July 18, 2011
So I hear about this guy named Mike Michalowicz, who has this idea that companies should institute "library hours," a chunk of time each day when everyone in the office shuts up, unplugs from the Internet and focuses on work.
My first reaction was, "Unplug this, turkey." (I actually said something saltier than "turkey," but the editors won't let me print it because they're mean.)
Honestly, the idea of workers being banned from answering emails or talking to each other sounds like something from an episode of "The Office" or a kindergarten rule foisted on grown-ups.
I tracked down Michalowicz — when he wasn't having "nap time" — and pressed him on the concept.
"I agree that even thinking about doing it seems impossible," he said. "But we are so connected that our productivity is dropping. People calling for attention through your hand-held, people physically coming into your office space — it's a constant distraction."
Michalowicz has founded three companies and is the author of the small-business book "The Toilet Paper Entrepreneur: The tell-it-like-it-is guide to cleaning up in business, even if you are at the end of your roll." He said he used library hours — usually just one hour, from 10 to 11 a.m. — and found that his employees eventually liked it and saw it as a chance to press through a sizable amount of work.
"The wonderful thing about library hours is, it involves the entire group, and it's enforced by the entire group," Michalowicz said. "It's like Weight Watchers; there's this public declaration that you're going to do it."
Well, nothing makes an idea sound fun quite like comparing it with Weight Watchers. So with that, I'm going to ask everyone to be quiet while I answer some questions.
Q: Will I ever get a good raise again? I used to get 10 to 15 percent raises, but now I am lucky to get a 1 percent raise.
— "Sign me Anonymous" in Chicago, via email
A: First, I would like to point out that I spent a great deal of time reporting this issue and then worked extra hours — missing my wedding anniversary, my son's birthday party and lots of TV — making sure the information was presented in as clear and useful a manner as possible, thus making me an invaluable asset to my company. (Slight tangent: My bosses look very nice today. Have they lost weight?)
Moving on … raises are nettlesome workplace issues even during the best of times. But with the U.S. economy presently stumbling about like Amy Winehouse on a brewery tour, many workers have been seeing annual wage bumps either shrink or vanish altogether.
Well, there's good news. According to an annual compensation planning survey by the consulting firm Mercer, more than 98 percent of U.S. companies plan to award base-pay increases this year. The survey also found that only 2 percent of companies are planning sweeping salary freezes this year, compared with 13 percent in 2010 and a whopping 31 percent in 2009.
For some intellectual authority on the matter, I spoke with Robert Aliber, professor emeritus of international economics and finance at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business.
He spoke with measured optimism: "The economy is sluggish. Lots of people are hunting for jobs and most employers are not eager to give wage increases right now. But that's a cyclical phenomenon, and that will change as the economy rebounds. And there are lots of reasons for believing the economy will rebound."
Despite a rash of disappointing reports, including the recent news that the nation's unemployment rate rose to 9.2 percent, many economists continue to believe job creation slowly will improve this year.
While the fate of the economy is out of the average worker's hands, there are steps that can at least boost a person's chances of making more money.
Emily Bennington, co-author of "Effective Immediately: How to Fit In, Stand Out, and Move Up at Your First Real Job," said this: "I think a lot of employees are looking at the issue of raises from the wrong side of the telescope. They're focusing on the employers and saying, 'When can I expect to have a raise again?'
"They should be focusing on, 'How can I be such a rock star that when raises are allocated, I'll be at the top of that list?'"
Bennington said that since 2008, many companies have stopped giving across-the-board cost-of-living raises and started pooling the available wage-increase money, doling it out only to workers who are performing well.
"A lot of companies now have discretionary privilege when it comes to allocating who gets what," she said. "If you're an employee and you're phoning it in and if you're working for a manager who has that discretionary privilege, a percentage of your raise might get tagged on to the strong performers and you'll wind up with less."
The bottom line is to have patience that the economy will swing back in a more favorable direction and, in the meantime, focus your energy on your job. Then, hopefully, good things will come.
And please let my bosses know how much this helped you. I've got kids to feed.
Q: During a PowerPoint presentation, a slide came up with the name of a new hire and his title and responsibilities. There was already a well-liked, hard-working person in that position and he was on the call. That is how he found out he was demoted. Was that totally inappropriate?
— Liora in New York, via email
A: The short answer to your question: "Yes, that was totally inappropriate."
The long answer: "Yes, that was totally inappropriate, and that boss should be fed to the lions or, at the very least, forced to listen to Fran Drescher gargle for nine consecutive hours."
For more opinion, I consulted Web personality MeetingBoy, the anonymous man who unleashes bitter — and funny — rants about his intolerable boss and office life in general at MeetingBoy.com.
"I'd like to say I'm surprised by this, but I'm not," MeetingBoy wrote in an email. "Batman likes to say, 'Criminals are a cowardly and superstitious lot.' Well, managers are no different.
"On the surface, it might seem that this was an inconsiderate oversight, that they forgot to tell the guy. But most managers are cowards when it comes to conflict, especially firings and demotions."
Of course there are certainly good managers out there who handle this sort of thing with grace. But, as MeetingBoy wrote, "sadly there is no Batman to rid Gotham City of the scourge of bad managers."
So be glad you weren't the one so thoughtlessly demoted. And hope that workplace karma, in the end, catches up to the villain.
Talk to Rex
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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