Be a Better Neighbor; Be a Better Coworker

14 Jan


A few days ago my neighbor came over with homemade goodies to share. I was struggling through a fitness challenge. It was a thoughtful gesture, by a genuinely thoughtful person. Seriously, her family is that “borrow a cup of sugar anytime” group that makes you feel a little guilty. I was touched, and slightly embarrassed that she caught me looking like a drowned rat, but she didn’t judge. It started a conversation about her own personal struggle to get back into fitness.  She’s the kind of neighbor who makes me want to be a better neighbor. Seriously.

I can’t remember the last time I brought her something just because. Did she really know how much her thoughtfulness meant to a jaded homeowner like me?

All this got me to thinking: neighbors are a lot like coworkers.  What type of person makes you want to be a better coworker? I’ve got a few thoughts:

1.  Be conscientiousness. This is one of those buzz words, but if you want to be a good coworker, remember that the things that others as you to do may be top priority for them. The quality and care you take with a request shows them how much you value what matters to them. If they feel you valued, they are more likely to value what matters to you.  Reciprocity at it’s finest!

2. Hold the judgement, please. We are all struggling through something. Sometimes it’s a workout, sometimes it’s getting a spreadsheet to behave. I’ve found my team mates are more forgiving  when they don’t perceive negative scrutiny and judgement as they work through their own situations.  Everyone’s challenge is different. At least they’re working on it.

3. Take courteous initiative. Think of others. We all know coworkers who have large looming deadlines, or just a lot on their plate in a given week. Do something nice–drop off a snack, offer to run a report across the hall. Be the kind of person  you would want helping you.

None of this is rocket science, but if we all remember these things, the office might be a little bit kinder.

Be the hero you wish you’d had.




21st Century Managers: Guiding Stars

10 Jan


sigh readging

True Story of an Unguided Star  
There was once a bright graduate from Syracuse University who found a full time job with a Name Company in the midwest. Imagine her disappointment to discover that her job required none of her education, none of her intern experience.  She was slotted to routine tasks.  At her annual review her supervisor was pleased with her performance because she “required no supervision and performed so well independently.”   Six months later, the SU grad took her degree and experience to New York where she landed a job in a Small Company that was impressed with the Name Company.  At the annual review, her supervisor explained that he was disappointed with her.  He had assumed that she had acquired more skills working for the Name Company.  Panicked, she asked what she should do, for she had no idea that she was not operating at the expected…

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Take a beat: You need your vacation.

8 Jan


The reality of life for most of us is that we aren’t going to escape without having to put in some work. While the day in day out of work will vary, the impact on our mental and physical health will be the same if we don’t take steps to recharge. In an article by INC. Taking a Vacation is Part of Your Job it highlights that athletes take a break to rest and care for themselves after strenuous bouts of exertion. The comparison to marathon runners is, I think, very accurate.

Life is a marathon. Long roads with varied scenery. Sometimes you’ll be in the lead, and other times you’ll be pulling up the end of the line. You’re usually in good company, but sometimes you’re on a stretch alone.

However you get through the 26.2 (or 365,) it’s important to rest up afterwards; Runners don’t feel guilt about taking a break, so why do employees?  Work is a series of marathons. Few runners would dream of successfully tackling multiple marathons in a row (unless your this guy,) but too often employees think it’s okay to go years without a real vacation. That’s not healthy. I would challenge that anyone who hates time off to refresh, examine their head space, or to travel, needs to see a therapist.  Everyone needs time to rest their mental muscles.

I always tell my team to take care of themselves. Take vacation time early and often; it’s healthier than taking one large break at the end of the summer.

The work will always be here. With or without YOU. And YOU have a finite amount of time to spend doing anything. I’d recommend using that time wisely. A company shouldn’t fall apart without you for a few days, and if it does, there is a larger operations issue at needs to be addressed–and unless you’re the COO, that’s not really your problem.

So. Doctor’s Orders: take your vacation. Your not doing yourself, or your company any favors by working yourself to death. And if you do die from overworking,  I promise you, someone new will be found to replace you in short order. It’s not meant to be callous. It’s just business.

The beat goes on.

With Virtual Interviews and Gamification on the Rise, Will the In-Person Interview Become Obsolete?

