Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Surviving the Workday

All new content for Surviving the Workday will appear on

And don't forget to update your bookmarks, bloglines, or google reader.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Do You Have Your Period?

That's the question a freshman was asked by a security guard at her high school. She was carrying a purse, which violated the No Bags rule at the high school (having her period would have explained the purse supposedly). It seems security guards asking The Question may have been routine at this school.

The small Sullivan County school has been in an uproar for the last week. Girls have worn tampons on their clothes in protest, and purses made out of tampon boxes. Some boys wore maxi-pads stuck to their shirts in support.

After hearing that someone might have been suspended for the protest, freshman Hannah Lindquist, 14, went to talk to Worden [the principal]. She wore her protest necklace, an OB tampon box on a piece of yarn. She said Worden confiscated it, talked to her about the code of conduct and

the backpack rule — and told her she was now "part of the problem."

I'm pretty sure your problem, Principal Worden, is not this kid (who is exhibiting all sorts of problem solving abilities). Read The Question Causes Furor at Local High School to more details on the story and protest.

Spirituality at Work Roundup

Ageism 'endemic' in workplace explores ageism in Great Britain, some of which seems related to mandatory retirement at 65 and a three-tier minimum wage system. The article uses two interesting examples of supposed discrimination, "A third of those questioned had seen people being managed differently depending on their age, while 30% were aware of an older person getting paid more than a younger one for doing the same job," which aren't necessarily discrimination in my opinion (they certainly could be, but not necessarily as they're written).

Top Vatican official calls for women's rights in tourism industry recounts a letter Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone wrote calling for equal rights for women in the tourism industry and denouncing sex tourism. (I might have split those issues into two separate letters.)

Signature effort to repeal gay rights is too close to call describes the repeal effort in Oregon for one law prohibiting discrimination in the workplace and in housing and one law establishing same-sex domestic partnerships. It's unclear if there are the (just about) 60,000 signatures needed for the repeals to qualify for the November ballot.

Sexual harassment at workplaces describes sexual harassment in Pakistan, including by text messages. The struggle in Pakistan, as it is described in the article, is between the current laws and the attitudes. One of the justifications for decreasing discrimination is that the women's "productivity" is diminished when they are harassed.

It's Friday

so here is short quiz that calculates your "real age." I'm only 4.5 years old, which explains why I don't remember much of the past 30 years---they never happened. Feel free to post your real age here too.

via ghostgirl

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Free Samples

Who doesn't like a free sample?

I'm thinking of Costco right now as I type and their deep fried samples, which I used to snarf in high school while shopping with my mother. But, ahem, professionally speaking, I'm actually writing about a different kind of free sample, the kind that is customized for a potential client in order to be hired.

A friend who is also a freelance writer/editor (and a graphic designer) and I have been discussing the practice of potential clients requiring customized samples of our work as "free samples" before hiring us (even with relevant past work samples and references). I've done this for three years, but now I'm stopping. *

Why? My friend and I ran some numbers and we rarely (if ever) get the client when we produce "free samples." How can this be? Is it that we (collectively) suck? Well, the rest of our long-term clients don't think so. Is it that there isn't a good match between our skill set and the clients' needs? Certainly that's a possibility.

But I'd like to offer another possibility. Many people think that they write good test questions, but most of us don't. So the "free sample" of work (essentially a test) is often very difficult to take (and subjective to assess). The instructions don't make sense. The actual task is near impossible. And clarification is most often unavailable. So the test is not a particularly fair measure of our skills.

Of course, there's also the possibility that the potential clients simple want work done for free and divide a project into parts, give each part to a freelancer as a "free sample," and then have their project complete.

However, this afternoon, as I quickly expanded my sample size of freelancers to five, it seems that we share a common experience of losing at the "free sample" game. Hmm...

*I should note that most editors, including myself, don't object to taking standard copyediting and developmental editing tests for potential clients, which are totally different than customizing a "free sample."

Dress Codes

Dress codes are rarely spelled out in this sort of detail, especially for a call center where the interactions with the public are presumably over the phone.

There are almost an infinite number of observations we could make about this policy. Compare the columns. Compare the Monday-Thursday to Friday, Saturday, Sunday. Compare the Managers and Supervisors guidelines to non-Manager/Supervisor guidelines. Consider the inclusion of culottes. Wow.

