How Can Busy Parents Get Ahead at Work?

Author, Columnist, Speaker, Voiceover & Video Spokesperson

Salary.com Columnist

How Can Busy Parents Get Ahead at Work?

Climbing the Career Ladder is Difficult With Children in Each Arm

Dear Heather,

Hello, you don’t know me, but I saw your profile on Salary.com. You look so happy in your picture and I would love to see myself so accomplished in the near future! Do you have any advice for a hard working creative woman like me? I’ve been designing and managing at the same stable, but unfulfilling job for the past 8 years. I need a kick in the a** to make a move to senior management ELSEWHERE, but I have little time with a toddler underfoot? Please help!

~Mindy

Heather: What a compliment! Thank you. But make no mistake, that photo was cropped to exclude unfinished laundry, a carry-in dinner and the pile of work sitting in my office! It is hard for working parents –especially in that “it’s a good thing you’re so cute” toddler stage.

The first thing is to identify what is truly holding you back from surging towards a senior management position. Exhaustion? Understandable. Or, is it a lack of time or confidence? It’s time to invest in yourself.

Once you’ve identified your particular barrier, purpose to chip at it until it’s a pile of rubble on your Cheerio-strewn floor. You may or may not be able to combat exhaustion. Your vision of your dream job needs to be tangible enough to wake you up to opportunities even with a standing sleep deficit.

If you’re battling a complete lack of time, you’ll have to break down each necessary task to toddler bite-sized pieces. “Find management job” is overwhelming, particularly with a two-year old eyeing the viability of an applesauce launch. So, write down each step of the process and visibly mark off your progress (I even write things down after I do them for the pure satisfaction of crossing them out). Instead of burdening yourself to “do your resume” when your child has perhaps a ten minute attention span for coloring, plan to tackle a single resume section at a time. Research your job opportunities one company at a time if need be. Dedicate ten minutes on other days to renewing old contacts via email or on a business site such as LinkedIn. Moving forward slowly, ten or twenty minutes at a time, is better than getting comfortable in a rut.

If you want that next job, know you can do the work, have identified the necessary steps and are still hesitating? Encourage yourself. When my energy flags, I send myself a short affirming email, most often with nothing more than a positive quality, quotation or truth as the subject. There is a benefit in both recording and reading such a positive message. Be your own fan. Self-affirmation along with a step-by-step checklist to guide you to your goal will give definition to the dream. Then, it becomes a matter of tackling those details one at a time. Nothing is out of reach for a determined toddler. Tap into some of that focused energy. Good luck, and please keep me posted!

~Heather

Originally published at Salary.com.

Putting in Overtime on a Workplace Friendship

Author, Columnist, Speaker, Voiceover & Video Spokesperson

Salary.com Columnist

Putting in Overtime on a Workplace Friendship

How Much is Enough?

Dear Heather,

One of my co-workers has hit a rough patch in her personal life. She just ended a three-year relationship, is taking it very hard and apparently has little family/friend support. She is a very committed to her job and takes on extra projects on a regular basis. The boyfriend didn’t seem very important in her life (I only met him twice), and I’m kind of surprised she’s taking it so hard. The problem is she has started calling me in the evening fairly regularly. I don’t think she has much going on outside of work and is pretty lonely. I feel really bad for her and consider her a friend, but my husband is getting annoyed and I guess I am too a little. I want to help her but need my family time after work. Any suggestions?

~Mary

Dear Mary,

Your compassion is commendable. Human connection is what makes it all worthwhile, as your friend is discovering in a painfully tangible way. But in this case it’s unacceptable because it is at the expense of your most valuable human connection — your family. Because her present imbalance has the potential of impacting your own work/life balance, you need to sketch in some boundaries fairly quickly.

You are her chosen life preserver. While your empathy is a good thing, keep in mind that life preservers are not intended for use as extended support. They are temporary flotation devices designed to transport a weakened party from an unstable position to where they can stand on their own two feet. The key word is “temporary.” You need to view this as a short-term situation and devise specific steps to help your friend without negatively impacting your family.

You may feel a temptation to set her up with one of your husband’s poker buddies (Jim’s single and hasn’t been arrested in two years). Fight it. This is a very bad idea as it has the potential of doubling those late night phone calls. Bandaging one broken relationship with another rarely does more than create another bandage-able situation.

