Happy 100th Post To Me

This is my 100th post on My Orange Chair (yay achievement!). I thought that this might be one of the most relevant times to talk a bit about my experience with MOC, the good and the bad (though really mostly good).

My Orange Chair started out as a way to keep my mind active through the slog of the job search. Let me tell you, trolling for jobs is zero fun and more than that, it’s hard, mentally – it’s so easy to feel defeated. This blog really helped me to vent about these challenges and also reach out to some fellow job-searches and share the tips I was finding. Since I first started I have gotten comments from acquaintances of yore and new internet friends. How cool is that? Anyone who tells you that blogging will help you expand your network is RIGHT, like me, because I’m right, especially about this. Also, I used the fact that I’d started and kept with MOC in a cover letter…and actually got called for an interview ! Clearly it was because of the Chair.

What is also so cool is how MOC has transformed, not only in content, but in followers.  Most of my readers now have jobs so job-search posts are far less relevant. But career development, and money – well these are pretty much always relevant. So now I have this great medium to talk about the career challenges (like relating across generations, communicating with co-workers, finding new work, staying sane) and the money challenges (student loans, credit cards, balancing fun with savings) that so many of us face.

There was a brief time (in between job #1 and #2) where I felt I couldn’t or maybe just didn’t want to share what was going on. It was a pretty stressful time and frankly I wasn’t interested in talking about jobs or job searches. My Orange Chair has helped me realize that it can be tricky and dangerous to share too much of yourself online, especially if you’re going to talk about JOBS (because we seem to live in a culture that still isn’t okay talking about $$, professional development for youth, and transitions). But I think, given the new turn of events, that I can say I’m back on the blogging horse for the foreseeable future.

This is an exciting time to say that I have invited a few people to share their own career stories and advice on My Orange Chair. Starting pretty soon, our first guest will share her stories so please be supportive and leave comments and get in touch if you want to write too (ehem…Big Sister, #1 Son …)

Thank you for all of your support and smart alec-y comments.

And may there be 100 more posts on My Orange Chair!



Power Tripping

Hi internets, I know it’s been a while but life has been going on and it’s been busy so I know you’ll forgive my absence.

I thought I’d come back today with a piece on bullying in the workplace. Some of you may or may not have seen the recent Salon article, When Bullies Go To Work. which I think is a great platform for what I want to talk about here. I could barely get through the comments, many of which called the interviewees whiners, and I was surprised that this didn’t get a bit more play in social media land because I know a lot of you have experiences that relate to workplace bullying, either from colleagues or supervisors. Unfortunately…

“There’s a definite lack of awareness. People are very surprised when they think about these things happening in the workplace.” Yet it’s all around us –  a 2010 workplace bullying study found that 35 percent of workers say they have experienced bullying firsthand, and another 15 percent report witnessing it.

35%!! That’s a lot. That’s too much. That’s one in three of your coworkers.

In the aforementioned study, workplace bullying was defined as “repeated mistreatment: sabotage by others that prevented work from getting done, verbal abuse, threatening conduct, intimidation, & humiliation”. But statistics are hard to come by:

…because targets themselves don’t always connect the dots between their absenteeism-causing migraines and ulcers and their aggressive colleagues, but Dellasega says at least 5 percent of workers say they’ve deliberately not gone in to work because of stress there.

I know I’ve had friends who felt they could not handle going to their workplace either because they knew they were going to get abuse (I mean mental, not physical or sexual) from their boss or they felt so overwhelmed by their negative workplace culture.

The study showed that both men and women bully, but the majority of bullying is same-gender harassment, which is mostly legal according to anti-discrimination laws and workplace policies. Women target women. I’m surprised by this last stat. because my experiences and those of some of my peers suggests that bullying is pretty gender neutral and is primarily influenced and encouraged by office culture, not individuals. Salon seems to agree with me on that one (the culture part, not the gender thing):

Part of what makes workplace bullying so insidious is that it’s so deeply entrenched in the corporate cultures where it flourishes. It’s not just one jerk — it’s a whole department of sycophants and terrorized underlings. As Liza, who works in graphic design, says, “One of my bosses likes to throw paperwork on the floor so we have to get on our knees. I commonly see a reaction of, ‘That’s just how he is,’ or ‘He’s just having a bad day,’ when an incident occurs.” Namie says this is common. “The whole group adopts the practice out of survival and fear, and over time it becomes the norm and the bullying becomes institutionalized. It’s about loyalty,” he says. “Once you start promoting people for that kind of behavior, you’ve sent the message.”

I’d go a step further and say that workplace bullying, like all bullying, is about demonstrating power. If bullying has become the norm in an office culture then management and junior staff alike are trying to flex their muscles and show that they have some sense of power – this may not always be solely related to work, but rather, feeling powerless in other aspects of their lives as well.

