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13 posts from October 2010

October 29, 2010

Wearing a costume to work


Is it weird to wear a Halloween costume to work? Does it make you come across as fun or unprofessional?

I guess a lot of that depends on where you work, what you do and what costume you wear. A beefy guy in a ballerina costume? That might be frowned on in an office full of conservative women. I once had a boss who wore a cat suit to work. He looked bizarre. That was a tough image to shake all year, even when he wore his business suit.

Personally, I think it's okay to wear something fun without it being an entire costume...maybe a fun hat, wig or glasses.

One guy quoted in the Chicago Tribune made a great point: Phil Melcher will only take part if the whole office does. "It really wouldn't look right to see some people doing it and others being completely uncooperative," he said.

 A new Harris poll shows half of U.S. adults (51%) feel Halloween is an over hyped holiday and one-third (32%) believe only children should dress up for Halloween. This may help explain why two-thirds of adults (66%) say they plan to celebrate Halloween this year, but only one-quarter (26%) are planning to dress up.

So, fess up...did you wear your costume to work today? Would you think any less of a co-worker for wearing a costume to work for Halloween?




October 27, 2010

How to fit mentoring into your work life balance

Earlier this week, I learned about a high school in Fort Lauderdale for teen moms. In that school, there are 13 years old who already have several kids. What does the world hold for these mothers and their children? It could hold lots of opportunity if only one of those moms had someone to mentor her.

But how in the world do workers fit mentoring into our overloaded schedules? I took on the topic in my Miami Herald column today. I hope it gives all of you some inspiration. You can make a big difference in a young person's life.

Jodi and Dorothy

(Above: Dorothy Eisenberg and Jodi Cross) 

For professionals,

mentoring is worth time,effort




Though it's far from the glamorous offices of Essence magazine, Susan L. Taylor maneuvers through the hallways and bureaucracy at The Seagull School in Fort Lauderdale just as easily as she had the executive suite she once occupied. She has a strong message for the teen mothers who attend the public high school: ``We will find you mentors.''

By the time Taylor boards a flight back to New York, she will send the signal loud and clear to the South Florida business community: ``We are in a state of emergency.''

Today, American workers are stressed by an ever-present feeling of overwhelm. They are worried about job security, keeping businesses afloat and carrying heavy workloads. While most people feel they don't have a second to spare, Taylor wants to convince them that mentoring is not a luxury.

``The recession set back everything, even mentoring,'' says Taylor, who came to deliver her message to more than 200 women this week at The Commonwealth Institute South Florida. Now CEO of the National Care Mentoring Movement, she adds, ``We have to help people who are struggling.''

Jodi Cross, executive director of TCI, said her organization, founded to encourage women to mentor each other, has experienced the same drop-off.

``People are pulling back and hunkering down.'' Yet, Cross says her members agree with Taylor's message. ``We all realize we need to help one another whether it is kids or other adults.''

Nationwide, the need for mentoring is glaring. High school students, particularly males, are dropping out. College students are graduating with high debt and no jobs. And young workers are stymied in workplaces that have cut back on training to help them grow. Only 17 percent of companies polled by the Society of Human Resource Management on their 2010 benefits reported still having a formal mentorship program. Fortunately, some professionals are finding ways to juggle mentoring and other obligations.

Dorothy Eisenberg, a partner with Gerson, Preston, Robinson and Co. in Miami Beach, mentors accounting students at the University of Miami. She will invite students to firm functions, community or professional organization events to see networking in action. ``It's an easy thing,'' she says. She also talks with her mentees regularly on the phone or invites them to her office. ``Most mentoring programs can be done in flexible way. When you are successful, you give back so others can become successful.''

Tanya Blake, a guidance counselor at The Seagull School, suggests busy professionals consider group mentoring, where a firm adopts a classroom and professionals take turns going to the school and showing students different skills.

A group of Miami businesswomen have taken another route. They started a power lunch series last year that meets monthly in the intimate restaurant at the JW Marriott on Brickell. Each time, they invite a nonprofit leader and a female University of Miami college student to join them.

``These young women get to make introduction, hear the exchange of career advice and be a part of the conversation in a relaxed business setting,'' says Sissy DeMaria, co-owner of Kreps DeMaria public relations in Coral Gables. ``We get to have a great business discussion over a leisurely lunch while we are mentoring.''

Mentors, like teachers, can help guide people at any life stage. Robbie Bell, a real estate agent with EWM, reaches out to young African-American women new to their careers and to South Florida. She hosts a monthly event where she introduces newcomers to local businesswomen. She encourages her mentees to exchange business cards and call the women they meet when they need help.

