June 27, 2011
If you're mad it's Monday, remember: Tuesday is just a Monday that has had an extra day to practice.
(I'll give you a moment to think about that.)
OK. As much as I'd like to be a philosopher, I remain a newspapery question-answerer. So, on to the problems of the workers of the world.
Q: Out of the workplace for the past 12-plus years to raise children ... what's the best advice you can give someone trying to enter the workplace once again? Do I train for new skills? Or do I try and rely on the ones I had prior to leaving the workplace?
— Karyn, from Crystal Lake, Ill., via Facebook
A: First off, Karyn, in a perfect world, stay-at-home parents would get some form of pension plan that, after more than a decade of service, entitled them to a cabana on Bermuda's Horseshoe Bay and a lifetime supply of dark chocolate-covered Xanax.
But this is not a perfect world, as evidenced by the lack of jet packs and the abundance of Kardashians. So, the position you're in is not unique — a dutiful parent who put a career aside to raise kids and now wants back in the game.
The first step, according to career experts, is to give some serious thought to what you would like to do and what you're good at doing. You have the skills from the work you did prior to having kids, and you now have a wide array of additional skills that come from more than a decade of dealing with incredibly difficult people, i.e., children.
Marina Parr, spokeswoman for the Washington Workforce Training and Education Coordinating Board, suggests starting off with a self-assessment.
"How many of us have actually taken a self-assessment test and seen what we want to do for the rest of our lives?" Parr said. "Part of it is knowing yourself, knowing what you like to do, what you're good at and seeing if those skills and abilities translate into jobs."
(Her organization's website, http://bit.ly/lk1gdk, has links to several self-assessment tools.)
Many people have skills from one type of work that might fit even better in a different job, said Greg Rivara of the Illinois Department of Employment Security, which offers job assessment and training programs.
"You take a look at your skill sets and find what other areas those might be a good fit in," he said. "Then you identify what training, either education or vocational, would be required to get where you want to go."
The next critical step is making sure the job you want is in a field that's hiring.
"You do your dream and then you temper that with reality, which is, is there a job waiting for you?" Parr said. "The dream better be aligned with reality."
If you enter a training program, find out about its placement rate. Study the field you're interested in and make sure it's something in demand. Then pick a path and go.
And by all means, make your kids help you do the research. It's about time they started earning their keep.
Q: How do you respond to younger co-workers who are hurt you won't be their friend on Facebook?
— Cecelia, in Montgomery, Ala., via Twitter
A: Cecelia, dude, I'll be with you in one sec, I gotta DM my boss this YouTube video that just made me totally LOL.
I'm kidding; I don't know what 80 percent of that sentence meant. But your question taps into an issue being confronted in workplaces everywhere. Many young employees have been marinating in social media for so long that it has become a part of who they are, and it's not easy to teach them that friending and texting and whatevering with co-workers isn't always appropriate. (For more on this, see "Weiner, Anthony.")
In 2009, Meg Langland, director of career services at Westminster College in Missouri, wrote an article for the National Association of Colleges and Employers titled "Evolving e-Etiquette in the Workplace."
I spoke with her, and she said the best response to co-workers put off by a Facebook friend denial is to explain that you keep your work life separate from your personal life. (She did say LinkedIn is an acceptable place to maintain professional relationships, though I don't believe it allows you to play "Mafia Wars.")
"The reality is that these new hires are used to accessing their electronic media 24/7, and they have to adjust to workplace policies," Langland said. "The role of a mentor takes on new meaning as you have to explain to them not to take cellphones to a meeting or text all the time at work."
Langland believes explaining all this to a younger co-worker helps define certain boundaries and, most important, prevents the inevitable office drama that would come with the full-on intermingling of professional and private lives.
Q: I want to start a cubicle dance party at 3 p.m. weekdays. Thoughts on how to go about this? Thx in advance.
— Jen, in Chicago, via Twitter
A: A number of scientific studies that I just made up have shown conclusively that workplace dance parties increase productivity by up to 7 million percent, though there remains some disagreement on whether it's best to "bring in 'da noise" or "bring in 'da funk." My recommendation is to start playing Bob Marley's "Could You Be Loved" very softly, then slowly push up the volume until your co-workers are grooving. Then take video and use it later to bribe them for favors.
TALK TO REX: Ask workplace questions — anonymously or by name — and share stories with Rex Huppke at firstname.lastname@example.org, like Rex on Facebook at facebook.com/rexworkshere and find more at chicagotribune.com/ijustworkhere.
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