At Work It Pays to be Likeable

President,  Berman Larson Kane
President, Berman Larson Kane

@ Work, it Pays to be Likeable

The time-worn adage that nice guys finish last isn’t exactly true, according to an article in USA Today. In fact, growing research shows that likable employees may have more success on the job and that likability can even trump competence.

A study in the Harvard Business Review found that personal feelings toward an employee play a more important role in forming work relationships than is commonly acknowledged, the article pointed out. The study also indicated that this is even more important than how competent an employee is seen to be.

“We want to work with people that make us feel good to be around them,” said Tom Sanders, author of The Likeability Factor, which explores how having an appealing personality can positively influence life and careers. “Likability is the tiebreaker in almost anything.”

Likability is hard to define, but Sanders said people gravitate toward others who deliver psychological benefits. In other words, likability is the ability to produce a positive emotional experience in someone else, such as making co-workers feel good about themselves.

The Harvard Business Review study also found that employees don’t want to work with someone who is disliked, and it almost doesn’t matter how skilled they are. Indeed, co-workers who work with a likeable colleague are more comfortable with them, so work tends to be more collaborative.

“Organizations have traditionally focused on competencies and thinking ability of their staff,” Susan David, a psychologist and researcher at Yale University, told USA Today. “There is growing recognition, however, that job effectiveness can be undone if an employee is not likable. Being proficient at job tasks is of little comfort to the organization if an employee alienates clients or other staff.”

Research has also found that customers’ perceptions of the employees they deal with can influence their overall feelings toward a company. Nearly 60 percent of customers say that, when faced with rudeness, they take their business elsewhere, even if it means going out of their way or paying a higher price, according to a study by Eticon, a Columbia, S.C.-based provider of etiquette consulting for business.

Further, likable employees–especially those with skills in relationship building–are also more likely to get bigger pay raises and promotions, the article pointed out.

Some employees say likable employees are so important that they won’t hire anyone they think may have an attitude. Richard Laemer, chief executive of New York-based RLM Public Relations, said “no matter how experienced someone is, if they’re mean to people, they’re pretty much useless. I can’t work with someone who isn’t nice.”

But there can also be a downside, the article noted. Likable employees who lack skills or are seen as pushovers can lose out on management opportunities or can be seen as a liability, said Alexandra Levit, author of They Don’t Teach Corporate in College: A Twenty-Something’s Guide to the Business World.

For example, managers who are too likable can get too social with their subordinates, blurring the line between boss and friend. And younger Generation X or Generation Y employees can also try so hard to be liked that they come across as overly enthusiastic.

“There’s a tendency of young people, and even midcareer people, to say ‘yes’ all the time. In an effort to please, they do get pushed around. They get assigned too many tasks,” Levitt said. “Likability can be dangerous. Young people can be too enthusiastic, and it can irritate management. You can be too ‘rah rah.”

Overall, though, most employers agree that likability is a very important attribute and that it can clearly help employees when performance is lacking. “You can provide training to compensate for missing skills, but it’s almost impossible to compensate for personality,” added Tory Johnson, CEO of New York-based Women for Hire, which provides career fairs for women. “ It’s never worth hiring someone you dislike, or someone who’s likely to be disliked among staffers.”



Easing Back to Work After a Vacation

Bob Larson, CPC
Bob Larson, CPC

Easing Back to Work After a Vacation

With summer vacation season in full swing, millions of American workers are taking a break — seeking replenishment from the daily office grind. But while numerous studies show that taking time off can do everything from boosting productivity to reducing heart-attack risks, vacations very often can have side effects that turn workers into inefficient space cadets upon their arrival back to the office.

In fact, according to surveys by a staffing company that does workplace research, it takes the average employee a day and half to resume productivity at work after a break, a Career article pointed out. So with e-mails piled up and co-workers anxious to catch up on conversation, how can workers hit the ground running and avoid common blunders that can sabotage their first days back?

One strategy that some people employ, according to the article, is to tell colleagues a return date later than it really is, and getting home a few days early from vacation. Randy Pausch, a professor at Carnegie Mellon University who teaches time-management workshops, builds in a one-day cushion by setting the return date in his e-mail “out-of-office” replay message a day ahead of his actual return, and telling people he’s coming back later than he actually does. “You want time to process things before the live fire comes through the door,” he said.

Another good idea is not to fritter away your first day regaling co-workers with vacation tales, said Allison Hemming of the free-lance talent agency The Hired Guns. When in her early 20s, Hemming recalled, she was a vacation gabber. “I could go on for days about how blue the water was.” Her first boss offered a quick hint: “Take one really great story about your break, and stick to it.” Now, she offers a quick highlight – like catamaraning through caves in Nepal – then gets back to work.

