To prep for a Good Morning America segment this morning on stress in the workplace, I asked women to write to me about it.
I got a flood of emails in response—honest and heartfelt (heartbreaking too) letters that described workplace nightmares that caused them to quit, damaged their self-esteem, or left them doubting that solutions may exist.
“It was to the point that I was vomiting before going to work in the final months out of pure dread because every week my supervisor was b*tching (excuse my French) about something and nitpicking,” said D. “I don’t regret leaving that job one bit, even in this economy.”
K talked about being forced to take a severance package from her $50,000 a year sales job—just months after a painful bought with cancer that naturally reduced her productivity at work.
“Now at 59 I am unemployed and a cancer survivor, two strikes against me in this youth oriented culture,” she wrote. “Tory, I worked 43 years and paid taxes every year and now society just wants to toss me aside when I look, feel and have the energy of a 30 year old. It is not right! Prior to my illness, I ran circles around the kids in their 20s and 30s, had a better work ethic, shut my cell phone off at work and did not surf the net, except for professional matters.”
And another woman, B, wrote about leaving a “toxic environment” at a call center with abusive managers.
“The stress was incredible,” she said. “My family complained that I was always cranky, I couldn’t sleep well. I was gaining weight. I was an absolutely miserable person to be around because I was so frustrated and angry. I couldn’t enjoy personal outings or hobbies because I was always stressed about the work that needed to be done, even on weekends and evenings. We were expected to be on calls night and day with people from the other half of the world.”
D has found a part-time job and B has moved on as well. “A place that respects their employees is invigorating,” she told me. “I’m happy. I even look forward to coming to work in the morning. My kids have commented that I’m much more fun to be around and they don’t have to be scared of me yelling at them anymore (isn’t that sad?). I can enjoy life. I am taking care of myself again, and have regained my confidence in my abilities.”
Good for them.
But as I read these e-mails and countless others like them, one thing kept coming back to me again and again: It shouldn’t be this way—and it doesn’t have to be this way.
Here’s a link to my segment, along with some coping mechanisms as a starting point: http://bit.ly/9d39Y7
I’d like to hear your suggestions. We’ve started a dialogue on Facebook.com/Tory and on our blog, so please chime in wherever you’re most comfortable.
Manage Stress Through Workplace Flexibility
In this section:
- Flexible Work Arrangements
- Breaking Away is Good for You
Be a strong performer on the job. Flextime is an accommodation, not an entitlement. Slackers and clock-watchers won’t get the benefit of the doubt. Good workers are more likely to have requests approved. So your first step is asking yourself if your performance is truly outstanding. If not, focus on improving it before asking for a special accommodation.
Flexible Work Arrangements
Condensed work week If your standard week is 40 hours – typically broken into 5 days, 8 hours per day – could you perform your position in 4 days at 10 hours per day? Even if this isn’t possible every single week, you might convince your boss to consider it even just once or twice a month, which would give you a free weekday to tend to personal and family needs.
Telecommuting Instead of reporting for duty to your employer’s offices all five days a week, can your position be performed from your home one or two days a week? This would require you to have – or your employer to provide – whatever equipment and supplies are needed for your job, including dedicated phone line, computer, high speed Internet access, and so forth. This eliminates a commute and typically leads to increased productivity among already-motivated employees.
If you’re easily distracted or you don’t have dedicated space in which to work from, this might not be a viable option. Many employers won’t allow this type of arrangement if you’re using it in lieu of baby-sitting services. They want to ensure that you’re putting in your full hours even from home.
Vacation by the hour Even though it’s more difficult to keep track of time used, some employers are starting to allow workers to use their allotted vacation time by the hour instead of by the day. This enables working parents to attend school functions or doctor’s appointments without missing a full day of work. The benefit to employers is better productivity – more work gets done if an employee is present for part of the day than not at all. In other cases, employers sometimes allow staffers to convert unused sick days into vacation days.
Alternative work schedule The federal government and many private employers allow some employees to select arrival and departure times that suit their personal needs within the working day. For example, some people might want to avoid a heavy commute, while others may benefit from seeing their kids off to school in the morning. These employees are still putting in the same number of hours in the office as their peers, but they’re not necessarily the traditional 9 to 5 hours.
Access to concierge services Many employers recognize that life happens while we’re at work and they’re offering benefits that help the rank and file to better manage career and home simultaneously. Among the concierge services offered: dinner-to-go via their on-site cafeterias – to help parents who work a bit later avoid the rat-race of getting home to cook for their families, help with dog walking, routine car maintenance, a fill-in at home who can wait for the cable guy to show up, and other tasks that would normally take you away from work during the week or away from family on the weekend.
