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8 posts from August 2013

August 28, 2013

Do you fear being without your cell phone?

Mom on phone

The other evening, my husband wanted to walk the neighborhood after dinner. I was all for it. When we got about a block from home, I realized I had left my cell phone behind. I tried to relax and keep walking, but I couldn't enjoy my leisurely stroll thinking that I was unreachable. The longer we walked, the more panicked I felt. 

When we arrived home, I checked my phone. No one had called and I had ruined my walk with my husband with my cell phone addiction.

Why are we so frightened of NOT having a mobile phone with us?

A new study reported in The Daily Mail says more than half the population claims to suffer from 'nomophobia' - the fear of being without a mobile phone. (I admit to being in that group)

This cell phone addiction is particularly a concern for women. We are 17% more likely to be anxious away from our phone. 

A quarter of people even consult their phones during a dinner date. A fifth of mobile phone owners check their phones in bed.

Millions of us are wired and tired because we're always connected. But we just can't stop ourselves.

I feel like my cell phone has become my safety blanket, even if it just sits comfortably in my purse. It gives me assurance that I'm not out of touch and able to deal with a child or work emergency -- my smartphone is my biggest tool for work life balance. (I suspect that's why women are more likely to get stressed over being without their cellphone) But I know I need to control my phone, rather than let it control me.

Can't put down your smartphone? Here are eight tips to curb your addiction 

  • Turn your phone off (not just silenced) while in the movie theater, or leave your phone in the car when spending time with friends.
  • Dine without your phone nearby, and never leave it directly on the table.
  • Turn your phone off while in a meeting.
  • Resist the urge to tweet or update a Facebook status while at work or out with a friend.
  • Go on a walk, whether it is with a partner, child or pet, and leave the phone at home.
  • Trade in a mobile game for a game with others in person.
  • Look up directions before getting in the car to avoid looking at a GPS while driving.
  • Never text while driving.

Do you feel like you have nomophobia? Have you tried to curb it?

August 26, 2013

Can you work yourself to death?


Last week, I cringed when I heard the tragic story of a 21-year-old Bank of America intern. The poor young guy, an intern in the bank's Merrill Lynch investing banking unit was found dead in his London apartment after allegedly working round the clock for three days in a row. 

The incident has created a lot of buzz about work life balance and whether it's possible to work yourself to death. It also has raised questions about whether employers need to play more of a role in discouraging an unhealthy work pace.

Bank of America has said  it would be studying how to improve the work-life balance of the institution’s junior staffers, a week after the summer intern unexpectedly died.

Right after the death was announced, an intern at a different investment bank described the toll his daily 12 to 13 hours on the job had taken on his personal life and health: “I don't have time to do much else after work, and when I have a little rest over the weekend, I can feel my heart pumping faster than usual. A standard 6-hour sleep is considered decent around here.”

While it may still be a badge of honor to show such commitment to work, I think employers have a duty to step in when someone puts in night after night of work, with little sleep.

About a year ago, I wrote about a law associate who also appeared to have worked himself to death. The 35-year-old passed away at home after working "maniac hours" at his regional law firm the week before. While the cause of death was not certain, his friends said he was gunning for partner and had been billing over 20 hours a day for multiple days in a row prior to his death. No one had stepped in to stop him. 

There's a reason we are seeing so much conversation around the need for work life balance. There are plenty of workplaces with hard-charging, competitive cultures. But we are seeing that maniac work schedules can't be sustained. You CAN die of overwork.

To its credit, Bank of America isn't taking this death lightly. It has told The Huffington Post  it will be looking at, among other things, whether its interns and other junior employees are encouraged to work overly long hours or are pushed into unhealthily competitive environments as they vie for a limited number of jobs.

Someone needs to teach young workers that it's a combination of work ethic and results that count -- and that there are ways to impress with quality, over quantity.

Nathan Parcells of InternMatch.com, an online community that links employers and potential interns recommended Bank of America give interns and young employees more access to senior mentors: They can still remain a very competitive culture, and provide better expectations and goal-setting, and maybe show interns how to manage so that they can get the work done in 80, instead of 100 hours." 

