Truth-telling in the workplace

It’s the age of truth-telling in the workplace. #MeToo and #WhyIDidntReport are shaking things up; many people who have kept quiet for years are becoming brave enough to find voices.

What does this mean for human resources professionals? Awareness, training, and  attention to detail in reporting, as well as policies and procedures. And how does this affect other employees?

pexels-photo-622135While many victims of sexual harassment and assault feel emboldened to share their stories, others remain quiet for fear of losing their jobs or other forms of retaliation. Some employees may learn of situations involving harassment or assault in the workplace, yet fail to report these incidents for the same reasons.

Often, reporting sexual harassment or assault is difficult. Becoming a truth teller isn’t always the wide, easy path.

Let me tell you about two of my own experiences.

In my early 20s, while working in a middle management role, I was sexually harassed by a man in his 50s. He tried to convince me that I’d behaved in a way that gave him the impression that I wanted physical contact with him. He left my office angrily. He was in upper management and played a prominent role in the organization’s financial welfare.

I never reported the incident. Years later, I felt guilty for failing to report. I’m nearly certain I wasn’t the only woman he harassed. Yet at the time, I wasn’t sure how to handle the situation. Because I’d seen how similar reports were handled within the organization, I felt certain my report would either be brushed off, or that somehow, I would be the one to suffer (asked to leave or retaliated against), not him. I loved my job, and I didn’t want that to happen. So I kept quiet.

Fast forward 10 years.

I worked for a different organization. I learned that a colleague was enduring sexual harassment, and the perpetrator was in upper management. Without giving it much thought, I reported the incident. What happened afterward is the reason I kept quiet a decade earlier. I ultimately felt compelled to file retaliation charges with a government agency against the organization.

Here’s the real question I know you want to ask me: Do I regret reporting the incident on behalf of my colleague? ABSOLUTELY NOT. Were there repercussions due to reporting the incident? Yes. Would I still report the incident today? You better believe it.

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There is never a wrong time to do the right thing. 

For me, reporting the second incident felt like the right thing to do–I had no doubts about that. There will never be a time when I will withhold the truth again in my life about my own suffering or the suffering of others. As a survivor of childhood sexual assault, and adult sexual harassment, and after keeping silent too many times, I no longer have the ability to remain quiet. It is my responsibility, and thankfully, it is my right.

 

 

 

 

Learning from everyone in the workplace

I once joined a professional organization with a diverse membership. We met weekly and discussed industry-related research. Every member sought to grow professionally; most attended at least one yearly conference hosted by the organization so the members grew pretty close. But one of the members drove me nuts, honestly (isn’t that always the case?) She arrived late, laughed hysterically at inappropriate moments, and insisted on interrupting people. When she shared information, it didn’t seem to add value or substance. I whined to my mentor, who was a fellow member. She turned to me and smiled.

“Bethany, you learn something from everyone. You either learn who you want to be or who you don’t want to be. I guess you’re learning who you don’t want to be.”

Ugh. YES. But I didn’t WANT to learn from her! I wanted her to go away. She didn’t.

But I did learn from her. For a few more years, I sat through meetings with the obnoxious woman, who continued to exhibit the same behaviors. Nothing changed about the woman’s behavior. The only thing that changed was my attitude toward her.


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It was a great lesson learned. I probably learned more from her than from many of the solid, professional, appropriate, timely, well-behaved members of the organization who had their ducks in a row. Now don’t get me wrong–I learned plenty from those people. We need excellent role models and mentors in the workplace. Without them, we’d have no idea how to behave appropriately, how to carry ourselves through crises, how to prevent and manage workplace conflicts, how to handle harassment and other touchy situations, and how to seek promotions without steamrolling others along the way. By all means, we need great leaders and strong colleagues who have it all together.

But we need to learn from our colleagues who are barely making it, too. We need those people who have so many personal problems that they’re doing well just to show up to work an hour late, hair disheveled, tear-stained mascara across her cheeks. We need the colleagues in the cubicles next to us who take 10 phone calls per day from their elderly parents with dementia. We need the supervisor who is a micromanager, unable to let go of counting every single bean. We need the one who simply cannot stop telling crude jokes (and gets himself fired as a result–please, dear God).

