Reclaiming Civility in the Workplace

As I pen this piece, during one of the final days of 2017, my mind reflects over the tumultuous year just passed. In my judgment, it has not been a good one. A dominant reason for my opinion has to do with what I see as stark evidence of the deterioration of civil behavior.

This year exhibited degradation of civility on two fronts. One is the startling revelations in recent months of sexual impropriety in the workplace and beyond that is historic and pervasive. The second, which is relatively new to the scene, is the detestable leadership style being practiced and modeled by the President of the United States.

The civility downturn issue I raise here elevates to a cultural level, but in keeping with the career and employment theme of these pieces I’ll confine my thoughts to the effect declining civil discourse and offensive interactions are having and could continue to have in the places where we work.

To begin, let’s contemplate the monumental disclosures and resulting tolerance shift commonly known as the #MeToo movement. Since women increased the pace of sharing professional employment roles in far greater numbers than ever approximately fifty years ago, true workforce equity has been elusive. The combination of rigid gender stereotypes, the inherent inequality of hierarchical structures, and the sexual tension palpable among some co-workers establishes an environment in which predatory behavior occurs. Women who forcefully reject such treatment and men who understand its fundamental unfairness are now letting those in power know enough is enough.

This social shift is long overdue and compels management across all industries, still mostly occupied by men, to participate and collaborate with female colleagues on equal footing and to dissolve outdated norms. It is hard to imagine that the clock will ever turn back. Managers and co-workers alike are on notice that behavior which violates basic decency against others in a sexual manner could well result with career ending consequences.

The other and more recent challenge to our declining pattern of civil engagement with potential impact to the workplace is embodied by President Trump. To be clear, I’m not interested in scoring political points and my claim here is not intended to be partisan, but Donald Trump’s model for success and leadership is debased, contrary to decency, and a disgraceful example of how those in powerful positions should act.

The serial lying, bullying provocations, juvenile name calling, lack of intellectual engrossment, and pathetic narcissism represent leadership at its worst. Is there really a political ideology or set of guiding principles so valuable that it justifies these leadership behaviors? Having such a role model speaking on behalf of our nation, occupying a position that influences our youth, and demonstrating that this is what American success now looks like is an embarrassment and affront to our values as a country.

It is imperative that Americans of moral character and basic virtue rise above the example set by our president and to show the true spirit of civility in the workplace and elsewhere. It can reasonably be argued that as a people over time we have abandoned shared responsibility in a move toward a selfish and self-centered style of economic individualism. Perhaps President Trump’s mannerisms reflect how far this has gone.

The year 2017 has given us a wake-up call. We can rally and repair by first admitting some deep-seated flaws exist in the way we interact in the areas of mutual respect and collective caring. The forces against us are formidable. Our positive tendencies are for the time sidelined. Let us not just hope for a better and more civil 2018, let us actively work toward making it happen. We are better than this.

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The Age of Mobility

Mobility has become something of a buzz word these days, particularly in the context of one’s economic and employment condition. Increasingly we see movement among people, whether in terms of place, jobs, education, or social groups as more common, at least among a growing segment of the population.

There has always been the phenomenon of socioeconomic mobility, the upward or downward movement of economic status with its resulting standard of living levels. As Americans we pride ourselves on having created a meritocratic system, in which ability and talent rather than simply inherited wealth and privilege, can lead to upward mobility. And ingrained in that potential is of course the risk of failure and descent.

The mobility I’m emphasizing goes beyond this more historic form however. It is a mobility that in part defines the changing nature of career and economic success in an evolving economy. It is mobility that is encouraged and motivated by discovering and acquiring increasingly elusive Opportunity. If work you want to do is more likely to be found in Los Angeles, then you leave your home in New Hampshire. If hiring is more robust in accounting, then you don’t follow your parents’ careers as teachers. If the variety of diverse lifestyle and work choices within a multicultural neighborhood is more appealing, then you leave your mostly white and Protestant home town. If your impetus is to develop truly innovative and groundbreaking services, then you don’t follow the path of anyone else.

As one prepares for adulthood and career there appears to be a fundamental choice to be made–opt for a career characterized more by features of mobility or of tradition. Throughout much of our history we were content to stay close to where we were born and to do work, whether in or out of the home, that was done by our parents. We continued family farming, worked in the same paper mill as our father and grandfather, raised children full time at home, and provided goods and services for families much like ours in the area. There were social and economic benefits, in short Opportunity, to carry on these traditions. That continuity still has appeal for many, but perhaps for a decreasing number.

Economic Opportunity now is seen by an expanding number of people as requiring mobility. For home grown and newly arrived Americans the ticket to a broader range of career options is education. It may be difficult to know exactly what the right thing is to study at first, but the belief that continuing education beyond high school and indeed throughout one’s working years is necessary to keep one economically viable and marketable is widely accepted. As is the understanding that one’s career now has an inherent mobility with all its twists, turns, and changes. (Most CEOs for example didn’t major in business administration, but rather in subjects like history, political science, and communications according to Investopedia).