To me, the death of this young intern is a real tragedy, but also a wake up call. If it really causes management introspection, then maybe this tragedy can be the springboard for change. Do you think some corporate cultures encourage overwork at the expense of employee health? If so, what would it take to change the culture other than a tragic death?



August 23, 2013

Increase creativity at work and still have work life balance

Do you wish you were more creative? I do. Creative people get ahead in business. They're always coming up with a new way of doing things. For some of us, creativity flows easily. For others, we have those days where we struggle with it and it zaps our time and energy. Today my guest blogger is David Goldstein who has written a book called Creative You: Using Your Personality Type to Thrive. In his book, David addresses how personality types influence our creative abilities and how we can get better at it. David certainly has great credentials: He's an artist, entrepreneur, and researcher with a science and business background. He also writes a popular blog Courageously Creative

Today there's so much pressure to set ourselves apart from the crowd to get ahead. Fortunately, David offers some advice for how to do that without sending our work life balance into chaos.


DavidWherever we go, with our smart phones in our pockets, many of us are always and instantly plugged into to our work so wouldn’t it be wonderful to like what we do? Apparently this isn’t always the case. A study by Tom Rath of Gallup shows that 71 percent of people aren’t engaged at work. This is especially troubling since he also shows the leading factor in well-being is career satisfaction.  

What would you say if you were asked whether or not you were engaged at work? My answers would fall in the minority. In fact, when people ask me if I work from home, I often feel reluctant to say the truthful answer is: “No, I live at work.” And the key word is “live” since I enjoy what I do. I see most of my work as a chance to act creativity and when we are acting creatively, we are being fully engaged.   

In fact, today, creativity isn’t just for people doing art or advertising – it’s for all of us and it’s about inventing better ways to do our jobs. Whether we realize it or not, we’re all naturally creative and by acting more creatively at work, we can be more engaged and happier.

One simple way to do this is to know your creative style — and this can help you get unstuck when you get blocked. While there are so many different ways to be creative, there are just as many ways to feel blocked in expressing ourselves. Although there are many reasons for getting stuck, understanding your personality provides one of the keys to unlocking your mind and achieving balance. Just as a fire won’t start without the right mix of air and fuel, our own combustion of ideas must have the right mix of gathering new information and making decisions.

The first way to overcome a block is to relax and not let it get the better of you and realize that we can’t always be inspired. Next, knowing your personality type is like having jumper cables to give you the spark to get going again.

To know about an essential part of your personality, one question to ask yourself is: Do you prefer to make final decisions and reach closure or do you prefer to continue to gather information and leave things open? We all prefer to do one over the other most of the time.

If you like to make final decision and reach closure, then you may also see new information as a distraction and quickly make decisions to filter out the unwanted noise. You then get blocked by closing off new information and paint yourself in a corner. For you, the answer to getting unstuck is as easy as “temporarily” backing off your convictions and re-opening the window and letting in fresh air.

If you’re this type of person — try doing something out of order, not according to plan, off topic, and seemingly pointless, picking a magazine to read that is clearly irrelevant, going to a meeting that you know is going to be a waste of time, talking to someone who you know you have nothing in common; all may open up new and unexpected possibilities. If you are this type, your creativity is reawakened by temporarily letting down your guard.

On the flip side, the remedies that help this first type of person get unblocked are the wrong medicine for another person who likes to leave things open —  since more information drives them further off course and perpetuates procrastination. If you are this type of person, then you get blocked by too many choices, and then can’t decide where to start.  You can gain focus by constricting the flow of new information and making some decisions. While you usually don’t like being locked in, a few tentative decisions can help you prioritize and get back on track. Ranking ideas, choosing a subject, going through the exercise of developing a “tentative” outline, and taking steps to reduce distractions are all helpful. For people with this personality —once they start, one idea leads to the next.