We need those people because we learn our best and hardest lessons–often gaining soft skills–from the people who are most intolerable, most obnoxious, most needy, and most broken. Do you know how I learned how to communicate competently in difficult situations? By working in difficult situations, time after time, with very difficult people. Want to know how I learned how to prevent conflicts while interacting with volatile people? By working with emotionally disturbed teenagers with criminal backgrounds and a history of abuse.

We often do not choose to learn difficult lessons in difficult moments and situations. But when we find ourselves in tough situations, we have a choice. We can let those situations make us better or bitter, as the saying goes. We can either learn and grow through the situation, or we can whine, complain, and claw our way out as quickly as possible, refusing to accept that there may be anything we could possibly learn from the people and conflicts surrounding us.

I’m not suggesting you should wallow in suffering or willingly expose yourself to demeaning, inappropriate, or dangerous situations at work. If you find yourself in a hostile work situation, fraught with harassment, bullying, or conflict, you ought to immediately take appropriate action (whether that means contacting your human resources director, filing a legal complaint, filing a police report, or searching for a new job). But if you’re just feeling disgruntled or miserable because you don’t like the people you work with, or you find that a few of your colleagues or supervisors rub you the wrong way, or you’re not fully appreciated in the workplace, perhaps there’s something you can learn or gain.

Remember that obnoxious woman I dealt with in the professional organization? She never quit attending organizational meetings. She even attended conferences with us. She never changed. But my attitude toward her evolved. I stopped expecting her to change, and over time, that helped me see her in a softer light.

Most importantly, I learned deep lessons: acceptance, tolerance, patience, and compassion for a woman who had some significant personal struggles.  Hear this: I didn’t have to like her, and I never did. Her struggles didn’t excuse her professional pitfalls. But extending kindness to her didn’t harm either of us. And offering a simple prayer on her behalf didn’t hurt me either.

What are you learning from your most difficult colleagues (or supervisors)? What are they learning from YOU?

If your organization needs a speaker/presenter on workplace communication or other soft skill, reach out to me to discuss scheduling.

Why reflecting on past work experience helps us make better career choices

We only learn from the past if we reflect on the past. This is true in every area of life, and our career journeys are no exception. Recently I reflected on which three job roles/work experiences best prepared me for my role as a career coach/entrepreneur. I also contemplated which job experiences I enjoyed most and why.

People Looking Choosing at Colleagues PhotoI only had time to discuss my three favorite/best jobs. There have been many more. I believe none of our work experience is wasted. Even jobs I held for a short time taught me crucial soft skills, including conflict management and problem-solving strategies. When I had to quit an interim director’s position for a non-profit due to a hostile work environment, I learned big lessons. I learned how to stand up for myself at work, to carry myself with grace and dignity, and how to discern red flags during the interview process.

Did you know that even the most boring work experience prepared me for future roles? Although I didn’t love technical writing, that experience helped me revise and edit well, and I’ve used that skill as an English faculty member and as a content manager. I also rely on my own writing skills when producing content for my career coaching business.

And that one-year gig in software sales? Absolutely helps me during free consultations, when producing content, and when reaching out to my network to drum up referrals.

It’s so important that we reflect on our previous jobs before leaping forward with our job search or making a big career change. Why? If we don’t, we’re doomed to repeat our own mistakes. We may not identify red flags as truly red during the hiring process. And we will work in professions which leave us feeling unfulfilled, depressed, and disgruntled.

Even though I don’t know you, I know you don’t want that for yourself. And I don’t want it for you.

Take time to reach out to me to schedule a free consultation. Simply spending 15-20 minutes on the phone with a career coach can help you uncover and discover many of your career desires and goals. I’ll walk you through a simple assessment of your career journey. We can talk about your own best and worst jobs. I will direct you to more career development assessment tools if necessary. And I’ll provide you with quality career development and job search tools as we work together.

What are you waiting for? Let’s get to work.

Dealing with grief in the workplace

Last week, I was called out of class while teaching as an adjunct faculty member. A coworker informed me that my grandmother had been rushed to the hospital. If I wanted to see her, I needed to leave class immediately. I was glad I left after informing my students that I had to tend to a family emergency. My grandmother died less than 24 hours later. That night, after grieving with my family, I received an email notifying me that a good friend had committed suicide. Needless to say, I felt completely overwhelmed by loss, sadness, and grief. The entire weekend, I was certainly unproductive and did zero work.

