I’M HAVING A BAD DAY.
Wait, is that even a question? Well, let me share a magical solution anyway: Clean the office fridge. It’s a concrete task that will reward you with visible results while your colleagues will feel ever-so-slightly guilty and indebted toward you for up to 10 business days. Use this knowledge wisely.
I THINK I’M BEING HARASSED — NOW WHAT?
Unfortunately, rushing to the legal system isn’t the cure-all some people assume. “You can’t just prove you’ve been treated badly,” says my friend Michael Anderson, a partner with Boston law firm Murphy Anderson. “You have to prove you would not have been treated badly in that way if you were a different sex or race or so on.”
So go have a confidential talk with your human resources department. “The HR person should be skilled enough to know if the examples being given are actually harassment,” says Burns. “Often people are afraid to go to HR because it seems like escalating the issue, but, in fact, it can be a way of containing a situation before it becomes explosive.” No HR department? Talk to an objective friend for a gut check before deciding what to do. These situations have a way of creating an emotional fog that requires another person’s help to cut through.
CAN I DRINK AT THE COMPANY PARTY?
The secret to enjoying a company party is to give up any expectations attached to the word “party,” like spontaneity and pleasure. Instead, pretend you’re playing the role of Serious Businessperson on the Rise (while juggling bacon-wrapped scallops). You can have one drink — one! Eat and drink only that which will not disagree with you intestinally and which can be consumed gracefully.
SHOULD I BE A REFERENCE FOR A FRIEND WHO ISN’T QUALIFIED?
Don’t do it. It won’t be good for you, your friend, or anyone else, up to and possibly including the company’s stockholders. If a friend’s qualifications are empirically wrong, be upfront: “They want someone with a master’s for the job, and they won’t budge.” If it’s a more subjective thing, talk about “fit” and “expectations” until your buddy moves on.
HOW SHOULD I APOLOGIZE FOR A MISTAKE?
For a plan of action, I spoke to Shelly O’Neill, chief operating officer at O’Neill and Associates, a Boston public relations firm. Here’s her four-step guide:
1) It’s important to accept responsibility for the mistake and immediately address the situation with your boss. Don’t wait days or hope she won’t find out — trust is a key factor at work. Apologies should be face to face.
2) Explain what happened, that you’ve learned from the situation, and that you’ve taken steps to ensure that this type of mistake will not happen again.
3) Don’t make up excuses. O’Neill always finds it refreshing when someone says “I’m sorry I’m late” instead of “The dog ran off” or “Someone had my keys.”
4) Keep it simple, honest, and sincere. Then move on.
THIS ALL SOUNDS SO SERIOUS. CAN’T I JOKE AROUND AT WORK, TOO?
Humor can advance your career or stop it dead in its tracks, trust a former stand-up comic on that one. No insulting any group or individual, of course. The best jokes break tension at the right moment or use a clever analogy or turn of phrase to encapsulate a relevant idea. But limit yourself. Your humor should not type you as the Boy Who Cried “That’s What SHE Said.”
HOW DO I KEEP WORKING WITH SOMEONE I DON’T PARTICULARLY LIKE?
Bullies and saboteurs are one thing, but what about plain old Annoying Bob? Coping with the people who aren’t harmful, merely dislikable, requires keeping your emotional investment in check. Learn to witness Bob from a place of serene, ironic detachment. Observe Bob. Does Bob always shake his umbrella three times after coming in from the rain? What happens if you say “Good morning!” during the second shake?
HOW ABOUT SOMEONE I DO PARTICULARLY LIKE?
Romance in the workplace is common, says Devin Ryder, a longtime Boston-area career coach. Yet Ryder has also seen it ruin good careers — especially when folks try to hide it and inevitably get caught. “There can be damage to both people’s reputations that can last for quite a while,” she says. “You can build a whole career and then become ‘the guy who had an affair.’ ”
So does that mean love and work can never mix? “It’s usually not an issue if people don’t have a supervisory relationship or are in different functions — as long as there is absolutely no way that one person could have influence over the other’s career progress or salary.”
If you do work closely together and one person in the relationship is in a supervisory position over the other, however, the hard truth is that one of you might have to find a new job. “If a relationship becomes serious and then breaks up, it’s likely someone will have to move on,” Ryder says. “And if it works out and becomes permanent, it’s likely that someone will have to move on — usually the person with the least seniority.”Continued...