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16 posts from September 2011

September 30, 2011

Is your weight your business, or your employer's?

What if I'm hanging out in my company's lunchroom and I'm gorging myself on cupcakes. Oh yeah, and what if I'm already overweight -- maybe a couple hundred pounds overweight? Should my employer say something to me? What if I'm on the company's insurance plan--- does that give my employer a right to encourage me to eat healthier?

More often these days, employers are getting involved in their workers' weight issues, enrolling them in company wellness programs. Of course there's a fine line between when and how employers intervene with overweight employees.

Today, AOL.com featured the story of Ronald Kratz.  Kratz thought he was helping the situation when he alerted his superiors at a Houston-based plant run by BAE Systems that he was having trouble buckling the seatbelt of a forklift that he was operating and suggested the use of an extender.

Two weeks later, the 600 pound Kratz was fired. Now, two years later, Kratz unemployment insurance has run out and Kratz has decided to file suit with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission representing him. The thinking is that Kratz, who has since lost some 200 lbs., could have a case. According to ABC News, his performance evaluations in 2008 and 2009 were "very good."

"It was a total surprise," said Kratz, in an interview with the Houston Chronicle. "I wanted to cry." Kratz went on to tell the Texas daily that he had offered to accept a demotion in order to remain employed. But perhaps what made the firing so surprising, in addition to the positive reviews he was receiving, was that physical labor took up some 10 percent of his work activities, he says. The rest of his time was occupied with desk work.

I'm not clear on how long Kratz worked at the company and whether his superiors made any attempts to help him lose weight. It would be interesting to know if the company had a wellness program and how costly it would be to buy him the extender he had requested.

Meanwhile, it turns out really heavy people might be considered protected from discrimination.

"I don't think people are aware morbid obesity could be considered a disability under the law," Kathy Boutchee, senior trial attorney with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), told ABC News.

Weight discrimination cases represent a burgeoning field of employment lawsuits. At this time, Michigan is the lone state that has formal statewide decrees against weight discrimination. Other localities, however, have also begun protecting the overweight in the workplace, including six U.S. cities (Santa Cruz and San Francisco, Calif.; Madison, Wis.; Urbana, Ill.; Washington, D.C. and Binghamton, N.Y.) 

Readers, do you think employers are justified in getting involved in their workers' weight issues? Should they have to incur the expense of sending their worker to Weight Watchers or buying them special equipment or should they just fire them? Do you feel firing someone who needs special accommodations because they're overweight is discrimination?


September 29, 2011

Should women act like men to fit in?


In high school, we walk the fine line between fitting in and being our own person. But do you ever really outgrow the need to fit in? 

D'Anne Hurd, Board Director of Micronetics, was extremely candid on the topic of "Fitting In" at Women Executive Leadership's Getting on the Radar event earlier this week. Hurd says to land a corporate board seat, CEOs and other board members need to trust and feel comfortable with you. That's not easy when you're a woman and the board is all men. Hurd has sat on several all male boards. To fit in, she took up golf, learned to talk sports and made conversation around male board member's interests. 

After the program, a few women in the audience told Hurd they disagree that it's necessary to play that game to fit in with men. But Hurd speaks from experience. I admire her for knowing and doing what it takes to land on corporate boards and get into a position where she can make a significant impact. If that took playing the "fitting in" game, more power to her for recognizing it!

As a board member, Hurd makes it a mission to fill open seats with other women. She does this by sitting on the nominating committee and bringing qualified women to the board's attention. "When I roll off a board, I try to make sure the position if filled with another woman," she said. "I think every woman board member should make it their goal to continue expand the number of women on boards."

But moving the needle, actually getting more women on boards, is going to be tough, she said. There's a low amount of turnover and fewer positions as a result of recent consolidations. She thinks there should be term limits on board positions.

Fred Hassan, Partner & Managing Director for Warburg Pincus, told the audience that though diversity may make some board members feel uncomfortable, he sees a correlation with performance. Hassan is former CEO of Schering-Plough Corp and Pharmacia and sits on the Avon board, which has five women. "If a company is progressive, it has a more diverse board and it's probably doing well in the marketplace," Hassan said.