Part-time work Some women would gladly accept reduced pay and benefits to receive a reduced work schedule. Many companies will honor this arrangement for high achievers because it’s more cost-effective than losing them altogether. Some employers recognize that you already have the knowledge and training, which would enable you to achieve the same (or better) results on a part-time basis as someone else could on a full-time basis without the same training.
Job sharing This is perhaps the most difficult of all scenarios to secure because it requires the moon and stars to align in ways that aren’t always realistic. Even though some job-sharing relationships work successfully, the jury is still out on the overall effectiveness of such arrangements.
Do your research and make sure your plan can work with your job responsibilities. If you’re going to ask about working from home one day a week, how will your work get done? How will people reach you? Do you have the necessary setup at home to handle the work properly?
Research other departments within your company. If someone else has had success with flexible work arrangements, it could help to convince your boss to give it a shot too. The same is true for other employers in your area and in your industry. Those precedents can be very powerful in your favor.
If other coworkers would benefit from a similar arrangement, join forces. There’s often great leverage in numbers if you work together on a proposal that benefits your department and the company. Sixteen employees at a Texas company, for example, tired of long commutes, lack of time to pursue personal hobbies, and the demands of family life, dreamed of a compressed workweek with three-day weekends. That became the group’s goal, and it was determined to work toward it.With a membership in the double digits, their company was more likely to take their dream seriously than a lone employee’s pleas for flextime.
Write a formal proposal that presents the benefits from yours and your boss’s perspectives. This is a serious change; don’t ask for it casually. A written document is also great if your boss has to ask his boss about your request. You’d rather have your words passed up the chain of command than a paraphrased version with potential bias from any of the higher-ups. Our Texas 16 learned this the hard way: a year ago their request for a compressed work week was rejected because they asked verbally in an informal manner that clearly showed they hadn’t put the proper thought into it. This time they were smart – they put it in writing and it was successful! You should do the same.
Anticipate the reasons why a boss might say “no,” and offer counter-arguments. Before you present the proposal, figure out what the opposition might be – and address it in the proposal. If you think the boss will be worried that you won’t be available for key meetings that might pop up, explain how you’d be willing to alter your schedule as needed to accommodate such needs.
Show enthusiasm for your job and be clear about how flextime will improve your ability to do it. Be positive about your work. Don’t say, “The commute is killing me, so I must work from home.” Instead, explain how working from home will give you more time to devote to work and less stress since you aren’t sitting in a car for four hours a day. Be willing to compromise. Suggest a trial period and benchmarks to measure the success of your plan. Explain how you think the proposal should be measured by you and by your employer. You both must be satisfied for this to work.
Be patient. Even though we all love instant gratification, don’t expect an immediate answer. If your request is turned down, ask for feedback on why the idea was not accepted. Ask to establish a timeframe for revisiting this – and then be ready to go back with gusto.
Breaking Away is Good for You
A Boston College study found that employees who take a higher number of vacation days to just relax and enjoy themselves feel rejuvenated and less overwhelmed when they return to work.
Yet, according to Expedia.com, an astounding 51.2 million Americans will leave some of their vacation – an average of three days – on the table.
Barriers to Time Off: Stress, Job Security and Money
More than one third of American workers say they struggle with work stress while they’re away, so many say why bother taking time off. Instead of relaxing, they envision a slew of messages and massive to-do lists when they get back to the office. Or they use their vacation days to take care of important personal and family obligations – from doctor’s appointments to caring for children or older relatives – which isn’t relaxing at all.
Others worry about job security. “What if I go away and they don’t miss me? I don’t want to take that risk, so I’ll just stay put.” Money is also a big factor. Typical vacations conjure the image of steep travel expenses that many people can scarcely afford.
Rested Employees are More Productive
Savvy employers recognize that running people ragged and draining them isn’t a good thing. Studies have found that the total health and productivity cost of worker stress to American business could be as high as $150 billion a year. Studies also show that taking time off even reduces the risk of heart attack.
Recognize that just like a good night’s sleep refreshes you for the next day, a relaxing vacation – which means five or more days without work – rejuvenates you for doing your best on the job. Vacation is truly a necessity, not a luxury.
Tips for Stress-free Time Off
Pick an affordable destination. You need not jet off to a posh destination to enjoy time off. Do you live near parks and beaches that you’d like to explore? Can you take day trips by bike or train in your hometown? What about visiting a friend or relative with a spare bedroom to host you?
Designate a backup. Select a colleague who will be able to answer any questions about your projects while you’re away. Brief that person on your projects, where your files are kept and so on. Make sure you offer to do the same while your backup goes on vacation. This buddy system will keep your inbox under control while you’re away.
