‘Workplace’ Category Archives


What I’ve Been Working On

by Krista Ogburn Francis in Workplace

office desk 154x300 What Ive Been Working OnI haven’t posted here much in the last year.  At this time a year ago, I was seriously preparing for my SPHR exam, which I scheduled for the last possible day, January 30th.  In retrospect, it would have been smart to book an earlier date in case a winter blizzard shut down all testing sites or I came down with a bad case of scurvy or something.  But whatever.  I tested on the very last day, and afterwards, following those months of intense work, I was so incredibly relieved that I went into an extended period of complete indolence. I watched old episodes of Lost, which is saying something because I never watch TV. And with my son a high school senior, I enjoyed quasi-empty-nesthood with great abandon, scheduling happy hours with friends probably three times a week! It’s like I’m 22 again, except I get home at 7:00 p.m. instead of 3:00 a.m.

Anyway, blogging about HR just hasn’t felt pressing to me recently, but that doesn’t mean I’m not still passionate about HR. I am still the HR Director for a nonprofit that serves adults with disabilities, and during the last year, our employee count has grown by 20%.  Rose and I are a two-person office and we don’t use outside recruiters. During the last year,  we have hired about a zillion new employees…which we then have to orient, onboard, sign up for benefits and enroll in extensive training mandated by regulations. And on top of that, we have all the same demands anyone else does:  meetings, email, challenges that derail our day, planning/reporting, and sooo many other things  pulling us in countless directions.  In addition, when my boss is gone, I am Acting Executive Director. When he traveled to Asia for a month this summer, it was an eventful time indeed because we were in expansion mode. So it’s been a crazy time in my work and home life, but this is what I’m working on recently:

1. Recruited two HR interns, one undergrad and the other in graduate school. More about that in my next post.

2. Made a video to communicate with staff about a new aspect of our performance management system. This might not seem like a big deal to you, but I *hate* having my picture taken, much less appearing on film, so I am pretty darn proud of myself.

3. Re-arranged my office. This might sound insignificant, but I’ve been contemplating the issue for months. Given our rapid growth, office space is at a premium.  Rose and I are stuck with a less-than-desirable layout; we find ourselves in connected offices, with her space an essentially an outer vestibule and mine an inner chamber (see photo). This is not ideal for many reasons, including the fact that I am forced to invade her space dozens of times daily. In addition, staff  perceive me as  inaccessible because they see Rose as a gatekeeper.  Because I was tucked away around a corner,  they asked: “Is Krista in? Can I see her?”

What a horrible, crappy message from human resources! I am not the Wizard of Oz. I don’t need someone to vet my appointments.

Also, people would walk by our office, say hello to Rose, and keep walking–because they couldn’t see me. Too late, I would be like: “Hello! I’m here! Hi! Hello???” I hated it. I felt invisible. And it was lonely.

Although I wracked my brains for months, given our growth, I couldn’t figure out how to wrangle a private office for Rose. But it occurred to me that I could  manage the perception around my availability just by re-arranging my office. And so when our new CFO wanted a different desk, I took her cast-off and got rid of my old clunky L-shaped unit that had been tucked into a dark, back corner. I moved the new desk so that I am in the line-of-sight of any employee walking past our office (see photo.)

In the two weeks since I’ve made the switch, I’ve gotten a new and steady stream of visitors every day, including quite a few employees who haven’t been in my office since their original interview with me years ago. I’m accessible again.  Sure, I get a lot more interruptions than before, but it’s so worth it. After all, these people are the reason I have this job.

So that’s what I’ve been up to. What have you been doing?






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What Did She Say? (Reducing Office Gossip)

by Krista Ogburn Francis in Workplace

secret 300x199 What Did She Say? (Reducing Office Gossip)

Most workplaces probably struggle with gossip from time to time. Being human, it’s so easy for any of us to fall into the trap of complaining to a third party rather than addressing issues with the person actually involved.  As an HR pro, I have lots of opportunity to redirect people back to the source when they come to me to vent and complain. I feel like I am constantly asking, “Have you talked to _____?” and reinforcing this theme by reminding them, sometimes repeatedly, “You really need to talk to ____ directly.” It doesn’t help if I interject my HR self. It just muddies the waters. Although there are certainly times when it’s appropriate for HR to become involved,  I can’t solve your routine interpersonal problems for you. You need to talk to the person who is directly involved.

