| Working Wounded |
By Bob Rosner
Genre: Business & Money
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SHOT FULL OF HOLES
Just Trying to Survive 9 to 5
ARE YOU ONE OF THE WORKING WOUNDED?
Have you taken a few bullets in the course of your career? I'm not talking about disgruntled postal workers here; I'm talking about the other kind of workplace "bullet" that can wound your heart, your mind and your career. You know the ammo: inflexible bosses, irritating co-workers, counterproductive corporate policies and the like. Well, over the years I've met plenty of people who were wounded on the job, but scar for scar none can match Janeand what she taught me about workplace survival.
I'd been hired as a consultant to help restructure a large department at an insurance company, and since tensions had mounted during the project, I'd invited several of the key players to my home for a purely social evening. We were well into dinner before the conversation drifted away from shoptalk, but as I got up to pass the pasta for the second time I heard Jane, a manager in the department, talking about her sinuses.
"That's why I'm out so much," she was saying. "I've had trouble with my sinuses ever since I was shot."
"Ever since you were what?"
"Ever since I was shot."
Instantly, a dozen voices broke out. "You were shot!" "When were you shot?" "Who shot you?"
Jane shrugged as if it were the most natural thing in the world. "Oh, my ex-husband shot me, but luckily the bullet lodged in my head." She pointed to the left of her nose. "I've had a devil of a sinus problem ever since."
Instantly the room grew still. I could guess what people were thinking. Jane had taken a lot of flak for her frequent absences. People begrudged her the time away and resented picking up her slack. A few had even tried to bar her from a key committee as a form of retaliation. Now, in light of her revelation, they were feeling guilty about their behavior.
Jane laughed as she described the challenges of going through airport security machines and getting X rays from unsuspecting doctors ("I don't know how to break this to you, ma'am, but you seem to have a bullet in your head"). And as she talked, words of support and consolation spread around the table. By the time we adjourned at close to midnight, the co-workers were more congenial than I'd ever seen them. The dinner didn't resolve the tension created by the department's restructuring, but it did go a long way toward smoothing relations between Jane and her colleagues.
Well, Jane is the only person I've ever met who actually had a bullet in her head. But I've met plenty of others who felt as if they had oneor who wanted to put one into someone else's. Because that's the nature of the workplace: one person's actions, whether intentional or unintended, can send shrapnel flying through the organization.
MAYBE THEY SHOULD CALL IT
I bet you've even taken some ammo yourself. Ever felt like you were pummeled into submission by an unfair boss? Or like you were poked till it hurt by cantankerous co-workers? Or like you were being squeezed by a system that wasn't giving you adequate recognition? If so, welcome to the working woundedyou've taken your share of workplace flak.
And you don't need to be a line worker to be in the line of fire. Bosses get wounded, too; so do entrepreneurs. Perhaps you've felt battered by customers who thought that therapy was included in the warranty. Or by employees whose specialty was pushing your buttons. Or by bankers who wanted proof that your business didn't need a loan before they'd deign to approve one. Whatever your position, shots to the head, heart and wallet are unavoidable at workeven in a job you love.
The irony, of course, is that most of us could handle the flak if it just came from our competitors. But it doesn't. Most of it comes from people who are supposed to be on our side. Or worse still, it's self-inflicteddue to miscommunication, or to good intentions gone astray, or just to our own thickheadedness.
ADVICE THAT ADDS INSIGHT TO INJURY
That's why I created Working Wounded. I'd been a consultant to the Fortune 500 and the U.S. government, gotten an MBA and taught in an MBA program, and founded three corporations (one for-profit and two nonprofits). In short, I'd had a lot of contact with a lot of people in a lot of different settings. And I'd begun to realize that the one thing that could keep people in the workplace even later at night than the race to make an artificial deadline was the chance to talk about the race to make an artificial deadline. People need to talk about their jobs! But ironically, while there were radio shows, advice columns and Web sites on virtually every other aspect of human endeavorfrom nurturing relationships to fixing carburetors to growing zucchinithere was no public forum in which people could come together to laugh and learn about their jobs. Except for Dilbertthat font of workplace wit and wisdomthere wasn't anything that spoke to ordinary people about what really goes on at work. And there was nothing that gave people customized, practical information for tackling their work and career dilemmas. To paraphrase Lily Tomlin, together we were all going through work alone.