I wonder what exactly prompted the development of these extremely detailed policies. And note that exceptions are made on a case by case basis for religious reasons.

Any observations that you'd like to share?

Happiness and Time Use

Yesterday we looked at time use in terms of how we divide our work days. The results of a time use and happiness survey have just been published that indicate some significant differences between men and women:

But there were also a number of activities that produced very different reactions from the two sexes — and one of them really stands out: Men apparently enjoy being with their parents, while women find time with their mom and dad to be slightly less pleasant than doing laundry.

It's possible I should not have exploded with laughter on reading that last sentence. And, because friends and family read my blog, I should note that I really like doing the laundry. Seriously. So why this gap in happiness with parental relations?

Alan Krueger, a Princeton economist working with four psychologists on the time-use research team, figures that there is a simple explanation for the difference. For a woman, time with her parents often resembles work, whether it’s helping them pay bills or plan a family gathering. “For men, it tends to be sitting on the sofa and watching football with their dad,” said Mr. Krueger, who, when not crunching data, enjoys watching the New York Giants with his father.

Clearly I need to get more into football. You can read He's happier, she's less so for more details on time use and happiness (nice interactive graphic too).

Relaxing at Work

From Relax: Techniques to Help You Achieve Tranquility:

Practice this basic technique twice a day, every day, and whenever you feel tense. Follow these steps:
  • Inhale. With your mouth closed and your shoulders relaxed, inhale as slowly and deeply as you can to the count of six. As you do that, push your stomach out.
  • Allow the air to fill your diaphragm.
  • Hold.
  • Keep the air in your lungs as you slowly count to four.
  • Exhale. Release the air through your mouth as you slowly count to six.
  • Repeat. Complete the inhale-hold-exhale cycle three to five times.

Spirituality at Work Roundup

In Pregnant High-Flyer Demoted to Penpusher, we learn about a Scottish accountant who trained a temporary assistant for while she was on maternity leave and returned from leave to find the temp promoted over her and herself demoted to filing for the temp. She was awarded a relatively small settlement. I'd skip reading the comments on the article.

In Pagan Organization Offers A Welcoming Setting, we learn about a non-exclusionary pagan organization on a Connecticut campus. Which campus? I can't tell you from my perusal of the article. Kudos to you if you can. The organization sounds like a fine place.

In Hope Rises as Faith Grows on Campus, we learn about a survey conducted by UCLA found that, "that 79 percent of freshmen surveyed said they believed in God, and 69 percent said they pray. And, though a whopping 81 percent said that they have attended a religious service, 64 percent believe that "most people can grow spiritually without being religious." The article goes on to parse the language a bit, which is interesting. If you're interested in Gen Y spirituality and religion trends, I'd read this article.

In Mexican maquila workers need your help to fight for unions, we learn that the worker-leaders of a movement in favor of unions in their garment factory have all been fired. There's a letter you can send/email to those in charge. I also see an advertisement for Ethical Threads on the site.

Internet Law-Internet Hate Speech explores the legalities of, among other issues, hate speech in the workplace. California law supports employers firing employees who use hate speech in the workplace.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Ratios of Sorts of Work

Recently I wrote down a ratio for how I spend my workday: 50 : 40 : 10. That's roughly 50% writing or editing, 40% marketing (searching for work, applying for work, selling myself in some fashion), and 10% accounting (billing, processing checks, asking to be paid, asking again to be paid, praying to be paid).

Anyone else want to share his or her ratios or percents for the workday?

Business Meetings : Internet Comments

First, this is most likely not appropriate for you to play in the workplace because of the language used. However, if you've ever commented on the Internet or observed on-line behavior in discussions, I think you'll find it funny. It is college humor (as in the site, not the level of sophistication), and not appropriate for children.

If Business Meetings Were Like Internet Comments

Work Is Only for the Productive

I find connecting human worth to productivity to be morally gross, but there is a lot of this rhetoric out there. We always hear about "being a productive member of society" as if it's akin to godliness.

Here's an example of productivity at work rhetoric from a recent speech by Nigeria's Minister of Labor, Dr. Hassan Mohammed Lawal:

Let me also use this opportunity to call on all employers of labour to stop stigmatising and discriminating against workers who are HIV positive. This is because a worker who is HIV positive is still very productive. It is illegal and against fundamental principles and rights at work.

