Vault's Careers Blog

Career advice and job search strategies for the modern careerist

Posts Tagged ‘Workplace Issues

Why Wearing Your Costume to Work is a Bad Career Move

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It’s Halloween and the temptation to wear your costume to the office can be hard to overcome—especially if you’ve invested a lot of time and effort in getting it just right. But when it comes to dressing up at the workplace, those who value their careers should think hard about their wardrobe selection, and consider removing some of the “tricks and treats.”

While many people seem to take on a whole new personality at Halloween, workers should tread carefully when choosing a costume to wear at work—even if it means being forced to choose separate outfits for the office and their Halloween night shenanigans. Even if your company permits masks and costumes during office hours, it’s better to play it safe, and remember that the harassment policy you signed earlier in the year does not magically disappear with the holiday.

“People in costume lose inhibitions and behave as if a tail and mask give them license to act out,” says Vicki Lynn, Vault’s Vice President of Research and Consulting. “It’s important to keep a level of decorum when observing Halloween in the workplace.”

Steer Clear of “Sexy”

“Never wear anything that oozes ‘date’ or ‘sex,’ such as a bunny costume, sexy witch, cow girl, nurse, or teacher,” says Lynn. “If you think it crosses the line, it probably does. These would be costumes that show too much leg, butt and décolletage.”

Wearing provocative outfits could make co-workers feel uncomfortable or lead to unwanted sexual advances, potentially resulting in legal actions—something that no employer wants to deal with. This means that if you wouldn’t normally go to the office in an outfit that would make Lady Gaga blush, you should continue that practice at the office on Halloween. That goes for the guys too: Halloween is not an excuse to come to the office without a shirt on, no matter how much you enjoy those Old Spice commercials.

Watch What You Say With Your Costume

It’s possible to get into costume-related trouble even if you’re only revealing an opinion with your outfit.

“Beware of the signal or message that might be conveyed with your choice of costume—i.e. anything that could be conveyed as offensive to different religions, ethnicities, genders, and/or political leanings,” says Lynn, adding that “the best outfits are non-political masks.”

So, if you were thinking of using your costume to make a point about one of the issues of the day, stop and think about how colleagues or clients may react. Could you open yourself up to a harassment claim or altercation that could carry on past the Halloween season? Even if you’re only poking fun at a political figure, keep in mind that your colleagues may not share your opinions.

If there is even a remote possibility of causing offense, you may want to stick to something tried and true like a vampire. After all, with the way people react to Twilight, yours willl almost still seem cool.

Some Other Halloween at the Office Tips

  • Employers should voice their thoughts on Halloween protocols in the office so that everyone is on the same page before the big day.
  • Remember that even if you do show up in costume, you still have a job to do. Despite your disguise, the actions you take today will be remembered tomorrow and could contribute to the unemployment numbers next week. Stay in control.
  • It’s ok to celebrate but keep noise down and celebration contained to the lunch hour.
  • If you are client facing, your customers may not be amused by the costume, so keep it strictly for the lunch party with officemates only.
  • Halloween at the office can still be fun. Just pay attention to others around you and leave the more risqué fun, if that’s what you choose to do, for the witching hour.

 

— Jon Minners, Vault.com

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Written by A.A. Somebody

October 29, 2010 at 8:48 am

Is it a Rat Race, or a Battle of the Bulge?

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Furthering today’s salary statistics, a new study shows that earnings disparities extend beyond just the gender gap—it goes across waistlines as well.

The Wall Street Journal’s Juggle blog reports on a study published in the Journal of Applied Psychology, which indicates a correlation between one’s weight and one’s paycheck. Among separate pools of 12,686 Americans and 11,253 Germans, the study measured subjects’ relative weight and salaries. The findings would seem to mirror the basis for a number of sitcom marriages: Husky men and skinny women pull in the most, while skinny men and heavier women get the shaft.

Seems far-fetched? The numbers don’t lie: In the study from the University of Florida’s Timothy A. Judge, the female respondent group reported that the size of their income was inversely proportionate to their dress size. Women 25 pounds below the median group weight reported markedly higher earnings, to the tune of $15,572 on average. And it gets worse from there:

Women continued to experience a pay penalty as their weight increased above average levels, although a smaller one — presumably because they had already violated social norms for the ideal female appearance. A woman who gained 25 pounds above the average weight earned an average $13,847 less than an average-weight female.

Meanwhile, men are rewarded for packing on the pounds—in moderation, that is. In relation to the group average, skinny men earn $8,437 less. Fitness-oriented males may want to set their new target weight is 207 pounds; at that point, the study finds, men reported the highest average pay. Once they reached obesity, however, the respondents’ salary gains tapered off. Which is a shame, as they could surely use the extra cash for a gym membership.