Knowing your personality type can help you find your own balance. It can also help you to unlock your creativity and lead to happiness at work — it’s just a matter of balancing the right amount of information we take in with the decisions we make. 


August 21, 2013

There is help for working moms (and dads)

The start of the school year is hectic in my home. Judging by the conversations in the school supply aisle of Target this week, I'm not alone. But I know lots of working moms (and dads) who are making their work life balance easier this year by outsourcing responsiblities.

Today, in my Miami Herald column, I wrote about this trend. I'm convinced, there will be even more services catering to working parents in the next few years.


There’s help for busy moms who can’t do it all

Customers Zora Guzman and Mateo use the Moms Helping Moms shuttle.
Customers Zora Guzman and Mateo use the Moms Helping Moms shuttle. 



Just after breakfast, a van pulls up at the Lopez home in Coral Springs. Thirteen-year-old Emily gets in and heads off to middle school, saving mom, Diana, from delaying her 1 ½-hour commute to her job in Miami. The same shuttle picks Emily up after school and takes her to ballet class. Some afternoons, it picks up her older sister at home and takes her to be tutored in math or takes her home from school if she stays late for a club meeting.

Lopez, an international private banker whose husband works in Miami too, says hiring a transportation service has been the only way she can keep a regular work schedule, be home for dinner and have her children participate in after-school activities. “I believe in the theory that it takes a village to raise a child,” Lopez says. “But these days, we’re hiring the village.”

Working parents today are paying others to do things for our children that our parents did themselves — drive our kids to school, help them with homework, cook for our families and take them to baseball practice. The services are needed because things have changed dramatically for working mothers in the last few decades. For starters, there are simply many more moms in the labor force. The participation rate has skyrocketed to more than 70 percent, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Family economics have change dramatically, too. As the number of women in the workforce swelled, so, too, did their contribution to family income. A record 40 percent of all households with children include mothers who are either the sole or primary source of income for the family, according to a new Pew Research Center analysis of data from the U.S. Census Bureau. The share was just 11 percent in 1960. With mothers contributing more, managing a household becomes a simple equation of trading money for time.

It can be an expensive exchange — financially and emotionally — and not everyone can afford it.

“It’s a struggle working moms go through,” Lopez says. “We ask ourselves, ‘Am I passing off something I should be doing myself?’ But then, we have to be realistic.”

Moms Helping Moms, the northwest Broward County shuttle service used by the Lopez family, gets $60 to $80 per child per week for roundtrip carpooling within five miles — more for greater distances. Founder Sharron Gay says she launched her business three years ago. As a mom who commuted an hour to work, she saw the need. “Life is too short to feel guilty or overwhelmed. We’re here to make your life easier,” the website boasts.

Gay’s five vans, driven only by moms, shuttle kids to school, activities, orthodontist appointments and sports practices. They even pick up sick children from school and bring them home. Gay says she offers the service moms want — assuring them that the bus won’t leave until the child enters the home safely. “We do things the way moms would,” she says. Gay says her service is profitable and she has plans to add more vans and new geographic areas by 2014.

Others see opportunity, too. Fueled by demand from working parents, a burgeoning cottage industry handling chores for working parents is flourishing. There are reading specialists who get $40 to $50 an hour to assist students individually at their homes on reading and writing. There are businesses that will bring dinner to hungry kids waiting for mom and dad to get home from work.

Ryan Sturgis, a partner in Delivery Dudes, says his business picks up meals from local restaurants and delivers them to Broward County homes. It has seven geographic locations (plans to add more) and charges a $5 delivery fee.

“We get a lot of moms who call on their way home from work. We tell them we can be there with dinner within 45 minutes.”

Some parents turn their world upside down to manage responsibilities before finally accepting that they can’t do it all. Eventually, they discover outsourcing a necessary expense to keep their jobs, reduce stress or get ahead in the workplace.

