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15 posts from July 2008

July 31, 2008

Layoffs -- how low can we go?

   The latest news that Bennigans closed is pretty darn depressing. That means 9,000 more workers without jobs. Through July, companies have announced 18,242 job cuts due to bankruptcy proceedings, 160 percent more than the 7,012 bankruptcy-related job cuts announced in all of 2007, according to outplacement firm, Challenger, Grey & Christmas.  I'll tell you what business is booming right now: suicide counseling.

    And, some workers who thought part-time work sounded glamorous just got a rude awakening. Part time isn't so great when you're forced into it. The New York Times reported that 3.7 million workers have seen their full-time positions reduced to part-time due to the weakening economy.  That is the highest number since the government began tracking over 25 years ago. 

   Chin up, it's time to get creative. It's hard to balance work and life when there's one side of the equation mission. So, how can you re-invent yourself? What opportunities exist today? First, look at Challenger's guidebook for how to find a job in an economic downturn. Click here to view it.

  Next, consider an entrepreneurial venture: All it takes it a good idea (and some funding to pull it off?) Author Stacie Berdan just told me about SpanishPod, an online Spanish service, teaching Spanish by publishing daily lessons by podcast, creating an ever-growing archive of lessons listeners can have access to.  Spanish students can download their lessons to their iPods and listen on-the-go, or listen to the same lessons at the website SpanishPod.com, where they can take advantage of study tools to help review dialogs and vocabulary. Great idea isn't it? Wish you had thought of it? Start brainstorming!


July 30, 2008

Checking e-mail on vacation -- a do or don't?

One of the most difficult work/life balance issues is whether to check e-mail on vacation. Some workers say not checking e-mail is stressful. Others find checking e-mail puts them back into the work frame of mind instead of the vacation frame of mind.

The reality is before e-mail, people relaxed more. As I get ready to leave on vacation, this time I'm going to take my cellphone with e-mail access. But, I've decided to make a rule for myself -- one check in mid-week, just to clear out my box.

The pros of checking in: Many people loathe returning from a nice, relaxing vacation only to be inundated with a million e-mails

Some suggestions: Resist the temptation to check your e-mail during a hike or in a line at Disney Word. Leave your gadget in the hotel when you go out. If you need a phone, ask to use your traveling partner's. If you both need your phones--well, are you sure you're really enjoying this vacation?

Here's a dose of reality from John Martin of PC World: Everyone deserves at least one week off a year from all responsibilities, or at least from as many as possible. But how can you accomplish this if you're continuing to check e-mail? The truth is, you can't. Each message you read, asking your opinion on this or your help on that, requires you to mentally break away from your vacation and focus on something back home.

Will you be checking your e-mail on vacation this year? Does it stress you out not to check your e-mail? Have you set any rules for yourself?

July 28, 2008

Why some mothers aren't working

      The big talk story right now is an article in the New York Times titled Women Are Now Equal as Victims of Poor Economy. The paper reports that women are leaving the work force for the same reasons as men, layoffs, outsourcing and other tough economic changes, not motherhood.

    Apparently, for the first time since the women's movement came to life, an economic recovery has come and gone, and the percentage of women at work has fallen, not risen, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports. In each of the seven previous recoveries since 1960, the recovery ended with a greater percentage of women at work than when it began.

   Congressional economist Heather Boushey says "when women starting to drop out in the early part of this decade, we thought it was the motherhood movement, women staying home to raise their kids. "We did not think it was the economy, but when we looked into it, we realized that it was."

   Research suggests moms, after moving into virtually every occupation, are having a hard time finding new jobs. Economists predict as the nearly seven-year-old recovery gives way to hard times, the retreat is likely to accelerate.

    University of Chicago professor Dan Black says the city of Miami has among the lowest rates of working married women of the top 50 metropolitan areas in the country. He says the key reason is commuting time and costs.

   I'm wondering about the accuracy of the professor's assessment. In an article in the Miami Herald in late 2006, I detailed that the group of mothers taking breaks for work in the greatest numbers are Hispanic mothers of infants. In the Hispanic culture, the value of family is huge and the desire to be a hands-on parent is strong, experts told me.The trend has big implications in Miami-Dade County, where about 60 percent of new mothers are Hispanic.  Combine that with the fact that the economy has been hit hard in Miami and it makes a lot of sense that a larger number of mothers here would be out of the workforce.

   Now, the question should be, is it by choice? Your thoughts?


July 24, 2008

Predicting when women will succeed

If you're a women, here's a way to tell whether you will ascend at your company --- look at the board of directors.

A new report by Catalyst called  Advancing Women Leaders: The Connection Between Women Board Directors and Women Corporate Officers, found that the number of women on a company’s board is directly connected to the future number of women in its senior management ranks.

Catalyst found women on boards influence the increase of women in line positions. This is important because line experience is necessary for advancement into CEO and top leadership positions.  Catalyst’s annual Censuses show that women are historically underrepresented in these roles.

"Simply put, more women on corporate boards correlate with more women in the C-suite and better financial performance – a real win/win for companies, shareholders, and talented women seeking companies that support their advancement,” says Ilene Lang, president of Catalyst.

