Five things that are about to stop sucking at work

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I used to write about my brother Erik a lot. I wrote about how I retooled his resume to make his dead-end job at Blockbuster into the perfect collection of achievements. Then I let him guest post while he was getting ready to quit the investment banking job he was sick of.

Now he’s at Microsoft and his job is to buy companies. (If you work with him, you know him by his real name, which he won’t let me use.) I don’t write about him much now because everything he says to me begins with, “Don’t blog about this.” (And then I see it on Valleywag an hour later, which is, of course, very frustrating for me.)

But I talk with Erik almost every day. (Sometimes twenty times a day, like when a very large company called about buying Brazen Careerist and then turned out to be as day-after-difficult as a one-night stand without a condom.) Erik sends me great links that are harbingers of the future of work. So here are a few. And, if you don’t think they are as good as tea leaves for the office, at least maybe this gives you insight into what Microsoft’s acquisition team is looking at right now.

1. The tyranny of internships will be exposed and companies will have to pay real wages.
Stuff White People Like has a smart and hilarious summary of why internships are for white kids. But seriously, the fact that internships are practically essential starting blocks for a top-tier career is just ridiculous when you think about how well-connected you have to be to get into all the great summer internship programs.

2. The tyranny of tech support will be exposed and they will actually offer help.
Here is a parody of a call, but it is actually what happened every single time I called tech support while I was working in the Fortune 500. If you have ever called internal tech support from within a large company, this will make you laugh. (If the Onion did a documentary on the tech support call, this is what the Onion would come up with.)

3. The tyranny of the discreet job hunt will be exposed and everyone will job hunt openly.
Accountemps reports that 75% of executives are comfortable with people job hunting while still on the job. And they would do the same themselves. This makes sense to me intuitively, because 25% of any office is people who are dead wood and are not going to look for another job—ever—and therefore don’t want anyone else to. The big news here is that most people are looking all the time. And since job hopping builds strong careers, the people who aren’t are the ones who have a problem.

4. The tyranny of high heels will give way to the pricey, good-for-feet-but-still-sexy, heel.
Academic researchers are finding on many fronts that men like to work with women who dress like women. This means shoulder-length hair or longer, a good amount of makeup but not too trampy, and, yes, high heels. They don’t have to be stiletto, but you need to look like you know how to pull an outfit together. This means that a lot of women are walking to work in flats and switching in the elevator, and kicking their stilettos off under the table during meetings. But that will end, soon, because the Wall Street Journal reports that shoe designers see a gold mine in saving female feet from career-girl frustration.

5. The tyranny of the prudish will be exposed for hurting productivity and coworkers will flirt openly.
Flirting at work has a positive impact on productivity, according to Heidi Reeder, professor of communications at Boise State University. This news doesn’t mean that upping the ante to sex actually ups the productivity level as well. In fact, you might ruin everything, especially if the sex is bad. But feel free to find the flirt in you and use it to get ahead.

41 replies
  1. Tiffany Monhollon
    Tiffany Monhollon says:

    I walk inside the building in flats and keep my heels under the desk for meetings and restroom excursions. :) The funny thing is, I love heels, but I try to avoid wearing them as much as possible because it’s so bad for the back and knees. So bring on the good-for-you sexy shoes. Here’s my checkbook. Thanks.

  2. Charlie
    Charlie says:

    #3 is already happening… it’s called LinkedIn, where there’s a thin line between hunting and making yourself blatantly available to be plucked under the guise of “professional social networking”.

    #1 is actually the fault of most colleges, who provide credit for internships–totally giving companies an excuse not to pay. If all the schools stopped giving credit, then companies would be forced to pay. Otherwise, it would be unpaid slave labor.

  3. Missa
    Missa says:

    Since this entry is tagged for “diversity” and discusses unpaid internships, I would like to give a short plug to Inroads, who I work with regularly. They are a non-profit organization that connects talented minority students to paid internships at top firms around the country.

    At my last company I was lucky enough to manage an Inroads intern and my expectations were exceeded.

    Those curious about corporate diversity programs might be interested in this initiative between and Inroads:

    * * * * * *

    Missa, I like that you are riffing off the tag. Like, the tag reveals what I’d like to talk about in the comments. So interesting. This is a nice little moment of social media philosophizing for me.