One day when talking to an employee, slightly different wording came out of my mouth. When Kamilla complained “She did A, she did B, then she had the nerve to do C,” I found myself asking some magic words:

“What did she say when you talked to her about that?”

Kamilla’s eyes got big. She looked like a deer in headlights. “Well, I didn’t actually talk to her, but, she,  yeah, I, well, she…..” she stammered.  I reiterated my “You need to talk with her about it” mantra and we brainstormed several approaches she could use. And the gossip stopped in its tracks.

Ever since that day, “What did he/she say when you talked about it?” has been my go-to phrase when people complain about a third party. Responding to complaining gossip is difficult and somewhat awkward.  Saying, “We really shouldn’t talk about her behind her back,” risks coming off as haughty and self-righteous, despite the truth of the sentiment. (An exception: when a group intentionally set up cultural norms embracing direct communication and core values of respect, agreeing that gossip is unacceptable. In that case, it is relatively easy to refer back to the agreement without sounding like the moral police.)

Countering with a positive statement about the other person sometimes helps deflate gossip, but often doesn’t seem powerful enough. When I do this, it’s better than nothing, but I personally often feel like a somewhat ineffectual Pollyanna.

Asking some version of “What did she say when you brought it to her attention?” seems like a happy medium to me. When I ask that, I am communicating my matter-of-fact assumption that they have already done the right thing before asking for my help. It conveys  my expectation as HR Director that in my workplace, employees first address issues with each other directly instead of defaulting to complaining to someone else.

So, this is what works for me. But we’re all different; what works for you or your organization?

photo by val.pearl

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Tips for Adjusting to a Promotion

by Krista Ogburn Francis in Workplace

young leaders2 150x150 Tips for Adjusting to a PromotionBeing promoted is exciting. Promotions bring celebration and an opportunity for new growth. Anticipating and preparing for the transition can help professionals feel more at ease in the new post. Preparation can help ease potential awkwardness that may come as the “honeymoon stage” of the new job wears off.

The most important thing to remember is to optimize the initial phase of your new position. This first stage of the promotion is an opportunity to get to know the roles and responsibilities of everyone you will oversee, or work alongside. Talk to your team to learn about the different jobs and how they fit together. Make notes of people’s names, general duties and ask questions including who fills in for them when they are out of the office. Do not make immediate changes. It is important to get a clear idea of where things stand before you start making adjustments. When you are beginning the new position, colleagues may feel more comfortable being candid about what is working and where they would like to see change. Not only will you better understand the role of the individuals in your organization, but you will also gain knowledge about how to create the best teams for projects.

Take the time to listen to your new team. If employees feel that you will listen to them, then they will be more likely to support you. Listening can also help you figure out whom to delegate which tasks to as your responsibilities increase. Communicating well with your team may uncover new possibilities within the present staff. Assessing which employees may be willing to take on more responsibilities in can save you time and money.

In the beginning of a promotion, you will also want to learn all you can about the HR policies, procedures and guidelines that you would not have been privy to in your previous roles. You might have to deal with additional HR procedures, such as hiring and payroll. Make an appointment with HR when you first get promoted. This will give you time to learn any new information before potentially making a mistake.

During the transition period of your new promotion you might need to re-assess the time and ways you socialize with peers who are also friends. Going from peer to boss might require a change in your interactions. For example, if you have previously engaged in casual banter about other team members, you will now have to refrain from such comments. It is vital that everyone on your team feel equally valued. You should handle these situations honestly and directly. Making sure employees feel that you are operating on a level playing field will encourage involvement as you begin to create goals and plans.

As you move into your new position, you can begin making plans. Be sure to include future goals, your expectations and who will take over tasks if an emergency occurs. Leading into your promotion with a detailed understanding of the key facets in your organization will help you build camaraderie and set you up for success in your short term and long term goals for years to come.


