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Posts Tagged ‘Employment’

The end of (unpaid) internships — about time?

In behavior, business, education, film, journalism, life, Media, Money, movies, news, television, US, work on November 2, 2013 at 12:51 pm

By Caitlin Kelly

As some of you know, this has been a year of lawsuits against major corporations with very deep pockets who have hired interns and either not paid them enough — or not paid them anything at all.

Experience, skills and a new network are deemed sufficient compensation.

internship

internship (Photo credit: Sean MacEntee)

The problem? No lower-income would-be employee can afford to rent space, feed and clothe themselves, let alone afford gas or subway fare, if they are not paid. A serious internship requires all the time and energy it takes to make that income “on the side” — which has meant that many internships are eagerly claimed by those whose parents or partner can afford to subsidize them.

If a company can keep its lights on and elevators running, it can afford to pay its interns!

Now, in response to all the hue and cry, Conde Nast — the publishing empire producing Vanity Fair, Glamour, Vogue, et al — has decided to end its internship program.

Here’s a piece about it from mediabistro.com, a major hub for Jnews:

there’s so much more to doing internships than just the desk work. As they’re pursued in such a transitional time of life, I believe they help to shape who you are not just professionally but also personally, and if
they’re done right, they can push you toward a decision about what you want to do with your life. For the rest of your life. What if other huge names like Condé Nast gave up on their internship programs? The New Yorker, in many circles, is considered the pinnacle of journalistic success.

And for fashion writers and enthusiasts, Vogue reaches those heights. Now, freshly graduated people are potentially left to knock on Condé Nast’s door with zero relationships in the building, having had no opportunity to show them that they can hack it at a major media title —the  shot you get during an internship.

English: I took this photograph of the footsto...

English: I took this photograph of the footstone of Conde Nast in Gate of Heaven Cemetery on April 9, 2007. Conde Nast was a real person — how would he feel about all this? GNU Free Documentation License – (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

And from The Globe and Mail:

I remember when my first internship ended, the staff gathered around to tell me what a wonderful a job I had done and wish me well. But instead of eating cake, I really wanted to blurt out “just put me on the payroll!”

On the other hand, that internship helped me land my first paying job. The hiring manager even overlooked his requirement that I possess a master’s degree in journalism from an expensive Ivy League college after seeing clippings of my articles published during that internship.

But somewhere along the line, internships – meant to bridge the skills gap between formal education and an entry-level job – evolved into an accepted way for companies to demand free labour.

In recent years, a chorus of discontent has arisen over unpaid internships, most notably in several high-profile lawsuits, including ones against Fox Searchlight Pictures and Hearst Magazines. Condé Nast shut down its internship program last week after an earlier lawsuit.

I have strong opinions about this as I’ve been hiring — and paying — interns and assistants for more than a decade, paying them a low wage of $10 hour to a maximum of $15/hour. I had an unpaid intern, Jessica, who received college credit for the semester we worked together — by the time it ended, I’d grown so reliant on her helpful good cheer I paid her $12/hour, and then (with one phone call) found her her first post-grad job, in the field she wanted.

On my first book, “Blown Away: American Women and Guns”, I truly was broke, yet managed to find four bright, capable young women to help me with research — without pay. They were excited to contribute to a work of women’s history and I was deeply grateful for their skill and energy. One of them, 11 years later, remains a friend and colleague; she went on to work for one of NPR’s biggest national radio programs.

Cover of "Blown Away: American Women and ...

Cover of Blown Away: American Women and Guns

Since then, I’ve worked with about a dozen others, some fantastic, some less so. But I’ve paid all of them, even those without a shred of journalism experience or training. It’s a win-win for us both — they learn a lot, quickly, by doing substantive work and I am freed from endless administrative tasks to get on with higher-value work I need to do.

These are not full-time jobs. I can’t pay anyone thousands of dollars a month; i.e. a living wage. But I spend hundreds, sometimes close to a thousand dollars, each year to hire and pay people for their skills.

If someone is offering you a skill — and you, and your company, are profiting from their labor, pay them.

It seems pretty simple to me.

Have you done a paid (or unpaid) internship?

Was it as valuable as you’d hoped?

It’s Labor Day: What does work mean to you?

In aging, behavior, books, business, journalism, life, news, US, work on September 2, 2013 at 3:02 pm

By Caitlin Kelly

The radio plays Aaron Copland’s breathtaking “Fanfare for the Common Man.”

Cover of Supply Chain Management Review

Cover of Supply Chain Management Review (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The front page of The New York Times carries this incredibly depressing-but-important story about how clothing factories overseas — the ones that probably made the T-shirt I’m wearing as I write this post — are lying, cheating and faking their “safe” inspected factories:

As Western companies overwhelmingly turn to low-wage countries far away from corporate headquarters to produce cheap apparel, electronics and other goods, factory inspections have become a vital link in the supply chain of overseas production.

An extensive examination by The New York Times reveals how the inspection system intended to protect workers and ensure manufacturing quality is riddled with flaws. The inspections are often so superficial that they omit the most fundamental workplace safeguards like fire escapes. And even when inspectors are tough, factory managers find ways to trick them and hide serious violations, like child labor or locked exit doors. Dangerous conditions cited in the audits frequently take months to correct, often with little enforcement or follow-through to guarantee compliance.

Dara O’Rourke, a global supply chain expert at the University of California, Berkeley, said little had improved in 20 years of factory monitoring, especially with increased use of the cheaper “check the box” inspections at thousands of factories. “The auditors are put under greater pressure on speed, and they’re not able to keep up with what’s really going on in the apparel industry,” he said. “We see factories and brands passing audits but failing the factories’ workers.”

