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15 posts from February 2009

February 26, 2009

Workplace Refrain: Do More With Less

         Do more with less.....I'm cringing just hearing those four words.

         Like most workers in industries battered by the recession, I hear the dreaded four words on a regular basis in my newsroom.   Of course newsrooms are full of cynics and those words are met mostly with moans, sighs, and frowns. To most of us, doing more with less means putting in longer hours, with less resources and the same or lower pay. It means a big hit to our work/life balance.

         So it was a bit inspiring to me today to learn on NPR this morning that in some workplaces, people are interpreting those four words much differently. One worker, Evan Wagner, told NPR he feels they signal opportunity: "People will be relying on me more. I'm going to show my worth,'' he said.

         One workplace psychologist told NPR that good management will use those four words to motivate workers, presenting it as an opportunity to develop new skills and  become more valued. "It's a way of saying 'we're counting on you. We want you to do more. We are making more of an investment in you,' '' he said. 

       Slacker Manager knocks "do more with less" as an ineffective business phrase. He wants to replace it with,we need to do more ON less,” meaning more resources, more staffing, and more focus on fewer initiatives. He says anyone using the phrase should take the responsibility to step up as a leader, determine the top priorities, and realign resources at the right levels to ensure success.

      I would tell managers to chose words wisely if you want the best performance out of your staff. Do more with less: My response is to cringe. Figure out your priorities and do them better: Now I'm motivated.


February 25, 2009

Grandma to the rescue


Over the years of juggling work and family, Grandma has come to my rescue on many occasions. I don't think I could have made breaking news deadlines over the years if my mom and my in-laws hadn't lived nearby and pitched in with child care. I know I'm not alone.  In the tight Latin community in South Florida, having abuela pitch in with child care is extremely common.

Michelle Goodman, author of the Nine to Thrive blog, addresses the subject of balance for new parents, by noting a trend she has been hearing and reading a lot about lately: calling in a grandparent to mind your kids so you can continue bringing home as much bacon as possible. Michelle believes the trend is getting a boost from the sour economy. Maybe the Obamas bringing grandma to the Whitehouse sets an examples, too.

Per the AARP Web site: "The U.S. Census Bureau says that grandparents provide childcare for almost a quarter (23 percent) of children under the age of five. That number is even higher for youngsters who live only with their dads. Grandparents watch more than a third (34 percent) of these children."

Michelle says a few weeks back, she spoke to a 60-year-old neighbor who's one of these granny nannies. In 2008, she went from retired, refreshed, and relaxed to caring for her preschool granddaughter 12 hours a day, five days a week, almost overnight. While her son and daughter-in-law both work full time, they could no longer afford daycare. Dutifully, even happily, grandma stepped in. Granny told Michelle she was exhausted but also elated, as she had never raised a girl, only her two sons.

      I agree with Michelle that there's a good possibility that more parent are relying on their parents for childcare since the economy took a nosedive. If you're one of them, do you compensate grandma? I have a friend who does.  I'm also wondering if the trend is reversed as well. Are there grandparents out there who had stepped into the role of nanny and now find they have to go back to work?


February 24, 2009

Sharing personal information at work

Coworkers         Some days, I just can't help but share personal information with my co-workers. We sit so close to each other that they overhear my conversations and I hear theirs. My nearby cubicle mates know when I'm directing my kids where their clean soccer uniforms are or when I was worried my mother had Alzheimer's. But when I think about it, part of why I like my job is the people I work with in the office. Knowing about each others lives outside of work brings us closer.

     But with layoffs rampant, things have changed in the workplace. Things that were once okay to share in an office might work against you today. This article, 13 Things Not to Share With Your Coworkers, gives some good guidelines on what to share and what to keep to yourself.

     Two biggies on the list: Cost of purchases (but you don’t want others speculating on the lifestyle you’re living –or if you’re living beyond your salary bracket)  Lifestyle changes (Breakups, divorces and baby-making plans should be shared only if there is a need to know)   

    The CareerandKids blog, writes: "I have a tendency to want to befriend people at work, and while I’ve met some wonderful people, I also feel it’s been used against me at times. I guess the key is to use common sense and your best judgment before sharing too much."

       Have you shared information with a co-worker that you regret?