Miami mother Gabrielle D’Alemberte, makes a priority of the things she feels a mother should do, such as attending school functions and tucking her daughter into bed. But the single mom says she couldn’t continue to work as a trial attorney if she didn’t outsource some tasks at work and home. She has hired someone to pick her daughter up from the bus stop and take her to ballet lessons. In the past, she has hired a company to deliver meals to her home and she’s employed someone to go over her daughter’s homework and review for tests.

D’Alemberte specializes in litigation against large international resorts and often travels for work.

“I could not have had the job and profession I’ve chosen without the help I have gotten in bringing up my wonderful 13 year old,” she says. “Knowing I can’t do it all makes it easier to hire people to help.”

In a twist on outsourcing, working parents also are automating. Whitney Zimet, who ran a community coupon site for five years, hired math and Spanish tutors for her two kids. She even searched for a service to pack healthy lunch box meals. But Zimet turns to technology for relief from some tasks — using Amazon to get home delivery of required reading materials, ongoing school supplies and birthday gifts. She uses auto-delivery for kids’ vitamins and household products. .

It used to be a real point of pride for women who stayed home to take care of every aspect of their families’ lives, she says. Now women are in the workforce, used to thinking practically and doling out tasks to solve problems, and scrutinizing the value of an expense, she says. “Most of us are aware of what needs Mom’s attention, but we’re also looking at what can make our life easier."


August 19, 2013

When you reach the last "back-to-school" day....

Today, I woke up extra early. I hovered over my two older teens with a camera in hand, wanting to snap a picture of them on their first day of the school year. For my daughter, a high school senior, this would be my last time doing this ritual.

 With comforting predictability, I’ve always pulled my camera out on the first day to capture the newness of the year, before the homework struggles and complaints about teachers set in. It hasn't always been easy to "be there" to capture the moment -- some years it meant planning in advance to make sure work assignments don't conflict.

Today, the annual lump in my throat seemed larger as I stood there at dawn watching my daughter get into the car with my son and drive off for high school,  leaving me in the driveway. Every family has its own rituals for getting back into the school swing. I may have complained in the past, but today, I realize how much I enjoy the events leading up to back to school -- stockpiling lunchbox snacks, comparing the deals on new school supplies, choosing first day of school outfits.  

Alone in the driveway, it hit me...

The day will come when I don't have the back-to-school stress that comes from getting kids in bed earlier, digging up quickie family dinner recipes and organizing carpools to sports practices and afterschool activities. Inevitably, my kids will head out from their dorms to attend class without mom taking a first day photo. Inevitably, my work life balancing act will get easier. Now that I'm much closer to that reality, I'm not sure I want that to happen.

My camera just doesn't feel ready. 


August 14, 2013

Working parents get back-to-school jitters, too

As Monday approaches, the first day of school, my stomach has butterflies. I'm nervous for the new routine, new class schedules, new teachers. Most of my friends are nervous too. I tried to capture the anxiety and solutions in my column today.

Let me know if you can relate!


Back to school stress hits parents, too

Chef Kareem Anguin is the executive chef at Oceanaire and a single father who is getting his daughter, Andrea, ready to start kindergarten.  The pair are photographed outside of Oceanaire  on Monday, August 12, 2013 and he plans to shift his work schedule this school year to be there to supervise his daughter's homework and walk her into school in the mornings.
Chef Kareem Anguin is the executive chef at Oceanaire and a single father who is getting his daughter, Andrea, ready to start kindergarten. The pair are photographed outside of Oceanaire on Monday, August 12, 2013 and he plans to shift his work schedule this school year to be there to supervise his daughter's homework and walk her into school in the mornings. 



A friend and I were poolside, our sons swimming and splashing. We should have been relaxed but instead, my friend, an elementary school teacher told me she felt anxious with the school year quickly approaching. This year, her son will go to middle school — a different building, a different schedule — and a big change in their routine.

As parents, we experience back-to-school anxiety, too. We want the school year to go smoothly. We want our kids’ school schedules to blend well with our work schedules and for our kids to thrive. As we scurry around setting up carpools, buying school supplies and stocking up on lunch-box snacks, we worry about what’s to come.