Still, major companies including Walmart, Apple, Gap and Nike turn to monitoring not just to check that production is on time and of adequate quality, but also to project a corporate image that aims to assure consumers that they do not use Dickensian sweatshops. Moreover, Western companies now depend on inspectors to uncover hazardous work conditions, like faulty electrical wiring or blocked stairways, that have exposed some corporations to charges of irresponsibility and exploitation after factory disasters that killed hundreds of workers.

I wrote about the horrible working conditions at Foxconn, the enormous Chinese company whose workers make Apple products (yup, writing on one right now) and who flung themselves out of windows in despair.

I talked about this in “Malled”, my book about retail labor. It was published last month in China, with a new cover and title.

I have several Chinese-speaking friends who have offered to compare the translation to my original — to see if that bit was censored.

It’s a crappy day here in New York — gray, cloudy, hot and humid. It’s an official holiday. Time to relax, recharge, reflect on our role as “human capital” the new euphemism for the old euphemism for human beings toiling for pay — “labor.”

But we are both working, albeit from home.

Jose, whose full-time job as a photo editor for the Times keeps him busy enough, spent all day yesterday on an income-producing side project.

I spent the day with a friend, deep in conversation. Turns out, even with a decade+ age difference between us, despite living on opposite coats, we both spend much of our time figuring out how to make our work-lives both more emotionally satisfying and financially useful to our needs.

Time Selector

Time Selector (Photo credit: Telstar Logistics)

Recent polls are shockingly sad — some 70 percent of Americans hate their jobs. A Gallup poll of 150,000 workers found many of us actively miserable in the place where we spend the bulk of our days and energy.

This is nuts!

I grew up in a freelance family. No one had a paycheck, pension or guaranteed income, working in print, film and television. No one taught on the side. It was balls-to-the-wall, full-on creative entrepreneurship, for years, decades.

I took my first staff job, the job (then and now) of my dreams, as a feature writer for The Globe and Mail, Canada’s national daily, when I was 26. “This is the best job you’ll ever have,” a friend working there warned me. I laughed, assuming a lifetime of up-and-onward, in title, status and income.

She was right.

I hope to stop working full-time within the next decade.

Minute Maid Plant, 1950s

Minute Maid Plant, 1950s (Photo credit: StevenM_61)

I want to travel to the many places I still know very little of: Africa, Latin America, Asia. They require $1,500+, 12-16-hour flights. They are not places I want to cram into a week or ten days “vacation.”

I hope to keep writing books, teaching, keeping my hand in. But not tethered to the hamster wheel of non-stop production.

How do you feel about your job?

In your first post-grad job? Read this!

In behavior, business, journalism, life, Money, work on July 26, 2013 at 12:02 am

By Caitlin Kelly

Here’s a powerful, no-bullshit list written by Jason Nazar, founder and CEO of Docstoc, who is 34. In his blog post for Forbes, an American business magazine, he offers 20 tips for people in their 20s, like:

Congratulations, you may be the most capable, creative, knowledgeable
& multi-tasking generation yet.  As my father says, “I’ll Give You a
Sh-t Medal.”  Unrefined raw materials (no matter how valuable) are
simply wasted potential.  There’s no prize for talent, just results.
Even the most seemingly gifted folks methodically and painfully worked
their way to success.

I like a lot of what he says.

When you’re looking for your first, or second or third, job, it’s easy to forget or not even realize how utterly different the world of work is from school, which is why internships can be a useful glimpse into the “real world.”

In school, you have very clearly defined parameters of success and failure.Whoever else is attending your college or university appear to be your primary or exclusive competition, for grades, for profs’ attention, for campus resources.

But if your classmates are not economically or racially or politically or religiously diverse, you’re in for one hell of a shock if you relocate to a different place, or several, to earn your living.

Who are these people and why do I have to do what they tell me?

In school, if you attain a fantastic GPA and some awards, you’re the bomb.

In school, yes you are.

But in school, short of wasting tuition money and/or flunking out, there are no terrible consequences to failing or missing deadlines or getting wasted or showing up to class late and/or hungover or high.

The real world is much less forgiving of stupidity and a lack of preparation.

In school, most students hang out with their peers, i.e. people within their age group. Adults end up being annoying things to please (profs) or placate (parents) but not people you may spend much time trying to understand, cooperate with or relate to as a fellow professional.

If you’ve never worked with (or managed) someone 10, 20 or 30 years your senior, how’s that going to feel?

All these new adults — not your parents or their friends or professors or people who are inherently interested in (or deeply invested in) seeing that you succeed — don’t care. And they expect a lot. All the time. OMG!

As Nazar also writes:

You Should Be Getting Your Butt Kicked – Meryl Streep in “The Devil Wears Prada” would be the most valuable boss you could possibly have.  This is the most impressionable, malleable and formative stage of your professional career.  Working for someone that demands excellence and pushes your limits every day will build the most solid foundation for your ongoing professional success.

The Devil Wears Prada is one of my favorite films ever.

I’ve seen it so many times I can recite dialogue from it, like Priestly’s hissed dismissal: “That’s all.”

It’s about an ambitious young journalist in New York, (so I can identify with that bit) but is also about the price of being ambitious and what it means to sacrifice your friendships (or not) or your sweetie (or not) or your ethics (or not.)

Miranda Priestly (Meryl Streep) and Andrea Sac...