Change voicemail and email greetings. Change greetings on your phone and email accounts to indicate you will be out of touch. It’s bad business not to return calls, but if you let clients know you’re away and who to contact in your absence, they won’t feel ignored. And. most selfishly, it’ll save you from getting scores of messages filled with requests that could have been taken care of while you were away.
Give contact information to one person. Instead of telling everyone how to reach you, let one person know where you’ll be. He or she can funnel requests to determine if you really need to be bothered while away.
Set limits on work. There are some people who find being totally out of touch very stressful, yet constantly checking in defeats the purpose of a break. Make a commitment to yourself, your boss and your family to check in a limited amount: once a day, for example. Or if you have to bring work with you, limit the amount of time you spend on it – an hour a day, tops – and stick to it.
Looking for a job can be a daunting task for anyone, but it’s especially scary for many adults who haven’t worked outside their homes in years. If you’re not Angelina Jolie, Julia Roberts or even Britney Spears, it’s no picnic making a career comeback after time out of the workplace.
Those returning to the workforce worry about lacking the latest skills, competing against candidates with current experience, and learning the politics of interviewing. If this sounds like you, rest assured you’re not alone. Here are some of the hesitations and concerns on the minds of employers:
- Are you really ready to reenter the job market?
- Have you kept up with the trends and issues impacting your industry?
- Are your skills current and up to date?
- Do you have realistic expectations of today’s workplace?
- Can you articulate how your time off will benefit your future career endeavors?
Make sure you can answer those questions and issues before embarking on a job search. Bounce your responses off trusted friends, especially those who are currently working in demanding positions. The silver lining is that a looming labor shortage means that many employers will be willing to look at nontraditional candidates. That, coupled with several key steps on your part, could help you hear “You’re hired.”
Focus on face time instead of Net time. Get off the Internet and get out of the house. When you have a gap in your resume, scouring job boards and relying on posting your resume online will not help. Recruiters admit that when looking at two resumes – one with current experience, one with a gap – they always went for the current one. You have to be in the room with the recruiter to turn that missing time into something interesting and positive. It’s your personality and passion that can help overcome the gap, and that can only be accomplished in person.
Get in the door. You must focus on meeting people the same way you do in other aspects of life: through mutual friends and contacts. Connect with former colleagues and working friends. Ask for leads on jobs and ask for other contacts. Another great way to meet people in your industry is to join a professional group. You’ll find associations in every field as well as working women support groups. Even your alumni association – no matter how long ago you graduated – is a stellar resource.
|Networking Know-How Quick Tip: Celebrate…Throw a Networking Party
Yes, have a party. This is hard-core networking disguised as fun. You don’t need anything fancy or expensive; it could be a Saturday afternoon of cocoa and cookies. Since people are your best source of job leads, invite friends, family, neighbors — reach out to the parents of your kid’s friends, the people you go to church with. Instead of asking them to bring a dish like they would do for a potluck, ask them to bring an idea, connection, resource or job lead.
Ask them to cheer you on as you embark on this exciting new journey. Make it fun so everyone wants to rally around and support your efforts. Nobody likes a pity party, but they certainly like rooting for someone who’s facing a challenge with great gusto and determination. And since these people know, like and trust you and your character, and like you and trust you, they’ll be a big help in making introductions and even serving as references.
Want more information? Visit our Professional Networking section HERE.
Arrange face-to-face meetings. With all of your networking, you’re looking for face-to-face meetings, so offer to buy the person coffee or to meet them at their office for 15 to 20 minutes. These are busy people, so be very clear about your goals and what you hope they can do to help you. Convince them that you’re recommitting yourself to your career, so sitting down with you will not be a waste of their time. Tell them you’re hoping they’ll connect you with some key contacts because you know you’ll be a great asset to any team. The general rule for informational meetings of this kind: walk away with at least three contacts or referrals. It’s the way to rebuild your professional database. And then be sure to follow up on those leads in a timely manner.
Turn time out into time well spent. Be ready to articulate what you’ve been doing and why it’s relevant to what you want to do next. If you were smart, you kept your skills and contacts up while you were out of the job market. If that eluded you, you still developed and maintained many transferable skills. You’ll need to package them in a way that shows you are ready, willing and qualified to handle anything that comes your way. Break down all your skills and put them on a functional resume, one that focuses on your skills and abilities, not a chronological resume that focuses on work history. Then, once you are face-to-face with an employer figure out ways to showcase your skills and successes through meaningful and relatable anecdotes. If you’ve renovated your home, explain that enormous undertaking and your role in managing it. If you’ve had to put your parent in a nursing home, talk about how you’ve managed that care. If you’ve navigated the college admissions process for your kids, discuss that process and your organized approach to completing it. You don’t have to explain what you did quite literally every single day; instead focus on these big picture examples:
Manage a household budget? That translates to fiscal responsibility, financial planning and reconciliation.
