With Mobile Devices, Can Workers Ever Truly Enjoy Vacation Time?

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Photo courtesy of Pixabay

Some years ago, I spent one week at a health spa located outside Chicago for vacation. I had a glorious time meeting people from other parts of the U.S. who were there to relax and jumpstart their health routines. There were no phones in the rooms, so most guests brought their cell phones, though the spa advised us to keep them shut off as much as possible during our stay.

Among the guests was a heavyset, stressed out attorney in his 50s, who was there with his wife under doctor’s orders to reduce the stress in his life. Every morning at breakfast, he’d be at the table talking on his phone with someone from his office. It always seemed that he was constantly on the phone, or his phone would ring during meal times. As that attorney raced out of the dining hall one day to deal with yet another business crisis at the office, another guest, a manager of a retail store, shook his head in disbelief. “I can’t believe he doesn’t have someone who can take care of things while he’s away. I’ve got a manager at my store that I trained to take care of things so I don’t have to worry about anything,” he said.

With the long Fourth of July holiday weekend ahead, many workers are taking extended vacations. But how many of them will still check business emails and phone messages when they’re supposed to be enjoying a massage or swimming in the pool? How can any of us truly enjoy our vacation if we’re still conducting business via our smartphone?

Granted, some businesses need to be open for the holidays, and certain professionals, such as medical staff and news reporters, must work part of the time or need access to their smartphones in case of an emergency. But for most people who are enjoying some time off, limiting their use of mobile technology for work is a necessary part of the vacation experience.

According to research from Pew Research Center, 64 percent of American adults owned a smartphone as of October 2014, and I’m sure that percentage has increased since then. Of American smartphone owners, 7 percent are “smartphone dependent,” meaning their mobile device is their only connection to the Internet because they don’t have broadband at home. In addition, 90 percent of adults own a cell phone, 32 percent own an e-reader and 42 percent use a tablet computer. With so many electronic gadgets available, it’s getting harder and harder to detach from work, even while sitting on a beach in the Caribbean.

The U.S. is not alone. Other countries are beginning to realize how overworked their employees are and are relaxing demands on their time. A few weeks ago, for example, thanks to legislation passed by the French government, French workers are no longer required to check into the office or check business emails on the weekend. Their workers, they say, need to take a mental break from work to be more effective.

If you are about to embark on vacation this summer, here are several strategies to help you truly “get away” from the office so you can enjoy the beach, golf, picnics and other fun activities.

1. Set time limits for checking emails and phone messages. Give yourself 30 minutes in the morning, and maybe, MAYBE, 30 minutes at dinner time if necessary. Only respond if there’s an emergency. The less time you spend responding to business emails and calls, the more time you have to relax.

2. Send reminders to co-workers and business associates that you are about to go on vacation. Explain that you will have limited accessibility to email and cell phone, so it will be difficult to reach you except in case of an emergency. Outline what you mean by emergency too, because, as we all know, one person’s idea of a minor issue is a crisis to someone else.

3. Ask yourself, how important is this issue? Does it have to be resolved now, or can it wait until you get back to the office? See if you can barter for more time.

4. If possible, train someone in the office to deal with problems in your absence. If there is no one you can trust to handle business in your absence, you might need to shut down for a few days with a sign on the door and a message on your voicemail indicating you are on vacation.

5. If you really want to get away from it all, go somewhere with spotty Internet service. You won’t be able to check emails, phone messages or update social media profiles, but no one will be pestering you from the office either.

The last thing anyone wants to do on vacation is to think about work. Depending on your job, sometimes it can’t be helped. But by implementing a few personal strategies, you can relax and enjoy your vacation the way you are meant to.

 

What Brexit Can Teach Us about Living with Uncertainty

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I was as stunned as many people worldwide at the news that England voted to leave the European Union. The worldwide markets reacted in kind, plummeting more than 600 points on Friday. Immediately, many Britons regretted their vote to leave the EU, not realizing how their decision would affect their future and the turmoil that their country would fall into.

This was unprecedented. A vote like this had never happened before in history. Now people are asking, “What’s next? What do we do now?”

The aftermath of the Brexit vote shows what can happen when people face an uncertain future. This is an extreme example to be sure, but it reflects the different ways people respond when faced with sudden upheaval in their lives.

Let’s face it. We are all bound to experience uncertainty in our lives at one time or another. It could be anything that precipitates this crisis: being fired from a job, losing a trusted longtime client, getting a cancer diagnosis, being robbed of your savings. The news turns our world upside down, and we are left to wonder, “What’s next?”

