I have friends who work deep in the trenches of animal rescue groups. They rescue pit bulls from fighting rings. They rehome unwanted cats and move them to barns in the countryside. They save bunnies and chinchillas from the most disgusting and repugnant breeding facilities.
Several of them suffer from compassion fatigue, but many do not. What’s the secret? Well, it’s not a secret. They’ve established boundaries but also demonstrate flexibility in the face of great need and limited resources.
Meanwhile, I know a lot of people in HR and recruiting who are burned out. They work in cushy corporate offices, but they work sixty hours a week and are emotionally and physically fried.
Compassion fatigue is real. I’m not surprised by the empty and sad HR business partners and recruiters in my life. When you deal with the disempowered underbelly of humanity, as many do, you can quickly find yourself jaded and exhausted.
But let’s not just look at the regular folks in the trenches. Even HR executives find themselves wondering how so many people with such high capabilities can be so needy.
Want to beat compassion fatigue in HR and recruiting? Here are some tips that I’ve learned from my friends who have seen it all and lived to tell stories.
1. Be the boss of your calendar.
Volunteers have limited capacity to give, which makes them more efficient with their time. If you have two hours each Saturday to show up at a Petco and move your foster kittens into forever homes, you safeguard your schedule and make the most of your time on the ground. The good news is that calendar management is one of the easiest ways to reclaim your sanity. The bad news is that many corporate professionals aren’t brave enough to say no to chit-chat, office drive-bys, and last-minute requests from people who ought to know better. But if you don’t value your time, who will?
2. Admit defeat and embrace failure.
If you work with cats and dogs, you know your job is never done. It’s good to keep your expectations low because the best you can hope for is an incremental change in your local community. People will still chain dogs to a tree. People will still breed cats and then throw the unsold kittens onto highways. When the challenge is immense and your capacity is limited, celebrate the small victories. You’re not going to fix the wage gap in America; however, you can have quiet and deliberate conversations about pay equity in your company that drive to something greater.
3. Walk away.
Many of us in the animal rescue community have dealt with Founder’s Syndrome. That’s when someone starts an animal rescue but won’t let go of daily operations. Volunteers must manage the founder’s ego while trying to tackle systemic problems such as animal abuse and overpopulation. Here’s what I’ve learned: walk away. It’s not my job as a volunteer or a human resources leader to make someone feel good about themselves just because they got the whole thing rolling. It’s not what you started. It’s how you contribute to its growth and sustainability. When equity and power are involved, sometimes the best thing you can do as an HR minion is walk away.
If you work in HR and feel burned out, I have one other piece of advice for you: do your job with integrity, but offer 22% less of yourself. Apply that energy to something that brings you joy. And, let’s be honest, nobody will notice your 22% reduction in effort.
Hey! If you’re looking for a place where you can restore your sanity and spend 22% of your time feeling good about life, I know a few animal rescues that would love to have you.
It never gets better than your first day of work. Even if your onboarding program is dull, or the HR lady leaves you in a room for four hours to complete your new hire paperwork, it is better than day two. Day two will be better than day three.
(It all goes downhill from there.)
Day one is the best day of work because nobody knows you. Your idiosyncratic behaviors are still a mystery. You haven’t developed your nemesis. Also, you can dream that the line at the closest Starbucks to your office moves quickly.
So if day one is the best for employees, and it’s not all that great, how do you make it better?
For some reason, employees have always been asked to show up at 8:30 AM on Monday for their first day of work. I don’t know about you, but that is the absolute worst time on my calendar. I am barely awake. The coffee I drank on my way to work hasn’t hit my system. I still haven’t gone to the bathroom.
Day one does not have to start early, and it doesn’t have to be a Monday. Worried about getting them paid for the entire pay period? Pay them regardless and have them show up on Tuesday. Alternatively, start later but pay the new employee for the whole day.
Begin with a training plan.
Instead of going straight to the do’s and dont’s in the workforce, kick off the morning with a discussion about learning and developmental opportunities. You can tell your new hire, “Hey, we are gonna pay you. Trust me. Also, duh, you can’t sexually harass people. We’ll talk about ‘rules’ later in the day. Let’s start off with an outline of what you’ll need to know about this job. Let me show you how our company invests in its workforce.”
Get the paperwork out of the way.