Miranda Priestly (Meryl Streep) and Andrea Sachs (Anne Hathaway): pre-release still photograph from the film The Devil Wears Prada; this also is the novel’s redesigned cover. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The boss in the film, Miranda Priestly, is insanely and insatiably demanding, but I get it and know why. And having a boss like that is basically boot camp for the rest of your career.

If you freak out and cry and think you can’t do it — whatever it is — you’re pretty much useless. Find someone to help you. Read a book. Watch a video. Take a class, or three. Find a mentor.

Resourcefulness will probably be your most valuable skill, no matter what sort of work you do.

The truly useful/valuable employee memorizes a two-word phrase — “On it!”

I also really like this tip:

Your Reputation is Priceless, Don’t Damage It – Over time, your reputation is the most valuable currency you have in business.  It’s the invisible key that either opens or closes doors of
professional opportunity.  Especially in an age where everything is forever recorded and accessible, your reputation has to be guarded like the most sacred treasure.  It’s the one item that, once lost, you can never get back.

It’s temptingly easy to think: “I’m young. It doesn’t matter. No one will notice or care or remember.”

Not true!

Take every opportunity to leave an impression as a chance to make it lasting and positive. That doesn’t mean sucking up or being a phony.

My current part-time assistant, C., has been stellar for the six months or so we’ve been working together. She never whines or complains, gets on with things and I routinely throw her into all sorts of situations for which she has zero training or experience. I know she can do it well — and she does.

Sweet!

In return, she knows she can count on me for a kickass reference to anyone she needs.

One of the things I most enjoy about this relationship is that, on some levels, we’re very different — different religions, 30 years apart in age. But she’s fun, funny, worldly. That goes a long way in my book.

My husband and I both started working freelance — while full-time undergrads — for national media, he as a photographer for the Associated Press, I as a writer for magazines and newspapers. Paid.

We put ourselves in harm’s way by competing, as very young people, with those who had decades of experience and awards and real jobs. But that’s how you learn to compete and cooperate effectively at the highest levels.

If you’re just starting out, or have been working for a while, what advice would you offer to someone just joined the work world?

70 percent of Americans hate their jobs — how about you?

In behavior, business, journalism, life, Media, news, US, work on June 25, 2013 at 12:03 am

By Caitlin Kelly

Now here’s cheerful news. This by Tim Egan in The New York Times:

Among the 100 million people in this country who hold full-time jobs,
about 70 percent of them either hate going to work or have mentally
checked out to the point of costing their companies money — “roaming the
halls spreading discontent,” as Gallup reported. Only 30 percent of
workers are “engaged and inspired” at work.

At first glance, this sad survey is further proof of two truisms. One,
the timeless line from Thoreau that “the mass of men lead lives of
quiet desperation.” The other, less known, came from Homer Simpson by
way of fatherly advice, after being asked about a labor dispute by his
daughter Lisa. “If you don’t like your job,” he said, “you don’t strike,
you just go in there every day and do it really half-assed. That’s the
American way.”

The American way, indeed. Gallup’s current survey,
covering two years, is a follow-up to an earlier poll that found much
the same level of passive discontent from 2008 to 2010. Even in an
improving economy, people are adrift at work, complaining about a lack
of praise, with no sense of mission, and feeling little loyalty to
their employer.

Not surprisingly, the primary reason that people hate their jobs is their boss — who ignores them, bullies them, or undermines them. Sad, considering how many of us spend most of our time at work.

I was very lucky, in my first newspaper job at the Globe and Mail, to have the best boss ever. None has ever matched his rare combination of high standards, praise when warranted, low-key style and, best of all, someone who kept offering me terrifyingly difficult and unfamiliar assignments — which always ended up on the front page of that national paper.

New York journalism? Not so much, sorry to say.

Self Employment Tax Form - Schedule SE

Self Employment Tax Form – Schedule SE (Photo credit: Philip Taylor PT)

A few of my tormentors bosses here:

– The woman editor-in-chief at a medical trade magazine who shouted curses at everyone, even across our large open-plan office space. She stood Tokyo-subway-rush-hour close to me, her pupils strangely dilated — (heavy anti-psychotic medication? need of same?) — and shouted at me. One day I closed a phone interview with a brief chat, while she shrieked, (and he could hear every word): “I told you never to have personal conversations at work!” I finally asked a co-worker how she put up with it all. Her secret? Anti-depressants.

– The male editor-in-chief of another trade magazine who came into my small, narrow office to verbally hammer me with his disappointment in my work. I told him truthfully, as calmly and politely as possible, I was doing the best I knew how.  He’d hired me into a senior job for which I simply did not have the skills, as my resume made clear. “Define best!” he snarled.

– The male editor who, when I asked him to have lunch to discuss how I was doing in my new job, about six months in, sneered: “I don’t take lunch. When I want to speak to you, I’ll let you know.” (I was then 48.)

I’ve now been self-employed since 2006.

Do you have a boss from hell?

What — if anything — are you doing about it?

Have you ever had [or been] one?

Just pay them, dammit!

In behavior, business, entertainment, film, journalism, life, Money, movies, news, Style, US, work on June 12, 2013 at 3:49 pm

By Caitlin Kelly

So, imagine you finally get  a shot at the industry/job/company you’ve been dying to work for forever.

Imagine you have even spent the time, energy and hard work to acquire an MBA.

But, hey, sorry, we would love to have you come work for us, but we just don’t have a budget for interns.

As if.

Black Swan (film)

Black Swan (film) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A court decision made this week, I hope, will strike fear into the greedheads who keep offering work without payment:

A Federal District Court judge in Manhattan ruled on Tuesday that Fox
Searchlight Pictures had violated federal and New York minimum wage laws
by not paying production interns, a case that could upend the long-held
practice of the film industry and other businesses that rely heavily on
unpaid internships.