But pick one story that telegraphs a message, the article pointed out. “If you’re in the 40-plus age group, communicate that you’re an active person. It wouldn’t hurt to say you had a good time going skiing, or mountain-climbing, or snow-shoeing,” said Don Sutaria of CareerQuest, a New Jeresy-based employment coaching firm.

One successful tactic used to avoid wasting time is to start treating yourself like an important colleague. “You schedule business meetings with everyone else – why not schedule time with yourself to work on specific projects?” said Jeffrey Mayer of “Keep the appointment, turn off the phone, don’t check the e-mail every 45-seconds.” If you work better at certain times of day, schedule the most demanding tasks for those periods.

As you plow through your e-mail, keep an arsenal of sticky notes close by, the article noted. When you open something up that requires follow-up, “slap a Post-it on it saying what’s the next thing that needs to be done with the paper and how long it will take,” said Julie Morgenstern, an author of time-management books. Example: “Fill out form and return to HR.” Then keep a stack of these notes in your inbox, so the next time you’re stuck on hold on the phone you can deal with one or two instead of staring into space.

And don’t just skim your e-mail. You should try not to touch e-mail more than once. Morgenstern’s rule is if a response takes less than two minutes, do it immediately. If it takes longer, add a new item to your “to do” list.

After your initial e-mail sweep, don’t let your in-box run your day. “Your in-box is not your to-do list,” said Pausch. You’re better off setting aside a block of time per hour for e-mail – then give yourself long uninterrupted stretches to get regular work done.

If your boss starts dumping work on you, make it clear you’re busy. “Say, I’ve got these four other things to do, can you help me prioritize?” suggested Sean Covey of Franklin Covey, a productivity consulting firm in Salt Lake City, Utah.

Of course, the best strategy for a smooth re-entry is good planning before you take off, according to the article. In the weeks before you leave, train someone exactly how to do your job. “People think that if they hoard information, then they’ll have power,” said William Hubbart of Hubbart & Associates in St. Charles, Ill. That’s a mistake. If you don’t teach someone how to do your job, a lot less gets done while you’re away.

In addition, good back-ups make it less likely you’ll be contacted on your vacation. Pausch, the Carnegie Mellon professor, has another strategy for avoiding calls on vacation: He gives students and colleagues his wife’s cell phone number, instead of his own. “You have to create social barriers,” he said. “It’s a very strong reminder that they’re interrupting social time.”

Make the Best of Every Meeting

Bob Larson, CPC
Bob Larson, CPC

Make the Best of Every Meeting

If you don’t like attending meetings, you’re not alone. Most workers feel there are simply too many meetings to attend on a daily and weekly basis, and that many of them are entirely unnecessary. But meetings don’t have to be that way, says Richard Carlson, Ph.D, and author of Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff at Work, who has two secrets to making virtually any meeting both interesting and productive.

The first is to use the meeting to practice being “present moment-oriented.” In other words, try to absorb yourself in the meeting – and don’t allow your mind to wander. This deliberate attempt to be focused will allow you to get as much value out of the experience as possible.

You can spend your time daydreaming or wishing you were somewhere else, but that doesn’t help you in your job or in your career. Meetings provide an opportunity to show your superiors and coworkers that you are really a good listener. This will help you be highly responsive to whatever is being discussed. That way, if there is something you can contribute, you can make a strong impression with your answer.

Carlson says that by employing the “present moment” technique he has found meetings to be far more interesting. Additional insights come to mind and he feels as though he has more to offer. He has also noticed an increased sense of respect from others. They may not be consciously aware of it, but it seems that when those present in a meeting sense that you are truly paying attention, they want to listen to you as well.

The second secret is to tell yourself that you are going to learn something from each meeting. Listen intently to what is said and try to hear something you don’t already know. Rather than comparing what you’re hearing to what you already believe, search for new wisdom, a new insight, or a new way to do something.

Carlson says he has found that when his intent is to learn, he almost always does learn something. Instead of saying “Yeah, Yeah, I already know this stuff,” try to clear your mind and allow yourself to have a beginner’s mind.

The best-selling author reports that since he has begun doing this, the results have been quite impressive and significant. His learning curve dramatically increased, and meetings became fun again. “I’ve learned to make the best of it. The way I look at it is this: I’m at the meeting anyway. Why not spend the time in a productive, healthy way, practicing valuable emotional skills instead of wishing I were somewhere else,” he says.

Try practicing what Carlson suggests. By doing so, our bet is that you’ll make your work life more interesting and effective.