But before anyone cries foul, remember that there are more factors involved. What the report does not appear to address is the additional variables among respondents; rather, men and women were each gauged as a whole. So how do both males and females specifically fare when matched among those in their age ranges and professional levels? The study, as seen in the Journal, gives no answer.

Furthermore, nothing directly indicates that these pay levels were set at the respondents’ current weight levels. One can gain or lose weight at various points in their careers. Top-earning men may become complacent and let themselves go, while top-earning women may use their professional success as a springboard into increased physical fitness. In the end, it depends on the individual and their circumstances.

However, it clearly raises questions about the relation of weight and physical attractiveness to one’s career. Have you ever been discriminated against due to your weight or body type? We welcome any stories that you have regarding the subject. Comment below, or share your thoughts with us on Twitter, at @VaultCareers.

Written by A.A. Somebody

October 8, 2010 at 9:45 am

Down in the Valley: How Tech Leader Policies Limited Recruiting

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Google. Apple. Intel. Adobe. Intuit. Pixar. Each of these names is known to elicit superlatives for innovation and leadership. Each is also counted among the most desirable employers of Silicon Valley. And yet, as a U.S. Justice Department investigation has revealed, working for one of them could mean your career prospects could be severely limited for the rest.

On Friday, the aforementioned gang of six collectively consented to a Justice Department order to cease a series of clandestine no-poaching pacts. The department alleges that, through much of the past decade, the implicated parties kept do-not-call lists to mark each other’s staff as off-limits for job offer solicitation. In turn, those recruitment restrictions hampered opportunities for rising talent at top companies.

As the government’s resulting settlement describes, “The agreements eliminated a significant form of competition to attract highly skilled employees, and overall diminished competition to the detriment of affected employees.”

For tech professionals, the existence of such policies can only be disheartening. It’s difficult enough to soldier on in the IT field’s current state, as the rise of mergers and acquisitions threatens to consolidate the industry—and squeeze out workers in the ensuing layoffs. To know that employers actively avoid certain candidates can quash not just advancement or competitive salaries, but the perceived value of one’s own accrued skills and experience.

Moreover, Silicon Valley is a climate that thrives on migration. For decades, the industry has been characterized by the ability of its workforce to roam amongst market leaders and scrappy startups alike. It is this viral spreading of knowledge and talent that bolsters progress. The actions of Google et al risked stifling that dynamic, at a time when new ideas were so vital to the market amid a dire recession.

But even after striking a blow against the major players, this may only scratch the surface. In announcing its settlement with the six conspirators, the D.O.J. said it “continues to investigate other similar no solicitation agreements,” raising questions as to the scope of this practice. It may be minimal: while leaders such as Microsoft and IBM were implicated at the investigation’s inception, they were ultimately omitted from the settlement. But given the industry’s interwoven dependencies among firms, it’s not hard to suspect that many alliances have included deals to prevent poaching.

A statement by Google (thus far the only party to publicly respond) bodes particular ill: Assistant counsel Amy Lambert assures on its Public Policy Blog that Google “abandoned our ‘no cold calling’ policy in late 2009.” But by acknowledging “a number of other tech companies had similar ‘no cold call’ policies,” she seems to imply that the company followed an established trend, rather than marching to its own drummer. That’s not what you come to expect of an innovator.
— Alex Tuttle, Vault.com

What’s Your Breaking Point?

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A rocky job market affects more than just the unemployed and recent graduates—even those still employed are feeling the sting. With little certainty of finding placement elsewhere, labor statistics show that few professionals are willing to leave their jobs, despite a rise in reported employee dissatisfaction and especially dispiriting working conditions recently seen in the news. To gauge this sense of career confinement, in a recent poll Vault asked its readers “What would be the last straw to make you quit your job?”

One workplace issue which held the collective attention this past summer was the threat of bedbug infestations in New York City—and it would be hard to blame anyone who runs screaming from an office crawling with them. However, just 2 percent of Vault readers said these vermin would prompt them to resign. But quitting may not be necessary: Bedbug infestations have thus far resulted in complete shutdowns of a Victoria’s Secret, Manhattan offices for Google and Cadwalader, and most recently the flagship Niketown store. And you can’t quit if there’s no job to go to.

Fewer still indicated that they would pack it in for an impending company merger. Yet, if we’ve learned anything from the year’s rash of buyouts, industry consolidation doesn’t leave much room for staff: The merger of Pfizer and Wyeth, for instance, resulted in thousands losing their jobs and facilities shutting down around the globe. Now, with the completion of United and Continental Airlines’ amalgamation, another drastic round of layoffs won’t be far off.