Should the government get tough to protect unpaid interns, or are internships a win-win?

In the decision, Judge William H. Pauley III ruled that Fox Searchlight
should have paid two interns on the movie “Black Swan,” because they
were essentially regular employees.

The judge noted that these internships did not foster an educational
environment and that the studio received the benefits of the work. The
case could have broad implications. Young people have flocked to
internships, especially against the backdrop of a weak job market.

Employment experts estimate that undergraduates work in more than one
million internships a year, an estimated half of which are unpaid,
according to Intern Bridge, a research firm.

Few things piss me off quite as much as people with money who keep insisting to those without it that they’re broke. Sooooooooory!

In my entire career as a photographer and journalist — including high school when I was paid $100 apiece for three magazine cover photos — I’ve very rarely given my skills unpaid to people who still themselves are collecting paychecks and paying to rent office space and keep their lights on –  yet somehow can’t scrape together enough shekels to pay for the hard work of people too young/poor/vulnerable/desperate who are willing or able to work without payment.

The larger issue, equally unfair, is that asking people to work for no money means that only those with money already (parental subsidies, usually) can even afford to take an unpaid internship.

You value their labor or you do not. Every penny you save on their free work is a penny added to your profits.

Fair? Really?

No one else in this economy gives it away! Not my plumber or electrician or physicians or dentist or massage therapist.

My husband was born into a family with very little money; his father was a Baptist preacher in a small city in New Mexico. He attended university on full scholarship and started working — for pay — right out of college as a news photographer. He would not have had the means to afford to work in his desired field without payment.

He has risen to a terrific job, with a pension, and helped The New York Times win a Pulitzer Prize for their 9/11 photos. What if he’d been shut out from the very start?

I have an assistant, part-time, who helps me with my writing — doing research, setting up interviews and meetings, whatever I need. I pay her. I pay the woman who cleans our apartment. I wouldn’t dare insult either of them by suggesting they work for free, because, “Hey, it’s great experience!”

I don’t make a ton of money, either. But if I want someone to work for/with me, I will pay them. The opportunity cost is another burden every intern faces if they give their time away to a cheapskate when they could be making money in those same uncompensated hours.

In a shitty economy where millions are desperate for work, for a job, referral or credential, I think requiring someone to work without payment is obscene.

Have you done an unpaid internship?

Was it worth it?

The wearying, growing toll of “emotional labor”

In behavior, business, cities, culture, journalism, life, Media, news, urban life, US, work on March 26, 2013 at 2:18 am
emotion icon

emotion icon (Photo credit: Łukasz Strachanowski)

It’s a phrase some of you might not know, even as your every workday includes it:

Does your job require you to manage your emotions, or the way you express those emotions, to meet organizational expectations? This is called ‘emotional labor.’ People in a service-oriented role – hotel workers, airline flight attendants, tour operators, coaches, counselors – often face the demands of emotional labor.

Arlie Hochschild created the term ‘emotional labor’ in 1983 to describe the things that service workers do that goes beyond physical or mental duties. Showing a genuine concern for customers’ needs, smiling, and making positive eye contact are all critical to a customer’s perception of service quality. These types of activities, when they’re essential to worker performance, are emotional labor.

When you face angry clients, or people who are generally unpleasant, emotional labor can be particularly challenging. A large part of that challenge comes from the need to hide your real emotions, and continue to ‘smile and nod your head,’ even when receiving negative or critical feedback.

Companies often place a great deal of strategic importance on service orientation, not only to external customers but to colleagues and internal clients as well. While emotional labor is applicable to many areas of business, the consequences are probably greatest in traditional service roles. However, in an increasingly service-oriented marketplace, it’s important to understand how emotional labor affects workers, and what organizations can do to support and manage any issues.

People who serve others in customer-facing jobs — like waitress/er, bartender, nurse, flight attendant, public transit workers and retail staff, to name only a few — shoulder this significant burden with every shift.

When I took a part-time retail job, which I describe candidly in my 2011 memoir, “Malled: My Unintentional Career in Retail”, I didn’t really get how hard emotional labor is. Now I do!

Part of it is the assumption, if you work in a service job like retail — and a snotty assumption increasingly made in a time of growing income inequality — that the person serving you has never attended or graduated college or traveled or can speak foreign languages. (All of which our staff of 15 could or had.) We really didn’t need to be spoken to sloooooowly in words of one syllable, as we so often were.

And then there was the bad-customer behavior — which we were expected to ignore, or greet with indulgent smiles — The tantrums! The insults! The whining and finger-snapping and eye-rolling.

With a grateful sigh, I left retail work on December 18, 2009.

English: Managing emotions - Identifying feelings

English: Managing emotions – Identifying feelings (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

But my writing business is pushing many of the same buttons.

A few recent examples from my freelance writing life:

– The young PR official from a company I’m profiling who Tweets my visit, (alerting all my staff and freelance competitors to my story), and then, (oh, irony), accused me hotly of “betraying” him by finding and interviewing sources he hadn’t pre-selected, approved and overseen. His naivete in tweeting leaves me shocked and furious, but in front of him, I pretend it’s not that big a deal because I really need to get this story finished.

–An editor assigned me five stories then told me she was leaving her position the following week. I felt a mix of confusion, annoyance and fear I might not get paid without her there; instead, I simply wished her well in her next project. (And, funny thing, the final two fell through, and cost me income I expected to earn. I did get paid, six weeks after invoicing.)

