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5 posts from August 2016

August 29, 2016

How to survive back-to-school as a working parent

Sommer davis
(Sommer Davis and her family/ Photo by Shannon Kaestle)

 

For years, I've heard people say it takes a village to raise a child. Most working parents will agree with that statement. But I haven't read much on how to build your village. So this week in my Miami Herald column, I set out to help working parents build a support team for a better work life balance.

If you're a mother or father trying to adapt to a new school routine, here is where you should look to build your support team:

Workplace: The least-stressed working parents have their employers on their team. In fact, at least 4-in-10 mothers and fathers say they cannot be successful as parents without a supportive boss, according to Bright Horizons’ Modern Family Index, a 2014 survey of 1,005 American parents who work at least part time.

When the boss is not understanding, try to find co-workers who you can rely on in a pinch. Barbara Baker, an assistant in a Cutler Ridge medical office, remembers the day she needed to attend an unscheduled parent-teacher conference but saw a line of patients waiting to be checked in. Her co-worker, another working mom, stepped up and filled in.

Community: Many working parents reach into the community to build their team by joining carpools, courting neighbors and trading favors with other parents and friends. A parent who travels often for work may ask for help driving their child to after-school activities in exchange for doing a weekend pickup from a “Sweet 16” party, for example.

 

Peggy Sapp, president and CEO of Informed Families, suggests take time now to build connections: “Some people think they are too busy, but it is worth it to take time at the beginning of school. Introduce yourself to other parents or offer to meet over coffee at Starbucks. Anything you can do to create a bond now is going to make it easier than a cold-call later when you need some help.”

Family: With nearly 70 percent of mothers in the workforce, you and your spouse need to work as a well-functioning team. Today more fathers are helping to make dinner, pick up kids from school, or even leave work early to handle emergencies. For others, family members such as grandparents or aunts are critical to their support team. Don't feel bad asking a family member for help, often they enjoy the time with their young family members.

Sommer Davis says her husband, Lawrence, a long-distance truck driver, is on the road for months at a time. For Davis, raising two daughters and succeeding as a public information officer for the Miami-Dade County Water & Sewer Department requires her parents’ involvement. "I am fortunate I am able to rely on them for assistance,” Davis says.

School: You might want to make your child's teacher part of your team, too.  On back-to-school night, put teachers’ contact information into your phone, along with contact information for after-school providers, bus drivers, coaches and any other school faculty who you can call for help. Some teachers will allow a helpful child (or teen) to stay in their classrooms after school for a short while.

As this school year kicks off, start now to assemble your team. You may need it sooner than you  think.

 

 

 

 

 

August 18, 2016

A Back-to-School Tip for Working Mothers (and Fathers)

 

                                           Mom on phone

 

Today, I was interviewing an expert for a back to school article, when she shared a piece of wisdom with me that I wish I had thought of years ago.

She suggests creating a file on your phone with the email or phone number of every person your child comes in contact with during the school day. For example, the file would have the bus driver's number, the transportation department's number, the mother who drives your child to school. It would also have the teacher's contact info and the school's contact info. If you child is in aftercare, it would have the aftercare director's number or one of the care providers. If you child is in extracurricular activities such as piano lessons, the file would have the piano teacher's number or another parent whose child takes lessons the same day with the same teacher. 

The key is ALL the numbers are in ONE place. No need to search around and wonder whether you filed someone's info by first or last name or by topic or some other way. 

If the bus doesn't show up or you need to reach someone to reach your child, NO NEED TO PANIC! Making contact with someone who can help becomes much easier when everything is in one place and at your fingertips.

As much as our phones draw our attention away from our kids if we let them, our phones can be our lifeline when our children need to reach us, or when we need to reach them. 

It's also good to collect phone numbers of your child's friends parents. That could be a separate file on your phone. If you don't know all the parents, use the new school year as the perfect time to get to know them. 

There will be days that unpredictable events with our kids turn our lives upside down. Inevitably those days will be the ones in which we have a big presentation at work or our boss is riding along with us on a sales call. Getting our safety net prepared ahead of time can make all the difference in a working parent's work life balance!