February 23, 2009

The good news about lay offs

    While many of us are stressing over the mere idea of losing our jobs, others are finding a silver lining in lay offs.

     In its article,Laid Off and Loving It, The Boston Globe reports that moms and dads are appreciating some aspects of unexpected unemployment. Here are a few benefits:

   TIME FOR YOURSELF:  "Despite the grim task of making ends meet (firing the nanny, bailing on Whole Foods, applying for unemployment), there is a newly forming society of people who are making the best of being laid off. They are rediscovering hobbies. They are greeting kids at the school bus. They are remembering what daylight actually looks like."

   FINDING YOUR PASSION:  John Stephen Dwyer, a 41-year-old Boston native was laid off in November from his $40,000-a-year job as education coordinator for the Clinical Research Graduate
Program of Tufts University Sackler School of Biomedical Sciences. And he hasn't
started seriously looking for new work. "I want this year to be the year in which I transition from doing something just because it's a good job and pays well to doing something I'm interested
in,'' Dwyer said.

   REDISCOVERING BALANCE:    As bad as it feels to lose a job, temporary unemployment can provide a much-needed intervention to workaholics who can benefit from such a break, said
Douglas T. Hall, a professor at the Boston University School of Management.

  It's good to know there's upside because going forward, "joblessness is going to continue for at least another six to seven months," according to Rich Yamarone, director of economic research at Argus Research.

  If you're out of work, have you found any upside? If you're working harder than ever, do you feel a pang of envy  for those parents now greeting their kids at the school bus?

February 19, 2009

Limits on Homework, it's about time!

    Who thinks teachers give too much homework? My hand is raised.

    Don't get me wrong, I think some homework is good. But hours of homework prohibits kids from having outside interests or even just downtime. Last year, my daughter had meltdowns over her three hours of homework each night.

     So I say, hoorah for the new policy passed by the Broward County School Board and detailed in today's Miami Herald. For working parents, supervising homework often is the most exhausting part of our day, especially if you have a kid that likes to day dream. Limits on homework based on age, I'll all for it. How about you?

February 18, 2009

Michelle Obama struggles with work/life balance

Today, Miami forensic psychologist Dr. Sherrie Bourg Carter who specializes in burnout issues in high achieving women, weighs on the Work/Life Balancing Act blog with her thoughts on Michelle Obama's commitment to work/life balance issues.

   Sherrie    I, for one, was as happy as could be to hear early on in the presidential campaign that Michelle Obama planned to make work life balance issues a national priorityif she and her husband became the "first family." I mean, who among us would be harmed by a little more national attention on achieving more balance into these hectic and overscheduled lives we lead? And who has a stronger platform than Michelle Obama now that she has made it to the White House? So now that she's settling in, I decided to do a little research into what her specific plans are for accomplishing this goal. In fact, I thought it would be a good topic for starting off  the new high-achievingwoman.com blog. What will Michelle's national work life balance agenda look like? I had it all planned out ... 

But then, as I was doing my "research," I came across a blog Michelle wrote on BlogHer not more than a few months ago, and my perfectly good plan suddenly changed as I read: "The work-life balance is something I think about a lot. I’ve struggled for so many years to get it right, and I still haven’t figured it out. Too often, when I’m with the kids, I feel like I’m shortchanging work. And when I’m at work… or these days, on the campaign trail… I feel like I’m shortchanging the kids. For many years, I felt a lot of guilt—and I still do, though it’s better now."

Did she just say that she has struggled for so many years to "get it right" and still hasn't figured "it" out? It made me think. If Michelle Obama, a graduate of Princeton and Harvard Law School, mother of two, and now our country's top high-achieving woman (sorry, I'm not all that fond of the term, "first lady") - if she can't figure out how to "get it right" as far as balancing work and life, what real chances do we have? Not to say, of course, that any of us are two cents waiting for change compared to her, but come on - her "got my act together" resume is nothing to sneeze at.

Which brings me to my question and my point - With all the balls that we high-performance women juggle for as long as we have been juggling them, is it realistic to expect ourselves to "get it right?" Why is that script even in our heads? Is that a reasonable goal? I don't think so, but more importantly, I think there's a danger in thinking, as we high-achievers so often do, that accomplishing anything less than "getting it right," anything less than perfection is failure.
 I mean, answer truthfully - how many of you, who are juggling careers and families and community involvement and volunteer hours and all the other things that somehow get deposited on your plates, can honestly say you've got it exactly right? How many of you can say that when you're spending time with the kids or the family, you don't hear that little perfection monster on your shoulder reminding you of that stack of work on your desk? Or vice-versa? 

