Accountant by Day
22Jan/153

Let’s talk later

Chatty co-workers - how do you deal with them? I've been having a problem with an extra-chatty coworker, and I've been trying to take steps to address the issue in a sensible fashion.

Advice from a Google search ranges from a variety of polite response to simply wearing headphones at all times to discourage co-workers who like to chat with you while you're working. One search result I turned up was someone complaining about people using their office as a "waiting area" for the bosses office next door. They would just chat with the woman in this office until the boss was ready to see them.

That made me realize that I think my personal chatty coworker may be doing this, since my office is next door to a conference room, so Chatty may come in every time he is waiting for a meeting to start.

Now, I don't think Chatty's intrusions were nearly as frequent before the last few weeks, but admittedly, I've also been very busy at work for the last few weeks, so the interruptions are more noticeable. Anyway, once I noticed it being an issue, these interruptions began to happen EVERY DAY and sometimes more than once per day, and I started to try some tactics to thwart Chatty--here are the results.

First tactic -- be unresponsive to show that I am involved in work

Surprisingly, this almost made Chatty more chatty. Chatty will often start with questions that I am not interested in answering, which is part of what makes the interruption irritating. His favorite question is "What are you working on?"

I'm the accountant. Maybe other accountants would be happy to talk about their work but honestly, my work is either a) administrative, so not that interesting to others, or b) confidential if I'm working on financial statements and other reports for the boss.

I've tried responding with, "Work," while continuing to focus on said work.

Chatty's response? To remain in office, perpetuating awkward silence, until Chatty can think of another question to ask. It makes me feel a bit like Chatty thinks that I am a recalcitrant teenager who needs his help to socialize, so the less social I am, the more he pushes.

Also, sometimes I respond with the task I'm doing, for example, "Invoicing customers." And then continue to keep working away at that. Chatty's favorite follow up question is "Oh, do you like that?" Which is just an awkward question to ask at work, I think. How about, "I LIKE IT WHEN I'M NOT BEING INTERRUPTED WHILE DOING IT."

Interestingly, for a couple days I considered whether maybe Chatty was just not good at social signals, and wasn't noticing that I wasn't responding. I paid attention to Chatty's behavior in other situations, and noted that he is perfectly fine at picking up subtle signals at other times, so I don't think this is the problem. That's when I started to theorize that Chatty might think it's his role to make me more sociable by continuing to ask questions when I'm not responding.

Second tactic -- use canned phrase to indicate now is not a good time

As recommended by my boyfriend and sensible people on the internet, I prepared myself to use a canned phrase.

"Sorry, I'm in the middle of something just now, can we chat later?"

The next time Chatty came in, I was thwarted by his phrasing.

"I have a meeting in 2 minutes," Chatty announces, "What are you up to?"

In hindsight, I could have distractedly said "Sorry, I'm in the middle of something just now, can we chat later?" but I was thrown off by the fact that his opening gambit was to announce that I was graced by his presence at this time thanks to the timing of a meeting. And further annoyed that rather than doing the heavy lifting and suggesting an interesting topic to talk about, he is once again asking me to also supply the topic. I felt a bit like being asked to be an entertainer for the guests in line at an amusement park.

Hello? Your meeting is not the only "real work" of the company. People sitting at their desks that happen to be near the meeting are actually not placed there to entertain you. (As you can see, if interrupted when busy, I can get extraordinarily irritated, beyond what may really be called for.)

BUT the next morning I successfully used the phrase! Chatty came in, asked what I was doing, and I managed to get out "Sorry, it's actually something I need to get done right away," and I barely got out the "Can we chat later?" politeness at the end (WHICH I DON'T ACTUALLY MEAN BY THE WAY), because he was all like, "Oh, okay. I guesssssss I should leaaaaave you to it then." Literally dragging out the syllables so that it took the longest possible time to say that sentence before actually exiting my space.

I texted my boyfriend in triumph! I used a polite canned phrase! Chatty left!