One big challenge we have is how to combat this in workplace cultures that seem to promote bullying or ignore it when it’s clearly happening. What do you do if your HR person engages in bullying themselves? Who do you have to go to? If your boss is bullying you, you probably feel stuck! Sure you can complain to your fellow employees but then what!? Office cultures seem to have created systems in which young employees remain powerless (and not just against bullying, but also against all kinds of change). It may be easier to affect change if your bully is a peer but even then, if you’re new, how do you develop allies?

It’s unfortunate to me that the workplace has become, for some people, a war zone, filled with negativity, unnecessary obstacles, and cruelty.

What cultural factors have made this OK and how can young employees stop it from getting worse, or stop it from happening in the first place? You tell me.

*Also, did you know this is my 97th post? I bet you didn’t. 100 is a pretty big hallmark and you’re invited to pat me on the back about it*

Screen Time & Copious Emails

One thing I would change about my life (and may if I actually make it a goal) is the amount of time I spend in front of a screen. It’s likely I will check my email and the weather before I leave the house in the morning. If I’m not reading a book on the train I am watching a TV show on my iPod.

Then – there’s work – which centers largely around the computer. My office culture doesn’t encourage much interpersonal mingling. Some managers seem to believe that if you aren’t at your desk, you aren’t working (I couldn’t disagree more about this by the way and this is a great example of generational office culture issues). So that’s roughly 7 hours of screen time each day, just at work!

But you all know I’m a gamer right? And I have a great love for horrible TV (i.e. Real Housewives, the Bachelor…I won’t embarrass myself further). So there’s night-time screen time (this is where I feel like I could reduce but not eliminate…it’s like wine at the end of a long hard day).

But back to that huge chunk of screen time during the work day – this is largely due to email right? Office cultures have shifted away from phone calls and personal chats and towards the far less personal email. In some ways this may increase productivity, helping you to multitask, communicate when you’re ready, etc. And I am on board with that – there are some things that are more easily communicated through email and some people with whom email is the best form of communication!

Fast Company’s Co.Design‘s shared an infographic (you know how much I love these) about whether or not you should send an email. Check it out:

They, like me, have a few issues with the tree:

We have some quibbles with the decision tree. The first question is “Are you at work?” and if you answer “no,” then the chart leads to “okay.” No! Not okay. Heartwarming PowerPoint forwards are never okay (confidential to our relatives: We love you very much). Further down, there’s weird ritual advice like implementing a “No Email Friday” policy.

But there are some good considerations there too. Poorly written subject headers remain the bane of our existence, to say nothing of the ongoing river of pain that is CC abuse. For a more thorough and thoughtful take on when to send email, we recommend Seth Godin’s checklist (forlornly titled “(maybe this time it’ll work!)”).

However, I love the real message of this image which is – think about an email before you send it and think about other ways to communicate like getting up and walking to your coworkers’ office (unless you don’t like them).

Is anyone else concerned with how much time they spend in front of a computer or a TV? They have just become so ingrained in our lives … Right now, I’m sharing this information and you’re looking at it on a screen!

At least I’m not sharing it by email  🙂

Happy Friday!

Rules for Commuting

I thought today, a day when I am free the long commute (thanks President’s Day), would be a great day to talk about commuting and its rules. Maybe this will seep into the internets and my fellow commuters will read it and pass it on in preparation for the rest of this week and the long months to come – no three day weekend until May 😦

Oh commuting – how I loathe you. I hate the way you take so long and the way you sap my bank account (one month of just the commuter train costs $175.00, this does not include the metro fare).

I dislike how tourists want to commute with me – even though they could wait until I’m at work. They are loud and they are NOT actually quiet in the quiet car.

Also they don’t follow your well-known rules:

  1.  Don’t talk on your cell phone the whole time. Or talk to other people at loud volumes. Most of us are sleeping, or reading, or trying not to cry because we hate our commutes so much.
  2. Don’t put your luggage on the seat next to you. I will ask you to move it and you will have to or the conductor will make you. Not cool.
  3. Walk on the left side of the escalator. This is well-known. It is international even and it is courteous!
  4. Don’t stop in the middle of the hallway in the train station to look at the train schedule – they are posted all over and you could stop in a less ‘in-the-way’ place.
  5. If you can avoid it, don’t bring children on the commute and don’t be offended when we scowl at you. Children tend not to be quiet – see rule number 1.
  6. If you are in DC (or probably anywhere) MOVE TO THE CENTER OF THE CAR. The metro-lady will say it multiple times but you can’t seem to hear it. Take out your ear buds if you have to, listen to her, and then follow her instruction.

I hate to sound bitter, even though I am, I am terribly bitter, but these are fundamental rules that would vastly improve my commute (that takes about 1.5 hours one way) and encourage me to write about WAY more interesting things than  commuting rules.

Creating a Forum Between Youth and Supervisors

Yesterday I had a unique opportunity to have an extraordinarily candid conversation with my boss. We were returning from an event and had about an hour long drive ahead of us. We spoke briefly about our experiences with the organization and perceptions of office culture but we quickly stumbled on an interesting topic – generational differences regarding the hiring process and expectations.

