July 09, 2014

Need more balance? It may be time to hire a career coach

Have you ever felt stuck with your career? 

I've heard a lot about career coaches but I wasn't really sure exactly what they could do for me. I felt that maybe career coaches were for top executives who want to become better leaders. But I found out a career coach can be a HUGE help to almost anyone at any level. 

My Miami Herald column today answers these questions -- When is the right time to hire a career coach and how can hiring one improve your work life balance?

Read on...

Feeling stuck in your job? It may be time to hire a career coach

 

Executive Coach Monique Betty, owner of Boca Raton-based CareerSYNC, coaching the staff of the Women’s Business Development Council of Florida

 

BY CINDY KRISCHER GOODMAN

If you’re putting in the hours and still not seeing the rewards, feeling undervalued or simply striving to be more successful, it may be time to hire a career coach.

When New York Times Editor Jill Abramson was fired last month, she had begun the process of working with a career consultant to work through some of the “management style” and “temperament” concerns that allegedly did her in. Like Abramson, most of excel in our jobs because of our technical expertise in our fields, but often, it is the “people” skills, such as managing and motivating staff, that trip us up.

A career coach can help you figure out behavior changes to help you advance, strategies for a new direction, or an action plan to close the gap between where you are now and where you want to be.

“Think of a career coach as an objective person to talk to who doesn’t have a vested interest in anything but your success and satisfaction,” said Teressa Moore Griffin, an executive coach and founder of Spirit of Purpose.

One Miami executive hired a coach when her nonprofit women’s organization needed new direction.

At the time, Nancy Allen, president/CEO of the Women’s Business Development Council of Florida, was facing the high levels of stress common when nonprofits face board transitions and pressure to raise funds. Allen said that while working with a coach weekly for seven months, she defined steps to bring in new sources of revenue and new programming. Her coach also helped her scrutinize where to focus her time.

“I came out of it with clarity of purpose,” Allen said. “Most executives know what to do, but professional coaching helps them move beyond the minutia to set a plan of action, stay focused and accomplish defined tasks.” Now, Allen has brought her coach to work with her staff individually to develop their strengths: “I think it will lead to a happier, more productive staff.”

As the job market opens, more people, particularly younger workers, are turning to career coaches. In a survey of 12,000 professional coaches by the International Coach Federation, 60 percent of respondents reported an increase in the number of clients over the previous 12 months and more than 75 percent said they anticipated increases in clients and revenue over the next 12 months.

Coaching, once perceived as a luxury available only to senior executives, is increasingly appealing to younger generations, according to the International Coach Federation’s 2014 Global Consumer Awareness Study. Of the 18,800 workers surveyed, 35 percent of those between 25 and 34 years old said they already had participated in a coaching relationship.

Employers, spending once again on leadership development, are hiring coaches for managers, vice presidents and high-level executives who have hit an obstacle in their career progressions or face new challenges. Griffin said that like coaches who work with athletes, she encourages corporate leaders to see how a small change in behavior affects performance: “Often, the person thinks the organization is the problem. I have to get them to see that if they want the team or boss or customer to behave differently, change starts with them.”

Hiring a career coach is different from hiring most other professionals, and can be costly. Expect to pay $100 to $350 for a one-hour session, according to the International Coach Federation. Most professionals work with their coaches for six months to a year.

There is no official licensing agency for career coaches, which has led to a wide range of quality among those claiming to be experts. However, the International Coach Federation has built a worldwide network of more than 12,000 credentialed coaches with a minimum level of training and certification. When selecting, Miami career coach Marlene Green advises asking for recommendations, checking references and asking questions “just as you would when hiring an attorney.”

To be clear, a coach differs from a business consultant. Where a consultant identifies a business problem and gives a solution, a coach asks questions and encourages the client to find answers.