    Also, I see that you work at Vault and you inserted Vault so well into this comment. Companies should take note that this is a great way for businesses to build their brand online. Vault should give Missa a raise :)


  4. Mark W.
    Mark W. says:

    We can only hope (from one optimist to another).

    A variation of #2 (tech support exposed) happened when my cousin bought a new 32″ JVC TV over ten years ago. A manual was included with the TV but there was still a question about the setup. The TV included a built-in help feature so we pressed the help button. The message we got on the screen was – no help. We laughed like hell. Maybe it was an option (extra charge)!

  5. David
    David says:

    Funny I watched the video listed in bullet #2 and took it completely differently. Its not mocking tech support. Its mocking the stupid people that call tech support. The support guy was the smartest person in the whole video.

    * * * * * *

    Now that you say that, I see your point. I guess the reason the video is so funny is that it nails both parties very well. The caller has no idea what’s going on with his computer, and the tech support person is great at deflecting the ignorant. Just writing this makes me want to watch the video again though – it makes me laugh.


  6. James E. Robinson, III
    James E. Robinson, III says:

    There is a dual role in #2 that never plays out like it should. First, the person calling only wants their problem fixed. Second, the IT person just wants the caller to go away.

    In an ideal world…1) The caller would also want to learn why the problem occurred, how to prevent it and even how to fix it in the future. So they don’t waste time on the phone with tech-support…and 2) The IT person would want to, and take the time to, educate the caller with same.

    I’ve seen users wanting to learn, but IT not wanting to teach. I’ve also seen IT folks wanting to teach and users not wanting to learn.

    We can hope.

  7. Marilyn
    Marilyn says:

    Who cares what men want women to wear at work! In my world they don’t get a vote.

    * * * * * * *
    If you live in the business world, you don’t really control who gets a vote. You need clients, you need employees, you need people to want to work with you. So you have to do the things that matter to people. Everyone intends to not count womens’ clothes when deciding who they want to work with. But there are hundreds of studies that tell us that as much as we want to discount peoples’ looks, we cannot. We are hard-wired to discriminate based on looks.

    Men have most of the power in the workplace, and men want women to look feminine. It’s not a debate. It’s fact. We can discuss if this is good for the world or not, but I’m not sure what that gets us; if you dress a little girly and get a little power, then you can change the world instead of discussing it.


  8. Dave
    Dave says:

    I can’t believe you don’t have a ton of comments already about this posting. It just seems so wrong in so many ways.
    1) interns – can’t comment – never interned, don’t usually deal with them much.
    2)the tyranny of tech support?? – I too have had to deal with first-line tech supports idiots – “have you tried rebooting?” There are plenty of ways to get past these folks and into the 2nd tier of support, which is where the true help is available. The main job of the first tier is to weed out all the “where is the ANY key?” folks. If you aren’t sharp enough to get past them, then you probably deserve each other.
    3)the discrete job hunt – in these times where there is absolutely zero loyalty from the company to the employees, you advise giving them another reason to put your name lower on the lifeboat list? Sure, I understand your argument that a capable person will be able to land on their feet, but I’ve also had mangers talk about their “meat and potato guy” (“John isn’t a flashy superstar, but he’s solid and reliable. I can count on him to do what I assign to him without any ego problems – he’s my meat and potato guy”) Not everyone is a superstar – some folks will just come to work and do their job without spending a significant amount of time worrying about how they’re dressed (#4) or spending all their time hitting on their coworkers (#5) The superstars are always jumping ship to go to the next hot opportunity, but if you’re one of the meat & potato folks, the way to get ahead os to do good work and don’t give the “man” reason to focus on you, in other words, be discrete!
    4) high heels & #5) flirting – call me a prude, call me old-fashioned – but frankly, I don’t give a damn about what you are wearing or any of a million other things – all I want is to work with someone who is a) at a minimum, competant; b) dresses/showers/shaves/whatever well enough that I am not repulsed; and c) has enough of a personality that I don’t have to suppress the impulse to slap you. You don’t have to be a genius/superstar, you don’t have to dress like a fashion model, and you don’t have to be my friend/best buddy – you just have to be somebody that I can work with to get the job done. Anything beyond the minimum is a bonus, of course. Anything that disrupts the workplace, which flirting has a great potential to do should it go wrong, should be approached very carefully. Please note that I did not say I was against flirting – just that it has to be done with caution. The link you provided made the same cautionary comments.