Instead, help your co-worker begin to establish the balance that has apparently been lacking in her own life. She needs friends and outside interests. Fortunately, those are often a two-for-one. Encourage her to explore the world beyond your office. Offer to accompany her to couple of networking or interest-specific events where she can make new connections to build upon.

Next, establish “help” zones that won’t jeopardize your family life. Let her know you want to talk when you are best able to focus, and that your evenings are too hectic for you to give her full attention. Can you give her your ear at a weekly breakfast or lunch? Maybe meet her for an endorphin-amped workout at the gym?

Finally, do not be afraid to suggest professional counseling: “I really want to help you, but I don’t have all the answers. This is hard, painful stuff. I think you deserve the kind of knowledge and guidance a professional counselor could give you.”

Keep the compassion, but don’t allow it to override your primary obligations to your family. Don’t abandon your co-worker/friend, but don’t be a sled dog either. Your role is not to rescue, but to facilitate your co-worker’s rescue of herself while still retaining that critical balance in your own life.

~Heather

Originally published at Salary.com.

8 Reasons You Should Turn Down That Job Offer

8 Reasons You Should Turn Down That Job Offer

Just Because You Were Offered the Job Doesn’t Mean You Should Take It

The good news is you got the job. Which, in this still-reeling economy, is quite an accomplishment. But the bad news is you’re worried you might be settling for a position that isn’t the right fit for you. So where do you go from here?

Look, the honest truth is there are times when you’ll have to take any job you can get, even if you know it’s a bad fit. Maybe your house is about to be foreclosed on, you can’t make rent, or you have a family depending on you for income. We completely understand there will be times when finding ANY job is a priority over the PERFECT job.

But then there’s the flip side of that coin, which is taking a job just for the sake of having a job even if you have the luxury of holding out for something better. Maybe you’re frustrated because your job search has taken far longer than expected, or you graduated college and you’re the last of your friends to find steady employment. Those situations aren’t ideal, but neither is taking a “filler” job that won’t really benefit your career.

To help guide you, here are some very valid reasons to reject a job offer.

8. It’s a Dead End, Not a Detour
Sometimes we travel a broken career road, but that’s not all bad. Many success stories include colorful chapters where the hero bravely works his way up to corporate glory. But what about the sad dramas where the heroine ends up pausing her career indefinitely in a so-so job that moves her off-target and out-of-sight of her hopes and dreams?

Consider: Will the circuitous route still allow some sort of progress in your chosen direction? Or will the filler job effectively block the path to your desired destination? The best filler job will still allow you to grow skills and experiences that are resume-worthy, and easily applied at your next position. The worst ones can spiral you into a black hole from which you gain no additional skills or experience, essentially trapping you with no hope of escape.

7. When It Costs You Opportunities
Most jobs are found through networking. A job organizing office supplies in a backroom or basement will offer you few opportunities to rub elbows with anyone save the occasional lost soul seeking a restroom. On the other hand, a retail job selling business apparel might give you the inside scoop on unposted job listings. Remember, the clear majority of today’s employment opportunities are unadvertised.

Consider: If volunteer work or community service puts you in touch with a growing number of business contacts, it might be worth fueling that momentum rather than cutting yourself off with a short-term, bill-paying position. Obviously, if you’re in debt and behind on your bills, you may not have the luxury of timing. However, be certain that wherever you spend your 9 to 5, you remain in the vicinity of connections to your chosen career goals.

6. When It Hurts Your Professional Reputation
On the other hand, while assembling sandwiches in a company cafeteria will likely put you in contact with key decision-makers (even CEOs have to eat lunch), do you want to be remembered for a cheddar cheese mishap when you finally land that interview?

Consider: It’s one thing to wait tables as a new college graduate in search of that elusive first job. However, a displaced IT manager refilling iced teas is doing nothing to enhance that image of technical prowess. There is nothing wrong with honest labor. But aim for labor that won’t contradict your status and reputation as a professional. To wit, waiting tables would be consistent with a hospitality manager looking for her next gig. Web design work might be a better fit for the on-hold IT manager.

