Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Ask Annie: How to cope with toxic colleagues - if you must

How to cope with toxic colleagues - if you must

February 29, 2012. 9:31 AM ET

Constant conflict and hostility is not only unpleasant, it can damage your health. There are ways to stay sane and protect yourself.

By Anne Fisher, contributor
Dear Annie: Ever since my team merged with a different one, about a year ago, my job has become a nightmare. My new coworkers are hostile, controlling, and go out of their way to belittle and intimidate others. They also undermine the work my group is trying to do, partly by denying us access to the support staff we are all supposed to be sharing. It has gotten so bad that a couple of key members of our department have requested, and gotten, transfers out -- which further damages our ability to do our jobs here, since we have to train replacements.
My boss is aware of the situation, but he's a non-confrontational kind of guy who doesn't want to rock the boat. (The merger of our two groups was his idea.) Our human resources people have often said that anyone should feel free to come to them with problems, without fear of retaliation, but I wonder if I can trust them. If I complain to HR and my hostile colleagues react by getting me fired, do I have grounds for a lawsuit? — Fed Up
Dear Fed Up: Yikes. Unfortunately for you, anti-retaliation laws do not cover sheer nastiness -- unless it arises from discrimination on the basis of race, ethnicity, sex, age, or religion, or if you are a whistleblower who has reported unlawful behavior (insider trading, for example) to government regulators.
"Each state has its own retaliation statutes, but in the vast majority of places, in order for you to have grounds for legal action, the hostility has to be connected to one of these public-policy issues," says Daniel J. Kaiser, a partner in New York City employment law firm Kaiser Saurborn & Mair. If you're simply being treated badly -- or if, as you fear, you get fired -- because your coworkers are mean and obnoxious, you won't have a leg to stand on.

MORE: What's hiding behind the buzzwords in job ads?

"So you have two choices here," says Linnda Durre, a consultant who specializes in resolving the kinds of conflicts you are describing. "Either you can go over your boss's head to his boss, and at the same time take the human resources people at their word and lodge a formal complaint with them. Let them investigate and try to fix the problems. Or you can leave."
Sadly, according to Durre, who wrote an insightful book called Surviving the Toxic Workplace: Protect Yourself Against the Co-Workers, Bosses, and Work Environments That Poison Your Day, dilemmas like yours are not at all uncommon. "Change is one of the few constants in business," she says. "Sometimes the Evil Empire takes over." Your boss's boss, alas, may be no help, she adds: "In some organizations, the evil goes all the way to the top, and trickles all the way down to the mailroom."
If you decide to bring the HR people into it, two suggestions: Take someone with you, or ideally more than one person, who can corroborate what you're saying. "To some extent, there is safety in numbers," notes Durre. You're less likely to be dismissed as a whiner (or retaliated against) if others back up your version of events.
And second, document everything. "You need evidence for your claim that your colleagues' hostility is affecting productivity. Bring emails, memos, anything you can point to that supports what you're saying," she advises. "It's in the company's best interest to resolve conflict whenever possible because, in the long run, low morale, a hostile work environment, and high turnover are very costly."
Let's suppose you do all the right things, and nothing changes. "You can still take control over your own life," says Durre. Stacks of research over the past 30 years have proven beyond doubt that chronic stress will eventually make you sick, and poison your life and relationships outside of work, unless you work extra hard at taking care of yourself.

MORE: Will your company back your new business idea?

