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9 posts from November 2009

November 30, 2009

Cyber Monday -- will you shop at work today?

Will you shop at work today?  Will you wait until you get home? Or will you ignore Cyber Monday altogether?

   Online shopping    For many years, I sat in my cubicle debating this question. Of course, Cyber Monday got its name from those people who waited to use the broadband connection at work to browse or shop online the weekend after Thanksgiving. Today, we can use our smart phones to shop online right at our desks.  If you never heard of Cyber Monday, brush up with this article: “It’s A Boy! The Birth of Cyber Monday.  Cyber Monday Specials suggests you re-size your browser so your Cyber Mondayperusing of DVDs and books all fits in the guilt-free window of your email preview.

Should workers feel guilty for shopping at work? I would venture to say most don't. When you're working the same or more hours and your paycheck has been cut I think employees feel it's okay to toggle back and forth between Target.com and the work project of the day. 

According to a survey by the Information Systems and Audit Control Association, a non-profit group of IT professionals based in Rolling Meadows, Ill., nearly two-thirds of workers of all ages plan to do some online shopping during November and December. While the average time spent shopping is 14.4 hours, 10 percent of respondents said they will spend more than 30 hours shopping online at work. (That's a pretty big number!)

Richard Moore is an employment issues lawyer with downtown-based Vorys, Sater, Seymour and Pease LLP, and a member of the Cincinnati Bar Association's board of directors. He discussed on a Cincinnati Enquirer blog how companies can cope with cyber-shopping in the office during the holidays. The bottom line: be careful about disciplining one employee and letting another get away with it.

Most companies have Internet policies so employees need to use caution. One commenter says: To be safe, if you must shop on line today, do it during your lunch break, or wait until you get home from work tonight and do it. The bargains will still be available tonight online. Another commenter says: Smart phones are getting to the point where those who can afford a data plan barely need the company network to goof off anymore.

I say don't risk it. Shop online during your lunch hour. Of course, as my own boss, I don't have to deal with the guilt this year. I'm off to search cyberspace for deals! 


November 23, 2009

How to avoid being a committee patsy

Most of us now realize that being on a committee is a huge plus at work and in the community. Accepting committee assignments can actually lead to a promotion or more visibility. But what happens when you get stuck on a committee that zaps your time but gets nothing done. What a drain on our work/life balance!

  I stumbled upon an interesting blog post, Ask Dr. Isis, that addresses a letter from an associate professor at a research university who was asked to be on a committee tasked with reviewing policies that affect women. She feels its a waste of time because there isn't any intention to make real changes. The blog post looks at the politics behind being on a committee and the frustration from being on a committee that has no value. 

Some suggestions offered to the professor made sense and might help anyone who feels like a Committee Patsy:

1. Make a counter-proposal. Are there other committees or activities that you feel would be a better use of your time?  Can you propose that as a counter to serving on this committee?

2. Be proactive. Find an important committee you care about and get yourself on it. That way when a manager tries to put you on the "dead rats ass" committee, you can gracefully say no.

3. Take charge. Lobby to be Chairman of the committee so you can set the direction

4. Build friendships. Know that change can and sometimes does happen, but the paths to change are complicated and murky and don't generally pass through committee rooms. Use the committee to network, or accomplish small victories.

5. Recruit. Consider bringing experts, consultants or senior staff members to the committee meetings to make suggestions or help guide the direction.

    Unfortunately, we all know that some of the "womens committees" formed by companies and academic institutions are a show, without any real power to make change. But there are plenty of other committees that are a waste of time. If you have any suggestions to avoid becoming a Committee Patsy, let's hear from you. 

November 18, 2009

Suzy Welch on work/life balance

   Welch     Today, Suzy Welch, journalist, author and speaker, was in Miami. She spoke to the Women Entrepreneurs Conference about her new book, 10-10-10. I had read the book over the weekend and enjoyed it. It makes a lot of sense to use Suzy's strategy to make difficult decisions. She suggests we pose our work/life conflicts as a question and look at the repercussions of our options in 10 minutes, 10 months and 10 years.

   For example, should I go to my kids wrestling match over the weekend, or go to my company's  corporate retreat? What effect would this have on my child/career in the next 10 minutes, 10 months, 10 years?

