Employers Value Good Writing, But Good Writers Are Hard to Find

Returnships.jpeg
Image courtesy of Pixabay

Many years ago when I worked for a property manager, I frequently drafted the manager’s correspondence to customers and residents. One day as she prepared to head out of town for business meetings, I happily volunteered to write a speech and a magazine article that she was obligated to write for a local association she belonged to. When she returned, she had two rough drafts on her desk to review. Needless to say, she was impressed. Not only had I saved her valuable time, but I showed that I brought added value to her management team. In fact, she was so impressed by my writing, she gave me more opportunities for writing beyond drafting her usual correspondence to the residents.

That’s just one example of how valuable writing skills are in the workplace. Even with the added emphasis of visual content, websites, podcasts and social media in today’s business environment, good writing still counts – a lot. If you can come to the table with strong writing and communication skills – skills frequently requested by employers – you can increase your value to bosses exponentially.

Despite the demands for strong writing skills, however, employers reportedly are having a difficult time finding qualified candidates with those skills.

In a recent study by Burning Glass Technologies, which provides job analytics to employers, employers reported have difficulty finding candidates with basic soft skills, such as writing, communications, customer service and organizational skills. According to their 2015 study of employer job postings, one in every three skills requested by employers is a soft skill. Even in highly technical jobs, like engineering and information technology, 25 percent of skills requested in job ads are baseline skills.

In another survey by the Association of American Colleges and Universities, employers were asked to prioritize the skills they sought most from college graduates. Some 82 percent of employers cited written communication, which ranked third behind speaking skills (85 percent) and teamwork (83 percent). Also high on the list of priorities are critical thinking and analytical reasoning (81 percent) and innovation and creativity (65 percent).

Why is good writing important for business? Writing is the fundamental basis for communicating with employees, customers, vendors, colleagues, and fans of your product. It’s a way of expressing thoughts and transporting messages, writes Jeff Bradford, President and CEO of the Bradford Group in Forbes magazine. “Good writing is good thinking that follows a logical path and is easy for someone to follow. Writing out what you want to communicate forces you to organize your thoughts.”

This is good news for professional writers everywhere. There’s still a place for us in the business environment despite recent technologies and growing emphasis on visual communications that seem to undermine good writing. Before you develop your visual presentation, website or podcast, you need good writing first.

Whether you describe yourself as a good writer or aspire to be one, here’s what good writers bring to the business environment, according to Business World magazine.

1. Good writers can make a positive first impression. When readers receive messages that are well-organized, well-thought out and grammatically correct, they form a positive opinion of the writer, and by extension, the organization the writer represents. In contrast, a message that is poorly written with misspelled words and grammatical errors gives the impression that the writer is disorganized, unintelligent and unprofessional.

2. Good writers demonstrate courtesy. They keep the writer’s information needs in mind as they draft their message. By paying attention to the tone of the message, writers show respect for readers.

3. Good writers have more credibility. Employers and clients view good writers as being more reliable and trustworthy. A well-organized and researched message also shows that the writer is knowledgeable and takes the time to plan their message rather than rushing to send it out to readers.

4. Good writers are more influential. There can be a persuasive quality to their writing. They know how to present messages in a way that influences people to take action, whether it’s to donate to a cause, join a membership organization, elect a political candidate, or purchase a product.

5. Good writers are sought-out for their writing expertise. Once word gets around what a word hound they are, co-workers and colleagues may ask for their assistance in editing their pieces or helping them write it. Good writers can gain more responsibility and recognition for their achievements.

6. Good writers understand that an online presence starts with good writing. With so much information on the Internet, good writing is needed to tell clients and customers about business goals, the company’s brand and products. Presentation matters, and it begins with good writing.

7. Good writers make good team players. People with strong writing skills are able to share ideas, give clearer explanations, and coordinate projects easily. Work partners value the clarity of their ideas and explanations. It makes working with them more enjoyable.

8. Good writers gain professional confidence. With each successful writing project, whether it is the launch of a website or a business proposal that wins a new client, good writers gain confidence in their abilities and are inspired to pursue new writing opportunities.