– A lawyer, a partner in a major D.C. firm, a story source, talks for 30 minutes — then tells me “this is all off the record.” In an email, he insists I print every word as he wrote it to me later, a promise I make but know I can’t keep because I don’t edit these stories. I’m now scared he’ll make my life hell, annoyed at his lack of understanding of how journalism works and sick to death of people threatening me!

Technically, I don’t have to do this for any employer (that would be me!), but I do…because maintaining my composure in the face of endless bullshit, no matter what I actually feel about it, is still just as essential to keeping sources cooperative, getting editors to answer/return my calls and emails and making sure I actually get paid.

Being self-employed offers no protection from emotional labor! We’re all in the service industry now, kids.

Do you perform emotional labor in your job?

How does it affect you?

Ten ways to be a kick-ass boss

In behavior, business, journalism, life, Media, Money, work on March 14, 2013 at 12:06 pm
English: Big Boss Man

English: Big Boss Man (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Having been an underling much of my life, I’ve seen the flip side of this deal.

My first boss, at The Globe and Mail, in my mid-20s, set the bar impossibly high for all future bosses. I still miss him!

What did I love about my Best Boss Ever?

— He scared the shit out of me by giving me assignments so huge and so unfamiliar I used to go home and sit in the bathtub and cry from terror. The rational part of my brain said, “No, you ninny. He thinks you’re talented and he’s giving you a fantastic chance to prove it. Go do it!”

— He was willing to listen to my ideas, and give me opportunities I had no right to, like sending me to the Winnipeg Jets’ training camp after I told him I knew nothing about hockey. Then asking me to profile the owner of the Maple Leafs.

The original Winnipeg Jets logo in the WHA

The original Winnipeg Jets logo in the WHA (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

– He told me when I needed to pick up my game.

— He told me I was too impatient and fussy and needed to stay put and be consistently excellent for a while doing one thing.

– He backed me to the hilt when one of my stories caused huge international furor. I was terrified I’d be fired. He loved the publicity for my work and our paper.

— When I decided to quit and go to another paper, he accepted my invitation to lunch — which cost me about $50 or so in 1986 — and told me I was welcome to return any time. His acceptance of my resignation letter was typically kind and elegant.

– I still have my hand-written attaboy note from him on one of my front-page stories: “Magnificent.” That one word was high praise in an industry that gives very little of it. I treasure it to this day.

Big Boss (Metal Gear)

Big Boss (Metal Gear) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Some tips for those in the boss’ chair:

Be fair

This is a big one. Workers can be whiny but they will, for sure, compare notes on how they’re being managed. Does everyone else really expect their emails returned at 3 a.m.? (And is this really how you think people should live?) Yes, you’re under ridiculous pressure to get results and productivity but try to remember that your staff are not merely units of labor. They’re people.

Be clear

People often mis-hear or don’t listen well or forget or are overwhelmed.  Make sure your staff knows exactly what you want. Better than having them flail, fearfully, in the dark. I once worked for a major newspaper whose macho motto was “Sink or swim.”

Puhleeze.

Say thank-you

This is huge. I try to make a point of thanking my assistants with every email and phone call. Yes, you’re paying them. They’re not robots. When I worked retail for a no-commission $11/hour, my feet burning after every shift, it made a surprisingly big difference when our manager, every night at closing, said “Thank you.” Do it often.

Pay properly

This is an area of some debate, clearly. I’ve learned the hard way that paying my part-time assistants, all of whom are college grads, $10/hour is not enough. I now pay my current assistant $15/hour, more than I prefer, worth it. In an era of $4/gallon gasoline, any boss who keeps cheaping out will find the result is lazy, unmotivated staff, people who quit the minute they can and an unspoken power struggle that slows everyone down.

I’m in the middle of profiling a huge company who’s legendary for paying badly — when half your reviews on glassdoor say you’re cheaper than all your competitors, listen up!

Make clear how you prefer to handle communication

We all have preferences. I prefer written communication — that way I can always see what I said and what was answered. Don’t fume or yell because your staff aren’t doing what you want. Communicate clearly what you expect.

Don’t abuse people’s time

This is huge. Just because you have a title or office or more salary or experience or education doesn’t justify being abusive. There are always going to be times when everyone has to work later or longer — including you! But if this is a constant, you’re doing something wrong. Don’t demand face time just because you can.

Don’t bully

I’ve been on the receiving end of this far too many times. It’s toxic and a total waste of resources. I once worked in an office — no exaggeration — a trade publisher, whose editor in chief shouted curses across the room at everyone, snarled inches from my face and sniped constantly at everyone. One of my co-workers told me she had been on anti-depressants for years just to be able to stand working there; I quit after six weeks there to go freelance. This includes yelling, sneering, eye-rolling or the silent treatment. People can document, and some will sue for, a hostile work environment.

Back your people up!

This is essential. We all work for our managers as much as we choose to work for a company or organization and our primary loyalty is to our boss and his/her boss(es.) Treat your staff with as much loyalty, resources, training and moral support as you can muster. Protect them whenever possible from toxicity that can lower morale.

Praise as often as you can

We’re all human. We need to celebrated when we’re succeeding, not only spoken to when we disappoint or fail.

Correct or criticize only in private

Never dress someone down publicly. It’s rude, humiliating and unnecessary. Unless your entire corporate culture is equally brutal, managers who do this lose respect from everyone in earshot and are sure to lose talented staff as soon as they can find new employment.

Bonus:

Be human!

The managers I will walk through fire for — I did a month on crutches in a Quebec winter covering an election campaign en francais for my first boss — show us they’re actually human beings. They laugh, share a joke, ask how our sweetie or dog or Mom or marathon training is doing. They have the self-confidence to reveal some of their weaknesses or vulnerabilities so we don’t feel Totally Intimidated.