  I was able to sit down with Suzy one-on-one while she was signing books. I started by asking her the question that's been on several blogs lately:

Q. What work/life balance lesson do you wish you learned when you were younger?

    A. What I say to all working mothers in their 20s and 30s, good news your children will grow up. I don't want to downplay their heartache trying to balance their jobs and their young children. It is a terrible period but it will not go on forever. If I had known that, I would have been less frantic.

Q. Do you feel overwhelmed by technology or are you able to balance it with the rest of life demands?

A.  I love tweeting, Facebooking, e-mailing. I do it incessantly. I love connectivity. It's fun. I have found old friends, ideas for articles. It's a deliberate choice to be connected but there's a fragile line and I have had to teach myself to put it in the drawer sometimes. I say to my kids, "Put that machine away" and they say to me  "I will if you do." It can be a slippery slope.

    Q. Is there a rule you have made for yourself with regard to when you will and will not use technology?

A. My rule is no using technology while driving.

Q. Have you received any feedback on your book that surprised you?

A. I know this sounds cheesy but I have had people say the book changed their life. I never imagined anyone would say that. It feels unbelievable.

 Q. Do you think women have embraced your 10-10-10 rule for decision making more than men?

 A. No, women just talk about their struggles with decision making more. They let their emotions come through. About 90 percent of the feedback has been from women but I know men are using 10-10-10 too.

Q. What was the most recent decision you used 10-10-10 to make?

A. I used it to decide whether to spend time with an estranged friend. I wasn't going to see her for many reasons. But my daughter reminded me one of my values is forgiveness. So I stopped and used 10-10-10 to make the decision. I ended up spending half the day with her. It was unbelievably joyous.

Q. Jack (Welch), your husband, recently created a stir when he said there is no work/life balance just work/life choices, do you think work/life balance is possible?

A. I think you earn your work life balance. There are choices and consequences. We have to figure out what we want and accept the consequences. There are no bad decisions. When you are the CEO of a public company you will not just be working 30 hours and have an amazing home life. It is what it is. People want it to be different.

November 16, 2009

Pack your bags, hubby’s got a new job

If you or your significant other were offered a job right now, and that job was in another city far away from friends and family that pitch in with child care, would you take the job?


Job seekers are starting to feel they have no choice. A new survey shows unemployed workers are giving relocation additional consideration as more people chase fewer jobs. Indeed, nearly 20 pecent of workers who found employment in the second quarter relocated for the position, according to Challenger Gray & Christmas, an outplacement consultancy.


If you are hesitating about relocating your entire family and considering a long distance commute, think again. Your new employer isn’t likely to go for that idea.


Recently, I had a talk with Tim Tolan, a partner with the executive search firm Sanford Rose. He told me employers really don’t want their executives to do cross-state commuting anymore because of work/life balance issues. If they make a hire, they want the person to relocate for the job  rather than shuttle home on the weekends.. “They may be ok with the hire doing it for a short while but they don’t want them to make it a long-term situation,” Tolan says. “It too hard on the person to have no down time. More often than not, it doesn’t work out at home, the employee quits and everyone loses. “

For now, career advisors feel strongly that people need to go where the jobs are, even if it means leaving a support network behind.  “You really have to be in a career management mode. If you’re unemployed and the opportunity is in Oshkosh, if it’s a good opportunity, go to Oshkosh, Dale Winston, CEO of executive serch firm Battalia Winston INTernational told Amy Hoak of MarketWatch.


Here is a checklist to look over before deciding to relocate.

·   Make sure you fully understand the local economy you are going to before you pack your bags

·   Have a back up plan. What you would do if the job doesn’t work out?


  • Scrutinize whether you can afford to relocate. most employers aren't offering relocation packages anymore. A cross-country move can cost as much as $8,000.
  • Understand how child care costs compare? What will be the financial  impact of losing your babysitting and child care support network?.
  • What will you do with your current home? Employers aren’t as willing to take over home sales. Are you willing to sell you home, even at a loss, for a career move? Would you consider renting a home in your new city and renting out your former home until the market turns around?   

November 13, 2009

Kid's bad behavior may come from dad's layoff

Work and family. This recession is showing us how closely the two are related. Newspapers also are showing us how the two are related.