      I often get complaints that women don't help other women get ahead. I think this report shows that's not the case -- at least not at businesses with boards of directors.

     In the law firm arena, The National Association of Women Lawyers (NAWL) has urged law firms to compensate senior attorneys for mentoring and training junior female attorneys. That's one way to create some incentive!

     What are your thoughts on women helping other women in business? Does it happen at your company?



July 23, 2008

Making money from home

Bonnie_2  Who wouldn't want to make some cash working from home on your own schedule? Clearly direct selling (also known as multi-level marketing) isn't for everyone. But more people are finding it a viable way to earn some income at a time when costs are high. The big benefit: you can work from home on your own schedule, putting in as many hours as you wish. But you must put in work and time to make decent money. And, you must research the company first!

     Bonnie Ross, a stay at home mom for eight years, turned to Silpada silver jewelry to bring her household some extra income. She hosts a couple parties a week, putting in about 15 to 20 hours. She says she gets to meet interesting people and sell a product she loves. Apparently, believing in your product is key to success in direct sales. You also need to be able to pitch your product to family, friends and even strangers and recruit others to sell the product under your network.  Ross says she choose Silpada because  ``silver catches people's attention . . . it jiggles and shines so it's like I'm a walking advertisement.'' Her website is bonnielovessilver@comcast.net. Carmen Rojas, 20, chose to be an independent consultant with Passion Parties as her fulltime job. Her strategy is to market online, word of mouth and with car magnets. Her website is passionpartybycarmen.com. Only two months into it, she's still working to recoup her initial start up costs but sees potential in her line of adult toys, lotions and other items.

      Here are some smart sales strategies from some of the direct sales consultants I interviewed for my article in The Miami Herald: Be aggressive about lining up your initial round of parties, set yourself apart from other consultants through marketing or car magnets, target special events, encourage repeat business, view everyone as a potential customer. My article also gives suggestions for what to ask before getting into the business.

     Family Circle Magazine also published an article on direct sales this month. In all, there are more than 250 companies who do direct sales. Avon and Tupperware may be the best know but the hot businesses today are online shopping portals, earth friendly products, adult toys and satellite phones. To ensure a company is legitimate, make sure it is a member of the Direct Selling Association. Members have agreed to a code of ethics and violations are reported.

    Have you had any experience with direct sales? Do you see it as a the perfect part-time, maybe even full-time job?

July 22, 2008

Want a back-to-school makeover?

   Are you dreading the start of the new school year? Are you vowing to be more organized...stay on top of papers that come home in backpacks...get kids to activities on the right day and time?

   I'm here to help. The Miami Herald's Balancing Act is looking for a working mom or dad who needs some organization/time management help juggling work, kids and school. Send us your background information and why you need help. We will bring in an expert to give you tips and share your story with our readers in the newspaper. Write to me at cgoodman@MiamiHerald.com.  Please make sure to include your contact number.

July 21, 2008

Should Monday be fun?

After a fun weekend with the family, some Mondays are a real shock to the system. So the question is how can you motivate a someone to give work their all?

More companies are contemplating this question -- even in these tough economic times. Apparently, layoffs in many industries have decimated companies and morale. Employers need those of us still employed to perform like superstars.

Syndicated columnist Michelle Singletary writes about a book urging laughter in the workplace. The authors of The Levity Effect: Why It Pays to Lighten Up, provide 142 tips on how to have fun at work. They encourage companies to use humor in their emails and corporate meetings. Says Singletary: "Employees not losing their jobs need something to lighten their spirits."

As parents, we learn that humor helps when raising kids. So I guess it should be obvious that in the workplace, when we're laughing, we're listening -- to our bosses, our co-workers, our customers. Year after year, the Great Place to Work Institute find that companies on Fortune's 100 Best Companies score high when employees are asked: "Is this a fun place to work?"

One Weston company on that Fortune list of Best Places to Work, Ultimate Software of Weston, FL, found a way to put some fun back into the 9 to 5. The company, a provider of human resources and payroll,  has a custom-built basketball court in the atrium. Employee recognition comes in the form of MVP jerseys.

   There's a good argument that keeping people happy, showing them a good time at work, makes them perform. But there are lots of employers who disagree and believe fun is something you have when you are off the clock. What are your thoughts on this? Should work be fun? Should employers focus on making money and leave "fun" for the weekends?

July 16, 2008

What is overtime?

     One of the hottest work/life topics today is this: when does the work day start and stop?

    I took the topic on today in my Miami Herald column and on TV's CBS-4/My33.  Labor lawyer Michael Casey with Epstein Becker & Green in Miami Mike_color says overtime (wage and hour  lawsuits) is a big concern for employers and employees. "A lot of the dispute is over defining hours worked."

     Should you get paid for talking on your cell phone to your boss on the way home? What about for working through lunch? Casey says technology makes it easier to have an actual record of your working hours. It has become a big part of legal cases now in the courts. "When you come into the office and flip on the computer it creates a record of when you started," he says.

