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13 posts from September 2008

September 29, 2008

Surviving a layoff

    The inevitable has finally happened. Your employer had to cut costs, and you were one of the people they cut.  But there is still a little part deep inside you that wonders if it was your fault. Career coach Deborah Brown-Volkman has come through once again with some great advice that I must share with you. She says it's crucial to recognize that losing your job was not your fault.

      Now, what to do with all that free time? Figure out what's important to you. What makes you happy? What gets you excited? These are questions that you can answer because you have been given the gift of time to do so, Brown-Volkman says.

     Maybe you are freaked out with so much time on your hands. I would be, especially if money is a concern. But the coach says to recognize time off is a blessing. (That may be hard to believe when you need a paycheck!) She says, "Things in life happen for a reason. There was some purpose for you to stop and reassess how you have been living your life at this point.  Why do you think this happened now?  Were you working too hard?  Were you neglecting yourself?  Was your family screaming for you to spend more time with them?  Use the time wisely because an opportunity like this one may never come again.

    Now, decide what you will do next. Will you stay in the same career?  Will you do something different?  Will you start your own business?  Or, will you decide to scale down your lifestyle so you can stretch out the time before you go back to work?  There is no right or wrong choice, only what calls to you.  Check out some ideas on the Shifting Careers blog. 

    Here's the part where most of us mess up: Put An Action Plan In Place. Now that you have free time, how will you make it as productive as it can be?  How many resumes will you send out each week?  How many hours each day will you spend searching for jobs online and in the paper?  How may people will you talk to, and how e-mail's will you send out?  Your job search does not have to consume you, but having a daily plan, will keep you from sitting in front of the TV saying "I really should be looking for another job."

     Enlist the help of a friend, spouse, coach, colleague, etc.  Someone who will listen and support you through this transitional period in your life. LinkedIn.com has online career coaches you might turn to for help.

     I'm very into the Brown-Volkman's next tip. Reward Yourself. Yes, the final reward is finding a new job, but there are milestones that can be rewarded along the way.  Sent your resume to five employers?  Reward.  Went on one job interview this week?  Reward. Finished this blog post? Reward.

     A sudden job loss can be very unsettling. Do you have any strategies you want to share for coping and regrouping?


September 26, 2008

No privacy with email


       Suppose I'm at work and log on to my AOL account. Is the personal email I shoot off to my friend a private message or can my employer read it? Going forward, privacy will be a HUGE issue for American workers as we try to use electronic devices to help ease our work/life balancing act.

   Citrix Systems in Fort Lauderdale just launched Bring Your Own Computer program to save money on technology expenses. Full-time employees who enroll in the voluntary three-year program get cash to buy a laptop and maintenance plan. Employee Carolyn Van Vurst told the SunSentinel she loved the idea of having a single laptop for personal and business, having her life on one device instead of separated.

     And then there's the zillions of people who work the e-shift -- people like Joe Soto, general manager of an ad firm  who told Associated Press he felt awful after two days without his BlackBerry. He says he regularly checks work email on weekends and finds it hard to disconnect from work.

     But is the blending of work and our personal lives on our electronic devices lulling us into a false sense of security about our privacy?

       Let's look at the embarrassing saga of former Miami Herald reporter Tania deLuzuriaga who found herself embroiled in a scandal over the past few weeks. Emails began circulating that appear to show incoming Miami-Dade schools chief Alberto Carvalho had an intimate relationship with her while she covered the school district. The e-mails were sent back and forth from their work computers. Carvalho has asked for an investigation to determine how the e-mails were leaked. But I say, does it really matter?

      Most of us send personal e-mails from our work computers. I do. It's how I maintain my work/life balance. I really don't think about my employer reading my e-mails each time I hit send. Maybe I should. Would I be embarrassed if my employer read them? Maybe. Probably not.

     Would you be embarrassed if your employer read any of the personal e-mails you sent from your laptop or BlackBerry? Do you think electronic devices are making it too easy for our employers to spy on us?