Immigrants continue to serve as examples of assertive mobility. Sure, the attraction of the US has long been there for those from abroad who have wanted to put America’s socioeconomic upward mobility reputation and principles to the test. Indeed that continues to happen. But many of today’s immigrants to America also know that to achieve a decent or higher standard of living they need to more intelligently hunt for and snag Opportunity. The word is out that it won’t be handed to them. Immigrants disrupted their lives intentionally, leaving much of their past and what is familiar behind. Their energy, enthusiasm, and drive are worth paying attention to and perhaps emulating as much now as ever.

Hopefully we can make our world friendly and prosperous for those with inclinations toward both mobility and tradition. Collectively we shouldn’t have to conclude one way of life survives and the other doesn’t. Yet, the trend toward mobility is mobilized and gathering steam. No matter how you choose to engage your career and livelihood your relationship with mobility must be considered.




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Networking Can Be More Than Self-Promotion

A difficult career development concept for many to accept is the notion that networking, by which is meant the building and cultivating of a group of professionally oriented contacts, is necessary to grow and flourish a career. Many smart and valued contributors to the workplace are uncomfortable with an exercise that for them feels unnatural, contrived, and manipulative. There are of course the extroverted who blossom at opportunities to engage in lively social interaction, but for many others the tedium of incessant outreach is viewed as an awkward burden and obligation.

However, networking is not to be entirely avoided. One doesn’t have to research too deeply to find that networking has powerful advantages such as increasing the amount of job, business, and advancement opportunities available; deepening one’s understanding of their profession’s best practices and current trends; and enhancing the reputation and status within one’s profession. Taken together it is reasonable to say that networking leads to greater career satisfaction.

So how can one bridge the gap between a practice that should be followed, but which also invokes such negative feelings? The answer may be in re-framing how networking can be viewed. Instead of seeing it as an inauthentic and unscrupulous display of self-promotion try embracing one or more of several different outlooks. These can include,

Networking as a learning opportunity: Approach interactions with fellow professionals and others related in some way to what you do as chances to learn. Other stakeholders have had similar, different, and varied experiences that together can provide you with valuable information and perspectives leaving you more informed and open to more possibilities. As you would approach more knowledgeable resources for assistance to become more educated, think of the individuals with which you interact in networking similarly.

Networking as sharing and teaching: The converse of the point made above is another method to be taken. You undoubtedly have information that can enrich and inform others in your field thereby initiating and establishing quality relationships simply through sharing. Be open to disclosing what you know as well as what you don’t know and be clear on what you have to offer. Knowing what you know may be difficult, especially if you’re reticent to recognize your accomplishments. By not hesitating to share your achievements in the spirit of helping others is a positive move.

Networking as finding common ground and shared concerns: It is a typical practice when we meet someone for the first time to look for a piece of information or experience that we have in common. Doing so gives us a connection from which we can build a relationship. Networking is no different. Reach out to others with the goal of finding common ground, areas of agreement, identical perceptions on trends, similar problems to solve, or networking contacts you both share. The list can go on. Finding where your spheres of experience intersect can make these types of interactions more pleasurable and productive.

Networking as group representation: A significant part of the discomfort with networking is that it is seen as too self-centered. What if you engaged in the practice by seeing yourself as a proxy for your employer, professional association, or for your career field as a whole? By doing so your promotional oriented outreach becomes part of a larger goal or aspiration intended to benefit others and not just yourself. While presenting yourself on behalf of others you will necessarily be authenticating your own position, standing, and reputation.

In a world where extroverts are in the majority, it can be arduous for the one third to one half of the population who are introverted to function in highly social situations. Hopefully re-orienting how one views these activities can make them more positive and beneficial for one’s career.



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Consider a Career in Gaming

I recently conversed with an old friend who was transitioning into retirement from a lifelong career as a golf course owner and superintendent. He shared with me his observation of a decline in the golf business in recent years not only at his course, but at others in his region (South Coast Massachusetts), and indeed nationally.

Not being a golfer myself I did a little research and found that the industry is either thriving or declining depending on who you talk to. PGA officials point to statistics that paint a rosy picture of the game’s future, but other sources such as The Economist for instance show years of net golf course closures since 2006 and a drop of five million players since the game’s participant high point.

In the case of my friend there was an unmistakable reduction in players at his course. I asked why this was the case thinking that recreational activity in general seems robust. His unscientific conclusion—younger game players are choosing online gaming over golf.

Online or digital gaming is big business. In looking at sources that track gaming data I found the following: Worldwide revenues in 2017 reaching $109B this year with 42% coming from mobile gaming (Newzoo); $18.4B of those revenues are being generated in the U.S. alone (Statista); and in May 2017 9% year-over-year market growth was measured (SuperData Research). And unless you live in a cave it’s obvious anecdotally that lots of people enjoy spending lots of time gaming on devices.

