“Where Is She Going To Go?”

 

It’s been a while, I know… much longer than I would have liked.  I have had some life changes lately that I’ll share in a later post. 😉

Anyways, I wanted to address something I have not only heard of but experienced first hand in Corporate America.

Flight Risk Analysis.

In layman’s terms, this is where the higher ups get to determine the likelihood of you leaving the company.  If you are a highly valued employee with high performance, and have been deemed high flight risk, then they will start working hard to keep you. This means that if you ask for something, say a promotion, a raise, flex time, you are more likely to get it because they do not want to lose you. However, if you are a low flight risk then…sigh, well…you get the point.

Up until recently, I had never been privy to those discussions behind closed doors.  A few weeks ago, I basically got the 411 on what had been said in these meetings and was extremely disappointed.

“She is a middle-aged, single mom with 3 kids. Where is she going to go?”

“You know, he’s pretty tight lipped,  but he did mention that the medical bills have piled up since his wife’s treatments.”

“Well, we just relocated him from Des Moines so he still owes us relo. He’d have to pay us 50K if he left anyways.”

“We are in the middle of her green card filing so she can’t leave for another 3 or so years either way.”

This is how they basically decided whether these employees were worth investing in or not! Regardless of their actual value or contribution to the company. And here I was thinking it had only to do with effort and those many hours spent working late to deliver.

It didn’t matter that I was overdue for the promotion. In that moment,  the only thing that mattered to them was whether I could leave or not! Which is why I had to show them. Hehe! More to come.

Here are a few tips I have picked up that may help…

Be careful what details you share and whom you share them with. I am pretty sure I have said it before but it bears repeating. It may seem like you are just making conversation, or being more sociable, or trying to fit in. But every little detail goes in a little file, a mental one, if not an actual physical file. When the time is ripe, that information will either help or hurt you. Be alert and share only the things that will help. So perhaps they don’t need to know how much debt you have, or what illnesses your loved ones may be battling, or even an expensive vacation you took. Always have your wits about you and avoid what is known as Word Vomit.

I recall though a coworker I had who went out of her way to let us know that she didn’t need the job. At every opportunity,  she would mention her husband was a Stanford-educated doctor with his own practice. She would let us know that she was working because she was passionate and enjoyed it. This seemed to work for her and she often got whatever she asked for.

Like I said, know what helps and what hurts.

Know who to trust. I’m not saying that you should be a complete recluse at work. But know when the friendships you have built are genuine and when they are not. If they are not, then be polite. Cordial. But don’t over share.

Also, having a good network will help you know what is being said in those meetings.

Make plans. Don’t be naive in thinking you are not being categorized into high or low flight risk. Just be self aware enough to know where they think you fall. If low, then make plans to change something. Don’t just wallow in it. Look for another opportunity. Change your circumstance.

I know someone who, though miserable at work, refuses to look for another job because she would owe tuition reimbursement money to the company. So it has gone from a regular job to indentured servitude.  This is a huge mistake. My advice? Please look for another job. There are companies that value you enough to pay your tuition back. You can negotiate your compensation to include a sign on bonus to cover the cost. This is not unheard of. It happens every day. Be creative!

Don’t let them mess with your self confidence…thereby keeping you from making plans. I had another coworker and friend of Chinese descent who came to the US 3 years ago. He had never spoken English growing up, although he could read it very well.  He struggled to assimilate and during presentations, he would be asked not to speak because “no one could understand him.” The  crazy thing is that although his spoken English is infinitely better, his confidence has been hurt. He is deemed low flight risk and so they have stopped investing in him even though this guy is a wicked smart, Chemical Engineering wizard! As low flight risk,  they have taken work from the high flight risk folks and dumped it on him. He won’t look for another job because as he told me (in perfect English, I might add), “I don’t think I would do well in an interview. My English isn’t very good”.

Continue to deliver and earn your paycheck. Obviously. Because trust me, even if you are a high flight risk but a low performer,  you will be shown the door.  Don’t relent in your work ethic.   Don’t be pushed out before your plans hatch.

Continue reading

Resident “Alien”

Have you ever had a conversation with someone at work that left you … speechless? Now, I consider myself quite witty and have no issue dishing out clever reparte when necessary. But this was…
A White, male peer, who once sat in a neighboring office, found out somehow that I was on an employer-sponsored visa. Let’s call him Jim. Since I did not divulge this information to Jim, he must have overheard me talking to my lawyer.

Jim:

While standing in my office doorway and speaking quite loudly…

So I heard they asked you to move to France and you said no, because of your visa situation?

Me:

Uhhh… I guess.

Trying to decipher how he found out.


Jim:

Man, that sucks. It would have been a great opportunity. I hear they are offering XX thousand dollars in signing bonus if you go.

