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Posted: February 23, 2011

Ten hardcore realities for today’s workers

This is the way it is, kids -- get used to it

John Heckers

Y'know, I really don't like playing the role of "Dr. Doom." I'd much prefer to give you good employment news. But frankly, I'd be lying, a no-no back when I was in Sunday School. So here are a few reality checks and pieces of advice on employment today.

1). Unemployment is still rising. Forget what the government says. Their numbers don't add up. Job creation is very low and layoffs continue. The decrease in the unemployment rate comes from a). seasonal variation, b). the Byzantine and dishonest way the government figures unemployment figures and c). the number of people who have just given up looking for jobs and whose unemployment has run out. Things are still bad out there, regardless of what Pollyannas tell you.

2). You must continue to "do more with less." Yes, there are mega-corporations who are immorally raking in the profits on the backs of their employees. But this isn't the vast majority of American companies. Most employers in America are small to medium sized businesses, not the soulless and amoral mega-corps. And we're struggling to keep you on payroll and pay your skyrocketing benefits. This means that you will continue to be asked to "do more with less." It isn't because we're nasty and greedy. It is because we're trying to hang on so we all (including you) can keep our jobs and pay our bills.

3). Don't quit. Until you have another job lined up, it is probably foolish to quit your current position. There are exceptions to this, of course. But they are very few. This may mean that you will be stuck at your current employer for a while, as finding a new job rapidly is a full-time process. Yes, this is a 180 from some of my previous positions. Intelligent people change opinions and advice based on changing circumstances.

4). Don't get fired for cause. Behave yourself. If you get fired for cause you'll be out a very long time. ‘Nuff said.

5). Don't burn bridges. If you are laid off (or quit), make sure that you act with class. Don't put a virus in the computer system, insult your boss, or make it so no one else can do the job you're leaving. These actions will come back to haunt you. How you leave might, in the future, give you a new opportunity.

6). There is no more "work/life balance." I get nasty comments every time I tell this truth. The fact is that, if you want to keep your job, stop whining about working long hours, giving up vacation time and not having time with the kiddos.

7). Your primary responsibility to your family is a paycheck. Keeping your kids fed, clothed and housed trumps going to a recital, school play or soccer game. Trust me. They'll live if you have to skip these things to make enough money to support them. Kids are very skilled at inducing guilt. Be a grown-up and take grown-up responsibilities. Let ‘em whine and call you a bad parent. It will give them something to talk to their shrink about when they're older.

8). You're a fool if you don't have a network. You have another responsibility, and that is to do whatever possible to generate and keep up a good network. This is much easier to do while you're working. You're just a fool if you think that your current job is going to last forever. Get off your duff and make networking events, work LinkedIn, and get and stay in contact with people who can help you if you get laid off.

9). Leave your problems at home. Maybe you're about to be foreclosed on. Or your spouse has lost his or her job. There are bad things that happen to all of us, but keep these troubles out of the office. Do your job. Handle the nasty stuff in private.

10). Understand that most people don't like their jobs every day. It's called "work" as opposed to "play" because it's work. This foolish notion that jobs should be "fun" is just narcissistic and absurd. Don't whine because your job isn't a blast. Suck it up and do your job well, even on the days it isn't fun.

I know that I'll get blasted for these realities, but, boys and girls, ignore these lessons at your extreme career peril. You can live in a dream world or cope with the real world as it is. I prefer the latter.

Ready for that new executive job? Join John and up to 40 of your executive colleagues on Monday, March 14, 2011, for Structured Networking. More info and required registration here.

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John Heckers, MA, CPC, BCPC was an Executive, Relationships, Life and Spiritual Coach in Denver with 30 years of experience  helping people with their lives, relationships and careers.

