The myth of upward mobility

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A new study by Michael Hout, a sociology professor at New York University, shows that the occupations of our parents affect our own social status more than we thought.

Hout looked at data from 1994 through 2016 that asked people what their parents did for a living. Their replies were coded to 539 occupational categories, following protocols established by the U.S. Census Bureau, and then given a socioeconomic score ranging from 9 (shoe shiner) to 53 (flight attendant) to 93 (surgeon).

Half the sons and daughters whose parents were in the top tier of occupations now work in occupations that score 76 or higher (on a 100-point scale) while half the sons and daughters of parents from the bottom tier now work in occupations that score 28 or less on that scale. Previous studies used averages instead of medians, so the results were underestimated.

In other words, our upward mobility in life is heavily influenced by our parents’ status. America is not yet the land of equal opportunity. We still have some work to do.

 

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Kiss your way to success

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Have you ever had a coworker who spends a lot of the workday kissing up to the boss? I know I have. If you think this kind of behavior is an American phenomenon, you’re mistaken. It seems Chinese workers do it too.

Anthony Klotz and Lawrence Houston, III, professors of management in the College of Business at Oregon State University,  studied 75 professionals in China about engaging in two “impression management techniques,” ingratiation and self-promotion. They define Ingratiation as flattery, conforming with the supervisor’s opinion and doing favors. Self-promotion includes taking credit for success, boasting about performance and highlighting connections to other important people.

The participants kept diaries for two weeks and also took a test measuring their political skill, the social abilities that help them effectively understand others at work, influence others in ways that enhance their own objectives and navigate social situations with confidence.

The researchers found that while kissing up is effective in the long run, in the short term it depletes self-control. The depleted employees were  then more likely to engage in workplace deviance such as incivility to a co-worker, skipping a meeting or surfing the internet rather than working. My interpretation: people who brown nose are also likely to be rude and do less work.

There was no evidence of a similar link between self-promotion and depletion. My interpretation: bragging doesn’t require self-control. In fact, the opposite is probably true.

The researchers also found that ingratiation was less depleting for employees with high levels of political skill. Those people didn’t engage in as much of the deviant behavior as their peers with less political savvy. My interpretation: people with innate political skills not only ingratiated upwards. They also ingratiatied sideways with peers.

The professors, bless their hearts, suggest that depleted workers might want to take a walk or have a snack to refresh themsleves instead of being rude to coworkers. Personally, I think people busily kissing up to supervisors don’t much care how they behave toward colleagues.

The good professors also suggest that leaders who have been kissed up to be aware of how this depletes those doing the kissing and offer positive reinforcement to un-deplete them. Huh? Maybe I’m missing something here, but this tells me that they regard kissing up as good behavior that should be rewarded.

What do you think?

 

 

Which road to choose?

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I just finished this summary of research that made me very, very sad. Psychologist Tom Gilovich and former Cornell graduate student Shai Davidai published their conclusions “The Ideal Road Not Taken” in the journal Emotion. 

What they found is that people regret not living up to what they perceive as their ideal self far more than they regret not living up to obligations.

They base this on the idea of three components of a person’s sense of self: the actual, ideal and the ought selves. The actual self is who a person believes they are. The ideal self is who they would like to be. The ought self is who they feel they should be.

When the men asked hundreds of people in six surveys to list and categorize their regrets, they found people have an easier time defining what they ought to do than in what they would do to be their best self. People wait for inspiration that may never come or they worry about what others will think of them. The researchers conclude that Nike has been right. The best course of action is “Just do it.”

These ideas resonate with me. I’ve always been the conscientious one, the one who follows rules. I let fear of failure and of the unknown stop me from making job choices that may well have led to a happier life. The regrets are real.

As a result of the soul-searching I finally did, I wrote Career Finder Workbook for Teens in the hopes of helping young people make more intelligent decisions than I did. I wrote it for middle school age students, but if you are an adult who is wondering what to be when you grow up you might find it helpful.

 

Are your “shoulds” holding you back?