Raise three kids? Interpersonal skills, problem solving, decision-making, and supervision are a few of the skills you’ve perfected as a mom.
Participate as a parent/teacher organization team or class mother? Think about the scheduling, organizing events, transportation, parties, and fundraising. Team mothers should be considered for sainthood…or at least leadership positions in the workplace.
Run the book fair for your child’s school? Or maybe you volunteered to run the lunchroom, science fair, or a field day. Every skill you used for those tasks translates into a marketable job asset. Don’t sell yourself short just because you gave away your talents and took no salary in return. Every task you did required skill – and that’s talk potential employers can understand. Setting goals, solving problems, providing support and delegating are all transferable skills.
Serve as president of a charitable organization? That deserves at least a few positive lines on your résumé. Think about everything you did from juggling schedules to motivating volunteers to meeting quotas and deadlines. You had to be a salesperson to get others involved and contributing. You had to soothe feelings and deal with disparate personalities. You had to try to please everybody, which is fabulous experience for reentering the work-for-pay world.
Chair a committee? You delegated, steered, implemented, set and achieved goals, and hustled.
Serve as a volunteer? Long-term commitments matter most, not writing a check or spending a day at the recycling center. You want to show that you’re focused and can follow through on a project over the long haul. Be able to demonstrate a meaningful contribution with a positive outcome.
Take catch-up courses. Once you know where the obvious gaps are, figure out how you’ll fill them. If you’re looking to work in an office, but you don’t know how to type or you’ve never used Microsoft Word or Excel, take a class. You can check with your state’s unemployment office, displaced homemakers’ programs at community colleges or with a local YMCA for free or inexpensive courses. If you worked previously in an industry that you want to get back into, now is the time to brush up on the trends, leading employers and key players in that field. Join professional associations and women’s groups, and look at Web sites and trade journals too. This helps you to talk the talk knowledgeably, and it can let you in on not only what’s happening but also who’s hiring.
Face employer concerns head-on. It’s important to be able to read the room, to recognize those subconscious cues. And just as with everyone sitting down with a prospective employer, you have to face any doubts head-on. If you sense that the employer is uncertain of your commitment, make it clear that you’ve considered all the factors that go into rejoining the work force and you’ve already made the necessary arrangements at home. Remember that for an employer, new hires are costly – in time and money. They really need to know that you’re committed and serious. Another concern for employers is that some comeback workers don’t keep up to date on technology or the latest news in their field. If you’re serious about jumping back in, make sure that you are ready to go on day one.
If they say you’re overqualified, which is often code for “too old,” don’t walk away. Instead say, “I’m wise enough to know not to pursue anything that would bore me. I’ve really researched this position and while I might be more qualified than the average candidate, by hiring me you get more bang for your buck and I get to make an immediate contribution to the company.”
Be realistic about money. Maybe you really want $35,000, but you’re only offered positions that pay $30,000, so you turn them down flat. Then months and months go by and you’re still not making a penny. If you had taken the job – even at the lower salary – there’s a good chance that you’d be on your way to a promotion. Or at the very least, during that time, you wouldn’t have accumulated more debt. Instead you’d have accumulated current experience. Obviously, you want to negotiate for as much as possible, but even if the opportunity isn’t exactly what you want, think about how you might be able to use it as a stepping stone to something better, especially while you’re building current work history. Just because you take one job doesn’t mean you must be wedded to it forever.
Focus on confidence, not criticism. Attitude is even more important than skills. If you’ve recently been through a divorce, don’t tell me an interviewer, “I wouldn’t be in this situation if that jerk hadn’t left me high and dry.” No employer wants to hear that you’re bringing bitterness and baggage to the workplace. It’s also a turnoff to show any sense of financial desperation. Instead of focusing on the negative reasons why you’re returning to work, focus on the positive. “After a few years at home devoted to my family, I’m now ready to recommit myself to my career.”
Know what you want. It’s critical to really know what you want. If you’re looking for a comeback but tell the prospective employer that you have time restrictions – “I can only work four hours on Monday and I need Friday afternoons off” – you’re actually feeding into the concerns they already have, such as their anticipation that you don’t have the time and devotion your new career needs to thrive. Instead, think long term. Instead of holding out for the dream corporate job, take a part-time job as a sales associate and work your way up. When you’ve proved your worth to the company, you will no doubt be promoted to where you want to be. You may also want to consider easing yourself back into the market. One really easy way is through temping or consulting arrangements – taking temporary jobs at a variety of companies in a range of capacities, many of which have the possibility to turn into permanent positions. This does two things: it gets you acclimated without a major commitment, and it allows you to sample the climate and get a taste of different environments and different positions before you’re forced to decide what it is you want to do. Not only does the company get to try before they buy, so do you.