What have I left out?

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Ten ways to be a kick-ass assistant

In behavior, business, education, life, work on March 13, 2013 at 1:31 am

When am I gonna make a living?.
It’s gonna take a while before I give in. Yes it is.
I’m sick and tired of scratching a living.
I am hungry but I’m not gonna give in, no

—- Sade, “When Am I Going to Make a Living?”

The job market is still lousy here in the United States, for thousands of smart people — even many with Really Fancy College degrees.

In a tough economy with too many people chasing too few jobs, you need to get your foot on the rung, even the bottom one, of a ladder that might actually lead you to a job you want. That might mean becoming someone’s assistant.

No eye-rolling. No “I didn’t go to college for that!”

No one did.

OK Boss - NARA - 534390

OK Boss – NARA – 534390 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

For more than a decade, I’ve hired, managed and retained unpaid interns and paid assistants to help me run my writing business and to research and help promote my two books.

I got the idea while teaching a journalism class at a local university with only 13 students. I knew exactly who I hoped would intern for me — a lively, funny, down-to-earth young woman named Jessica. It was like asking her for a date! Luckily, she said yes and stayed on to work for me after her unpaid internship ended; I paid her, more than a decade ago, $12 an hour. She was worth every penny.

In return, with one phone call to someone I knew who needed help, I found her a job straight out of school in a field she wanted. Score!

One of my favorite movies is The Devil Wears Prada, from 2006. I used to sympathize with the beleaguered and overworked assistant, Andie, but after the first few viewings, my sympathies switched to Miranda Priestley, her super-demanding boss at Runway magazine.

It’s a fun film — and offers much workplace wisdom.

Cover of "The Devil Wears Prada [Blu-ray]...

Cover of The Devil Wears Prada [Blu-ray]

If you’re looking for work, certainly a first post-grad job, think on these things…

Listen carefully

In an age of CPA — continuous partial attention — it’s rare to find young staffers able to offer you their full, undivided attention and look you in the eye for more than a few minutes. This is essential for creating and maintaining a working relationship with your boss and his or her clients or colleagues. Feels weird? Tough!

Your boss hired you to help them perform better. Listening very carefully to their instructions — and the tone of of voice they’re delivered in — is key. This is tougher by text or email, so try to get some face or phone time with them as well.

Take notes

Can you possibly remember everything they asked you to do? And every deadline? I doubt it. No matter how trivial the conversation appears to be — your boss is running between meetings or it sounds like an afterthought — it’s important to them. Which means it’s important to you!

Ask a lot of questions

Some bosses don’t have much time, or patience, to deal with endless questions, so knowing how much they will reveal and when is also a measure of how perceptive and sensitive to nuance you are; read up on the notion of emotional intelligence.

EQ matters as much as — if not more than –  IQ!

Do not guess. Do not make assumptions! It’s better to feel stupid and ask a question than screw it up by thinking because you graduated college you know what your boss really wants. You might.

But what if you’re wrong?

Email, call or text when necessary for clarification

I prefer assistants comfortable working independently because I have little time to manage or train them; if you see the word “self-starter” in an ad, that’s what they mean. But you will always have something you’re not quite sure of. Check!

Miranda Priestly (Meryl Streep) and Andrea Sac...

Miranda Priestly (Meryl Streep) and Andrea Sachs (Anne Hathaway): pre-release still photograph from the film The Devil Wears Prada; this also is the novel’s redesigned cover. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Check in!

How’s it going? Really.

If something is heading south, for whatever reason, your boss needs to know about it sooner rather than later so it can get fixed. If you’re used to parents who check in with you, or you with them, this is not that. This is not you looking for approval or a thumbs-up or a “Great job!” from your boss.

Take nothing personally

It’s work, kids. It’s a job. It’s not the rest of your life. It’s not the only thing you do or care about. So if someone snaps at you or yells at you or hands you a task you think is stupid, it’s actually not about you. It’s been deemed important by the people paying for your skills and labor.

When people are nasty or rude or just even unfriendly in a work setting, it often has very little to do with you as a person  — (unless you’re rude, obnoxious, unethical, lazy or entitled. But you’re not, right?) They’re likely carrying a shitload of stress, work or personal and likely both, with few places to express it.

Yes, this task (or job) is boring/tedious/repetitive — do it really well anyway!

We picked you because you seemed like a smart, lively, high-energy person. We hired you to do everything we do not have time, energy, manpower or patience to deal with. We hired you because, in the coldest language possible, our time is now valued more highly in the marketplace than yours, and we have bills to pay. So if your boss can bill $200-1,000 an hour for their skills, that’s where their focus needs to stay.

We’ve all done this shit! And your willingness to tackle tedious stuff well and efficiently sends a powerful and important meta-message to your boss: I get it.

Be cheerful, warm and fun to work with

Huge. This is a deal-maker. I’ve had a few assistants who didn’t always do exactly what I hoped for, but their genuine enthusiasm and sense of humor made it feel like we were a team. Your boss is stressed to the max. S/he really appreciates someone whose mood and attitude can lighten their load — so no whining/pouting/crying/negativity. Learn the names of your boss’s kids/spouse/pets, (and ask how they’re doing from time to time), and his/her birthday, even if all you do is wish them a cheery “Happy birthday!” Bosses are people too. (Some of them.)

Ask if suggestions and ideas are welcome — then show us what you’ve got

It’s great that you have lots of ideas. It shows initiative and gumption. But wait a while. Wait a few weeks, even months, before you start making suggestions. Unless your boss asks you for them.