It's one thing to call for an end to discrimination because it doesn't treat others as if they have inherent worth and dignity (or doesn't demonstrate justice, equity, or compassion in human relations). It's completely another thing to call for an end to discrimination because the discriminated against can still produce. This thinking puts the only value on productivity, which leaves the very young, the very old, the disabled, the sick also in the category of worthlessness.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

100 Best Companies is Bogus

Becky of Deep Muck Big Rake left a comment about an article she had written investigating 100 Best Companies for Working Mothers...are they really the best? She answers Hafida's question.

Work and Reciprocity

I've been struggling with the issue of reciprocity for a while, but had been unable to label it as such until this morning. Reciprocity is a key ingredient in many significant relationships, including marriage and friendship. And in the workplace reciprocity affects both those employed as employees and those who are self-employed.

What is reciprocity? Reciprocity is sometimes described as negotiations between equals, sometimes as tit-for-tat, sometimes as mutual actions. I'm not sure reciprocity needs to be between equals, but it does need to involve action of some sort on both sides.

When we work for money, we operate under an implicit (and sometimes explicit) contract. We do work according to certain rules and, in turn, are paid. Many work disagreements occur when parts of this contract are violated: rules are broken, work isn't done, and payment isn't given.

I'm currently in a work funk, and think part of the reason is the lack of reciprocity afforded to the freelancer. For example, if I don't respond to an email within a few hours, I'm sent another email to confirm receipt of the first one. Not every client does this, but enough do to keep me busy.

But let's say I happen to send an email first with a question. Often I hear no response at all, as if the client has decided it wasn't important or they forwarded it to someone who didn't respond. Who knows. But if everyone in the world responds to my emails except for certain clients, and if other freelancers have the exact same problem, then I think it's not necessarily me. It's an issue of expectations and reciprocity.

A much larger issue has to do with getting paid. But I simply can't go there now without having to engage in deep breathing for the rest of the afternoon.

No unsolicited advice please. This isn't that sort of a post.

Generations Declare War

The title is perhaps an overstatement. Perhaps.

In Generations Declare War at Home and on Work Fronts, we learn that the generational issues among Boomers, Gen X, and Gen Y exist in Australia too. The survey, authored by Mark McCrindle, interviewed small focus groups and reached these conclusions:

"Generation X, now entering their forties, is waiting their turn for senior leadership roles and may have to wait longer as the older generation of baby boomers is still going strong," Mr McCrindle said.

"People are retiring later in life and generation X-ers are feeling frustrated at their lack of advancement up the career ladder. But baby boomers don't like the idea of being dismissed."

The older members of gen Y (aged 13 to 27) are struggling to get a stable foot in the workplace.

Forty per cent of working gen Ys are employed on a casual basis and resent their elders, who grew up in a "job for life" environment. If that wasn't complicated enough, the baby boomers and gen X are getting riled by gen Y's demands for more flexible conditions and increasing work-life balance.

I have to say that I hear these sorts of descriptive statements a lot when I talk to people about their work: frustration on all sorts of levels.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Spirituality at Work Roundup

In Ex-Employee Alleges Religious Bias in the Concord Monitor, we learn about a Christian who feels discriminated against by her workplace, which, she claims, favors gays and lesbians over Christians (and what of gay Christians? I ask). The case is now at the state Superior Court, and the article reads like a script for The Daily Show. I rather enjoyed it, and then felt guilty about it.

In the Kansas City Star, there's an editorial promoting the Employment Non-Discrimination Act quoting a recent poll that 77% of Republicans think firing someone for being gay is wrong. Again, I'll say that the United States consistently polls far more socially liberal than you would ever guess from watching the news.

In the Chicago Tribune, Employers Get Tough on Health explores the disturbing trend of employers regulating employee behavior after hours to cut health insurance costs. I'm of two minds here. On the one hand, it does tick me off that I can be healthy, normal weight, no illnesses, and have to pay an extraordinary amount for health insurance. Would this reduce my own payment (I think selfishly)? On the other hand, I get a very creepy sensation at the thought of taking a nicotine test before work. Or having my body fat measured in the workplace.

