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In recent Working It podcast production meetings, a lot of themes bubbling up have had a common root: the trend towards becoming more open about our humanity at work, however senior we may be. That includes missteps, failures, extreme emotion (our episode on crying at work is under way, with thanks to readers of this newsletter for your insights) and mental health challenges.
In that spirit, we’d like to hear from you for a forthcoming episode: what’s the most embarrassing thing that’s happened to you at work?
We are open to everything, whether it’s a behavioural oversight (being found asleep in the office bathroom overnight after a party), a wardrobe misjudgment or malfunction (arriving at the office with your skirt tucked into your underwear) or a snafu such as describing someone in an FT story as “the late banker, Mr X”, only to have him, very much alive, call your editor in a rage (yes, that last one is mine).
Please send your stories and (even better) voice notes to [email protected] and we will feature a selection on the podcast. Anonymity guaranteed — unless you want to go public. We will be approaching this topic in the spirit of openness and learning: what advice would you give a team member or colleague who wants the ground to swallow them whole? (Isabel Berwick)
What performance reviews get wrong
With Q3 winding down, many employees’ performance reviews are due soon. Such evaluations aim to recognise achievements, encourage career growth, and may form the basis for promotions and pay rises. But many people see performance reviews as a “necessary evil,” says career coach Maya Grossman. They are often a fraught corporate ritual, for reasons ranging from time and resource constraints to bias and miscommunication.
After 10 years of receiving — and conducting — performance reviews as a software engineer at Microsoft and Netflix, Robert Sweeney decided to do away with the practice when he founded Facet, a technical recruiting service. Instead of asking managers to conduct annual evaluations, Facet trains them to be like coaches who give feedback “right after the play, not at the end of the season,” says Robert. Facet managers are required to have one-on-one meetings with their reports at least every other week, with coaching and feedback built into the agenda.
According to research from Gallup, employees are almost four times as likely to be engaged at work if they’ve received meaningful feedback within the previous week.
Facet has just 26 employees, but even if the company grows much larger Robert doesn’t see a future where he would introduce performance reviews. It would actually hamper their ability to scale, he says, since writing and conducting performance reviews take significant time. (Google cited a desire to waste less time in its recent decision to move from twice-yearly to annual reviews.)
If your company uses a traditional evaluation process, there are a few common pitfalls to avoid.
Merete Wedell-Wedellsborg, an executive coach who studied and redesigned performance evaluations for the Danish military, says that one of the biggest mistakes people make during their own reviews is going in “with their fists up”. Jeffrey Severts, who writes about the failures of performance evaluations in Deadly Memos: Performance Management, emphasises how crucial it is to not react negatively in the moment. Instead, take notes and then reflect for a few days.
Jeffrey and Merete also suggest kicking things off by communicating to your manager your aims for the session; these might include active listening and taking notes. This can be especially helpful if you have “an inkling that things aren’t going well,” says Jeffrey. Telling your manager that you are “here to learn and will try to capture everything,” might prime them to be candid with their feedback, he added.
On the manager’s end, one of the biggest obstacles to effective feedback is conflict avoidance. It’s scary to critique to other people, so it gets put off throughout the year, and then watered down in an effort to get through the evaluation with as little pain as possible. Try to give feedback as the need arises. Managers can also lead by example, suggests Maya, and invite their employees to share feedback about their own performance as leaders. (Sophia Smith)
Listen In: Microdosing at work
This week on the Working It podcast, we talk about brain-boosting supplements and microdosing. There’s a huge amount of interest — and venture capital cash — in this sector, which runs all the way from coffee that claims to boost your focus or help you relax (we tried some ourselves for this episode) to taking small doses of psychedelics, best done under supervision — and only in places where it’s legal.
Since we recorded this episode, I have heard about “mushroom guides” (the newest form of coaching!) who take people on their psilocybin journeys. This sector is exploding in popularity, and I talk to the Microdosing Institute’s Jakobien Van Der Weijden about its wider implications for work and life.
