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Opinion Editorials

You f**ked up and got fired – now what do you do?

(EDITORIAL) Ever get fired, or have an office fail? We will examine how to handle problems and life crises in the workspace with seriousness and humor.

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fired pug thinks about life

One day recently, I was feeling lost and was about to use Google because I needed answers! I wanted to magically stop the world because it was spinning too fast.

Some questions have a lot of different answers. Some answers aren’t so clear and some questions are hard to ask when you are feeling like a major f@ck up. That was how I was feeling.

In this ongoing column, I will attempt to share some real-life situations, options, answers, and when needed, consult with experts to provide responses to those questions you may be too afraid to ask. Or, to consider questions you may have not even realized you needed to ask.

To kick off our column, the first I F@cked Up situation we will consider is getting let go or laid off. While they are not the same situation, they do have some similarities.

Why, Mary Ann, what do you know about either of these situations? Well, I’ve been laid off twice, both from major news enterprises. And, I’ve been released of my duties. Neither situation feels very good, but believe me when I say, it’s not the end of the world. These situations bring with them a lot of baggage to unpack, so we will break it down. Today we deal with what to do first.

I Just Got Fired/Laid Off

So, you get called to the office. You are met either with your boss and HR or a person your company hired to separate you from them. (Like in Up in the Air) If you are being let go, you may have seen it coming – if you were paying attention. If you were laid off, depending on if other folks were let go recently, it may come as a surprise and a very harsh blow.

How you feel

Regardless of how it happened, you probably feel like crap. It’s a fact. Whether you are happy to be set free from the most toxic of toxic of work environments, or you’ve been laid off and provided with a decent severance package, you will still probably have a bit of worry, fear and feeling of “what the hell is wrong with me” self-doubt going on. And, then there’s the big question. What’s next?

This is all pretty standard. Unless you are a narcissist and then, that is a whole different column.

When you are laid off or fired, most decent employers will try do it in the middle of the week – so you can call later with questions. If you were like me – you were a deer in the headlights. I remembered very little of the actual conversation. You will have questions you didn’t think to ask at such a moment. You will want answers. If you are released on a Friday. Your employer is really shitty because now you have the entire weekend to ruminate over the questions.

Don’t ruminate over the questions.

Feeling like crap and being pissed are normal. So, feel all the feels.

NOW, DO THIS:

Gather your things. Hold your head high. Tell your colleagues deuces. Leave the office.

If you imbibe alcohol, stop at the store, get your favorite food and whatever beverage you like the most. Go home. Get plastered or near shit-faced – if you don’t drink, then buy a carton of ice cream or a sheet cake. I don’t encourage over consumption of alcohol OR food, but at this moment, you probably feel lower than low. Give yourself permission for this moment to let loose, honor, and celebrate it. As much as it may feel like the world is blowing up, right now you get the opportunity to say “What the hell, what do I have to lose?”

The point is: Get it out of your system, and quickly. If you get released from your position take a few days before you begin to do anything work search related. Your ego is probably hurting. People get fired for a wide variety of reasons, many of which have nothing to do with their ability to do the work. And, if you get laid off, usually it’s about money, bankruptcy and situations far beyond your control. Still, it hurts your pride and can do a number on your self-confidence and self-esteem.

BUT, DON’T DO THIS:

If you’re pissed off after being let go, especially if you were fired and if your workplace sucked you may want to scream it from the rafters and announce it all over social media. DON’T.

Don’t go on Facebook and blast: I got fired!
Don’t go on LinkedIn and say: Company XYZ are a bunch of douches.
Don’t change your LinkedIn to say you are no longer at Company X.
Don’t immediately hit Glassdoor with a crap review.
Don’t immediately email/text/PM connections saying you were fired/laid off.
Don’t immediately start looking for jobs.

Why?

You are raw. You are pissed. You may or may not be super worried and concerned about your next paycheck. You may be really upset. You don’t want to come off as someone who is desperate, even if you really are. We will come back to this in another column.

What’s next

You’ve overeaten and gotten shit faced. You may have cried or broken stuff. Good! ARGH!

Feels so much better.

You should take a few days to rest, recharge and focus on self-care.

But, one thing you do not want to put on hold is filing for unemployment.

File for Unemployment the day after you get let go.