The prospect of benefit reductions also failed to influence resignation decisions, with just 5 percent stating that would be their breaking point. Sadly, this has been reflected in practice: One of last year’s more shocking developments was the news that insurance company WellPoint reduced its own employee health benefits, even while encouraging staff to protest health care reform. In spite of that, there was no surge of people lining up to leave Wellpoint in response.

The point at which respondents begin to rankle, it seems, is the prospect of outright mistreatment. While toxic offices have inspired some of our favorite films, from Office Space to The Devil Wears Prada, they remain a professional hazard. Abuse can take different forms at different levels: Some superiors will demoralize staff to the extremes seen in the tragic suicides at Foxconn, while sexual harassment may (allegedly) come from such diverse figures as the New York Jets or the CEO of Hewlett-Packard. That kind of treatment would apparently cause 31 percent of respondents to move on.

And then there’s the suffering endured at the hands of customers and clients. By now we’re all familiar with one such incident, when an allegedly unruly passenger prompted the abrupt resignation and emergency chute escape of JetBlue flight attendant Steven Slater. And he’s likely not alone in his frustration: some 9 percent of respondents to the poll said they’d have likely done the same.

Ultimately, however, stability rules the day: Nearly half of our respondents confirmed the notion that the only way they’d quit is with a new job waiting for them. But even if that seems the safe bet, it’s not always the wisest—by continuing at a job that doesn’t meet your standards, not only do you risk stagnating but your industry does as well. As posited by author AnnaLee Saxenian in a Wired article, “Job-hopping, rather than climbing the career ladder within a corporation, facilitates flows of information and know-how between individuals, firms, and industries.” When the workforce is able to distribute its talents effectively to where they are required, that’s when growth becomes possible.

While one hopes that a healthy dose of self-esteem should sufficiently compel disenchanted employees to say enough is enough, the viral popularity of “folk heroes” like Steven Slater and TheChive.com’s fictional “Jenny” still indicates a sense of powerlessness in the workforce. Their exploits, real or not, reflect what many wish they could do themselves—throw caution to the wind, and “deploy the slide” as a defiant act of personal satisfaction. But without dramatic improvements in the rate of job creation, most will remain in a holding pattern.

— Alex Tuttle, Vault.com

Did Goldman Break Its Diversity Policy?

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For the 11th straight year, industry insiders named Goldman Sachs the most prestigious bank in North America in Vault’s latest ranking. In hindsight then, all the public mudslinging of recent years has done little to upset the bank whether it’s in attracting the biggest deals or the best talent. And according to our survey, bankers continue to want Goldman on their resume.

Ironically, a day after the rankings debuted, the bank’s prestige is under attack by three former female employees who charge, according to The Wall Street Journal, that “The investment bank practices a system in which women are paid less, promoted less and ‘systematically circumvented and excluded.'”

Jobs, Careers and Reviews at Goldman SachsWhat’s astounding about the allegation is the repeated emphasis on intent, i.e., that the bank has a system that almost formulaically excludes women from getting promoted and compensated on par with their male counterparts. While the bank has called the suit without merit, stating that, “People are critical to our business, and we make extraordinary efforts to recruit, develop and retain outstanding women professionals,” it seems it is yet again in the red with the public.

Comments from our Banking 50 survey—culled from responses submitted by over 1,300 banking professionals earlier this year—provide further perspective:

“Supportive and respectful management”

“They could do a better job of promotion as well as placement into areas that are a good fit and utilize skill sets…”

“Having come up through the ranks, from a junior trader to now an experienced one in fixed income products, I must say that I’ve been very pleased with the level of training, support and guidance that I’ve received over the years from the firm…”

“I’m a firm believer in the culture at Goldman Sachs. The firm is team-focused, emphasizing integrity and personal development within the industry.”

“I think we do a good job at getting women and diversity candidates in the door, but for real success we need to work on better retention.”

And, finally a snippet of their Diversity Mission Statement from Vault’s Annual Diversity Survey:

“The firm’s commitment to diversity is evident at the most senior levels and is driven down through the firm by way of our seventh business principle: “We offer our people the opportunity to move ahead more rapidly than is possible at most other places. Advancement depends on merit and we have yet to find the limits to the responsibility our best people are able to assume. For us to be successful, our men and women must reflect the diversity of the communities and cultures in which we operate. That means we must attract, retain and motivate people from many backgrounds and perspectives. Being diverse is not optional; it is what we must be.”

So where does this leave the banking king: A chauvinistic boys club, truly diverse with a few unintentional victims, or the victim of a ploy to take advantage of its current poor reputation? Weigh in by leaving a comment, emailing In Good Company or connecting on Twitter @VaultCSR.

More reading: The complete WSJ report.

What other banks made the Top 10 most prestigious banks in North America this year?

Should You Bring ‘This’ Up During a Job Interview?

