Stratford Office: 203-386-8800 | Stamford Office: 203-325-3799

Personality and Personal Expression at Work

May 10th, 2019

A few generations ago, rigid personal conformity in the workplace was seen as a good thing … at least for employers. If employees were dressed the same and had the same haircut, the effect (so the theory went) would be positive. Rules would be followed; hierarchies would be respected without question; and the company would benefit in more or less the same way that uniforms benefit military organizations; a sense of teamwork and mutual trust would arise as individual identities fell away.

While the value of uniforms in foxholes is still up for debate, their value in the office is steadily being resolved. It’s low. Forcing employees to dress and act the same may contribute a small military-linked benefit, but this small benefit doesn’t make up for what it takes away. Employees who are required to discard their personal identities at the door and adopt a mandated company identity during the workday do not, in fact, feel greater loyalty to their employers. The opposite appears to be true. Here are a few things to keep in mind.

People like being accepted as they are.

We all prefer to spend our time among people who accept us. And we especially enjoy spending time with people who genuinely like us. This is true in the workplace just as it would be in a classroom or at a family reunion. If we feel liked and respected, we want to be there. If we don’t, we count the hours until we can leave. Being forced to adopt a false identity during the duration of our stay doesn’t change that.

People don’t enjoy fake identities, no matter who they belong to.

Just as most of us prefer to show our true faces and be respected as-is, we also appreciate the same from others. Most of us don’t enjoy extended interactions with someone who is desperately trying to hide their true personality. It’s exhausting. When we show our real selves to others, we relax and life becomes easier, for us and also for them. Trust goes up, teamwork goes up, communication becomes clearer. And when we understand each other, we get more done.

Hair and adornments are serious and should be taken seriously.

It’s dangerous to assume that hairstyles, tattoos and piercings are only skin deep and can be easily removed and put back on again at the will of an employer. To assume this is to potentially misunderstand or disrespect what may be an integral part of a person’s ethnic, cultural or personal identity. Before you assume an external aspect can be tossed aside, pause. Is the aspect hurting you or anyone else? Is it a danger to the company or its stakeholders? If not, recognize its inherent value and show the person respect, acceptance and appreciation by leaving it alone.

If an external trait is truly causing problems for the company, compromises are available. Contact the staffing team at Merritt to learn more!

Five Ways Internship Programs Help You Recruit Top Talent

April 5th, 2019

An internship program can be a magical thing: one of those rare workplace arrangements that benefit both parties in immeasurable ways while costing almost nothing on either side. When an internship is conducted in an appropriate and professional way, both participants gain, and neither side loses.

Specifically, a young graduate is offered her first paid position in her professional field—even if she doesn’t have a lick of experience on her resume—and the company gains access to inexpensive, enthusiastic labor, and possibly a valuable full-time employee later on.

Here are five ways your intern can evolve into a long-term contributor.

Internship programs build loyalty (for life).

If your intern is paid well and respected, and if she receives the training and industry exposure she came for, she’ll develop a positive impression of the company. After all, she has no other workplace to compare this one to, so if you show her your best side, you’ll set the standard. Even if she leaves after one summer, she’ll remember this place and she’ll walk away with lasting warm feelings about your brand. Even long-term employees leave eventually, but fans and customers can stay forever.

Internships help mold young minds (and work habits).

If you scoop up a 21-year-old employee before he graduates from college, you’ve landed more than just an enthusiastic, fresh-faced worker bee. You’ve landed a pristine open mind, a person who has never experienced the professional world before. This is his first professional boss, his first breakroom, his first staff meeting, his first desk. This is also his first exposure to what your business does, what a work day should feel like, how clients and agents interact, and what efficient team contributions look like. He doesn’t have to unlearn anything in order to accept your terms. This can benefit both of you in big ways.

Internships build your social fabric.

The best retention strategy is a culture that feels like a family, and the way to create that family feeling is by maintaining long term employees, as many as you can. Deepen your organizational memory and traditions by reducing your turnover.

Internships set expectations on both sides.

New employees often start their first week on the job frequently repeating (or at least thinking) phrases like “That’s not how we did it at XYZ Co.,” or “At my old job, we always…” Interns rarely do this. Your expectations of them quickly become their expectations of themselves, and vice versa.

Interns train in-house.

Too often, new full-time employees come on board and go through an expensive training process, then when they’ve received a year of training on your dime, they leave. Interns receive the same training period, but since both promises and pay are modest on both sides, your investment returns are almost always positive.