For some working parents, angst stems from new routines. It may be the first time our child will walk home alone from the bus stop or attend an aftercare program. “Routines are changing and there are a lot of decisions and that can be stressful,” says Maggie Macaulay, a parent educator and coach with Whole Hearted Parenting in Miramar.

WPLG news anchor Laurie Jennings says she’s feeling the jitters because she moved over the summer and her twin 7-year-old sons will go to a new school with a new earlier start and end time. While she now lives closer to work, she still will have to give up sleep if she wants to bring her boys to school in the mornings. And, she will have to take a vacation day if she ever wants to pick them up. She plans to rely on dad much more this year because his office is only five minutes from the boys’ school. Homework makes Jennings a little jittery, too. This school year, because of her shorter commute, she’s going to try to pop in at home a few nights a week for dinner and to supervise homework. “There’s nothing worse than coming home from work at 1 in morning and finding mistakes. It breaks your heart.”

For others parents, the jitters come from pressure to be involved in their child’s school and staying on top of assignments. They worry if they’re not involved enough, it will come at the expense of their child. But if they’re too involved it could come at the detriment of their career.

Vivian Conterio says she’s experiencing this nervousness as the start of school approaches. Her daughter, Gianna, will attend a new elementary school when the bell rings Monday morning, after moving from South Miami to Homestead over the summer. Conterio, who sat on the board of the PTA at her daughter’s previous school, wants to feel involved, but she doesn’t have as much free time this year because her work schedule as a marketing consultant has become more demanding. “The school is totally brand new to her and me. She’s nervous and I’m nervous, too. We both want to make friends and figure out ways to get involved.”

Macaulay says parents often get anxiety and guilt about volunteering. A lot of times they have an image of what an involved parent looks like and it’s not realistic, she says. “It sets them up to feel guilty.” She recommends each parent step back and consider how, where and when they are able to be involved in their children’s school in a way that’s doable.

As the first day approaches, some parents worry about balancing school routines and work schedules. Kareem Anguin, a single father and executive chef at The Oceanaire Seafood Room in Mary Brickell Village says he hired more help in the restaurant’s kitchen to allow him to be home earlier this school year. Anguin’s daughter, Andrea, will start kindergarten. They’re both excited about it. He plans to walk her into school in the morning and start his work day earlier to be able to arrive home by 7 p.m. to go over homework and put her to bed. “We’re going to try for perfect attendance,” he says. Anguin also plans to take a day off midweek to take his daughter to soccer practice and maybe ballet. “Those are two things she wants to do this year, so I’m going to sign her up for that. I want to keep her active so she’s busy, out of trouble and just as tired as me.”

For working parents like Katie Gilden, an accountant and Davie mother of a 7-, 5- and 3-year-old, it’s not just the balancing work and school schedules that cause her to feel anxious, afterschool activities weigh into the equation, too. “I try not to over schedule. Two activities each at the most, that’s my limit.” Gilden says getting the kids to school by 8 a.m., making sure they get their homework done and then getting them to activities can overwhelm working parents. She’s already begun preparing her boss, setting the groundwork to leave work earlier, run her kids to activities, and resume work from home later at night. “My office is paperless so I can work from home at night while the kids are doing homework next to me.”

Work life expert Cali Williams Yost recommends sitting down with your manager now, before school starts, and proposing a shift in schedule, rather than disappointing your kids or your boss. “Don’t focus on why you are proposing a change, emphasize how you will get your job done. That’s really all your manager cares about in the end.” If there’s initial hesitation, she suggests you offer to pilot the new schedule for one month. “Chances are it will be fine and continue.”

Parents whose kids are moving on to middle or high school this year may need to manage new schedules by giving them more independence — and that often brings high anxiety. Some parents plan to temper those jitters by relying on technology to stay connected — having their teen text when they are on the bus, arrive at school or get settled at home. They may even video chat after school. “Neither option takes much time, but these small ‘tweaks’ help parents know their child is OK so they can get back to work and focus,” Yost says.