To try getting a better understanding of this phenomenon and how it relates to current and future careers I spoke with Ryan Smith, a New Hampshire-based game programmer, consultant, and game design instructor. Before our conversation my image of a video gamer was restricted to adolescent boys in front of a console tethered to the family television. Ryan, who has been a gamer all of this life and who earned a degree in game design from SNHU, has considerable background in this field both technically and culturally.

Ryan began by sharing that digital gaming is now an entertainment industry double in size to the movie and music industries combined. Increasingly women and older players are indulging in digital gaming. Gaming devices are grouped into PCs, consoles, and mobile categories with the first two losing market share to mobile. As interesting as these facts are what I really wanted was a sense of what motivated players to play. Not being a gamer myself I was curious about what is so appealing about this pastime to produce such a high level of engagement.

According to Ryan the attraction rests in the otherworldly immersion where one can live out dreams and fantasies not possible in reality. There exists a level of interactive control, instant gratification, and risk taking not possible in ordinary day to day life. This leads to an expressive activity that is more stimulating and satisfying than the passive receptivity one gets from watching movies or listening to music—and it would seem more provocative than trying to refine a physical skill such as golfing. This type of engrossment is centered around action themes, stories, and scenarios, but is so enthralling apparently as to become a unique experience not found in more traditional amusements.

The industry is trending toward more social, networked, and global gaming experiences with platforms known as Massively Multiplayer Online or MMOs and identity/community simulations. The other game changer, if you will, is the introduction of Virtual Reality (VR), a technology sensation that places a player more realistically into an imaginary environment.

There are benefits to gaming aside from entertainment says Ryan. Discipline, motivation, eye-hand coordination, faster decision making, brain training and yes, even social skills can be enhanced through gaming.

Digital gaming is a classic case of a new disruptive industry changing a traditional landscape and presenting new employment opportunities not previously available. Despite the playfulness implied in gaming a market this big has to be taken seriously.




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Educating for Impending Careers

The vast majority of us in the United States were educated as children and young adults so that we could succeed both as citizens sustaining our democratic way of life and as productive workers able to sustain ourselves and our families economically. For the most part the combination of public and private K–12 schools and higher education universities and colleges have served us quite well. We are by and large a well educated and constructive populace.

But can we rely on the old-school methodologies to sustain us for a world of work that will be characterized as mercurial and erratic calling for agility, adaptability, and rapid evolution? There is reason to think not. An economy that is experiencing increased speed and transformation will not be well served by an educational structure and model designed to prepare students for a relatively static and predictable work world.

Let’s examine the existing paradigm that traditionally and currently defines most American high schools and colleges. There are two patterns at play based on the concepts of liberal education and career-focused education. By the time a student reaches high school they select or have selected for them one of these persuasions or the other.

Liberal (or liberal arts) education refers to an approach that encourages a broad and diverse exposure to fundamental and diverse subject matter with the goal being to educate a student for a complex world requiring a variety of perspectives, skills, and areas of knowledge. When and if college is reached the student fits into this mix a concentrated focus in one or more disciplines.

A career-focused or vocational path on the other hand focuses much more on preparing the student for a relevant job that is in demand in the workforce. Breadth gives way to depth in that a craft or skill set demonstrably employable is chosen, studied, and eventually mastered by the student.

To be clear I am not suggesting that there is anything fundamentally wrong with these models. My concern is in the traditional modes of delivery of them. We are still under the assumption that a high school diploma and / or college degree program that terminates upon graduation is enough to provide a student for a lifetime career. It used to be, but projections are that it won’t be enough going forward.

The workplace and its career needs are becoming increasingly digitized and globalized, resulting in an urgency for malleable, resilient, and entrepreneurial workers to address the ever vibrant economic demands across the planet. To maintain these attributes workers will need to accept and embrace continuous lifelong learning, upskilling, and training to keep up and stay ahead. Schooling will never end. In fact it will become an integral and ongoing part of any advantageous job worth having for most.

We will likely see a time when liberal and career-focused methods become more of an as-needed hybrid with a greater proliferation of skill and knowledge-based certification and training programs not necessarily tied to slow moving traditional education settings. Students, employees, and educators will begin migrating more intentionally into online, virtual, and yes, brick & mortar learning facilities that offer the highest quality, data driven, short and long-term instruction essential to the requirements of the emerging economy.

As an educator myself with 31 years in public schools and 5 years as a part time college adjunct I can say with some certainty that this industry will not on its own move in this direction without a lot of resistance. There are many entrenched interests compelled to resist such changes. A more responsive and pragmatic instructional delivery will likely arise from a combination of innovative educators and demanding students and employees requiring relevant reactive instruction.

However we can all begin by getting our heads around the concept of lifelong learning. I predict it will be far more energizing than draining.


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