“You have to ask yourself, ‘Do I have financial resources and time resources to get coached and am I in a place where I’m ready to have self-introspection?’ ” said Alexa Sherr Hartley, president of South Florida’s Premier Leadership Coaching. “You’re paying for a coach to help you figure it out, not to figure it out for you.”

After she was twice passed over for a management position at her company, Jenna Altman decided it was time to hire a career coach. “I felt like I was doing everything right and I needed to figure out why I wasn’t being promoted,” she said. Altman says her coach asked her questions that made her think differently about her strengths and weaknesses and how she adds value to her company.

She ended up asking for, and getting, a completely different position that she had never previously considered.

“When you have tried all the tools in your toolkit and you can’t move from your current state to your desired one, that is the help a coach provides,” Sherr explained. Research by the Carnegie Institute of Technology shows that 85 percent of business success comes from personality — the ability to communicate, negotiate and lead.

Shockingly, only 15 percent is attributed to technical knowledge. But Sherr says that with coaching, those soft skills can be learned and practiced at work and home: “That’s why investing in coaching makes sense.”

 

 

 

May 22, 2014

2014 College Grads Want a Job -- and Work Life Balance

You would think 2014's college grads would be so desperate for a job that they would take whatever they could get -- as long as it pays a decent salary. 

Not true.

This group wants work life balance and they are steering away from jobs  -- and internships -- that seem too demanding. 

Let me know what you think of the mindset of today's college graduate. Will they get the flexibility and work life balance they seek? Will employers have to bend a little to accommodate these young workers?

(The Miami Herald, May 22, 2014)

Many new college graduates seek work/life balance, flexibility as they look for jobs

 

Here come the 2014 college graduates, flooding the highly competitive job market over the next several weeks and bringing their workplace expectations.

University of Florida graduate Stephanie Savage is one of the 11 percent nationwide who has successfully landed a full-time job. Yet, she notices an interesting trend with some of her friends who still are searching: “They’re picky.”

With their notably high debt from student loans, you would think new college graduates would jump at any job they could get. Instead, some of this year’s crop are selective in their job searches, reluctant to be stuck in a cramped cubicle from 9-to-5 each day and looking to be wowed by the jobs they land, career experts say.

“The idea of not being in a job they love is stressful for them,” says Christian Garcia, executive director of the Toppel Career Center at the University of Miami. Garcia said he has had students shy away from jobs in which they’ve heard the boss is difficult, the hours or commute long or the job description “boring.”

“They want to feel each opportunity is THE opportunity. Some can afford to be picky, but there are a lot of students who can’t. I bring them a reality check.”

Savage, 21, who will work as a preschool teacher, sees the same thought process in her peers. “They realize the job market is horrible but they still say, ‘I don’t know if I want to work for someone like that’ or ‘I don’t like the job requirements.’ ”

The pickiness is perplexing considering this is the sixth consecutive graduating class to enter the labor market during a period of profound weakness. However, the Class of 2014 is uniquely optimistic and expects to find positions in their chosen fields, according to an employment survey released this month by consulting firm Accenture. These graduates also are determined to find work/life balance in their jobs — or come up with ways to obtain it.

In fact, for the past few years, work/life balance has been the number one career goal among students in the global surveys by Universum, which offers research and services worldwide to help employers attract talent. More than leadership opportunities, security or prestige, these college graduates seek balance. They want their jobs to reflect who they want to be and the lifestyle they want to live, one that might include training for a 5K or giving back to the community.

 

Fortunately for the 2014 grads, they are the first generation that can easily expect to find a telecommuting or remote job in their fields, according to FlexJobs.com, a website designed to help people find flexible work options. Sara Sutton Fell, CEO of FlexJobs, said almost every flexible position on her website has entry position levels — and college graduates are applying for them. Many pay salaries equal to onsite positions.

“Telecommuting options are a natural fit,” Fell says. “The younger generation is mobile by nature. They’ve grown up with technology and without having to do location-specific tasks.”