I see Chatty two hours later in the break room as I'm getting myself a cup of tea.

"So are you done with everything that was keeping you busy this morning?" He asks.

NO I AM EMPLOYED HERE FULL TIME BECAUSE THERE IS WORK TO KEEP ME BUSY ALL OF THE TIME. Generally, anyway.

Third tactic - Cave in an chat

Yes, this does not solve the problem. But when I am less busy, as I was once this week when Chatty came in, it is easier to just go ahead, participate in chat, and I actually get less irritated because I don't have to deal with Chatty asking a bunch of boring questions I answer monosyllabicly. Instead I can just be like, "Oh, read this article you might be interested in, did you know XYZ?" and actually talk about something interesting for a couple of minutes 'til his meeting starts or whatever.

I FEEL - Remembering that my reactions are generated by myself, not caused by someone else

Over the last few weeks while I've been stressed, I noticed that a lot of why Chatty irritates me is because I build up a "story" behind his behavior. 1) He doesn't think I have important work to do, 2) He expects me to entertain him (I'm not nearly as annoyed with chatters who stop by because they have an interesting piece of news to share with me), 3) He thinks I need to be encouraged to talk, the less responsive I become.

Thinking up these "reasons" behind his behavior result in me feeling a bit demeaned and feeling quite angry at him. In reality, these may or may not be the truth, but working myself up about it to the point where I feel bad about it is my problem, not his. That was actually the best takeaway I had from the book Crucial Conversations--no one else can MAKE you feel a certain way. (Well sure, emotional manipulators play on known weaknesses in human psychology, but in this type of situation, I'm clearly constructing the anger and feelings myself.) Interestingly, I don't feel that Crucial Conversations advice helps me out much in how to have a conversation with Chatty about the frequent interruptions.

I like to be frank with people, and considered bluntly explaining that I have work to do, and would prefer not to chat while I'm in my office. But I think that would be way too harsh in this situation, and create more of a conflict than there already is. Then again, maybe that's me being female and wanting to keep everything in harmony. But I try to think about it in reverse, and if I went to chat with a colleague a couple of times, and then they sat me down for a serious talk about it, instead of politely shooing me out a few times until I got the message, I would be mortified.

The resolution?

I'm not so crazy busy anymore, so a permanent solution is no longer very high on my priority list. I think I will try using the "can we chat later" phrase more, when I'm not so irritated by Chatty, as I think I will be more comfortable delivering it. (I was worried that my anger would show in my tone of voice, regardless of the politeness of the canned phrase.) At first, I was concerned that Chatty would feel like it was never okay to come and chat, but sometimes it is! If I'm not clearly busy. But I've also come to the realization that I would be perfectly fine with Chatty learning that my office is never a good place for chatting. Just have to work at making that clear.

Anyone have some words of wisdom for dealing with chatty office mates? Ever feel like coworkers are being disrespectful of your work by assuming you can talk to them while they wait for the boss to be free/the meeting to start?

 

 

19Nov/143

The value of work

Most of us go to work everyday. Some of us might prefer not to go to work, would prefer to work less, or would prefer their work to be in a different field.

We also have ideas about what is "important" work and we have more respect for some jobs than others. From the lamentations we hear today about the loss of manufacturing sector, you'd think working in a factory was the best job of all. People often claim to respect teachers, but in reality, we pay them poorly, relative to other professions with similar education requirements, and many people see teaching (elementary and secondary school) as easy because "school hours" are not such a tough schedule. We pay lawyers a lot, but who likes them?

Jobs allow us, a society, to generate more stuff per person. If no one had jobs, we would each spend most of our days trying to fulfill our own basic needs-hunting for food, building and defending our shelter, farming land. Instead, people specialize, so some people/companies who are really good at farming generate the food, police defend your shelter and safety (when they're not accidentally shooting you, I suppose), and some of us, like accountants and professors, do tasks that help make the whole thing run smoothly (educating the specialists for their jobs, counting the currency we use to exchange all these goods and services.)