Not every employee has good writing skills. That’s why they are so highly valued in the workplace. If your writing skills are lacking, there are several things you can do to improve them. Take a few classes at a community college or grab a book and read about writing techniques. Most important, practice, practice, practice.

If you are a business owner or manager who doesn’t have good writing skills and doesn’t have time to do some self-study, look for someone who can help you. Hire a freelance writer, an administrative assistant, or editor who can help you formulate your messages and make you look your best in writing.

No matter what field you work in, the ability to write simply, clearly and concisely will help you become a valued member of the team.

Decoding Nonverbal Cues in Interviews and Presentations

woman in teal dress shirt sits near wall
Photo by Christina Morillo on Pexels.com

Have you ever watched a comedian’s performance on stage when the jokes are making his audience laugh? Conversely, have you ever witnessed a comedian falter badly, knowing the jokes have fallen flat? The comedian knows, just by reading the audience’s reaction during the performance, whether his jokes are hitting the mark or not.

The ability to read an audience while performing is a useful skill in business too. Every time you interview for a job or make a presentation to a potential client, you have the chance to read the audience the way the comedian assesses theirs. But in the midst of performing, we can often forget to check in with the audience to notice how they are reacting to our message because we are more focused on our own behavioral responses.

How do you know if you have impressed your audience with your knowledge and credentials? How can you determine if the client is buying into your proposal? How can you determine if your responses are hitting the mark or if they are falling flat? There are numerous articles about how nonverbal communication can support our language during an interview or presentation. (You can find links to a few of them at the end of this article.) But few suggest how to “read” your audience’s nonverbal cues.

Usually business owners and employers are fairly practiced in maintaining a calm, non-committed demeanor. But if you pay close attention, they may send a few nonverbal signals showing the level of interest in you or your services. At the end of a meeting, the client or employer usually gives only a vague response, such as “We’ll get back to you next week.” Yeah, right, you think.

Any job seeker can tell you that the most frustrating aspect of interviewing is waiting for the call back. It’s difficult knowing what your fate is when it lies in someone else’s hands. By reading and understanding the employer’s or client’s nonverbal cues during the presentation, you can gain control of the process and keep the ball in your court.

It’s a delicate balance, staying aware of your own nonverbal communication while recognizing your audience’s. That can be difficult to achieve when you’re in the “heat of battle.” When you are focused more on your own nonverbal communications – remembering to smile, extending a firm handshake, making eye contact with each person in the room — it’s easy to miss the nonverbal cues your audience is sending you.

Generally speaking, nonverbal communication can reveal more about their intentions than anything they might say. Further what they say may not reflect what they’re really thinking. It’s up to you to cut through the clutter to read the message they’re really sending.

Here are four things to look at during your “performance”:

* Look at their body posture. Are they slouched or sitting up straight? If they lean forward, they’re paying close attention to what you’re saying. If they’re leaning back, they are cautious. If they’re leaning back in their chair with their arms folded in front of them, they’re not buying what you’re selling.

* Look at their head. Similar to their body posture, if their head leans in, they are paying close attention to you. If their head is tilted back, they may be more thoughtful and cautious. Watch their facial expressions too. If their eyebrows shoot up, they may be surprised. If their eyebrows are furrowed, they may be confused. Ask if they need you to clarify a point.

* Look at their eyes. It is often said that the eyes are the window to the soul. With that in mind, notice what kind of eye contact the client or employer is giving you. Are they looking at you or at other things, like their mobile phone, the note pad they’re writing on, or something else? The eyes can show pleasure or pain too. Do they look bored, like they can’t wait for the meeting to be over with, or are they enjoying something you said. Their eyes may be smiling even though their lips may not be.

* Look at their hands. What are their hands doing? Are they sitting calmly in their lap? Are they twisting a pen or playing with their wedding ring, which might be a sign they are nervous and eager to do something else. If they are taking notes, do they continue to scribble as you speak, or do they suddenly stop writing when you say something that gets their attention?  That might be a sign that you said something that did not sit right with them.