In compiling the best remote jobs for college grads, FlexJobs says some of the jobs to consider are accountant or bookkeeper, online teacher, market research analyst, computer systems analyst, business consulting, data entry positions and customer service posts. “With flexible work, we’re seeing a real broadening of types of opportunities available at all levels,” Fell says.



 

 

May 01, 2014

Should we really care about a positive reputation at work?

Today, I was reading a press release and I found myself declaring out loud that it was just a big bunch of B.S. 

The topic was how to have a good personal reputation in the workplace. 

The release says:  "A good reputation is much more than simply being a hard worker; how you behave both as an individual, and with others, directly impacts your professional growth."

I'd like to think this is true. But look at the people who lead companies today and you are likely to find real jerks. Unfortunately having a reputation as a jerk often is overlooked if the person is a rainmaker or an innovative leader.

The release went on to say, "Understanding the value in showing gratitude, handling conflict in an appropriate manner, and simply being friendly, are all essential characteristics to a positive reputation in the workplace."

To that I say, having a reputation for being friendly gets you nowhere. Sometimes, it even gets you passed over for a promotion -- particularly if you are a woman. I have heard men say, "She's not up to the job. She's too nice."

All of us, or at least most of us, want to be known as a valuable employee. And, some of us want to be viewed as leadership material. While being friendly can help you make the connections that land you a job or a promotion, it's what you do with those connections that matter. To me, having a good personal reputation at work is less critical to advancement than being someone the boss or client can trust to get a job done well or someone who comes up with a great idea and acts on it. I'd like to say that requires people skills. But often it doesn't.

Being friendly, handling conflict well, showing appreciation....those are nice qualities but unfortunately not always the ones that tend to lead to advancement.

What are your thoughts about reputation? How important do you think it is to be "friendly" at work?

 

 

 

 

April 28, 2014

Surviving a tyrant boss

Inside one of Miami's most interesting art museums lurked a tyrant boss whose behavior made her staff dread coming to work. The boss' behavior was so horrendous that former employees say working at the museum was akin to being trapped in a psychological torture chamber.

This is what the employees allege their tyrant boss did:

* Insult an employee in front of everyone .

* MaKe workers afraid to come to work because they were unsure of her state of mind.

* Bully workers on a personal level and call them stupid

At one point, this boss was asked to work on her people skills with a professional coach. But at some point, she stopped meeting with the coach. Some say she actually became worse.

If any of you have worked for a boss who speaks to you with a condescending tone or criticizes you publicly, you probably feel the frustration of these museum workers.

An article in yesterday's Miami Herald draws an interesting picture of what went on behind the public displays at Florida International University's Wolfsonian Museum and it reminded me how much leverage a boss holds over our professional and personal well being.

When questioned about employee accusations against her, this boss claimed that getting the Wolfsonian Museum recognized as a hip up and comer on the arts scene required long hours and sometimes stressful working conditions. Does that sound familiar to those of you whose boss claims that he or she is the only one who is keeping the business afloat? 

Must you be a tyrant to lead your business to success? Steve Jobs was tyrant. The business world is famous for its difficult bosses. But there are plenty of bosses who prove that a more colloborative style is equally as successful.

Today, there are lots of employees cheering the end of the 17-year reign of this museum director. Yes, it took 17 years for her to fall from grace -- even after repeated complaints to human resources. Of course, by now, most of the employees with any sanity left have quit.

So, what if you don't have 17 years to spend with someone who makes your work life miserable? What if you don't want to dread coming to work on Monday? 

Changing jobs is always an option. When it comes to keeping your sanity and your stress levels in check, it's an important option. Now that job market is rebounding, it might be a good time to put feelers out. 

Another option might be to have a sit down with someone who has influence on your tyrant boss -- a company owner, a big customer, an investor, a managing partner. This is risky. But it can work if complaints are posed as problems with solutions and issues are posed as hurdles to the success of the company or department.