So any kind of job there is, the worker can feel good that they're contributing to society. Their work creates a better standard of living for most of us, compared to each of us tending to or own basic needs all day. Or at least, leads to more free time and choice about what you're of tasks to do.

And yet, some of us end up in jobs that aren't valued enough to pay for basic food, shelter, clothing. Many of us work at places that pay well above average, but we don't enjoy our jobs, or we don't feel like our jobs contribute to the good of society. Many people find that they can't stand working for someone else, and may work much harder for the same pay to run their own business instead. Others would hate the responsibility of running the whole show.

There's a lot of talk about finding a job you love, that you're passionate about. I suspect that much of this passion for work may be more dependent on the attitude of the worker than their ability to find the "correct" job. We all know examples of house cleaners/janitors who loved their work. I'm sure there are some zoologists out there who hate their jobs too.

I like my current job a lot. It's a pleasant place to be. But I don't feel that fulfilled by going and doing a hard day's work every day. My father, on the other hand, seems to live for work. He's close to 70 and just uninterested in the idea of retiring. While he is very interested in his field of work, I think he would be happy doing any kind of work, as long as he felt like he was being productive and bringing home a paycheck to support the family.

Do you feel passionate about your field of work? Or do you feel passionate about work itself? What would you do with your time if you could support your family doing anything (including watching movies all day!)? Did you navigate your way from a first job that you didn't really enjoy to one that you really like now?

2Oct/148

Work vs. School

Some musings on the difference between work and school (specifically, higher educations)--expectations, what behavior you're rewarded for, the type of rewards you get.

How does 85% sound?

If you're like me, 85% wasn't what I wanted to get in a class--I wanted an A! But 85% was a good grade for the majority of students. Chime in here professors, but typically, at least 70% of students received an A or B in classes. Some students were happy with a C, because it meant they didn't need to retake the course, and could move ahead in their education.

But if I had someone working for me who only completed 85% of each assignment I gave them, they wouldn't be moving ahead in the organization. At least not if I had anything to say about it. Of course, in the work world, every assignment is an open-book test--so you can use the various tools at your disposal to figure out the correct answer. The truly terrible employees are those that just say "I don't know," and ask you how to do everything, instead of figuring it out under their own steam.

But you don't know the score anyway

You don't know if you're getting a 95% or an 85% or a 50% at work though, because your assignments are not returned neatly graded. You're not told the class average. Well, some Big 4 accounting firms will rank you each year (and then fire you if you're in some bottom percentile), but that feedback is neither as frequent as quiz and test scores, and nor is it necessarily based on a transparent rubric.

I worked with a junior employee whose performance was shockingly bad. Senior employees would have graded him at 25% or below if they were scoring his work. But he worked with us for months before it was explained to him in a review that his performance was terrible. He was utterly surprised. He thought he was showing up, working hard, and doing a great job.

Another junior employee did fantastic work. It was hard to find any corrections in her work, but of course, she was new to the job and didn't know everything. There is always something that can be improved. I learned that this employee had no idea that she was miles ahead of the other employees at the same level as her. I, and another senior staff, began to make every effort to let her know that her work for us was stellar. But she still didn't feel like she was doing well, because she did not get feedback from anyone else.

What should your score be anyway?

At my university, a 94% or above earned you an A. There was no difference between 100% and 94% on your transcript. You're not going to get things 100% right at work--but what % correct should you be achieving? This is a difficult transition for a high achiever. You made a mistake--how serious is it? The manager sits you down to point it out. It seems like a big failure. You mention it to other people--this particular manager makes every mistake seems like a huge failure. No one gets fired for it. Salaries and bonuses are secret, so no one knows if this is reflected there (it's not.) On a test, you get a question wrong, you can see that it corresponds to 1% off your final score. You got a 99% instead of a 100%. Clearly no big deal. At work, it's harder to tell if your mistakes are a big deal, or just an expected level of human error.