In the Sun Sentinel, Transgender Community Works to Protect Freedoms in South Florida explores how to support transgender people in the workplace at the county-wide level. This is called the potentially "broadest imprint by affording civil rights to people for their gender identity or expression." Clearly something to watch.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Week in Review

We began the week discussing codes of ethics, including a rather basic one proposed for scientists in GB. Only one person, David, articulated a code of ethics in his workplace, and I'm afraid that was winks and nods. Speaking of ethics, later in the week, we learned that people think that "steal" has an unclear denotation. I'm still processing that one. Possibly on stolen Post-It notes with stolen pens.

We continued to discuss gossip in the workplace. At least I did.

Maryanne and I identified painfully with a quote from Didion on alienation from the self. Just say no to requests for more of your time. I'm trying.

Comrade Kevin and I agreed that the Transgender Job Expo is a step in the right direction, and wished for a couple more steps too.

Southwest Airlines gave the world's lamest apology. Hot flashes. Ha, ha. That's so funny, Southwest.

I began to see that my paranoia about the End of Times (a.k.a End of Civilization as I Know It) has actually a great deal of basis in fact (petroleum geology, at least). Peak Oil is the idea that we have already peaked in terms of how much oil we can extract and it's all downhill from here, kids.

We discussed the prevalence of slave labor in the United States, slackers in general, and we have an author comment by John Bowes!

In Negotiating Religious Accomodation we discussed how to get what you want in terms of religious accomodation in the workplace without getting canned. I appointed Chalice Chick the official lawyer-in-training on the issue. She didn't object.

The Neglected Children Posts (in which no one commented and I wondered if I just bored you):

7 Billion in Sales of Natural Makeup
Chandeliers of Plastic Bottles as Office Decor
Exploring Abandonned Mines for $15/hour (Boy, I'm glad I have a degree in earth science!)
Working in the Shadows (about ENDA)

Depends What You Mean by Steal

What fascinating results from my stealing of office supplies survey! It looks like the majority of people thought there was some wiggle room in the word "steal." I couldn't really clarify what I meant in the question because of space issues, but basically, if you steal office supplies, you remove office supplies from work for personal use.

I asked the question because of a few recent surveys about the majority of workers admitting to stealing office supplies. From Plants, Decor, Furniture among the items workers admit to stealing:

Turns out the majority of office workers (58%) have taken office supplies for their personal use.... Among those who admit to taking office supplies for personal use, the most commonly stolen office supplies include pens/pencils (77%), followed by self-adhesive "sticky" notes (44%) and paper clips (40%). Some employees (2%) are even taking decorations like plants, paintings and office furniture (2%).

Another survey gives 67% as the percent of workers who have stolen office supplies. And in a third survey concerning stealing office supplies only within the last year, nearly a quarter of younger workers admit to stealing office supplies while only 13% of workers over 50 admit to stealing. And, also interesting to me, only 1 in 5 younger workers (18-24 years old) don't think it's stealing to take office supplies for personal use.

So where does this leave us? I think some of the stealing of literally 50 billion dollars worth of office supplies in the U.S. each year is related to workers feeling mistreated and as if they deserve a pen or post-its from work. Just a hypothesis. I'm open to hearing your own hypotheses.

Advice to Those in Helping Professions

Maud posted this great advice from Joan Didion in Slouching Toward Bethlehem, a collection of essays published almost forty years ago:

If we do not respect ourselves … we are peculiarly in thrall to everyone we see, curiously determined to live out — since our self-image is untenable — their false notions of us. We flatter ourselves by thinking this compulsion to please others an attractive trait: a gist for imaginative empathy, evidence of our willingness to give. Of course I will play Francesca to your Paolo, Hellen Keller to anyone’s Annie Sullivan: no expectation is too misplaced, no role too ludicrous…

It is the phenomenon sometimes called “alienation from self.” In its advanced stages, we no longer answer the telephone, because someone might want something; that we could say no without drowning in self-reproach is an idea alien to this game. Every encounter demands too much, tears the nerves, drains the will, and the specter of something so small as an unanswered letter arouses such disproportionate guilt that answering it becomes out of the question. To assign unanswered letters their proper weight, to free us from the expectations of others, to give us back to ourselves — there lies the great, the singular power of self-respect. Without it, one eventually discovers the final turn of the screw: one runs away to find oneself, and finds no one at home.

Maud offers it as advice to writers with day jobs, but I think it's broader advice to those of us in helping professions.
Via Maud Newton