Friending Superman

Superman and his alter ego, Clark Kent

Superman and his alter ego, Clark Kent (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“Did you hear they’re making another Superman movie?” a woman at work recently asked me.

Yes, I plan to see “Man of Steel.” As a former newspaperwoman, I can relate to Clark Kent. I, too, have hoodwinked everyone around the office into thinking I’m docile and meek. But unlike Clark, I don’t ditch my glasses and business clothes in a phone booth and emerge as a caped crusader. I wear contact lenses most days.

I’m not a comic book fan, and when it comes to Superman, my only real frame of reference is the movie from 1978, a time when phone booths still existed. Now that social media has replaced phone booths, I am curious to see how Clark Kent fares in modern Metropolis. Does he join Facebook?

It would be tempting to Facebook-friend those high school bullies, who’ve hopefully lost their hair and developed beer bellies. Does Clark put on his spandex uniform and stand in front of the mirror to take a self-portrait for his profile?

He might tag himself in articles about the hero’s amazing deeds, commenting, “I had a pretty super day!”

What if he bumped into Lois Lane, iPhone in hand at the water cooler, and she shared the wisecrack her friend just posted, and added, as an afterthought, “Hey Clark, are you on Facebook?”

How would he react? Bragging about his superhero status to former classmates he never sees in person is one thing, but letting his coworkers into that world is another. What self-respecting employee really wants everyone at the office to know what he’s doing after 5 o’clock?

He’d have to take down all his cool photos and change his occupation back from “Superman” to “reporter” and carefully consider everything he shares online. And yet, even an upstanding man of such moral conviction as Clark might stay home one day, even if the aspirin worked and he feels fine by 9:30 a.m. Getting lost in the freedom and monotony of a day spent in his bathrobe, he might turn to that online drug and forget, momentarily, that his audience now includes his boss.

“So Clark was too sick to come in today, but not too sick to lift weights for 45 minutes and “fly” – whatever he means by that – to Sonic for Happy Hour. I told you that man has an incomparable immune system. It’s almost like he’s not of this planet. Is he even human?”

I liked the days of phone booths better.

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My Big, Hairy, Audacious Goal

LionessWhat shape do your career aspirations take? Mine probably most resemble a puppy. At a job interview, you’ll see me shaking hands, rolling over, and performing any other trick I think will impress my potential caregiver/employer. Feed me! Love me!

I try to maintain my dignity like an aloof cat, pretending the man behind the mahogany desk would be really lucky if I would join his company. Like he’s the one being interviewed. But I blow it when he asks, “Where do you see yourself in five years?”

Five years? Are you kidding me? I’ve never worked anywhere that long! Really, I just want you to pay me enough money so I can keep up with my bills and have some sort of answer when my friends and family ask where I’m working these days. I don’t do manual labor and I don’t work late nights. Also, I can’t type, but I hunt and peck so well, you’ll barely know the difference. So, please, when can I start?

James C. Collins and Jerry I. Porras have found that visionary companies often use Big, Hairy, Audacious Goals to stimulate progress. A BHAG is not your run-of-the-mill goal. It’s so big and hairy, so audacious, it positively reaches out and grabs people  and drives them to do amazing things. Aiming to put a man on the moon, now that was a Big, Hairy, Audacious Goal.

If it works for organizations, I figure it must work for individuals as well. I’m not job-hunting right now, so I have time to prepare my Big, Hairy, Audacious Goal. When the time comes, I will firmly answer the man behind the mahogany desk with a deafening roar:

I’ll have the filet mignon!

Spring Fever All Through the Week

Sick Dog

The bug that disrupted my stomach last week was merciful (or clueless) enough to do so on a Thursday, which is one of three acceptable weekdays to call in sick. As excruciating as retching over the toilet can be, there’s something even more uncomfortable, and it’s the task of telling your boss about it and redeeming one of your precious sick days. Even more unthinkable is to do so on a Monday or a Friday.

But the ultimate transgression is to call in sick on the first warm, sunny, gloriously spring-like day of the year. No matter how vividly you describe your gruesome symptoms, nobody believes you’re having anything but a Ferris Bueller kind of day.

So, I am thankful the bug attacked in the wee hours of a Thursday morning. By Friday, when the birds were really belting out their praise of spring and the sun was shining in full force, I was well enough to make a brave appearance at the office, weak and subdued but displaying a valiant effort to catch up on the paperwork that had done its own vomiting on my desk. It’s common practice, after all, to toss any confusing or unwanted paperwork on the desk of the one person greedy enough to stay home while everyone else is holding down the fort. Serves her right.

Not that I’m complaining. My employer is kind enough to grant five paid sick days a year, and I repay that kindness by never using more than two.  In fact, I always arrive early the morning after a sick day, and I take an abbreviated lunch to compensate for having been paid to spend a day in bed.  Guilt aside, the extra effort is necessary just so I can catch up. Sick or not, I must complete my work, which is patiently waiting for my return. Tapping its foot in passive-aggressive irritation, but patient nonetheless.