Here's a great blog post by Ryan Chittum of the Columbia Journalism Review

A few weeks ago I praised a Sesame Street special, of all things, for putting a human face on the impact of the economic crisis on families. Today, The New York Times does something similar with a page-one story and audio slide show on kids whose parents have been laid off.

The Times profiles a family in suburban Houston with a laid-off father and children who have subsequently showed behavioral problems:

Paul Bachmuth’s 9-year-old daughter, Rebecca, began pulling out strands of her hair over the summer. His older child, Hannah, 12, has become noticeably angrier, more prone to throwing tantrums.

Initially, Mr. Bachmuth, 45, did not think his children were terribly affected when he lost his job nearly a year ago. But now he cannot ignore the mounting evidence.

“I’m starting to think it’s all my fault,” Mr. Bachmuth said.

It’s a good anecdotal lede, and reporter Michael Luo could have done the three-examples-and-done thing. Instead, he backs it up with reporting on several studies that have shown negative effects of a parent’s unemployment on children.

One shows a 15 percent higher chance of flunking a grade, another shows a higher risk of becoming a high-school dropout. Yet another shows such children earn less when they get to adulthood.

But Dr. Kalil, a developmental psychologist and director of the university’s Center for Human Potential and Public Policy, said the more important factor, especially in middle-class households, appeared to be changes in family dynamics from job loss.

“The extent that job losers are stressed and emotionally disengaged or withdrawn, this really matters for kids,” she said. “The other thing that matters is parental conflict. That has been shown repeatedly in psychological studies to be a bad family dynamic.”

Which fits well with the family the Times profiles, as well as with a secondary family in the story.

It’s a nuanced look at the ripple effects unemployment can have. Multiply these three families (one of whom has held up relatively well) by the millions who are out of work and it’s a grim picture of what’s going on out there right now. And it’s worth pointing out that this recession is far deeper than what we’ve typically seen and out-of-work time has been far longer than normal. That can only make things worse.

Also, see the NYT’s accompanying slide show, which uses audio interviews of the family’s own words to tell their story.

Do you see any behavioral changes in your children, positive or negative, as a result of the recession? Do you think the holidays and a tightened budget will bring on changes?  


November 10, 2009

What I wish I knew about work/life balance when I was younger

  What do you wish you knew about work/life balance and career trade offs when you were younger? Do you wish you knew how difficult it would be to balance two partners’ career demands?

   When I was in college, I wanted to marry someone who was as ambitious as I am. I had no idea I would have to make career sacrifices for my spouse to achieve his ambitions while we raised a family. I had no idea what kind of time demands were required to raise a family. This week, on the WSJ's Juggle blog, several commenters responded to a blog post on the Obamas' marriage and got into a fascinating discussion on the subject of things they’ve learned about the work/life juggle that they wished they’d known in college.

    There was one woman who lamented that the all-female college she attended left her ill-prepared for balancing work and family life. “We were taught that we could simply do it all,” she wrote. “We were that bright and that well-educated, we’d figure it out, forge new paths, be leaders in our chosen fields, have 5 children and balance all effortlessly. You simply can’t do it all, all at the same time your spouse is doing it all. Something has to give to sustain a marriage and a reasonable quality of life. Had I had better perspective on this before learning it ‘on the job,’ there are several choices I would have made differently.” Those choices, she said, were "As I always knew I wanted to have children, I would have chosen a different field of finance that was less demanding in terms of pressure and hours worked. … I also would have had children earlier on, and would have had more children because I started earlier."

   Blogger John J. Edwards asked his wife what she would have done differently had she known in college what she now knows about the juggle. She immediately cited the same answer he had in mind. She would have saved more. Edwards remembers shortly after college, scoffing at a friend who had started contributing to a 401(k) at his first job. He writes: "Believe me, I’m not scoffing now. Though my wife and I earn strong salaries and are generally solvent, our financial condition would be less tenuous now if we’d started saving in earnest just a few years earlier than we did."

  Here's what another commenter wrote:  "I completely misunderstood the scope of what a “real” job would be like after leaving college. I thought, mostly, that a “real” job would be a lot like the part time jobs I help in college, just 40 hours. I was wrong.I wish I had better understood what leaving college and entering the workforce would mean.

