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Learn to deal with frustrations
Published on Thursday, 10 Feb 2011
Illustration: Bay Leung
Book: What's Wrong With Work?
Author: Blaire Palmer
Publisher: John Wiley & Sons

Working in an unruly newsroom under a difficult editor, where hours are long and the pressure is intense, former BBC journalist Blaire Palmer knows what it feels like when work goes wrong.

In her latest book, What's Wrong With Work: The 5 Frustrations of Work and How to Fix Them for Good, the journalist-turned-executive-coach identifies five frustrations that many people wrestle with at work, analyses their causes and characteristics, and advises on how to find fulfilment in the workplace.

Palmer's premise is that the only person who can make you happy is yourself. It is when you remove the masks you wear at work, open your mind to others' ideas and share what you have to offer then you can overcome - to some extent - the five frustrations: waste-of-time meetings, mis-leadership, blurred company vision, the silo mentality (or a lack of teamwork), and a sense of unfairness.

Take that last item. Most of us have had that exasperating feeling of "it's not fair" when the wrong person gets promoted or credited, or when the company doesn't walk the talk of putting people first.

"If you suspect unfairness in your company, the first step is to seek to understand it," Palmer suggests. "[Start] a conversation with the people you feel have acted unfairly, to establish how they came to their decision ... Be honest about how you would have felt if the final decision was yours."

It is important to understand that while the line between right and wrong may be very clear to you - especially if you are looking from the outside and not faced with the competing priorities yourself - that doesn't mean people who draw the line somewhere else are necessarily wrong, Palmer adds.

If, after finding out about the situation, you still want to speak out against a perceived bad or immoral practice, Palmer suggests you balance considerations before making the risky move, such as how important the problem is, the extent to which the behaviour in question is within the rules, and the amount of support you expect from your peers and bosses.

If you are a middle manager confronted with a decision, such as whether to promote a devoted but not-too-talented employee or a high-potential but less hardworking member of staff, you will find the book a handy guide on how to operate within the corporate moral maze and prioritise considerations without compromising your sense of right and wrong.

You will need to set a bottom line as to how much you are willing to trade off, and one test is to ask yourself: "If my behaviour was published in the newspaper for everyone to see, how would I feel?"

Another question to ask is what your mother would think if she knew what you were doing. If she wouldn't understand, you might need to take another look at the issue.

What marks What's Wrong With Work apart from other titles on a similar topic is that it doesn't profess to offer quick fixes. Palmer accurately captures the nuances and complexities of the workplace, and suggests tested methods to navigate the labyrinth. Witty, to the point and free of jargon, the book is an enjoyable read that will benefit professionals belonging to Generations X and Y.


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