Now is the time when you need to be focused and aware. When you file, don’t lie about anything, be honest and fill out the forms.

You say you don’t want to take money from the state. Well, that’s great, champ, but it’s a good fall back option.

Also, please note, if you get fired for doing something very wrong on the job, it’s likely you will not be eligible for unemployment, so don’t be surprised if you called your boss a mofo and you don’t get unemployment.

You want to file as soon as possible because it takes weeks (from 4 to 6 but typically a little less) for the state to start paying. And, if you haven’t been saving and are living paycheck to paycheck – you know income creep – you will probably need what little unemployment provides, a lot less than your standard salary.

Unemployment filed, consider if you have any mileage you need to be reimbursed for and get that done. If you have a severance package, get those checks in the bank ASAP. If your employer let you go as part of a layoff, they may be having financial issues. So cash the check(s) fast.

Self-reflection

You’ve had time for a pity party. You’ve filed for unemployment. Now, it’s time to do some reflection.

You say, ‘self-reflection, that a lot of BS and I don’t have time for that I need money now.’

Yeah, you probably really need some self-reflection if you don’t see the value in it.

Now is the perfect opportunity to consider some deep questions like:

What went wrong at your last job? If you were released, let go, fired, why did that happen? Whether your boss was a total asshole or not, you probably had some part in the final outcome. Own it. Now’s the time to think about what went sideways. Was it a clash of cultures? Was it a personality clash? Were your skills not what you presented on your resume? What was your work ethic?

Even if you weren’t fired you should reflect.

Think about what was going on. What did you like, hate, learn? This is an opportunity to take the experience you had and use it to discover what you want next, which should be a job where you feel celebrated and not tolerated.

Find some surveys online where you can do self-reflection about your skills and abilities. Talk to your closest friends and ask them for feedback on what they like most about you. They care about you and can offer some real feedback to help you to regain your self-esteem.

If you haven’t done this before, take some time to do an inventory of what you like, hate, what you must have in your next position and what are deal breakers.

If you were working in a really awful workplace, you really may need time to decompress. Take the time to get outside, go for walks, do what you love. Now’s the time to sleep in and regroup. But, don’t wallow and start doing whatever you need to feel motivated for your next opportunity.

As my mom (and religious texts) always said: “This too shall pass.” So be ready.

Coming next week: You ate, drank, and reflected, so what the heck do you do now?

Mary Ann Lopez earned her MA in print journalism from the University of Colorado and has worked in print and digital media. After taking a break to give back as a Teach for America corps member and teaching science for a few years, she is back with her first love: writing. When she's not writing stories, reading five books at once, or watching The Great British Bakeoff, she is walking her dog Sadie and hanging with her cats, Bella, Bubba, and Kiki. She is one cat short of full cat lady status and plans to keep it that way.

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Opinion Editorials

Managing bipolar disorder and what I wish my employers understood

(EDITORIAL) This editorial offers a perspective on living with bipolar disorder in the workplace, giving employers insight into how to support similar team members.

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bipolar disorder

I met Jacob Martinez (Jake) a few years back at one of our offline events. He is an eager and ambitious person that always wears a smile (and seriously, it’s an infectious smile), always seeks to help people around him, and is kind and positive at every interaction.

In his most current effort to help others, Jake asked what I thought about his writing about his new bipolar disorder diagnosis, something that most people hide and pray no one discovers. But not Jake. As he dug deeper into the rabbit hole of available information, he realized there was little available discussing how this diagnosis impacts career paths, and almost nothing available to help employers to understand the nuances.

And let’s face it – there are plenty of people hiding their diagnosis, and employers that could be missing amazing talent simply for not understanding how to accommodate.

The following is about Jake’s journey with his diagnosis, how it has impacted his career, and his ideas on how hiring managers and business owners could interact with people living with bipolar disorder in a way that keeps their talents in full use on the job. This isn’t scientific and the suggestions aren’t based on some HR seminar, no, it’s meant to give you unique insight that most people don’t share – I want you to read this through Jake’s eyes. It’s a brave look into working with this challenge:


As someone who suffers from bipolar disorder, I’ve struggled to find resources that would help individuals like myself jumpstart our careers and learn to navigate working full time with a mental health disorder. Most generalized stories about mental health disorders and the workplace focus more on how things didn’t work out and not on how they started or advanced their careers.

