Strategies to Manage Your Career: From Networking to Balancing Work and Life

From the New York Times Business Section:

There is no shortage of books claiming to reveal the secret truth behind successful careers. Then there are all the podcasts, TED talks, late-night motivational speakers and your relatives’ sage advice. The bottom line of most of these advice-givers? A successful career requires managing the person in the mirror – overcoming your tendencies and habits that can undermine efforts to find happiness at work. Read on to see what professors and researchers suggest for managing different situations, whether you want to improve your situation at work, if you suspect changes are coming down, or if you are making a go of it in the gig economy.

Build a Strong Foundation

There are some key fundamentals of building a successful career that you should be aware of whether you are just starting out, or are closing in on retirement.

There are some key fundamentals of building a successful career, whether you are just starting out, or are closing in on retirement. And they apply to all walks of life – if you are a butcher, a baker or a computer systems analyst.

Fair warning, the following tried-and-true strategies will have little impact on what you do every day. They will not necessarily help you meet an assignment due by Friday morning, or complete a to-do list.

Instead, they are foundations that will give you a solid base on which to build a successful career that can withstand unexpected changes. These ideas will also help you put work and career in proper perspective, because there is a lot more to life beyond the daily grind.

The Value of Networking

There’s no getting around it: Networking has an awful reputation. It conjures up images of self-absorbed corporate ladder-climbers whose main interest is, “What’s in it for me?”

But there is almost unanimous agreement among researchers that building and nurturing relationships with people — current and former colleagues and people we respect in the business — provides a strong medium for a vibrant career and a cushion for when the unplanned happens.

Read the complete article here.

Why We Should Disagree More at Work

From Harvard Business Review:

When I worked as a management consultant, I had a client that I thought of as difficult. Let’s call her Marguerite. She and I didn’t see eye to eye on much. I disagreed with the direction she was taking our project, the people she chose to involve, and the pace at which she thought we should do our work (why did she need to go so slow?). But because she was the client, and I was just starting out in my career, I didn’t think it was my place to openly disagree with her. Instead, I forwarded every email she sent me to one of my colleagues and complained about how Marguerite was making bad decisions and not heeding my vague, and likely passive-aggressive, suggestions that we try different approaches.

One day, instead of forwarding the email, I hit reply. I thought I was complaining to my coworker but I was actually sending Marguerite a direct email about what a pain I felt she was. About 15 seconds after I pressed send, I realized what I had done and thought, “I’m going to be fired.” Thinking it’d be better to get it over with quickly, I walked over to my boss’s desk and fessed up. To my surprise, he didn’t get mad or threaten to send me packing. He simply said, “Go apologize.”

Marguerite’s office was 30 blocks north of ours, in Midtown Manhattan. My boss suggested I stop at the florist on my way. For a moment, I contemplated whether being fired would be preferable to having to face Marguerite and what I’d done, but he was right. And when I showed up in Marguerite’s office with an inappropriately large bouquet, she laughed. To her credit, she told me it happens and that she preferred that the next time I disagree with her, I just tell her so that we could talk about it. It was generous and helpful advice.

I’d like to think that the way I behaved with Marguerite was entirely attributable to my lack of experience — but in the years since then, what I’ve observed in research and interviews about conflict at work is that most people don’t want to disagree or know how to do it. In fact, we’ve come to equate saying “I see it differently” or “I don’t agree” with being angry, rude, or unkind, so it makes most people horribly uncomfortable.

To be fair, agreeing is usually easier than confronting someone, at least in the short run. And it feels good when someone nods at something we say, or admits, “I see it the exact same way.” That’s what I wanted Marguerite to do. And rather than accepting that she saw things differently from me, I labeled her “difficult.” This was a mistake — and not just because I ended up embarrassing myself. By thinking that way, I lost out on a potentially productive working relationship. Imagine how much better the project could’ve gone had I openly and respectfully disagreed with Marguerite.

Disagreements are an inevitable, normal, and healthy part of relating to other people. There is no such thing as a conflict-free work environment. You might dream of working in a peaceful utopia, but it wouldn’t be good for your company, your work, or you. In fact, disagreements — when managed well — have lots of positive outcomes. Here are a few.

Read the complete article here.