By staying aware of your surroundings and noticing the subtle signals from the people you are meeting with, you maintain control of the meeting process and you can leave with a clear idea where you stand with the client. You won’t have to wait for them to tell you “we’ll let you know next week,” because you’ll already have their answer.

Related Reading:

10 Nonverbal Cues That Convey Confidence at Work
How to Interpret Nonverbal Communications in the Office
Using Effective Nonverbal Communications in Job Interviews

5 Ways to Make Remote Working Work for You

Remote working.jpeg
Congratulations! You’ve just been offered a job that allows you to work remotely either full time or a couple of days a week. Or perhaps your boss has finally given his approval for you to have a more flexible schedule so you have time to care for an ailing parent or pick your kids up from school. You’ve just become one of the growing number of remote workers in the U.S.

According to the 2017 State of Telecommuting Report, produced jointly by Flexjobs and Global Workplace Analytics, 3.9 million U.S. employees, or 2.9 percent of the total U.S. workforce, work from home at least half of the time, up from 1.8 million in 2005. That’s a whopping 115 percent increase since 2005. The average remote workers is 46 years old, holds a bachelor’s degree and earns a higher median salary than an in-office worker.

What makes this shift possible is rapidly changing technology, which allows workers to connect with their in-office mates, and the changing family dynamic. Many of today’s households are headed by a single parent or with two working spouses, making it difficult to meet responsibilities at home. People are also increasingly recognizing the value of work-life balance and don’t want to waste their time on lengthy commutes.

So if you are one of the lucky ones who can work from home, here are a few things to keep in mind to make the most of your remote work opportunity.

1. Develop a new routine. Once you are working from home, you may find that your normal work routine won’t necessarily transfer over to your home life. That’s because you may have home responsibilities that may disrupt your day, such as taking a parent or child to the doctor. Your day will need to be planned around these activities, which you may not have had to do before. Further, you may spend more time planning your day than actually completing work tasks, making you less productive. Depending on your personal situation, you will have to use some ingenuity to figure out a new routine to work productively.

2. Honor your commitments. Take your remote work opportunity seriously. Be available for team meetings. Start your day at the same time, even if it means starting at 6:30 am. Meet your deadlines. Meet with your boss regularly, by phone or by Skype. Make sure you understand what is expected of you. Your company is trusting you with this arrangement, so it’s up to you to show them you are able to continue to do your job at the same or higher level of effectiveness than before.

3. Keep the lines of communication open. Even though you may work from home, you are still part of a work team. Not all remote workers feel this way. A November 2017 Harvard University study found that many remote workers reported feeling shunned and left out by their in-office workmates. Office politics can play a big role in this. It’s up to you, your manager and co-workers to communicate on a consistent and timely manner so you feel you are part of the team. Set up weekly meetings and conference calls. Be available to answer co-workers’ questions. Put project details in writing. Be present; be visible. Don’t be a ghost.

4. Make space at home. This may seem like a no-brainer, but make sure you have a designated space in your home to work with few interruptions. Make sure your technology and wi-fi is up to date, that you have a comfortable chair to sit in. If possible, keep the door closed so you can work quietly and let others in the household understand that you can’t be disturbed unless there’s an emergency.

5. Monitor your work hours. Believe it or not, working remotely may open up the possibility of working longer hours than you anticipated. A recent Quartz study finds that remote workers who have more direct control over their hours tend to work longer hours, thus increasing their chances of burnout. Keep track of how much time you spend working. If you feel overworked, bring the issue up with your manager before burnout hits.

Not everyone is on board with remote working. A March 2018 survey by Crain’s Chicago Business finds that many Chicago area businesses are slow to adapt to remote working programs. Nearly four out of 10 respondents (39 percent) said their company does not offer flexible schedules at all or if they do offer them, they are difficult to use. One out of four (25 percent) respondents said their company does not allow employees to work from home, while 20 percent reported that the option is offered but their company makes it difficult to use.

According to a 2017 survey by Cyberlink, one in six workers think remote workers are less valued by their company and get promoted less often. That kind of mentality can  deter workers from seeking remote opportunities within their own company.

