8 steps to a happier workplace

It’s the season for giving thanks and people understandably focus on items like family and health when pausing to think about what they’re thankful for.

Are you thankful for your job?

Negativity usually dominates conversations about work. Bad bosses, gossipy coworkers, long hours and low paychecks are examples of typical – and understandable – complaints. But a negative attitude can make an already bad situation seem worse. It might be time to try a different approach and swap the attitude for some gratitude, especially when most of your waking hours are spent at the office.

Check out these eight tips for making your workplace a happier space.

Keep the clutter away: Most people are happier and more productive in clean and organized surroundings. Keep the clutter to a minimum. Decorate an office – within reason – with personal objects that make you feel happy. This could include pictures or plants. If your job keeps you on the go, keep a picture on your phone of something or someone meaningful.

Say hello and smile: To the bus driver, the person in line at the coffee shop, your coworkers and your boss. A simple “hello” starts the day on a brighter note.

Notice the positives: Could you view your long commute as good contemplation time? Will you focus on the rude person you encountered today or the other multiple friendly people you met? Whether a day or an event is positive and negative is often a matter of perception.

Exercise: Most of us work sedentary jobs. Get up and move. Take the stairs instead of the elevator. Go outside and walk around the block. If the weather’s bad, walk around the building. Do stretches throughout the day that get your muscles moving.

Eat better: Just say no to the all-day junk snacking. It’s no secret that sugar highs don’t last long and wear you down in the long run. Stock your workspace with healthier snack alternatives like nuts, raisins, pretzels or popcorn.

Find a mentor and become a mentor: Regardless of your job title or industry, everyone has the opportunity to both find and be a mentor. Seek out someone at your office whose work style you admire and ask for a 30 meeting where you can ask about their professional background. If someone asks the same of you, pay it forward.

Take on new duties: Are you good at your job, but feeling kind of stale? Look for new projects to develop new skills. The new year can be a great time to talk to your boss about professional development opportunities.

Reflect at the end of the day: Before you go to bed, think of three positive things that happened to you today. Even the grayest day has a silver lining. Something as simple as seeing the sun shine, viewing a funny video or enjoying a good book or magazine counts.

Remember that things could be worse:  Admittedly this tip manipulates negativity for a positive outcome, but it can work. If your job wreaks havoc every day, it still could be worse. The alternative is not having a job at all, which is usually a worst case scenario than even the most horrible employment situation. While you should take steps to improve your work situation – which may include finding a new job – remind yourself of others not so fortunate to be employed.

If you’re feeling extra thankful this season, write down why you’re grateful for your job. Tuck that list away for a rainy day this spring to remind yourself of reasons to be thankful for your job every season on the year.




13 interview questions employers can’t legally ask

Visit any organization’s human resources webpage and you’ll find the following clause posted: Persons cannot be discriminated against based on sex, race, color, age, religion, national origin, disability or any other legally protected status. This important sentence mandates that job offers can’t be denied based on criteria covered under equal opportunity laws and regulations.

But it doesn’t always stop employers from asking questions that may cause you to reveal such information. Below are 13 questions that you legally can’t be asked during a job interview.

1. Are you married?

Being single or married has no bearing on your employment status. Furthermore the answer may also reveal your sexual orientation, another topic that is off limits to employer inquiries.

2. What religious holidays do you observe?

Employers might want to know if your lifestyle may interfere with a potential work schedule. But the answer to this question also reveals your religion, which makes it illegal. However, employers can ask if you’re available to work certain days of the week.

3. What year did you graduate from high school?

Answer this question and you might reveal your age. Along these same lines, an employer can’t ask how long you’ve been working (although they can ask about your length of experience in a particular field) or your date of birth.

4. Do you have children?

A person can’t be denied a job opportunity because they have children or plan to start a family. An interviewer can ask if there are any obligations or circumstances that may interfere with certain job requirements like travel or working a flexible schedule. But asking specifically about parenthood is out.

5. What country are you from?

This seems like an innocent question if you have an accent, but remember that the answer reveals your national origin, which is illegal for employers to ask. Interviewers can ask if you’re authorized to work in a certain country.

6. Is English your first language?

An employer can’t ask you whether or not English is your native language. Employers can ask about what languages you read, speak or write fluently.

7. Have you ever been arrested?

An arrest is different than a conviction. Employers can ask about convictions related to job duties but not arrests. Note: A criminal record’s effect on your employment opportunities differs by states and industries. When researching different occupations of interest, be sure to learn whether or not having a criminal record impacts your ability to find work in the profession.