How To Make a Flexible Work Culture Work For All Employees in a Firm

From today’s Forbes:

Imagine a work culture in which team members can connect, regardless of where, when and how they work. The traditional workspace is rapidly changing, and today’s businesses need to modernize and evolve if they want to attract — and keep — the most talented among today’s workers.

At Dell Technologies, where I lead HR, we long ago recognized the need for a connected workforce. Dell’s vision for the future is founded in enabling its team members to be their best and do their best work, through a flexible approach to their work.

Results from early research we conducted show that more than 60% of employees work before or after standard business hours. Furthermore, roughly two-thirds of workers globally conduct at least some business from home on a regular basis, and the average employee spends at least two hours per week working from public places. In fact, research shows that more than 80% of millennials say workspace technology will influence the jobs they take. This aligns to research published by GlobalWorkplaceAnalytics.com, which shows that more than 80% of the U.S. workforce say they would like to telework at least part-time.

Additionally, the firm’s report shows that many Fortune 1000 companies around the globe are entirely revamping their spaces around the fact that employees are already mobile. The report’s findings share that studies have repeatedly shown that employees are not at their desk more than half of the time.

As leading organizations evolve to meet the new cultural requirements of today’s workforce, what exactly are business leaders to do?

Read the complete article here.

On Sex Discrimination, Men at Work Wonder if They’ve Overstepped

From Nov. 10 New York Times by Nellie Bowles:

It has been a confusing season for America’s working men, as the conversation around workplace harassment reveals it to be a nationwide epidemic — and many men wonder if they were involved or ignored the signs.

Consider Owen Cunningham, a director at San Francisco’s KBM-Hogue design firm. When he looks toward the annual corporate holiday party these days, he shudders.

“Cancel the holiday party,” said Mr. Cunningham, 37, adding that he means just until it has been figured out how men and women should interact. He said he considered himself progressive on gender issues but was thinking more about the behavior he had seen in the past: “What flirting is O.K.? Was I ever taking advantage of any meager power I had? You start to wonder.”

Across white-collar workplaces, rank-and-file men are awakening to the prevalence of sexual harassment and assault after high-profile cases including those of Harvey Weinstein, Mark Halperin and Louis C.K. Those cases helped inspire the #MeToo campaign, in which thousands of women have posted about their own harassment experiences on social media. Now many men who like to think they treat women as equals in the workplace are starting to look back at their own behavior and are wondering if they, too, have overstepped at work — in overt or subtle ways that would get them included in a #MeToo post.

“I don’t think I’ve done anything wrong,” said Nick Matthews, 42, who works at PwC, formerly PricewaterhouseCoopers, and lives in San Francisco. “But has anything I’ve done been interpreted another way?”

Read entire article here.

Workplace Culture: In Silicon Valley, Working Nine to Five Is for Losers

From today’s New York Times by Dan Lyons:

Silicon Valley prides itself on “thinking different.” So maybe it makes sense that just as a lot of industries have begun paying more attention to work-life balance, Silicon Valley is taking the opposite approach — and branding workaholism as a desirable lifestyle choice. An entire cottage industry has sprung up there, selling an internet-centric prosperity gospel that says that there is no higher calling than to start your own company, and that to succeed you must be willing to give up everything.

“Hustle” is the word that tech people use to describe this nerd-commando lifestyle. You hear it everywhere. You can buy hustle-themed T-shirts and coffee mugs, with slogans like “Dream, hustle, profit, repeat” and “Outgrind, outhustle, outwork everyone.” You can go to an eight-week “start-up hustle” boot camp. (Boot camp!) You can also attend Hustle Con, a one-day conference where successful “hustlers” share their secrets. Tickets cost around $300 — or you can pay $2,000 to be a “V.I.P. hustler.” This year’s conference, in June, drew 2,800 people, including two dozen who ponied up for V.I.P. passes.

But for some, “hustle” is just a euphemism for extreme workaholism. Gary Vaynerchuk, a.k.a. Gary Vee, an entrepreneur and angel investor who has 1.5 million Twitter followers and a string of best-selling books with titles like “Crush It!,” tells his acolytes they should be working 18 hours a day. Every day. No vacations, no going on dates, no watching TV. “If you want bling bling, if you want to buy the jets?” he asks in one of his motivational speeches. “Work. That’s how you get it.”