Thinking of making a comeback?
Keep an eye on your skills and affiliations. We buy life insurance not because we think we’re going to die tomorrow, but because we want to secure our financial future in the event of the unthinkable. The same theory applies to married women who don’t work outside their homes. It’s not that housewives should anticipate divorce as an inevitable fate for their marriage, but it helps to be prepared. In retrospect, many divorced women wish they had kept their hand in something professional while they were married. Consider attending a monthly meeting in your industry, reading trade papers, having an occasional lunch with a former colleague, and taking on freelance or part-time projects to maintain somewhat-current experience.
A New You
The world around us is constantly in a state of reinvention. Just look at your toothpaste-whiter, brighter. Cars are safer and more luxurious these days, with better fuel economy. Reinvention is another word for change. Women are always changing – whether it’s our hair, clothing style, favorite haunts, political attitudes or even friendships.
But reinvention is not just change. Reinventing yourself means change with a twist, with a new face, a new outlook on life or a new career. Reinvention is the process by which you take everything you are and everything you’ve learned, and switch direction to head off on a new path. Sometimes it’s a fork in your road: you stay in the same field, but fill a new capacity, or you stay with your company but take on a completely different role. Sometimes, however, you take a detour onto a brand new highway by entering a totally new line of work.
Sometimes you have to reinvent yourself to accommodate a fast-paced, ever-changing world. Sometimes, the need for change comes from within. Which of these apply to you?
- Your interests have changed.
- The market for your current skills has dried up.
- You’ve figured out your passion.
- You’ve discovered that your college major really isn’t what you want to do.
- You’ve uncovered new talents you never knew you had.
- You’re tired of the rut you’re in.
- Your life’s circumstances have changed.
- You have more time to devote to work.
- You need more money.
- You could do with less money and more free time.
- You need flexibility in your schedule.
- You want to be your own boss.
- You want to change the world.
Reinvention is not always a choice. Sometimes we’re hit with a sledgehammer and we have to make a u-turn. Was your world suddenly flipped upside down? A baby can do that to you, but so can a heart attack or other illness – yours or someone close to you. You’re widowed or divorced, the bottom fell out of your husband’s job, and the bank account is awash in bright red. Your company phased out your job, a new boss brings in her pick to take your place, or your partner was transferred to a new city. Sometimes life forces you to assess your situation and begin to search for a new career.
Once you have pinned down your new industry or career choice, you can begin packaging yourself for your new target market. You don’t have to start over from scratch. What you’ve learned in one job can serve you well elsewhere, in ways you may not ever have considered. Instead of discounting your previous work history, look at it in a different light. Highlighting different aspects of your skills and experiences will give your work history the makeover it needs to attract employers in your new industry.
- Learn everything you can about your new field. Before you even consider your skills, you have to know what will be valued in your new career. Have you decided to go into human resources? Make a list of all the skills, experience, training, certification or education human resource professionals should have. What is the job description of the position you are looking for? If you don’t know what is essential in your new career path, ask a professional in that field. Look at positions in your field advertised in the classifieds or online job databases. What are employers asking for? Conduct a search online for the title of your desired position, and you’ll retrieve valuable information and resources.
- Compare the essential job skills with your experience. First take a look at your general skills, such as computer or communication skills. Many skills are widely transferable and valued in several industries. Dig a little. If you were an accountant and want to be a news reporter, your number crunching has given you great attention to detail and accuracy – two highly valued skills in journalism. Now think more about your specific experiences, such as organizations you belonged to, companies you worked for, and titles you held. They probably don’t line up exactly with your new industry, but how have they prepared you? For example, your position as a social worker taught you how to handle disagreements and evaluate clients’ well-being. Use specific experiences or anecdotes to illustrate how efficient you will be as a customer service representative.
With all the information you gathered from your self-assessments, tweak your resume to include your transferable skills. When switching careers, it is often beneficial to use a functional resume format, rather than the traditional chronological resume style. A functional resume focuses on specific skills, not necessarily based on a progression of specific jobs you’ve held. A chronological resume includes a run down of your employment history starting with the most recent. In either version, you’ll want to include your previous experiences, but with a twist. Rewrite your resume with an emphasis on your new career goal. The most important point here is to make potential employers see the you that you want to be, not the you that you used to be.