 

As for the tyrant boss/museum director who is now unemployed, I wonder if she has learned her lesson or still considers herself a fabulous leader.  I wonder if she will change her leadership style in her next job. I can't see it happening but I don't want to rule out the possibility for reform.

Have any of you seen a horrible boss who was able to be reformed? Do you think this woman's reputation as a tyrant will prevent her from getting another job?  How did you handle being bullied at work and did you outlast your bully boss?

 

 

 

April 24, 2014

Managing work and life as you move up the ladder

 

What if you’re the middle manager and your boss is making your staff miserable? What if his or her actions are wreaking havoc on everyone’s work life balance?  Do you confront him or her with constructive criticism? Or, do you direct your staff the way you want and ignore your boss’ behavior?

Yesterday, I got up close and personal with Leading Women in Broward, an initiative led by Laurie Sallarulo of the Leadership Broward Foundation. About 50 women were at the program and I heard some pretty interesting answers to the questions above. The discussion centered on managing up and down, taking risks, balance work and family and ascending to leadership.

 I learned that work life balance is a constant struggle for all business women at all career stages, and that being successful in most careers will require some politicking and risk taking.

Here are some things successful women shared that I found helpful:

  1. Have a mission statement. Make sure it includes what you live by now and what you aspire to live by. Stay focused on it. Keep it on your computer desktop so you can remind yourself what you should be focused on when you stray from your mission or find yourself climbing the ladder up the wrong wall?
  2. Leaders eat last – When you put your people or your team first, they become the kind of team that wants to follow you.
  3. Take risks – Have the attitude that you will try things. If a risk goes south, recognize it, get out and don’t be afraid to try again.
  4. Speak up carefully – sometimes you have to manage your boss. That means picking your battles, pausing and thinking carefully about the outcome you want to achieve.

 

Travisano (1)The highlight of the program was Jackie Travisano, executive vice president & COO of Nova Southeastern University. Jackie shared her amazing story of becoming a single mom at a young age,  pursuing her MBA degree, working as an accountant, remarrying, going to work in her husband’s business, landing jobs in higher education with progressively more responsibility, and making lots of tough decisions and personal sacrifices along the way. Today she manages thousands of employees and 11 departments. She also reports to NSU’s president and is accountable to all university stakeholders.



Here is her advice on managing up and down:

  1. When you’re at a crossroads, listen to your gut. Don’t let fear take over when you can achieve greatness.
  2. The key to managing lots of departments is to hire great people.  No one leader can compensate for an underperformer.
  3. Only attend meetings you need to be at. Let your people handle as much as they can.
  4. Lean In, but listen. Don’t react to those above you until you have truly listened. Find the right time to speak and do so confidently.
  5. When life doesn’t work out as planned, that’s okay. It’s great to have goals, but let life happen.
  6. There will be sacrifices that come along with leadership. Having the right ear can help make changes that make the workplace better for all.
  7. Have a sounding board, a champion, someone who will encourage you to reach for the stars.

 

What have been your experiences as a middle manager? How do you handle upper level management when those below you are complaining? When is it worth the risk to speak up? And, what do you think is the key to being a good leader?

March 11, 2014

Dealing with Workplace Drama

Have you ever dreaded going to work because you don't want to deal with the drama going on at the office? 

One day, riding to the office, I just knew there was going to be a big scene because my co-worker was going to publicly tell another colleague that she had enough of his slacking. Of course, the slacker was someone she had dated who had dumped her. Such drama! 

Expert Marlene Chism says those who say, “I don’t do drama,” usually have the most drama. She also says drama manifests in different forms, and all of us experience our fair share of it. Ignoring, avoiding or denying drama only increases its power, she says.

Today, Marlene is my guest blogger. She is an international speaker, consultant, leadership coach and author of Stop Workplace Drama (Wiley 2011). She is currently working on her next book, From Drama to Enlightenment, Leadership Skills for Transforming Culture. Marlene, whose website is stopworkplacedrama.comoffers advice that all of us can use. 