Some of the other people in my department have more time-sensitive tasks. Lucky dogs. When they take their sick days, my employer can rest assured that the rest of us will step up and make sure everything gets done. Again, my own obligations are detained until the party in question recovers from her own variety of spring fever. Recuperating from others’ illnesses takes its toll on me. No wonder my immune system is vulnerable to such nasty viruses as the one that so recently visited me.

It makes me wonder, who’s really paying for these sick days?

If I Were a Yahoo

Gee, I'm glad I don't have to do this job from my comfy home. Getting dressed is so much more fun!

Gee, I’m glad I don’t have to do this job from home. Getting dressed and fighting traffic is so much more fun!

Just when I think I have myself figured out, I go and make a decision so directly in opposition to who thought I knew myself to be. Like that time I turned down the opportunity to telecommute.

For years, I wished I could work from home. The types of jobs I held were perfectly suited for it, requiring only a computer and a phone. I hated driving 45 minutes to work in good weather and more than an hour in the snow. There had to be better ways to spend a small fortune than on gas. Chocolate and coffee came to mind.

Eventually, something nearly as good as telecommuting came along: a job so close to home that I never even had to get on the highway. I had time to listen to two songs on the radio as I took the little side road to my office each morning and back again for my lunch hour. I went weeks between trips to the gas pump. Then, they made the offer. Management asked for volunteers to work from home. In return, participants would suffer some newly-created, less-than-ideal shifts. It was time for a little SWOT analysis: strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats.

I was confident I already knew telecommuting’s strengths and opportunities. After all, I had been dreaming of such a break for a long time. Rolling out of bed and logging into the computer while my coffee brewed, wearing my pajamas all day, saving on gas, throwing in a load of laundry between customer calls, avoiding annoying bosses and coworkers. But suddenly, the offer seemed even more burdened with weaknesses and threats. Like all the toilet paper I’d have to buy once I was going at home more than at work. The worthless schedule . Sure, I would be at home, but I’d be working when I was used to being out. And my cats. While I love them, I did not relish the idea of their walking on my computer and sticking their butts in my face while I tried to assist customers in a professional manner.  And come to think of it, I would miss the camaraderie of my coworkers and the sage advice of my manager. At home, I wouldn’t be able to poke my head around the cubicle and get a second opinion on anything. It would be only a matter of time before I drew a face on a volleyball, named it and started consulting it on important business matters.

I conjured a frightening image of myself on the verge of insanity: unkempt, wearing pajamas at noon, holed up in a closet and whispering to my customers so the feline predators wouldn’t find me, isolated and depressed without any coworkers with whom to commiserate. My boss would forget all about me, and my prospects within the company would be extinguished. So, I turned down the chance to do something I had for so long thought I desperately wanted. Did I make the right decision? I don’t know. Let me ask Lucille Volleyball.

Goin to the Office, and I’m Happily Married

workwifeAs a romantic, I am not required to take my marriage vows to the extreme. I do, though. Call it going the extra mile. Sadly, I am only obligated to meet the bare minimum, like any other married person.

In sickness and in health, for most balanced people, means that I am not to annul my marriage if my husband’s appendix bursts or he catches the plague. I take it to mean that when I get an ingrown toenail, he has to listen to me whine about it for as many days as it takes that nastiness to heal, without placing an ad on craigslist for “Wife: Free to a good home. No references required.”

Until death do us part, for all practical purposes, means that if he dies, I can simply replace him. In fact, he prefers to believe that I would find someone to keep me company, as opposed to what I have in mind. Moving on is so boring. Devoting the rest of my days to mourning is much more my style. I find the idea of wearing a black veil and a bit of his hair in a locket to have a more dramatic flair.

To love and cherish, too vague. Too many people love their real spouses while simultaneously cherishing work spouses. Perfectly acceptable for the general population, but not for one obsessive, hopeless romantic such as myself. Even though I spend twice as many waking hours with coworkers as I do with my husband, and some might call it cute to have a special connection with some lucky fellow at work, I find the thought quite depressing.

Naturally, I would make quite a spectacular work wife, since I wear makeup to the office at least three days of the week and always leave bed head at home. But I don’t want the thrice-divorced guy from the warehouse complaining about his newest wife, all the while telling me how amazing I am because I am not her. Nor do I want the overtly happily married man, who reminds me that his trophy homemaker of a bride is the one who designated me his work wife. And under no circumstance do I want that young, single guy who winks at all the ladies, even the ones who don’t wear makeup three days a week. Despite their performances, any one of them would only be filling some emptiness that had nothing to do with me, and the only way for me to find any value in the relationship would be to do the same.

Problem is, my home life is not the source of unhappiness. And frankly, if I can’t put the effort into wearing makeup all five days of the week or trimming my toenails properly so they don’t become ingrown, I don’t have what it takes to be a successful bigamist. Sorry, fellas.

Bad Writing: the Ultimate Office Torture

Cat_editing_email

Cool cats proofread their business documents.

The right interrogator could get me to confess to anything. First, fingernails on a chalkboard.

“Alright, I took 62 minutes for lunch!”

