May 22, 2013


Now that I work for a bigger organization, I am pumped (Hanz and Franz style) about my new benefits package. I now have access to better health care options, several pre-tax savings plans, matching retirement contributions, and on and on. However, there is one big caveat to my amazing benefits plan: I am back to only two weeks of paid vacation a year. TWO. WEEKS.

You're probably wondering what I'm whining about. Don't most people get two weeks of vacation a year? What is the big deal? Well, the big deal is that I had built up four weeks of paid vacation a year with my last employer, which was pretty amazing. I took Fridays off for long-weekends. I never thought twice about the week between Christmas and New Year's. And I still had enough time left over to plan a two-week vacation to Europe last year. In other words, I was spoiled rotten.

My new reality means scrimping and saving throughout the year and planning trips far more in advance that I'm used to. The good news is that every year I stay with this new organization, I'll receive a few more days in the annual vacation bank. While I have no regrets from my transition (indeed, fewer vacation days is a small price to pay for sanity), it got me thinking about paid vacation and why there never seems to be enough to go around. Business Insider has a great infographic about paid vacation around the world which really brings this point home: Americans do not receive any mandatory paid vacation days off. All of a sudden, "Kazakhstan" (24 days) has a different ring to it, don't you think?

May 21, 2013

Choose Your Own Adventure - Office Edition

So what can we, worker bees of the world, do to create a successful and productive environment at the office?  We can't give each other raises. We can't move into a Google-like campus. We probably can't even lobby for a cappuccino machine or yoga break room.  But there are a few characteristics we have control over and can promote from within. 

Fast Company highlighted a new book recently titled Passion Capital: The World's Most Powerful Asset promoting 8 simple "rules" for creating a great work culture that, in turn, leads to lifelong career success. 

1. Surround yourself with passionate people.
2. Communicate regularly and transparently.
3. Weed out the whiners who pull everyone down.
4. Work hard, play hard.
5. Be ambitious! Be extraordinary!
6. Respect diversity in all of its forms.
7. Promote dynamic interaction with bosses, coworkers, other departments, even interns!
8. Keep your eye on the prize. Not all success is short term.  Be focused on long-terms goals everyday.

As the new kid on the block in my office, I've paid a lot of attention to Numbers 2 and 7, making sure I get to know everyone one-on-one, understand their role on the team and figure out how my own activities can help and enhance their projects. I could probably give a little more effort toward #5. I hope that as I grow more comfortable with everyday responsibilities, I can shift into the extraordinary by connecting the dots among programs, anticipating solutions to problems and identifying opportunities to take my contribution to the next level.  

For more detail and examples on these rules and others, check out Fast Company's recent blog on Creating Passionate Work Cultures!  

May 20, 2013

Culture Shock

As I transition to a new job, I've been thinking a lot about work culture. It is amazing how adaptable we are as employees: sliding into and out of habits based on interaction with bosses, colleagues and the internal structures around us.

It's not always seamless, though.  

My new work environment is 180 degrees different in tone than that of my old one. There is a dramatic lack of emergency: e-mails aren't red-flagged, no competition for attention, accolades or funding; no late-night calls; programmatic timelines are realistic and respected; budgets adhered to. For the last two weeks, I've floated from task to task in a state of genuine culture shock. I keep waiting for a desperate freak out or a deadline to pop up like whack-a-mole. In addition, I notice a real shift from individual accomplishment to teamwork, from go-it-alone to accomplishing things together. 

I don't believe that this is a product of good versus bad or old versus new. Instead, I think it's more about the culture surrounding everything we do. We can't control everything around us in the work place, but in a transition, there are ways to bring the best with us and leave the rest behind. That's what I'll be writing about this week: those qualities that bring out the best in me that I want to cultivate (and those that I hope to leave in the dust).