When you’re ready to launch your internship program, contact the experts at Merritt for guidance.

How to Spot Someone’s Strengths and Place Them in the Right Role

March 8th, 2019

Here’s a common scenario: You’ve received an application for an open position. But as you study the resume and speak to the candidate in an interview setting, a few realities become clear. The candidate is not perfectly suited for the open position at hand, but you aren’t quite ready to turn her away altogether. In fact, she seems very well suited for another role on the same team, or maybe a similar role in a different part of the company. What should you do next? You don’t want to lose her, but you’re obligated to choose someone else for the position on which her sights are set. Here’s how to move forward in a way that allows both of you to get what you need.

Be clear and honest about your intentions.

Usually when you have good news and bad news, you deliver the bad news first. But in this case, turn it around. Explain clearly to the candidate what you’re trying to do (direct her attention to another position) and explain why (you sense she has the skills and background to succeed in the alternative role). Then the bad news: The job she applied for isn’t a perfect fit. Of course, she’ll have questions about the reasoning behind both decisions, so answer as much as policy and diplomacy allow, but focus more on her fitness for the second job, and less on her shortcomings for the first one.

Find evidence for your hunches.

If you think your marketing candidate might actually be great at customer service, follow up to find out if you’re right. Has she had any relevant yet non-work-related experience? Might she enjoy interacting with customers and helping them solve problems? How well does she respond to conflict and pressure? Essentially, you’re interviewing her for a job she’s never had and never asked for, so you’ll need to ask clear questions about her aptitude, general work ethic, career goals and personality.

If the job represents a demotion, sell it.

If your candidate applied for a senior-level job, but he simply isn’t ready for the senior level and you’d like to place him at the entry level instead, you’ll have to pitch your vision. Tell him what’s in it for him and why this might be a smart move for his career. Don’t emphasize the fact he’s overconfident and underqualified—let that go. Just focus on how your company can help him build his skills and be clear about the perks and benefits you have to offer.

For more on how to shift your candidates (or current employees) away from one career track and toward another, talk to the management experts at Merritt.

When Hiring, Listen to Your Team

February 8th, 2019

When you’ve moved into the advanced stages of the hiring process and you’ve narrowed a wide pool of resumes down to a few final interviewees, you’ll be relying on several factors to make your ultimate decision, for example, your gut instincts, your background checks, and your reference checks. But as you review data from all these sources, be sure to keep one more important resource in mind: your existing teams. Here are some of the reasons why your team’s input can mean the difference between a brilliant new asset and a hiring mistake.

Your teams have an existing culture and social fabric.

Maybe you have a nice blend of introverts and extroverts on your team, and everyone benefits if you maintain that balance. Maybe your team is made up of cheerful collaborators, cool but efficient loners, friendly competitors, or long-time teammates with an oddball sense of humor. Will the new employee find a place here? Will their social contributions be appreciated? The best way to find out is by simply introducing them and then asking your team for feedback.

What does the team really need?

Maybe the departing employee that you’re working to replace had a specific skill set or talent that held the team together. Maybe this necessary skill is essential to team success. Maybe if you hire someone who excels in plenty of other areas, that won’t help much, since this one missing skill set is the one that’s most needed. What is that skill set? Ask your team and find out.

Some traits may spell trouble.

Maybe your new hire is an efficient number cruncher, but a little arrogant in a way that ruffles feathers and causes resentment. Maybe your new employee is humble and likable but disorganized in a way that can derail project goals. Maybe your new hire brings some toxic energy to the room that your team finds especially difficult to deal with. Or maybe the new person is identical to everyone else to a degree that they bring no new energy or fresh air to the group. Your teams can provide insight into this possibility.

Several heads are better than one.

One person making a decision alone (you) may be subject to certain biases or blind to certain red flags. But if you bring others in and encourage them to weigh in on the candidate, they can spot things that you may have missed, or dismiss concerns that you may be taking too seriously. Group input can keep you from hiring the wrong person, or just as bad, letting a great candidate get away.

For more on how to leverage the insight and opinions of your team, contact the staffing pros at Merritt.

Is Your Team Burned Out?

