Dealing with grief and other workplace questions

Dealing with grief and other workplace questions

Columnist Caity Weaver answers readers’ workplace questions on how much support grieving employees can get, mistrusting trustees and a “work flow” issue.

Q: About a month and a half ago, one of my mentors passed away unexpectedly. He was my boss and friend. He was one of the few people in my life who supported me 100%.
My current boss knows what I’m going through, but seems uninterested in supporting me through this painful period. He only talks to me about upcoming tasks. 

I’ve told him what I’m dealing with, and he hasn’t given me much of a response aside from “I’m sorry, dude”. This is made a thousand times worse because we sit right next to each other. I’ve tried to spend as much time as possible working from home to avoid this insensitive office environment, but he chided me for “abusing work-from-home privileges”.

There’s a big hole in my heart and my boss’s neglect for my feelings is tearing me apart. Every single day in the office feels like a poisonous dagger in my heart. What’s the best way to confront this? Do I need to find a new job or is there some other way to ease all this anguish?

A: Before doing anything else, schedule an appointment with a therapist. Neither your boss nor your newspaper columnist is a viable substitute for a mental health care professional. Exploring your distress with a trained guide could help you recalibrate in the wake of this death. 

Few environments are less conducive to grieving than the average office. There are no guidelines for grieving at work. 
Today, employees are lucky if they receive three paid days off for the death of an immediate family member, after which they are expected to return to work and not make colleagues uncomfortable for the foreseeable future.

It can be a source of great distress – and stress – to not feel supported by your boss. It sounds like you’re expecting a lot from this man and resenting him for a reasonably professional reaction to the news that an employee’s former boss died several weeks ago. 
Of course, while emotional support peaks in the immediate aftermath of an event and dwindles over time, grief is not necessarily linear. Your high-key reaction to his low-key reaction may be making your boss apprehensive to get personal with you, creating a cycle of perpetual dissatisfaction for both of you.

The only person you should rely on to support you 100 percent is you. Your boss’s job is not to offer you unconditional comfort and encouragement; it is to make sure that you’re doing your job, which is to perform work tasks the way he expects. If you can’t, that’s on you to attend to, for instance, going to therapy or seeking out a grief support group. 
If you truly feel your workplace is cold to the degree that you can no longer handle it, look for a new job. If you don’t want to leave, you should discuss with a therapist how to communicate with your boss before he decides it would be best for you to go.

Q: I work for an NGO. I love my job, my supervisor and the rest of our team, but I hate the very “engaged” board of trustees. They frequently interfere with my work, upset our partners and disregard the staff.

When I was hired two years ago, I made it clear to the board that I was interested in eventually pursuing a graduate degree. It looks like I’ll be doing that next autumn.

 I’ve already given my supervisor a heads-up that I’m sending in applications and he has been supportive. I’m nervous that if I let the board members know before I’m accepted, they might end my contract anyway. 
If I wait too long to tell them, I’ll put my organisation into a tight spot for hiring my replacement. Either way, they could make my last months with this organisation miserable. What do I owe the board and my team?

A: This is the beauty of supervisors: They run interference with scary people in exchange for better titles and salaries than their subordinates. It’s easy to prioritise an under-resourced workplace’s interests over your own, especially if you admire its purpose. 
Work, however, will not reciprocate selflessness. It will become accustomed to it. You owe only your agreed upon terms of notice. 
It was considerate to inform your supervisor early. Since you two have a good relationship, keep him updated. He can worry about what, when and how to tell the board.

Q: I’m a 70-year-old man who is happy to be still employed. Almost all my co-workers are much younger than me. We have a great relationship. I enjoy most of their conversations and look forward to work each day.

Just one concern: two women tell us each month when they are on their period or when it is approaching. I don’t know what to say or do when they tell me this. I never worked with women who made their periods public.
What, if anything, should I say when my colleagues announce they’re on their period?

A: Be grateful you are not on your period and say nothing.

This article first appeared in The New York Times.
Ways to build a super successful team

Ways to build a super successful team

Building a successful team is about more than finding a group of people with the right mix of professional skills. Over the course of interviewing more than 500 leaders, they were all asked about the art of fostering a strong sense of teamwork.