Despite some of the drawbacks and slow adoption by many businesses, remote working and flexible work arrangements are here to stay. As more workers realize the importance of creating better work-life balance in their lives, they will continue to demand more flexible work options.

 

 

How to Fire an Employee: Text, Email or Meeting?

pexels-photo-530024.jpeg

It’s no fun being fired from a job, especially one you’ve enjoyed for many years. Neither is it fun to be the one who has to fire someone. Just ask anyone who has ever been in that position.

There is no good way to tell someone that they no longer have a job or end a working relationship. With the prevalence of texting, email and social media, it can be tempting use these tools to do the job for you. It might be easy and convenient, but is it wise? And is it professional?

Texting and emails have become commonplace in the office, especially for routine tasks like scheduling meetings, confirming appointments and sharing ideas. At the same time, in-person meetings and phone calls are losing favor, especially among millennial workers.

When it comes to being fired, millennials prefer getting the notice by email or text. A recent survey by software company Cyberlink finds that one in eight workers between the ages of 21 and 31 said they prefer getting fired by text or instant message. (I suppose the other seven out of eight surveyed still prefer in-person meetings, phone calls or some other method.)

Despite the increased popularity of texting and emails for firing people, in-person meetings are still the best way to go, according to millennial expert Dan Schwabel in his book “Back to Human: How Great Leaders Create Connection in the Age of Isolation.”  Today’s workforce yearns for personal communication in the office, he says in a recent story in the New York Post.

While it might be easier to shoot out a quick email or text message to fire someone, it can come across as cold, impersonal, and in some cases, downright cowardly. Are you too busy to meet with the individual in person, or simply want to avoid confrontation? In-office meetings to fire someone, regardless if that person performed poorly on the job or is being downsized, is more appropriate for the situation and shows more respect for the individual. It is more crucial if the individual has worked with your organization for some years, since you have already established a relationship with them.

Whether you choose to dismiss an employee by email, text or in person, a lot depends on the type of relationship you have with that person, how long they’ve worked at your organization, your age and your communications style. Still you want to treat them respectfully and professionally, no matter how lackluster their performance has been on the job.

Put yourself in their shoes. If you were the one being fired, how would you want to receive the message? Do you really want to get that notification in a text message, or would you prefer an in-person meeting so you can ask questions and iron out all details?

There is no kinder, gentler way to tell someone they’ve lost their job. Sometimes you just have to bite the bullet. But meeting with someone in person, rather than hiding behind a text message or email, I believe, is more personal and sincere.

Texting, emails and social media have their place in the workplace. But there’s a time and a place for them. When it comes to firing someone, meeting in person is still the best option.

How Introverts Can Become Better Leaders

butterfly-1662471_640

Who says you have to be an extrovert to be a good leader?  Some of the finest political leaders and corporate CEOs are renowned introverts, including Abraham Lincoln, Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg, to name a few.

Just because you consider yourself an introvert doesn’t mean you can’t aspire to be a good leader. And in fact, you don’t need to be the CEO of your company, or even a manager, to be a good leader. A good leader makes solid decisions using the talents and ideas of those around them. You can find good leaders at any level of business, even among administrative employees. The only difference is the job title, and really, what’s in a job title anyway these days?

But back to my point. You can find people with good leadership ability at any level in the organization, and they aren’t necessarily the most outgoing, extroverted personalities on the team. Being introverted is not the same as being shy or timid, although many of them are. Introvertism, as I call it, is a way of interacting with the world. For example, introverts may socialize as often as an extrovert, but introverts tend to meet fewer people and prefer to have more meaningful conversations with them, while extroverts tend to spread their net far and wide. After an intense meeting or attending a networking event, introverts are more likely to “chill out” in a quiet corner to regroup and gather their thoughts, while extroverts tend to thrive in social settings. Introverts are more likely to patiently listen to multiple opinions and seek input from different parties before making a decision, while extroverts may find it easier to block out outside opinions and simply move forward on their decisions. There’s nothing wrong with being an introvert; it’s just a different way of interacting with the world around them.

