August 29, 2011
Attention fishermen and fisherwomen, loggers, aircraft pilots and farmers. Your jobs are very dangerous.
If you had not already been keyed into this by the sharks, falling trees, stalled engines and giant, scary, wheat-thrashing thingies, the Bureau of Labor Statistics has released a report that ranks you the riskiest professions.
The fishing industry, for example, had a fatality rate of 116 deaths per 100,000 workers. The rate across all occupations in 2010 was only 3.5 per 100,000 employed.
The good news is the total number of fatal work injuries last year, 4,547, held about steady from 2009, and since 2006 the number of worker deaths has dropped 22 percent.
For the moment, there have been no fatalities in the category of "America's most beloved workplace advice columnist."
On to your questions.
Q: How should I deal with an office tattletale?
—Several readers via e-mail and Twitter
A: Workplaces tend to take on many of the bad characteristics of kindergarten, like whining and tattling, and few of the good, like nap time and free snacks.
That's why it's hard to be a grown-up.
But since we can't handle tattletales by pulling their hair or flicking boogers at them, more mature methods must be utilized.
First off, it's necessary to recognize that the core problem with an office tattletale is not so much that the person is ratting you out for heisting Post-It notes. It's that the snitch is robbing the workplace of trust.
"Whoever is in charge needs to address a tattler quickly," said Bill Krug, an associate professor of technology, leadership and innovation at Purdue University. "A tattler can quickly destroy morale. The long-term outcome can be increased conflict in the workplace."
As much as a boss might like knowing they have an informant among the employees, Krug said allowing a tattler to run amok will do more harm than good in the long haul.
"Employees will get the perception of their leader as someone who has a spy," he said. "Then they start mistrusting that leader because they think he or she is encouraging this type of thing."
Mark Gorkin, a licensed clinical social worker and founder of StressDoc.com, said an employee being pestered by a tattletale can't be shy about bringing the problem to a manager. But the employee should make it clear that they just want to have an open discussion about what's happening.
"If you feel you're being tattled on, talk to the boss and say, 'Hey, if this person has a problem with me, I'm more than happy to sit down with you and them and do something about it,'" Gorkin said. "Ask, 'Would you sit down with us? Let's talk about it. … Get it out in the open.'"
Gorkin added that if you're not comfortable addressing the tattletale issue directly with your boss, find another way to communicate the concern.
"You can try to find a colleague of the boss who has the boss' ear, who isn't going to betray you. Someone you feel you can trust. Maybe that colleague might be able to say, 'I was talking to one of your colleagues, and they're a little concerned about this tattler, and it's beginning to affect morale. Are you aware of this?'"
Of course, if none of this works, you can always resort to kindergarten tactics. Settle it with a slap fight, then make up and split a juice box.
Q: I really don't want to socialize with co-workers during lunch or after work for happy hours. It's nothing personal. I just have two young kids and a needy husband whom I'd rather spend my free time with. How do I avoid coming across like I don't want to be part of the team?
—Gwen in Bloomington, Ill., via e-mail
A: When confronted with an undesirable invitation to an after-work function, my go-to response is, "No, thanks. I've had more than enough of you people."
I'm not well-liked.
For more reasonable folks, however, there is a general sense that, if invited, you need to hang out with co-workers. You want to be seen as a team player, a cool colleague, even if you'd much rather be home spending time with your family or, possibly, your couch.
But socializing outside the office might not be as important as people think.
Kerry Patterson, an expert in organizational behavior and co-author of the book "Crucial Conversations," said he has seen time and again that people value a colleague who is helpful in the workplace far more than one who is social after hours.
"As you get into careers, you find the more important element of being social is stepping up to friends and colleagues at work and pitching in when things are busy and people need help the most," Patterson said. "If you're sitting around at work and you're constantly looking at where you can help, people value that way more than someone they can go drinking with."
That doesn't mean that there isn't a need to spend some time socializing with co-workers — the better you know the people you work with, the easier it is to interact. But if you don't want to impinge on your nonwork life, find social opportunities during work hours.
"I had to learn how to say, 'I'd love to get to know you and spend more time together; maybe we can get lunch or meet on a break sometime,'" Patterson said. "And then you need to actually do it. You need to follow through. You need to maximize those social interactions during the working hours."
For bosses who like to schedule social events outside of work — weekend picnics and other forms of corporate torture — Patterson suggests having some open dialogue with employees about what kind of event might appeal to people:
"You say, 'I think it might be helpful if we could spend some casual time together, and I'd actually like to do it outside of work hours. What would work for you all and would fit the best with your family life? Is there a way we can do it?'"
And then, hopefully, the boss takes everyone on staff out for a game of paintball. Because if we have to socialize with co-workers, we should at least be able to pelt them with hard objects at the same time.
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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