    P – sometimes I agree with your comments, sometimes I disagree, but in this case, I think you dropped a big stinker!

  9. Kevin Hassett
    Kevin Hassett says:

    Good post Penelope. I can speak from experience in regards to #1 having gone the intern route in college, only to take two ultra-low paying internships after graduation before finally breaking into my career “full-time” (for not great pay). I knew what I was getting into though so I cannot complain about my own circumstance.

    I hate to sound pessimistic, and yet if the organizations in this industry (maybe others too?) were forced to pay full wages instead of free/low-paying intern wages, they would likely assume not hire the people in the first place and dump the workload on their already overworked full-time staff.

    Just seems to be the way they are. Hopefully I’m wrong.

    Good list though, I’m glad to see that change is in the air!

  10. Dale
    Dale says:

    “The tyranny of the discreet job hunt will be exposed and everyone will job hunt openly.”

    This will only happen when the incumbents in supervisory positions (and their mindsets) leave, and a newer generation of enlightened “bosses” come to the fore. For now, searching for a job while still in one is considered disloyalty by many companymen and women.
    Change takes time, especially when there are so many variables at play like boomers not retiring, people of different cultures (where loyalty to job is admired) assuming managerial positions here, etc.

  11. Dale
    Dale says:


    “5. The tyranny of the prudish will be exposed for hurting productivity and coworkers will flirt openly.”

    This phenom/rule was flawed and overlooked from the beginning of time. Today, I work with 4 couples who met and married on the job. Also, I can’t count the number of open dating relationships, and covert hookups that take place around me.
    Heck, my wife and I met at my previous place of employ years ago.
    Yes, #5 never was enforceable:)

  12. Jennifer Lynn
    Jennifer Lynn says:

    Love the post. It's interesting that most of the points on the list reflect the fact that globalization of the market has shifted power away from a few gate-keepers and toward the masses. The interests of the corporation are beginning to take second place to the interests of the individual (employee or client or whatever).

    @Missa- My company works in poor NYC neighborhoods to help bridge the opportunity gap. One opportunity that's sorely lacking is access to internships. I'm emailing the local Inroads regional director to see about a partnership between them and our Bridge to College and Teen programs. Thanks for the lead!

  13. Brian Johnson
    Brian Johnson says:

    Some interesting points here. One thing you didn’t list was the abundance of web 2.0 in the workplace.

    It is going to be more acceptable in the future to be involved with web 2.0 stuff in the business/professional realm. Another poster mentioned LinkedIn and how you can be on LinkedIn looking for a job while still working for your current employer.

    Web 2.0 is heavily entrenched in the tech world and will start to move over to the business world.


  14. Another Gal
    Another Gal says:

    Interesting also that you didn’t call out some of the changes in work place environment, like realizing that the entire office doesn’t have to keep the rote 9-5 hours to be successful or productive. Yes, some overlap is necessary, but if your day care or workout schedule means you’ll be more effective, why should I as a manager care whether you arrive at 9 or 10?

  15. leslie
    leslie says:

    Thanks for the link to “this website is down”. I have had real life conversations like that. “How many times did you reboot?” is a classic line that they must teach in internet technology 101 classes.

  16. Rob
    Rob says:

    “Who cares what men want women to wear at work!”

    Seconded. Absurd that this is even a factor in people’s lives.

  17. Marsha Keeffer
    Marsha Keeffer says:

    Hi Brazenites:

    Meaty post, Penelope – lots to think over.

    Internships? Whether lawyer, physician or CPA, the professions exact an emotional, intellectual, physical toll. There’s a high price to be paid and internships (read: free labor) are a tradition that I hope changes.

    Tech support? It’s laughable – and should be service. I hope MSFT’s robot receptionist isn’t the wave of the future. I’d like more customer service, not less. Emphasis on the word service.

    I’m in Silicon Valley – everyone communicates all the time about their company, projects, the Internet. So yes – it’s probably a precursor to the transparent job search. I think the process is becoming less stilted, more natural. Probably not much less stressful, though.

    Spikes are actually what one shoe salesman told me – cafe shoes to be worn from the car to the restaurant and that’s it. Kitten heels and flats in great designs/materials will be a hit.