Both Hurd and Hassan believe that to achieve board diversity, companies need to broaden the requirements, opening searches to people outside the C-suites and already on boards. "It's amazing how many available candidates there are if you open the horizon," Hassan said.

Moderator Angel Angel Gallinal, partner at Egon Zehnder International, an executive search and board consultancy firm, asked Hurd and Hassan how long it takes them to get comfortable on a board. For Hurd, it typically about three meetings. "I listen hard and do my homework before I make a comment." Hassan says it usually takes him a full year. However, he doesn't worry about "fitting in" or the clubiness that can go on in the boardroom. "I focus on where I can make my contribution."

Hassan offered aspiring board members this advice: "Be well known in your own field." Hurd added: "If you're interested you have to let people know."

Readers, what are your thoughts on what it's going to take to get more diversity on boards. Do women need to work harder to get men to trust and feel comfortable around them? Or is it up to men to reach out to more women if they want the company to perform better?

(Above: Angel Gallinal, Fred Hassan, D'Anne Hurd at the Women Executive Leadership event)





Online job complaints -- can you get fired?

Most of us think what we do from our own computers on our own time is our personal business. But sometimes that just isn't true.

For example, one night, a bartendar got home after a rough shift and launched into a discussion with his cousin about his night at work. During the Facebook conversation, he mentioned that his company's tipping policy "sucked" because the waitresses don't have to share their tips.

He was fired for those comments.

But in other instances, employees aired their job gripes on social media sites were fired and then reinstated because what they did was protected activity. 

In my Miami Herald column, I tackled the topic and learned a lot. I hope you do, too.


The Miami Herald

Online rants — what’s protected?

By Cindy Krischer Goodman

   From the YouTube video titled 'The Starbucks Rant Song'
From the YouTube video titled 'The Starbucks Rant Song'
Christopher Cristwell, a 25-year-old Starbucks barista, became fed up with rude customers and their annoying orders for skinny vanilla lattes. So, he did what young workers sometimes do these days. He made a video rant about it in song form — and uploaded it to YouTube. It quickly became a sensation.

When Starbucks fired him, Cristwell posted a video rant about that, too.

Today, posting your every move, thought and feeling on social media sites is a way of life for many adults, particularly young adults. Employers find themselves caught in the middle, wanting to use social media to promote their products and services, but also trying to determine where to draw the line on workers’ rights to post job gripes on these sites.

Workers — on and off the clock — are taking to their Facebook, Twitter and YouTube accounts to complain about everything from jerky bosses to rude customers to slacking co-workers to crappy company policies. There’s even a cottage industry of rant sites for disgruntled workers cropping up on the Internet such as www.jobvent.com. The knee-jerk reaction from most employers is to fire the worker.

“Everyone is trying to figure this out,” said Nancy Cleeland, director of public affairs for the National Labor Relations Board. Social media sites have become the office water cooler, a place where people hang out, float ideas and air their job complaints. But as Cleeland notes, “the audience potentially is so much bigger.”

At the moment, technology is ahead of employment law. Employers are being sued when their workers post photos of minors on porn sites from company computers. They’re being sued by the Federal Trade Commission for allowing employees to peddle their products without disclosing that they work for the company. They’re also being sued when they fire workers who rant about their jobs on social media sites. They’re being sued even when they have social media policies.

But the findings are going both ways — in favor of employees and employers.

“Both parties need to be careful with what they do online,” said Mark Neuberger, a management-side labor lawyer with Foley & Lardner in Miami. “There’s no direct easy answer to what’s allowable.”

Some bosses mistakenly assume that they can fire workers who complain on Facebook about the company or its managers, particularly if the employee does it from an office cubicle. But they’re discovering it’s not a slam dunk.

Click here to read more.

September 26, 2011

The boss who play favorites

Boss Have you ever had a boss that blatantly has favorites, just like a school teacher with her pet students?