Any of these situations can thrust your life into a dizzying tailspin, and you don’t know which end is up. I can only imagine that this is how many Britons are feeling now. Once the dust settles,  things don’t always look as bleak, though they will still be far from normal. There are ways to deal with these sudden, startling upheavals. Here are a few that have worked for me.

* Don’t panic. Take a few deep breaths and allow yourself time to let the news sink in. But don’t make any rash decisions or take any sudden action. Doing so can make your predicament worse. By staying calm, you’ll be able to think more clearly about what your next steps should be.

* Allow yourself to float. After losing a job some years ago, a trusted colleague suggested I give myself time to float — to just Be. It’s okay to drift. Give yourself permission to do nothing. Give yourself a time frame for drifting, though, say two weeks or one month. Use the time to immerse yourself in nature, write in your journal, and watch movies. These activities can help you get back in touch with who you are. After a period of floating, you’ll have a clearer head and you’ll have a better idea what to do next.

* Take life one day at a time. Learn to live in each moment rather than worrying about what might have been or fearing what could happen in the future. I know this sounds cliché, but this approach really does work. When I learned that a beloved boss of mine was leaving the company, her suggestion to me was “it’s business as usual,” meaning nothing would change right away. By staying focused on the tasks in front of me – and not worrying about what was about to happen – I was able to transition into the new management situation calmly and seamlessly.

* Plan ahead. As I mentioned above, don’t make any rash decisions or actions in the heat of the moment. Once you’ve had time to float and slow down the pace of life, your internal wisdom tends to kick in. You will know what to do next when your energy levels soar and you are filled with ideas and inspiration. When you decide to move forward, say for a new job search or starting a new business, plan ahead. Write down your vision of what you want your life to be like over the coming year. Plan which companies you want to approach for jobs, or how you will regain your strength after a surgery. Having a plan for the future helps you regain control of your life.

* Realize that life is full of surprises – some good, some not-so-good. Uncertainty is a part of life too, and once we realize this, the better we will become at living with uncertainty. The existence of uncertainty does not mean the end of the world, just that the world is changing. The rules that used to govern your choices no longer apply, which means you need to tap into that inner well of wisdom to make choices. Each time we successfully deal with those periods of uncertainty, the more comfortable we become with it and the easier it gets to deal with life’s emotional upheavals.

Finally, realize that these periods of uncertainty don’t last forever. They are temporary blips on the movie screen of life. Eventually, things do even out. Keep this in mind the next time life throws you into a tizzy.

Is It Time to Declutter Your Facebook News Feed?

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Photo courtesy of Pixabay

Have you seen your Facebook news feed lately? I mean, really take a good, hard look at it? What do you see?

Whenever I browse my news feed, I notice several trends:

* I have more Likes of businesses and personal interests than I do Friends.
* Updates are negative, offensive or just plain depressing. This is true for both business updates and those from personal contacts.
* I see fewer and fewer updates from family and friends who have either gotten too busy to post updates, lost interest in Facebook, or found another way to connect with their friends.
* There are more updates from businesses promoting their products than there are updates from my contacts.

The whole reason I joined Facebook in the first place was to stay in touch with friends, former and current co-workers and old classmates that I had not seen in a while. Little did I know my constant Liking of companies and news organizations would develop into an avalanche of information that I am now trying to dig myself out from.

Obviously, in my line of work as a writer, I do a lot of reading and research. So it’s important for me to follow multiple news organizations covering the latest trends in the industries I cover – real estate, health and fitness, writing, and career development, as well as current social and political news. Naturally, my news feed is filled with updates, almost to the point that updates from my friends and family are getting buried in the “noise.” If it wasn’t for Facebook’s practice to list posts from my family and friends when I first open the platform, I probably would not see their updates at all.

The only problem is I wind up scrolling through my news feed twice – first to browse the updates from my personal contacts, then a second time through (after selecting the Most Recent in the News Feed menu in the left side bar) to see stories in chronological order. Going through the feed twice is a bit of a pain, but the news junkie in me wants to be sure I don’t miss any potentially important news items.

Add to that the retailers I have Liked over the years, and I’m overloaded with advertising and new product offers. It has all gotten to be too much, so now I am taking steps to declutter my Facebook news feed. Here’s how.

Problem 1:  Too many angry, offensive posts from friends. They mean well, but let’s face it, you aren’t going to see eye to eye with everyone you know. And people are free to express their different viewpoints. But if someone posts mean, spiteful memes about others, shares articles from questionable sources or spouts angry rhetoric, you don’t have to put up with it.