Unfortunately, it is the more outgoing, extroverted personalities that seem to grab the promotions and higher-level visible positions, leaving behind equally qualified introverts behind. But introverts can still achieve success in the business world; it just takes a bit of courage and common sense. So whether you want to lead an organization or simply develop better leadership skills in your current role, here are six tips for becoming a better leader.

1. Know your strengths — and embrace them. Do you know what your best skills are? Why do people enjoy working with you? What would they say your strengths are? Once you understand what your best assets are, play them up. For example, if one of your strengths is being a good listener – and many introverts are good listeners – use that skill to build empathy in business relationships.  If you are naturally curious about new people and new ideas, embrace that curiosity by asking lots of questions and showing sincere interest in the people you work with and the ideas you hear. That curiosity can lead to the development of innovative products or services that can be prosperous for your business.

2. Volunteer on team projects. Show off your skills or gain new ones by volunteering to be part of a team project. When you join a team or committee, you show you are willing to take on additional responsibilities. Higher ups will appreciate your initiative and willingness to share the workload. If you succeed in the task you volunteered for, colleagues may keep you in mind when they need someone for a specific task.

3. Honor your commitments. Nothing says you take responsibility seriously than keeping your word. If you say you’ll get the report done by Monday morning, do so. If you promise to make follow up phone calls to your best customers, do that. Every task you can do on time and without complaint leaves a positive impression and adds to your credibility. Honoring your commitments and following through on tasks is another way to show your leadership.

4. Lead by example. You’ve heard the old saying, “Actions speak louder than words.” That is true in the business world as well as in your personal life. Sometimes it’s best to let your actions speak for themselves. Good leaders don’t have to boast about their activities; they let their actions speak for themselves. Sometimes the best leaders are the quiet ones; they don’t necessarily have to act as a cheerleader. They demonstrate their leadership by simply going about their business quietly and unobtrusively and with little fanfare or drama.

5. Find someone to be your champion. Quiet introverted types aren’t comfortable blowing their own horn. Find someone to do it for you. Sometimes you need someone who knows you well, has worked with you previously, and knows what you are capable of; they are the best people to speak on your behalf. Good leaders surround themselves with people who are willing to champion their cause. Look around your office or among your peers. Is there one, two or three people you can identify who can be your champion? When you need that extra support or buddy to help you in a pinch, for a project or promote your cause, call on them to do some of your dirty work. That’s called having a strong support system.

6. Network for meaningful connections. Introverts tend to prefer small groups or one-on-one encounters with people, so attending conferences can be a bit intimidating. Look around the meeting room. Identify one or two people who may be there by themselves and approach them and introduce yourself. They may be just as intimidated by the prospect of networking as you are! Making small talk isn’t always easy for introverts but it is a necessary part of building relationships. You never know if that initial conversation can potentially open doors to more meaningful and profitable business partnerships.

The path to a more visible, leadership role can sometimes be a bit rocky for introverted types. But with a little courage and patience, you can build better leadership skills and more self-confidence to be the leader you believe you can be.

Workplace Trends for 2017

office-1209640_640

As the world of work races toward the end of the first month, let’s take a look at some of the workplace trends that we may encounter in 2017, if they haven’t shown up already. Here’s a round up of these trends, as observed by three different sources: TINY Pulse, Greendoor and futurist Faith Popcorn. As the year continues to unfold, it will be interesting to see how many of these forecasts come to fruition.

From employee engagement consultants, TINY Pulse:

* Co-worker connectivity will remain a key focus for many companies. In a study with Microsoft, TINY pulse found that employees with the most and strongest connections among their peers are the most productive. With the goal of maximizing productivity, expect more companies to shift to collaborative work environments.

* Employees will receive real-time feedback rather than annual reviews. Companies will realize the advantages of routine one-on-one feedback from managers. Research finds that employees who receive regular feedback feel they are being heard, feel more valued and are happier.

* The role of middle manager will expand and be more visible. Middle managers will take the lead in employee engagement, according to TINY Pulse.

* More companies will implement leadership development programs. As baby boomers retire, younger peers will need to step in to take their place. More companies will provide leadership programs to ensure a smooth transition.

