start using “thru” instead of “through” and “nite” instead of “night.”  That practice is different from using one correctly spelled word instead of another, but my point is rules of grammar exist for at least some reasons (some rules are questionable; don’t get me wrong), and in the case of “your” vs. “you’re” the rule needs to survive.

I’m not so rigid as to practice, say, Edwardian English, or avoid slang, or be a complete grammar snob.  Since moving to California, I’ve become supremely guilty of word-shortening in everyday speech (i.e. “sitch” for situation, “deets” for details, etc.).  I know this slang is obnoxious, but I try to retain a modicum of articulation through my writing.  After all, writing is the medium through which we can best communicate.  It’s not as impulsive.  It’s crafted under the luxury of time and editing.  Spoken word is emotional and intractable. At the same time, it may be more clearly understood than written word if such glaring errors as “try not to loose your keys while your jogging” exist on paper.  Omission or addition of only a few letters can change meaning entirely.

Give me a break

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My grandmother once told me about all of the scheduled breaks she had while working as a typist.  Having regular breaks was standard for her as a government employee, but I struggled to grasp the concept of being away from a desk as often as she reported.  I’m accustomed to being chained to my desk, answering email after email, spooning soup with one hand while typing with the other.  Healthy?  No.  Efficient?  Possibly.  Perhaps I should change my habits.  On the other hand, I often dread the return to the office after going to lunch because I worry about the amount of work that has amassed during my absence.  I often tell myself I’d rather crank out my work without breaks in order to leave earlier, but I realize this has the potential for burnout.  Instead of feeling immense relief upon leaving the office, perhaps I should feel simple contentment and peace with the day.  In other words, my days should be less of a roller coaster ride and more of a steady cruise along the highway.

A few weeks ago, I downloaded a meditation app to use in the evenings.  It’s a valuable tool on the path toward new focus.  I’m learning to live in the present moment, not to dwell on the past, and not worry too much about the future.  In this regard, I’ve started using the app at work as well as at night.  I’ve even recruited some HR team members to join me in an empty conference room several times a week.  Stepping away from the desk really helps.  Focusing on breathing makes a significant difference in the flow of the workday.  My initial attempts at meditating were not easy, as my mind wandered frequently, but I learned that staying only in the present moment is a remarkably healthy approach to getting through the day.  Fretting about the past does no good, for we cannot change what has already occurred.  Worrying about the future is pointless because we have no control over what will happen; we can only shape the path to it.

Part of my re-focus involves learning to be at peace with what I accomplish each day, rather than fixating on failures.  Instead of being frustrated with the amount of work I’m expected to complete, I take a few seconds to breathe deeply, close my eyes, and tackle one task at a time.  Many of us know that “multi-tasking” is a myth and not something the brain is capable of doing; we end up spending more time to accomplish things because we often have to redo one or all of the things on our list.  Performing one task at a time isn’t lazy or inefficient.  It’s likely the most productive way to handle things.

Working steadily, rather than quickly, has become my new style.  This stems from another change in perspective:  as my years in corporate America accumulate, I’ve redefined my loyalty to companies.  I’ve learned the hard way that companies care mostly about their bottom line and will squeeze anything they can out of their employees.  Weekend hours I’ve spent with my laptop, late Friday nights meeting deadlines, and dozens of declined lunch invitations have yielded little in the way of my career development.  I no longer feel the need to go beyond the scope of my role.  (That could be an entirely separate blog entry, but I won’t bore you with my disgruntled rant.)  Alas, I’ve succumbed to my cynical ways again.  Where is my push notification from my mediation app?  It’s time for a break.

Do clothes make the man?

“Clothes make the man.  Naked men have little or no influence on society.”  — Mark Twain

Here in Silicon Valley, I see a lot of casual dress.  The definition of casual dress has morphed considerably since the 90s, when “business casual” and “casual Friday” became common practices.  You may picture the standard jeans-and-a-polo-shirt outfit as “casual dress.”  Well, out here, it’s not quite that crisp.