Solution: Hide their posts. The next time you see their update, roll your mouse over the upper right corner of the text box. A little downward arrow will appear. Click on the arrow to display a menu of options. You have the choice to Unfollow them, which means you will no longer be connected to them,  or Hide Posts, which means you will still be connected but won’t see their updates in your news feed. Or you can go to their page, click on the downward arrow on the Following button, and select Hide Posts. It will accomplish the same thing.

Problem #2: Declutter the advertisers and news sources in your feed. If you are like me, you probably Liked quite a few businesses for their products and services. It may have been awhile since you Liked them, which means it might be a good idea to review your list of Likes to see if you still want to follow them.

Solution: Unfollow or hide posts of businesses. Much like you did for your list of friends, you can also hide posts from businesses you know longer support or haven’t posted updates in a while. An easy way to do this is to go to your profile page. Under the main menu by your profile photo, select the More option. On the menu that appears, select the Likes option. It will open a page with all the businesses you like. As you scroll down the list, you’ll notice that each business has two buttons: Liked and Followed with a check mark next to each. Selecting those two buttons will remove the check mark, and you will no longer be getting updates from them in your news feed.

This process isn’t all that time consuming, maybe 15 minutes depending on how long your list is. But by going through this process every few months, it will feel like you are decluttering your closet or cleaning out your book shelf. You’ll feel lighter and freer and open up space in your news feed for things that are most important to you, things like updates from your Facebook family and friends.

How — and When — to Communicate with Clients

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Photo courtesy of Pixabay

What is the appropriate medium to use to communicate with clients and colleagues? How quickly should you respond when someone contacts you about your product or service?

Recently I sent an email to the owner of a local yoga studio I belong to about launching a monthly newsletter for her clients. It took six days to get a response from her. Granted, she operates two other businesses in addition to the studio. She is a busy person. But you would think that someone who is a client or who offers a solution for her business warrants a quicker response than six days.

But my experience begs the question: as a business owner, executive or employee, how quickly should your respond to emails, text messages and phone calls? Much of that depends on the channel used, the type of conversation you’re having and what kind of relationship you have with the other person.

There is a time and place for everything, and some channels are more appropriate at certain times and for certain purposes than others. While the information presented below may seem like common sense, it helps to have a primer explaining which medium works best. Here’s how I break it down:

Text messages
I love text messaging for sending quick, brief messages. I am constantly amazed at the immediacy of this medium, the way I can send and receive messages instantaneously. It is ideal for confirming appointments, checking in with friends, confirming addresses, or just to say hello. Walgreens sends a text message to remind me when my prescription is ready for pickup, and my local hair salon uses it to confirm appointments.  However, I would not use it to carry a lengthy conversation, plan an event that requires a lot of details, negotiate a contract, or share bad news.

If texting is part of your business communications, follow your clients or customers lead. If they contact you by texting, they probably expect a response fairly immediately. The ideal response time is within a few hours, if not sooner. If you don’t respond within a short time period, those clients may take their business elsewhere.

Emails 
Studies show that many older office workers and business owners prefer communicating by email to conduct business. They use it to provide more detailed explanations, ask questions, and give more complete responses to clients’ questions. While it is still important to be brief, there’s less chance of misunderstanding with email because it is more thorough. It also provides a paper trail for conversations, so you can always go back to see what was communicated previously.

In my experience, emails have a longer response expectation than texting. I suggest responding to emails with one to two days. Even if you don’t have an answer to their question, it is better to contact them to thank them for their inquiry and you will get back to them with an estimated response time.

Phone calls
For lengthier conversations involving two people, phone calls are best, whether it’s to negotiate the terms of a contract, share important or negative news, work out details for an event and discuss test results with a doctor. The downside is that it can be more time-consuming, which may not be an option if you are a busy professional. But sometimes it is necessary to talk by phone to get to the heart of the conversation and resolve problems. Much like emails, I suggest responding to phone inquiries within a day or two.

One-on-one
In the tech-dominant world we live in, one-on-one personal meetings and conversations seem outdated. But they do occur and are necessary for business. Some conversations simply need to be done in person, such as job interviews, job performance reviews, event planning, or sharing important news about a company or business. In a one-on-one setting, the conversation may be more personal and personable. Like phone calls, they can be time-consuming, but they can be helpful to get more detailed plans in place.