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Readers Respond

Kate --- I'm a little confused by your post. Could you please tell me what you're responding to? Then I might be able to reply to you appropriately. By John Heckers, MA, CPC, BCPC on 2011 03 03
Wow. I don't know what to say, except I want to know- when was the last time you were out of work in this economy and actually had to look for a job? I only ask because if this was written from someone who has been pounding the pavement (I assume you have your own consulting business) after being laid off from a major corporation, I would understand your point of view. I'm going to assume this isn't the case. I've been looking for workers. Great workers. A whole bunch of workers. And the one problem I have? People got lazy and didn't keep up on their skill set. I can't hire people who haven't the faintest clue what new software is (salesforce, rally, confluence) or how to use sharepoint or even how to organize a project report. And this hits me in the face every day from seasoned workers who I can't hire because there will be someone else faster and better if I wait an extra day or two for a great resume. I would say to someone who has "behaved" at work- better go brush up on everything new so that if you do get laid off, you have something to offer. By Kate on 2011 03 03
LOL! and Touche! By Ed Collins on 2011 02 25
Ed --- A side note back. I CERTAINLY DON'T think that all young professionals want a 24/7 fun job or the world handed to them on a silver platter. There are many (probably a majority) who are hard working, dedicated and with a great work ethic. However, I see far too many people (of every generation, including mine) who DO fit into the "the world revolves around mememememe" and "I'm entitled" categories. A senior citizen just about ran me over with her shopping cart at Safeway a couple of years ago and yelled "Get out of the way, boy! I'm a senior," going to show that the attitude of narcissism and entitlement can exist at any age. I actually highly enjoy working with my daughter's generation (Millennials), and love to mentor and grow their careers. But everyone needs to be realistic in today's nasty market. Thanks for your comments. By John Heckers, MA, CPC, BCPC on 2011 02 25
John, I don't think anyone was arguing that life is not always fair and that we should learn to suck it up. Depending on your job and the industry you can easily see that work can be a four letter word. There are jobs for a pay check and jobs that we want to get up for when the alarm goes off. Just thought I would say that I believe we are responsible for more than a roof over our kids heads and that employers need to be respectful to personal time. Obviously, we do what we have to when we have to. Just another side note, not all young professionals think the world should hand them a 24/7 fun job or look for everything to be served up they way they like it or threaten to take their ball home. Like I said before, the rest of your points were on target. Thanks again for the post. Ed By Ed Collins on 2011 02 25
Sharris --- yes, politicians tend to be evil and useless on both parties. I'm not sure that your "supply side" economics works, however. I've got lots of opinions on ways to create jobs, but that is for another column. Ed...SOME people can have "fun" at work, but work is work, not play. The desire of, especially, younger people to have fun all the time at work is what I'm referring to as absurd and narcissistic. I separate this from having a fulfilling and satisfying job, though that, too, must be earned over time. Most lower-level jobs are pretty boring and mind-numbing. That's life and people need to get used to it. If you're (especially) a young person and have a basically satisfying job, thank your lucky stars and don't quit looking for Nirvana. It doesn't exist. As to spending time with kids....people need to get real. OF COURSE kids need parental interaction. But I see so many parents that stress if they can't be at EVERY little event that their little darlings (monsters?) have that it is absurd. Attend what you can, but understand that we, as parents, have the primary responsibility of keeping these kids fed, housed and clothed. Otherwise,it falls (irresponsibly)on society. THIS should be the priority, NOT going to soccer games. OK fanatic parents...take your best shot! By John Heckers, MA, CPC, BCPC on 2011 02 25
John, I think you make good points but disagree that having fun at work is narcissistic and absurd. We may live in a world were two incomes is necessary, but we should demand a level of respect from our employers that allows for family time regardless of your marital status. People are more productive when they are happy so why make life miserable as an employer, that is just stupid although practiced way to much. Regarding the McMansion lifestyles all I can do is agree. I know so many people that think their house and cars are staples of success that it makes me sick. The average family has 2 kids so why the heck do you need 4,000 sq. ft. + for 4 people who are not home 50% of the time? As sharris points out it all comes down to politics (as per usual), but work environments should have more class and respect for workers regardless. John, the other point I disagree with is how much time we give our kids. It may be true that little Johnny or Susie will get over the fact that dad or mom missed a sports game or musical, but having time with your kids every day I believe is important. We made it a point to be at the dinner table every night and be available for the next 2 hours after that for school work help, to listen to their woes about school yard scrapes or whatever. Then and only then did we pick up any left over work from work or chores in the house. If you don't want little Johnny or Susie being the crappy little juvies that some day you fear or wonder why their parents did not raise better then you better be willing to stick up for your personal time at work even if the boss fires you for it in my opinion. Most of your other points are right on target. Thanks for the post. Ed Collins By Ed Collins on 2011 02 24