Many give examples of individuals with mental disorders in high-ranking positions who end up leaving their specialized field to work as part-time cashiers or other less stressful and less triggering roles in order to seek a better work environment for their mental health.

I’ve also found that there is a lack of resources for employers when it comes to helping employees with mental disorders. Not many employers are prepared to do so, nor have this skill in their wheelhouse. Without this knowledge, training, and experience, how could they understand the struggles of what it’s like to work with a mental disorder and be expected to provide the necessary support to help their staff?

Many factors contribute to this being overlooked or left unaddressed, such as the stigma behind people with mental disorders in a work environment, or simply because no one knows how to talk about it. When I apply for jobs, I always ask myself “Do I put in an application that I am someone with a condition that needs reasonable accommodations? Is that even an option?” How would I even begin to ask an employer to understand what I am going through? And while I’m still figuring this out and working through what my diagnosis means for my career, I’d like to share my experience and start talking about it.

Like many young individuals, I started college bright-eyed and with a hopeful outlook. I navigated internships, jobs, and full course loads but only to exit with a mountain of debt and depression that can be best described in a meme. Many, with no prospects out of university and an average GPA, end up working menial jobs to get by, hoping for their big break.

For me, this time was spent at Torchy’s Tacos, a local Austin Texas favorite. My luck finally came through when I found a new opportunity. I thought to myself, how hard could it be to deliver packages to people? Especially in a city like Austin where anyone could make a business out of cleaning cat litter boxes. This company, I thought, was going to be my lucky break – my jumping-off point. And it was for about a year. That is until my bipolar diagnosis came in.

Suddenly dealing with bipolar disorder…

I experienced sporadic shifts between depression and hypomania. With my diagnosis came a new understanding of what my limits and strengths were. I understood that stress only made it worse but that physically moving around was the best way to cope with it. Working in a warehouse-type environment allowed me to run around, helping to melt my stress away physically.

But when it came down to job performances, some weeks were better than others.

When I did well, management would make comments like, “I like this new you,” or “whatever is happening, don’t change it.” But nothing was said when I didn’t do so well. Comments continued to dismiss the real issue that I was heading towards an uphill climb of mania. And as I climbed higher and higher, more mistakes began to happen – small ones that added up beyond anything I could control. With each and every episode of mania or depression I had, the trust I had taken time to build and cultivate slowly began to fall apart.

Then came the drop – an episode of depression so deep that it’s hard to recover from. For myself, this began as a result of multiple episodes and when several “options” were laid out on the table by my employer.

First, my employer recommended that I take Family Medical Leave Assistance (FMLA). For someone like myself who never knew what FMLA was, I didn’t know where to start and what this meant. No one told me I would not be getting paid and that I would have to use my sick and personal time off to supplement my income. As someone who has built their identity around working, taking time off felt like an attack on my identity at the time.

Subsequently, I was also told I could be released for making any mistake (no matter how small or slight), attempting to change the work culture, or requesting anything unreasonable such as requesting time off for anything other than medical. My manager also called my episodic shifts a “stunt.”

Every time he said this, I lost faith in him, and he lost trust in me.

Some of the hardest words someone with a mental disorder can hear from a manager or mentor are, “When you pulled that stunt, I can’t trust you anymore” and “we will no longer be working together if you do that again.” His words cut deep and only made each episode worse—finally leading me to turn in my two-week notice.

During my time there, none of my managers ever asked if something was wrong when warning signs showed up. They just assumed that I had already checked out and given up. I felt like a cog that was replaceable and could easily be overturned. Trust was required to help me battle my mental demons, and in this case, that trust was broken on both ends. No one came out of this on top, coping skills were not utilized as they should have, and no one reached out like they said they would.

After reflecting on this experience, here’s what I’ve learned and wished my employer did:

Trust: Trust is earned, not given as the adage goes. But for an employee living with bipolar disorder, trust is given before it is earned. I made the choice to trust my employer (and my entire team) by opening up about my mental health and battles – I had to. And while not everyone may be prepared to open up about what they’re dealing with internally, it can help.

Doing this tells people that you’re asking for help and are making yourself ready to receive it. It signifies your willingness to allow others inside. This can be beneficial to you as it helps your team members become better at recognizing warning signs and understand when to check in to see if you need help. My recommendation here to anyone working with someone who has a mental disorder: Listen if we choose to open up, don’t be dismissive of our efforts, and trust us when we ask to carry more for the team.