January 11th, 2019

When you look out over your workplace at 10:00 am on a Tuesday, or 2:00 pm on a Thursday, what do you see and hear? Lively expressions, quiet busy chatter, and calm, direct, friendly interactions? Or the opposite: hissing complaints, dejected expressions, and grim silence? Do your teams respond to unexpected challenges with excitement or exhaustion? Are they cheerful or irritable? If you’re in the throes of a bleak, cold January and your teams are struggling just to make it into work and survive the day, you’re probably facing a mild epidemic of burnout. The signs may be right in front of you: short tempers, distraction, and disengagement. But fortunately, solutions are available. Start with these.

If you can’t give them a day off, give them a break.

Sometimes the best help is just a sign of empathy or recognition. Saying “I know you’re busy” before assigning a project doesn’t change the demands of the project… but it can help your employee shift her priorities around, so this project stays at the top of the list. Otherwise, it may slip down or off the page altogether. Just trying to read the room and show your human side can make you a better boss, which can support a team of better employees.

Set an example.

If you’re stressed and overwhelmed, your mood and attitude will be contagious. But if you’re gliding through the day and even genuinely enjoying your work and the company of your coworkers, that can be contagious too. If your employees don’t know exactly how to manage their busy schedules, show them. If they overthink one project and neglect another, show them what efficient balance looks like. Be the person you want them to be, especially when the going gets rough and the demands pile up.

Reassign projects appropriately.

Keep a close eye on who’s doing what, and make sure the work is evenly, appropriately, and fairly handed out. Of course, you’ll have to factor skill sets into account, but once you’ve done that, make sure everybody is pulling his or her weight. If that’s not happening, take work off one busy person’s plate and hand it to someone else with a little more available breathing room. Don’t wait for the busy person to ask.

Add some fun to the atmosphere.

Groups of people can accomplish extraordinary things when they feel a bond of togetherness and trust. But that only happens when they have opportunities to relax and enjoy each other’s company. Encourage humor and connection by bringing in food your teams can eat together, or by promoting friendly competitions, Friday happy hours, and fun interactions during or after the workday. Again, don’t wait to be asked. As soon as you recognize a need, act.

For more on spotting and preventing harmful burnout, turn to the staffing experts at Merritt.

Motivating a Lazy Employee

December 28th, 2018

It takes all kinds of personalities to build a successful team. Every person who reports to you comes with a collection of human quirks, talents, strengths, weaknesses and curious tendencies, and as a manager, you’ve learned to embrace this reality and work with people as they are, not as you wish they were. This being the case, there’s one member of your team who presents your current challenge: Lazybones Jones, who comes in a bit late, leaves a bit early, and cuts corners at every opportunity. How can you motivate them to embrace the task at hand just a little more energetically? Here are a few tips.

Think carefully about the person before you plan your approach.

Almost no human management challenge brings a one-size-fits-all solution. Before you choose a course of action, you’ll need to think carefully about your employee and consider what drivers apply to them. Do they work for money? Are they hoping for a promotion in title or status? Do they have a long-term goal (even one that extends beyond this office)? Are they sensitive to the approval or scorn of others? What do they find fun or boring? Don’t go in blind; think, then act.

Remember that they aren’t you.

You might find the disapproval of a boss unbearable, and maybe you would do anything to avoid it. But it’s possible LJ won’t care about your disapproval at all. It’s also possible they’ll find it so devastating they seek work elsewhere. Prepare for the unexpected.

Be specific.

As you pull LJ aside and explain the behavioral change you’d like to see, be specific. Don’t just say “You’re not pulling your weight.” Instead, explain exactly what “pulling your weight” means, and apply a metric that’s measurable. Say “I’d like to see you closing five more calls per hour by the end of the week”, or “I’d like you to file ten more forms per day by March 1.”

Choose carrot, stick, or both.

What if LJ meets your demands? What if they don’t? As you frame your expectations in specific, measurable terms, do the same with the consequences of compliance or non-compliance. Make sure compliance comes with a reward and non-compliance comes with a consequence. Examples include written warnings, monetary raises, additional tasks or changes in status. Make sure LJ understands the agreement and accepts the terms.

Maintain perspective

Remember that “laziness” is in the eye of the beholder (one company’s definition of lazy may look like industry in another). A bit of “laziness” may not be a deal breaker. If the employee brings other valuable talents or gifts to the table, think twice before risking this relationship over a few late mornings. And vice versa: cracking down might solve an expensive problem.

For more management tips that can keep your team on track, contact the experts at Merritt.