There are so many HR technology companies who do electronic onboarding, and yet there are so many companies who won’t pay for it. “We have a business partner. If we outsource onboarding, why do we need her?”
There’s some truth in that question. However, your HR business partner is more than just a typist and a line editor for payroll change forms. She is a guide to your company’s values and behaviors on day one. So get the paperwork out of the way (before day one) so she can help your employees get to work as quickly as possible.
Finally, slow your roll.
Who said every aspect of onboarding has to happen on day one? Your powerpoint presentation on the company structure is excellent. I love your witty jokes, your slide animation, and your cat GIFs.
However, your powerpoint presentations about company structure or mission/vision/values make no sense until about 30 days into the employee’s tenure. So slow it down and think about creating an onboarding and new hire orientation program that offers information in bite-sized nuggets.
So, in short, quit making day one so boring, stressful and weird for your new employees.
Separate the steps for onboarding and new hire orientation, automate the dull stuff, and work hard to make day one as fun and easy-going as possible.
After all, it never gets better than your first day.
I’m a big believer that life is incomplete without pets. I’m known for rescuing cats, but I also grew up with a dog. If I ever hit it big on the lottery (which clearly has not happened), I will go all Jon Stewart on everybody and open a rescue sanctuary. We will have goats, chickens, horses, barn cats, and big dogs to keep away the awful breeders who want to sneak on the property and drop off litters of unwanted kittens without any accountability.
But until that happens, here are things I’ve learned from having a busy household with a lot of animals while trying to maintain a middle-class suburban lifestyle.
“Does this smell like pee?”
The answer is always yes. It smells like pee. Don’t ignore that.
“Did someone just puke.”
Yes, yes they did. You’ll find it by stepping in it.
“I haven’t seen the cat/dog for awhile.”
Probably locked outside or in a room somewhere.
“Why are you meowing/barking so much?”
Something is up. Get off your ass and have a look.
“Would you quit climbing on my face?!”
Probably hungry. Time to wake up and feed your pet.
“Yuck, is that diarrhea?”
It is unmistakably diarrhea, which is a common side effect of many medications. Not on any medications? Someone ate something.
“Why did you pee outta the box?”
Urinary tract infection is the most common culprit. Call the vet. Don’t wait. It’s painful.
“Did you eat my eggs?”
Damn right someone ate your eggs. That’s what you get for leaving them on the counter.
“Your breath smells like trench warfare.”
Time for a kitty/doggy dental.
So many people get a pet and think that it’s just a dumb animal, which is sorta true. Pets are not people. But as a person who has a choice about whether or not to have a pet, you bear the additional responsibility of making good choices on behalf of your dumb animal. And, yes, they are trying to tell you something. Don’t want to form a relationship and meet its needs? Don’t get a pet.
(And please don’t have kids. But that’s another post.)
Nobody is a perfect pet owner. I just locked my cat Roxy in a dark laundry room for two hours because she’s black, the lights were off, and I can’t see anything. But if you see something, or your pet is trying to say something, it’s not because your dog or cat is annoying.
It’s because something is up.
Go have a look.
Let’s not beat around the bush. My biggest accomplishment is that I revisited some of my failures and made them right.
- I remembered my friend Lance’s birthday.
- I met Lil Bub.
- I tried to write a little more.
- I worked on mending some relationships and letting others go.
- I tried to fix my business model so I enjoy working with colleagues and friends.
I’m a fairly straightforward thinker when it comes to success and failure. Black is black. White is white. You don’t need metrics, measurements or analytical tools to know when you’ve done something magnificent or something horrible. Accomplishments are generally clear.
But failure doesn’t mean that an opportunity for success is over. And I’ve come to believe that it’s black & white thinking that stops my future possibilities of progress and growth.
So this year, I flipped the script and revisited old “failures.” If I’m being honest, it felt a little shadowy. But as I grew comfortable with my failures and saw them for what they were — mostly minor and inconsequential — I determined that failure isn’t permanent.
Failure is fluid, plastic and changeable. And it’s usually not a failure.
I think revisiting my failures in 2015 is my biggest accomplishment.
(Although seeing Lil Bub was truly magical.)
Just a quick note to let you know that I’ll be on hiatus for the next few weeks. I’m getting organized, closing down some projects and heading off to Havana.