   So what are the lessons you wish you knew years earlier about careers, relationships and family?


November 05, 2009

Being honest about getting fired

  Mika     Mika Brzezinski of MSNBC's Morning Joe has people talking about getting fired.

  On the Huffington Post, Tuesday, Brzezinski says she learned there are many psychological phases of being "let go," especially when you are a parent.

When she had a very public and painful exit from CBS, she acted to her kids like she was giving them a gift. She sugarcoated the whole thing. She says it was a big mistake.

"I fed them a speech explaining how great this would be for all of us and quickly moved on, thinking I had done the right thing as a protective mother.  The next day, the school called: Eight-year-old Carlie was upset, and the teacher asked if i could come in."

    Brzezinski says she found Carlie outside her classroom in the fetal position. The teacher said, "Carlie tells me you're leaving your job , and she's very upset." Brzezinski turned to her daughter and said, "that's a good thing, right? It's a good thing because we'll get time together. No more rushing, No more missing your events. No more job!" Carlie pulled her head up and said, "But Mommy, you love it so much! I don't want you to have to leave  your job."

Brzezinki writes on the HP: "That moment was the first time I truly cried about what had happened to me, to us. I realized it would be OK to mourn together, to be angry together, to be discouraged together, and to be honest with each other." She writes: "A fundamental lesson on being fired: Never lie about it...job loss is an opportunity to show them what you are made of."

I too, had to explain to my kids that I was laid off from a job I love. Fortunately, it worked out for me as I negotiated new terms to continue as a writer. I was honest with my kids but it was hard. My youngest walked around for two days telling everyone, "My mommy got fired."  When you are grappling with your own feelings, it's difficult to explain them to your kids in a honest way. Your natural instinct as a parent is to sugarcoat the situation. I took that route, telling my kids how lucky they were that I would be working from home from now on. But I can imagine how hard it would be if job loss meant extreme financial hardship for the family. Does that require more or less honesty with your kids?

What do you think about talking to your kids about getting downsized, fired or laid off? Do you think you should sugarcoat the situation? Or should you use it as an opportunity to show them how the real world works?


November 04, 2009

Momtrepreneurs share their business tips

    I feel honored to have been part of the Mom2Mom Business Workshop that took place yesterday in Miami. The turnout was amazing. Here's my Miami Herald story and some of the tips shared by Momtrepreneurs:

As a writer and mom, I've watched one of the most amazing trends of the Millennium: women in huge numbers taking control over their work schedules by becoming business owners. On Tuesday, more than 300 South Florida mothers showed at a workshop sponsored by MomsMiami.com to learn how to be a successful entrepreneur.

Moms, some recently downsized, are finding niches in all kinds of unique areas. I met Joan Alini, a laid-off school teacher who sells aprons packaged in pie boxes. Crazy? You may think so, but she's found her target audience in schoolteacher friends -- and she's making money. I also met Mary Pat Pankoke, a mom who has joined with her mom. They formed two businesses, one that conducts coupon classes and the other a website for used children's items.

Of course, balancing a business and family isn't the cakewalk many mom entrepreneurs envisioned. If there is a message the audience walked away with Tuesday it's that the reality of managing a business comes with both the benefit of flexible schedule and a dose of harsh reality.

Misha Kurlya-Gomez, founder of the popular Misha's Cupcakes, is a Miami success story. She started her business from her home kitchen after giving birth, when her husband nudged her to get a job. She told moms her company now sells more than 20,000 cupcakes and 50 cakes a week through its retail store and wholesale business.

But Kurlya-Gomez's path to profitability came packaged with experiences such as her dragging daughter on customer calls, sparring with her spouse over whether to stick with the business, opening and closing mall kiosks, and learning some pretty ugly lessons about employee ethics.

Being a mom entrepreneur also means questioning some of your business decisions and learning from mistakes. Marla Brock, a former lawyer, started PlanetZee.com, a family travel website. The idea came from her passion for travel and her experience staying in a hotel that wasn't geared for kids. But now, a year after her website is operating, and making money, she's wondering whether she should have targeted an even smaller niche - families traveling with kids between the ages of one and four. ``What I've learned is not to be afraid to be targeted and small. You can grow organically.''