Marlene

Improving Workplace Relationships: Three Responses to Dealing with Drama

There are many habits that can contribute to workplace drama.

One habit is taking the bait. It’s those times when you put your foot in your mouth, or you get drawn into an argument or communication exchange that you later regret, yet it happens again and again. It’s like you are a big carp swimming in a river and you see this juicy worm and you bite the hook. The other person is the fisherman who reels you in.

Even when you learn to identify the bait and swim right past that juicy worm, a few miles downstream you see a juicy piece of cheesecake and before you know it, you are being reeled in again.

It seems those who love to pull our triggers know just what bait to use. If you get wise to the worm, they figure cheesecake will work.

You mother knows how to bait the hook. When you call her, she answers with “Well hello stranger!”  Her innuendo of calling you “stranger” is manipulation to make you feel guilty for not calling more often. Yep, she knows just how to reel you in. It works every time.

In your professional life it’s the employee who shows up in your office with yet, another major life catastrophe that keeps her from performing. You feel sorry, offer some leniency and your kindness backfires. She calls in sick the next day.

If you want to stop being reeled in, here are the steps for improving workplace relationships:

1. Awareness
You must first recognize the trigger. If you can recognize the pattern, you can be prepared for the next time.

2. Offer No Reaction

Avoid the temptation to get the last word or to prove the other person wrong. Don’t resort to sarcasm or defensiveness. Simply take a breath and offer no response.

3. Listen and Acknowledge
To listen so the other person feels heard, acknowledge their emotion without agreeing with the content. Here are three examples:

*Wow. That must feel terrible.

*It sounds like you are frustrated with me. (Breathe)

*Sounds like you need some space.

In the workplace, it helps to have the compassion to listen but the wisdom to not get drawn into drama.

 

 

February 28, 2014

When your boss works late, should you?

It was dinner time. I was hungry. My new husband already was home and I was still in the office, waiting for my boss to leave. It wasn't the first time or last time I stayed at the office just to look committed. Years ago, early in my career, I was uncomfortable leaving before my boss. I thought it made me seem like I was a slacker. At the time, I had to prove myself and I wanted to seem ambitious. But after weeks of staying late for no reason, my new husband insisted I was being foolish. So, I quietly slipped out around 7 p.m., leaving my computer on to look like I might still be around.

It's tricky when your boss puts in long hours. Most of the time, her or she gets paid big bucks for that committment. I enjoyed reading a Wall Street Journal article this week titled When the Boss Works Long Hours, Must We All? In the article, Sue Shellenbarger asks, "Every night, your workaholic boss is still glued to the computer when you need to leave. How do you go home without looking like a slacker?" The article urges workers to check their assumptions, claiming that sometimes people make guesses about managers' expectations that are just wrong, 

In my former job, while I was worried about leaving earlier than my boss, I realized he could see my commitment in my productivity. I bet my former boss never even realized I was waiting around for him to leave.

On the other hand, if you leave at 5 p.m. every day, hours early than your boss, and you complain of having too much work, your boss will think you are a slacker. I have had bosses tell me they can't believe when employees want more money and more authority, but still want to leave at 5 p.m. on the dot.

Sue gives some great suggestions for how to handle a boss who toils long hours at the office: shift around your work hours, leave at the normal time but call attention to your productivity, offer reassurance that you are meeting deadlines, ask your boss if he or she expects you to stay late. That last suggestion might seem intimidating but it's probably the most effective.

Do you feel like you need to stay as late as your boss? How do you handle leaving the office at a decent time? Have you ever had a boss that wants you to stay late but doesn't set the example himself?

 

 

February 26, 2014

What really keeps employees engaged at work?

Do perks keep you engaged at work? Do good managers? How about the people you work with? Trying to figure out the secret formula is critical for companies because only a mere 30 percent of the US workforce is engaged and putting in extra effort at work. Today in my Miami Herald column I attempted to give employers some guidance at at time when so many of them are clueless. I'd love to hear from you, what motivates you to give your job your all? 