5. When It’s Soul-Crushing
How tough is your spirit? Can you retain essential hope and focus while working in the potential filler job? Some people own the sort of resilience that will not be trampled by janitorial duties or irate customers at a fast food establishment. Others have a tendency to link identity to work and their self-worth will deflate like a leaky balloon.

Consider: Know thyself. The purpose of a temporary job is to equip you — financially and possibly experientially — for the real deal. If a filler job is likely to grind down your self-image, perhaps you need to look a little longer. Find employment that will pay your bills without costing you your confidence and breaking your spirit.

4. When It Goes Against Your Morals & Values
The nature of your temporary work shouldn’t make you feel like you’re compromising who you are or your beliefs. Obviously you should avoid anything illegal, but beyond that black and white is a lot of grey. For instance, a vegetarian meat-packer, an environmentalist working for big oil, or a personal privacy advocate making telemarketing calls. These are scenarios that will pit self against self.

Consider: You will be ineffective and personally miserable in any position that requires you to ignore core values. Selling something that is personally disagreeable is a blow to your integrity. How will you sell the professionalism of someone willing to turn a blind eye to his own convictions?

3. When It Costs You Your Family
A great paycheck that takes you out-of-town — or out of family life by nature of the sheer number of hours required — may be a risk to your family connections. Yes, getting behind on your mortgage payment could strain family loyalties as well, but be sure you and your spouse (or significant other) are on the same page regarding expectations.

Consider: How “temporary” will temporary be? Are there other options that might provide a better balance to the financial vs. family stability equation? An indefinitely timed strain on familial relationships (and connections to your support system) should be approached with caution. Do you work to live or live to work? Just remember, no one on a deathbed ever wished they spent more time at work.

2. When the Money Isn’t Good Enough
Sometimes, it really is all about the money.

Most of us work to live. We have mortgages, rent, utilities, car payments, daycare and more to pay for, and we’re working to foot the bills. So if you’re presented with a job that doesn’t even come close to making all the ends meet, it might be worth holding out for something more lucrative if that’s feasible.

Consider: Be clear about pay structures and costs of employment — especially for commission-based work — before grabbing a temporary position. The word “temporary” can ascribe less value to the details tied to these jobs. These details should matter, however, because you are making a trade of your job search time. Be sure it’s a worthwhile exchange.

1. When the Money Is TOO Good
Whoosh. That’s the soul-sucking sound of a lucrative paycheck pulling talent from a long-term goal. It happens. The pay is so good you stay on a little longer. And a little longer after that. Next thing you know you’re completely hooked on your fat paycheck, 10 years have gone by, and you’ve forgotten you used to have other dreams.

Consider: If you’re a “work to live” personality with a goal of retirement, this may not be a deal-breaker. But if your goals are for professional achievement, be wary of temporary jobs that could lull you into career complacency. “Umm, I got busy and forgot” isn’t going to sit well with a bored, stagnated version of yourself, wondering about the untapped potential of your youth.

Keep Your Eyes on the Prize. “Any” job is often better than no job, but not necessarily. Measure “filler” jobs against your overall career plan. Be wary of any side gig that holds the power to hamstring you into a permanent sideline position.

Our career paths are rarely straight lines. Sometimes the route to a coveted sales position goes through the mailroom. And there are times that outside pressures and financial considerations force us to pause professional progress completely. These challenges are surmountable and may even provide valuable perspective, as long as hitting the pause button doesn’t cause our motivation to idle as well.

Originally published at Salary.com.

Resolutions for Building a Bigger Life


Resolutions for Building a Bigger Life

Psst…It’s About Connection.

A bigger life. No, this isn’t a reference to carbo-loading before your next triathlon. Nor is it a call to upsize your house, number of dependents or credit card bill. Towards the end of holiday grazing season, it’s easy to focus on dress sizes over life sizes. But a bigger life, one that is rich in connection, will enable traction on long term goals such as legacy-building and dream achievement, creating credible paths to fulfillment and success.

People generally trek into one of two camps as January approaches: either methodically listing their New Year’s resolutions or categorically shaking their heads at such unmeasured optimism. But the majority of us will at least pause for a brief moment of reflection as we cross the border into a new year. For it’s a marker. A roadside sign that shows how far we’ve traveled and how far we’ve yet to go.