8 Jan

Generation HR

I had nearly forgotten about the three-martini lunch, that oh so popular ritual among the businessmen in the New York neighborhood where I grew up. Then Mad Men came along with its high-definition window on what our  fathers had been up to all day at their Manhattan offices in the sky.


Is the in-person interview destined to become as much of a nostalgic oddity as the three-martini lunch? The first whiff of an applicant’s cologne, the strength and sincerity of a handshake, and those intangible signals emitted by an applicant’s body language may soon become obsolete.

What is taking their place? Two new millennia approaches to interviewing and screening applicants are becoming more popular by the day: virtual interviews and gamification.  

 Some virtual interviews (aka online interviews) may be held live using a platform like Skype.  In other cases, the recruiter will e-mail the candidate a…

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Someone’s Got a Case of the Mondays: How to Motivate Employees With Games (Seriously!)

8 Jan

Proactive employee development. Imagine if playing a stress relief game for a few minutes each afternoon, not only recharged the employees mind, but provided information to a supervisor about the underlying interests and under developed skills of their staff.

Thinking the Ink

Playing games and the enjoyment of game play is part of the human experience. Throughout civilizations, humans have played games – for entertainment and storytelling. But games have never been just about fun, they have also been used throughout history for education, training, and other practical purposes. And this is still the case today.

When the British archaeologist Howard Carter discovered Tutankhamun’s tomb in Egypt in 1922, he found among the many buried treasures several boards used to play the game of Senet. Apparently board games were very popular in ancient Egypt: scientists have found Senet boards that date back over 5,000 years.

Fast-forward 2,000 years (give or take a few), and we find ourselves in the fastest-paced society ever. Consumers are permanently connected to the Internet (and each other) through mobile devices and record numbers of marketing messages and distractions. So it’s no surprise that one of the most talked about engagement tactics of the past year has been gamification. This means using game dynamics like competition, collection of rewards such as points, badges or levels, and status on leaderboards to give consumers – and customers – a fun experience…

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What doesn’t kill you, might make you crazy. 5 tips to avoid burnout

3 Apr


We’ve all had those “I can’t believe I did…” that moments. Some seasons, we have them more frequently than others. It’s been one of those semesters for me. So much so, that I’m beginning to wonder if I’m sabotaging myself on purpose.  Call this burnout. The line between “important” and  “not so important” have blurred into one big IMPORTANT blob. My subconscious mind has taken a stand on what is really important for my life over the next 70 years, and there seems to be little I can actually do about it. Other than apologize profusely for the things I just can’t seem to get together.  So.

 What are the top 5 things every student and professional should do to prevent this burnout, this unintended sabotage and the subsequent embarrassment of apology?  I love lists:

  1. Socialize regularly. Business lunches and dinners do not count. School business events clearly do not count. Grab your jeans a t-shirt and a Frisbee. Get some time in outdoors now that the weather is warmer. Conversation that has no purpose other than verbal detox does wonders.
  2. Exercise. Funny how this one is always on one list or another. Nothing beats a fit of anxiety like getting the heart rate up. If that means a 3 mile jog around the park go for it, if it means a walk up and down a flight of stairs, that works too. Physical activity will give your mind and body something else to focus on instead of panic.
  3. Write! I love this one.  Taking time daily or weekly to discuss (with ourselves) the things that made us glad, or sad can be a great way to relieve some stress. It’s also fun to read back over what you’ve written in years past—you know to see the improvement.
  4. Learn when to stop. How many of us intend to leave the office by 5 and somehow 7 rolls around and there is still “just one more thing…?” Quit it. Leave it. Set a hard cut off time for the end of your day and leave. There is nothing (usually nothing) so life or death important that it can’t wait until you roll in bright and early the next morning. (We know you’re the first one in the parking lot. Don’t deny it.)
  5. Get a vacation. Sometimes a solid getaway is really the only thing left to refresh your mind and save your sanity. Get out of the house, get away from your phone and those incessant emails. Grab your passport and a Groupon Getaways deal– It’s time for a great escape. You’ll be so much better when you get back, you’ll run circles around  your previous overachieving self.

 Calgon, take us away. 

Poor machines… Want to interview better? Let a formula do the work!