Me:

Yea

At this point I’m showing all the obvious signs of discomfort with this conversation. I have shifted away from him to face my keyboard and have begun to type an email. He continues…

Jim:

I hear they might lay people off if they turn it down.

Me:

O….k. Hadn’t heard that.

Jim:

So how does the visa thing work? If you get laid off, you have to go home, right?  What will you do? You’re from Africa, right? You would have to go back there? That would suck with all the issues going on there right now.

Me:

silence.

disbelief.

blank stare.

Jim:

well, good luck. Hope it all works out.

—————–
I have to say, I still haven’t properly collated my thoughts on this issue. But I know it upsets me.
Ever since my arrival into the U.S almost 15 years ago, I have been reminded constantly of my “alien” status. It started in college as professors and students would not only mispronounce my name, but do it so dismissively. Like they couldn’t be bothered. I dreaded that roll call first day of class.  Just as I had begun to get used to this feeling, by my second year, I started realizing that I was not allowed to go after certain internships I was otherwise qualified for, because I was an “alien”.
Once I got my first “real” Corporate job, still on a visa, I remember this nagging feeling of being…unsettled. I didn’t feel like I could lay down any roots. I didn’t buy any nice furniture, much less think of home ownership. I would even use disposable utensils.  Because, who knew? I could be asked to leave at any time, and even though I had spent my entire adult life here, I would only have 30 days to pack it all up. I can tell you that this is not a good feeling and really does hinder your quality of life.
I commend every non-US native, Corporate-American who has endured this. With all the struggles of the job and life itself, you have this to contend with as well. And you do it with grace. Without letting them see how unsure you are about your future.
To the ‘Jims’ of Corporate-America, I have some choice words for you, but I will opt for a more…diplomatic route :).  Please treat this topic sensitively as it is sensitive for us. In case you are that obtuse and can’t tell, we really don’t want to talk with you about this. It is really none of your business. I choose to discuss this topic with friends and family, people who genuinely care about my well being. Many have come here to seek a better life for themselves and their families. Much like your ancestors did. Do not ask annoying questions about our immigration status. It is difficult enough to try to do a great job and compete (as we are often have to work harder to prove we are good enough), without adding your tactless comments to the mix.
And please, can someone think of a different term to refer to non-US natives  that does not include a word also used to describe extra terrestrial life not originating from Earth?!

7 Tips For My Recovering Workaholics

So, you’ve probably diagnosed yourself as a recovering workaholic? If not, then read the previous post to make sure. If so, you are in good company.

Before going any further, let me ask one important question.  Why have you taken this very stressful “corporate” role and why do you work so many hours at it?  Here are some common thoughts and answers:

You: I need the money.
Me: But you have no time to spend it.

You: My parents expect me to.  They love to brag about how their child works for that biiiggg (*spreads arms wide to illustrate*) Accounting firm /law firm /investment bank.
Me: ha! Like a true ‘Naija’ parent. Lol. That same parent will complain and guilt-trip you everyday because you never call or visit and tell you, you don’t care about them.

Here’s one that usually lurks beneath the surface but no one wants to say out loud.

You: I have to work longer hours to prove to them that I can do it…that it was not a mistake to take a chance on a Black woman.
Me: I need you to take a minute and mentally high-five yourself right now. You are the sh-t! You are the best person for the job and you have more than earned it. As much as Corporate America likes to fill their diversity quotas, they will not sacrifice performance, trust!.

I remember when I got my last promotion. I was (and still am) the youngest person to hold that position, not to mention the only Black woman…and my goodness, the rumors! I felt I had to work four times as hard to prove I could do it. I was putting in late hours like you cannot imagine. Because I kept doubting and second-guessing myself.  Until I realized that the harder and longer I worked, their expectations kept increasing, and my personal life suffered. So I stopped and recalibrated. You are smart, capable and quite frankly more so than many of your White colleagues.

Last one…

You: It’s the company culture. Everyone works these hours. I need to do it to survive here.
Me:  You need to decide what’s most important and put that first.  If you claim family is the most important thing to you, then make quality time for them. If your health is important, take care of you. A few years ago, a coworker was admitted into a mental institution from the tough environment at work. He’s still there now.

Unfortunately, many companies who claim to support work-life balance are only paying lip-service. They want you chained to at your desk for as long as possible.  If you work for one of these, you may need to make a tough decision. Do I want to do whatever it takes to go above and beyond every single day? And more importantly, is this sustainable? How long can I continue to work for this company in this capacity? You have to be honest with yourself and decide.  If you choose to stay here, then understand that it’s a choice.  A sacrifice. And be sure it is what you want.