But that’s what I needed to do. Because I’ve experienced other major losses and catastrophes in the past, I know that to take good care of myself, I need to let myself feel the weight of the loss as it’s happening. If I don’t, it comes back to haunt me later.

Thankfully, my division chair, career coaching clients, and business partners were all very understanding and supportive. I rescheduled a conference call and a call with a client. But I can’t wallow in grief forever. I have a business to run and students to teach. I created this video to share five ways I appropriately cope with grief in the workplace. I hope some of these tips may help you cope with your own personal losses while continuing to work, produce, and grow in your career journey.


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Communicate.

As quickly as possible after you experience a loss or begin handling a personal crisis, tell your supervisor, clients/students, and coworkers about your situation. You can do this in a quick email or text message. When you communicate about the crisis or loss right away, it lets your employer know that you take your job seriously but that you’re going to need help handling your responsibilities temporarily.

Be real, but don’t let it all hang out.

Be honest about your crisis or loss, but don’t share all the sad, dirty details with your employer, clients, or coworkers. Put yourself in their shoes. Would you want to show up at work every day to find one of your coworkers crying her eyes out for eight hours? Of course not.

Seek outside help if you’re overwhelmed with loss and cannot control your emotions. That’s a normal part of the grieving process. We hire experts to help us with many things–writing resumes, changing the oil in our cars, and even cleaning our homes and offices. Why not hire an expert to help you grieve? A therapist can keep you grounded and provide a sounding board while you cope with your loss and help you avoid dumping your emotions on people at work. If you can’t afford counseling, consider attending free grief support groups in your area. And of course, reach out to your mentor when you need to talk.

Take time off.

Don’t beat yourself up for needing time to grieve. Take time off if necessary. Be sure to talk to your human resources department to comply with standards for leaves of absence.

Re-prioritize.

You can’t expect yourself to perform at 100% while you’re grieving. Be realistic and operate in something like survival mode while grieving. Ask yourself these questions:

  • What can I remove from my plate right now?
  • Are there projects or tasks I can put off temporarily (without missing deadlines or damaging relationships at work)?
  • Who can I delegate some of my tasks to for a short period of time?

Extend gratitude.

When you suffer loss, you’ll likely receive text messages, emails, phone calls, and cards from your boss, clients, and colleagues. Don’t forget to say thank you to those who offer condolences or step up to help manage your work tasks while you’re grieving. This will help you maintain strong relationships at work and keep your professional network intact.

Connect with me for career coaching assistance, soft skills training, and presentations on career-related topics.

 

Finding freedom: Forging a new career path

Recently, a colleague introduced me to a group of college students during a presentation about networking skills as “Career Coach, Bethany Wallace, who is going to share with you tips about networking and her story about how she has reinvented herself in her career.”

Wow, I thought. That’s exactly what I’ve done, isn’t it? Sometimes we need to see ourselves through others’ eyes in order to appreciate our hard work, creativity, risk-taking, and perseverance. My mentors and colleagues always help me recognize and appreciate my career achievements.

happiness-1866081_1280One of the most intimidating career decisions I’ve ever made was the decision to leave a fabulous job as Content Manager of College Recruiter in 2016 shortly after starting my own career coaching business. I certainly found lots of career freedom as a result, but the pathway to this career freedom was like a roller coaster—full of ups and downs, and I felt sick half the time while on the ride.

While attempting to decide whether to leave my full-time position, I knew I needed to pour more of myself into my career coaching business to make it grow and give it a chance to succeed. I also wanted more scheduling flexibility. Staying home with my daughter, who was three years-old at the time, mattered to me, as did returning to the college classroom part-time. But the notion of leaving a well-renowned company in the job board industry, which afforded me the opportunity to earn a solid income and provide benefits for my family… ugh. I felt torn about this for months.

I finally bit the bullet and eased my way out of my position, transitioning from full-time to part-time over the course of a few months. While making the decision was difficult, it gave me total career freedom and autonomy. I now manage my own business, create content solely to promote my own business, market and sell my own services, and work directly with my clients. This arrangement might not be a great fit for everyone (or we’d have a nation full of entrepreneurs), but it’s the right fit for me.