3 Apr

And this is a fabulous find for my Wednesday. I love hard data. HR should be accountable to every decision, just like Operations or Finance. Implementation is still in development.

Wednesday Notes to Remember

3 Apr

Showing up is half the battle.

Sometimes it’s everything. In academics and employment, professionals and educators share this general theme. Woody Allen famously quantified the effort of our success.

There may have been times over the past few weeks when doubt has been a friendly companion. In those moments it’s important to remember that showing up physically and mentally still counts. We may not have the action down, but there has been an attempt, and it’s noticed.

We’re all new to things. There are times we don’t have the answers to the questions, sometimes we don’t even understand the questions. Our entire life can be a “black swan” when we’re new.  It’s both horrifying and exciting. “Did I respond correctly?  Have I been helpful?”  But with each question and unknown, we make a strides forward and learn exactly what may be expected in the future. It’s okay to not know everything. What matters most is the attempt to know, and the attempt to serve.

Suit up and show up, the rest works itself out with time and attention.


Everything I know about Service, I learned from Publix.

23 Mar


My very first long term, life changing, character shaping job was with Publix Supermarkets, a grocery chain relegated to the southern states.

My first encounter with their customer service was during my application process. I was 16 years old, applying at my first ever in store kiosk. I was lost.

I had no clue what I was doing, and would have much rather been reading at home, behind the safety of a closed door, than applying for jobs– but the future was upon me.

I had to start working, so said my mother.

I wanted to appear professional and put together in my first job attempt, so I had on my pressed dress pants, most professional blouse and a manilla folder with notes on my personal data (i.e. my social; I hadn’t memorized that thing yet!) in tow.  I strode purposefully to the kiosk, tucked my folder under the keyboard and tried to look prepared, astute and approachable.

I probably looked ill.

My mother always told me, “you never know who’s watching, so be prepared, be courteous and be professional.” I thought I played it pretty cool during the process, up until I received an on screen notice saying something like,“This social security number has already been assigned to an applicant. Please check the number or log in to continue.”

What?! Panic time.

SOSwoman21My mother was in the car and this was pre-cell phones. I stared at my personal data, double checked my numbers and panicked. How the hell was I supposed to look put together if I had to walk outside and get my mom to help me? My plan was falling apart, my 16 year old nerves were not ready for this kind of pressure!

Lucky for me the Store Manger saw my look of horror and came to help. We never did figure out how to enter my information into the system, but he hired me via phone conversation later that afternoon. I like to think calm, courteous and professional landed me the job. (Thanks, mom!)

I worked with Publix for 7 years. IMG_0001_NEW

They taught me most everything I know about service, timeliness, professionalism, courtesy and bending over backwards to save a sale.  Back then, they also taught things about the value of teamwork, organizational commitment, and the importance of positive relationships with management. publix_buttons-thumb

Now that I’ve progressed beyond retail and transitioned into  (semi)Corporate America, I still use the values and skills from my years behind the Customer Service  counter every day.

What I am not used to are the looks of surprise every time I complete a task or find requested information for one of my employees. The looks of happiness and words of thanks are appreciated– they really are, but the extent to which I’ve been getting thanks has me curious…

Are employees not used to service with a smile from their Human Resources departments?

I view every day through the lens of my customer service experiences.  It’s what I know, and it’s what makes sense.customer-service

  • If you are nice to people, they want to help you.
  • If you provide them with the tools and resources they need to do their job well, they are (usually) grateful and have your back.
  • If management and leadership takes the time to have an active interest in your life, you work harder for them, and are more receptive to what they have to say regarding policy.

These are things I learned as a teenager. It doesn’t take rocket science to figure these things out, but I’ve been surprised by the number of people who don’t seem to view Customer Service in HR as an important characteristic. Is it any wonder people hate HR?

catbert vacation policy

  • Some HR professionals find customer service to be a hindrance to the true function of HR—to support the business.  Aren’t the employees part of the business? Aren’t they on the front lines getting the sales that fund our paychecks?
  • Many view Service as a responsibility of only entry level HR assistants and coordinators.  Don’t employees have interactions and questions that can only be handled by Directors or Managers?

 Customer Service is everyone’s responsibility.