September 25, 2008

Protecting pregnant employees leads to trouble

    Should it be an employer's decision whether a job is too dangerous for a pregnant employee?

    The National Law Journal writes that employers are landing in hot water for keeping pregnant employees out of hazardous areas. Most recently, employers in Texas and California settled lawsuits that claimed they wrongfully prohibited pregnant employees from working in certain areas. In both cases, employers claimed they were just trying to do the right thing; the employees claimed discrimination.

    One case involved a California nurse who was barred from working in a hospital lab because of possible radiation exposure. The other involved a Texas veterinarian technician who was reassigned to a different job at an animal clinic to avoid exposure to toxic chemicals

    Management-side attorneys say their well-intentioned clients are in a tough spot: Protect a pregnant worker and risk a discrimination lawsuit, or let her work in a hazardous area and risk a tort claim should a child be born with a defect.

    "It's the woman's job and the woman's pregnancy and the woman's decision of what choices she's going to make," said attorney Elizabeth Grossman, who works in the New York office of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, and handles pregnancy discrimination suits.

    David Long-Daniels of Greenberg Traurig advises employers to thoroughly discuss with pregnant employees the risks of working certain jobs. If the risks are high, he advises offering another job. For the worker who insists on keeping a certain job, he advises offering them leave with pay.

   "It will at least limit the damages," Long-Daniels said, stressing that, in the end, "I think you side on protecting the fetus. You have to be very careful about it."

< I feel like most mothers want to protect their unborn child and should be able to decide for themselves if a job presents risks.  Who do you think should make the call -- the pregnant employee or her boss? Do you think employers lose either way?

September 23, 2008

When a loved one is sick

     No matter how much you think you have life under control, it all changes when a loved one is sick. Last week, as I was filing on deadline, my daughter's stomach pains became so excruciating that we rushed to the hospital. We have been here ever since.

    Despite fantasies of working from the hospital, after eight days, I am exhausted and find I need to put my work life aside and concentrate on consulting with doctors to get my daughter better. I think about the dozens of parents I have interviewed when working on articles about the Family Medical Leave Act. These parents were so grateful for the federal law that guaranteed their jobs when they took up to three months off to care for sick children.

    Today, I've set up a work station in my daughter's hospital room. I'm thankful to be able to check email and blog, something to distract me from seeing my daughter suffer. I happened upon a New York Times blog post that sympathizes with parents of chronically ill children who bear the burden of trying to keep their children alive and healthy, while attempting to balance the demands of work and home. Many of these parents have to keep the balancing act going. No work, no medical insurance. How do they do it? I really don't think I could keep up at work if I had a child with a chronic or life-threatening illness. So far, I've been the one here night and day. But if goes on longer, I wonder if it would it become a source of tension with my husband? That topic seems to be the subject of discussion in at least one forum.

      If you have been in this situation, did your sick child tip the balance for you or your spouse? Did your work life suffer? Do employers stop being understanding when the need for flexibility is ongoing?


September 18, 2008

Men want work life balance, too

Yesterday, I wrote in my Miami Herald column about fathers who role-juggle full-time work schedules and coaching youth sports. This typically requires job flexibility, the work life balance work accommodation men say they most want.

I am surprised by the reaction. I've discovered men want to be recognized for Dadthe juggling act they do to make time for work and family. Here what some men wrote in their e-mails:

Gene Albelo writes: "It's great to hear such positive things about men, and particularly about fathers. I, for one, have been bothered for years by the negative images portrayed of men, especially in the media. The man, e.g., who can't boil water, who's unable to prepare a meal for his child, who lays around watching T.V. all day long, and depends on his wife to make the smallest decision.  I’ve been around for some time, and can tell you truthfully that I’ve never known any father, or any man in general, who fits those negative types."

Michael Silva, a law partner writes: "Another trend is law firms morphing the traditional working "mom" program to include more divorced fathers that have taken on half the child rearing duties. Women are better jugglers but men can learn, just as your article notes.