Durre's book includes a checklist of stress-busting measures that can help: Get enough sleep, exercise, eat a healthy diet, drink water, take vitamins, spend as much time as you can with friends and family members who love you, and carve out space in your schedule for activities you enjoy and that will help you relax.
You can also try to get some psychological distance from your horrible office by "realizing your own issues, and analyzing your own buttons that are getting pushed at work," Durre says. The more you can train yourself to step back, take a deep breath, and not let your antagonists get to you, the better off you'll be.
Ignoring the vicious politics and concentrating instead on excelling at your job is an essential strategy here, too -- especially if, as you suspect, your colleagues will be gunning for you, once you've complained about them to higher-ups. "Be very, very good at what you do," Durre advises. "Don't give anyone an excuse to fire you."
Ultimately, though, the real question may be why you have sat still for your coworkers' abusive behavior for so long. After all, as you note, others in your group have left rather than tolerate it. "Healthy people don't put up with this," Durre says. "They get away from toxic environments any way they can. They start their own companies, either by themselves or with friends, or they find a better place to work."
Your best bet may be to do likewise. Even in this iffy job market, get out there and start looking. If nothing else, taking action toward finding something better will make you feel less powerless.
Talkback: Have you ever found yourself in a toxic workplace? What did you do about it? Leave a comment below.

How to cope with toxic colleagues - if you must

Filed under: Ask AnnieContributors

About This Author
Anne Fisher
Anne Fisher
Anne Fisher has been writing "Ask Annie," a column on careers, for Fortune since 1996, helping readers navigate booms, recessions, changing industries, and changing ideas about what's appropriate in the workplace (and beyond). Anne is the author of two books, Wall Street Women (Knopf, 1990) and If My Career's on the Fast Track, Where Do I Get a Road Map? (William Morrow, 2001). She also writes the "Executive Inbox" column on New York City entrepreneurs for Crain's New York Business.
Email Anne

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Tiny Houses, Backyard Cottages, and Other Micro Dwellings, via Flavorwire

Tiny Houses, Backyard Cottages, and Other Micro Dwellings

In the quest for simplicity and eco-friendly living, a tiny house movement has taken over. People are shrinking their living quarters to decrease their carbon footprint, get rid of the clutter, and live smaller and smarter. In other cases, micro houses provide the perfect intimate setting for a no-frills getaway. After spotting a few miniature dwellings during our Internet travels, we compiled a list of unique, itsy-bitsy backyard cottages, adorably dwarfed abodes, and other tiny homesteads. Click through our gallery to take a peek.

Photo credit: Sergio Gomez
Architect Manuel Villa designed a backyard habitable polyhedron in Bogota, Colombia.ArchDaily described the project as:
” … Inspired in the shape’s perception processes the children develop in their first years of life. The basic shapes of things and their differences are key elements in the development of knowledge, and specifically in acquiring reading skills and geometric basic concepts.”
It was intended for a family to share playtime, reading, and other activities — and later for the child to use for their own hobbies and interests.

Image credit: Cathy Scalise
A backyard cottage suitable for Snow White, Marie Antoinette, or Barbie. Cathy Scalise’s oasis of opulence and whimsy appeals to hopeless romantics.

Image credit: Sage Radachowsky
A Boston boy wanted to build a modern day version of a gypsy wagon. He pays under $400 bucks a month for his rent and utilities, and lives within the city limits (that includes a sun room, workshop, garden, and other goodies Sage built himself). Feel jealous, New Yorkers. Skip to 1:18 in the video below to check out an interview.

Image credit: New Avenue, Inc. [via tinyhouseblog]
What do you get when you combine a team of students researching sustainable housing, a Berkeley homeowner with a tiny abode who needs more space, and an interested builder? A net zero energy, 430 square foot, backyard cottage.

Image credit: The Principia
The Mistake House is an experimental structure at Principia College, built by Arts and Crafts architect Bernard Maybeck. It was intended as a “sample house” for Maybeck to work out his designs for several other buildings on campus. It features a variety of construction techniques including half timbering mixed with brick, concrete, and stone. Maybeck modeled the roof after the thatches seen in English villages.

Spotted via BoingBoing
Someone built their very own Deadwood in the heart of Topeka, Kansas. The “Cowboy Town” is currently selling for $20,000 on Craigslist and features several movable structures like The Bank (currently being used as a garden tool shed), The Barn (a multi-level structure featuring a hay loft and Dutch doors), and The Saloon (with an upstairs balcony).