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In 2007, when the financial industry was at the brink of collapse, one executive at PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) saw opportunity. Shannon Schuyler, then a member of PwC’s recruitment team, wrote a white paper for company leadership emphasizing that the firm needed someone to reorganize and refine their community initiatives, and give their corporate responsibility a face.

Three months later the job was hers. How did she re-strategize the firm’s hiring policies and recruitment outreach to encompass PwC’s commitment to corporate responsibility?

  1. For one, having a background in experienced hiring and on campus recruitment helped. She has seen first-hand the gradual evolution of the hiring landscape, where candidate priorities shifted from the best-paid job offer to work/life balance, and today, to a company’s commitment to responsible corporate citizenship. Her experience assured peers that directives coming from the new Corporate Responsibility Leader would be balanced and realistic.
  2. Secondly, the message from campuses was loud and clear. According to Schuyler, candidates are increasingly asking what the firm is doing to give back to the community, who they donate to, what they do toward the environment, etc. “They want to know how they can get engaged when they start. They want to know what our strategies are,” she said.
  3. Finally, she noted, markedly changing business strategies and decision making processes can be a double-edged sword. As her team continues to work on ensuring that new hires are aware and receptive of the company’s commitment from day one, she is also responsible for inculcating a deeper cultural change among current employees. And that is where her real battle lies.

Her observations mirror findings of Vault’s recently concluded Job Hunting in CSR series, where four MBA candidates discussed business school, their career transitions and job hunting, all connected with a commitment to CSR and change management.

For now, Schuyler is focusing on the “life cycle of a student.” Her team is busy redefining the firm’s hiring strategy by shifting their focus from best practices to candidates’ personal journey. “Increasingly, we ask, what are the opportunities? What could we continue to build on as a continuum? Would that really change what their education experience is, and ultimately, their success? It’s not just how you do the equations, but how you’re taking that and making it part of their life.”

–Posted by Aman Singh, Vault’s CSR Editor

Zappos: Rewriting the Book on Corporate Transparency

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Does your company have an HR handbook? Chances are, you’re thinking yes, of course. What about a culture book for employees? Zappos does.

The company, which started by selling shoes a decade ago, is today an Amazon subsidiary and has expanded to a multitude of merchandising. It is also probably one of very few companies to grow its brand around an idea of transparency, ethics and collaborative culture. For Tony Hsieh, cofounder and current CEO of Zappos, this was intentional from Day 1. In his recently released book Delivering Happiness: A Path to Profits, Passion, and Purpose—which I will be reviewing in the coming days on Vault’s CSR Blog: In Good Company—Hsieh devotes a whole chapter to the Zappos Culture Book.

In short, the book contains employee interpretations of what their company’s culture is all about and how it is different to other companies. And this is no mere PR exercise, designed to make the company look good: all of the entries received were inserted with minimal editing, even when they were anonymously submitted. Of course, Hsieh took a risk; no company is perfect and since culture is perceptional, the initiative could have resulted in a mudslinging session directed at Zappos management.

But it didn’t. While the majority of the entries were positive, not every employee was thrilled with the company’s culture—and that was reflected in the book. Hsieh, as promised, inserted both the criticism and the positive feedback when creating Zappos’ first Culture Book. His aim: To show existing and new employees what working there is all about, including the good, the bad and the ugly. In fact, much to his delight, the book has been downloaded by people who don’t even work at Zappos.

Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh blogs regularly as well as staying engaged with customers and employees via Twitter

The company produces a new Culture Book every year. For Hsieh it epitomizes the evolution of the company’s brand over its short existence. “We wanted to be as transparent as possible, so we decided that none of the entries would be censored or edited, except for typos. Every edition of our culture book includes both the good and the bad so that people reading the book can get a real sense of what our culture is like. With each edition, it would also be a way of documenting how our culture was evolving over time.”

The idea of a culture book isn’t unique; it is Zappos’ treatment of transparency and accountability as a priority that makes this worth noting. Most companies conduct some form of employee survey to gauge problem points and get feedback on what’s working. However, publishing it without censorship in a publicly available document is what makes Hsieh’s approach sustainable. Even if it isn’t popular in every C-suite.

As a manager, how open are you to engaging your team in positive criticism? With new generations stepping into the workforce every year, ideas are bound to constantly evolve, but are management styles redefining and realigning accordingly? Whether you call it corporate responsibility, sustainability, or something else entirely, it doesn’t need highly designed websites and ad campaigns to work. It can start small: like spearheading a collaborative and transparent workplace culture. But it has to start from the top.

Hsieh puts it succinctly, “Even today, our belief is that our Brand, our Culture, and our Pipeline are the only competitive advantages that we will have in the long run. Everything else can and will eventually be copied.”

Join the discussion by leaving a comment, emailing Vault or connecting with us @VaultCSR.

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