This article was submitted by University Alliance on behalf of the online programs at Villanova University. If you’re interested in HR certification, Villanova offers 8-week HR courses in addition to an HR masters degree. For more information please visit http://www.VillanovaU.com

photo by  Horasis

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Quick Grammar Upgrade–Your/You’re; It’s/Its; Whose/Who’s

by Krista Ogburn Francis in Workplace

Your Not Listening2 Quick Grammar Upgrade  Your/Youre; Its/Its; Whose/WhosA few years ago, my neighbors introduced their new baby, Lily, to me. Even as I congratulated them on the birth of their beautiful new daughter, I felt distracted, thinking, “Won’t they feel a little silly when they find out the correct spelling is Lilly?”

You can figure out the rest of the story. Of course, to my chagrin, I learned my neighbors were in fact correct; flying in the face of typical rules of English spelling and pronunciation, the flower is indeed spelled L-I-L-Y.

If it’s not already abundantly clear, let me come out and say that I make many mistakes in my writing. My grammar is not perfect. I overuse the passive voice and I sometimes conclude sentences with prepositions. Often, I use too many commas; other times not enough. And when I text from my phone’s virtual keyboard, I inflict a prodigious amount of typos upon my unfortunate readers.

With all my mistakes, I don’t intend to judge anyone with this post. That said, I see educated, professional (HR) people repeatedly making sloppy, elementary  mistakes that I believe detract from our collective credibility, errors that make us appear less educated and professional than we actually are. Some of the most frequent and basic errors concern contractions vs. possessives.

So this is my public service announcement. Please refer to my handy-dandy grid to help determine when to use you’re or your, who’s or whose, it’s or its.

handy dandy chart3 1024x539 Quick Grammar Upgrade  Your/Youre; Its/Its; Whose/WhosAs the astute reader will undoubtedly notice, I’ve made a number of grammatical errors in this post. Two points for each error you bring to light in the comments.

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by Krista Ogburn Francis in Workplace

sunflower 164x300 SummertimeI grew up in the tropics where we had two seasons: Rainy and Dry.

Now I live in Washington, DC, which purportedly experiences four seasons, not two.

Yeah, right.

The reality? Half the year it’s too hot and the other half it’s too cold, with precious buffer between the two. Okay, to be fair, I’ll concede we do enjoy about three weeks of Autumn (breathtaking) and nine days of Spring. If we’re lucky.

Though I haven’t experienced the Spring and Fall of DC tourist lore,  I still love our summer; hot, long and humid though it is. Who doesn’t love summer? Summer is golden. Seemingly endless.  Full of promise.

When I think about the seasons, I can’t help but think about the organizational life cycle, which mimics the seasons of our own lives.

Spring: Expectancy, exuberant  ideas, exploration, entrepreneurial spirit, creativity.

Summer: Phenomenal growth; energy, excitement and passion as ideas take root and bear fruit.

Fall: Maturity. Autumn color. Bureaucracy.  Noticeable decline; the need to take stock and change course or suffer irreparable  loss.

Winter: Spiraling down to an inevitable end, unless the organization aggressively reinvents itself.

For me, the organizational life cycle hits home in a personal way because I often interact with colleagues from competing organizations that are obviously aging. I observe employees at these mature [Fall/Winter] companies struggling on a daily basis for their very survival. I watch them fighting by relentlessly pruning, cutting back, saving costs, contracting, playing it safe, minimizing risk.

I watch their sailors on the bridge desperately cranking the ship’s wheel, fighting for every degree of change–and often losing–seemingly oblivious to the water pouring in over the sides, threatening to swamp them at any moment.

And I  wonder: in response to threat, is contraction a sufficient response to prevent imminent demise?

Are ‘cutting back’ and  ‘playing it safe’ valid strategies to ensure not just survival but robust recovery?

Or should we throw out all that antiquated caution and act more like we did in our organization’s youth, when we impetuously threw all caution to the wind and cast ourselves into the innocent passion of  Spring and Summer?

photo by Krista Francis




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Fun and Creativity at Work

by Krista Ogburn Francis in Workplace

ha ha ha funny at work 150x150 Fun and Creativity at Work April Fool’s Day has me thinking about snafus and shenanigans at work. One of my first jobs was a case manager at a nonprofit I’ll call Habilitative Support Services (HSS). We rented space in an old elementary school building and served adults with mental disabilities, such as autism, schizophrenia, Down syndrome, etc.