Mr. Vaynerchuk is also a judge on Apple’s “Planet of the Apps,” a reality show where app developers compete to win funding from a venture capital firm. A recent promo depicted a contestant alongside this quotation: “I rarely get to see my kids. That’s a risk you have to take.” The show’s promotional tweet added: “For the ultimate reward, he’ll put everything on the line.”

Good grief. The guy is developing an app that lets you visualize how a coffee table from a catalog might look in your living room. I suppose that’s cool, but is it really more important than seeing your kids? Is the chance to raise some venture-capital funding really “the ultimate reward”? (Apple pulled the promo after a wave of critical comments on Twitter.)

This is sad enough for start-up founders, but rank-and-file workers are buying into this madness, too. Last year, Lyft published a blog post praising a driver who kept picking up fares even after she went into labor and was driving to the hospital to give birth. Critics saw dystopian implications — “horrifying” was how Gizmodo put it — and Lyft deleted the post. But people at the company, including the driver herself, seemed genuinely puzzled by the negative reaction.

A century ago, factory workers were forming unions and going on strike to demand better conditions and a limit on hours. Today, Silicon Valley employees celebrate their own exploitation. “9 to 5 is for the weak” says a popular T-shirt. A venture capitalist named Keith Rabois recently boasted on Twitter that he worked for 18 years while taking less than one week of vacation. Wannabe Zuckerbergs are told that starting a company is like joining the Navy SEALs. For a certain type of person — usually young and male — the hardship is part of the allure.

The truth is that much of the extra effort these entrepreneurs and their employees are putting in is pointless anyway. Working beyond 56 hours in a week adds little productivity, according to a 2014 report by the Stanford economist John Pencavel. But the point may be less about productivity than about demonstrating commitment and team spirit.

“Everyone wants to be a model employee,” said Anim Aweh, a clinical social worker in the Bay Area who sees a lot of stressed-out tech workers. “One woman told me: ‘The expectation is not that you should work smart, it’s that you should work hard. It’s just do, do, do, until you can’t do anymore.’ ”

This has led to tragedy. Last year, Joseph Thomas, an engineer at Uber, committed suicide. His widow blamed the company’s gung-ho culture, with its long hours and intense psychological pressure.

Now some are pushing back. David Heinemeier Hansson, a software developer, is on a crusade to persuade entrepreneurs that they can succeed without working themselves to death. (The sad thing is that this even needs to be said.)

In a recent essay Mr. Hansson excoriated venture capitalists as brainwashing founders with “an ingrained mythology around start-ups that not only celebrates burnout efforts but damn well requires it.” He says V.C.s are exploiting founders. Their attitude is, “Make me rich or die tryin’,” he wrote.

“Die trying” is by far the more likely outcome. The vast majority of start-ups fail. The odds of striking a huge Facebook-level success are infinitesimally tiny. No one knows this better than the V.C.s, who improve their odds by spreading their bets onto dozens of companies and whipping them all into a frenzy.

Mr. Hansson’s essay singled out Mr. Rabois, the venture capitalist who worked for 18 years with hardly any vacation. This prompted a debate on Twitter, where Mr. Rabois sniped that Mr. Hansson’s take-it-easy approach to building a company would be perfect — “for lazy people who want to accomplish nothing.”

Mr. Hansson and his business partner, Jason Fried, run a Chicago software company, Basecamp, that employs 56 people and turns a profit. The workweek is capped at 40 hours and gets pared back to 32 in summer. Mr. Hansson has enough free time that he competes as an amateur driver in endurance car races.

In 2010, the two men published “Rework,” a book denouncing workaholism, and they’re publishing another one, “The Calm Company,” next year. Mr. Hansson told me that they’ve grown dismayed “seeing people being asked to give up their vacations, their sleep, their youth, their family and their morals on the start-up altar.”

They run workshops and do a lot of public speaking. Their talks usually go over well — although in San Francisco they often hear “incredulous gasps,” Mr. Fried reported. Mr. Hansson added: “People tell us we’re not ambitious enough. We’re not trying to change the world. The perversion runs so deep.”

The chance to become the next 20-something tech celebrity billionaire has not lost its power. Every year thousands of fresh recruits flood into San Francisco, hoping to be baptized into the religion of the hustle. As bad as things have become today, there might be worse to come.