Make sure your personal appearance matches the new you. If that needs repackaging too, start early, so all your face-to-face contacts see the new you. If you were a sales clerk in a funky retail boutique, and you’re going into corporate life, check out what women are wearing in the boardroom before showing up in a mini skirt and fishnet hose. Visit our Professional Dress and Appearance section for more tips HERE.
With your goals set and your resume in hand, you also have to determine how you’re going to make the leap.
- Try to make an internal transfer. If your ideal job is right under your nose, build your skills and network effectively to make a transition right in your company. This kind of reinvention has the advantage of comfort level. You already know the people, they know you, and you probably won’t lose benefits or seniority. The key here is to ask – to find out what’s available and what you have to know to get it. Large companies sometimes offer an intranet of available internal opportunities.
- Attend job fairs. If you are taking a plunge into a completely different career, chances are you don’t know a lot of contacts in that field. Job fairs can provide a great opportunity to network and meet people in your new industry. Learn more about Women For Hire job fairs HERE.
- Volunteer. Forget the old maxim about never giving it away for free. Your talents and skills are your strongest selling point, and strategic sampling is a wonderful way to let people know about you. If you’re starting a career as a fundraiser, offer your services to local schools and charities on a volunteer basis. If you want to work for an art gallery, work with local restaurants and lounges and offer to coordinate art shows with paintings from local artists.
- Ease yourself into a new career. If you’re a nurse, but you want to be in sales, take a part time job as a salesperson. Try an industry, like pharmaceuticals, that values your nursing knowledge and experience. Don’t burn yourself out, but try a taste of what seems like the ideal job before abandoning a sure thing.
- Go for it! If you’re at your wits end, be prepared to quit and jump cold turkey into a new career. But don’t expect instant success, tons of money or a quick ride to the top. This is often the least effective way to make a successful transition, unless you have financial security or something lined up.
- Network. Let your network of personal and professional contacts know that you are looking for a new position. Explain what field you are looking into, and why you’ve decided to make the leap. If you’re launching a new career, hold an “expert” party to introduce yourself to those who can help you. If you just got your massage therapy license, for instance, invite salon managers, gym trainers, or facialists who work in nearby spas. If you’re looking for a position as a paralegal, invite your cousin whose wife is a lawyer to a family barbeque and then casually pick her brain – without being invasive – at the event. For more about networking, visit our special section entirely devoted tothis challenging process HERE .
Pregnancy and Your Career: Taking Maternity Leave
Federal law protects women so that they can take up to 12 weeks of maternity leave without losing their position in the company, under the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA). This law does not require companies to continue paying your salary during this time, but some companies offer the benefit of paid maternity leave. Read your company’s maternity leave plan, or ask your human resources department for details. Sometimes you will not be eligible for paid leave, but may still qualify for other company benefits. Ask whether FMLA time runs concurrently with the company’s maternity leave and check your state’s policy as well.
- Tell your boss as soon as possible. Seek the advice of your doctor as to when you should announce your pregnancy. Depending on your medical situation, it may be wise to wait until after the first trimester of the pregnancy. Tell your boss before you confide in other coworkers, so she doesn’t hear it through other sources. Communicate that you are dedicated to your position and plan to work until due date barring unforeseen circumstances.
- Review your finances. If you receive paid maternity leave, by all means use as much of that leave s you need or want. If you will not receive as much paid leave as you want to take, consider using paid vacation time or other personal leave. You could also think about working part time for a period or working from home to secure an income while you spend time with your baby. Learn about work from home opportunities HERE.
- Do not undervalue the importance of paid maternity leave as a benefit. Maternity leave can affect your retirement benefits. Some companies will require you to work a certain number of hours in a year, for several years, before you qualify for pension benefits. For example, a company may require you to work for one thousand hours a year for five years before you qualify for its pension program. Maternity leave can keep you from completing the one thousand hours, pushing your pension benefits back a year. If you’re unsure of how your company calculates this time, ask your human resource representative.
Eldercare is a costly struggle for employees and employers alike. A MetLife study found that people who take on a caregiver role give up more than $650,000 in lifetime earning potential. And on the employer side, the same study estimated that American businesses see a $33 billion productivity loss each year because of employees’ care giving obligations. There’s clearly a business case for introducing benefits and support programs.
First step, talk to your boss. Fortunately (or unfortunately) there’s not the same stigma with eldercare as often exists with childcare. When it comes to kids, many managers are quick to assume you can just hire a babysitter or put your kids in daycare. They’re not as flexible about childcare logistical challenges as they are about eldercare challenges. The solutions to eldercare needs aren’t as clear cut as simply hiring a professional caregiver, and the problems are often much more complicated than the need for supervision alone.