My point is - I don't think "getting it right" should be where we set the bar. Sometimes good enough is just right.


February 17, 2009

Mommy's On a Business Trip

I LOVE the title of Phaedra Cucina's new book: My Mommy’s on a Business Trip.Cucina book cover  

 It's great timing for Cucina, president of DolceVita Woman and a working mother . The book comes out just as the idea of turning down business trips becomes less viable in a recession with rising unemployment rates.

Cucina tells the story through the voice of a child, and explores the unbreakable bond between mother and child – even when Mom has to leave town. I remember interviewing Kathryn Sansone, mother of 10, a few years ago and she told me she left notes under her kids pillows when she was traveled for her book tour.

Mothers who travel often for business usually tell me the guilt is enormous. Cucina says so is the stress of trying to balance what needs to happen while you’re gone with the work responsibilities you’re headed towards. Not to mention that in today’s times, if your trip is important enough to take you away from the office, you can’t afford to be worried about what’s going on back home.

"What’s critically important," she says, "is that parents remember to position work always in a positive light – not something that is taking you away from your kids – as these young hearts and minds will eventually enter the workforce themselves one day."

Cucina is sellingher book online at www.mommytrip.com. Here are her top tips for road warrioror parents:

  •  Plan for Fun – For trips longer than two nights away, arrange with the caretaker a special night out while you’re gone – a trip to the movies, a play date with a special friend, pizza for dinner, etc. Activities will depend on the age of the child, but you’ll know what your child holds special in his or her heart.
  •  Take Flight – If someone can drop you off, have the kids come with you to the airport to say good-bye (this works especially well with Sunday departures and if you live relatively close to the airport). Many kids find airports exciting and it will help them to visualize what you’re doing. Moms love it, too, because of the last minute hugs and kisses they get.
  •  Prepare Together – A simple, but important thing to do is create or decorate a calendarr to show your departure and when you’ll be back home. Try something new - glue Hershey Kisses to the calendar for a special treat each day you’re away.
  • Pack Together – let your children pick out a special stuffed animal or token you can take with you. One mom I spoke with has her three-year old pick out a special hair ribbon to tie on the suitcase, and it changes with every trip. BFF bracelets, or other special things that both you and the child will have while you’re gone, help them feel connected to you.
  • Create a Ritual – if you’re gone often, ask the caretaker to do something with your kids that’s extra special and only happens when you’re away. It could be going to a special place or as simple as getting to sleep in sleeping bags on the living room floor.
  •  Be on the Lookout – Place special notes or cards in the children’s room, on their car seats, in the arms of their favorite stuffed animal, and other creative places they’re sure to see.
  •  Get Some Lipstick – If you won’t be gone long, put on bright red lipstick and give the kids a great big kiss on their tummies – no one will know it’s there but them! A preferred method for most dads: let the kids pick out a temporary tattoo and put it on them as a special reminder of you.
  • Be Silly with Skype – with videoconferencing, you can play peek-a-boo, I Spy, read stories, or look at the calendar you made together and talk about when you’re coming home. Have fun!
  • Call Early – So often it’s hard to catch the kids in the evening, with meetings running late or business dinners. Kids are often already asleep before you can make the call. Instead, call when the kids are just getting up. That’s when they’re in that lovey, snugly mindset and you can start their day off with a smile. Kids won’t talk? Try reading them their favorite story (be sure to pack a copy of the book in your suitcase!)
  • Capture Their Minds – Show the children where you are going and tell them how you’re going to get there. Your goal is to position the trip as an exciting adventure you can’t wait to tell them about when you get home. Once back, don’t forget to share the fun – spend time talking about the famous or typical things you did in the area of the country/world where you were. Go over the maps again, pull out your camera, or bring home some postcards and really capture their imaginations.

February 16, 2009

Why are we afraid to take a day off?

     Here I am working on Presidents Day and like most working parents, I'm afraid to take the day off.  In the grocery store, on the soccer field, in the company lunch room....most of the conversation I have with other moms and dads reflect their fear. Working parents are fearful of losing jobs, homes,  businesses, savings.