    It’s about time we got real about consensual sex and flirting, which are different from harassment. Let’s face it, after college, work is where we meet many friends – and our spouses, too.

  18. Tim Fisher
    Tim Fisher says:

    Speaking to #2: I work in IT support and I thought that video was absolutely hilarious… so true in so many ways on both sides!

    In my experience, it boils down to communication. Clients with competent communication skills don’t have a big problem working with IT support. The clients that always seem to have a bad experience calling the IT folks are the same business people that can’t get their point across in their own meetings.

    IT people are the same. The problem there is, *most* IT people don’t have great communication skills. Not *some*, MOST. It’s the kind of job that those with poor communication and people skills enter in to. They’re the “I wish I could work in a basement room somewhere by myself” people. Thus the problem.

    If it’s not obvious yet, I think the real solution to this problem is improving communication skills by all parties.

    That video actually drove me to write up a tips on calling tech support piece that I think many could find value in:

  19. CreidS
    CreidS says:

    "Who cares what men want women to wear at work!"

    It isn’t about men (or women), its about you.

    Always always always dress your best — this doesn’t necessarily mean heels. But we can all hone our professional appearance. It indicates physical and emotional well-being, intelligence, and (impending) success.

    Human nature favors good looks, especially for leadership and promotion. Ever wonder why every football quarterback is also the best looking guy on the team?

  20. dustin
    dustin says:

    Microsoft made me laugh with their recommendations to update Vista.

    WORKAROUND for updatating vista if your computer has more than 2GB of RAM.

    To work around this problem, use either of the following methods:
    – €¢ Restart the computer. Then, try to install again.
    – €¢ Remove 2 GB of RAM, and then restart the installation process. After Windows Vista is installed, reinstall the RAM.

    For more details:

  21. doe
    doe says:

    Its not the tech support. It’s because most of the time we are dealing with microsoft technologies.

  22. One Smart Broad
    One Smart Broad says:

    Flirting might be good for productivity, but maybe not so good for getting what you want. According to the July 16 BusinessWeek, “A study to be presented at the Academy of Management's annual meeting in August finds flirting has a detrimental effect on negotiations.”

    Flirt with caution!

  23. Steve
    Steve says:

    My unpaid internship got me interviews and eventually a job. Until average salaries start increasing they are going to be tremendously useful. They will perhaps only go out of fashion once the baby boomers start retiring. I think it is a good thing that schools give credit for them however.

  24. klein3351f
    klein3351f says:

    I never even heard of an internship, really, until working in offices as a temp, and I’m white and middle-class. I wish I’d had a class in high-school about how to find intern work in any field, and how to save up the money to make it affordable.

    Also, as for the tech-support call. I hope you’re on the side of the tech guy. That was great. It shows how stupid the vast majority of people who work in Fortune 500 companies really are. Most can’t work a fax machine, let alone ask the right question of the ‘help desk’.

  25. Diane
    Diane says:

    Some things I’d like to see change…

    1. The tyranny of dry-clean-only will end. There will be an abundance of comfortable, stylish clothes that can be washed. This is something I really look for in clothing – dry-cleaning fluid makes me feel ill, it’s expensive to get things dry-cleaned, and it can’t be good for the environment.

    2. The tyranny of high heels will end. Those women who like high heels will have a good selection of well-designed shoes, as Penelope says; those who do not like high heels, or who cannot wear them (e.g., a friend of mine had major knee reconstruction at the age of 33 and has to wear flats – doctor’s orders), will have a good selection of flats to choose from. And they won’t be “granny shoes,” they’ll be suitable for younger women.

    3. The tyranny of the “tech support battle lines” will end. Tech support will realize that they need to provide support, and users will realize that they need to take a few seconds to think about what they’re doing, and perhaps check the “help” file. Hostility levels will decrease, less help will be needed for minor things, and more will be available for major issues.

    4. The tyranny of loud cell phone ring tones will end. Everyone will turn down their ringer to the quietest sound that they can hear, and those of us who need to concentrate on what we’re doing will no longer jump three feet in the air when we’re suddenly startled by a ringtone with a decibel level that could be heard in the next state. People on the phone will also learn to use what parents call “inside voices” instead of screaming into the phone.