We worked hard and also had a lot of fun. For example, staff often jumped out the side windows for quick access to the parking lot rather than walking *ALLLLLL* the way around to the front or back exit. After the clients left in the late afternoon, we were known to have water balloon fights in the corridors, which was not a big deal given the concrete block walls and tile floors. Often on Fridays, we’d pool our money and a co-worker J.T. would do a beer run. We’d spend the last hour of the workweek chatting and laughing outside the back door over beers and wine coolers. To their credit, our bosses encouraged the down-time and camaraderie. Yep, I have lots of fond memories of HSS!

A couple of other stories stand out in my mind:

1. Housed in an old school building, we had no air conditioning. Summers in the DC metro area can be brutally hot and swampy, so two guys asked if the dress code could be amended to include shorts. The Director declined their request. The guys said, wait a minute, that’s not fair; the women can wear skirts which are not as hot as dress pants. The Director shrugged and answered: sorry guys; no can do.

In a stroke of genius, on the next sweltering day, the guys came to work wearing–you guessed it–skirts.

It was amazing how quickly that dress code changed.

All these years later, I still think that’s one of the more creative problem-solving approaches I’ve heard of in the workplace.

2. The second story is about my co-worker J.T.*  We appreciated his Friday beer runs and he actually was a nice guy in so many ways, but he was over-the-top flirtatious with leering eyes, wandering hands and suggestive comments. This was in the early nineties not long after the Clarence Thomas hearings, some years before sexual harassment complaints really became mainstream. At any rate, we had no HR department to report to, and honestly,  the predominately female staff  didn’t even understand that we had the right to complain. Each of the women  ignored or rebuffed his advances in her own way, to no avail.

Finally, another case manager and I had a brainwave. We wrote him a behavior plan. What is a behavior plan? Well, it was a written program we’d typically create using behavior modification principles to influence unacceptable or dangerous conduct on the part of our clients. Tongue-in-cheek, we wrote up a short social history, we theorized the function of J.T.’S  behavior, we captured the antecedent (“any time a female is in the immediate vicinity”), we defined the unacceptable behavior; and most importantly, we outlined the consequence: a mallet applied swiftly and with precision directly between his legs.

With good spirits and an attitude of humor, we intrepidly offered him a copy of his program.

And the incidents went way down.

That’s not how I would advocate my employees handling sexual harassment issues in 2011, but I’ll have to say it worked pretty well way back in the day!

I’m still  thankful for the fun we had at HSS, and I’m still in awe of the creativity we exercised to solve problems of every day work life.

photo by Sanne van der Beek

*not his real name or initials

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Happiest Jobs

by Krista Ogburn Francis in Workplace

oprah1 150x150 Happiest JobsFrom the recent Oprah show on happiness, what would you say is the happiest job in the U.S.?

  1. Travel Agent
  2. Clergy
  3. Special Education Teacher
  4. Firefighter

What do you think?

Drum roll please….

As it turns out, it’s a trick question. According to happiness expert and author Dan Buettner who appeared on the show,  these professions are ALL among the happiest jobs–an interesting finding since they all generally pay less than $50K/year.

What gives these jobs high potential for happiness? One reason is the amount of interpersonal interaction inherent in these roles. According to extensive Gallup and Healthways research, the happiest people experience eight or more hours of social interaction every day. The jobs listed above help deliver that, apparently.

We all have  about sixteen waking hours available each day. But when you subtract  breakfast, getting ready for work, commuting to work, commuting home, having dinner in whatever form that might take, housework, not to mention any familial responsibilities such as children’s homework/bathtime/bedtime, and any other To-Do items, there’s not much time left. As quickly as our “leisure” hours disappear, we may want to make the very best of any interpersonal connections at work.

Coincidentally, in the last month I’ve been making an effort to have more personal conversations and less e-mail at the office. Although I made this decision for unrelated reasons–to reduce in-box clutter and to get quick answers–I’ve also noticed a side benefit: my relationships at work seem to be improving.