  Why do you think so many of men use sports to bond with their kids? Do you think men have a difficult time speaking up about work life balance issues? Are men improving their juggling skills?

September 15, 2008

Are you a time-management disaster?

     Why is it that time management is so difficult for so many of us to master? Is it just that we have more piled on us each time we get life under control? Or are electronic devices to blame?

     Do you think time-management skills can be taught. I do. I often wonder why they don't it in middle school, especially when I see my kids struggling to balance tons of homework, time-stealing technology, a social life and youth sports. I love this quote from Donna Goldberg, a study-skills consultant and author of The Organized Student, in a recent article: "We teach every child to tell time. We don't teach any child how to manage time."

    Goldberg believes time-management is as important to teach as reading and math. She blames the Internet for society's lack of time management ability, because it's so captivating. "It just goes around eating your time," she says. I know so many people who are spending considerable amount of work hours on Facebook. Sure, it's fun. But can you say time-drain?

      If you are like me, you believe multitasking helps us manage our time. Goldberg says it drains our ability to get things done because its not focused time. Here's what the experts suggest for students and adults: Create a commitment/reward formula -- 45 minutes of focused time equals a 10-15 minute break.

      I'm willing to give the formula a try. I'm willing to get my kids to give it a try. Do you think time-management is a learned skill? Do you think it's critical to learn it as a child?

September 11, 2008

I'm scared on 9/11

     Every year on 9/11 I'm a little scared -- to travel, to cross bridges, to go too many hours without talking to my husband. It's an annual reminder not to take anything for granted. Yet, most of us pledged to stay closer to home after the tragic incident seven years ago. But have we? Most of us pledged to think less about work and more about family. But have we?

    There are some moving blog posts today on MomLogic.com about 9/11.

Blogger Yvette Manessis Corporon writes: My daughter was born on May 6, 2001. After nine hours of labor and 50 minutes of pushing, Christiana made her entrance into the world. But that's not the day I became a mother.

“On September 11, 2001, Christiana was 4 months old and I was home on maternity leave. My husband Dave, a cameraman, called and told me what had happened less than a mile away, just across the river from our apartment--where our beautiful baby sat in her bouncy seat playing with her stuffed bear. I grabbed Christiana and headed to the roof deck of our apartment and there I stood, alone with my baby in my arms, and watched as the North Tower of the World Trade Center burned. The gaping hole was huge, the smoke and fire horrendous and I knew that Dave was either down there already or on his way to cover this catastrophic accident. That's what we all thought--it had to be an accident, right?”

To read Yvette’s full story and see video her husband captured at ground zero, click here.

Dani Klein Modisett writes: When I travel with my 5-year-old now, I often become frustrated with all the security checks and say something like, "You know, when I traveled for work years ago, it was never like this." He usually asks me why it's different now. To reach her full story, click here.

    How has your work and home lives changed since that tragic day seven years ago? Do you ever talk about it with your kids? Are you still pledging to live life to its fullest or has the recession gotten in your way?

September 10, 2008

Do you dare ask for a raise?

      Would you have to be absolutely insane to ask for a raise at this time? I say yes. Workplace authority John Challenger says "Go for It!"

    Now let's look at this realistically. The economy is showing no signs of a rebound. Corporate costs are rising. Layoffs have increased significantly and heavy job cutting is just beginning. However, most of us are being asked to do more with less in our workplaces. We are struggling to balance a personal life with our heavy workloads. We should get a raise if we earn it, should we? 

      Challenger insists, "Those who can prove that they are an integral part of an organization's ability to survive the downturn and thrive during the next expansion have nothing to lose by asking." If you are going to ask for a raise, he advises entering the meeting with your boss with a well-thought-out justification for an increase in salary. It should be based solely on your performance, whether it exceeded goals, created money-saving strategies or brought in new business. He sayMoneys to support your points with numbers and specific examples and be prepared to answer questions or objections. Even if you get turned down, you might be able to negotiate some other benefit, he says.