Service is vital in any agency, and while it shouldn’t take scientific studies to make this clear, there’s a plethora of science to back it up.images

The conversations about HR and the role we play abound, but the data all supports the same thing: Customer Service in the HR department matters. Here are a few findings:

  • According to a study from a Dutch University, there is a distinct positive relationship between HR practices, employee satisfaction, and client retention.  (Yousaf; 2011)

HR practices that provide for the employee’s basic needs in a professional, timely and courteous manner have a distinct end benefit for the bottom line.

Sometimes employees just need to know how many vacation days they have left. It should be no big deal to get them that answer with a smile. Universities have even set up Employee Service Departments for things like this. If you’re a larger organization, keeping a separate HR department for things like that may make sense.

If your swamped with daily legal issues and really don’t have time to speak with your employees, create an entity specifically for the needs of your employees. If you have a smaller staff of 125, you should make the time to help them, no questions asked.  These payroll, benefits, parking permit questions are little things in the grand scheme, but they mean a bunch to our employees.

How you handle their inquiries affects their perception of the business and their performance.

  • If employees feel like they have a connection with managers and leader within the organization, they are more likely to stick around and get the job done.



According to a study from The International Journal for Human Resources Management, there is a positive correlation between the relationships of organizational leaders and their employees, and their overall satisfaction with HR practices. There is also a correlation between strength of those leader/employee relationships and organizational commitment. (Yousaf; 2011)

Another study (Frenkel, Bednall; 2011) found that if HR can provide a feeling of value and worth to an employee (i.e. continue to their work satisfaction, and help them get their jobs done effectively) the employee is more likely to view the policies and procedures from the top line as fair and favorable.

So you can check with the scientists, or your local grocery clerks. They’ll tell you the same thing:


The level of courteous service provided to employees affects how likely they are to feel satisfied with their employer. We all know satisfied employees usually produce better quality work.





Yousaf A. Having two bosses: considering the relationships between LMX, satisfaction with HR practices, and organizational commitment.International Journal Of Human Resource Management [serial online]. September 15, 2011;22(15):3109. Available from: Advanced Placement Source, Ipswich, MA. Accessed March 23, 2013.

Frenkel S, Restubog S, Bednall T. How employee perceptions of HR policy and practice influence discretionary work effort and co-worker assistance: evidence from two organizations. International Journal Of Human Resource Management [serial online]. November 15, 2012;23(20):4193-4210. Available from: Sociological Collection, Ipswich, MA. Accessed March 23, 2013.

7 Things to Accomplish over Spring Break

20 Mar

Spring BreakAs the days get warmer (and thank goodness, longer) we try to get out and about as much as possible. For students this may mean becoming more involved in extracurricular activities and clubs or reviving that old commitment to fitness. Spring Break is here for Atlanta University students, and as I enjoy the week long break I’ve been thinking of how best to utilize my time. A break from studies is a definite necessity sometimes, but that doesn’t mean the planning and informal education should take a siesta too.




Here a list of 7 things students should try to accomplish this break:

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1. Read an old favorite. We read a lot for our classes as is, but taking time for personal reading is important for mental development. It’s also important for the creative thought process which you use every day. Reading is a relaxing pastime that helps develop our brains. It not only makes our brains stronger, reading often lets us  feel like we are experiencing new things vicariously. “According to Cristel Russell, a consumer behavior researcher at American University, reading a favorite book over and over again can be a way by which past experiences are relived like new ones or with new perspectives.”  Reading also provides great conversation fodder. Mention the content or theme of a book you’ve been reading, and see where a conversation goes. Books are cheap. Often for the price of shipping you can get a new (or old!) favorite. And if you’ve got an e-reader, it’s even easier!




2. Reconnect with a hobby. Running, painting, crochet: Whatever the task, if it’s been on hold for more than 4 months, time to start up again. Hobbies are important not only for stress relief but also because they create culture. A hobby can help shape who you are, and they help others find ways to connect with you. Mention at a dinner party you’ve been researching your ancestry for the past few years and you might be surprised who joins the conversation. For those out there with nothing to do over the break, hobbies are a great way to combat under stimulation. Hobbies provide eustress which is vital to a healthy, fulfilled life.