Some of the outfits I’ve seen include shorts, sandals, halter tops, and maxi dresses.  These aren’t offensive by any means (I suppose pairing socks with sandals is offensive to some), but they don’t seem appropriate for an office.  I’m sure I sound old-fashioned, but I think there’s something to be said for taking pride in one’s appearance and looking one’s best.  The definition of looking one’s best, of course, is subject to the evolving standards of modern society.

When I moved to California, one of the first things I noticed was the number of tattooed people.  It seems everyone here is tattooed.  It’s not just an ankle flower or shoulder butterfly carefully hidden by long sleeves or pants.  People are covered in ink. Consequently, employers don’t seem to use tattoos as a bar against hiring.  I’ve worked with tattooed people across various departments.  It’s a common expectation as I meet new colleagues.  For many, tattoos represent cultural pride, so they shouldn’t be held against people.  The abundance of tattoos also eliminates the need for labeling them as distractions, as it seems the more employees are tattooed than not.

Clothing is another matter.  Call me an old soul, but I still believe people should dress for the parts they want.  This practice should not be restricted to securing the job.  It should stay in place during employment.  Some may say a person’s performance is completely unrelated to his or her appearance, but I like to think that a person’s confidence level increases when he or she is well groomed and dressed, thereby influencing the motivation to do good work.

The lax dress code in Silicon Valley essentially eliminates the need for casual Friday as every day is casual dress day.  In a way, this makes things easier.  I never understood the concept of casual Friday.  Are people not expected to work as hard on Fridays and dress comfortably to accommodate their relaxed moods?  Granted, a lot of people cruise on Fridays, but they should be held to the same standards as they are any other day of the week.  Barney Stinson on “How I Met Your Mother” wore a suit every day of the week, but, then again, his work ethic was questionable.

I now realize how stodgy I sound.  I need to lighten up, enjoy the California sunshine, and embrace the lack of dry cleaning bills!

Glorious Saturday

Saturday has handily become my favorite day of the week.  “What about Friday?” you may ask.  Nope.  Not even close.  “Sunday Fun Day?”  Please.  Also, that expression has become irritating beyond belief.

Saturday is glorious for so many reasons, but the main reason is the abundance of time it affords.  If I choose to make the most of the day and not waste it by sleeping late, I can go to a workout class, run errands, watch a marathon of shows, cook, do laundry, organize my closet, and socialize in the evening.  You might be thinking, did you forget your house cleaning?  I’m one step ahead of you.  I’ve disciplined myself to clean my apartment Friday evenings so I don’t spend time doing it Saturday or Sunday.  Brilliant.

When the weather is good, my mood improves tremendously at the start of a Saturday.  I bask in the sunshine and relish the hours I have to myself.  I feel genuinely happy on Saturdays, which speaks volumes about my general mood during the work week.

This elation over a free day must transfer to Sunday, right?  Sadly, it does not.  By Sunday afternoon, I start to dread the upcoming work week.  By Sunday evening, I’m in a funk and annoyed at the fading hours.  The clock ticks ominously, tauntingly, cruelly.

“Suck it up,” you’re probably shouting.  I know, I know.  I should be grateful for being employed.  Things could be so much worse.  I need to embrace the magic of Saturday and let it stomp Sunday gloominess into the ground.  After all, the Roman god Saturn, from whose name Saturday derives, was the god of plenty, wealth, periodic renewal, and liberation.  Some texts name him the god of time.*  Here’s to the provider of free time!

*Source:  Wikipedia (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Saturn_(mythology)#Theology_and_worship)

Side Work

When I was in high school and college, I waited tables.  Being a server was lucrative, especially given the ratio of hours worked to tips earned.  The downside to restaurant work is the cleanup — the menial, mind-numbing tasks that are necessary to keep the restaurant operational.  I can’t begin to tally the number of nights I was ready to head home after making $100 but was stuck in the kitchen doing things such as “marrying” ketchup bottles, scrubbing iced tea urns, or sweeping crumbs from the cracks of booths.  My colleagues would decry this “slave labor” when it was assigned on slow nights.  (In the state of Texas, the hourly rate for servers is $2.13.  So, if you have a slow night resulting in few tips, you end up doing disgusting side work for less than minimum wage.)