Dealing With Dramatic Employees

November 9th, 2018

Let’s face it: A modern office with grey upholstery and windows that overlook a parking lot just isn’t a very interesting place. Polite conversation, strained laughter, plastic coffee stirrers and repetitive tasks just don’t have much Oscar-winning movie potential. And when confined to such spaces day after day, many of us find new outlets for our emotions. If you’ve ever turned into an Olympic sprinter upon hearing news of free cake in the break room, you understand this phenomenon. And if you’ve ever felt like screaming at your desk for no reason … we understand. Some people manage these feelings more easily than others. Here’s how to deal with workers who channel their in-office emotions inappropriately or excessively —the employees we call “dramatic.”

First, judge not.

Dramatic employees are not stupid, crazy or undisciplined. We ALL feel this way when we’re placed in conducive circumstances. So, remember: The circumstances are the problem, not the person. If we decided to throw all “dramatic” employees out the door, none of us would be spared, including you. Treat others the way you would want to be treated should you find yourself in their shoes, which you eventually might.

Recognize that conflict is rarely what it seems.

Steve is extremely, unreasonably upset because Karen ate his lunch, or because Sally spoke rudely to him during a meeting, or because he thinks Amed has a secret he isn’t sharing. Before you discount Steve’s concerns, recognize this probably isn’t just about the stolen lunch. If Steve and Karen have a simmering, unspoken conflict, address the conflict, not the lunch.

People cry at work. Deal with it.

In some imaginary distant era, “professionalism” meant keeping a cool head, and keeping cool head—for some reason—absolutely precluded workplace tears. Workplace yelling may have been okay sometimes, and workplace swearing had its place, but crying was absolutely, positively, never, ever acceptable in a professional venue. Such a cultural requirement is not only impossible, it’s ridiculous. People cry. They cry at work. Let them. Accept this perfectly normal form of human expression and make sure others do as well. Occasional tears are part of healthy and functional human interaction. Keep tissues available around the office.

Maintain a culture of perspective

It feels terrible to lose an account because of a mistake, or to have a proposal rejected after weeks of work. It’s terrible to endure a botched roll-out or a product that flops. But these things happen. It’s how you bounce back—as a person and as a team—that defines your success. A climate in which “failure is not an option” breeds excessive, toxic and unnecessary drama. If you don’t want a workplace in which employees claw at each other, scream, lie, swear, hide, hold grudges or throw tantrums, don’t build rigidity into your culture. Place perspective, teamwork and learning above a relentless focus on success metrics that fall outside of your control.

For more, contact the management and career development experts at Merritt.

Are You a Bad Boss?

October 19th, 2018

You’ve finally reached the management stage of your career, a level at which you hold sway over the positions, responsibilities, paychecks and expectations of other people. You’re a leader now, which is to say, a boss. But are you a good boss? Are you effective? Are you respected? Are you liked?

Here are a few things to keep in mind as you evaluate your leadership skills and look for areas where your management style could use a little work.

First, don’t coast.

Bad bosses usually don’t KNOW they’re bad bosses. And even when they do, they rarely choose to become bad bosses on purpose. Nobody does that. When you’ve earned the respect, trust and appreciation of your team, they tend to make this clear. If you haven’t, your employees aren’t likely to tell you anything at all. There are no billboards to inform you when you’re going down the wrong road. So, as you conduct your self-assessment, be brutally honest. Don’t assume little birds will bring the news; be brave and seek it out.

Give your employees a chance to speak their minds.

If you ask a subordinate, point blank, if they like and respect you, you won’t get an honest answer. But if you let your employees know you’re open to both general and project-specific feedback, you follow through on that by receiving the feedback gratefully and acting on it directly, you’ll get better results, more honesty and more helpful information.

Don’t make people share twice.

Here’s a habit we often employ when we face painful corrections, hard advice or negative feedback: we ask twice. We say, “Am I doing this wrong?” and when we get an affirmative answer, we ask again until we get the answer we’d rather hear. Don’t do this. If you’re told—even subtly—that your directions are unclear, your demeanor is ineffective, your jokes aren’t funny, your example isn’t inspiring or your work ethic could be improved, don’t respond by asking again. Just swallow that bitter pill and get to work on fixing the problem.

Be the person you want your employees to be.

If you want them to stay late, stay late and come in early. If you want them to care more about bigger-picture project outcomes, show you care about these outcomes more than anyone. If you want them to edit their emails carefully until they contain no typos, don’t send out emails with typos. If you want them to take safety rules seriously, make sure they see you doing the same. Don’t set standards that you don’t personally intend to meet. This includes everything from communication to organization to general engagement and professional behavior.