Every other “put your best foot forward” article is going to tell you to set goals for your health, finances and career —which is great advice. So do that. But consider that most of these laudable choices will be more effectively achieved with a powerful interpersonal support system.

So pause and measure. How connected are you? Forget the obligatory work comrades, neighbors with whom you have a nodding acquaintance and those sideline parents who are more of a “familiar face” than functional friend. Consider whom you interact with as opposed to those you stand or sit alongside. A life webbed with strong interpersonal connections holds more opportunities and is worthy of your time and effort to build. If you have a lengthy list of “should call” and “should do lunch” names buried under good intentions —it’s grow time.

Clear Space.

Who has the time? None of us. And yet making strong connections will actually save time in the long run. Your more fully developed network will provide you with recommendations for mechanics, accountants and new hires. It will be your backup when you have a sick child or no way to pick up your dog from the kennel. Your network will be both your sounding board and your fan club. Admit it. You need this. So it is well worth devoting calendar space to some connection time.

Choose Your Connections.

If all your friends work in HR or have matching company logo coffee mugs, you need to diversify your friendships. This is like having a team of quarterbacks. Who’s going to catch the ball? Surround yourself with women with varied careers and pursuits. You aren’t going to learn anything new from a high-heeled clone of yourself. And if you don’t know how to throw a decent dinner party —and hang out with similarly stunted friends— you aren’t going to eat very well on the weekends. Seek passion, conviction and commitment. Encircle yourself with accomplished or motivated-to-accomplish women. Energy sparks energy, so look for inner momentum. Solid positive connections will create bridges to anywhere you want to go.

Keep Your Eye on the Glass Ball.

Juggling too much? That sounds about normal. Brian Dyson, CEO of Coca-Cola Enterprises, once described multi-tasked living as a process of keeping rubber and glass balls in the air. While our tasks will differ, prioritizing our families requires that we designate them as one of the glass “do not drop” balls. Redesigning your kitchen is a rubber ball that will bounce. You may even be able to double dribble some of your lower priority social connections as well. But bubble-wrap your spouse/significant other and children and keep an attentive eye on that ball.

Find Two-fers.

One terrific strategy for creating connection time is to incorporate another tangent goal. You plan to hit the ground running in January? Literally? Then seek out a running buddy. But don’t stop there. Regular gym workouts with weight work will make the difference between getting older and aging gracefully, and may actually hold the process at bay for a while. Do your weight sets with a female friend to build in accountability and connection. Split the cost of a trainer and you’re making a more economical financial choice as well —all while growing a relationship with a like-minded friend.

Face-to-face.

Phone calls don’t count unless they’re punctuated by actual face-to-face communication. Choosing to create time for someone establishes esteem for both the individual and the relationship. Value your friendships, old and new, by scheduling regular coffees, lunches or happy hours. Aim to create at least two one-on-one friend spaces in each calendar week. And be open to spontaneous opportunities. Maintain growth by seeking out potential friends and business contacts and following through with at least an initial coffee. A certain number of relationships will fade through job, life or location changes —so continue planting seeds to maintain a continuous season of connection.

Grow Group Gigs.

Growing your connections can be as easy as setting up a regular, open-to-all happy hour meeting. Encourage friends to bring friends to multiply new mutually beneficial links. This low pressure, two-hour commitment will allow you to sift through “contacts” to choose “connections.” And by encouraging an inclusive atmosphere in which all are invited to invite, you create an infinity pool of professional and social possibilities.

Maintain an Inflow.

Yawn. Yes, sometimes. But it is difficult to grow a diverse network from an insulated workspace where time constraints force most of us to focus more on culling the flow into inbox, voicemail and calendar than on expanding our sources. Filtering is a necessity, but closing off the stream will eventually dry up the pond, so aim to schedule regular business/ social networking events. Remember that you don’t have to score a direct association at an event for it to be construed a success. Contacts have contacts (who have contacts) who could become a connection.

Be the Mentor.