What tips can you share with other working parents who are trying to keep it all together during the school year?

 

August 16, 2016

How to survive political discussion in the workplace

                                                               Politics

 

 

Your co-worker mentions that he's a big Trump fan and went to the rally over the weekend. You're repulsed but you have to sit next to this guy every day. Do you engage and ask him why the heck he would support a guy like Trump? Do you tell him not to mention politics at work?

Drawing the line between work and politics can get tricky with the November election only months away. With new election developments daily, political discussions in the lunchroom, parking lot and office cubicles are inevitable. So how do you navigate workplace discussion knowing the election will soon be over but your co-worker will sit next to you for months and years to come?

Here are a few ways to approach political conversations at work:

Take a cue from the top. In some offices, managers have made employees remove buttons and stickers on cubicles in support of a candidate, or discouraged workers from political talk on the job. In other workplaces, managers are comfortable with respectful debate about personalities and issues and encourage workers to stay abreast of current events that could affect business.

Think carefully before you speak. Longtime Florida lawmaker Elaine Bloom, now president and CEO of Plaza Health Network, the largest nursing home network in Miami-Dade County, says in her daily interaction with executives and healthcare workers she often gets asked her thoughts on a political issue or candidate. “I have to be very careful,” she says. Sometimes, she will clarify a fact or give her opinion, but make it clear that she doesn’t expect her staff or nursing home residents to agree with her view. Sometimes, she will discourage the conversation if she believes it’s going to create hard feelings. “I’ll say something like, ‘Let’s leave the political discussion for outside the workplace.’ 

Speak up. If you feel bullied or harassed or can’t get your co-worker to stop talking politics, it's time to mention it to a manager. “These conversations could drag on for hours and become a productivity issue. When voices are raised, threats come out, or it becomes a distraction, a manager needs to step in," says Edward Yost, director of employee relations for the Society for Human Resource Management.

Agree to disagree.  If your colleague mentions he supports Marco Rubio for Senate and you despise Rubio, you may want to give your perspective but agree to disagree. It's difficult -- if not impossible -- to change someone's political opinions so the best approach is to verbalize that you don't see eye to eye and that it's okay to have perspectives. The key is to stop the conversation before it gets personal.  

Think long term. If someone sees a bumper sticker on someone’s car or finds out a colleague is campaigning for a candidate, it's easy to make a snap judgment about a co-worker’s beliefs and even cast someone as prejudice. But remember, you are going to be working together after the election and it’s not smart to damage a cooperative working relationship.

Use caution on social media. If a supervisor touts his political views on Facebook where a staff member can see it, that could be considered harassment, says April Boyer, an employment attorney at K & L Gates in Miami . “It’s possible the employee could come in and complain. These are complicated issues to work through.”


For more on talking politics at work, read my column in The Miami Herald.

 

August 04, 2016

Do we work as much as we think we do?

Keyboard

(Photo by Jay LaPrete AP)

 
 

 

If you're like me, you feel like you're working A LOT. But are you as overworked as you think you are?

According to the American Time Use Survey, full time workers only put in about 40 hours a week, and only five minutes more a week than a decade ago.

What it doesn't account for, though, is how we work.

In this hyper-connected age, working hours might still be 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., but the hours to do work can stretch from midnight to midnight, with emails zipping through the ether at the convenience of the sender, but not necessarily the recipient, as noted by Nick Coltrain of the Coloradoan

I don't know about you, I tend to interval work, which means I switch from task to task at home and the office, taking care of personal responsibilities and work responsibilities as needed. If your workday is anything like mine, you might sit down in front of your computer screen to start a project and become distracted by a new email. Then, you might work for an hour, and take a quick break to check Facebook.

The switching between personal and business tasks at the workplace has become so habitual that some researchers believe Americans spend as much as two hours of an eight-hour workday doing non-work tasks, whether or not we realize it. Two hours is a lot isn't it? Of course, no one can work 8 hours straight without going crazy. We all need breaks!