For me, one of the most eye-opening statements of the day came when Brock said anyone thinking of launching a business needs to start today, this minute, by taking out a piece of paper, writing down your business idea and identifying your target audience. ``You don't have to have a grand business plan.'' Isn't that what scares some moms and dads from moving forward?

Of course, having the idea for a business or invention often is the easy part. Finding the money, devoting the manpower and growing the business are where the bigger challenges lie.

Sheryl Rosenthal and Rebecca Joseph of Plantation are on the verge of taking their home business to a new level. Their company, Free to Be Studio, designs and sells T-shirts for special events. The two moms started by targeting their children's elementary schools, designing class T-shirts for field trips or field day. They expanded from there.

``We ran around with the kids in the car, distributing fliers to schools,'' Rosenthal said. Their next step was making samples and going through training. ``We took a class in Adobe illustrator so that instead of paying an artist we could do the design work ourselves.''

Just like Kurlya-Gomez, in building their business, the two admit to making some mistakes, and learning from them. Initially, they priced the shirts too low, making only their investment back. They also learned the hard way that offering too much selection is unnecessary. They now know they want to aim for big orders of at least 100 items with a minimum of 24.

As their shirt business takes off, another opportunity has come along. Sheryl's mother-in-law, Florence Rosenthal, has offered to transition her longtime home-based invitation printing business, Calig-aPrint, over to them. ``We thought immediately that it is a perfect combination,'' Rosenthal says. ``We could be a one-stop shop.''

What lands them business, Joseph says, is their ``can do'' spirit: ``When anyone asks if we can do something, we say yes, and then we figure out how to do it.''

To read more about the Mom2Mom Business Workshop, visit momsmiami.com.

(photo of Shannon Koonin, mother and founder of  www.PlayGROUPConnect.

Moms04 Business BIZ EKM

November 02, 2009

Should you be forced to get the swine flu vaccine at work?

    Many parents in Broward County spent the weekend deciding whether to sign the papers to allow our Flu shot kids to receive the swine flu shots in school. Conflicted, I spoke to many parents about it. Most, like me, are unsure what to do. It seems most parents are going with their gut instinct rather than basing their decision on any conclusive research.

    But isn't that what we typically do as parents?

    Even though outbreaks appear to be more common in schools than workplaces, the same debate over whether to get the vaccine applies to adults. The number of swine flu cases in adults is rising and deliveries of the vaccine are slower than officials hoped. Given the opportunity, should I get the vaccine? And, should my employer make me get it? After all, if I bring swine flu into the workplace, I'm putting everyone there at risk.  

     Today's Wall Street Journal has an article on how companies are preparing for possible swine flu outbreak: Worried they could face throngs of ill and absent employees, companies are devising plans to keep their offices and factories running. They also hope to prevent or limit the spread of infection in the workplace by installing hand-sanitizer dispensers and thermal scanners, ordering workers to wipe down their desks and phones, and asking employees who don't feel well to stay home. To pre-empt high absenteeism, many companies are trying to get workers vaccinated, particularly those who travel internationally, Some companies are stocking antiviral drugs to treat flu-ridden employees.

      How would I react if I was required by my employer to get it? I might be resentful. I most likely will get the vaccine, but I want it to be my choice.  One of the best articles I've read on the pros and cons of the swine flu vaccines appeared in The Orlando Sentinel.

    The National Law Journal reports that employment lawyers are hearing from businesses worried about a potential swine flu pandemic affecting their work force. Apparently, some employers are not only thinking about mandating the vaccine but they are even asking whether they can take employees' temperatures at work -- a concept lawyers highly advise against, noting it's illegal to give employees a medical test at work.

    Most employment lawyers don't advise mandating the vaccine but they do recommend employers offer incentives, such as a paid day off or a free lunch for those who get the shot.

      I think we're going to see some workplaces policies tested in the next few months. In some cases, it might be in employees favor. We may see more offer paid sick days.

      If you are a parent, your risk is higher. Do you think you have any responsibility to co-workers get the vaccine? Do you think an employer who doesn't offer paid sick leave has any responsibility to make the vaccine available to workers?