My first office job was in an SAT prep center, which was a zoo of students, summer faculty, and seasonal clerical workers.  “There’s always something to be done” was the office manager’s motto.  The student workers were responsible for cleaning the restrooms (I was lucky to escape this task), restocking supplies in the classrooms, running copies, and countless other grunt jobs.  My sole responsibility was data entry of homework and test scores, but when I had free time, I looked for “side work.”  I cleaned dry erase boards, I sharpened pencils, I filed, I replenished copy machines with paper.  I did not enjoy idle periods.

As I moved up the office food chain and into more specialized roles, I found that side work doesn’t exist in certain environments.  For instance, when I was a recruiting coordinator and had no interviews to schedule, I enjoyed cubicle chat with neighbors and researched recipes online.  I’m sure I could have reorganized my files, audited reports in the applicant tracking system, or helped recruiters review resumes, but I chose not to do so.  Perhaps I became complacent, or maybe I’m just plain lazy.

I started wondering if “side work” prevalent in certain jobs is an indication of their lower skill levels or lack of specialization.  This prompts the question of how valuable specialization is if it confines the worker to strict parameters, or if it leads to a “that’s not in my job description” attitude.

Specialization in the work world is great, but I suspect it compartmentalizes people to the degree of reducing overlap in skills.  In other words, it reduces the likelihood of working outside of comfort zones or pitching in to help with different projects.  Does this lead to a lack of collaboration?  Maybe I’m overthinking this.

I’m sitting behind my cubicle walls as I write this, sealed off from the engineers and IT specialists whose jobs I can’t do and don’t ever want to do.  If someone came to me with an IT support question, I’d have no qualms about saying, “That’s not my area.”  I have time to write this entry, though.  I guess there’s no side work for me to do.

Don’t volunteer

I used to work with a top-notch executive assistant who taught me a lot about staying organized.  She can handle anything.  She has supported multiple execs at a time but never appears flustered.  Of course, given the nature of her work, she’s usually pretty busy.

One thing I noticed about this EA was her inability to say “no,” but this trait is not exclusive to her.  Most EAs bend over backwards to accommodate the people they support. However, this same EA gave me a great piece of advice:  don’t volunteer to do extra work.  This practice is not rooted in laziness but in practicality and efficiency.  While taking on more responsibility demonstrates ambition, it may also show sycophantic tendencies and can lead to burnout.

My personality lends itself to helping those in need.  Perhaps this is why most of my career has been in administrative support roles.  In the past, for example, I was always the first to volunteer for front desk duty when the receptionist needed coverage.  I suppose I felt I would be asked anyway, so I might as well have volunteered.  Maybe I felt that my good deed would be rewarded in the form of good work karma.  Most often, though, I resented volunteering as struggled to answer multiple phone lines, deal with guests in the lobby, and let my work get neglected.

In my current role, I am woefully underutilized.  The days drag for me.  I don’t have a tenth of the responsibility I thought I would have when I accepted the job.  To prevent myself from jumping off a bridge, I volunteered to help the recruiter schedule interviews.

Big mistake.

The recruiter has completely run with it, in terms of my handling the candidates.  She has me put phone calls on her calendar and stays home to leave me to deal with candidates when they arrive for interviews.  She’s gone so far as to send me to IT to fetch loaner laptops for candidates.  Not what I signed up to do!

From now on, especially because I am a contractor, I will only do what is asked of me by my boss.  Volunteering is for suckers.

uncle-sam

I WANT YOU

*Those who volunteer for the armed forces have my full respect and admiration.  I married an Army man.

5 o’clock guilt

When I leave work at 5, I often feel guilty because my boss is still working.  Some subscribe to the motto “never leave before the boss does.”  If I don’t have any work to do, though, why should I stay?  I used to ask my boss if she needed anything from me before I left, but then I realized if she had tasks for me, she should have assigned them four or five hours ago, not at the end of the “standard” work day.

Asking for work has not yielded much.  I often wonder why I was hired.  Some bosses simply like having an available body should any need arise.  As I sit on the losing end of that deal, I am bored to tears and wondering why I pursued higher education.  A soccer mom with no career aspirations could sit here and do what I do (no offense to soccer moms).  I need to feel needed at work.