I have talked before about the importance and challenges of advocating for yourself at work and this was a key part of our discussion. As we started to compare the expectations youth have of work benefits, telecommuting options and salary, and the reality that has been my boss’ experiences we realized there were some extraordinarily large gaps!

My belief is that youth are sold a bill of goods that stresses the sole importance of higher education – to a certain extent we are taught that if you have the degree, you’ll have the job (please don’t take this as a knock on higher education, it’s just a statement about the importance of experience v. degrees).  But the folks who are hiring us aren’t as impressed with the degree as we think they should be. Rather, they are looking for bountiful experience, something many youth have very little of (and little opportunity to get). So this creates the gap! A 23-year old with a Master’s degree feels they are trained for certain tasks but are frustrated when they can’t get hired to do the work they really want to do because they don’t have years of experience in an office setting.

Interestingly, my boss was shocked by this, and said that she had no idea that this is what might be going on. And why would she? I am not familiar with a forum that allows youth and hiring managers to really talk about these issues. Maybe there is one and I don’t know about it, but if not, how do we have this conversation with the people in power that there’s a huge gap between each side’s expectations?  What is the appropriate forum and how do we make it productive?

Continue reading

Advocating at Work

What would you change at work and how would you do it? As young professionals in a very hostile job market it can be difficult to face work environments that don’t give us everything our generation expects. We’ve got a laundry list of things we want and probably should have:

  • Good benefits
  • Decent salary that keeps up with cost of living 
  • Flexible work hours 
  • Telecommuting opportunities 
  • Lots more! 
But we’re like houses in the current housing market – there are lots of us, meaning oodles of choices and good deals for the buyers (or employers in this case). 
But once you have a job and you’re settled into work you have a new opportunity to advocate for the things you want. Only, the gutsyness we were raised with seems to be steadily fading away. If you take an issue or suggestion to your employer and their response is ‘you’re lucky to be employed’, this isn’t very encouraging, and you might be unlikely to try again in the near future. 
Junior staff at an organization one of my peers works for gathered a list of issues, suggestions, and questions for HR and the higher-ups to address. I think coming together as a collective is a great way to approach this, especially for less experienced workers. But the staff didn’t want to turn in this document before reviews because they were afraid it would affect any potential raises. So when is a good time to advocate for yourself and your benefits? It seems like the logical time would be around reviews but young workers seem to be scared that speaking up will end up hurting rather than helping in the long run. And maybe it will be more harmful – There seem to be organizations that are mistrusting of young staff – higher-ups see them as flighty, uncommitted, and too expensive as it is. But the truth is, young professionals might stick around longer if they were better taken care of. Unfortunately, the current model in many non-profits seems to be: get out to move up. So how can we become loyal employees who are taken seriously when we’re not likely to get ahead in our organization? It’s a bad cycle. 
I think that there are office cultures out there that embrace the better model: If you take care of your employees, they will take care of you. But I really want to know the best way to advocate for yourself in an organization that doesn’t function this way. 

Lady Judgement

I have to admit, I have historically not been the most inclusive feminist; in fact, I’ve been a judgmental feminist. Younger me didn’t grasp the fact that feminism was about choice and the freedom to have choices (even if that choice is a traditional one). But older me gets it – the women’s movement has always been about being able to choose what we want to do with our lives.

So it was a real slap in the face when I sat on the other side of the lady-judgment table.

The other day at work I was talking with some women coworkers. We were just getting to know each other – gabbing about work, school, career ideals, and our big goals. My coworkers are impressive women with awesome goals which is great! But when they asked me what I wanted to do long term I took the circuitous route: I told them my interests (women, global health, west africa) and how I want to affect change. But then I said that I thought marriage had given me some perspective on what I wanted in terms of work life balance – which is, more life, less work.

and BOOM!! Came the lady judgement.

“Really??” they seemed to ask – as if they couldn’t understand how marriage could change someone’s perspective on this.

And I felt I had to backtrack and explain myself.

“Woah!” I said, “It’s not like I want to stay home and make babies – I don’t even want kids – it’s just that there are a lot of things I want out of life and my career doesn’t define me. I want to travel, become a better musician, a better chef – and sure, I am passionate about women’s health across the globe but it’s not the sole focus of my life and I won’t treat it that way.”

See, I’m a big proponent of non-traditional work schedules, and telecommuting, and, you know, having organizations function in the 21st Century. And I don’t think that’s unreasonable. But as a woman – even to other women – I still felt as though I needed to explain myself, and it was silly. Even here I feel compelled to explain that I don’t want to NOT work, I just don’t want to work in an old-school system that doesn’t appreciate or understand the modern workplace.

I’ve grown up with very high-achieving people which has propelled me forward – heck, I am 23 and have a Master’s degree which is pretty cool. But a certain level of judgement has always existed in my circles about choosing a less-career dominated life and I’ve played into it – so it was a unique experience to be on the other side of that for the first time.