Most of us have, and it's not fun to be the one who doesn't have the "favorite" status. But do you think it's possible that some bosses really have no idea they have favorites or treat some workers differently than others?

I read something today that made think it was possible.

A boss wrote into the newspaper for advice. She said her staff gave her a terrible rating on favoritism. She said she feels she's consistent on applying policies and enforcing rules. However, she admits she's has a closer connection with some employers who share common interests. She wants to know what to do to make it better.

What would you tell her?

Being "in" with the boss can make a world of difference in your work and home life. It can be the key to getting some flexibility and pulling off work life balance.

The expert advice for this boss was interesting. Marie McIntyre told her:  "The first step is to objectively evaluate your interactions with employees, then make an effort to distribute your attention more equally. Managers should always be aware of the messages sent by their actions. While it's normal to enjoy the company of some people more than others, you must be careful not to make that preference obvious."

This whole issue of favoritism at work reminded me of a blog post by Penelope Trunk. It was about "fitting in." She writes: People do not lose jobs because they don't get the job done. People generally lose jobs because of poor cultural fit. If people think you fit on the team, they'll cut you slack even when you don't get the job done. In fact, the Harvard Business Review reports that people don't even care if you don't get the job done if they like you.

So, how do you get the boss to like you? And if she or he doesn't, how do you make her aware of her "appearance" of favoritism. 

My suggestion: Find out your boss's interests, dig deep to find out what you might have in common, and then, make conversation around those interests. You don't want to fake a sudden love of football but you might start watching a few games to make conversation. 

Even if the boss doesn't do it intentionally, being  "a favorite" usually means you're on the receiving end of more information and better assignments. For a boss, that can be dangerous because some staff might resent it. But if you're the guy left out, I think you have do something. That could mean making the boss aware of your perception.  This boss who wrote in for advice seems like she would be open to her employee's feedback.

Readers, have you ever worked for a boss that plays favorites? If so, did you do anything about it? If you are a boss, do you think its possible to change employee perception?

September 23, 2011

Family dinners matter

Family dinner
One night, I invited my son's friend over for dinner. When he took his seat at our family dinner table, he told us this was new to him. At his house, he said, he usually eats sitting on the couch by himself watching television. My kids didn't know how to react. I think they had never realized that NOT having family dinner was an option.

Even when chaos ensues, I make an effort to juggle dinner hour because it's what I was used to growing up.

As life gets crazier, parents work long hours and kids have more activities, family dinner has become an outdated ritual in many homes. But new research shows letting it go is a BIG mistake.

Last night, ABC News featured a segment on the topic.  Here's the link. 

Here are the big benefits of family dinners:

  • Compared to teens who ate with their families five to seven times a week, teenagers who had fewer than three family dinners a week were almost four times more likely to try tobacco, more than twice as likely to use alcohol and 2.5 times more likely to smoke pot. 
  • Teens who eat with their families make healthier food choices when eating out with their peers.
  • Female teens who ate family dinners at least most days were less likely to initiate purging, binge-eating and frequent dieting.

Of course, some teens, especially those with driver's licenses, who think it's "not cool" to eat dinner with their families. Seventeen-year-old Ben Smith had this comment on ABC.com: "You know if I'm sitting at the dinner table my parents are going to ask me, 'How'd you do at school today,'" he says. "You don't really want to tell them, 'Oh, I failed three tests.' "

Let's say you like the idea of family dinner, but don't think it's doable. 

William Doherty, a professor of family social science at the University of Minnesota advises starting on a Sunday night. "One (night) is better than zero. It's quality, not quantity."

More advice: Turn the television off, put all cellphones away and have kids talk about the best and worst thing that happened in their day.

This might be tough for parents, but he advises: Don't use the sit-down meal as an opportunity to nag or scold. "Make it a connecting meal. It's the quality of the connecting. Just try to have a good conversation," Doherty advices. "Don't grill them about their grades."

What are your thoughts on the family dinner hour? Do you think it's unrealistic these days? Do you think it REALLY makes a difference in whether a teen will drink or do drugs?