Remember those early job interviews when you agonized over resume wording and sending the right message via your choice of pumps? There are women —on this very day— laying out conservative earrings and practicing a firm-gripped handshake and friendly greeting for tomorrow morning. Help them. You’ve earned your confidence. Share it with another. What’s in it for you? Connection to someone who will birth new ideas and improve what you’ve begun. And chances are quite good that you will learn something in the teaching of another.

Resist Connect-the-Dot Thinking.

It’s tempting to view connection as a connect-the-dot sort of endeavor, achieved by working a room with a fistful of business cards augmented by quick phone call “check-ins” between appointments to fan the flame of friendships. But it can —and should— be so much more. Instead of doing the time saving, quick tie knot —”Here’s my card. Let’s connect on LinkedIn”— focus on weaving connection into the fabric of your life. People themselves are the discoveries that lead to innovative ideas and solutions. Your key connections, male and female, will provide valuable support, provide affirmation, spark ideas and help you along the path to being your best self. Having reliable connections —ones you can occasionally lean on and, often, laugh with— is that valuable extra layer that will enable you to weather personal and professional squalls with dignity, grace and assurance. Building a bigger life through connection will perpetuate a better one.

What to Do When You Hate Your Job but Need the Money

Author, Columnist, Speaker, Voiceover & Video Spokesperson

Salary.com Columnist

 

What to Do When You Hate Your Job but Need the Money

Choosing Change.

Dear Heather,

I hate my job. Ten years ago, it was fun and challenging. Even two years ago, I felt like my opinion was of value, and that I was having a positive impact on the company’s direction. At this point, however, after some unfortunate corporate choices at the upper levels, I have more responsibility than actual power. I’ve been forced to implement decisions I disagree with as if they were my own. My heart races when I walk into the office, and I actually cried during my commute this morning. My husband is doing OK at his job, but my income has factored heavily into the family budget. We have two young boys headed for college someday. How can I know what to do and how to do it? I have a history of depression, and my job isn’t helping me stay in a positive zone.

~Linda

Dear Linda,

Your body is already telling you what to do. The racing heart, the tears — these are emphatic indications that you are treating yourself in an unacceptable manner. Even if you began this current path with starry-eyed “happily ever after” in your heart, the relationship has changed. You don’t feel valued and are going through the motions. Your present inability to match action and principle has compromised your personal integrity. Your body is saying “no.” Yes, something does have to change because this is a dysfunctional situation.

You can wait for management to have an epiphany, but do you really want to loiter in the lobby waiting for a happy ending? You’re missing the show, waiting for someone else to lead you to your seat. Unless there are clear signs that change is in motion, there simply isn’t enough popcorn in the bucket to make that worthwhile. So, this next step is up to you.

Rash choices can generate a string of reactionary responses, so it’s good to thoughtfully consider your options and act rather than react. But you do need to act. If placing yourself on the bar graph helps, five years is the outside edge of the average job tenure, and you’ve doubled the math on this. Instead of being miserable, why not recognize this chance to launch toward your next opportunity?

Here’s how: Sit down with that husband of yours after the kids are settled in for the night and start dreaming. There’s something better out there that might make your heart pump with excitement rather than race with dread. It might be with another company. It might lie within a whole new career direction. Can you get excited about this? If not, I can be excited for you until your brain catches up to the possibilities.

So, you might have to cut a few expenses and live with a curtained future for a while as you map out your new career path. Try to envision it as a well-wrapped gift, yet to be opened. Isn’t that better than living within a reality that is completely unreal to you? Psst. Yes, it is. Trust me on this.

~Heather

Stuck in “launch” mode? Unsure of your best option in navigating a workplace issue? Looking for perspective on a critical relationship? Or maybe you’re one of the new—often isolated—single majority seeking next steps for this next stage of life… Send an email and your question may be answered in one of Heather’s columns.

Originally published at Salary.com.

How Can I Help My Stuck-in-a-Rut Spouse?

Author, Columnist, Speaker, Voiceover & Video Spokesperson

Cabernet Coach Connector

How Can I Help My Stuck-in-a-Rut Spouse?