So I created Working Woundedthe anti-guru guru (or, as one of my first editors called it, "the Martha Stewart of the underemployed"). It's a syndicated business advice column (with an affiliated TV news segment and Web site) that doesn't taste like medicine and that doesn't pretend that the solutions to all workplace problems involve reengineering, TQM, teamwork or anything with "one minute" in the title. On the contrary, Working Wounded believes that the solutions to your workplace problems must be devised and implemented by you. (After all, they're your problems so who else could possibly fix them?)
Of course, I'm not there with you in the trenches, dealing with your boss, your boss's boss, your nemesis in another department or your idiosyncratic corporate culture. So I can't tell you exactly what to do. But I've found that telling people what to do rarely works, anyway. So instead I ask a lot of questions to help you analyze your situation. Then I offer strategies that have been proven in the real world to mitigate that kind of problem. Finally, I give you another place to turn if you'd like more information.
The advice in Working Wounded comes from a world that is normally off limits to all but the corner-office in-crowd. For instance, we take our readers' questions to $350 an hour attorneys (the same ones who normally represent the company), to directors of human resources, a.k.a. personnel (who reveal the resources they use to manage worker complaints), and to specialists in a variety of workplace issues. These folks give readers the same advice they usually give to corporations after the companies have paid really big bucks. So in a way, Working Wounded is like an HR department for the rest of us. All expenses paid.
And because Working Wounded is an award-winning site on the World Wide Web (http://workingwounded.com) we also have our ear to the people's grapevine. That means we can gather feedback from all over the world about how to handle similar problems, and we can provide polls and surveys as well as people's own strategies for addressing the issues covered in the book.
How did I decide what issues to cover in this book? It's simple: I let our readers decide. Cranky co-workers, ballistic bosses, how to deal with technology, how to get out.... those are the issues readers write to us about, so those are the issues we've included. I answer the most universal letters, the ones that have the broadest appeal, so that, hopefully, all readers will get something out of the columns. Here I've arranged them by subject categoryso you can quickly find exactly the information you need to scratch your particular itch.
BUT I'M NOT WOUNDED
And what if you're not having problems? Why bother reading this book? Because you never know what to expect.... as I learned from experience.
Back in college I took a course in abnormal psychology. (No, I wasn't the subject of the class.) One day the professor lectured on the behavioral psychologist B. F. Skinner, and as he described an experiment in which Skinner trained pigeons to spot defects in a product with nearly 100 percent accuracy, the woman next to me began to cry. I knew it was impolite, but I had to ask what was making her cry. "I just got fired from my job," she sniffed. "I'm sorry," I whispered. "Don't be sorry," she sobbed. "I hated the job. But I worked in quality control. I'm not even as good as a pigeon!" Well, that day I learned there's not much you can say to a woman who just lost her job to a bird. I also learned that work is full of the unexpected. You never know what's going to fly in from left field, or where the stuff is going to land. So you've got to be prepared. And that's where Working Wounded can help. We can't prevent your getting sacked by a pigeon, but we can help you protect yourself from a lot of the flying debris.
And that brings me back to Jane. Despite her bullet, her sinus condition and the flak she took from colleaguesJane never thought of herself as a victim. She came early and stayed late almost daily to minimize the burden on her co-workers. She thwarted her colleagues' efforts to keep her off the committee by presenting a well-documented case to her supervisor. And she managed, through it all, to maintain a largely positive outlookas if, having survived a real bullet, from a lethally abusive ex-spouse, she was not about to be flattened by the ones that were fired at work. And in that respect, Jane exemplified the Working Wounded philosophy: she knew that friendly fire is inescapable, but that it's sometimes possible to minimize the damage.
Fortunately you don't need to survive live ammo to minimize your damage. You only need to read this book. Because Working Wounded isn't about whining over your wounds; it's about what you can do to rise above them. Think of it as your personal Kevlar vest. It gives you the "ahah's" and the "haha's" you need to deflect those bullets at work.
Excerpted from Working Wounded , by Bob Rosner . Copyright (c) 1998 by Bob Rosner . Reprinted by permission of Little, Brown and Company, New York, NY. All rights reserved.Back to top