    5. This one I’ll phrase differently. People will stop telling each other that they’re crazy for working at a certain company or in a certain industry, or quitting work, or starting a company, or going back to school, or dropping out of school. Instead, they’ll say something like, “That’s really interesting. What led you in that direction?” and accept that everyone’s got to find their own path, and that my path may not be the same as yours. The life that I love may be sheer Hell for you, and vice versa. And that’s just fine. If we all wanted to live in the same place, do the same things, work in the same jobs, the world would be extremely boring – and it wouldn’t work out too well.

  26. Steve
    Steve says:

    I went back and had a look at that Stuff White People Like site. It tries to make fun of anything that is the normal practice of smart, ambitious people who are concerned about their careers and health. Sure the practice of unpaid internships may be unfair, but they are not likely to go out of style at all. You asserted that the “tyranny of internships will be exposed” but didn’t point to any trends that indicate that this is happening.

  27. LizD
    LizD says:

    #2 made me laugh, but I couldn’t bring myself to watch the whole video. I’ve had tech support people tell me that what I see on the website doesn’t exist. Then I create a PDF of what I see on the website, email it to them, and they claim the PDF says something different too. Both those bozos were frustrating.

    It made me think about an experience I had calling internal tech support at Harvard Med School. I had just gotten hired to work in a research lab, and had only worked on PCs (DOS and Windows) before. This lab had Macs. I knew there was a specific program on the Mac that I needed to use. I knew the name of the program. But I couldn’t figure out how to start it or how to find it. It didn’t appear to be on the desktop, and I didn’t see any “start” button. None of the windows keyboard shortcuts seemed to do anything. No one else in the lab was around, so I called tech support. They told me that they didn’t support the program I wanted to start, so they couldn’t help me. I said I didn’t need help with that program, I just wanted to know how to start any program that you didn’t see on the desktop on a Mac. They said they didn’t support that program. I asked what programs they supported. They weren’t allowed to tell me. It went on like this for a while. I finally just had to wait for someone else who worked in the lab to come back and tell me how to access a program not on the desktop. This was 10 years ago and I’m still mad. I just felt so powerless!

  28. Adam
    Adam says:

    I think you missed this one Penelope

    “The tyranny of tech support will be exposed and they will actually offer help.”

    I’ve been on both sides of the tech support equation (I’m one of the techies who tells you what happened, why, how to solve it next time, and/or if you even need to know those things)

    The problem isn’t completely tech support, nor is it completely the user’s fault. I’ll even say both of those groups together don’t even come close to half the blame. They’re only the visible targets. (users and techies)

    “Users will demand programs that are, in fact, usable.”

    Most program’s user interfaces suck. They aren’t usable. They don’t work for humans in general. Users in general won’t ever “get it”. Until software companies (other than Apple) “get it” we all have to make do with stuff that promises productivity but only adds lots of aggravation to the minor productivity boosts.

    I think I’ll put my soap box away before I really get into it ;)

  29. PCD
    PCD says:

    “Now he's at Microsoft and his job is to buy companies.”

    Is that another resume ‘stretch’?

  30. Cathy Goodwin
    Cathy Goodwin says:

    Not-so-high heels? I read that WSJ article too. The only really comfortable shoes cost as much as Manolo Blahniks. Even mid-heeled shoes will squash your toes, especially if your feet are shaped like little rectangles. Mine are.

    So men like women who like feminine? Thirty years ago men didn’t want women in the workplace at all.

    Everybody used to like smoking, too. Isn’t it a little medieval to say we must tolerate foot pain, stress, tendinitis and other conditions to gain acceptance in the workplace?

  31. summer
    summer says:

    I seriously have a problem with #4. I don’t feel that women should have to play into gender stereotyping (dressing like “women”) to be accepted in the workplace. This statement is clearly supporting a very sexist view of the world in which many women have fought long and hard to discredit. I’m a little disappointed that you would suggest that women should dress in a way that men would prefer. Who cares how men would like women to dress? And what exactly does “women who dress like women” mean anyway? If you look at the most successful business woman I know personally, that would mean wearing pant suits and loafers, and not one stitch of make up. According to your statement, that would be bad for her career since it’s not what a typical man would consider feminine. Once again, I doubt any strong, smart women are walking around wondering how they should dress at work to appeal to the men in the office.

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