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Dealing With Workplace Challenges

You've been in your job for a few years, and basically you love it, but one particular situation bothers you. And you can't figure out what to do about it.

March 20, 2008
from Accountemps

Whatever the difficulties you're facing, chances are someone else has come up against a similar dilemma, and what worked for that person could very well work for you. Here are some common workplace challenges and ways to address them.

Someone I work with every day consistently fails to follow procedures, which just creates more work for me. How can I convince them it's important to adhere to these procedures?

As in most situations, start first with the easiest option; it might just work. Bring the problem to the attention of your co-worker. They may not have known they were making things more difficult for you. Or maybe their intentions were good, but they didn't really understand the procedures or the reasons behind them. If so, they will probably be grateful for a tip from you. If that approach doesn't work and you are certain that your colleague's behavior is not something you can simply ignore, you'll need to take the matter to your manager. But at least take this initial step; it's always better to approach a supervisor with evidence of what you have already done to attempt to solve a problem.

I've been asked to lead a key project, a brand-new venture for our department, but many members of the group selected have more experience than I do, and I'm concerned they may not take my authority seriously. How do I make sure I succeed in this high-profile assignment?

First of all, congratulate yourself on landing this plum responsibility. Your manager must have confidence in you, so it's time for you to gain confidence in yourself. Although you may lack the experience of some in the group, you can still earn their respect by gaining a firm grasp of the goals of the project and identifying helpful resources to offer participants. Since this project opens up a new area for your group, you'll want to make doubly sure you know the parameters of your assignment — exactly what you're expected to accomplish — and the extent of your empowerment.

Ask for a meeting with your boss. Prepare for it by making a list of points you want to clarify, including critical due dates, the strategic importance of the project and the degree of latitude he or she feels is appropriate for you to take in assigning work to your peers. You'll want to document all of what you learn, so take careful notes during the meeting and afterward send your manager an e-mail outlining the highlights. Having these issues clarified should give you more confidence as a leader.

Next, meet with your new team to explain how important their talents and contributions will be to a successful outcome. As the project progresses, remember that many of the same rules for general management and employee motivation apply for team leaders: open communication, sound guidance and recognition for a job well done.

I made a terrible mistake, and I don't know what to do now.

The good news is that you're aware it was a mistake and want to do something about it. Your first move is to correct the mistake if you can. If not, admit your responsibility and do so promptly, asking for guidance on what should come next. A cover-up is always worse than the original error, as many well-known individuals have learned too late.

Once you've taken responsibility and acted to fix the situation, stop beating yourself up over it. Everyone has made mistakes at work, some probably far worse than yours. If your manager has been around a while, he or she has encountered similar situations in the past.

The last two times a promotion has been available, even though I thought I was qualified for that opening, the position went to someone else in the firm. What do I do to earn consideration for any future opportunities?

It's only natural to want to grow and advance to the next level at your firm. But being a hard worker doesn't automatically make you promotion material. In fact, if you're really good at your job, your boss doesn't want you to leave it! You need to show ability beyond your current job and demonstrate your value for a higher one. Raise your profile — take credit when you score a success. Persuade your manager to give you public acknowledgment, such as in the company newsletter or at a team-wide meeting.

Remember, too, that your superiors might not know you want to move up. Meet with your manager, perhaps at your next performance review, and outline your plans for the future. Spell out your goals. Directly ask for your manager's support for advancing. Ask if anything is standing in the way of your being promoted. Maybe you can improve your chances by taking a course to augment your skills or by getting further accreditation. Or you could volunteer for a more high-profile role, such as chairman of a committee, or become more active in professional associations, such as the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants. And make sure you are staying current on new regulations and developments in the accounting field. Solid industry knowledge contributes to your professional standing.

Don't assume that all the openings will immediately be posted on the company intranet. You can learn about potential accounting and finance openings by casually chatting with people from other departments in the hallway or by the coffee machine. Just ask them how things are going in their area. They might know of someone who is planning to leave, or they might be aware of plans to expand.

Workplace challenges range in severity from trivial — “My neighbor pops her gum and it drives me nuts” — to business-critical — “I think one of my co-workers is diverting clients to his own freelance practice.” How you deal with your problem depends on its scope and severity. If the problem you're facing affects your work or the work of the group as a whole, then you should address it. If the situation affects health and safety, is unethical or illegal, or is a violation of company policy, it may be serious enough to involve your manager or your HR department.

No matter the course you decide on, make your response unemotional and non-confrontational. Above all, maintain your professional attitude. By doing so, you'll gain the respect of your co-workers and your superiors for successfully tackling difficult situations.

Accountemps is one of the world's first and largest temporary staffing service specializing in the placement of accounting, finance and bookkeeping professionals. The company has more than 360 offices in North America, South America, Europe and the Asia-Pacific region and offers online job search services at www.accountemps.com.