In this section:
- Challenges for Older Employees
- Multiple Generations
- Workplace Through the Ages
- Handling Generational Diversity
Challenges for Older Employees
Many mature employees, age 50 or older, approach the job search with a defeated attitude and a bundle of resentment because of the potential for age discrimination. While age discrimination certainly isn’t fair, a pessimistic or cynical attitude won’t help it get better. Don’t build your own barriers to success. Here are some common misconceptions that keep older workers from approaching a job search with the positive attitude they need to succeed:
Older workers are unwelcome in the workplace. Focus on what you have to offer. If you focus on your age and consider it a barrier, your interviewers certainly will too.
To get a job, you don’t have to look younger. Just be yourself. If you try to dress or act a younger age, you may come across looking awkward or contrived.
I know more than my younger boss. A condescending attitude will be a turnoff to employers. As an older worker you might have a great deal of experience and insight to offer: but instead of taking on a know it all attitude, show that you are flexible and willing to learn new ideas. You want age to be irrelevant when it comes to being hired, so make age irrelevant when it comes to respecting the boss.
Older workers often face many obstacles when it comes to finding a new position. Different employers will have different hang-ups when it comes to hiring an older worker, so know how to circumvent the most common. It’s essential to make age irrelevant in the interview process, and there’s a lot you can do to achieve this goal.
- Delete any dates on your résumé that reveal your age – such as when you graduated from college – and make a point of displaying your knowledge of current industry ideas and skills. Show a high level of enthusiasm and energy, and focus on what you can bring to the position.
- Market yourself correctly. Listing all your qualifications and experience can seem intimidating; share only the most relevant ones. Explain why you think the job you’re applying for will be a challenging and fulfilling position. Tell employers that your vast experience is an indicator of how you’ll hit the ground running and inspire others.
- Don’t accept a position that doesn’t pay you what you’re worth. Like sex or race, age should never be a determining factor when it comes to salary.
- Show how the position will help you begin the next phase in your career. Explain how you would like to develop professionally and how that relates to the position. Discuss your long-term goals.
Americans are staying in the workforce longer than ever before – postponing retirement or doing away with it altogether. At the same time, Generation Y – those workers born between 1977 and 1991 – are now the largest segment of the workforce at 80 million strong. So at some point all of us will work for or with people who aren’t our age and who bring different work styles and work ethics to their jobs.
As a workforce, we’ve made great strides with tackling issues of diversity surrounding sex, race, ethnicity and even sexual orientation. But age is the new frontier; generational diversity is something that all of us – workers and employers alike – must pay attention to.
Workplace Through the Ages
Much like sex, race, ethnicity and sexuality, a generational identity distinguishes each of us. Because four generations are now working together in the U.S., companies are starting to amend their diversity training practices to include generational differences. The hope is to create a more inclusive, tolerant workplace for people of all generations.
Here’s an overview of the generations, and their workplace values and attitudes.
Matures came of age when loyalty between employer and employee reigned supreme, and when many jobs took you from “cradle to grave,” so to speak. They thought that long service to a company would always be rewarded with raises and promotions, and that the company would take care of them even after retirement. They’re respectful of company hierarchy, but resistant to “new ways” of doing things.
Boomers saw the collapse of loyalty and longevity at the workplace when recession hit, and they were faced with layoffs and downsizing. In addition, with many of those 78 million boomers hitting the job market at the same time, competition was fierce. They became workaholics who believed that the number of hours worked was most important, even more important than productivity. Later, that “work ’til you drop” attitude made boomers question whether it was all worth it.
There are approximately 48 million Gen-Xers in the workplace who saw their parents burn out. Gen-Xers consequently try to strike a balance between work and life. They value their own lives and respect productivity over the long haul. They’ve seen companies go under so they are loyal to people rather than companies. They even approach work thinking of themselves as independent contractors, whether they are on staff or really consulting. Plus, they demand open communication at all levels.
Millennials/Generation Y/Generation Next
No matter what they are called, this generation is a workforce to be reckoned with. They have surpassed the boomers in sheer numbers at 80 million. These are the babies of the group in more ways than one. They were doted on as children, and expect the same from their employer – meaning lots of feedback and recognition. They value individual relationships and want personal fulfillment from their work.