Macaulay says one of the most effective ways parents can keep jitters in check is to tap into their village of helpers — arrange for carpools, organize so kids walk home with friends, or agree to stand at the bus stop with kids in the morning and have another parent do it in the afternoon. “A lot of back-to-school stress can be alleviated if parents can have each other’s back and support each other,” she says.


August 08, 2013

What's the big deal about FMLA?





This week, the nation celebrated the 20th Anniversary of the FMLA (Family Medical Leave Act). For those of you who aren't familiar with the federal law, you should know that it is a big deal. It's the law that let employees take time off to have a baby or tend to a health issue without the fear of losing his or her job. It has been critical for working parents to maintain work life balance.

It hasn't been a perfect law. It only applies to businesses that have more than 50 employees. And, the biggest issue remains that many employees still don't receive paid sick leave so while they are eligible to take time off for medical concerns and their job is secure, they can't afford it.

Workers rights groups marked the anniversary with calls to expand the law, and for Congress to pass a new one that would provide paid leave. NPR did an excellent piece on this issue tied to the anniversary called "FMLA Not Really Working For Many Employees."

The National Partnership for Women & Families put out a new Q&A guide to the FMLA in honor of the 20th anniversary.  The guide is a great resource for employees, employers and anyone looking to learn more about taking FMLA leave and how to navigate the law. It's one of the best I've seen.

In Miami-Dade County, workers and their families held an event earlier this week to commemorate the 20-year anniversary of the federal law. Workers thanked the Miami-Dade County Commmission for being the first local government in the nation to pass a countywide Family Medical Leave bill locally in 1992. FMLA offers 12 weeks of unpaid, job-protected leave, which workers can use to care for a new baby, a sick family member, or to recover from an illness. Unfortunately, the Commission shot down a proposed law earlier this year that would have allowed workers paid sick leave.

Earlier this week, I did an interview with WLRN's Rick Stone on FMLA. I spoke about the countless mothers I have interviewed, particularly during the recession, who wanted to use FMLA for maternity leave -- some found it critically to keeping their jobs and bonding with their babies. Others, low wage workers living paycheck to paycheck, had to go back to work within days because they couldn't afford time off. 

A friend of mine just got diagnosed with cancer. FMLA will allow her to undergo chemo treatments and know that her job is there for her when she returns. This is a huge relief to her! For my friend, and any other employees who have used this law for legitimate reasons, I'm thankful it exists and you should be too. 

Happy 20th Anniversary FMLA!



August 06, 2013

Turning part-time work into full-time work

Getting hired

A friend of mine wanted a part time job during the day while her kids were in school. But when her husband had surgery, and it became apparent he would be out of work for a while, she realized she needed full time work.

She went to her boss to talk it over. Because she had proved herself a good worker, she was able to convince her boss to give her more hours and a schedule that would be managable. It's amazing how workplaces are willing to accommodate someone who proves themself a good worker.

Still, it's not always as easy as asking. I saw this great article: 7 steps for turning part-time work into full-time jobs. I just had to share it with you. It was written by John Alston is a career advisor and coach at The Innis Company. Here's a quick summary of the steps.

1. Specialize: When applying for part-time or contract work, concentrate on fields where your skills and experience will distinguish you as valuable.

2. Differentiate: Whatever your field of expertise, find how you can impact either the top line or the bottom line.

3. Inquire: Ask up front if you can apply for full-time openings that arise during your part-time employment. If you are signing a contract for part-time work, request that it include the potential to be hired full-time. (This is key to getting hired full time!)

4. Commit: Act as if you already are a full-time employee and people might begin to see you as an important part of the team.

5. Out-perform: Aim to out-perform full-time employees who are doing the same or similar jobs as you. 

6. Fit in: Be positive and upbeat. Don't go around the workplace thinking of yourself as “only a contractor.”

7. Reach out: Meet as many key people in the organization as you can. Build an internal network that can help you solve problems and that gets you visibility with decision makers.