``I don't have the time. I have to make the time,'' Bell says of her mentoring role. But, she says, ``I don't think I would be the person I am today without the women in this city reaching out to me.''

In another approach, the Florida Association of Women Lawyers has come up with a speed mentoring event. Law students and legal professionals mix and mingle in speed-dating fashion. The event kicks off the organization's Mentoring Program, and creates mentor/mentee pairs who work together for the remainder of the school year.

Whether you mentor colleagues, business owners or students through formal or informal programs, research shows mentoring makes a difference in someone's success. Jennifer Valoppi has seen that firsthand. She founded Women of Tomorrow, a South Florida program for women professionals to mentor at-risk high school girls.

Valoppi structured the program to be convenient for the 250 working women who signed up as mentors -- placing them in high schools near their workplaces and giving them the option to go in person one hour a month or talk to a mentee over the phone.

``We knew we couldn't put them in the position where it was so time-consuming that they would be jeopardizing their jobs,'' Valoppi says.

Earlier this year, Valoppi surveyed 400 of the organization's at-risk mentees and discovered they had a 92 percent high school graduation rate. In follow-up interviews, the organization learned 99 percent of its girls are either attending college or plan on attending in the near future. Valoppi now plans to take her successful program into more states.

Valoppi says she understands why people struggling through difficult economic times might show reluctance to the commitment involved in mentoring. But like Taylor, she's convinced it's critical to our country's welfare. ``I honestly believe if you reach out to help someone else, you will both elevate yourself and the other person.''

October 26, 2010

Susan Taylor warns women to put themselves first



Susan taylor (Susan L. Taylor)
I felt fortunate today to hear Susan L.Taylor, editor-in-chief emeritus of Essence Magazine, deliver her message to the crowd of more than 200 women at The Commonwealth Institute's Leadership Luncheon in Miami. She mostly taught us how to avoid feeling stressed by revealing her secret weapon.

Taylor told us her impressive story of being a single mother at a young age and landing a job at Essence without a high school diploma. After 37 years at the magazine, she now has devoted herself to recruiting mentors for young people. But she says to deliver on a commitment to mentor or carry out a job with integrity, you have to be committed to taking time out for yourself.

 "Put you on your schedule,"Taylor says. She believes we should make 10 minutes each morning for quiet time with ourselves -- whether it is sitting in a bathtub, lying in bed or talking a walk. Doing that, she says, will help us make better decision, treat people better and open our mind to new ideas. "You have to walk out of your house thinking life is on your side."

Have you recently snapped at work or home in a scenario you later regretted? Would you have handled it differently if you had started your day with a personal time out?

October 25, 2010

Women CEOs are mothers

I love it when someone screams out mom in a department store and dozens of heads turn in response. Would it surprise you to know that all but two members of the female CEO elite at big U.S. businesses would answer? It surprised me to learn in the Wall Street Journal that of the 12 female CEOs of Fortune 500 companies, 11 are moms.

Bookbastion I'm even more surprised that it was a man who researched this info and wrote about it in his new book, The Last Male Bastion, which examines female chief executives. (I'm putting it on my reading list!)

While most of us convinced ourselves that motherhood was a career penalty, Douglas Branson , a University of Pittsburgh law professor, did the research and proved that being a mom doesn't always stall a career. Wow! That's extremely encouraging.

Here's what Branson found that these women CEOs have in common: They couldn't be at some key events when their kids were growing up. They have extensive support from their husbands. They compartmentalize work and home. They determine in advance not to have guilt.

In my years of interviewing women CEOs of companies of all sizes, I've seen the same commonalities.

Here's another big Branson discovery: These women CEOs drew on their experience as parents when climbing the ladder at work. They knew when to pick battles, how to mediate conflicts, and how to help others ease work family conflicts.

You can be sure these CEO successes came with heart wrenching trade-offs.

Over the weekend, I saw the new hit movie, Secretariat. I cringed during the hotel room scene.  Penny Chenery (aka Penny Tweedy), one of the first female race horse owners to be a part of press conferences and horse racing history, lies in her bed and cries when her flight is cancelled after a race and she can't get home to see her daughter sing in a play. Those kinds of tradeoffs were new to women in the 1970s. Today, they are sacrifices moms and dads make regularly. However, I'm sure they are just as painful. 

While most of these Fortune 500 CEOs are of the age that their children mostly are in their 20s, they still are a beacon of hope to the new moms out there. Having a great career and a family can be done. The mommy track just may be the new career track.