How to Handle Age Differences
Since we’re now seeing all these diverse ages and approaches in the same office, both employers and workers must handle these fundamental differences by adhering to these tips:
Speak everyone’s language. Just as you’d speak French in France, adapt your communication styles to the person or group you’re addressing in a manner that suits them, not you. Communication is one of the biggest problems in an intergenerational workplace. Older workers have a longer attention span and are often more patient, which strikes younger workers as being slow. Younger people speak differently and use slang like “Hey, she looks phat.” Even though she means P-H-A-T, as in cool and hip, not F-A-T, this will likely be overheard by an older worker as an insult. Be sensitive about slang and try using universally understood adjectives such as “great” or “wonderful” instead of lingo that’s exclusive to your age group.
Remember that age is just a number. Both workers and employers must look beyond age. Competence and ability no longer correlate to how old you are or your years of experience. No more “she’s just a kid” or “she’s past her prime” prejudices allowed. Respect for other people’s ideas and input – no matter what their age – is critical.
Encourage candid conversation. If you’re having difficulties with a younger boss who belittles you, face the problem head on and encourage candid conversations. Generational issues should not be a taboo subject. If you feel you’re being undermined or ignored because of your age, talk directly to the person and let him or her know that you value their opinions and you aim to have a strong working relationship – and that you’d appreciate their respect for the skills you bring to your position. You can say: “I don’t appreciate when you belittle me because I take great pride in my work. If you have constructive feedback, I’d welcome it.” Keep the dialogues going because many broken relationships can be repaired through candid conversations.
Handling Generational Diversity
None of us can completely disavow the work styles we bring to our jobs every day. But we can resist our emotional and resist the natural urge to judge people based on age – and open up the lines of communication.
It starts with the willingness to talk about our differences and not allow the issues of age and generations to be the cause of silence or friction. Even though it’s easy to let emotions get the best of you when you’re taking orders from someone who could be your kids’ age, you remember that age and wisdom do not always go hand in hand. Believe that you can learn something valuable from an individual of any age. This is business: it’s not personal.
One way of keeping your sanity is to resist the urge to classify people based on stereotypes. The most common: older workers believe that their young colleagues are inexperienced, impatient and immature, simply because of their youth. On the flip side, younger workers are apt to see older colleagues as rigid, inflexible, slow and resistant to change and new technology.
Agree to banish that thinking. Remind yourself that we all know people who meet those descriptions, but we also know plenty who don’t. Give the people you work with the benefit of the doubt and don’t ascribe these traits to them based solely on age.
Authority and hierarchy. This is perhaps where age differences and bias are most prominent. Older workers believe that authority is earned over time. You put in your years as a manager and leader – and after time has passed and experience has been acquired, you earn authority. Younger workers often reject that line of thinking. Instead, they believe that talent, skill and performance drive authority and hierarchy. It doesn’t matter how old you are: if you can prove your value – even in a very short period of time – then you deserve to run the department and make the decisions. You don’t have to wait for the calendar to tell you it’s time for a promotion to a leadership position.
The war for talent has forced employers to take the perspective of the younger generation or risk losing their star performers to the competition.
Money and advancement. Boomers as a whole believe that time drives raises and promotions. After each year or two of service, they feel that are entitled to a raise. And as they put in their time, they expect their career to advance along a track from A to B to C and so on. Logical, right?
Not according to Gen X and Gen Y, who just don’t see it that way. They believe performance and results should drive compensation and promotion. They’re more apt to ask for a raise after doing a great job on a big project after only six months of employment. They have no qualms about asking to leap frog titles and positions without regard to protocol that was historically based on tenure.
This issue matters most when considering how to approach your boss. If you work for a younger person, you should know the sensibilities that he or she brings to the position. The boss’s perspective – not yours – will likely determine raises and promotions. You should ask your boss outright: what’s your philosophy on awarding raises and promotions? What must I do to earn more money or be promoted? Asking directly helps to avoid any misunderstandings.
Technology. Another concern is that older workers aren’t comfortable with technology. A prospective employer shouldn’t assume; instead they should ask. Tell me about your comfort level with technology? How would you define your skill level and daily use of technology? An older person might have superior computer skills, despite their age. You never know!
Similarly, if your younger boss is a computer whiz, don’t allow it to intimidate you. Instead, be proactive about it. Try saying, “You’ve no doubt grown up with all things technology and I can see you’re strong in this area. I’d welcome the chance to work with you to improve my skills and I hope I can count on your support.”
Communication styles. Many of the differences here are driven by technology. Younger workers have grown up communicating personally via text messages, instant messaging and email, and they bring those methods to work. Older people, on the other hand, have long favored face to face communication, and when they’re delivered orders or news via email it’s often seen as rude or inconsiderate.
The solution must focus on compromise. That younger worker needs to get up from behind his or her desk and invest time talking face to face with coworkers. And the older worker must realize that email is often preferred: it is fast and efficient. Don’t assume you must always see the boss directly when communicating.