Another important factor to keep in mind when choosing which medium to use for your conversation is the recipient of your message. How well do you know this person? Are they a casual business acquaintance, or a close colleague? How well you know the recipient may determine which channel you use. For example, you may be more likely to email someone you don’t know to introduce yourself, while phone calls or face time will likely be used for people you work with on a regular basis.

Your choice of communication medium might also depend on what type of medium your client prefers. Many millennials prefer text messages for communication. In that case, you probably will want to converse that way, but perhaps follow up with a phone call or email to make sure details don’t fall through the cracks.

With so many communication channels available, it can be a bit confusing to know which to use at different times. Knowing which medium to use and when to respond shows that you are conscientious and considerate in the way you communicate with clients and colleagues.

Want to Improve Your Business? Hire an Assistant

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Photo courtesy of Hubspot Marketing

While I was growing up, my father worked in a manufacturing plant that made metal parts for appliances. Every now and then, he would tell us about a cartoon that was posted outside a female manager’s office that always made him laugh.

The cartoon shows two men chatting outside someone’s office. Inside the office is a desk with several piles of papers stacked in varying heights. The office occupant is nowhere in sight. “I know she’s in there somewhere,” says one of the men. “I can hear her sobbing!”

For some reason, this cartoon has always stayed with me over the years, and like my father, it makes me smile. But being buried by stacks of paperwork is no laughing matter, especially if you run your own business or work for a busy executive. Rather than hide under the desk sobbing, it may be time to take better control of the situation. Hiring an assistant or outsourcing certain job tasks may be the solution you are looking for.

An assistant can help you sort through those piles of paperwork, freeing you up to do more important things, like making sales calls and meeting with clients. Assistants comes with varied backgrounds and levels of experience. Some can do basic tasks like data entry and filing, while others can help with social media and website updates. You can even hire several assistants who specialize in different tasks – one for accounting and another for social media.

The important point is you do have options. If you struggle to stay on top of your daily to-do lists, think about what you could do with your time if you could outsource some of your responsibilities. Sit down and make a list of every aspect of your job. Next to each one, mark whether this is something you have to do yourself or whether it can be outsourced to an assistant. There are other decisions to make too, such as how many assistants you need and whether they will be part time or full time.

One assistant or two? Once you’ve made your list of possible outsourced activities, decide if you need one assistant to handle all of them or if you might need two or three specialists. If you are lucky, you may find one experienced, multi-faceted administrative professional who can handle all the tasks on your wish list. The advantage there is that you are dealing only with one person. On the other hand, working with two outside helpers makes sense if you need more specialized assistance. Some services, like bookkeeping and website maintenance, may cost more than a general office worker.

Full time vs. part time vs. contract. As you look over your list of potential outsourceable tasks, estimate how much time per week or month would be required to complete them. For many activities, it might make more sense to hire on an as-needed contract basis rather than part-time or full-time. A chiropractor I know hires an accountant to come in for a few hours at the end of each month to balance the books. She knows she does not have the expertise to do them herself, so bringing in an expert at minimal cost helps her focus on the core of her business, which is treating patients. For other businesses, hiring a part-time worker for 15 to 20 hours per week is a more sensible solution.

In-house vs. virtual or telecommute. While many prefer to have outside assistant work on the premises, sometimes lack of space can be an issue. With the quality of technology available today, it’s much simpler for all parties to work remotely from another location. Or you can combine the options: have the assistant work on-site for the first few days until you become more comfortable with their involvement. Then allow them to work remotely. Whichever work arrangement you work out will take a load off your plate.

One-time project vs. monthly retainer. Decide if you need someone for a one-time project or an ongoing basis. Tasks like housekeeping or bookkeeping tend to operate on a regular basis, so it makes sense to hire them on a monthly retainer, which may be cheaper over the long run.

Payment plans. If money, or lack thereof, is an issue, you have options there too. You can barter services, hire a college intern, or hire on an as-needed basis for certain projects. For example, I know several yoga studios that offer free classes in exchange for light housekeeping duties and/or marketing support. College interns gain valuable work experience that they can build their resume.

Where to find workers. As with any professional service, ask for referrals from friends and colleagues. They will be your best source to find reputable independent workers. If they’ve done a satisfactory job for them, chances are they will do the same for you.

Do a general Google search for assistants in your location. Type in virtual assistants, temporary office workers or whatever specialist you are looking for followed by your location, then scan the list that pops up. Be sure to check out their online information, if they are listed in a directory, have social media presence, or have a website. Also be sure to check references. (Or you can reach out to me at The Regal Writer for office assistance, marketing support or copy writing. If I can’t do the job, I can help you find someone.)