Luckily though, you may not have to. More and more companies are starting to ‘walk the talk’ on work-life balance. They are the ones who allow you to work from home, have day care centers in the office, and let you take whole summers off. These companies are finding that allowing their employees to take care of their personal lives really does pay off and does not compromise the bottom line. Seek these companies out in your job search.  When comparing offers, do not only look at salary, but evaluate the company’s culture and how closely their values align with yours.

I trust by now, you are evaluating whether you want to stay here, at this job. While you decide...

Practice Mindfulness. I know this is easier said than done. When I first started dealing with this, I would tell myself every morning that I would stay in control of my thoughts, emotions and actions. I would listen to inspiring words by Joel Osteen on my way in to work.  And then I get that annoying email or phone call from a coworker, or that crisis arises at a customer throws me into a panic and it all goes out the window.

There is no easy fix.  Just practice. One technique I used was to actually set alarms on my phone…little reminders every 3 hours to “check in” with myself. I would go to the ladies’ room, stare at my reflection for several seconds to compose myself, drink some water and take several very deep breaths with eyes closed. It might sound corny but I used those few minutes to acknowledge and then rid myself of negative energy and just be…self aware and centered. Bikram yoga, running and regular massages helped me become better at this.  Before long, you’ll find you no longer need the reminders and your body will let you know when you feel out of sorts and need to “check in”.

Move. You are sitting at your desk for hours on end everyday. When you don’t have to be, move. Walk. Run. Hike. Bike. Skate. Dance. Something. I know you are so tired after work and you  want to lie on that couch and pass out. Get up and move. Don’t think about it too much. If you prefer, go in the mornings. Wake up 30 – 60 mins earlier and just go. Trust me, it makes a difference. It relieves stress by flooding your body with endorphins and replenishing awesome energy to replace the negative energy from the day’s work. And you know you need to replenish. So you don’t snap at someone at work, or worse yet, at home.

Remove those sugary, salty snacks from your desk drawer and replace them with healthier versions. No, really.  Get rid of them now. I won’t even bother to explain why. I’m sure you know. So just do it. If you don’t see it, you won’t eat it. And stay away from that vending machine. I wish someone would just ban those evil things! The mistake many recovering workaholics make is that they forget that they spend most of their time at work. So they spend all this money buying healthy food to keep at home but they don’t eat it and it just rots.  If you have a fridge and microwave at work, store your healthy meals there. I now make a habit of keeping snacks like carrot sticks, oatmeal, granola and fruits at work for those extra stressful days when I can’t eat my jollof.

Say No sometimes. It’s ok. You are a professional woman. You know your worth and what you bring to the table. After you’ve spent some time there, they know it too. As you climb this ladder, know your limits. Know when you cannot get on a recurring conference call with China at 1am. Know when you cannot go to Australia for 2 years.  Know when what they are asking for is not only humanly impossible, but when it doesn’t not fit your plan for your life. If you find yourself constantly saying no, then you need to get out of there.  But it’s ok to manage expectations. You have nothing to prove.

Maximize the times spent alone or with friends and family. You are a dual citizen remember?  You have a fulfilling life outside of this place. You have friends, boy/girl friends, husbands, parents, kids, mentees, pets, hobbies, passions.  There are things you love to do that do not include ratchet tv after work.  Think about what those things are and rediscover them. Discover new ones. Dedicate at least 1 hour a day to those things. Luckily for me, I love the gym so I can kill 2 birds with one stone. Lol. So I’m there most days. I love traveling so I take quick weekend trips. I love reading so I try to read at least a chapter a day. And I love writing this blog ;).  So no matter how busy it gets, I must dedicate quality time to these things or people I love. It’s really what keeps me going.

Oh, and part of this is knowing how to separate work time from your time. Don’t be checking your work email when your boyfriend is trying to connect with you emotionally. Don’t be responding to work email when your young children are craving your attention. You prayed long and hard for that partner, for those kids. Now enjoy them. This is not the time for multitasking.   I refuse to check my work phone before bed. I even make sure to keep my work devices (phone and computer), very separate from personal ones.  Don’t worry. If you don’t respond to that email at 2am, the building will not collapse. It will still be there waiting in the morning.

Do not drown your stress with excessive alcohol and club hopping. This one isn’t that hard for me to abide by. The older I’ve gotten, the more I abhor the club scene.  I found that clubbing was really not the best use of my time and it seemed to make the weekend fly by even faster!  I do not see the point of being in a drunken stupor, losing track of those precious hours when I should be aware and savoring every minute. Not to mention the morning-after hangover when you then spend the day in a haze trying to recover.  No bueno.