Your work is great! But they just don't like you

In class, completing the assignments correctly and studying hard for the test will earn you an A almost every time. At work, you may be producing the best work, but if people don't like to work with you, you may not be seen as an A+ employee by your coworkers.

In my example above, the junior who gave me such excellent work had a personality that reflected her conscientiousness. I found her to be a lovely person to be around. Less conscientious people found her to be "too uptight," and preferred not to work with her on their jobs. (Those people were jerks.)

Or they like you and put up with your less-than-great work.

You have to keep your own record of your success

After a successful semester at college, your top grades are all posted to your transcript. You can request a sealed certified copy of this to prove to anyone who wants to know exactly how good you are.

At work, when your annual review rolls around, the upper-level manager reviewing you probably doesn't remember any of your triumphs from the past year. Heck, maybe they've never worked with you before, and are just basing their feedback on hastily filled-out evaluations from your seniors. Who also probably don't recall your small successes throughout the year with great clarity.

So--keep notes of what you did well. If they don't remember what you did badly, well, no need to bring it up yourself!

No more professors, and the introduction of Lumosity

Learning from a good professor is my favorite way to learn. I love having assignments that force me to do the work I need to do to learn a new subject.

You'll learn plenty at work, but more often by trial and error. The training courses won't help you learn a topic truly and deeply the way a university course would. If you want to learn more than your peers are learning, you'll have to make the effort to do so. Ask to be on more challenging assignments, where you'll gain new experience. Read the original language of the tax rule in the internal revenue code (or your career's equivalent) and ask a senior person questions about it.

Lumosity, a program to help you exercise your brain, was popular among my colleagues who had been working for four or five years, and felt their brain muscles beginning to atrophy. They were starting to master the type of work we did--not every new assignment was a learning experience anymore. Work stopped being fun for these people. Lumosity didn't fix that. (Work stopped being fun for me too, but that was because I had too much of it, which is a different issue--I still found each job to be satisfying in the level of learning I was getting out of it.)

On the other hand

Work can be way easier than school--and you can see yourself getting better and more efficient at your tasks. At school, a new semester is always around the corner, bringing a struggle through new subjects.

You might be the only one

Depending on the type of job you take, you may find that you're the only one at your company who knows what you're doing. This can be a bit lonely after university classes full of other students with a very similar level of knowledge in your chosen field. Who can you bounce ideas off of? Keep in touch with your classmates--getting together and being able to talk about your specialty with others will bore your spouses to death, but can be super satisfying. Like finding someone to speak your native English with when you've been living in Mexico speaking Spanish for six months. (Or vice versa.)

How does your experience with work compare to college/training? I bet many of you will have a completely different point of view on this.

8Apr/145

I read two articles today, aimed at young CPA's in particular, but most likely valid to many young workers my age.

The first article is aimed at CPA firms, listing steps that firms can take to make sure that millennials (those born between 1978 to 1994) are engaged at work, in order to entice them to continue working for your CPA firm, instead of looking for greener pastures. The article mentions that this age group is expected to make up over 75% of the workforce in about 10 years time.

The second article was directed at young CPA's, and was a short article on how to be a "can-do" person at work (do your work well, volunteer to help with other tasks, have a positive attitude.) The writer of the article hopes that young professionals who follow this advice will find themselves with better opportunities at the office, and the respect of those in power.

For the last 3 years, I have been that young CPA, doing my best to complete everything assigned to me, and find time for a few extra opportunities I can volunteer for. And when it comes time for our annual reviews, management expresses to me that they appreciate this.

But this year, it has become an ever more difficult juggling act. My assigned responsibilities are greater, it's harder to get everything done to various partners' satisfaction, my ability to volunteer to help out with other tasks has diminished as I feel constantly behind on my assigned responsibilities. And in the face of what feels like constant disappointment from not meeting expected timelines, my attitude is beginning to suffer too.