Another option is to use a temp agency. They can do the interviewing and skills assessment of job applicants, leaving you free to work on your business. Just be aware that you will have to pay the agency a fee for their services. But paying that extra fee might be worthwhile if you don’t relish the thought of browsing resumes and conducting interviews.

When you have so many options available for finding extra help when you need it, there’s no need to hide under your desk hoping the paperwork will go away on its own.

Defining Your Career Mission — in Three Words

 

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Photo courtesy of Hubspot Marketing

Could you define your life’s work, your career motto, in three small words? Every time I asked this question of association members for their magazine, it made me think long and hard about my own response. What would I say? What is my life’s work, and could I describe it in three words? Talk about an editorial challenge!

While many people may scoff at this question, considering it too full of fluff for high-level executives, asking that question even of ourselves forces us to think about our careers with a sharper focus. What do I bring to the table? How do I make myself stand out? How do my services help others? How can I contribute to the greater good?

These are all serious questions. If we want to be successful in our life’s work, no matter what type of work we do, we must begin with in-depth self-analysis of our own place in this world. Many people trip over this idea of defining their personal motto or mission in three words. They claim they need more words to describe it.

Once we find those three words, however, that motto can drive our decisions in our personal and professional lives. When stuck in indecision, we need only to return to that little phrase to guide us to a resolution that is aligned with our motivations. When confronted by tragic circumstances – a job loss, a death in the family, money woes, or a personal or professional crisis, thinking about this motto can be a source of wisdom, courage and inspiration to help you survive the darkest moments of your life.

Inspired by my routine question to our high-level real estate members, I spent time thinking about my own three-word motto. “Act with integrity” came to mind. So simple, yet so potent and empowering. I think of these words every time I am faced with a crisis of consciousness. And it has helped me through some dark times too.

I can think of a few others: “Believe in yourself.”  “Be kind, compassionate.”  “Think before acting.” Use whatever words work for you. Keep it simple and straightforward. There are no wrong answers. There’s no need to publicize it or put it on your business card, unless you really want to. This little three-word mission statement is for your heart and soul alone.

If you’re looking to find inspiration in your career or life’s work, think about three words that defines who you are. These three little words can inspire you, motivate you, and drive every decision you make. To get started, here are a few tips for creating your three-word motto.

1. Start with an action verb. Words like think, believe, act, help, move, etc. gets the action going, and it serves as a reminder to you to be an active participant in life, rather than an observer. Make it empowering, inspirational and proactive.

2. Be positive. What do each of the mottos mentioned above have in common? Each one paints a positive, sunny picture that is sure to brighten your spirit. The more positive you can make it, the more energy it will give you.

3. Be results-oriented. Say something that reminds you to commit to doing something good and brings positive results.

4. Focus on your power as an instrument of change. What influence do you have in the world? Do you want to write, teach, heal, build homes, sing, or make people laugh?

These ideas are just a starting point. Try out several sample mottos to see if they resonate with you. Do they match where you are in the world at this point in time? Mix and match different words until you find the right combination that best describes your life’s mission.

When you’ve finalized your motto, write it down and keep it somewhere where you can readily refer to it – the bathroom mirror, your wallet, or your computer screen saver. Meditate on its meaning or use it as a mantra so that the message seeps deeply into your soul. With time, that motto simply becomes a part of who you are. It will be so deeply ingrained that you won’t need to see it on the bathroom mirror anymore.

What Baseball Taught Me about Developing a Writing Practice

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As a writer, I am often inspired by the game of baseball – the strategizing by the coaches, the gravity-defying catches in the outfield, the clutch hitting in the late innings, the dramatic grand slam home run that makes fans go wild. While we may see the glamorous side of the game, it’s the hard work and training behind the scenes that can make the difference between a championship team and one that misses the playoffs. It all takes practice, and the more they practice at their sport, the better they become.

Baseball has a lot to teach us about developing a writing routine. When a team tries to score runs, for example, it follows a general principle: Get them on, get them over, then find a way to get them in. In other words, get a runner on base, move him over to scoring position, and then bring him home. Any individual who struggles to maintain a writing practice can apply these basic principles. Here’s how.

Step 1. Get them on.
In baseball, you can’t score runs unless a player reaches base. It doesn’t matter how he gets there – a walk, base hit or get hit by a pitch. You have to start somewhere, and without runners on base, the chances of scoring are slim.