For more on how to set an example and earn the respect of your teams, contact the management experts at Merritt.

Leadership Traits Your Talent Needs

September 14th, 2018

Think only upper-level management candidates need leadership skills to succeed in your workplace? Think again. Ideally, every candidate for every job should recognize there’s a time to lead AND a time to follow, and that both actions require certain skills. Excellent candidates know how to read a situation and respond with either purposeful leadership or purposeful compliance, depending on the needs of the moment. And when the moment calls for leadership, the best candidates—even at the most junior level—know how to rise to the occasion. Here are a few of the leadership traits that are always valuable, no matter the role.

Situational awareness.

Does your candidate sit still and wait patiently until he’s told exactly what to do by whomever he perceives as an authority figure? That’s probably a bad sign. Not only does it suggest a decision-making blind spot, it also suggests the candidate may do a poor job of assessing authority. Highly passive people tend to follow orders without considering the actual role of the person giving it. Choose candidates who understand how the chain of command works and won’t blindly yield to the loudest person in the room.

Can your candidate spot a problem and take steps to fix it?

If your candidate witnesses a leaky pipe, a team miscommunication, a toxic relationship between two other team members or a mathematical error in a budget, how do they respond? Do they decide it isn’t their problem? Or do they make note of it, look for a solution, speak out, speak up, and get the issue addressed? Choose the candidate who will get answers and take action, even if they don’t immediately know what to do or how to do it.

Can your candidate say no?

There’s a time for yes and a time for no, and your candidate should be able to exercise each option under the appropriate circumstances. A doormat candidate will eventually feel resentful and bitter, and all employees need to take a share of responsibility for their own boundaries, schedules and limitations. If your candidate is asked to do something incorrect, unethical, harmful to their own well-being, harmful to the company, or harmful to customers or community members, will they have the strength to say no? Or can they ask directly for the resources and support they need? If so, consider this a plus.

Can your candidate say yes?

On the other end of the scale, can your candidate put others first when necessary? Can they move outside of their comfort zone when asked to stay late, make a difficult decision, stand in front of a group to speak, deliver painful news to someone, or put the needs and comfort of direct reports ahead of their own?

For more on how to choose a leader—even for a nonleadership role—turn to the hiring pros at Merritt.

Hiring For Adaptability

August 3rd, 2018

You want a candidate who can demonstrate the technical skills and work ethic that your open position will require, and of course you want a candidate who believes in your product or service and who can represent your company to potential customers. But you also need a candidate who can stand out in one specific area: adaptability.

Why choose an adaptable candidate? Because not every company culture can be custom tailored to match the kind of social fabric that your new employee may be used to. Not every path can be made perfectly smooth for him or her during transitions or training. Not every instruction will make perfect sense, and not every plan or project can be perfectly organized. Sometimes your employee will face the unexpected, be asked to change course at a moment’s notice, or be asked to find common ground with people and personalities he finds unfamiliar. If he can adapt and stay flexible, he’ll thrive. If not, he’ll drag the organization down. Keep these considerations in mind during the hiring process.

Has your employee “seen the world”?

If your candidate can tell you about some adventures, previous jobs, travel, mistakes, or challenges she’s faced in the past, both inside and outside of work, that’s a good sign. If your candidate has never veered (or been pushed) from a narrow path that winds from high school to college to internship to office cubicle, without a single misstep, plot twist, or interesting personal decision, beware.

How does your candidate handle stress?

If you can’t see for yourself, just ask. Interviews are stressful, so if your candidate is clearly brimming with nervous energy and yet handling herself with poise and composure, that’s great. If you see a bead of sweat or a shaky hand and that hand belongs to a candidate who can still think before she speaks, put that in the plus column. If you can’t read any stress in her non-verbal gestures, just ask. Ask her to describe a time in the past when she felt overwhelmed, pulled in multiple directions, or pressured to show flexibility. Ask what happened and how the story played out.

Ask how her own standards differ from those she applies to others.

A highly flexible and adaptable candidate can switch gears on a moment’s notice, but she also knows how to respond to confusing or rigid behavior from other people. If she can show up on time, even when the meeting venue changes at the last minute, that’s good. If she can forgive and work around others who show up a minute late, that’s even better.

For more on how to assess and identify adaptability in your top candidates, contact the staffing experts at Merritt.

© Year Merritt Staffing. Site Credits.