October 20, 2010

Sally Gordon, 101, is America's Oldest Outstanding Worker

In my constant quest for work life balance, I can't imagine work not being part of the equation. That's why I LOVE the article I read today in the Nebraska JournalStar on 101 year old Sally Gordon. She is an assistant sergeant-at-arms in the Legislature for 27 years. Below is a photo of her in action. I'm in awe.

Oldest worker 

Can you imagine yourself working until the age of 101? Would you be in the same job you are now?


Job seekeers can avoid work life disaster

Recently, I asked a friend how her new job was going. I expected to hear how happy she was at her new job. Instead, she told me it was a disaster. I decided there must be others out there in the same situation. With people out of the job market for months, it's easy to jump at the first decent offer that comes your way. I figured I should give job seekers some advice on the front end for finding a job that fits their life needs. Below are some suggestions from my Miami Herald column. If you've experienced disasters, please share your story or offer advice. I am sure it would be helpful to others.

'Dream' job offer? Here's how to make sure it's not a nightmare in disguise

Before you take a `dream job' that could turn into a nightmare, do your homework. Company cultures vary widely.
   Mary Young heads the career center at University of Miami, in Coral Gables. She is advising Stephanie Aoun, who already has a job when she graduates.
Mary Young heads the career center at University of Miami, in Coral Gables. She is advising Stephanie Aoun, who already has a job when she graduates.

By Cindy Krischer Goodman


After nine months of unemployment, Susan Sands took a job as an administrative assistant. Two weeks later, she wished she hadn't.

A single mom, Smith discovered her boss was a workaholic, that taking vacation was taboo and that the work day ended well after 7 p.m. She was headed for work/life disaster.

The job market is showing signs of life, but with U.S. unemployment at nearly 10 percent, and Florida at 11.7 percent, most workers feel fortunate just to land a position. In fact, they feel so fortunate, that they often ignore warning signs that the job doesn't fit with their life needs.

``What's happening is that people are enamored by a brand or a certain kind of profession and they take the offer without doing due diligence,'' says Mary Young, director of Ziff Graduate Career Services Center at University of Miami School of Business. ``It's potentially disastrous for everyone.''

One worker I spoke to is a caregiver for his elderly father. He took a job that involves much more travel than was in the job description. Now, while miles away, this worker is getting phone calls from hospitals, doctors, strangers -- and his father, whose memory and health is slipping. He's considering leaving his job. ``I needed to get back to work,'' he told me. ``It's been a disaster.''

For jobs filled in the last year, turnover is hard to track. James Pedderson, spokesperson for global outplacement consultancy Challenger, Gray & Christmas, believes most people who landed positions are hanging on to them, building their network of contacts, keeping their résumés updated and waiting for the economy to strengthen.

Before signing up for your dream job that might become a nightmare, you need to dig deeper into the company culture. In most companies, there is a wide range of benefits, that when packaged together, can really make a difference in a worker's life. Often that information is available on a company website.

``It's not a guarantee of a family-friendly workplace, but it's a start,'' says Judith Casey, Director of the Sloan Work and Family Research Network at Boston College Graduate School of Social Work. Almost as important, she says, is learning if the benefits and policies can actually be used for the position you are considering without suffering a penalty. ``Some organizations for example, may allow flexibility for their supervisors but not for their line workers,'' Casey explains.

When work/life problems crop up, they typically involve a person's supervisor or the business owner. Benefits may be available, but if your supervisor isn't on board you might as well work for an employer who doesn't offer them at all. Experts suggest you probe your future boss during the interview. Ask questions such as ``How long have you worked here? If I could talk to people who work for you, what would they say?''

Finding out why a position is open is important, too. You might ask: ``Was the last person who had this role promoted? Also, ask about work hours. You may want to check out the parking lot in late evening and see how many workers stick around after standard hours.

The best sources of information on culture are insiders. At the office, people talk. When they leave a company, they talk. Consider a Google search to see what surfaces. Ask if your social network might know someone who has worked at this organization and more specifically in your future department. ``In huge companies, one department might be great and another a sweat shop,'' says Catherine Jewell, career coach and author of New Resume New Career.

For someone looking for a family-friendly workplace, check out the various ``best places to work'' lists. For more work/life benefits, try pinpointing companies where women fill top positions and females are a larger proportion of the workforce.

A Families and Work Institute study revealed that 82 percent of companies with women in half or more of their top executive positions are more likely to provide traditional flextime and daycare than those with no women in top management. And, workforces with a larger proportion of women are more likely to provide family-oriented benefits. A company's website can be a treasure trove of information on what positions are held by women.