Here are a few tips I’d offer anyone seeking more autonomy and freedom in their career.

  1. Live below your means.

Leave yourself open to changing careers—or even changing jobs or relocating—by simply living below your means. If you rope yourself into purchasing a new car every time you earn a small promotion at work, you’re tying a noose around your neck financially. You don’t leave yourself the option to pursue completely changing careers if your values and goals change. If you buy the nicest house you can afford in the best neighborhood of your city, your family and friends will be very impressed. But your options will be limited if you find that over a period of two years, you become increasingly less interested in your career field.

Not always–but often–when you change career fields, you take a step backward in terms of income because you have less experience in that particular field. Setting aside some of your income each month prior to switching careers is a good idea. In addition to saving money, it’s also a good idea to become comfortable with living way below your means. You will feel much less freaked out when you’re earning little to nothing for a while if you’re temporarily unemployed, underemployed, or acquiring clients when you start a new business.

  1. Eliminate as many risks as possible.

To follow up on #1, we’re in a true gig economy. Check out FlexJobs, for example. There are a myriad of great gig positions and part-time jobs available, many of them affording you the option to work remotely. Before you jump ship and start looking for a position in a brand new career field—going for months without income—why not land a great gig or part-time job to help supplement your period without full-time income?

I taught one online course for a community college during the first several months of my business being open. This was a lifesaver. Adjunct faculty members don’t earn much (newsflash for those of you who thought we were highly paid professionals!), but the extra income did supplement our overall family income, and it helped ease my financial fears while I worked diligently to market my services and attract clients.

  1. Stick to your guns in terms of pursuing your dreams and passions.

When you make a major career change—whether it’s switching career fields entirely or starting your own business—you’ll find that you’re surrounded by a mixed bag of naysayers and cheerleaders. Focus on the cheerleaders and ignore the naysayers.

Obviously you need to make calculated, wise, strategic decisions about your career. That’s where working with a career coach comes in. You should also consult your career mentor when facing major career decisions, and you should take other steps to assess your level of contentment, create a budget, etc.

But once you’ve taken the plunge—thoughtfully and carefully—don’t look back. You don’t want to lose momentum by focusing on negative tidbits others feed you about how you are killing your career, or how hard it’s going to be for you, or how unsure your friends and family are about your potential to succeed.

Separate yourself from negative people. Focus on pursuing your original career goals. Map out your career plan in manageable bites so you will not become overwhelmed, and then start pecking away at that plan slowly but surely.

Before you know it, you’ll be doing the exact things you envisioned yourself doing when you began dreaming about your new career. And if you’re lucky, you’ll be doing those things sooner rather than later.

Career freedom is right around the corner—but you have to pursue it.

For help making a career change, reach out to me to schedule a free consultation.

 

Making the most of working with your career mentor

I’ve never regretted one minute spent listening to my career mentors. I learn so much when we meet, chatting over pancakes at Bob’s Diner or pizza in downtown Little Rock. Sure, I do some of the talking–opening up about where I’m at in my career, asking questions, and even sharing about troubling situations in the workplace in hopes my mentors will offer potential solutions. They always do because they’re brilliant women. I picked great career mentors. One owns her own business, consulting small business owners who want to market themselves and attract better clients. The other manages recruiting for a telecommunications corporation. My mentors have been where I am in many ways. They know what I’m going through, and even if they haven’t found themselves puzzled by an identical client or partner, they have likely been in similar situations.

That’s the beauty of working with a career mentor. A career mentor is a mentor you ask to guide you through your career journey–not just from point A to point B during one stretch of your career or while you strive through the most difficult mess of it. Your mentor learns all about you, and your career mentor can give you very pointed, detailed advice. Since your mentor doesn’t work with you in your workplace–unlike a workplace mentor–she doesn’t care about office politics. She only cares about seeing you succeed in the long run. She sees the big picture.

If you already have a career mentor, you’ll want to watch this video with three tips/reminders about making the most of working with your career mentor. You’ll find ways to apply this advice to the relationship you already have with your mentor. If you don’t have a career mentor, think about a few people you admire while watching the video and reading the article. Maybe by the end, you’ll have narrowed down your list.