Be 10000000% reliable

This is obvious. Flaking and bailing are simply not an option. Remember the letters ID — illness or death. In my book, they’re the only reason you can bail or be late. I once hired someone, who came highly recommended, who had lots of great ideas. I was psyched! Then she quit within a week because she had another income source and she suddenly remembered it was more important.

Loyalty matters.

Bonus tip:

Discretion is paramount. Never share anything your boss shares with you on any form of social media. Don’t tell your friends or your room-mates or anyone. Don’t forward it or keep it or re-purpose it for your own ends, like the assistant who casually mentioned she’d used some of my first book’s research material for a class paper. Um, no.

You have no idea who they know — the person your boss is about to hire, fire, promote or give a grant to. I sometimes have my assistants sign an NDA, non disclosure agreement, to make sure they get it. Just because you grew up sharing everything on social media doesn’t mean your boss wants his or her stuff used as if it were yours. It’s not!

What have I left out?

What’s your Plan B?

In aging, behavior, business, domestic life, family, journalism, life, Media, Money, politics, work on October 10, 2012 at 1:49 am
United (States) Parcel Service.

United (States) Parcel Service. (Photo credit: matt.hintsa)

Van Morrison — one of my faves — has a new album out, Born to Sing: No Plan B.

I’m eager to hear it, but it also made me stop and think…what’s my Plan B?

I have a few, but so far haven’t had to put them into action.

With decent French and Spanish skills, and my interior design training, I feel fairly confident I could pick up a job — albeit likely entry-level — in that field. Worst case, I have a Canadian passport and citizenship and another country in which to legally job-hunt, if necessary.

But I sure don’t want to start a whole new career, which many of my fellow journalists were forced to do after 24,000 of us lost our jobs in 2008; I’d love to do a story and find out where they have gone. I know one, a man in his 50s, now in culinary school in Florence — but he already owned a home there and has a high-earning spouse, both of which are damn helpful if you have to re-tool, certainly in your 50s or beyond.

As the American economy continues to eject too many people from fields they’re good at and like and pay them well, and thousands of others don’t (yet) have the requisite skills for a new career, whether as an X-ray technician or software designer, it’s a very real and pressing question.

A few days ago, I had a long, lovely breakfast with a good friend, a single woman a bit older than I who needed nine monthswith excellent skills — to land her last job in our field, journalism. In those nine months, she ran through her savings.

After she went home from breakfast, she emailed me: “Laid off.”

Holy shit.

When does this stop?

Will it ever?

If I had kids, which I do not, the only skill I’d suggest they develop to its fullest is the willingness to do whatever it takes to survive economically, pride be damned. I saw an ad this morning in another diner, hiring for waitress, delivery and hostess spots. I called my friend and told her. It’s not her dream job and it’s sure not in her field and God only knows what the pay is like.

But the key word here is hiring.

In 2007, terrified after working so hard through illness I got pneumonia and landed in the hospital for three days with a temperature of 104 and needing an IV, I gave in/up and took a part-time job, selling clothing at The North Face, an outdoor clothing company, for $11/hr. No bonus, no commission. Very few raises (like 30 cents an hour.)

I stayed 27 months, finally leaving December 18, 2009. I only left after I was able to replace that income with something else, then as a paid blogger for True/Slant, earning $400 a month without having to stand on my feet for seven hours. (That gig abruptly ended five months later when Forbes bought it and fired almost every one of us who had created the audience that made it attractive. Doncha love it?)

Plan B is never enough. We all, now, need Plans C-Z.

I was able to write a book about that experience, “Malled: My Unintentional Career in Retail”, and interviewed many others nationwide in the retail industry as well. I also got some cash from CBS, who optioned it for a sitcom, which did not happen.

It looked like a Plan B might have shown up, unbidden, as a creative consultant on that show, which would have guaranteed me a  nice four figures every month. Didn’t happen. (It’s being read now by three film/TV agents and I’m pretty optimistic someone else will pick it up.)

I’ve gained some income as a paid speaker since then, but haven’t been able to win the consulting gigs I’d hoped. (Turns out the retail industry has more “consultants” than a dog has fleas, and they all guard their lucrative turf jealously.)

So the success of any Plan B, (or C-Z), hinges on a number of factors:

– Can you segue into another industry, transferring some of your skills, at anywhere near your current earning power?

– If not, how much of a hit can you take and for how long? Forever?

– How much time have you got, really, to learn an entirely new set of skills? Days, weeks, months or years?

– Who is going to pay all your bills, and those of your dependents, as you do?

– Who’s going to pay your tuition or training fees?

– How supportive of this is your partner or spouse? What if it means, as it often does now in this recession, losing 50% or more of your previous income?

– How will you fund your retirement if this is the case?

– What about age discrimination? Everyone over 40 faces it and anyone over 55 is toast.

– How much physical stamina do you have for grueling jobs like retail or waitressing? (Foodservice and retail are the two single largest sources of new jobs in America, yet both at extremely low wages.)

– Do you need to sell your home and/or move to a new area? What if you lose that job?

Have you had to move to Plan B, or beyond?

What did you do?

If you did have to, what would it look like?

What’s freelance writing for a living really like?

In books, business, journalism, Media, work on July 10, 2012 at 12:13 am

My summer office

I recently read this blog post by a man who hasn’t held any writing job more than two years.

And David Handelman is no deadbeat:

When Aaron Sorkin left The West Wing in 2003, I was the only writer of 11 who immediately cleared out my office. I didn’t want to have to go back to fetch things later if I was let go. As it turned out, eight of us weren’t asked back.