 

Don’t assume: Someone opening up about a diagnosis can’t expect everyone at work to have a background in psychology or psychiatry and to understand when comments like “I like this new manic you” are harmful and dismissive.

Not everyone is going to be interested in researching and learning how best to help a team member who is dealing with a mental health disorder. So, don’t assume that they know.

What would have helped me and maybe changed my situation would have been to be more honest and direct about my specific needs upfront. For employers, try to also understand our needs and limits with stress. Ask your employees directly what they need from you in order to make them feel more comfortable. Another way of tackling this would be to ask your employee about some of the coping strategies they are learning in group therapy sessions. If you know your employee is going to group therapy, if you feel comfortable with it, check in with them and encourage them to keep up with those sessions. When assigning unique projects or extra tasks, it’s also helpful to explain what you are asking and offer employees the best ways to achieve it.

 

Ask for and give reasonable accommodations: In my case, I eventually learned that taking time off was not an ‘attack on my identity’ as I had previously felt. I learned to accept it as part of living with bipolar disorder and know when to ask for it. Pushing for myself was empowering and was the best thing that could happen in that given moment.

So, if you’re someone who struggles with bipolar or other depressive mental health disorders, the best thing you can do to help yourself, while building courage and confidence, is to speak up and be your own advocate. Ask for accommodations.

For employers with a team member struggling with a mental disorder, when it comes to giving that team member time to themselves, it should never be a fight or argument. Change the schedule, do what you can to make accommodations, and support someone who needs time away for treatment.

 

Give helpful feedback: In my experience, my previous employer either avoided giving me feedback completely or made dismissive comments like, “I don’t know what the hell happened…”, followed by something positive. Like many others who suffer from bipolar disorder, ineffective and unclear communication can easily lead us to spiral from misinterpreting details and having self-doubt.

I would have benefitted from receiving clear and specific feedback, whether that was immediately after a mistake or as a conversation during team lunch. This small amount of open dialogue could have allowed us as a team to resolve conflicts, improve teamwork, help me build my self-esteem, and improve my performance.

 

Show appreciation and have open dialogues: What is equally important for employers to do is to let us know that you are paying attention to and appreciate our efforts, regardless of how small or large of a task we complete. In a warehouse, things are extremely routine, but it doesn’t take a lot to thank someone for trying.

A few small words and gestures could have been really helpful in breaking me out of a depressive funk or a manic episode and can certainly help someone else in the future.

 

Practice mindfulness: At this moment, let’s check in with our emotions. In Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT Therapy), some of the questions they ask are about checking in with your emotions and your thoughts. Are you in control of your thoughts or are they in control of you? Are we still in touch with our emotions? Perhaps we are cross at ourselves for playing the victim to our mind’s frustrations?

When it comes to mental disorders, employers need to be more understanding of what their employees are going through. However, we as individuals should also be able to look inwards and see what we are feeling. Core mindfulness is a skill to develop no matter what position you work in or what you’re dealing with. Mindfulness teaches awareness of thoughts and feelings, the focus on the here and now.

From my experience, learning to control my thoughts and emotions is an effective way of dealing with my bipolar disorder. While it took time to discover, I learned that my mindfulness practice was running around the warehouse and moving. This allowed thoughts to flow in and out of my mind without having to give them any power over me. Knowing this made me feel stronger and clearer. Finding a mindfulness practice to help you cope takes time and experimenting – so try different things and figure out what works for you.

 

Ask for help: If you’re struggling with a mental disorder at work, there is nothing wrong with asking for help. That help may look differently for everyone, be it talk therapy, telling a co-worker, or taking time off. Either way, sometimes the best way to help yourself is to start asking for help. If you’re someone who has a co-worker struggling with a mental disorder, pay attention and reach out to them if they need help.

While I’m still learning to navigate my bipolar disorder, this experience has taught me (and hopefully others) some helpful lessons. I have learned to manage it better and am continuing to advance in my career path.

My hope is that companies make a more concerted effort to improve their training on mental health disorders in the workplace. I also hope that by sharing my story, I can help others with bipolar disorder to excel at work.