I think what makes me feel like I'm working so much is that even when I am at home and not actually working, I still feel the tug of work on my brain. It's that always on feeling that researchers say creates chronic stress and emotional exhaustion.

In our desire for work/life balance, it's just as difficult to know how much time we spend on leisure activities as work tasks, in part because of the increase in smartphone use. The American Time Use Survey shows Americans spend about five hours a day doing leisure activity, with television watching accounting for more than half of that time. However, many people watch television with their mobile devices in hand and sporadically check work email.

When employers ask workers to manually track their work time, productivity improves, according to Fred Krieger, CEO of Scoro, a San Francisco productivity/project management software firm. If you really tracked the hours you work, how much do you think it would add up to? Do you consider multi-tasking -- watching television and checking email to be work or leisure time? It's kind of tricky, isn't it? But if we can improve our productivity by tracking our time, it might be worth doing.

What do you think your time diary would reveal?

 

 

 

August 01, 2016

Post vacation blues: Finding work life balance after your return

                                                         

 

                                                         Worker on vacation

I am boarding the plane home from summer vacation, a week of fun with my husband and kids, and I'm starting to get that familiar feeling. It's a sense of dread. On vacation, I spent every day for a week planning an adventure or enjoyable activity with my family and now I will return to laundry, email, deadlines and a daily routine that doesn't leave much quality family time.

I am fortunate I love my job as a writer. Lots of people I know hate their jobs, their bosses, their overall predicaments. I don't. Yet, I dread the post vacation blues, the reality of resuming a daily routine that imposes myriad demands on my time and a constant struggle for work life balance.

So lately, I've been reading up on how to avoid post vacation blues, or even just end-of-summer blues. I have figured out a few things to do differently this summer.

1. Know the benefit of a break. Whether you are job hunting, thinking of leaving your job or overwhelmed by your job, you need a break. Tell yourself it's okay to take a vacation and it's okay not to think about real life responsibilities for a short period of time. My new mantra: It's okay to chill out!

2. Make a game plan for the return. Spend some time coming up with a list of things that you can do after you return from vacation that will challenge you intellectually or physically. Those people who are constantly challenging themselves rarely appear to be depressed or negative, according to Andrew Griffiths and his blog on Inc.  I signed up for an online writing webinar a few days after my return from vacation this year. It gives me a learning opportunity to look forward to that I easily can fit into my work life balance.

3. Do more of the things you enjoy. Part of making that vacation high last is figuring out how to put more fun into your life. If it's spending time with your family you love, figure out how to make more time for them. If it's exercising you enjoy, get up early and go bike riding twice a week. If you enjoy working, that's a good thing, too. What aspects of your job do you like most and how can you do more of those things?  Some people have a hobby they enjoy like fishing or gardening but the last time they did it was 10 years ago.  As the summer comes to a close, plunge back into something you enjoy doing. For me, I love reading. I just created a library of books on my iPad waiting to be read on a lounge chair on the beach over the upcoming weekends after my return from vacation.

4. Ask someone "how can I help"? Commit to helping someone else either in your workplace, your business network,  your community, your children's school. If you want to feel uplifted, there is no better way.

5. Get in the right frame of mind.  Sometimes we focus on the piece of our lives that we find dull or difficult or exhausting. When you come back from vacation rested and happy, you can use that as motivation to re-examine your work life balance and your outlook. What are the things that made you happy on vacation -- sleeping in, touring museums, taking hikes, eating at new restaurants? All those things can be done wherever you live. You just have to make the effort to do them.

6. Change up your routine.  During your first week back from vacation, take a new route to work, sit in a different chair at the dinner table or eat lunch with a different crowd. Small changes often are enough to renew our zest for life and help us stay motivated.

Of course, if the post vacation blues are overwhelming, you may need more drastic measures. Vacations are fun because they offer a break from the tedium and familiarity of life, but if you're miserable being at work or at home, you may want to make big changes to feel happier. And, if it's any consolation, it's never too early to start planning your next vacation!