"The Story Behind the Story. "
11/17/23 Edition Stephen Says Column

This week I wanted to dedicate this advice column to take you inside the column. How it is written and who each column is written about.  The “Ask Stephen” feature appears on multiple online platforms each week: MMQB, BoF, CFN.net and then redistributed to my own social media followers on LinkedIn, X (formerly Twitter), Instagram and Threads.  The  “Ask Stephen” title is a tribute to advice columns that have been around for years, such as “Dear Abby”, “Ask Amy”, “Carolyn Hax” and “Ask a Manager”.  I am a advice column junkie, and love the format.  Written like mine, or as a podcast.

Since my column is dedicated to workplace issues in the interior furnishings industry, the best part of it for me are the questions from you, the readers. This specialized focus allows me and my readers to stay current on what is happening in the workplace we know and love.  The subject matter changes all the time. Sometimes you are working for a company that was acquired, or maybe you work at a dealer and want to change to a manufacturer.  Maybe your sales and commissions are down and you’re thinking about a career move, or maybe there is a terrible pandemic and you are working from home.  We hear it here first.  Sometimes it is an email, or an Instagram DM, often your questions come through LinkedIn, or maybe you walk up to me after I have delivered a Keynote and you ask a question in person.

Why me?  Who am I to give you advice on the workplace? I am the author of two bestselling books on the workplace and jobs.  “On the Job’ (Three Rivers Press) and “Bulletproof Your Job” (HarperCollins).  The latter book was published in 7 languages and sold worldwide.  I started on TV as one of the workplace experts on ABC’s Good Morning America where the then host Charlie Gibson dubbed me “America’s Workplace Guru”.  That’s my experience that enables me to author a column.

As for me being an expert equipped to dole out workplace advice in the interiors industry;  I started my career in a high-end retail store that sold residential furniture. The 80’s equivalent of DWR. For instance, I know what size sofa will or will not fit in most elevators, how high a dining table is, and yes, the size of a queen size bed because I’ve sold mattresses too.  Then I went to work at a contract dealer and subsequently a manufacturer, Haworth, before training and learning to become an executive recruiter.  At The Viscusi Group, which I founded in 1985, we recruit in all parts of our industry from a CEO to a showroom manager and every kind of sales rep in between.  I have learned about salaries and hiring expectations, because I have heard stories from people that were just fired, or recently hired.  I know what everybody gets paid, because that is my business to know, and I know how and why most companies hire the people they do.  One executive says “In this industry, Stephen Viscusi hears the grass grow”.

Most “traditional” advice columns have a set format -  you just read the question and read the answer.  With this column, you see it on LinkedIn and you can agree to disagree with me in real-time, because you can “reply” to my advice directly, for the world to see. Many of you write to me privately, or call. It’s all good.

Here is what I am hearing from a lot you lately:  “Wow that letter looks like it is from me, because that is my problem, is that about me?”

My answer to you is that it is only about you if you’re the one who wrote the letter to “Ask Stephen.”

So, when you see a question that resembles a workplace problem of your own,  and you think it is about you, step back, take a deep breath, maybe check your ego, and realize that other people may have the same problem. 

Workplace issues are not so unique.  People that work for manufacturers and dealers, retail stores, residential or contract, all have problems.  Problems with their boss, with their job, with their employees.  You wouldn’t believe the stuff I hear. The range of issues goes from “how do I decide if I should quit?” to “I’m nervous because this is the first time I’ve had to fire someone” to “my officemate always has bad breath, what should I do?” to “we work together and now we’ve fallen in love – should we tell our boss before the rumors start?”.

The most amount of questions in the past two years came from people that work for MillerKnoll or MillerKnoll dealers.  Like they say on TV, the questions are literally “torn from the headlines” of whatever is happening in the workplace in our industry.  Recently, I bumped into an industry CEO in an airport lounge at O’Hare and he said, “Viscusi, you make those questions up”.  I just smiled, and thought …. you can’t make this stuff up.

Here is how it works:  People across the country submit similar questions, we combine them into one question that is representative of a topical concern in the workplace.  And although it may not be about you, or your employee, or your company, chances are someone in your orbit is having the problem you read about here in this space.  That is why you think it is you.

The purpose of this advice column is not to embarrass or hurt anyone, or affect someone’s job. It’s to share current relevant information on what is happening in the workplace in our industry through the “question” and “answer” format. I use my expertise, experience, and opinion (I’m sure you have concluded that I’m full of opinions!) to answer you. The names are changed, and the questions are blended  - it’s called creative non-fiction - but the topic and the advice are relevant and current. 

Most of you tell me you agree with my advice, the only questions I ever get when I meet someone, or someone is talking about me, is where those questions come from.  Now you know.  And now you know why you think you know who wrote the questions because guess what, many of you have the same problems - including me! 

Keep asking those workplace questions.  We will protect your identity and share the story in our unique Q&A format to entertain and help you. Whether you are in HR, or in the C Suite, or a salesperson or manager, I will do my best to guide you with options, so you can make the best-informed decision for yourself or your company.

Thank you for making “Ask Stephen” the #1 read workplace column in the furniture space.