Their insights can help you lay the ground work for a highly productive team that can communicate, co-operate and innovate in an atmosphere of mutual trust and respect.

You need a clear and measurable goal for what you want to accomplish.
If you ask enough top executives about their leadership style, you’re likely to hear a number of them say: “I hire the best people and get out of their way.” It is a good line that makes sense at a certain level. Hiring the right people is the most important part of building a strong team, of course, and delegating to give people more autonomy is a powerful motivator.

However, managing a team is not that simple. Leaders have to play a far more hands-on role to make sure the group works well together and remains focused on the right priorities.

There are six main drivers for creating a strong culture of teamwork, things that if done well have an outsize impact. The insights are applicable to any team or organisation, from five people to 500 000.

The trouble often starts when leaders start listing five, seven or 11 priorities. Determining these priorities and how they’re going to be measured is arguably the most important job of a team leader because most of the work that everybody does will flow from those goals. Those priorities have to be lined up as carefully as the trajectory of a rocket launch because even the slightest miscalculation can take a team off course over time.

Create a clear map

Leaders owe their teams an answer to the same question that young children often ask their parents before setting out on a long drive: “Where are we going and how are we going to get there?” In other words, what is the goal and how are we going to measure progress along the way? 

That may sound simple, but it is often one of the greatest challenges that teams, divisions and companies face. What does success look like? If you were to set up a scoreboard to track success over time, what would it measure? 

Have a shared scoreboard

Another benefit of having a simple plan is that it creates a shared goal that will offset the tendency of people to identify themselves as part of smaller groups. 
Think of a football team, for example. There are many “tribes” within a team – offence and defence, linemen and receivers, running backs and defensive backs. But because the goal of the team is clear, and there’s an external scoreboard to track progress, there is a greater sense of “us” on the team than the “us and them” dynamic that can often divide colleagues in companies.

In the absence of a shared scoreboard, people will make up their own ways to measure their success.
You may feel like a broken record. Once you have a simple plan, you have to keep reminding your team of the priorities, even if it can feel repetitive. 
People often have to hear something a few times before they truly remember it. Marc Cenedella, the chief executive of, a job search site, shared a good rule of thumb. 

“You say something seven times and they haven’t heard you,” he said. “Until they start making jokes about how often you repeat it, they haven’t internalised it.” 
Rules of the road
You’ll need a set of values, behaviours and cultural guardrails so that everybody knows how to work together.

Create your team’s culture

All families have values, even if they aren’t discussed explicitly. There are certain behaviours that are encouraged and discouraged, like rules of the road, for how everyone is going to try to get along and spend their time. 
Teams aren’t really that different. Pull together a group of people to work on any project, they will develop a culture of their own and it will be as unique as the people in the group. 
As a leader, you can take a laissez-faire approach and hope the team blends well over time or you can look for opportunities to set some shared guidelines for how people will work together. 

Stick to it

The most important thing is for the team or company to live by their stated values, rather than just going through the motions of the exercise, with people earning promotions although their behaviour runs directly counter to the stated rules of the road. 

Show a little respect. 

If team members don’t feel respected, they won’t be motivated to bring their best ideas and their best selves to work. 

The effects of a bad boss

Unfortunately, most of us have worked for at least one bad boss over the course of our careers. Bad managers often share many of the same bad tendencies. They don’t listen. They micro-manage. They’re not trusting. They see employees only as pawns to help them accomplish their goals. They point fingers rather than owning their mistakes. They steal credit for the team’s accomplishments. They dress people down in front of their colleagues. The list goes on.

That kind of treatment puts people in a defensive crouch and they start subconsciously checking part of their self-image at the door before they go into work. 
It means that if they have an out-of-the-box idea for the team, they may think twice before sharing it, out of fear it will be dismissed. In this kind of environment, innovation is hard, if not impossible.

Set the tone
It is incredibly important for leaders to set a tone and model behaviour that everyone will respect one another. 
Robin Domeniconi, the chief executive of Thread Tales, a fashion company, said she used the expression “MRI” as a cornerstone of culture.
“MRI means the ‘most respectful interpretation’ of what someone’s saying to you,” she said. “I don’t need everyone to be best friends, but I need to have a team with MRI. So you can say anything to anyone, as long as you say it the right way. Maybe you need to preface it with, ‘Can you help me understand why you don’t want to do this or why you wanted to do this?’”