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Opinion Editorials

How to ask your manager for better work equipment

(EDITORIAL) Old computer slowing you down? Does it make a simple job harder? Here’s how to make a case to your manager for new equipment to improve your productivity.

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better equipment, better work

What is an employee to do when the work equipment bites.

Let’s be frank, working on old, crappy computers with inefficient applications can make the easiest tasks a chore. Yet, what do you do? You know you need better equipment to do your job efficiently, but how to ask the boss without looking like a whiner who wants to blow the department budget.

In her “Ask A Manager” column, Alison Green says an employee should ask for better equipment if it is needed. For example, the employee in her column has to attend meetings, but has no laptop and has to take a ton of notes and then transcribe them. Green says, it’s important to make the case for the benefits of having newer or updated equipment.

The key is showing a ROI. If you know a specific computer would be a decent upgrade, give your supervisor the specific model and cost, along with the expected outcomes.

In addition, it may be worth talking to someone from the IT department to see what options might be available – if you’re in a larger company.

IT professionals who commented on Green’s column made a few suggestions. Often because organizations have contracts with specific computer companies or suppliers, talking with IT about what is needed to get the job done and what options are available might make it easier to ask a manager, by saying, “I need a new computer and IT says there are a few options. Here are my three preferences.” A boss is more likely to be receptive and discuss options.

If the budget doesn’t allow for brand new equipment, there might be the option to upgrade the RAM, for example. In a “Workplace” discussion on StackExchange.com an employee explained the boss thinks if you keep a computer clean – no added applications – and maintained it will perform for years. Respondents said, it’s important to make clear the cost-benefit of purchasing updated equipment. Completing a ROI analysis to show how much more efficiently with the work be done may also be useful. Also, explaining to a boss how much might be saved in repair costs could also help an employee get the point across.

Managers may want to take note because, according to results of a Gallup survey, when employees are asked to meet a goal but not given the necessary equipment, credibility is lost.

Gallup says that workgroups that have the most effectively managed materials and equipment tend to have better customer engagement, higher productivity, better safety records and employees that are less likely to jump ship than their peers.

And, no surprise, if a boss presents equipment and says: “Here’s what you get. Deal with it,” employees are less likely to be engaged and pleased than those employees who have a supervisor who provides some improvements and goes to bat to get better equipment when needed.

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Opinion Editorials

Gift keepsakes to family and friends using Google PhotoScan

(OP/ED) Coming up with gift ideas for those that are more difficult to buy for is a stressor. Try Google PhotoScan to gift memories this year!

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Google PhotoScan

Every year when the holidays roll around, I’m posed with the same issue – coming up with a good gift idea for my dad. He’s one of those people who gives great gifts but is very difficult to buy for, so I always feel a gift-giving disparity.

In typical parent fashion, when you ask what he wants he just says “nothing” or “quality time with you.” The latter is great and all, but I can’t say that my presence is always that exciting.

This has forced me to come up with more creative ideas which wind up being more meaningful gifts. So, I guess all is well that ends well.

This year, my plan is to scan boxes and albums of old family photos and put the scans on a thumbdrive so that my dad can save them to his computer. Being that I don’t currently have my printer/scanner in working condition, I had to look into alternatives.

In the past, I had tried Cam Scanner. This was fine for saving images of physical copies of signed documents, but it wasn’t so different from taking a picture of the document with a phone’s camera. There were still shadows and glares.

I decided to try Google’s PhotoScan and, from my first attempt, I knew this would be the winner.

First off, it’s free to use so that’s a wonderful start in my book. And, it’s intuitive and user-friendly.

The way that it works is that you hold the phone over the photo as if you were going to take a regular photo of it. The app turns on a flash so that it illuminates the photo while running the scan. After taking an overall scan, circles pop up in the four corners of the photo. You move the camera to align with the circles as it scans each corner of the image.

With the five different scans, the PhotoScan app pools together one scan that is basically a digital version of the physical photo. Even if you’re in bad lighting or have the photo sitting on a dark table or carpet, it eliminates the glare and shadows and doesn’t factor in the background.

All of this and it automatically saves my photos to not only my iPhone’s camera roll but also to my Google Photos account.

I’m excited to continue working on this project and can’t wait to share it with my dad. My next plan is to use PhotoScan to scan cards and other paper items that take up space!

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