3. See a live show. On any given evening in Atlanta, you can find an artist to see. Atlanta has 62+ music venues within the city limits—and that’s not counting  the  Taco Mac bands on Thursday night. Live shows are a great way to experience albums as they were intended to be heard. With the advent of “digitally remastered” albums, the mp3s we love so much are usually robbing us of the original sound quality. Through a process called dynamic range compression,  records are made to sound “loud” even when they shouldn’t. I love my mp3s, and have no feeling one way or the other about vinyl superiority–that conversation is for other people, but I will say that taking in a show with fellow revelers provides a sense of community and belonging. There’s a definite stress relief in climbing rickety stairs or sitting in the balcony to watch an artist take the stage. Live events may also lead to chance encounters with future friends. Recently I attended a weekend music festival in Chicago. Later, when one of the many weekends’ artists was in Atlanta, I started conversation with a fellow reveler during a show. We realized during the course of conversation that we’d both been at the Chicago festival.  We lost track of each other after the show—she lived in Florida, so I never thought I’d run into her again. Months later while attending a friends’ birthday dinner, I was seated at the end of a long table with people I didn’t know. Halfway into the meal I realize I’m talking with my long lost Chicago weekend/Atlanta show friend. She’s now relocated from Florida to Georgia! We startled many a table when realization dawned on us–seriously, what are the odds?!  You never know when a show could change your life, or your opportunities.

12_bigstock_Travel_America_3043215 - Copy4.Travel somewhere new. This doesn’t have to be a full blown vacation: We’re college students; we don’t always have disposable funds at hand. But if you’ve got a tank of gas, you could head out for a day trip. For those of us in Atlanta, Tellus Science museum in Cartersville might be a great day trip. Cartersville has some interesting historical sites and Lake Allatoona is nearby. Traveling outside of our normal radius is educational in and of itself—driving a new route, seeing new scenery; but it can also lead to new perspectives and chance encounters.  Staying home is great sometimes, but it can cause stagnation. Getting out gives you the possibility of changed perceptions and experiences.

5. Take a lesson. You might be thinking, “Why would I want to spend an extra minute learning something else when I’m on break?” and I’d say to you, “Because living is learning.” Life is speeding up. It’s hard just to keep up, let alone get an edge. As students, we need every edge we can get. Harvey Mackay author of Swim with the Sharks( Without Being Eaten Alive), says it best, “The more talents you have, the more valuable you are.”  You should always be planning ahead. Think about watching an online tutorial during break. They offer different courses from learning the guitar to foreign languages—and many of these courses are free! You could also make use of a daily deal—they always offer something interesting…rock climbing was recently featured for cheap. You should never be afraid to try something new. We are all united in that we’re all beginners to something. The difference is that some of us will take the time to move beyond the beginner stage—maybe from a desire to achieve, or maybe a genuine curiosity for what’s out there. Either reason is fine, learning the lesson is the main thing.

6. Send a letter. This day and age we send email, we text, we Skype tweet, Facetime and Plurk. These are great (convenient) ways to connect, but there is something charming in the ancient art of snail mail. It’s clear the USPS is on a definite decline and changes are forthcoming, but for now, we still have mailboxes that receive and send mail, both important and trivial. When was the last time you received a “thinking of you” card in the mail? Did it make your day? I recently received a Postagram from a friend many states away. We hadn’t talked in many months, so when I saw her note in the mail I was smiling from ear to ear. I’ve made a much stronger effort to stay connected with her since then. That is the power of the mail. This week, think of someone you haven’t spent much time with recently. Maybe they’ve moved, or maybe they’re in a different chapter of life right now, and connecting is difficult. Send a thinking of you card. You can use Postagram from your phone, and they’ll take care of the leg work. It will make someone’s day. I guarantee it.
7. Go dancing. This one is my favorite, and it may be innate. Science suggests we are born to dance.  Babies as young as 5 months have the ability to “dance” with the beat. Dancing is fun. Dancers have increased serotonin levels and are generally perceived as better communicators. Science suggests it’s healthy, and at one time was vital to our success as a species. While that information is good to know for trivia night, it might also be helpful to know dancing helps improve your memory.  A 2003 study published in the New England Journal of Medicine found that ballroom dancing at least twice a week made people less likely to develop dementia. We’re a little ways off from  the dementia stage, but it never hurts to plan ahead! Whatever the science, few things are as much fun as dancing with friends!

dance - Copy