It is about the team. A team is stronger when everybody delivers on their individual roles.

Treating people with respect is part of a two-way street to help foster teamwork. At the same time, leaders also need to hold everyone on their team accountable for their work and role on the team. In effect, it is a simple bargain that leaders can offer their employees: “I’ll treat you well, but we’re also going to be clear about the work you’re expected to contribute.”

At many companies, this culture of accountability is discussed explicitly. “I hold people accountable for everything that comes out of their mouth,” said Steve Stoute, the chief executive of Translation LLC, an advertising and marketing firm. “Don’t say you’re going to do something and not do it, because in a company of this size, everybody is directly responsible for the person next to them.”

Have conversations

Difficult discussions aren’t anyone’s idea of fun, but they are necessary for running a successful team. A big part of holding people accountable for their work is a willingness to have frank discussions about problems and misunderstandings that inevitably arise among colleagues. 
But the fact is that most managers go out of their way to avoid these “adult conversations”. It is understandable. They can be unpleasant and most people would rather deliver good news instead of bad. 
Also, you never quite know how somebody’s going to react to feedback. That is why problems are often swept under the carpet, and maybe dealt with months later in an annual performance review.

This article first appeared in The New York Times.

How to demystify blurred lines between your job and your existence

How to demystify blurred lines between your job and your existence

Workplace expert and columnist Megan Ggreenwell answers two questions from readers.

Q1: I work remotely from my home, but the isolation and loneliness are getting me down. 
Also, I’m fairly new to the city, have two young children and don’t have any close friends I can socialise with after hours. 
I’ve tried to find a job that will allow me to work on site, but I live in a city with a tourist economy and there are literally zero jobs where I can earn a comparable income and work in an office.

I try to spend time in coffee shops and other “co-working” spaces as much as possible, but my job requires me to spend so much time on the telephone that I often need to be in a quieter space to get things done. Do you have any suggestions to help combat the loneliness and isolation? I feel like I’ve tried all of the typical options and am looking for some outside-of-the-box advice to help brighten my workdays.

Q2: After four years of my working from home and the thrill of the perks such as no more commuting and no more business casual, I have worn off and I find myself unable to separate work from just living. 

This state of constant multitasking has me exhausted. I feel like everything is turning into one big blur of errands and emails. What are some strategies to help separate work from life when you work from home?

A: Were it not for the 1100km separating your homes and my lack of an expense account, I would force you to sit in a room together and solve this for each other. You share the same problem – and it is not the fact that you work from home.
Sarah, you are romanticising office life far more than any cheesy movie about a co-worker meets cute. 

Every other conversation has happened electronically. If you spend much of your workday on the phone, taking your calls near other human beings is not going to make you feel any less isolated, but an occasional videoconference meeting and a virtual place to drop in tweets that enrage you will help break up the day.

But if you’re looking for “outside-the-box” advice, you need a bigger fix than a chat room. Your job is not your life, and the question you need to ask yourself is not “How do I improve my job?”, but “How do I improve my life?”. 
Your loneliness is a real problem, and a common one. But the real problem underlying that real problem is that you see no opportunity for fulfilment outside work.

Adjusting to life in a new city is difficult, and parenting two small children is difficult, so it’s not tough to see how dealing with both of those things at once could make you despair that you’ll ever escape your home again. 
But you are in desperate need of friends and hobbies, and an occasional babysitter so you can connect with adults in a far deeper way than water-cooler chat allows.

Meet-up groups feel corny, but they’re an effective way to meet people who share your interests. Even a play date with a family from your child’s preschool class would give you a chance to hang out with other adults for a change. Teresa, the way to better separate your work life from your home life is simply to do more outside work. 

Here’s a foolproof strategy to stop you from answering emails: Use your hands for other things so that you physically can’t answer emails. 
Make a space where you do nothing but your job, even if it is a folding desk in a corner of your studio. Set business hours, avoid running errands during your workday or answering emails during your down time whenever possible and do other things.

Megan Greenwell is the editor in chief of Deadspin and a workplace columnist at The New york Times.

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