And yes, I think I do feel the ‘happiness benefits’ resulting from increased connection. Since watching this little Oprah clip, I’ll definitely be looking for more ways to expand the conversation.Who doesn’t want to be happier at work and throughout life?

If you’re interested, you can take Oprah’s quiz about happy habits here.

photo by nayrb7

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Loving What You Do

by Krista Ogburn Francis in Workplace

love my job 150x150 Loving What You DoBecause I am an HR nerd, in my daily travels, I often ask people about their jobs. I ask: what’s it like to work here? Do you like what you do? Is it hard to get a job here?

Sorry if this is too much information for the male readers, but today I went for my annual mammogram. Although it felt awkward to be having a conversation given what was transpiring with my bodily parts, I asked the technician about her job. “Do you do mammograms all day long?” I inquired.

She said she usually does, and I followed up  by asking how she enjoys her work.

With a huge smile, she quickly answered, “I love it. I’m in the business of saving lives. You can’t ask for a better job than that.”

Wow. Great answer. She could have responded, “Well, it pays the bills” or  “Oh, it gets really monotonous and tedious doing X Rays all day long,” or “I feel bad causing women physical discomfort.”

But no, she loves her job and she interprets it in a way that allows her the greatest sense of meaning and gratification.

How do you interpret and explain what you do?

photo by strangelibrarian

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My Husband and I are Both Wrong

by Krista Ogburn Francis in Workplace

your mom take 21 257x300 My Husband and I are Both WrongThe office dishwasher has been broken for two weeks. People seem to have a hard enough time picking up after themselves in regular circumstances, much less now. Despite supplies for hand-washing dishes and even though we have a second dishwasher one flight down, dirty cups, plates, glasses and cutlery pile up in the sink for days.  A couple times a week, I carefully stack the dishes in a salad bowl, schlep them downstairs,  empty the other dishwasher and load it again. It’s not my responsibility, but I can’t stand it anymore. I am not a punitive person, but I joked on Twitter that a kitchen webcam might make a difference.

It reminds me of when my hubby and I moved in together. Of course we talked about how our household would run and of course we disagreed. He said we needed rules, structured routines, chore lists, which I thought silly. We’re adults, I argued; if we see something needs to be done, we should just pitch in and do it.

With the dishwasher fiasco, I am tempted to think my husband is right. Maybe you can’t count on people to do the right thing. Maybe we do need rules and chore rotations.

But then I remember our office vehicles. No matter how structured the expectations, some people consistently ignore them, leaving cars trashed or on “E,” taking vehicles they haven’t reserved, etc.

Between the dishes and the cars, I guess my husband and I are both wrong. Or maybe these issues are just universal. Does your office struggle with people not cleaning up after themselves or failing to do their part? If so, what’s worked? Anything?

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Women Asking for Salary Increases

by Krista Ogburn Francis in Workplace

There was a lot of buzz last year that women still make significantly less in many professions, on average, than men; here’s just one post by CNNMoney.com. Somehow in all the discussion, I missed this particular aspect: according to author and Carnegie Mellon professor Linda Babcock, far fewer women than men ask for raises, and far fewer female candidates attempt to negotiate a pay offer.  According to this article and others, the differences between the genders in this regard are dramatic. We’re not talking 60%/40%, it’s more like 80%/10% [men ask/women don’t]. Women would rather settle for a smaller salary than face the discomfort of negotiation, apparently.

And then here’s yet another wrinkle, a damned-if-you-do-damned-if-you-don’t dilemma: a Harvard IdeaCast suggests women pay a financial cost when they fail to ask for more money, yet they pay a significant social cost when they try to negotiate.   Guest Whitney Johnson, partner and co-founder of the investment firm Rose Park Advisors, suggests women are often socially shunned for making the ask; whereas, while men’s requests are not always honored, they are not made at risk of social capital.

We haven’t touched the issue of many women voluntarily stepping out of the paid workforce for long periods to care for children or ailing relatives. How does that figure in?

I don’t have any magic wands to wave to solve the gender pay issue, but Linda Babcock’s study sure grabbed my attention today. If you have any thoughts, chime in on the comments section.

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