The same holds true in writing. You’ll never complete a manuscript unless you start putting words down on the page. It doesn’t matter how you get the words down. They can be bullet points, writing prompts or freewriting. Use whatever technique works to get your imagination flowing. Remember, it doesn’t have to be perfect; you can always edit it later. The point is to “get on base” with whatever technique works for you.

Step 2. Get them over.
In baseball, once a player gets on base, his teammates must try to move him over into scoring position, or if they’re lucky, all the way home. That means putting the ball into play, either with a base hit, walk, a deep fly ball or a bunt. Any of these moves will push the runner over at least one more base and put him into scoring position.

In writing, once you have your initial story ideas jotted down, you need to fine tune your manuscript by moving it into the editing phase. Just as it may take several players and pitches to move the base runner over into scoring position, your manuscript may have to go through several editing passes to make it publishable.

Step 3. Get them in.
In this phase, a runner at second or third base needs to be driven home to score. Having a player at third base may increase the chance of scoring, but it’s up to the players behind him to get him in, which whatever means possible – a base hit, deep fly ball, or better yet, a home run.

Your final editing pass can help you bring your story to completion – and bring it home to victory. This is where you check for spelling, tighten the writing, and double check all the facts. Perhaps one or two trustworthy friends can review your manuscript and provide feedback to improve your story, much like the third-base coach who directs runners on base.

Success comes when the runner crosses home plate, or when you finish your writing project. The more runs you score – the more stories you finish writing – the better your chances of winning the game.

Just like in baseball, hard work, patience and perseverance pays dividends, and you can savor your triumph in the same way a team enjoys its victories. But those celebrations are usually short lived. As any athlete can tell you, there’s more work to do to maintain their competitive edge and keep a winning streak alive. There’s another game the following day, and players need to prepare for it.

As you write more and more, and complete more stories, savor and appreciate your success for the moment. Remember, there’s still room to grow, there’s still work to do. You need to continue working toward your goals, so keep your eye on the prize.

When a Former Employer Comes Calling, Should You Answer?

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Have you ever worked for a former boss or employer? And if you did, was your partnership as successful the second time around? Or did you hit a dead end?

Twice in my career I’ve been approached by former employers to work for them. In one case, a former supervisor invited me to be her administrative assistant 18 months after joining a new company. All signs pointed to yes. I loved working for her the first time around, I was stuck in a dead end job, and the new job paid about $5,000 more than what I was making. So I said yes, though I left 18 months later to pursue another opportunity.

More recently, I was invited by a former employer to manage their bi-monthly magazine. While I was flattered that they thought of me for this role, I didn’t feel I was the right fit for the job. With a new CEO on board, the company was going through a transition and the culture of the organization had changed. I didn’t want to lock myself into a stressful, political situation, and I wanted to be free to pursue my own creative writing. So I told them no.

Looking back, I do not regret either decision. Both situations have worked out fine. In the first scenario, in the short time I was there, I gained valuable experience in a new work environment. In the second scenario, I realized I did not have a lot to gain personally or professionally from rejoining a former employer. The organization  eventually hired a new manager who brings a sorely-needed fresh perspective to their publication.

If a former boss comes calling, would you jump at the opportunity? Whether you accept or decline the offer depends on what your needs are. There are reasons to accept, and reasons to say “No, thank you.”

Reasons to accept an opportunity with a former employer: 

It helps build your resume. Additional or different responsibilities stretches your professional muscles. Perhaps you have an opportunity to manage a department, oversee a project, or supervise staff that you did not have previously. Even if you hold on to this situation for one year, that experience looks good on your resume.

It offers a higher salary. Financial stability is always a plus, but don’t accept a job only because of the salary. You need to weigh other factors too, such as compatibility with co-workers and the supervisor, and opportunities for career growth. Taking a job, or staying in one, just for the money and benefits can hurt your morale. In my experience, these types of work situations tend not to work out well for the long term. And you may find yourself hitting the pavement again in six months after realizing that the job wasn’t’ everything it was cracked up to be.

You like the person you’d be working for. All things considered, when you like your boss and you have a strong bond with them, it makes it possible to like the job, even if it isn’t exactly the type of job you wanted. Having a good relationship with your boss can help get you through difficult work projects. Just be aware that your relationship with a former boss in a different corporate culture can put pressure on your relationship, and working for this person my not be so enjoyable the second time around.