Please take your vacation days and sick days.  This is currency. Not using them is like handing back part of your paycheck to your boss.  Not to mention it helps you relax and take care of yourself.   Ideally you should go away. Somewhere far and fun. But if you can’t, then take a stay-cation and get yourself together. Use this time to clean out your mind or even just clean and de-clutter your home.  Use sick days to make your doctor’s and dentist appointments. I even use mine to take “mental health” days once in a while. I know a lot of us International Black folks sometimes shy away from using these days. We want to go above and beyond. Stop it. Take your days and rest. You are a Black woman, not super human.

So… until the day comes when you are able to select the job you truly are passionate about and it doesn’t feel like work, try these tips which have proven effective for me.  I hope they help you too.

Do you have others I may have missed? Please follow and share your thoughts.

10 Signs You Might Be A Workaholic

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  1. You work 10 or more hours a day in a job that is fast paced, highly demanding and stressful.
  2. No matter how much you try, your boss demands more. Maybe nicely. Maybe not so much.
  3. Like a prisoner, you are confined to a small cube or office space that barely receives any sunlight or fresh air. That small plant or framed picture of a loved one is your attempt to make it more…liveable. And why not? You are after all spending most of your waking hours here.
  4. You leave home with hair and make up freshly done, however the stress of the day has made you chew off your lipstick. Remnants of your eyeshadow give away how often you have rubbed your eyes from staring at your screen. Your hands, like mine, have been in your hair all day, so it’s now a tangled mess. If your condition is acute, you may have given up trying all together. It’ll get messed up anyway. Why bother?
  5. On particularly stressful days, you may forget to eat a proper lunch. You may, however have a secret stash of candy, chocolate bars and chips that you mindlessly throw into your mouth as you stare at that computer screen.
  6. You don’t even know how you got home. You must have gotten in your car or waited for the subway or bus. You must have taken the usual route. But do you remember anything you saw? Nope. Completely zoned out.
  7. You drop everything at the door once you get home. Coat, shoes, laptop bag, purse, bra, maybe even clothes. Everything. Your doorway is starting to look like a flea market or thrift store.
  8. On one or more occasions, you may or may not have done something completely stupid. Like forgotten to take your keys out of the keyhole as you let yourself in (I am not admitting to anything! Lol), leaving the keys outside all night! (This is how you know someone back home is praying for you!)
  9. You eat everything in sight. Haha. Over the weekend you told yourself you would be “good” this week. You’ve spent hundreds of dollars on green veggies but they are all rotting away in your fridge and you will have to throw them out next weekend. Oh well. As for today, only fat, grease, sugar and carbs will do.
  10. Lastly, you plop yourself in front of the TV. Doesn’t even matter what’s on. Could be “ratchet tv”; in fact the more ratchet, the better. This way you don’t have to think too much. You are in a vegetative state. Brain dead till you fall asleep. Before long, the TV is watching you. Lol. And you know what? You get to do it again tomorrow! Oh joy!

Okay, if you checked most of these boxes, you may be a recovering workaholic, like me. Don’t worry. This is a safe space. We can talk freely.

If you really think about it, this is very concerning. Kinda scary. We have such a short time on this earth, is this how we really want to spend it? Especially when you think about the fact that by traditional American workplace standards, we have another 20-30 years left of this before retirement?

I know work is important, don’t get me wrong. I want my shot at CEO as much as the next woman and I’m working hard to get there. I have bills, too. As is characteristic of “good ol’ Naija upbringing”, I send money back home, too. I like to take the occasional vacation, too. I want to make sure my future children have more than enough, too.

But at what cost? So many illnesses are linked to stress – heart disease, headaches, Alzheimer’s, GI issues, depression, anxiety and obesity. Are we taking care of ourselves physically? Or are we sacrificing our short term well being in the hopes of some long term gain? Even if we are physically ok and not at risk, what about our psychological health? Have we really sat down to think about those “issues” we keep sweeping under the rug? Or maybe we work this hard so we don’t have to deal with “it”? What about our relationships? Do we nurture them? When was the last time you truly connected with a friend? I mean really listened and shared? Or do you just make the half-assed phone call, maybe while heading home, simply to pass the time? I know I’m guilty.

Bottom line is, while we need to work, it should contribute to our essence, not deplete it. We should still have plenty to give ourselves and loved ones at the end of the day. We should not be irritated when our phones ring and it’s mom calling to check in. We should not be upset when our young children ask us a million questions because they just want our attention. We should not be too tired to pick up that book we’ve always wanted to read. These are the things that should give us joy and yet we dedicate so little time to them.

Notice earlier, I said “recovering” workaholic? I say so because we are going to beat this together! 🙂

Check out my next post on suggested tips I use currently to address this.

I want to hear from you. Please follow, leave a comment and share other symptoms you’ve experienced and let’s learn from each other!