Passed Over For Promotion

Dear Heather,

My husband is a firefighter. His dad and uncle are firefighters too, and it’s all he’s ever wanted to do. He was up for captain and had a good shot at it we thought, but he got passed over in favor of a guy with a little more seniority. My husband is devastated. I’ve never seen him like this. He can barely drag himself out the door to be at the station, and those guys are his buddies. He doesn’t want to do anything. Just comes home and watches TV on his off days. He said he’s not sure he’s cut out for the job anymore. What can I do??

Katie

Dear Katie,
Watching a loved one struggle for footing is painful. Every instinct within you wants to fix this situation over which you have no control. It can leave you feeling fairly helpless and hopeless yourself. Since you can’t change the disappointing circumstance or make him “snap out of it” — this is his journey — focus instead on helping him rediscover his own strength.

Remind him of whom he is. This was a big ego blow. He may need to be reminded of his capabilities in very specific terms. Avoid “Oh honey, you’re great” in favor of “You are such a great communicator” or “The guys really know they can count on you.” He was just told — in his mind — that he isn’t good enough. Help him pivot the picture to where he can clearly see his assets. In time, perhaps you can discuss the qualities he might develop to put him in a better position for the next promotion.

Remind him of why he loves his job. His “saves” are about much more than retaining a key account or project — he’s an everyday hero willing to put his life on the line for complete strangers. Recalling specific successes he has been a part of will tap into the emotional highs and sense of responsibility that drew him into such a demanding profession. His job gives him the ability to save lives and property. He’s a life-changer. Help him remember why he puts on the uniform.

Remind him that he has your support. Tell him you believe in him, that you love him and that you understand he is going through a difficult time. Don’t push the happy face, but look for openings to reinforce any positive responses and steps he’s able to take. Avoid denigrating the new captain or the decision-makers. Instead, help him hold his head up by listening to his disappointment and sitting next to him for a couple of evenings while he sits and mentally sorts via bad TV escapism. Suggest physical activity, a movie, dinner out, etc. Eventually he’ll be ready to roll out of his rut.

If he can’t seem to shake this defeat from squashing his enjoyment of life, suggest professional counseling and discuss if there are other real reasons he needs to make a career change, but chances are that time and your support will help him reset and move forward.

Heather

Originally published at Salary.com.

Stuck in “launch” mode? Unsure of your best option in navigating a workplace issue? Looking for perspective on a critical relationship? Or maybe you’re one of the new—often isolated—single majority seeking next steps for this next stage of life… Send an email and your question may be answered in one of Heather’s columns.

Strategies for Stress

HD3Strategies for Stress

Float or Plant Your Feet

She sighed heavily and leaned into a splayed stack of junk mail on my kitchen countertop. “I can’t.” The words drifted wearily —in a flat line with no inflection.

The past months —years really— had included law suits, mental health issues, family division, death and a steady deadening of her marriage. She was taking in more nicotine than calories, and the constant stress had etched a pattern of pain across her attractive features, drawing the edges of her mouth into a perpetual frown.

“I just can’t.”

“You have to. When did you last see your doctor?”

She shrugged. “Need to, I know.” She coughed again. All ninety pounds of her. “My arm has been getting numb again.”

I felt angry. Sad. “You have to. For your little girls.”

“I know.”

But we both knew a doctor visit was unlikely to land on her schedule. Acting proactively required energy she could no longer access. She had been worn down to “reaction” mode —and it would take a small emergency.

“You’re getting buffeted by all this. The constant stress is like treading water in a choppy ocean. You have to either float over it all or find a place you can plant your feet.”

She looked at me. Defeated. “I can’t.”

“You have a choice.”


 

When you’re out of breath, it’s far easier to react to your environment than actively change it. And yet, often, we have to move to access the oxygen essential to fueling our future.

Stress —often a juxtaposition of expectation versus reality— is a given. None of us can predict the acts of others, circumstance, or even our own future feelings. But how we react to stress… that’s a choice. We can dog-paddle, tread water and gulp for air. We can float over it for a while —ignoring what isn’t truly critical. We can —at some point— stroke our way to where we can plant our feet and begin a redesign.

Choosing to choose is what move us from being observers of what happens in our life to actively participating in the direction it will take.

Floating (temporarily) can be a good choice. Planting your feet can be an excellent choice. Reacting to situations like a fishing bobber or swimmer treading water will exhaust, consume and deplete.

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