September 22, 2011

A work at home option

I get asked often about work at home options, which is why I wanted to share with you a segment from Lifetime's The Balancing Act

The Balancing Act recently featured  Angela Selden, CEO of Arise, the leading provider of virtual business services. Arise needs 11,000 agents in the areas of customer service, sales, and tech support. These virtual agents work from home, not in a call center, and have flexibility in setting their own hours. To pull off this job, you have to be a self-starter, reliable, type well and be comfortable creating a small business for yourself.  There is some initial investment. You should know that some people do this type of work for supplemental income.

In this segment, The Balancing Act explores what it takes to become a virtual agent with Arise.


I thought you'd find it informative:



Miami's Supermoms and How They Strike Work Life Balance

I've interviewed powerful businessmen while washing my kids in the bathtub. I've battled with editors while dealing with a toddlers temper tantrum in a dollar store. And I've supervised sibling clashes from my office desk. It all comes with being a working mom.

So, I'm dying to see the new movie with Sarah Jessica Parker, I Don't Know How She Does It -- so I can laugh and cry at how crazy it can be to juggle work and family. Ironically, I'm a working mom who just hasn't been able to squeeze the time into her hectic schedule to get to the movie theater. 

After nearly a decade of writing about work life balance, I've discovered that the juggling act is tough, whether it's a dad, mom or both trying to pull it off. I'll give you my review of the movie once I find the time to see it, in the meanwhile, I've interviewed some Miami Supermoms for my Miami Herald column to find out how they pull off the daily juggle.


The Miami Herald

Supermoms share how they do it all

By Cindy Krischer Goodman

   Youri Mevs is a Hatian American businesswoman balancing four kids and a high-profile job. She is preparing for her meeting with a banker to ask for a loan for a new free-trade zone in Haiti.
C.W. Griffin / Miami Herald Staff
Youri Mevs is a Hatian American businesswoman balancing four kids and a high-profile job. She is preparing for her meeting with a banker to ask for a loan for a new free-trade zone in Haiti.
I’ll never forget when a Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter at my newspaper told me she had rushed to pick her kid up early from after-school care for an appointment and demanded her child — fast. The administrator looked at her puzzled. My friend had forgotten that she had moved her child to a different after-care program.

As a working mother, I understood. Balancing a high-stress job and family is a juggling act in which the balls can drop at any time, invariably on our own heads. I say this as America is abuzz over Sara Jessica Parker’s newest role as Kate Reddy in the movie debut of I Don’t Know How She Does It. The movie, based on a fictional novel, is the story of a fund manager struggling to balance marriage, two small children and her high-powered career. It’s a role Parker knows well as a mother of three. She, like many other women, are finding ways to shine in their professions and run households in their spare time — even if they have to stretch themselves like elastic bands to pull it off.

I spoke with a few supermoms in the age of increased technology and greater workloads to find out how they juggle responsibilities:

Youri Mevs is managing shareholder of a 60-year-old private family conglomerate called WIN Group. She’s also CEO of a household that includes four daughters, ages 20 to 11. Earlier this week, Mevs, a Haitian American, found herself reviewing for a test with her youngest daughter in Miami in the morning, pitching one of her company’s projects to a loan officer in Haiti in the afternoon and talking over a new development with her business partners in the evening.

For Mevs, the key to balance is knowing how and when to ask for help. She does this from her assistant, her sibling/business partners, her ex-husband and her children. She’s specific when she asks for help and has taught her kids to help her by deciding what’s important for her to attend.

“They have been the greatest source of support in helping me manage my time,” she says.

Technology allows Jennifer Westerlund to pull off her balancing act. Westerlund, an equity partner at Greenberg Traurig in Fort Lauderdale, says she calendars everything, regardless of how trivial. With four children ages 8, 7, 5 and 3 and a corporate law practice, a calendar item might be sending an apple to school for a special project. Westerlund programs the electronic calendar to send her reminders.

Of course, technology also brings work into the home. That’s where closets come in handy. You’ll occasionally find Westerlund retreating to her master closet, where she’ll plunk herself down on the floor to discuss client business.