Employment attorney Frances Green suggests if an employer touts himself as family-friendly, ask for examples. ``If the employer can point to such things as flex-time work for employees or job-sharing arrangements, such policies would suggest that the employer values a good work/life balance.''

Whether you are a 20-something who wants time for a hobby at night or a 60-something who wants a reduced schedule, job interviews are about whether the position fits your needs, too.

Marcia McPherson, CEO of Employment Resources, a staffing company in Tamarac, says candidates mistakenly allow a job interview to be a one-way conversation. ``Go in prepared with questions. You are trying to see if you are a match. If flexibility is important, go in prepared with that question.''

Stephen Wing, president of Corporate Voices for Working Families says companies now realize that flexibility is the number one benefit most workers want, which makes getting past lip service tricky. ``You really want to ask open-ended questions about their policy.''

How you are treated during the interview also will give you insight into culture, Jewell says. ``Were you offered water or coffee? Do they have respect for your time? If you felt disrespected, don't take the job.''


October 18, 2010

Work life balance and CEOs who lie

Have you ever had the feeling the boss is lying?

Perhaps it was during during a job interview when your future boss told you dozens of people who work at the company use flexible schedules. Or maybe you have had that feeling when your CEO told you the workplace was about to go through a huge reorganization, but there was no need to worry about your job security.

It's bad enough when our kids lie to us, but when the CEO lies, it can lead to financial disaster.

This morning, NPR had a report on CEOs who lie. The report mentioned that  after studying thousands of corporate earnings calls, two researchers from Stanford University think they've come up with a way to tell when senior executives are fibbing. They wondered if by studying this fibbing they could predict those companies that are likely to have problems.

They discovered some key indicators of deception, a pattern in the language used by CEOs whose companies later were plagued with fraud or had to restate earnings. Lying executives tend to overuse words like "we" and "our team" when they talk about their company. They avoid saying "I."

Researchers say there's a reason: "If I'm saying 'I' or 'me' or 'mine,' I'm showing my ownership of the statement, so psychologically I'm showing I'm responsible for what I'm saying."

Lying CEOs also tend to use a lot of words that express positive emotion — things are fabulous and fantastic and extraordinary. When Enron was about to implode then CEO Ken Lay used phrases like "extremely strong" and "very successful." After the financial meltdown, investors want transparency. They are ready to seize on any tool they can find to figure out who they can trust.

So are employees.

We want to trust our company leaders.  Which leads me to wonder, can those same key indicators help us determine whether a CEO is lying about work life balance policies, raises and job security?  An earlier NPR report offers this advice: Liars come in with a script in their heads, rehearsed answers.

Next time your CEO launches into a speech meant to motivate the workforce, look for those key indicators. Unfortunately, as a reporter, I've heard many CEOs lie, and yes, I do think they lie just as much to their own employees as they do investors.

Have you ever had your boss lie to you? Is it more frustrating to be lied to about a company's financial health or about promises to employees? Are there any clues you feel give away a lying CEO?



October 15, 2010

What women should be doing to help each other

Frances Green Photo Last week, I had lunch with three women. We were chatting about all kinds of things when I asked one of the women, Fran Green, about her experience as the founder of the Women’s Initiative at her law firm, Epstein Becker Green.

Green is one of the most interesting women I have met. She truly believes women should help each other. Green is a former nun, a respected employment attorney, an equestrian, a fluent speaker of Japanese, and she's married to the name partner in Epstein Becker Green, one of the country's most recognized employment law firms. Fran and I discuseed the Women's Initiative and its success. Eight years after formation, Fran says it has connected dozens of women inside and outside the law firm through workshops and by providing a place to share information on how to get ahead.

Fran has something even more impressive to her credit than founder of the Women’s Initiative.  She has fully embraced mentorship: “I don’t go to a client meeting or lunch without bringing a young female associate with me to watch and learn.”   Can you imagine if all women in senior positions  made that effort?

Coincidentally, one of my lunch guests was Cindi Perantoni,  a young account executive at a local PR firm. She had come to the lunch with her boss, firm co-owner Sissy DeMaria.  Afterward, Cindy told me how much she professional had gained from watching Sissy interact with Fran, a firm client. “There’s a value to seeing someone in action and learning through osmosis," she said. "How else can you grow in your profession?"

We all know women in senior positions who have no interest in bringing other women up the ladder. I've seen them at my workplace and I'm sure you have, too. I hold out hope that the Fran Greens out there will encourage future generations of women to invite young associates along on client meetings or lunch with senior members of the firm. Am I being naive?