     Of course, you now are wondering what is the average pay raise these days. For most American workers, pay raises have averaged about 3.8 percent in 2008, virtually unchanged from 2007, according to new survey data from Mercer.  My company has announced it will freeze all pay raises for the next  year. So, if you get even 1 percent, you're way ahead of anyone on my company's payroll.

     From my viewpoint, it's a gamble. Few industries provide real job security right now. Do you dare risk your job by asking for a raise?  What about asking for a performance bonus? Should you scale back on your workload if there is no chance of a raise anytime in the future?

September 09, 2008

Unusual job search advice

    I just received an e-mail with some unusual job search advice. At first glance, it seemed a bit bizarre to me. But after giving it more attention, I had to admit, some of the pointers are pretty good, particularly for those who sense layoffs ahead and are trying to fit a job search in with an already busy schedule.

     Kaplan University’s Director of Career Resources Betsy Richards suggests some creative places to look for career opportunities:

·         Alumni  events. Schmoozing with fellow alumni in a relaxed atmosphere can be a great career move. 

·         Any sporting event. Mutual affection for the same team can be a great conversation starter. 

·         Social networking sites. Each day literally millions of people make connections through Facebook, MySpace, Meetup and LinkedIn. Consider sending out a note to your “friends” and “connections” about your job search.

·         Conferences not related to your expertise. For service professionals, industry events and seminars that attract subject matter experts and not your professional peers is a good way to regenerate your network.

·         Nail salon, hairdresser, local restaurant, the gym. The places we frequent can be an oversight when it comes to the job search. The opportunities to strike up conversations with the familiar could be breeding ground for job opportunities.

      Okay, now that you know where to go, you're wondering how to get the conversation started, right? Betsy advises that job seekers  have a plan of action before they start chatting it up in the gym. Her tips:

  • Prepare an “elevator speech” of three to four sentences that introduces your most marketable skills. Keep it succinct at no more than 20 seconds.
  • When networking, introduce yourself and ask the person what they do for work. After they tell you, you have the opportunity to let him/her know that you are searching for a job. Explain what type of position fits your particular background. You should ask if he/she has heard of anything that could be a match for your skills.
  • Always carry a business card no matter what the circumstance. Keep them in your wallet, handbag and cardholder at all times.
  • Make sure your resume and/or bio and cover letter are prepared so you can quickly send out the information if a contact is made.

    Have you ever learned about a job opening at a nail salon or other unusual place? Do you think there are any inappropriate places to network/conduct a job search?

September 08, 2008

Stressed out in the office

      One day last week, I was innocently nuking my frozen lunch when a co-worker ripped into me for leaving my food in the microwave for a full minute after it was cooked. Later, she apologized and said she was stressed out because she just heard rumors of layoffs ahead. Should I have probed a bit to see if she was on a verge of a breakdown?

     Most people are these days are stressed at work. They're either worried about job security or the value of their homes or whether they need to dip into their 401Ks. And stressed out bosses and co-workers tend to pass tension on to others.  Most people can handle the strain. But in some cases, the mental distress can turn dangerous. Experts say the most significant warning signs are someone might start working too hard, appear despondent, or seem increasingly annoyed.

    An article in the Wall Street Journal asks, What do you do when you think that the person sitting next to you at work cannot the stress? Should you do something?

       Experts suggest intervening early -- suggest a troubled co-worker go home, take a walk, or call employee assistance hotline. Psychologist John Weaver says, when trying to help someone it's critical to approach with empathy, a sense of understanding where they are coming from. Never suggest someone has a mental illness. If the person resists help, back off, at least for now. My inclination is that it's my duty to help a co-worker in trouble, but I don't want to risk getting in over my head or being accused of prying.

        Have you encountered more stress in your workplace?  Have you risked getting involved? How would you handle a boss or co-worker that appears to be on the edge of a breakdown?