Alchemical Thoughts

Some links and thinking on work, workers and the people in charge

Posted on: October 15, 2009

Being employed means that I work for somebody. Notice I did not say "self-employed." I read someplace that the definition of work is having to do something you would rather not do in some place you would rather not be in the company of people you would rather not be with. Now my current work situation is not that extreme, but as I tell people who ask, some days are better than others. I have recently read a few more items dealing with issues of workplace and management, so I wanted to make some notes here with a bit of quick commentary.

The links:

  • Bob Sutton has a great post on "You Better Start Treating Your People Right, or the Best Will Be Leaving Soon." I agree wholeheartedly with Mr. Sutton's idea that you have to treat your workers right. It seems horror stories of how corporations treat their workers like cannon fodder abound. The library world is no exception. Just take a peek at the library mofo blog, and you will find a parade of stories of bosses who treat their workers like dirt. Sutton makes a great point, which I would like to quote for my rare reader here: "But if you have treated people like dirt during the tough times (for a horror story, see here), have been inept about how you have implemented tough decisions (see here) or have simply been clueless about your people's perspective during these tough times (see here), you may have been able to keep great people working for you during these tough times and to hire some of the best. You can be sure, however, that they have told their friends about how much your company or you suck.  They are waiting for things to get better, and perhaps encouraged by the signs the labor market is coming back, are probably doing their jobs extra well these days to enhance their reputation for that coming job search.  So you may be fooling yourself into believing all is well when it is not." That last part is something that I can certainly see: your good workers may be just be doing extra well now so you, the boss, can give them a good reference when their time comes to go into the job market. Sure, the economy may be tight, and you can't give raises or financial incentives, but even if you were able to give money, money is not everything if you are treating your employees in a poor manner. Mr. Sutton's post is something every manager, including library administrators, need to read.
  • There will be times when you could get blamed for something your colleague did. So, here are some things to do "when a colleague's mistakes affect you." Sometimes you may need to help out, but other times you may have to confront, and always remember to protect yourself. This was an old lesson I learned when I first became a public school teacher: document everything, and cover your ass. In essence, no one is going to protect you, so you have to protect yourself. You don't need to brag, but you do need to make your contributions known and clear to the organization. That reality has not changed. (h/t to Lifehacker.
  • There may also be times when you will be in charge of a team. Or you may have just moved into management. Here is "Motivating Your Team–What to Do (and What to Avoid)." (via Dumb Little Man). 
  • When you have a day off, it means a day off. It does not mean you check your e-mail or call the workplace. It is your day, take it off. Period. If you need a reminder of how to take a day off or what to do, here is "How to Really Take a Day Off From the Madness of Life." This is a reminder to take some "me time" now and then. I will admit that I am not as good about taking time off as I should, but when I do, I do unplug completely from work. And when I leave the library at the end of the day, the library stays behind. After all, I do need to keep my sanity. (via Dumb Little Man). 
  • Here is more advice to workers: "How to Make Yourself Indispensable at Work." I think that some of the advice in that post is common sense. Unfortunately, for some people, you do have to tell them basic things like minding their manners and acting in a civil manner towards others. The first item on the list is very important: do your job and do it well. Personally, I think that is basically the goal in my life. Thus I hate the classic interview question of "where do you see yourself five years from now?" or some similar question. My answer, the honest answer, is that I want to do be doing my job and doing it well. And before anyone questions me about saying it is my "honest answer," take an honest look at the job interview process. You know both sides will use little white lies now and then during the process. At least, for that question, I tend to be honest because if I get negative feedback on it (namely, I did not lie to them and tell them I want to be a manager or other), I probably don't want to work for them. By the way, I think reading this post goes along nicely with Sutton's post above. (via Dumb Little Man; man, they do put out some good stuff, huh?). 
  • Here is another one from Bob Sutton. He is pointing to a Forbes magazine column on getting rid of jackass clients. Up front, I will say that this is not always an option in librarianship. Whether you are in a public library that has to let everyone in (and it usually takes some extreme incident before some jackass gets banned) or an academic library where either some students or certain faculty can display jackass behavior (and you can't really ban them unless the behavior is so egregious it borders on dangerous), you will have to keep a good face and march ahead. This is probably why I will never be a library administrator or manager. I have no tolerance for jackasses or assholes. If I run the library, and you behave like a jackass, you are gone, even if it means I have to call the cops to get you out. Life is too short to deal with jackasses, as Shaun Rein, author of the Forbes piece, points out. Jackasses do damage to your organization. This is very applicable to libraries. If your library develops a reputation of being the place where rude people hang out, where disruptive and loud people are regularly present, and so on, rest assured your best clients will take their business elsewhere. Stop coddling misbehavior in the name of being welcoming or open to all.
  • I have not had the chance to watch this yet. Dan Pink on "Overcoming the 'Candle Problem' and Rethinking Motivation." (via Lifehacker). 
  • And more advice for workers: "9 Qualities That Will Rock Your Career." (via Dumb Little Man). There is some very good advice here on traits that good workers should possess and cultivate.
  • And as if things were not bad enough, it can be harder to get hired during a recession (but not due to the reasons you may think). The post, via Crooks and Liars, discusses a Wall Street Journal article that says "Only the Employed Need Apply, Companies Say." This caught my eye because some of what is discussed is pretty rampant in the librarian profession. When it comes to hiring, especially as of late, libraries will prefer the most experience possible (even if the job is actually advertised as entry level), and in particular, a lot of libraries will try to cram two or even three job descriptions into one job. As Susie Madrak, writing for Crooks and Liars, says, "the other annoying thing that happens during a recession is that employers start demanding all sorts of unrelated skill sets in one person (figuring they'll get them to do two jobs for the price of one)." Just take a look at some of the library job postings out there. When you see something like desire for cataloger who is fluent in Persian and Farsi, can do library instruction, and supervise student workers, you know they either have an internal candidate already lined up (but they have to advertise the job anyways due to some bureaucratic rule), or they are trying to get one candidate to do three different jobs. In such a case, I think Madrak's advice is good, even if you think turning down the job in this economy is a bad idea: "I'd advise you against taking a job like that even if it's offered – no matter how bad the economy is, it's not worth the heart attack you'll probably get." Or, don't take a library job that sucks, to borrow the term coined by the Annoyed Librarian
  • A couple more tips from Bob Sutton. First, he points to a cool quiz on "Does Your Work Matter to You?" (link to the quiz itself). Second, he points to the blog Unemploymentality blog. I have to take another look at that blog, maybe add it to my feed reader. 
  • From the Anecdote blog, here is "Building a Collaborative Workplace with Stories." It is a presentation you have to view online. 
  • The folks from Anecdote also remind us that "Saying Thanks is Important for Collaboration." I say that saying thank you any time it is needed should be a given.
  • Bob Sutton also has some thoughts on business language that makes him squirm. It makes me squirm too, and the sad thing is I am seeing a lot of that language sneaking up in librarianship. In some cases, it is no longer sneaking up; it is becoming part of the landscape, and no, it is not a good thing. This reminds me a book I read a while ago, that I need to look over again: The Dictionary of Corporate Bullshit by Lois Beckwith. 

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