Anita Bruzzese

1. How should someone take responsibility for their workplace actions effectively?

Anita BruzzeseAnita Bruzzese

I think the first step is to put yourself in someone else's shoes. How do your actions -- or inactions -- affect that person and his or her ability to do the job? Second, communication is critical. Journalists are trained to always ask lots of questions and to always confirm any information. Sure, sometimes we ask some obvious questions, but you'd be surprised how many mistakes can be made by 'assuming' you know the answer. Third, ask for feedback. The only way you're going to improve your performance and make sure that you're positively contributing to the employer's bottom line is to be aware of the areas where you need to improve -- and the things you're doing right! All three of these things show that you're taking proactive steps to be as valuable at work as possible. And in these tough economic times, that's more important than ever.

2. What's the easiest method to separate work from personal life when working at home?

I think a key is designating a time and place to work. You're going to be stressed, inefficient and make mistakes if you try and work on a laptop in the middle of a busy home space like the kitchen during dinnertime. Even if all you can do is set up a screen in the corner of a room to section off a desk, decent chair and your work materials, that's helpful. Let family and friends know that for specific hours every day you're going to be working, and won't respond to their phone calls or e-mails unless it's an emergency. You can even do things like turn on a certain lamp near your workspace that tells everyone in your home you're working and don't want to be interrupted. Let work associates know that you will be available for specific hours every day, and then make sure that you are. It takes some organization in the beginning, but once you get a system up and running, it helps you keep your sanity!

3. What changes in the workplace have you seen for employees, and what do you see changing in the future?

Over the years, what I've noticed most is a real lack of civility to one another. Whether it is posting snarky online comments about a co-worker or sending nasty e-mails, or gossiping about someone or even bullying another person, a lot of stress for workers seems to have produced some unattractive behavior. Diverse workplaces have contributed to these problems, because many companies offer no training about how to deal with different cultures, races, genders, religions or sexual orientations on the job. I have received some letters from readers that really stun me with their bigoted comments and venomous words.

It's hard to predict what's going to happen in the future because these unprecedented economic traumas are going to affect a wide group of people from all industries and salary levels. I do think that we're going to see baby boomers stay in their jobs longer than ever before because of financial concerns, and that means the younger workers are going to have their plans for advancement impacted.

I've been interviewing experts lately for my Gannett News Service/ column, and what they're saying is that we're going to have companies asking salaried employees to work longer hours, offer little or no bonuses or pay raises, reduce employee benefits and offer less flexibility.

4. What are the five most annoying traits employees have?

I haven't take a scientific survey, but based on the hundreds of bosses I've interviewed over the years, I'd say some of the most annoying are:

  1. failing to write things down;
  2. gossiping;
  3. constantly interrupting the boss;
  4. poor writing skills; and
  5. being disorganized.

5. How does an employee learn the rules when the boss thinks they should already know the rules?

Well, read my book, for starters! I do think when you begin a job it's critical to ask questions and write things down. Find out from the boss who you should ask if you have questions. Beyond that, the boss really doesn't want to have to teach you that you shouldn't tell dirty jokes on the job or use your personal cell phone too much while at work. There are so many great job and career sites online, and so many great career books available, it's just pure laziness if you say, 'I don't know the rules or what is expected.'

Do your homework and figure it out.
That said, let me also add that it's not out of line to say to the boss:
'I'd like to meet with you just to briefly update you on what I'm doing and make sure I'm on target.' You should always make sure you understand your company's rules and that what you're doing is having the greatest impact.
Remember, you success is dependant on the boss's success.

6. What are the best ways an employee can make themselves self-efficient?

Remember that you are CEO of You, Inc., as Tom Peters would say. You must develop your personal brand -- what you're known for. What would other people say about you if you weren't in the room? You want to work at developing your talent and abilities so that no matter what happens in the job market, you're resilient and connected to enough people who understand and appreciate your brand that they can help you in whatever course you want to take, whether it's getting another job or starting your own business.

7. What is a personal mission statement, and how does it help someone be a better employee?

A personal mission statement is what you believe you were put on this Earth to do. I had someone explain it to me that Nelson Mandela was to end apartheid, while Abraham Lincoln's was to preserve the union. It should be short and to the point, something a 12-year-old could understand. It should be about one sentence. A personal mission statement is helpful because it keeps you from being distracted from stuff that can get in the way of fulfilling your purpose.

8. How does someone deal with being the 'new employee' or 'the trainee'?

First, remember everyone has been in those shoes. Second, don't be shy about asking questions. Just don't ask the same ones over and over because you didn't write down the information in the first place ('What's the long distance code again?') Third, make sure you understand who is the right person for you to question. Fourth, do your homework. Fill out the forms HR gives you, read the employee handbook, study any other materials you are given. The best way to deal with being a new employee is to let everyone know from the beginning that you're going to listen, learn and grow. If you make a mistake, don't fall apart. Learn from it.

9. Employees are often told to be more productive when in reality they need to be more 'useful' to a boss or company, what's the difference and how do they do this?

You can work a 12-hour day and not be 'useful' to a company or boss because you haven't done anything that will contribute to the real goal: the bottom line.

How to make a difference? Communication is key. You've got to be clear about the goals of the boss. What is important to her? Your actions should always align with her goals, because the boss's goals are aligned with the company's. If you're doing stuff that doesn't help the boss attain her goals, then you need to reassess: Should you delegate those tasks? Get rid of them? And, make sure that you continue to check with the boss about her goals or her priorities -- they may shift and you don't want to be doing the wrong tasks that don't provide any real value to her.

10. Should employees have a strategy for their job? If so, how should they create it and what should the results be?

Every employee should have a clear roadmap of what she should be doing. That roadmap should come from a yearly performance evaluation, or from the boss in some kind of other strategic goal-setting meeting. Without a clear strategy, you're going to become exhausted and stressed and inefficient trying to just sort of 'wing it.' That's not to say you shouldn't be flexible and willing to change course if needed, but you always need to have a clear idea of what the company needs. Your goal should be to positively impact the bottom line. Let's say you work in the mailroom. You may not think your job really serves a purpose other than to deliver the mail. But if you don't deliver something on time, it could adversely impact an important project being completed -- and that could cost the employer an important client. So, what you do does have an impact.