    Putting in extra hours to get ahead may be a big problem if you are a worker who is entitled to overtime. These cases are easier to pursue than discrimination or lawsuits. They tend to settle and lawyers are able to recover fees. That infuriates small employers who find they get whacked with legal costs even if they prevail.

   Casey provided me a list of who is entitled to overtime. Click here to read it.

     What are your thoughts on this booming area of litigation? Should employers make it clear that working more than 40 hours is prohibited? If so, how should they enforce it?


July 15, 2008

Do cell phones cause cancer?

      Let's face it, cell phones are critical to work/life balance. My cell allows me to handle work matters from home and family matters from work. But I do worry whether cell phones cause cancer? I also worry about my kids and their cell phone use.  (24 percent of 10 and 11-year-olds carry cell phones.)

    This month's Best Life Magazine has a special report with the results of several studies. The findings should encourage all of us to be more cautious with our cell use:

   * Mobile-phone user are twice as likely to develop malignant, difficult to treat brain tumors called gilomas, says a study of cell-phone users over 10 years published in the journal of Occupational Environmental Medicine

  * There's a link between the nonionizing radiation  caused by a cell phones electromagnetic fields(EMFs) and cancer, DNA damage and other diseases, says a report by a coalition of scientists and public-health experts.

* Cell phones give off radiation any time they're turned on so that they can communicate with base stations. The radiation is stronger and more frequent when you're talking or messaging.

* Researchers suspect a link to male infertility. When cell phones were set down for one hour in talk mode, next to sperm samples in test tubes, the sperm's motility and viability were significantly reduced. And, cell phone use while pregnant is linked to behavioral problems in children.

* Kids may be at more risk because their nervous systems are still developing. The association between childhood leukemia and exposure to EMFs like those from cell phones has led the International Agency for Research on Cancer to classify them as "a possible human carcinogen."

Here's how to reduce your exposure:

* Make calls only when you have strong reception, hang up before your phone heats up and store your phone away from your body when it's not in use.

* Find out the SAR or specific absorption rate for your phone. The SAR refers to the rate of radiation exposure from radio frequency and microwaves measured in watts per kilogram of tissue. The FCC limit on any cell is 1.6 watts per kilogram. To find the SAR value for your phone go to www.fcc.gov/cgb/sar. There's a list of which phones have the highest and lowest SAR value.

* Invest in a hands-free headset and limit the amount of time you spend talking on the phone. Use the speaker mode when possible and hold the phone about eight inches away from you. Also, limit  your use of Bluetooth devices. While it's true that they emit the least amount of radiation( only .0001 watts per kilogram) even that can add up fast.

* Make sure your kids opt for landlines when they're at  home and make sure they have a phone with a low SAR number.

* Since kids hold phones away from their bodies when texting, they're exposed to less radiation than when they have the phones to their ears. Make sure you your child keeps his cell phone turned off and stored in his backpack when it isn't in use.

Here's a scary quote from David Carpenter, director of the Institute for Health and the Environment at the University at Albany: "We are very concerned about teen cell-phone use, fearing that we face an epidemic of brain tumors 10 to 20 years from now, and there are so few are are raising warning flags."

So, what do you think? Will you change your cell phone habits?

July 13, 2008

Work from home and like it

Working from home sounds even more glamorous now that gas prices are sky-high. But weeding through what's out there to find legitimate work at home options can be tricky. I've been impressed by the scope of jobs now available -- everything from customer service agents to virtual assistants to web developers. The pay can vary widely and so can the start up fees. An article in the Wall Street Journal this week details the pros and cons of specific work-at- home employers.

   The Journal article says, "If you have professional skills and experience, and are prepared to slug it out for clients in the global marketplace, a freelance site may be for you. Elance.com and oDesk.com each link clients with about 90,000 skilled freelancers apiece, roughly half of whom are in the U.S.''

   The article also notes companies that outsource call center services pay home agents from $8 to $17 an hour. Some of those include West Corp. (West.com), Live Ops, Arise.com and AlpineAccess.com. If you are more interested in being a personal assistant from your home, you might try TeamDoubleClick.com.  Remember, it also is possible to work for yourself from home -- lots of moms are making big dough with Ebay businesses. From what I have read, stay away from companies that offer to pay you to do surveys from home.

   If you have spent money and time on a work-at-home program and now believe the program may not be legitimate, contact the company and ask for a refund. Let company representatives know that you plan to notify officials about your experience. If you can't resolve the dispute with the company, file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission. The FTC works for the consumer to prevent fraud and deception. Call 1-877-FTC-HELP (1-877-382-4357) or log on to www.ftc.gov.

   If you already found a legitimate work at home option and find yourself lonely, one of my favorite blogs has been the work at home blog.  It suggests you find a support network. The first obvious choice would be to find a forum specific to your niche. If you are a webdesigner then somewhere like DesignersTalk would be perfect. Or, you could find yourself a nice general Work From Home Forum. Even better, check out the MomsMiami forum!

    Does working from home appeal to you? If you already work from home, does it take more discipline that you expected? Has it paid off?