Economic realities and #MeToo

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Last night, Anderson Cooper did a segment on 60 Minutes about Mario Batali and several women who accused him and his restaurant partner and friend of sexual harassment and abuse. As I continue to think about it this morning, a number of points stand out.

First, the women continued to work at the restaurant. They needed jobs. Some complained at the time of the incidents. Others didn’t. But they stayed.

I don’t know that much about the restaurant business, but it seems to be a male-dominated field. (Of course, what field isn’t?) These women were afraid they couldn’t find another job, afraid they would be black-balled so they would never find another job, or afraid that any job they found would be more of the same culture. These are economic realities.

Women still hold few CEO spots in the Fortune 500. How did they do it? Apparently, differently from the way men do. CNN Money reported on a study done by Oxford University of 151 male and female CEOs. Men rely on neworking and mentors. With few women in the ranks above them, these avenues are not available to women.

Female CEOs said success came when they invested in their own career development. Researchers identified three “self themes” — self-acceptance, self-development and self-management — common to the female leaders.

Forgive me for patting myself on the back, but these are facets of emotional intelligence that I write about in my latest book How to Stop #MeToo from Happening to You.

For the female CEOs, self-acceptance came when they first realized they had leadership potential. Self-development meant asking for more responsibility. Self-management included determining a leadership style that blended assertiveness with nurturing qualities still expected by others.

Will conditions change if more women get into positions of power in businesses? I hope so. I’d love to hear your thoughts, readers.

Combatting #MeToo

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Just wanted to share that my book is now available on Kobo.com.

While many situations have unfortunately occurred which women couldn’t have avoided, I firmly believe that some personal responsibility is called for. In no way is this book intended to shame victims of crimes. But what about actions that fall short of criminal? We women can always choose how to behave, but it is also important to realize that certain choices may have unwelcome consequences.

Agree or disagree? Please comment.

EI for #MeToo

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I have begun writing a book that I’d love some feedback on.

First, let me say that I in no way condone violence or criminal behavior and I am definitely not intending to blame the victims. That said, I think young women out in the workplace for the first time should learn to exercise some emotional intelligence to avoid becoming a #MeToo statistic. Or if not avoiding a bad situation, at least having some tools to deal with it.

 

Here’s an excerpt from my introduction:

But what about acts that are offensive, but not necessarily criminal. If you don’t want to rely on a human resources department that may or may not have your back, what alternative do you have?

Dr. Wayne Dyer defines a victim as someone who runs her life according to the dictates of others. He says you can rarely be victimized unless you allow it to happen. Ultimately, you are in charge of your own life.

I maintain that in order to be proactive, what you need is high EI or emotional intelligence. The good news is emotional intelligence can be learned.

Daniel Goleman popularized the term Emotional Intelligence in several books on this topic. Emotional intelligence can be divided into four basic categories: how well do you know yourself, how well can you manage your emotions, how well do you understand others, and how much influence can you exert over them.

Knowing yourself includes being able to understand your own personality and how you are perceived by others.

Controlling yourself involves problem solving and making decisions. It also means taking responsibility for your actions.

Understanding others means being able to interpret their words and actions and predict the outcome.

Influencing others involves getting them to do what you want. Or not do what you don’t want. Can you communicate so others will hear you? Can you resolve conflict?

 

Please email me and let me know what you think. 

 

Coaching with compassion

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Dr. Richard Boyatzis is a big deal in organizational behavior circles. His official titles on his web page at Case Western Reserve University take up a full paragraph. He has written seven books and a slew of articles outlining his Intentional Change Theory. I first learned of his work through a MOOC entitled Conversations That Inspire: Coaching, Learning, Leadership, and Change.

Boyatzis projects great warmth, and his theory reflects his own personality. He  advocates fostering of what he calls positive emotional attractors. Simply put, this entails coaching with compassion instead of coaching for compliance. The leader, boss, or coach should not focus on the problem or try to fix the employee. They should help the employee envision an ideal future. Only through a shared vision is organizational change possible.