The experience — and, I’m sure, my then-recent divorce — taught me it’s better to assume a job isn’t going to last, and be pleasantly surprised when it does, than presuming the opposite and being caught without a parachute.

As I look around me, more people of my generation seem to be in the same boat. Whether it’s editors who pinball from one job to another, college professors who are forever “adjunct” instead of tenured, newspeople who jump from network to network, it feels like there’s little security. I just happen to be one of the more extreme versions.

I lost my last staff job in June 2006, at the age of 50.

After sending out 48 resumes — with no reply — my heart just wasn’t in it. Like many people, I hate job-hunting. I do not interview very well when on the other side of the questions.

I returned to working freelance, picking up the pace with some long-time clients and finding new ones.

Then the recession hit, slashing my income to 25 percent of my staff salary. Major (i.e. well-paying) magazines were disappearing or cutting their freelance budgets.

My income is, thank heaven, steadily rising, now 50 percent of my old salary. But many print pay rates are lower now, and the costs of living a lot higher so, like many freelancers, I’m running to stay in place.

Bear in mind that some people have several regular columns and/or an advanced degree (allowing them to teach), or write for film or television or do corporate work, (all much more lucrative), none of which I’ve yet tried.

So what’s the freelance life like?

You do need to write well, as American novelist Francine Prose’s book, “Reading Like A Writer”, points out.

Kelly James-Enger, an American friend, colleague and savvy and successful freelancer, has published several helpful books on how to write freelance for a living. Her blog is also filled with good tips.

The one thing you never ever do is make shit up — like the two interns recently fired for outright fabrication, one of them working for The Wall Street Journal. If editors can’t trust you, you’re toast.

It’s a non-stop hustle.

My current income comes from:

Newspaper articles. I write for The New York Times as often as I can find an editor willing to assign, usually 3-6 times a year.

– Magazine articles. I don’t do a lot of magazine work these days. It’s often a hassle of multiple, unpaid revisions and the top rate — once $3/wd is usually, at best, $2/wd, meaning a check of $5,000+ is very difficult to attain when most pieces run at 700 to 1,200 words. Editors only pay you after they’re happy, so I try to work only with editors who like what I submit initially.

Web writing. I recently picked up my first-ever steady gig, writing a personal finance blog for Canadians.

Photo editing. I began my photography career at 17 selling three cover photos to a Toronto magazine and have since had my work published in Time, the Times and the Washington Post, among others. I also studied interior design, so am doing slideshows for HGTV.com, a wholly new way to finally integrate my skills.

Editing others’ work. People come to me to read and critique their own writing. Last year I edited a thriller translated from Spanish, sections of a business book and a few chapters of a memoir. (I charge $150-200/hour.)

Writing books. My last advance payment on “Malled” came in in April 2012. Time to sell the next book!

Speaking engagements. I’ve addressed three retail conferences so far, with my next one at the University of Minnesota on October 30.

Television option rights. My retail memoir, “Malled: My Unintentional Career in Retail” was optioned by CBS as a sitcom and a pilot script written. Like most pilot scripts, it didn’t make the cut. But I got some cash for the option, a one-time payment.

I’d ideally like to add a few more reliable revenue streams, like teaching writing at a college and/or holding my own writing workshops.

If you want, or need, to earn your living freelance, it takes almost daily client relationship building. And each client — unlike your one or two bosses at a staff job — has a different personality, billing cycle, narrative style. You have to adapt constantly.

And, yes, you need to be on LinkedIn; here’s why.

If you want to sell books to commercial publishers, you’ll need to find (and manage) an agent. If your work has value to film or television, you’ll be working with another agent, (who will claim even more of your income) and you might, (as I did), also pay an entertainment lawyer to review your agent-negotiated but possibly dense and incomprehensible contracts.

Freelancing also means a major shift in how you conceptualize work and labor — you’re selling time, talent and skills. They’re not “giving” you a job.

And financial success relies less on office politics (none), than your ability to find, nurture and retain profitable clients, while spotting or quickly shedding the PITAs (pain in the asses.)

People fantasize wildly about how great it is to manage your own time. It’s pleasant indeed to work, as I’m writing this, in a T-shirt and shorts in the cool morning on my balcony in silence.

But the only paycheck you get is the one you did the work successfully, and invoiced for; people with weekly paychecks too easily forget to make sure you also get yours in a timely manner.

Which is why when people offer you “exposure” instead of cold, hard cash for your skills, you must chuckle audibly at their naievete — and remind them that “exposure” is not yet accepted as legal tender anywhere.

You also have to man up enough to ask for more money on a regular basis — because some people with “real” jobs still get raises, bonuses, promotions and commission.

Freelancers only get what they are willing and able to negotiate — and your “value” is a highly subjective and relative term.

And, sadly, you’ll have to deal effectively with cheats and deadbeats.

I live near New York but have hired lawyers in Vancouver, Canada and Kansas City, Missouri to successfully sue two such publishers who, like some of their ilk, assume freelancers are weak, powerless, naive or too nice (hah!) to come after them.

After one in-flight magazine’s editor tried to wriggle out of paying me, I wrote to the airline CEO — and was sent a free ticket to anywhere they flew.

I’ve also hired assistants, who help to keep me productive. Freelancing brings with it a fair amount of administrative work but I don’t need to be the one doing it. I recently filled that position — with five offers within minutes — by posting it on Facebook.

Here’s an excellent blog if you work freelance in any capacity.

Do you freelance for a living?

How’s it going?

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