* A better job market threatens businesses. More employees will be tempted to look for new jobs as the job market improves, and that can put a strain on employers to fill vacancies and keep the employees they do have.

From career website, Glassdoor:

* Say good-bye to excessive benefits packages. Over-the-top perks like on-site spa treatments and ping pong tables are more style than substance, say business experts. Employees prefer bonuses, paid leave and health care coverage.

* More companies will attempt to close the gender pay gap, and be more transparent about what they pay their employees.

* The just-in-time gig economy will still be around, but won’t likely plateau beyond the current task-oriented phase.

From futurist Faith Popcorn:

* More robots will replace humans, especially among unskilled blue-collar workers. Popcorn cites an Oxford University study that reports 47 percent of U.S. jobs are at risk at being replaced by robots.

* More than one-third of the U.S. workforce work on a freelance basis, and that percentage is likely to increase in 2017. People are also taking on side gigs to offset income.

* The businesses will become more tolerant of emotional expression in the office. With more women in the workforce, they bring more emotional intelligence – and more emotion – to work with them. It will be more socially acceptable to cry, laugh and get angry.

* Some companies will add “stress rooms,” a private place where employees can get away from workplace tension temporarily and chill out.

* The boundary between work and play will begin to erode. Technology enables global constant communication, so while that helps improve real-time communication with clients and employees across the globe, it means employees have little free time to play and relax. Say good-bye to work-life balance.

What do you think are trends we might see in 2017? Share your thoughts below.

Communication Helps Co-Workers Cope with Sudden Death

sunflower-1421011_1280

Over the weekend, the baseball world lost a rising star. Jose Fernandez, a young, talented pitcher for the Miami Marlins, died in a boating accident early Sunday morning.

This news story reminds us how important it is to communicate the sudden, unexpected loss of a colleague quickly and with sensitivity and tact.

I’ve had the misfortune of experiencing two co-worker losses over my career. In one case, a co-worker died from a bacterial infection after delivering her baby two months prematurely. In the second scenario, a co-worker had committed suicide in his apartment. I had to convince my manager to share the news of this worker’s death personally in a staff meeting rather than by email, which she wanted me to send out. Email might seem easier and more convenient, but it can come across as cold and impersonal when a more delicate touch is needed.

It helped that both of these co-workers worked in small offices of less than 50 people so it was easier to communicate their deaths than it would have been if they worked in larger companies.

Delivering news of a co-worker’s death is one of the most difficult communications issues a manager will ever face. Emotions are raw. The news may still be fresh and you haven’t had time yet to absorb it.  There is a need to remain calm so you can help employees deal with their grief even as you struggle with your own.

The Society of Human Resource Management (SHRM) and the American Psychological Association offers suggestions for communicating the news to employees and helping them cope with their loss.

1. Deliver the news quickly and personally. A group meeting is best for small offices or departments, while a conference call will be better for remote workers. In larger companies, news may best be shared in department meetings. Avoid using email as it can be cold and impersonal. If the deceased employee was well-known or worked in a small work environment, their co-workers will likely want to hear the news firsthand.

2. Set up a telephone tree to share the news with managers. Begin with the HR manager, who may be responsible for contacting a handful of other managers, who will be responsible for calling people in their department. The news will filter down through layers of management that way.

3. Allow staff members to grieve and share their feelings with one another. This could be in a separate meeting among staff, or with a crisis counselor. If an employee is having an especially hard time with grief, allow them time off to attend the funeral or to cope with their loss.

4. Take advantage of employee assistance programs if your company offers it. Experienced counselors can offer support and advice and help make plans for memorials and other gestures of condolences to family members.

5. Honor the employee’s memory. After sufficient time has passed, perhaps several weeks or months, employees, especially those who were closest to the deceased, may decide to remember their colleague. Planning a fundraiser, creating a memory book of photos and mementos, hosting a community outreach day in their memory, or honoring the employee at a staff luncheon are just some ideas that can help workers put a positive light on a terrible tragedy.

Learning of a co-worker’s sudden death can be an unsettling experience for everyone in the office. Communicating the news with sensitivity and tact is key to helping workers cope with the loss.