     The economic fallout has created a fear that is disrupting the fragile balance of work and family. In the past, maybe you would have taken off on President's Day to spend time with your kids who are off school. But even working parents I know who have their own businesses are afraid to take a day off. I have spoken with moms who are cutting back on maternity leaves, working longer hours, missing class parties and rearranging how they juggle family and work.

     Today, employers and clients have the advantage. It's why working parents feel real and not-so-real pressure to show their value and avoid getting laid off. The Working Dad blog drew comment from a father who is afraid to take vacation.

     I'm starting to wonder how this fear will affect family life. Will it play into the future family size as suggested on the Career and Kids blog? Will it force kids to be more independent or act out? Will if force us to be more creative in creating more quality time with our families?

February 12, 2009

Women Aren't Advancing In Florida

       Women, in one of the country's most populous states, aren't advancing in business. For the last two days, I have written articles in my paper about the disappointing numbers compiled by Women Executive Leadership (WEL) in its 2008 Census. As the economy slowed in my state, so did the percentage of women climbing the corporate ladder in Florida's largest public companies.

      The numbers show a decline in women board directors at Florida 150 top public companies. They also show fewer women in the executive suites over the past four years -- 93 percent of the top jobs still are held by men. The only bright spot was that more women are becoming chief financial officers (CFO).

     This trend is particularly disappointing in light of the hard work that organizations such as WEL and women's advocacy groups such as Catalyst are doing to get women on corporate boards.

     What's behind the numbers?

    There are several viewpoints: One, women are leaving on their own, finding better options that better fit their talents or lifestyle.  Two, despite the lip service, company leaders aren't doing enough to help women shatter the glass ceiling. Three, the turmoil in business has been bad for women, costing women on the management track their jobs. Maybe, its a combination of the three.

    The way I see it is we are are at critical stage. As the New York Times wrote, the recession has cost more men than women their jobs. More women than ever are supporting their families while their husbands are out of work. But they aren't necessarily supporting them in high paying jobs. Is this their opportunity to advance into those higher paying jobs? 

      Yesterday, WEL held its Corporate Salute to honor Florida companies that have more than one female board member. In a room of nearly 300 women, Evelyn D'An of D'An Financial Services and a board member of Alico and Hot Topic, appealed to the few men in the room. 'We can't move the needle without your support,'' she said. I think she's right but I wonder if women are wasting too much time networking with other women instead of improving how we network with men.

      What are your thoughts on why advancement of women has stalled? Do you think it's a temporary setback? Is it up to men to help women advance? How do you think the country's economic woes will factor in?


February 09, 2009

Channeling June Cleaver

There's a good possibility most American workers will not get a raise this year. There's another possibility that we will suffer a salary cut. So, many of us -- particularly working moms -- are returning to the kitchen and cutting back on everything to save money. We're trying to become more June Cleaver-ish.

Even the busiest of working moms are packing up leftovers, bringing our lunch boxes, and planning ahead to avoid the drive-thru. Dining out has become one of the biggest places to cut costs. An article from the Denver Post says brown baggers are returning to the office in a big way.

On a segment on the the  Today show Candace Corlett, president of WSL Strategic Retail, talked about a study her firm conducted on how America shops in crisis. It found moms are cutting back on eating out, salon services, and home services.

But WorkingMomsAgainstGuilt points out, there's a catch.  In today's world June Cleaver has to work! She says, "Sure, you can save by cutting out little conveniences in life. But when does it get to be too much work than it's worth? Since business has been slow, I've had the extra time to cook and bake more. But, I'm interested to see what happens when business starts picking up again. I hope I can keep up on my June Cleaverish ways. It's something I'll have to do to keep us within our shrinking budget," writes blogger Cara.

 I, too, wonder if there's a point when the savings is no longer worth it. I've cut back on our dining out budget. I'm not only cooking more, I'm doing more household chores to save money. I have my kids doing chores that we used to outsource, such as cleaning the pool.  I'm sewing on buttons and stitching hems that I would have let a seamstress repair. But I feel the toll of cost cutting on Friday nights when I drop into bed exhausted. I wondering if Americans will be able to make frugality a permanent routine. Can we live without our conveniences for the long run? Can moms be June Cleaver and Mary Tyler Moore, too?