Reasons to decline an opportunity with a previous employer: 

The company does not have a good reputation. Do your homework about the company. Just because a former boss invites you to work for them doesn’t mean the new company is right for you. The culture of the organization may not be compatible with your personality. Use social media to find current and former employees. Did the company treat its employees well? Is the company experiencing layoffs or going through a difficult managerial transition? While some change in the corporate culture is necessary to weed out outdated systems and processes, you don’t want to work in hostile, unstable work environment.

The opportunity does not fit in with your long-term career goals. Or you want to do something completely different. Our career goals are constantly changing. What might have been an exciting opportunity five years ago may no longer thrill you because you’ve moved on to different career options. If you’ve had writing jobs most of your adult life and you find you’d rather teach children, then no lucrative job offer is going to make you happy.

The job is too much like what you’ve done before. The office space and co-workers may change, but the work does not. The new opportunity might pay well and offer great benefits and growth opportunities, but if you find yourself doing the same type of work that you did before, and there’s not room for career growth, it’s probably time for a career reassessment. There’s nothing more disheartening than being stuck in a job with little opportunity for advancement and smacks of the same-old, same old.

It can be flattering when a former boss comes calling, but keep in mind that any new opportunity that arises should be a win-win situation. You should benefit from this opportunity as much as your boss does.

Listen patiently to their proposal and ask a lot of questions. Don’t fall for any carrot-on-the-end-of-the-stick proposals that your former boss might present to you. Those proposals may never materialize or they may benefit your boss more than you.

Know yourself and always keep a clear vision of your career goals. As long as you keep those goals in sight, you will never be steered in the wrong career direction. If you feel the opportunity does not meet your professional goals, then it might be time to say, “Thanks, but no thanks.”

How Online Commenting Can Be Hazardous to Your Career

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Photo courtesy of Pixabay

Can commenting on blogs and Facebook posts be detrimental to your professional well-being? What you say and how you say it in the online world says a lot about who you are, both personally and professionally.

If you’re like me, you read a lot of blogs and news articles online. It’s the key to keeping ourselves up-to-date on the latest events in the world. But what do you do if the author presents some provocative ideas that you disagree with? What if you jump into a heated debate between several posters online only to be gang tackled by other participants who disagree with your opinion? How do you disengage from this discussion gracefully and with your reputation in tact?

Read any news feed or blog and you’ll likely come across an article that has drawn hundreds of comments, many of them rash judgments and unsubstantiated opinions. I try not to read the comments section of most articles, but when I do, I am often struck by the angry, disrespectful tone of commenters as they spit out their opinions. And when it begins to get personal, with individuals hurling insults at one another like they are hand grenades, I quickly exit the site.

It’s often tempting to comment on issues that you feel strongly about. That’s understandable, and sometimes even necessary. We all have to stand up for what we believe in. Knowing when to speak up and when to keep your opinion to yourself is a delicate dance we all must do, especially in business settings when our professional reputation may be at risk.

While in most situations, your contribution to the online conversation may be harmless, there may be times when it is better to stay out of the fray altogether. Discussions about religion, politics and social issues tend to bring out the most heated responses, so I tend to avoid them online as much as possible.

When faced with the temptation to get involved in these online debates, you can do one of three things:

1. Jump into the debate right away. This might make you feel better in the short term, but a heated response can come back to bite you later in the form of broken friendships and lost business opportunities.

2. Wait before responding. It can be a few hours or one day. Give yourself time to cool off, especially if you feel agitated or angry. Return to the online conversation later only if you still feel a need to express your opinion. Sometimes time and distance can help you see things differently, and you may simply decide to walk away from the conversation.

However, if you still feel a need to comment, plan the message carefully. Focus on the facts, and site statistics if needed. That will add credibility to your commentary. Be sure to remove emotion or anger from your response. When you provide a well-thought out response and communicate articulately, your viewpoint may be taken more seriously, even if others don’t agree with you. Besides you never know who may be reading those comments anonymously

3. When in doubt, walk away from the argument. Most online debates are not worth risking your professional integrity. And just because you have an opinion doesn’t mean you have to express it. Sometimes the least said will work more in your favor.

Since you don’t know who may be reading your comments – family members, friends, employers, clients, colleagues, etc. – the best advice is to err on the side of caution and say nothing. Choose your battles wisely.

What you say, or don’t say, and how you say it often reflects a lot about who you are. Think about your personal brand. How do you want others to remember you – as an abrasive personality who runs roughshod over others who disagree with you, or as an intelligent individual who is open to hearing different points of view? Remember clients, colleagues and employers may be tuning in to what you post in the online world. Make sure what you say accurately reflects who you are.