On one hand, I don't think that I'm really disappointing the partners by taking 2 weeks to finalize a job that they hoped would take 4 days. In the end, the job was done by the deadline, and last year it took us 3 weeks to finalize! However, I don't feel like I'm doing a great job either. And I find the lack of an internal feeling of accomplishment to result in a significant decrease in motivation.

I believe this is the disengagement that the first article is warning firms about, but frankly, management at my firm doesn't seem to be concerned about how employees are feeling. If you stay, you stay, if you go, you go, and they don't seem to think they have much influence on that.

20Jun/130

Change management – offering employees options

We are going through some changes in our office at the moment, due to a construction project. This involves moving offices multiple times for some of us, and apparently the scheduling is not good enough to be able to give us more than 12 hours advance notice of the need to pack up and move offices.

Of course, no one really likes change, especially not mandated at the last second. In all of this, I've noticed that a really easy way to make employees feel a little better about the changes is to give them options. Instead of "you'll have to clear out your office tomorrow and sit here instead," telling them "you'll have to clear out your office tomorrow, would you like to move to [place 1] or [place 2]?"

Of course, having a real timeline and plans ahead of time, instead of just deciding things at the last minute would be even better, but even in this situation, I think I'd like some choice in where I move to...

20May/137

My job is eating my life

And it tastes delicious!

Ermm . . . at least I hope so?

So I thought that May would be my "slow" month. The time between audit busy season and tax busy season. Well, I kicked off May with a client project that I had to work on over the weekend - i.e. the client wanted it ready and reviewed Monday morning, but I didn't have the data to begin until Friday afternoon.

Then, this past Friday, for once I had Friday night plans. My friend was singing in a choir, and I wanted to have time to bike home (since I was celebrating Ride Your Bike to Work Day), shower, eat, and then get there in time to get good seats. I would have plenty of time if I left work at 5:30. Shouldn't be a problem on a Friday in May, right? Especially since I arrived at work at 7:45 in order to miss traffic on my bike, right?

WRONG. Had to stay until 6:15 to make some changes to a report that needed to be sent to a client that day. I made it to the concert on time, but only due to skipping the shower and only finding seats in the back row. I come in today only to find that the report was never reviewed or sent to the client on Friday, and I'm told at 5:30 that I should do a more thorough edit and then send it. So tonight I was at work until almost 9 working on that.

And I'm pretty sure it's all my fault, since this doesn't happen to everyone who works at our company, only to some of us . . .

18May/131

Location location location – at work

About six months ago I moved offices, placing me about 75 feet closer to one partner and further from another partner. This resulted in many more assignments coming my way from the partner I moved closer to, and fewer assignments from the partner I moved further away from.

I started wondering - if the effect of my location is so dramatic within a single floor of an office building, then how does this affect people who work remotely?

I speculate, based on my observations of my workplace, that while physical proximity does play a part in getting extra assignments from partners, this effect can be mitigated by assigning certain staff to certain partners. Once partners have worked with staff successfully on a few projects, they are likely to seek that staff member out when they have a new project.

In terms of working with other people, as a team, sitting close together certainly helps productivity. One study I found determined that once employees are more than 30 meters apart, Fromthey will have much less daily contact and fewer informal interactions. From a little searching on Google Scholar, collaboration across distance is certainly a bigger problem than getting work assignments across distance. However, sharing an office (our desks located in the same room) with a team member seems like it might actually hurt productivity, due to how easy it is to distract one another.

At this point in the post, I would like to apologize for how this post has been published, half finished, multiple times. I am learning how to use the WordPress app on my new Kindle Fire, but I am still a little unclear about how to save a post as a draft.

Okay, back to the point. The reason for all this thinking about office location is because we are drastically rearranging our offices soon, and I will get some choice about where I sit. Do I choose to be closer to a certain partner, or to the other staff members that I work with frequently?

