When you discuss your boss's management technique, does the name Pol Pot come up often? Do you identify with the cartoon character Dilbert—or worse, envy his rich and varied work experience? If any of the above is true, says Bob Rosner, you are one of the working wounded. Rosner, 42 on Nov. 2, a Seattle-area syndicated columnist and speaker, is the author of Working Wounded: Advice that Adds Insight to Injury (Warner Books, 1998), a guide for employees at all levels who are victims of bullying bosses, insensitive coworkers and the vagaries of the job market. "I'm not for workers whining about their wounds," says Rosner. "I want them to rise above their wounds." Rosner, who lives and works on Bainbridge Island in Puget Sound with his wife, writer Robin Simons, 47, and their daughter Hallie, 6, shared his insights with PEOPLE correspondent Ron Arias.
Who are the "working wounded?"
Just about anyone who works. Whether you're an entrepreneur, an employee or a boss, chances are you've been verbally abused, physically drained or emotionally maimed.
What's the most unfair company policy you've ever heard of?
One manager wrote me that his father died, and he had to leave to go to the funeral. When he got back, his boss said, "From now on, I want you to give 72 hours notice whenever there's a funeral."
What can you do about a boss who's a bully, a screamer?
If you feel you can, gently raise the issue to your tormentor. Don't point the finger, but say something like, "Do you always have to make a joke every time I want to contribute to the discussion?"
Often, overbearing bosses can be defused with humor. One woman wrote me that she began excessively thanking her boss whenever he corrected her, even sending him flowers and a gushy note; within a week he realized what was going on and backed off.
How do you cope with a mind-numbing, repetitious job?
The best way to prove you're ready to move ahead is to show that you're a problem solver, especially if the solutions save or make your company money.
How do you get the respect or recognition you think you deserve from higher-ups?
Being invisible is not career-enhancing. You may have to put more effort into how you package your ideas, which is often more important than the substance. "What do you think if we..." sends a very different message than "I think we should..." which inspires confidence. And be brief; cutting to the chase conveys efficiency.
Should new, inexperienced employees seek a mentor?
Mentoring is important—a mentor is not. The days of some gray-haired guy or gal showing you the ropes are over. Nowadays you need to have a Rolodex of mentors who can counsel you in different areas. Typically the best mentors are not the 55-year-old vice president but the 22-or 36-year-old technology whiz.
How do you survive a layoff or firing?
If you think you're going to get a 25-year watch out of your company, I hate to tell you, but that sort of thing ended in the late '80s. You need to be constantly preparing yourself for your next assignment. When people send you a note saying you did something well, put it in your file. If someone tells you they like your work, tell them, "Would you mind dropping me a note?" And always have your résumé current.
Finally, reach out and make contacts. Start networking from a Rolodex that's not industry-specific. Embrace the idea that you may have to change fields.
How do you get any privacy in a cubicle?
So many workers today are jammed into a sardine existence that you must be creative to protect your space. One woman told me her "cubby" was next to a guy who had loud, hour-long conversations—in baby talk—with his wife. When a cubicle she was in line for opened up next to her boss, she "selflessly" gave it up to her baby-talking neighbor. Not only did she solve her own problem, she also made sure her boss got a daily dose of baby talk.
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