“When an unexpected client call comes up, I can’t keep four kids quiet no matter how much I bribe them,” she explains.

She’s also been known to pace outside in a suit, phone to ear. “My neighbors can’t fathom why I’m doing this.”

Click here to read more.

September 21, 2011

Three Florida Women CEOs share their personal stories


On Monday, I couldn't believe the excitement in the room when I attended the Women Executive Leadership event in Tampa. High ranking business women from all over Florida had come to hear what three powerhouse female CEOs of Florida companies had to say about what it takes to get to the top and stay there.

It was a rare insight into how these women shattered glass ceilings to win spots in the executive suites and now must manage big businesses in the roughest of economic times. In a candid conversation, Eileen Auen (PMSI), Mindy Grossman (HSN, Inc.) and Liz Smith (OSI Restaurant Partners LLC) talked about everything from leadership to motherhood to advancement.

Do you wonder whether these women always knew they wanted to be a CEO? Their answer was no.

They all said they had people who mentored them and guided them to the top of the corporate structure, which they said was no longer a ladder but more of a jungle gym.

Now that they're at the top, the women said the key to staying there is to be nimble and adapt to change.“You have to have vision but you also have to be able to turn on a dime. Being nimble is critical.” said Liz Smith, CEO of Tampa's OSI Restaurant Partners, whose restaurant chains include Outback Steakhouse.  Smith also advises anyone in management to be a courageous leader. "If your business is not comfortable with change, it will like irrelevance even less."

One big take away for the audience: Don't be afraid to fail, but if you do make a mistake, recognize it and move on -- quickly. Smith put it succinctly when she said: "Fail faster."

In addressing work life balance, the three female CEOs offered their own candid experiences handling the extreme demands of running major corporations, children and life outside the office.

"I'm a ruthless prioritizer," Smith said. "I believe in fewer, bigger, better."  She said that includes cutting out 30 percent of the busy work on any given day.

Mindy Grossman, CEO of St. Petersburg-based retailer HSN Inc. said she's learned that if she doesn't take time to renew herself, she's not good for anyone, family or work. I particularly liked Grossman's comments on how much she relies on her "support network" which includes a family nanny even though Grossman's daughter is 21. At one point, when deciding whether to take new, higher position, she consulted her entire family, nanny included.  "My family is always going to be my greatest priority, she said. "If I've made tough decisions, I have done it with them in mind."

Eileen Auen, chief executive of Tampa's PMSI Inc., a business insurance firm specializing in pharmacy and medical services and workers' compensation advisory services, said her big challenge is to deliver today but continue to innovate for the future. Like Grossman, she feels it is critical that women build networks. "When women get busy, that's the thing that goes, but that is essential."

A highlight of the day was when the three women spoke about the disappointingly small number of women leading Fortune 500 companies and occupying seats on public company boards. They urged companies to be willing to relax their rigid checklist of board qualifications if they are committed to gender diversity. Grossman advised women aspiring to corporate boards to put themselves out there and get as much exposure as possible.


September 15, 2011

My very big mom mistake - and what it taught me

Last night, I had one of those multi-tasking implosions that has left me beseiged with guilt. I was reporting a story, helping my son with homework and getting dinner together before I had to leave to go to my 5th grader's open house at school. I had been looking forward to the open house, particularly because my son has two teachers this year and they seem to have very different styles. 

Then, I got a call my car was done at the repair shop and I needed to come get it before the shop closed. With my husband out of town, I raced over with the loaner, picked my car up, dropped my son at his team practice and managed to get to the school with 10 minutes to spare. I was so proud of myself!

What I didn't realize was that I had calendered the event for a half hour later than the accurate start time. When I entered my kid's class, the open house had just ended. The teachers were rushing off to their kids' classrooms for at the same school to participate in open house.

Sad face I felt tears stinging my eyes. I've never missed an open house before and I had moved mountains to get to the school.  When I arrived home, my son repeatedly asked me about the open house but I couldn't bring myself to tell him I missed the whole presentation. I mumbled something incomprehensible. The incident upset me so much I had a horrible night sleep.