Of course, the team I would like to work with more will be moving to a whole different floor, so I will have to make a point of sticking my nose onto their floor every so often . . .

How do you think that your office arrangements affect you?

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22Aug/124

Young Professionals

In public accounting, there's an expectation that young employees need to "put in their time" as we call it. And they need to put in this time because, well, that's what everyone else did when they're a young employee.

I think every generation thinks that the generation that comes after them is lazy and disrespectful. Go and read Musings of an Abstract Aucklander's post on why this is probably not actually that true (see the quote from Socrates near the end.)

The truth is though, times have changed DRAMATICALLY from when our partners (who are in their 40's) were working in their first and second years in accounting, to now.

First of all, we have vastly improved technology. I can get a lot more auditing done in an hour than we could 18 years ago when the partners were new hires. Of course, to some extent we just do more thorough audits these days, but overall, we are getting more work done per person.

In addition, my mother pointed out to me the other day that while my father would work long hours when he was younger, he also came home to a cooked dinner, bathed children, cleaned house and cleaned clothes. He really didn't have to worry about anything except work. Most young people that I know today do not have this luxury. Even if we have a partner waiting at home, typically that partner works full time too. But most of the partners at our firm are male, and most of them come home to my dad's situation each night.

Of course, some of the older folks at our firm are women, or were single at my age, so in the end, everyone still expects everyone younger than them to "serve their time." And it seems reasonable to expect people to work hard to prove themselves, right? But part of me just feels like, with all of our technology, we could be living differently, and working smarter, rather than just continuing the cycle.

Do you think people should work less now than in the past due to higher productivity per hour? Or do you think people will always be pushed to their limits, due to competition? What track did you take when you were just starting out - working long hours, or trying to get a work-life balance right away?

19Aug/121

Work blahs

My (extended) tax season has really ramped up the last couple of weeks. Most of our tax returns are due by September 17th, which is still 4 weeks away, but a) we like to have returns to clients at least a week ahead of time where possible, and b) all MY work has to go through a reviewer, come back to me for changes, go through review again, before it can go to a client, so I need to have all of MY stuff done ASAP.

Unfortunately, I can feel myself losing my motivational steam. I really need to do some work this weekend, and I have yet to start. (But I also want to have time to make pizza and bake some scones tonight.)

So, I'm turning to my blog to help motivate me. By the end of the day, I need to have finished the following tasks:

1) Fill out an IRS certificate application form for a client, along with all required POA forms (I think about 10). Create a word document of a statement for a client to attach to the application.

2) Read the instructions for all of the states a new client of ours will be filing in, and mark down anything that "seems complicated." (I'm not really sure what will count for this, especially since I'm doing it for a partner that I don't usually do tax returns for.)

3) Start tax return for a Corp and Foreign Corp (partners in a Partnership return that I have sort-of finished.)

Work has started getting difficult to complete for me. I have a to-do list, but every day someone adds something to it - some notice we need to respond to, or client audit that we need to pull prior year information for. I spent all day Friday going through review notes on one return, which I can't cross off my list yet, since I still need to discuss some of the notes with the reviewer. So I feel like I haven't been able to cross anything off the list in days, which is very stressful for me. It makes me feel like I'm not making any progress, while the deadline is getting closer.

Any advice on how to stay motivated at work (at least until September 17th!)?

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19Jul/124

Blogging and work

I am been very quiet on the blog over the past few months - a lot of that is due to business, but most of it is because everytime I want to share things about my life - getting a new dog, talking about where I went on vacation, I get worried that somehow, someone from work will stumble across it, and it will be such a unique piece of information (combined with that fact that I'm clearly an accountant) that they'll immediately think "Wait I have a co-worker who just spent two weeks in Spain!"

This seems like a silly thought - the internet is a big place - but it's just scary to imagine someone at work finding my blog. And they would email it around to everyone else in a heartbeat!

Do people in your "real" life read your blog? Do you feel comfortable with that idea? What do you think your employer would think about you blogging?

 

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