I’m not going dark, though. I’ll have new content up and ready for you. I’ll be writing about outstanding and impressive HR bloggers. People who make me think. People who challenge me. People who deserve recognition.
My audience is a mix of HR professionals and regular joes who want to learn the inside scoop on human resources. So if you work in HR, take a fresh look at some of the bloggers who will appear on my site. If you’re a worker, it’s always smart to connect with HR professionals and recruiters who are social.
I’ll be back with an update on my Cuba trip before you know it. Then I’ll get back to writing about work, life and cats.
Today is Roxy’s first birthday, and it’s a big day in our home. When I first saw her at Petco, Roxy’s name was Kissy. Then it was Kizzy. Then it was irrelevant.
I said, “Take her off the website. This baby is going home with me.”
Roxy has acquired a ton of new names during the past year. She goes by Roxy Rox, Roxy Girl, Boo Boo Kitty and Big Pounces. When we whistle and call her name, she meows back to us. She also meows and calls to me while I’m on Skype because she thinks I’m talking to her. It’s adorable.
We have fostered many kittens during the past 18 years, but we haven’t kept many of them. Our second-youngest cat, Emma, is seven years older than Roxy. She doesn’t do much except look poonchy, so we weren’t sure how Roxy would spend her day.
Would she be an office cat? Would she watch birds?
Turns out she wants to zoom around the house and wage holy jihad on spiders, toys and the other cats. I’m fine with it. Keeps things interesting.
Life with Roxy is nonstop action with short (but hardcore) naps. She loves being chased around the basement and climbing into our rafters. She loves greeting us at the door when we get home, eating our people-food and licking our faces at night when we’re trying to sleep. This boo boo kitty doesn’t have a mean bone in her body, but she is sneaky and will eat your yogurt if you’re dumb enough to leave it unguarded.
Happy birthday, Roxy Rox! When you crawl into bed with us and knead dough on our necks like a weirdo, we know we won the lottery. You’re a keeper because your kisses smell like tuna flakes and Scrubby’s old catnip toys.
We love you very much, and we’re thrilled to share our lives with you.
Years ago, I went to college in London. I roomed with a girl from Boston. Her name was Valerie.
Valerie was dating a boy who was, in my totally uninformed opinion, a big sack of wheat. There was another boy in her life, Tom, who seemed to love her dearly. He called long-distance—because that was a thing back in 1996—and wrote sweet letters even though he was busy with an internship out in Los Angeles.
I didn’t know anything, but I told Valerie that she should consider dating Tom because they seemed more compatible.
Well, Valerie and Tom are now married with three kids. And, while I take no credit, I take all of the credit. Come on, man! That’s a great story!
Val also introduced me to her family, who are wonderful, and to a circle of friends back in Boston. Throughout the years, some of those relationships have expanded. I met a friend, Sully, who is pretty remarkable. He’s a filmmaker and a general badass. He and another one of his friends, John, decided to drive across the country back in 2000 (or maybe it was 2001).
He asked, “Can we crash at your place in Chicago?”
I had an apartment and only one cat—if you can believe it. I invited Sully and John to sleep on my sofa bed. Two dudes in my apartment may seem sketchy, but it was totally comfortable and platonic.
I stayed in touch with everybody, of course. Years later, when I thought about ditching human resources and being a cat blogger, I opened up a Facebook account for Scrubby. Right away, the algorithm worked its magic. I became fast friends with a cat named C. Angus Floyd—a fuzzy black kitty who looked like Princess Monster Truck before PMT was cool.
C. Angus Floyd (or just Angus if you’re nast-ay) was a charming and handsome cat. He had impressive outside interests, too. He liked design, furniture, art, great music, good food, and fun movies. And it turns out that Angus belongs to a woman by the name of Jen, who is John’s wife.
Small world! Small world! Small world!
So Jen and I became friends, and I had an opportunity to see John and Jen when I went to Harvard in 2013 to speak. They have kids, and we had a pizza party. Sully was there with his wife and kids, too. (Sully’s wife and children are awesome, btw.) Angus made a guest appearance, and I was happy to meet the wooly man-cat who knitted the circle together.
But sad news to report. Angus passed away. Ugh. There’s never enough time.