8. What type of discharge did you receive from the military?

Employers can inquire about training, education and work experience you received in the military. But they can’t ask if you were honorably or dishonorably discharged.

9. Do you have any debt?

It’s not uncommon for employers to do a credit check on potential employees. But they need to get your permission first.

10. Do you drink socially?

Asking about drinking habits actually violates the Americans With Disabilities Act of 1990. For example, treatment of alcoholism is protected under this act, and any information concerning a disability doesn’t have to be disclosed before receiving the official job offer.

11. When was the last time you used illegal drugs?

Employers can’t legally ask about past drug addiction, but an employer can ask if you’re currently using illegal substances. It’s also becoming more common for employers to require drug testing.

12. Have you experienced any serious illnesses in the past year?

Employers can’t ask medical questions or request that you have a medical exam before a job offer. You can be asked about your abilities to perform certain duties. Job postings list physical requirements that are part of the job duties, such as heavy lifting or sitting for an extended period of time.

13. Do you belong to any clubs or social organizations?

It’s appropriate for an employer to ask if you belong to any professional organizations. However, asking about social clubs could entice you to reveal otherwise private and protected information.


If you’re asked any of the above or similar inquiries, you can opt to end the interview or politely decline to answer the questions. Doing so may be uncomfortable, but would you rather be uncomfortable for  seconds or minutes in an interview or on a daily basis working for a company that asks illegal questions of its potential employees? Better to find out now.

Keep in mind that sometimes interviewers may accidentally ask illegal or inappropriate questions. You could answer the questions politely without addressing the direct question. For example, if asked if you drink socially, you could reply that your conduct outside the office has no impact on your professionalism during working hours.


7 questions to help figure out if you’re ready to make a career decision

Do you know what you want to be? What career are you going to pursue? Have you decided a career plan? Do you know what you want to be?


The pressure to pick a career is all around you. But maybe you aren’t ready to choose right now. Think about these seven questions.

Do you:

Have no career interests? When someone asks you what careers look interesting to you, you can’t name any. It’s tough to find a career of interest if you’ve already eliminated the majority of options.

Have too many career interests? Every job looks interesting. It’s just as hard to make a decision when almost every job looks interesting.

Rely on others to do the research for you? Who is more curious about your career plans, you or family members? Are others scheduling appointments for you with career counselors? Do they attend the meetings with you and ask most questions and supply most answers? Decisions about careers begin and end with you. You will be the one pursuing the degree and job opportunities.

Want to keep all options open? A long list of career options is a great place to start. But refusing to let go of career ideas, especially the ones that conflict with other factors, makes it tough to decide. For example, the student who wants to be a doctor may need to eliminate this option from the list if she dislikes science courses or doesn’t want to commit to long-term education plans.

Hope to narrow your focus right away? Narrowing your focus is a good idea as long as it’s done for the right reasons. Picking something just to “get the decision over with” isn’t a good strategy.

Need to tend to other matters? If there are personal concerns to tend to, it’s important to address them first. Stresses from external circumstances can affect decision making and hinder your ability to make a solid career decision right now.

Lack work experience? If you haven’t experienced doing assigned duties, meeting goals, working with others and having a supervisor, it can affect your ability to make a career decision. Every job, full or part-time is an introduction to the world of work.

If you answered yes to any of the above, don’t worry. There are steps you can take to begin the process of finding a career path.

1. Start noticing jobs around you. In your neighborhood and in your family; on campus and in books, movies and television. What are your reactions to them? Start a “cool jobs list” by simply writing down jobs that look interesting. Don’t worry about education requirements, skills or salary. Just pay attention to interests.

2. Begin a journal. What are your likes and dislikes? What did you enjoy as a child? What hobbies do you like now? Who do you admire and why? What type of environment do you prefer (indoors, outdoors, quiet, loud, lots of people, no people)? Answers to these questions help you learn about yourself, a critical first step in the career search.

3. Meet with a career counselor. The conversation that takes place may reveal that you aren’t ready yet to make any decisions. And that’s okay!  A career counselor can provide information that gets you thinking about careers that you’ll consult when you are ready. A career counselor can also help identify other resources that might provide more immediate assistance that you need.

Not everyone figures out career plans at the exact same age or year in school. Being a deciding student is okay as long as you’re taking steps to learn about yourself and the world of work so that you’ll know what information to use when you’re ready to decide.