I’m typing this blog entry as my boss sits five feet away from me.  Does she wonder what I’m doing?  I suppose she’s so engrossed in her high-level HR matters that she doesn’t have time to question my activity.  She’s never rejected a time card or mandated my hours.  She trusts me to complete the few projects I’m given.  Perhaps I should enjoy the freedom of this un-micromanaged (or should that read “macromanaged”?) role.

Still, I feel guilty at the end of the day when I charge seven hours (I can’t make it to eight because I’m so bored) for doing basically nothing.  My mom would say, “That’s not your problem.”  I could retort by saying it is, at least partially, my problem for not getting clearer definitions of what’s expected of me.  At any rate, I need to abandon this guilt and find a role that is worth my time.  Then again, that wouldn’t allow me much time to bore you all with these blog entries, would it?  🙂

Thank God for the Internet

A friend of my grandmother once told me he read the newspaper, in plain sight, at his desk when he had no work to do.  Management did not consider this practice to be insubordinate or inefficient.  This happened after his service in WWII, when American men returned from the trenches of western Europe and north Africa and acclimated to office jobs and a new wave of industrialization.  Strapping young lads suited up, brought their waxed paper-wrapped sandwiches with them, and sat at desks with blotters, fountain pens, and probably not much else.

Luckily for my generation, we have computers.  I don’t know what I’d do without Internet access at work.  My current role is so slow that I spend about 80% of my time surfing the web.  I get blissfully lost within Wikipedia articles.  I watch reruns of shows on YouTube.  I research recipes.  Last but not least, I job hunt.  I realize that’s a no-no, but at this point, I couldn’t care less.

How else would I read as voraciously as I do if it weren’t for online content?  I certainly can’t whip out my hardback copy of All the Light We Cannot See as I sit six feet from my boss.  This, of course, prompts the argument, “Well, if you’re that bored, why don’t you ask your boss for more work?”  My answer is yes, I do ask.  I suggest things I can do to streamline processes or implement new procedures (how’s that for clichéd workplace jargon?).  I volunteer to do interview scheduling.  I digitize employee files and eliminate paper.  There isn’t a lack of trying on my part.

So…the Internet is my best companion during work hours.  I don’t know how I would pass the time, otherwise.  I can’t stand office gossip or being an ear for co-workers who do nothing but complain all day (I think the phrase “water cooler talk” is becoming obsolete).  I try to take walks during breaks, but I don’t want to go unseen at my desk for long periods.  I clean up the shared kitchen as needed.  These tasks are growing tiresome.  The Internet it is, then!  Thank you, dear Internet, for your wealth of entertainment, reference material, and connection to the great world outside of the office.

Too much to ask?

IT folks tend to be difficult in one way or another.  While intelligent, they often lack a certain social finesse that people in other departments may have.  I’m not saying all IT employees are misfits or that non-IT people are model employees when compared to IT people, but some IT folks can be snarky and sarcastic and often resentful of the questions they’re asked.  (Jimmy Fallon’s “Nick Burns, your company’s computer guy” skits on SNL depicted this precisely.)  Sure, most people who work in 21st century companies should know how to book conference rooms through Outlook, how to turn on projection setting from their laptops, and definitely how to set up their voice mailboxes (although, with the gradual elimination of desk phones, this skill may soon be extinct).  However, IT-ers can be obnoxious when asked to do something only they can do.  They’re haughty and condescending.  For instance, I submitted a ticket to have a new hire’s email address created.  After a week, I checked the status.  Below is the instant message session I had with the IT representative (with names removed):

Me (1:11 PM):  ____, can you please tell me if ________ ___’s email account has been created yet?

IT Guy (1:13 PM):  you’ll see it in auto-complete in gmail if it is

Me (1:17 PM):  I sent a calendar appointment to it but got an error message.

IT Guy (1:22 PM):  then it probably hasnt been created yet

Me (1:23 PM):  Any idea when it will be?

(scene)

Now, more than 2.5 hours later, I’m still waiting for his response to my last question.  What irks me more than waiting is the fact that he didn’t answer my original question.  All he had to do was say it hadn’t been done yet.  Is that too much to ask?  Good grief.