Angus’s passing is horrible, but I am reminded that life can so astounding. From two college kids in London to a community of adults with careers, kids, and cats on Facebook! Amazing.
In my mind, Angus serves as a testament to the power of social media to expand and enrich lives. My relationship with Angus’s parents is very meaningful to me and represents the perfect blend of online and in-real-life communities.
So this post is for Angus, Jen, John, Sully, Tom, and Valerie. I’m raising a virtual meowtini to their families, their kids, and to their animals. I love them, and my life is better for knowing all of these amazing people (and wooly creatures)!
I’ve been doing some video chats for CareerBuilder, and they’re pretty fun. We use a combination of Google Hangouts and Twitter, and what you end up with is a crazy and interesting mix of video and interactive tweets.
We discussed talent management strategies and techniques in the last episode. Tim Sackett makes an offhanded comment that he likes forced ranking.
Now, listen, I have four cats. I rank them on a regular and ongoing basis. Emma is the best all around, Jake loves me the most, Molly is the smartest, and Roxy is the new baby. They all have strengths and weaknesses. But the order of “who is the best” changes based on my mood, and honestly, how much those cats are bringing it on a daily basis.
If you told me I had to line my cats up and rank them, and then cut the bottom x%, I would say—they’re all great and your rules are stupid. It’s not like I’m going to replace my cats with better cats. They’re cats. That’s not how this works. That’s not how any of this works.
And that’s how I feel about your talented people. Even old school blue chip companies–and brutal sales teams that love blood and sport—have ditched this model for something a little more humane.
I know we want to push our teams to achieve new goals. I know you want an awesome workforce. But Tim’s words had me thinking that everything old becomes new again. Forced ranking might one day come back in vogue. I would just warn you that it’s nice to look back at something simple like forced ranking and say, well, it worked for Jack Welch.
Nothing comes from forced ranking except fear and loathing in the hearts and minds of your employees. Fire people who suck, reward people who do a good job, and stop ranking and stacking people (or cats) for the sport of it.
I remember being single for a hot minute in my 20s.
Everyone at work assumed that I had time (and emotional bandwidth) to stay at work, listen to their problems, and step in on projects when their lives were overwhelming. I didn’t have a husband or kids. Who needed me more than my co-workers?
Plus there was this whole thing like—Hey, you say that you want to earn more money. Why can’t you stay until 7PM, every night?
Does this sound familiar to you?
Well, I was motivated to earn more money. I was paying off a ton of student loan debt. My mom was always sick. My dad was unemployed. One of my brothers was in college, which presents its own challenges for first-generation students who don’t have mentors or family members who can lend advice. My sister was living with her father, and that wasn’t particularly ideal for many reasons. And my youngest brother was just a kid who needed love and attention. Then my other cousin moved in with me for several months because she needed some help.
Because I was trying to establish my career but also attend to the needs of my fractured family, I didn’t do anything very well. And how the hell was I supposed to find time to date?!
Probably the smartest thing I ever did in my 20s was go home and leave work at work. I remember sitting on the couch with my old cat, Lucy, and praising the powers of Baby Jesus and Ganesha that she couldn’t talk. If I had to listen to one more person complain about work—or go one one more date where some guy wasted my time by explaining to me what happened on 9/11 and why George Bush was the greatest president ever—I was going to have an Ashley Judd meltdown.
The assumption that I could stay late at work and tackle projects—as a means to pay my dues in HR and because I didn’t have a husband or kids—was a cruel joke.
It’s human resources. If we don’t demand work-life balance, what chance does the rest of the organization have?
So the next time you feel like you’re drowning at work—and you assume that a young professional without a family can help you out—make sure you consider your past behaviors. To have good friends, you need to be a good friend. To have work-life balance, you have to offer balance to others.
And the “others” includes young workers, single people, and those who have alternative family structures that don’t look like yours.
I hate people.
People ruin everything.
My job would be great if it weren’t for the people.
This place would be awesome if it weren’t for all the people.
I have said all of those things in my life. Sometimes I mean it. Sometimes I don’t. But the outpouring of love and support after Scrubby’s death reminds me that people are remarkable and generous.
My good friend Charlie said, “The people who reach out to you and offer comfort after your cat dies are the people you want in your life.”
While some people do suck, most do not.
I like cats, but I love people.