Next, bring in a woman to talk nonstop about her husband’s shortcomings, using the phrase “Bless his heart” over and over until I want to stick a pencil in each ear. “Yes, I surfed the Internet on company time!”

Finally, make me read the following:

Employee’s, We had a great physical year even better then last year, you should be proud. Choosing Employee of The Year has been a difficult task for Carl and I because their was so many accomplishments  from all of you making it hard to choose from,  little on name just one. Your all valuable employee’s, myself and Carl takes this award seriously.

“Stop! I confess to whatever you want. Just take that poorly written memo away from me!”

Not everyone feels this way. Most people do not critique menus and plumbers’ truck decals. They don’t have fond memories of learning to diagram a sentence in grade school.

Attention to grammar, punctuation and spelling is a skill that often has no real value in the office. When was the last time you missed a promotion because you could not properly conjugate a verb? Can you remember your company suffering a terrible quarter because the CEO used too many dangling participles?  The worst grammar offenders can be the most business-savvy, intelligent leaders of the company.

So, why bother proofreading your interoffice emails? Because even though 99 percent of your coworkers may not notice your bad grammar, there’s always one nerd in the office who cares. It may not be fair, but some of us can’t help but lose a little professional respect for someone who cannot compose a correct sentence. And maybe, just maybe, a customer cares. What if that new client just can’t justify paying thousands of dollars to someone whose emails make him sound like he slept through elementary school? Good writing is not pretentious and snooty. It’s efficient and it communicates your message without confusion, while poor writing is actually much more difficult to decipher.

If you want to work on your written communication but can’t remember the name of a single English teacher you ever had, it’s ok. Look around your office. There’s always someone. Maybe it’s that guy who reads thick books on his lunch break. Didn’t he mention an English degree? Ask him to proofread those really important messages before you hit “send.”

If you don’t want to enlist others in your quest for better communication, there are plenty of resources out there. Although you can buy reference books, all you really need is to surf the Net. Yes, on company time. One of my favorite sites is that of Chicago writer and editor, Erin Wright. Her blog playfully tackles common grammar issues, making the English language fun. That way, when they finally bust you for surfing the Web on company time, you have a valid excuse. Just be careful in telling the boss that he could benefit from some grammar tips.

All’s Not Fair in School and Work

barely-wait-credit-great-workplace-ecard-someecardsAt my office, there is a lot of paperwork. I’m talking hard copies that we physically move around the office but never scan or store electronically. For the past year, another employee and I have talked about how efficient we could be with a system for scanning and storing paperwork electronically.

Every time we talked this way, certain seasoned employees objected, saying it would never work. They argued that scanning would take too much time, and we countered that we could hire a part-time person to do nothing but scan. While the other lady and I have seen the utility value in a paperless system, the others have not. She and I have had a personal interest and confidence in our ability to succeed in implementing such a system, but the others have shown none. They do not seem to believe that our team could have control over the outcome. In other words, the majority of our staff has been seriously unmotivated to go paperless.

Every once in a while, a girl finds herself in the right place at the right time. It actually happened to me this past week. Just as I was immersed in a grad school lesson about using motivation in training, my company’s president announced he had talked with our software company about ways to start scanning documents into the system. We were finally going paperless.

Before me, I saw a grand opportunity to motivate my coworkers. I would not use shallow, external motivation such as rewards for attending the training or punishment for not trying the new scanners. Oh, no. Not this smarty pants. Such attempts at motivation lack intrinsic value, and I had big plans to help employees see that they are in control of making the paperless system help them do their jobs more efficiently. I would spark their personal interest.

When we first implement the paperless system, I daydreamed, there will be kinks, and it is important that employees not attribute these early failures to forces beyond their control. If they just throw their hands up and declare the whole scanning system to be impossible, we would get nowhere. Employees will need to see that as we work with each other and our software company on specific techniques and strategies, we can overcome these little problems and make it work.

I considered a pilot group including myself, the other lady who is strongly in favor of the program and a few of the more experienced employees who show a willingness to learn. We would work out a few initial snags and share our accomplishments with the team to promote vicarious feelings of success. After incorporating a social model of success, we could help the other employees assess themselves to make sure they meet prerequisites before beginning. For example, have they used a scanner before? Are they familiar with naming and saving files in a variety of formats? What prior knowledge, if any, do they have of paperless systems?

While incorporating social success, I reminded myself, I must be careful. Some of the older employees, who have been doing things the old-fashioned way for decades, could become irritated if they interpret our successes as a challenge or competition. I would never say to a seasoned employee, “If we can do it, why can’t you?”

I was on fire with ideas, and I couldn’t wait to share them with the team. I really was in the right place at the right time!

Then, I made the mistake of going to lunch. One short hour later, I arrived back at the office to find the queen of naysayers sending documents through a scanner that seemed to have appeared during my absence. I immediately noticed a drastic change. She was not grumbling. On the contrary, she was singing the new system’s praises and bragging to upper management about what she was accomplishing. They were positively beaming at her.

I wish there were a moral to this story, but there’s not. Sometimes, evaluation and planning simply mean jack squat next to a loud mouth with a desperate need for attention. Such is office life.