Negative emotional attractors have a longer shelf life in our memory. Boyatzis estimates it takes three positives to counteract one negative interaction. Negative emotions, of course, mean stress. Chronic stress increases cortisol which turns off the immune system and inhibits growth of new tissue in the body. Chronic stress constricts peripheral vision literally and figuratively. We’re not interested in seeing new ideas or new people. That inhibits change from occurring.

My problem with Boyatzis and the authors of best-selling leadership books in general is that in my long and exceedingly checkered work life, I have encountered maybe one or two bosses who through education or instinct seemed to practice this approach.

Is it me? Am I just a malcontent, or have I had incredible bad luck in bosses? I would love to hear from anyone who has worked for one of these supportive leaders.

 

 

Do who you are

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Career counselors have long advised clients they will be happier if they can find a job that matches their personality. A new study suggests they will earn more money too.

Lead researcher Jaap J. A. Denissen of Tilburg University examined nearly 8500 Germans in terms of the “Big Five” personality traits: openness to new experience, conscientiousness, extroversion agreeableness, and neuroticism. Then two independent psychologists looked at each of the participant’s job with respect to those same characteristics to determine what level of each characteristic made for an ideal employee in that particular job. Not surprisingly, bookkeepers require the least amount of extroversion.

When it comes to extroversion, agreeableness, and openness to experience, a closer match between an employee’s own personality and a job’s demands was linked with higher income. But it is possible to have too much of a good thing. For example, an employee who is more agreeable than the job calls for will earn less than someone who is less agreeable.

Findings from previous research have indicated that some personality traits such as being conscientious are generally beneficial when it comes to any work environment. It appears that is not exactly true. They found that highly conscientious people whose jobs didn’t demand it earned less than their less fastidious peers.

The takeaway is that one size, one set of universal personality characteristics, doesn’t fit all. No two jobs are created equal.

To be or not to be yourself

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In a job interview, how much should you reveal? Researchers at University College London say that depends on how good a candidate you are.

The research focused on the concept of ‘self-verification’, which refers to individuals’ drive to be known and understood by others according to their firmly held beliefs and feelings about themselves.

The study showed that high quality job prospects who came off as too polished were deemed as inauthentic by interviewers. If they had scored high in self-verification, on the other hand, they presented themselves more honestly and were more likely to be hired.

The reverse happened to lower quality candidates. Authenticity reduced their chances at getting the job.

What are the lessons here? First, I guess you’d better know if you are highly qualified or not. If you are, feel free to be yourself.

Secondly, if you are not highly qualified, why are you applying for the job anyway? And if you insist upon applying, you’ll do better if you put on an act.

The researchers say that authentic behavior has been proven to lead to good outcomes over time in a job setting, but this study is the first to show that good outcomes also occur in short-term interpersonal interactions like an interview.

From my own personal experience in the workforce, I question these findings. It has always seemed to me that it was the most inauthentic people who did well in both short- and long-term interactions. I’ve never found honesty to be highly valued in corporate America.

Am I too cynical? What has been your experience?

 

 

Want to keep working? Plan ahead

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A study done at the University of Gothenburg says if you plan to work in your senior years, you should start planning before age 50.

The researchers, psychologists Kerstin Wentz and Kristina Gyllensten, say their participants engaged in what they call career crafting. This meant taking themselves seriously and thinking about what they wanted in life. Remaining employed at least part time allowed them to flourish and avoid boredom while maintaining a social life. They were proactive about learning new things.

The researchers advise vocational counseling for those age 45 similar to what is given to teenagers. They also advocate making student loans available.

As an avid devotee of MOOCs and webinars, I love this idea. Personally, I grew to hate the career in the insurance industry I stumbled into at age 18. At age 45, I embarked on a master’s degree to pursue something more meaningful. I cycled through several stop gap jobs until I finally got a job at a community college. That whole process might have been shortened if I had done better research and planning.

What’s your story? Will you continue working past “normal” retirement age?