This morning, I was interviewing a high powered female lawyer about how she manages the juggling act. She reminded me about an event we were at together where Suzy Welch spoke about her book, 10-10-10. Suzy evaluates every major decision for how it will affect her life in ten minutes, ten months and ten years. She has found the answers are illuminating. This lawyer told me she now uses the same approach.

So I asked myself, will missing this event make a difference in 10 minutes? Maybe. My son might be a little upset. WIll it make a difference in 10 months? Not really. I can ask the teachers for a conference and ask other parents to fill me in on what I missed. Will it make a difference in 10 years? Definitely not. 

Mommy guilt can be crushing if we let it. Sometimes, in the work life balancing act takes perspective. Today, I think I found mine. Thanks Suzy!


September 14, 2011

The New Part-Timer Worker

I cringe when I hear the sound of desperation in the voices of people I interview. I tend to hear it whenver I write about the unemployed and this week, I heard it a lot.

I spoke with many workers who are going on their second year without finding work and they're getting desperate. They're considering jobs they would never have taken a year ago. I spent time out in the community, talking to people in part time jobs. I've discovered the face of the part time worker has changed. It's no longer an employment status people want for work life balance, but rather one that they are forced into taking and one that usually brings no benefits. 

When I read the the headline in most newspapers today,  Continued high unemployment drove the number of Americans living in poverty to a record high in 2010, I completely understand why and so do most of the part-timers I spent time with this week.

Below is my column that shows the face of the new part time worker: 

The Miami Herald

The new part-timers

By Cindy Krischer Goodman

   Chaim LieberPerson, center, has taken several part time jobs while he looks for full time work, including working for the Miami International Book Fari. Here he helps at the unveiling of the poster for the book fair Monday at City Hall Restaurant in Miami.
Chaim LieberPerson, center, has taken several part time jobs while he looks for full time work, including working for the Miami International Book Fari. Here he helps at the unveiling of the poster for the book fair Monday at City Hall Restaurant in Miami.
Last week I met Luis, a Miami father of two young children, who sits atop his lawn mower like it’s a throne. Luis used to be a mortgage banker, but he’s been out of work for more than 20 months. Like others, he has become frustrated with the job hunt.

One day, while Luis was mowing his lawn, a neighbor offered him a few bucks to do his yard. Word spread, plentiful rain caused Miami lawns to grow tall and Luis now has cobbled together enough business to consider mowing lawns a part-time job.

“At least it’s some income,” said the humbled executive who asked me not to use his full name.

Today the face of the part-time worker is drastically different from what it was only a few years ago. It used to look more like mine, a mother who wanted to better balance her work and family. It might also have been the college student who needed to earn income while in school.

But the recession and high unemployment have changed the once coveted status. Increasingly, the face of the part-time worker has become the dad jumping at any chance of income or the college graduate desperate for an opportunity to get a foot in the door. It might be the loyal worker whose weekly hours have been cut to save the company a few bucks or the desperate former executive patching together jobs to pay rent.

As of September, about 8.8 million Americans are working part time while desiring full-time work. That number is double what it was in 2007, just before the recession began. And, another roughly 2.6 million people want work — even part-time work — but have stopped actively looking. Combined, the “underemployed” part-timers who want full-time work; and “discouraged” people who have stopped looking make up 16.2 percent of working-age Americans. The Labor Department compiles the figure to assess how many people want full-time work and can’t find it — a number the unemployment rate alone doesn’t capture.

“There are a ton of desperate people who can’t get hours they need to provide for their families,” said Heidi Shierholz, labor economist at the Economic Policy Institute. For the last few years there hasn’t been any significant improvement.

That’s the case for Chaim LieberPerson, a former parochial grade school principal. LieberPerson dashes between the office of the Miami Book Fair International and his children’s school for dismissal. He’s on call to handle childcare now that his wife is the full-time wage earner.

Click here to read more.