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I Just Work Here

A holiday wish list for the workplace

Let's end this work year and start the new one with honesty, better feedback, a little attitude adjustment — and doughnuts.

Rex Huppke

December 18, 2011

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I've been working on my Christmas list, even though I know the big day will come and, as always, I'll end up disappointed. (To be honest, my wife's "but there are no unicorns" excuse is getting a bit tiresome.)

Outside the realm of personal possessions, however, there are things I'd love to see happen in the coming year to improve the lives of all denizens of the workplace:

I want all meetings to come with doughnuts.

I want bosses and co-workers to be honest and direct -- game playing is for the spineless (no offense to any readers who happen to be jellyfish).

I want companies to be responsive to job candidates, to not leave applicants hanging and to never, ever discount a job seeker simply because that person has been unemployed.

I want people to be nicer to each other. We lose countless hours of productivity, and probably lose years off our lives, because some people feel that only jerks and bullies succeed. That's nonsense: be kind, be tolerant, bring doughnuts.

Lastly, I want all of you to have a most happy holiday season and a new year rich in work contentment and free snacks.

For more thoughts on improving the workplace, I turned to an array of experts. Here are their additions to the holiday wish list:

From Robert Kaplan, professor of management practice at Harvard Business School and author of "What to Ask the Person in the Mirror":

"Institute a 'no surprises rule' in year-end reviews. Too often, an employee hears constructive feedback for the first time in their year-end evaluation. When this happens, they feel blindsided and lose trust in their boss. My advice -- make sure you coach people during the year. Give them constructive feedback early enough in the year that they have time to rectify their behavior/performance and improve before the year-end 'verdict' is in."

From Aubrey Daniels, a clinical psychologist and author of "OOPS! 13 Management Practices That Waste Time and Money":

"Ask, 'How did you do that?' When an employee or co-worker does a great job on a project or offers new and inventive ways of doing something, go beyond just saying 'great job' and ask them to share how they did it. By inviting someone to relive something good, they are naturally reinforced for what they've done and will likely be more creative and innovative in the future."

From Lisa Adams, career management coach and founder of Fresh Air Careers:

"I wish for more well-rounded, 'healthier' managers. What I mean by healthier is that they have examined and explored their career satisfaction, purpose and direction and have taken this into a well-balanced, full life. I see many managers consumed by their work. Their 'free' time is spent reading industry news, answering emails, etc. …They do not spend time keeping themselves healthy and balanced. The lack of balance and perspective pours over into their management style. I would love to see more managers learn how to balance life better for their own fulfillment and then have them 'pour' out their knowledge, respect and encouragement to their teams."

From Karlin Sloan, author of "UNFEAR: Facing Change in an Era of Uncertainty" and CEO of Karlin Sloan & Co.:

"Before Jan. 1, make a list of all the things that bug you about your work. Give yourself five minutes to just vent on paper. Make three columns and label them 'Complaints,' 'Requests' and 'Actions.'

"Once you've got your list, take them on one at a time and figure out if there is a request embedded in your complaints. Maybe you need more resources; maybe you want someone specific to be more appreciative of your efforts. Decide if you want to take any actions based on your requests. Maybe you want to ask someone for something specific. Maybe you want to take an action like demonstrating being appreciative to others, or even letting go of needing approval. Before Jan. 1, make a commitment to be completely done with anything on your list that's still bugging you. Make the requests, take the actions and, in 2012, start with a clean slate."

From Dorothy Tannahill Moran, a career development expert and founder of the company Next Chapter New Life:

"1) Change how you interact with those you find the most challenging in the workplace. Sometimes, simply changing how you react will cause the other person to change toward the better.

2) Improve your skills. Now is the time to figure out a class you could enroll in that will boost your ability to perform or prepare you for the next step in your career ladder.

3) Communicate with your boss. Sit down with the boss and ask for candid input on your performance. You want to know the good and the bad so you can improve the weak spots and reinforce your strengths."

From Don Goodman, president of About Jobs:

"For bosses, sit down with each of your staff and discuss their personal career goals. They will not only appreciate it, but you will learn things you did not know that will help you motivate them, improve performance and gain their loyalty."

From Bud Bilanich, Denver-based career success coach, also known as "The Common-Sense Guy":

"Instead of focusing on how co-workers can be better colleagues, or bosses better managers, focus on yourself. How can you be a better colleague? How can you help your boss and your company be more successful? You can't control others, but you are in charge of your attitude and behavior. Make the most of them in 2012."

TALK TO REX: Ask workplace questions — anonymously or by name — and share stories with Rex Huppke at ijustworkhere@tribune.com, like Rex on Facebook at facebook.com/rexworkshere and find more at chicagotribune.com/ijustworkhere.