I agree with John that we're here now and regardless of how we got here there are realities that we will now need to address. The current culture and work ethic cannot possibly be changed as long as there are entitlements, bailouts and political corruption. Government cannot tax their way back to get us to individual and corporate prosperity. Raising the mill levy on real property is not the solution to generating more revenue for local municipalities. Having the taxpayer pay for medical and pensions for government worker's is going to dig a deeper and deeper hole, requiring even more taxes out of everyone's paycheck. Mike is correct, the author’s approach is unsustainable, but for the long term. For the short term it is essential and will be required. Solutions: Reduce the size of government. Eliminate entitlements. Repeal healthcare and come up with a more affordable program for those that cannot afford care. Cut unnecessary spending. Eliminate or slash Federal departments and allow the States to decide how to spend their own funds, without the Fed’s taking out a large chunk for administration costs and returning a small slice of the funds back to the States! Lift restrictions and add incentives to encourage manufacturing. Get rid of government waste and corruption. These are common sense solutions. Results: Many American’s will return to work. Wages will rise for business owners and individual employees. Values will increase for shareholders. Revenues will increase for government. We will eventually be able to hire staff and return to normal working hours. We will find a balance between work, family and life. Market forces will balance out and drive demand for employees, staffing, wages and work load without artificial influences from Government. Placing the blame isn’t going to solve the problems, common sense solutions will. By sharris on 2011 02 23
Look, Mike....I'm not saying I LIKE this current culture. And I agree with you that we got here through a culture of greed and materialism. But the facts are --- we're here. Kids also spell love F-O-O-D, and H-O-U-S-E. Ask any of the homeless kids I've seen over the years. They would much prefer to eat and have a place to lay their heads than lots of time with mom and dad, although they still want lots of time with mom and dad. Kids are black holes. They will take all of the attention you can give them and still say it is not enough. But a prime responsibility is to keep them housed and fed. And we aren't just talking "McMansions" here. Yes, buying McMansions has caused problems for some people. But for many people, it is a question of having ANY place to live. Now, I don't like these realities in today's workplace any more than you do. I despise them. Personally, I don't like working 80 hour weeks just to pay the bills and keep staff employed. But collective greed and unrealistic thinking got us where we are. We're going to have to buckle down and work hard to get out of this terrible place as a country and as individuals. The only people having fun now are the politicians and the billionaires we, the taxpayers, bailed out. By John Heckers, MA, CPC, BCPC on 2011 02 23
The work culture you describe is unsustainable. Who forced the working parents you describe to buy a McMansion that is now in foreclosure. This was encouraged by Greenspan of the Federal Reserve. Let's audit the Federal Reserve and bring sanity to our money that is now controlled by a group of private bankers. Children want love. Children spell love T-I-M-E. By mike on 2011 02 23
John, an excellent piece of reality put into words. Yes, things are still bad out there and one can deny it, or accept it and move on. Personally, I “work to live” rather than “live to work”. I recognize that work and the paycheck it provides are an important part of helping me to live. None-the-less, "Work" is still a four letter word. I do still find balance between work and family, I just give up on some sleep by working late or getting up early to accommodate. You hit the nail on the head describing how we, as small business owners, struggle to do all so we can to keep our staff continuously employed and paid each week, and we do this despite the obstacles and propaganda the government puts in our way. If they would just back off we would all be better off in so many ways (OK, I got my my political speach out of the way). The only thing you should be blasted for is for being realistic and honest. Thanks for sharing your wisdom. I better get back to work now! By sharris on 2011 02 23
In response to #8. A great networking event for people in technology. Colorado Technology Association (CSIA) is breaking records again. C-Level event on March 10th has record sponsors, and the C-Levels they have (with big budgets to spend) are amazing. A must attend event. See the list of C-Levels and their $800 million in projects here(and register): http://www.coloradotechnology.org/?page=CLevel11 By John on 2011 02 23

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