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  1. Remember, your career mentor isn’t a fairy godmother (or godfather).

    Your career mentor won’t float out of the sky, pixie dust sprinkled in her hair, announcing her desire to guide you through your career (but wouldn’t that be great?!). You’re going to have to break down and ask someone to mentor you. Sometimes mentoring relationships evolve naturally. This happens in the workplace and in higher education; you might fall into a relationship with your career mentor if she’s your professor or boss. But most likely, you’ll find someone you admire who works in your dream job or similar career field. You will observe this person to ensure she exhibits character traits you admire. Then you will ask her to serve as your career mentor. Asking can be difficult, but acting against your fear of rejection is important. You potentially have so much to gain from a great career mentor.Also, we can often believe our career mentors are fairy godmothers in the sense that we place them on pedestals. We think they’re professionally perfect. But they’re definitely not, and learning from your career mentor’s failures and defects can be just as helpful as learning from your career mentor’s successes and assets.
  2. If it’s not working, make a change.

    It would be great if everyone’s career mentoring relationship lasted for a lifetime. Some do, and some don’t. If you work with a career mentor for five years, and you find yourself growing apart, accept that it may be time to seek a new career mentor. Some relationships–even professional relationships–are only meant to last for a season. We all grow, change, and develop, and as that happens, we often grow apart. Trying to force a fit doesn’t feel natural and can make a mentoring relationship very awkward. If you’re asking questions and not receiving answers which feel aligned with your values, ethics, or goals, it might be time to seek a new career mentor.
  3. Don’t expect your mentor to serve as your career coach.

    Unless your mentor works in career services, career counseling, or career coaching, your mentor will probably not feel comfortable providing you with detailed assistance with your resume, cover letter, interview preparation, branding, networking, job search assistance, or other areas of career coaching. While your mentor can certainly share her unique experiences in these areas, your mentor won’t pretend to be an expert in an area outside her realm of expertise. And she shouldn’t! If someone comes to me for personal counseling, I don’t pretend for one minute I’m licensed as a professional counselor. I immediately refer that potential client to a qualified professional.Seek your mentor’s advice and ask her to share her experience, but don’t drain her either. Remember that your mentor probably juggles work, family, and personal interests, including mentoring you (and possibly other mentees). Respect her boundaries.

    If you need help determining how to find a great career mentor, how to ask someone to mentor you, or how to seek career coaching help from a professional rather than from your mentor, reach out to me to schedule a free consultation. 

Which employers turn you on?

What does it take for an employer to turn you during your job search? How much time would you spend completing an application for an employer you were already interested in? And how much time would you invest completing an application for an employer you knew very little about? We’re dying to know your job search preferences and what matters most to you in terms of employer branding, benefits, and more.

application-1883453_1280What if you are not searching for a job, and you’re happily employed; should employers still try to recruit you? My colleagues and I want to know what matters most to you. Take this brief survey to help us understand what would make or break the deal for you. After closing the survey at the end of April 2017, we will analyze results. We look forward to writing an e-book and publishing/sharing results.

If you’re contemplating spending your 5-10 minute coffee break perusing Pinterest, Instagram, or LinkedIn instead of taking this survey, let me offer you two incentives. One lucky survey respondent–maybe you–will earn a free resume consultation/revision by yours truly. I’ll help you convert your existing resume into one you’re really proud of and one employers will notice. And 50 respondents will earn a $5 Starbucks gift card.

Click here to complete the survey now!  Thanks for sharing your insights and improving the workplace of today.

 

Who developed this survey?

The WorkPlace Group and Career Coach-Bethany Wallace developed the survey in collaboration with Lyon College and Rutgers University.

Collaborators:

Dr. Steven Lindner, Executive Partner, The WorkPlace Group

Dr. Domniki Demetriadou, Director and Partner, The WorkPlace Group

Bethany Wallace, Adjunct English Faculty, Lyon College, and Owner of Career Coach-Bethany Wallace

Sid Seligman, JD, Human Research Management Faculty, Rutgers School of Management and Labor Relations

Len Garrison, Manager, Career Services, Rutgers School of Management and Labor Relations