Next week we have a great episode on Office Slackers: the hidden armies of employees in big corporations who have little, or nothing, to do all day. We talk to David Bolchover, who wrote a book about his experience, and to the FT’s Leo Lewis, who is based on Tokyo, about the place in Japanese corporate culture of hatarakanai ojisan, the old geezer (there is rarely a female equivalent) who manages to get away with doing no work. (Isabel Berwick)
Elsewhere in the world of work:
Demands on middle managers intensify: Between hybrid work, wage demands, the economic downturn, and high turnover, team leaders are being asked to do more now than ever before — and too few receive proper training.
The age of uncertainty for CEOs: The sheer number of factors that could derail companies and their leaders today is unusual. This flurry of executive departures from some of Europe’s top companies mirrors CEO turnover after the 2008 financial crisis.
FT business book recommendations: Whether you want to hone your crisis management skills, combat division in your organisation, or simply work more effectively with difficult people, FT editors have some suggestions for your next read.
‘Can I aim for a senior management role?’ In this week’s Dear Jonathan advice column, a high-level administrator wonders how to embark on a career change. Before planning the “how”, Jonathan Black suggests taking a look at the “why.”
Refugee Council’s Enver Solomon on his leadership journey: Since Enver Solomon became CEO of The Refugee Council in December 2020, world events have created a global refugee crisis. Amid the challenges, he reflects on the interpersonal demands of the job, and the constant need to improve as a leader.
The term “quiet quitting” is worse than nonsense, wrote Sarah O’Connor last week. She argues that staff who turn up every day and do exactly what’s asked of them are simply doing their jobs.
We discussed whether the term actually tells us something useful about workplace attitudes on last week’s episode of the Working It podcast.
Let us know how you feel about quiet quitting in this week’s poll, and read on for your fellow readers’ opinions.
Rob P — who left several comments — responds to the framing that quiet quitters are those who are not doing a good job:
Quiet quitters, despite the negative connotation, are the core of any successful organisation even if they don’t reach the heights of their most engaged, ambitious peers. As the Gallup definition states, ‘quiet quitters’ are not the actively disengaged, but rather those who push back against extra work outside the parameters of their jobs to maintain a balance. If most of my employees are meeting expectations, with just under a third exceeding them and only a fifth failing to rise to the occasion, I’m more than happy as a manager or executive.
After their partner was made redundant twice in the past five years despite being a high-performing employee, Eoghann doesn’t believe it’s worthwhile to give more of yourself to a company than what is necessary:
Companies are unfeeling machines. Loving them is madness, loyalty to them is stupid. Do what you’re paid to do. If they pay you more to do more, then by all means take advantage of that. Doing more than the bare minimum with no reward is a waste of your life.
Time for something newer offers a reminder that the choice to become a quiet quitter does come with a trade off:
In the end, success in life is built on a few inputs: luck, hard work, and supportive family and friends. Miss one of those ingredients and the probability of success drops quickly. Just because you work hard doesn’t mean you’ll be successful — but if you choose not to work hard, don’t expect the benefits of success without going the extra mile.
RonaldoMcDonaldo reflects on his own career, pointing out that the likelihood of quiet quitting has a lot to do with age, personal circumstance, and the problems that arise when those who are “going above and beyond” aren’t being adequately rewarded:
I was keen to get on when I was younger, mainly because the salary I earned in my early-to-mid 20s was dreadful. I was one of [the] youngsters at one employer who got frustrated by the knowledge that one of the “lifers” would have to die or retire before I got a promotion, so I moved on.
These days, in middle age myself, I have a peculiar set of skills that aren’t that easy to find, so I’m happy to rely on these to do my job, pass some of my knowledge along to youngsters who want to learn, and I work just a 40-hour week most of the time.
Comments have been edited for length and clarity.
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