Friday, December 16, 2011

Work cultures: change, adapt, join, or move out?

I had a long phone conversation with a workaholic friend last night asking for advice on what can she do in a year to prepare for a freelance consulting career. Her conglomerate work is taking the toll on her due to management changes and politics. This includes her former staff, who got realigned, saying things behind her back. Her current staff becoming lukewarm working with her. Other department boss desperately trying to find faults in her. Finally, a not-so supportive boss (unlike the previous one) that tends to slow her down.

At first, it felt awkward being asked how she can deal with it as the last time I was in a corporate setting was more than a decade ago. My longest employment was only 2 years and realized that patience in adjusting to people's whims - the ones you spend your time with (more than your family) - is not going to be worth it especially if destructive and corrupted. It is either you change, adapt, join (begin thinking like them), isolate yourself (which is nearly impossible), or just move out.

However, as moving out is not an option yet - as her employment provides the income needs to survive, my advice to her is to change and adapt - narrowed down to the following:
  1. Check your attitude and what you say
    Staff who back-stabs their bosses are those who got hurt and unable to defend themselves. When things become unreasonable and they can't do anything about it, the only way to let their stress out is to talk, find an outlet, where they can vent how they feel. Avoid expressing disappointment on your staff performance to other people that can be overhead by another staff. Worst, if they get transferred or promoted, "revenge" is inevitable. She should also avoid flaunting her lifestyle that can be subject to unnecessary scrutiny and malicious interpretations.

    To repair, my workaholic friend needs to rebuild her team relationship. If they are not performing well, get them trained or transferred or clarify expectations. If they did a good job, recognize and show appreciation (lunch treats or pizza). Help them get promoted too if possible.
  2. Dealing with "feeling-indispensable" bullies
    This one was a bit tough. Her other department peer, being more senior than her in terms of years of service is an office bully. The ultimate gossip girl who knows the story of almost anyone in the office including the bosses.

    She sweet talks new people in the office and later on ask favors from them - bluntly ask for gifts, borrow money, and invest in a risky business. A former staff, who applied to another department, my friend complained as to how rude she has been and badmouths her to other people. However, the bully also delivers and boldly claim that she can't be fired - "I'm indispensable".

    My only advice to her on this one, as the bully is beyond her department control, is to talk to this person's boss. "But her boss is afraid of her!" I laughed and ask to give it a shot. Talking to Human Resource (HR) is also a possibility - to review company ethics - but I worry that can drain and eat up a lot of precious time.
  3. Dealing with the boss and fellow bosses.
    A not-so supportive boss can be demotivating indeed. However, my friend has to calibrate her expectations as hardly any two bosses shall be alike. I guess this is also the reason why others leave their employers just to follow their former bosses - wherever they go.

    I think what made things challenging - she was also a candidate for promotion - on the position this boss holds now (when it was still vacant). Then working together now, this boss might feel that she is still after it. "Best to show support and be a useful resource. Get the job done. If he is still not disarmed, clarify expectations."

    This includes another department boss, who she directly compete with, in the projects that they do (resource and top executives support). This person makes a big deal on changes, decisions, and related matters. This person even complains to top executives. Trust on her ability, by the big bosses, gradually decreasing and felt by her.

    This one is also tough. "If you are competitive, will you curb your abilities just to give way for others to shine and preserve the peace? Or you fight head on? Where will you be in 3 years?"

    An early retirement option is coming her way and she is now thinking of availing of it soon. Then I guess it is to her best interest to just preserve the peace, make things right for her successor, and plan her exit - big time.
  4. Bolt out.
    Going out doing her own business is something that this friend of mine is considering. For some, it is an easy decision. But if you have worked for most of your life, move all the way up to a junior executive position, this is not an easy decision to make.

    Enumerating those options may be too long for this post. But I look forward seeing her as an entrepreneur soon. Am sure - she will be a great one.
This is not the first time I encountered the above situations. This year alone, I heard of similar stories from 4 peers who asked for advice. It seems my being a freelancer for quite sometime got their attention and is something they are also interested in getting into.

But more than that, listening to the stories has an effect, partly my subconscious in dealing with people I encounter, especially if the one sharing it is depressed already. Therefore I decided to blog about it and ask friends in the future to read it first before discussing the matter.