Case Studies: Overcoming Event Planning Mishaps

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Photo courtesy of Hub Spot Marketing

If you’ve ever had to host an event or workshop for your company, you know that things don’t always go as planned. Events and workshops are prime settings for the unexpected – a speaker cancels at the last minute, the electricity goes out just as the opening presentation is about to start, or you inadvertently publish incorrect information on all your promotional materials.

The mark of a professional organization is not how well they put on a workshop or event, but how they respond when things don’t go as planned.

Recently, I attended two professional development workshops where I experienced firsthand how businesses deal with misinformation or miscommunications when promoting their events. One organization handled their mishap professionally, while the other seemed not to notice that anything was wrong.

Here’s a closer look at both scenarios, what they did wrong, what they did right, and what we can all learn from these experiences.

Scenario 1
My alma mater Illinois State University recently hosted a professional development workshop for women on a weekday afternoon. The email announcement showed that the workshop time was noon to 1 p.m., but the registration page on the website showed that the full program was noon to 4 p.m. with the luncheon taking place from noon to 1 p.m.

Naturally, the mistake caused a lot of confusion and upset individuals who could not leave their jobs to attend a full four-hour session.

How the university responded:
The organizers were genuinely concerned about the mistake and quickly rectified the situation. They worked with the speakers to restructure the program so it fit into a two-hour window, from noon to 2 p.m. The school then sent an email to everyone apologizing for the mistake and offered a full refund to everyone who planned to attend, whether or not they were forced to cancel or not. That meant they ran the program, including lunch, for free. Since this was the first time the university had hosted a professional development workshop of this kind, they used it as a learning experience for themselves to plan future events.

What they did wrong:
By all outward appearances, it seems one person posted the details on the website (which was correct) and someone else created the email blast. They failed to proofread and cross check the details to make sure the information was consistent.

What they got right:
The university immediately acknowledged their mistake, accepted responsibility and apologized. They went further by offering a full refund ($25) for every person who registered for the event, whether or not they cancelled or attended. They essentially ran the program for free – including box lunch.

Takeaway: By acknowledging mistakes and quickly rectifying the situation, you demonstrate your professionalism more clearly and directly. Clients and customers are more likely to continue working with you because of the way you handled the mishap.

Scenario 2:
Raby Institute, a medical clinic, hosted a free evening workshop about women, wealth and wellness. According to the promotional material, two speakers would discuss money management and workplace success for women. The promotional copy focused primarily on the money management aspect, but when I arrived, only one of the presenters spoke about networking etiquette and how to make stronger impressions in the workplace, not at all what was advertised in their marketing materials. The woman who was to speak about money management never spoke at all, but acted as a greeter and introduced herself to everyone as they arrived.

In addition, at the end of the program, they encouraged everyone to complete a “feedback form.” Fine, except the feedback form had nothing to do with the program. Instead, it looked more like a new client intake form for a local financial institution where the financial expert worked.

How the business responded:
Neither the office staff nor the speakers seemed to notice or care that the program did not match the advertising. Not even the attendees seemed to notice or care. When I mentioned to a young woman sitting next to me that the program was not what was promoted, I was baffled by her response. “Yeah, that’s true, but it was still a really good program.”

Not sure if there was a miscommunication between the clinic staff and the speakers about the topic of the program, or if the program was changed without the office staff knowing about it. In any case, I walked away feeling cheated because I expected one type of program and got something else instead.

What they did wrong:
Clearly organizers were either misinformed about the program or the speakers changed the format without notifying the office staff. It might have been an honest mistake, or it might have been an intentional move to mislead attendees. To make matters worse, the so called “feedback form” had nothing to do with the program but instead was an intake form for a financial services company. It was dishonest and misleading.

What they got right:
The third element of the evening’s program centered on wellness, which made sense considering the workshop took place in a doctor’s office. On hand for the program was a nutritionist and chef who brought in samples of healthy appetizers and refreshments, which we all enjoyed. She was the hit of the night. And the price for the workshop was right too – free.

Takeaway: Make sure your advertising matches what the program is about. Make sure someone is confirming the details about the workshop before promoting it, even if it means having the presenters review your marketing copy.

When planning and promoting workshops, it’s easy to let the details get away from you. Be clear in all your communications, get the details straight and have someone proof all the information before sending it out. If mistakes occur, accept responsibility and offer a genuine, considerate response. Offering a refund or a discount on a future events can also help restore customers’ faith in your business. Remember that everything you say and do reflects directly on your reputation and professional integrity.