Do you think that women are doing enough mentoring? Have you ever been invited by a senior person at your workplace to an important meeting? Would you be willing to reach out and bring someone else up the ladder?




October 13, 2010

Miners in Chile: Do co-workers stick together?

The upcoming months are sure to bring all kinds of stories to light about what went on with the miners in Chile during their period underground. No doubt, tempers flared when the temperatures rose. But from what we've seen so far, what we would like to believe, these 33 guys stuck together, giving each other the encouragement to survive in this horrific scenario.

So, it's interesting to me that the same day the miners were rescued, Met Life revealed its study on co-workers. I've learned over the years that co-workers play a huge role in your work/ life balance and job satisfaction.  They can make you love a job or make you miserable at work. The MetLife study looked at whether coworkers would take a pay cut to save your job. It found ethnicity factors in:

  • 77% of African Americans would be willing to take a 10% pay cut to prevent layoffs at their company. 77% of Asians would follow suit, as would 56% of the Hispanic population and 69% of Whites.
  • Hispanic and Asian individuals were more likely to report taking on more responsibility at work due to staffing cutbacks over the last two years (61% for each group) compared to 53% of African Americans and 55% of Whites.
  • These two groups are also more stressed about performing all the tasks their jobs require compared to two years ago: 61% of Asians and 57% of Hispanics reported increased stress, compared to 55% of African Americans and 53% of Whites.

At workplaces across the United States during the last year, we've seen co-workers step up and take pay cuts to help save each others jobs. Initially, I thought it was admirable. Now, I'm not so sure. I worry that employers are taking advantage of co-worker generosity. That they will force people to work for less and eventually trim staff anyway.

I also wonder: What's the motive behind saving our co-worker's job --- is it that we realize the work will land on our shoulders if our co-worker gets let go? Does that make our action any less worthy?

What are your thoughts on MetLife's findings? Would you take a pay cut to save a co-worker's job? If so, does the amount of the pay cut weigh into your answer?

October 12, 2010

More workers dropping adult parents at day care

A friend of mine called me in tears one day. She needed her job. She wanted her elderly mom to live with her. But she didn't trust mom home alone when she went to work. She ended up bringing her mother to an adult day care center during the day. 

Most of us know by now that elder care is going to be huge issue as baby boomers age. But did you ever consider dropping mom or dad off at day care when you go to work?

Senior day care is the latest trend. Modeled after childcare centers, adult centers provide all kinds of activities during the day. The advantage is that mom or dad can live with you, the caregiver, and have somewhere to go during the day where they are supervised and stimulated while you go to the office.

In response to demand, there has been significant growth in the number of Adult Day Services centers in the U.S. over the past eight years, according to a new study by the MetLife Mature Market Institute.  There are more than 4,600 Adult Day Services (ADS) centers nationwide, a 35% increase since 2002, according to "The MetLife National Study of Adult Day Services: Providing Support to Individuals and Their Family Caregivers"   

Apparently, the trend is so hot that there are waiting lists. Twenty-nine percent of the centers have waiting lists.  More than half of the participants (58%) are women; 30% are under age 65.

The good news for anyone considering this option is that centers have significantly upgraded the level of services they provide, according to the consumer guide, "The Essentials: Adult Day Services"

Here are a few facts about Adult Day Services from the MetLife Study I thought you would find interesting:

  • Elderlyparent Most operate Mondays through Fridays from 6:30 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. in a 1,000-5,000 square foot facility.  Centers are usually administered by a professional in the business/health care administration, nursing or social work field.  Professional services are provided by a Registered Nurse (RN) or Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN) and recreational and therapy professionals.  The typical direct care worker-to-program participant ratio is 1:6.
  • Fees average $61.71 per day and typically come from a public source, including Medicaid waiver, the Veterans Administration, state/local social services or directly from a private-pay participant.  Since the average daily cost of care is $68.89 per person, centers supplement revenue with grants and donations.
  • Though participants are diverse in age, ethnicity and ability, the average participant is a 65-plus-year-old, white female with dementia, hypertension or a physical disability requiring assistance with at least one activity of daily living (ADL) and medication management.  She lives with an adult child or spouse, or lives alone, but primarily receives care from an adult child.
  • The average length of enrollment in a program is 24 months.
  • The majority of the ADS centers (86%) reported they were state-certified or licensed, a 10% increase from 2002.
  • The study reports an increase in the number of for-profit ADS centers.  Currently, 27% are for profit today, compared with 22% in 2002.

Would you consider dropping a parent or family member at an Adult Daycare? Do you think it would add stress or lessen the stress in your life?