Spotted via
Containing a kitchen, bathroom, loft, office nook, and dining table with room for two chairs, this experimental, freestanding student house (a whopping 94 square feet total) was built to make a statement about Sweden’s lack of affordable student housing. It is being lived in.

Image credit: PAD
Portland Alternative Dwellings (PAD) is a tiny house construction company in Portland, dedicated to creating itty-bitty, eco-friendly dwellings. This backyard home has wheels!

Spotted via worldgreen
This three-story, micro house in Tokyo was built on a miniature lot next to a busy street in the Japanese city. The space was meant for just one car. Since housing is so expensive in the metropolis, compact homes like this 90 square foot abode are becoming more popular. To save space, the architects created custom built-in furniture, miniature appliances and fixtures, and used glass interior doors to create a roomier feeling.

Photo credit: Erik Sundström [Spotted via tinyhouseblog]
You might find hobbits in this au naturel home in Ottsjö county of Jämtland, Sweden. It blends perfectly into the lush landscape. All construction materials are organic, except the glass windows.
Also, check out Wooden Wonders’ Hobbit Holes for more mini huts.
A micro vacation cabin made for $200.

Image credit: James Marshall
One of the most famous tiny houses, Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello estate boasts an understated honeymoon cottage where he and his wife Martha lived during the construction of their main home. Other well-known, habitable small fries include Henry David Thoreau’s cabin near Walden Pond (a replica was built where it stood) and George Bernard Shaw’s writing hut.

Flavorwire » Tiny Houses, Backyard Cottages, and Other Micro Dwellings

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John Aynsley recognized for contribution to SystemC, via EETimes blog

John Aynsley recognized for contribution to SystemC:
Couldn't happen to a nicer (and more helpful) guy!

John Aynsley recognized for contribution to SystemC

Brian Bailey

2/24/2012 2:24 PM EST

If you have ever sat on a standards committee, you know that it takes a very special type of person to be able to do this week after week, year after year and to see something driven to completion. Most of the time it is a thankless task and employees are seldom really given the time allowance to do it properly. It thus spreads into their personal time. It is even more difficult when you are in Europe as it often means staying at work late in order to satisfy the Pacific coast people who don’t like getting up early and dealing with traffic.

Today, I am pleased to hear that the Accellera Systems Initiative™ has announced that John Aynsley, a member of the IEEE 1666 SystemC™ Language Standard Working Group, is the first recipient of the Accellera Systems Initiative Technical Excellence Award. The Award will be presented at the Design & Verification Conference (DVCon) on Accellera Systems Initiative Day, February 27, 2012 at the DoubleTree Hotel in San Jose, California. The Award recognizes the outstanding achievements John has made to the organization’s SystemC standardization efforts.

“SystemC is an established high-level modeling language,” remarked Shishpal Rawat, Accellera Systems Initiative chair. “John’s contributions to the SystemC language span the full range of the language and have significantly improved the quality of what is now known as IEEE 1666-2011. Because of his longstanding dedication, John has become known as Mr. SystemC and is seen as a great asset to our community.”

“It is a great honor to be recognized by industry peers who participated with me in the OSCI, IEEE and Accellera Systems Initiative standards organizations,” said John Aynsley, CTO, Doulos. “I plan to continue contributing and collaborating on further development of the SystemC standard and its related modeling standards.”

Most recently, John served as technical lead and author of the IEEE Standard 1666-2011 SystemC Language Reference Manual and implemented the 1666-compliance regression test suite for the Accellera Systems Initiative proof-of-concept SystemC simulator. He also co-authored the IEEE Standard 1666-2005 SystemC Language Reference Manual and authored the Open SystemC Initiative™ (OSCI™) Transaction-Level Modeling (TLM) 2.0 Language Reference Manual.

John Aynsley graduated from Durham University, England, with a degree in Mathematics. He has spent his entire career working in EDA, specializing in hardware description and verification languages. In 1991, John became the co-founder and CTO of Doulos, where he has delivered over 1,000 days of customer training over a 20-year period.

Congratulations John!

Brian Bailey – keeping you covered

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