Great place

 

When it comes to employee engagement, career coaching beats a free lunch

It has become one of the most perplexing workplace questions of the century for businesses worldwide: How do you keep employees engaged and emotionally invested in their jobs?

Some employers have taken the free lunch approach.

At her workplace, Deborah Beetson can count on catered lunch once a month and regular bagel breakfasts. She also can invite clients to the wine bar at her West Palm Beach office. Those are just some of the perks that have landed her employer, DPR Construction, on Fortune’s 100 Best Companies to Work.

But, Beetson says it is not the wine bar, free meals or even the bring-your-dog-to-work days that keep her engaged. “The perks are there to make it a fun place to be, but if you don’t believe leadership cares about you and values your opinion, then perks lose their meaning.”

Offer employees free lunch and you will see a stampede into the lunchroom. But ask those same workers if they feel engaged and you will discover perks are not enough to keep them loyal or inspire them to put in extra effort on the job. “Perks can attract people and make them feel content, but they won’t get employees to a high level of engagement,” says Jim Harter, Gallup’s chief scientist of workplace management and well-being.

Some consider the lack of employee engagement an epidemic. Despite more awareness, the low rate of engagement hasn't budged in more than a decade. According to the Gallup Organization, the number of “actively disengaged workers” continues to be twice the number of engaged employees, defined as emotionally invested in their organizations.

Those engaged employees are the ones that work hardest, stay longest and perform best. Of the country’s roughly 100 million full time employees, an alarming 70 million — 70 percent — are either not engaged at work or actively “checked out”, Gallup found.

Harter believes employers need to shift their focus from pampering, which can create a sense of entitlement, to making employees feel like partners. A good manager drives that connection, he says. “If you’re offering perks and not putting energy toward hiring and developing excellent managers, you’re going about it the wrong way.” If a bad manager creates a disengaging environment, you can’t free lunch your way to engagement. “You can’t cover that up.”

To get the most from a worker, scrap the jeans day, forego the latte machines and think about what workers truly want to feel connected to their work and their company. In studying “Great Places to Work,’’ researchers found employees want to feel the work they are doing is important and to trust their managers care about them as individuals.

“Managers can’t forget that these are people who have a life outside of work they are actively trying to manage,” said Jessica Rohman, program director at Great Place to Work Institute. Even employees at companies considered great places to work report disengagement when bosses don’t understand how accommodating unplanned life needs affects work commitment. “It’s that understanding that fosters a sense of trust,” Rohman says.

Increasingly, employers are realizing that what attracts talent differs from what keeps strong performers engaged.

Working at a nuclear plant is more intense than a 9-to-5 job, but Florida Power & Light’s Turkey Point nuclear power plant has lured 700 full time employees through benefits like on-site daycare, a fitness center, softball league, boat ramp and picnic area and a work schedule that provides every other Friday off.

FPL vice president Michael Kiley knows the benefits are just one component. An ongoing interest in employees’ career path and a sense of team work are what inspire discretionary effort from employees, he says. “They don’t want to let down their peers.”

Even financial incentives such as bonuses don’t have a long term affect on engagement, he has discovered. “Engagement is really about what you do every day to make employees feel part of a team. They need to know how they make that team better every day.”

Engaged workers are clear on expectations, feel accountable but also receive the freedom — possibly even flexibility — to get their work done, says Gallup’s Harter.

Beetson, DPR Construction’s regional leader in West Palm Beach, has found that to be true at her national commercial construction company. On each construction site, the manager discusses goals, inquires about expectations at home, and decides on work schedules that accommodate individual needs. “Letting the team work it out definitely helps with engagement,” Beetson says.

Get the formula right and workers at all life stages will stay engaged.

Ten months after giving birth to twin daughters, Jodi Santos says she remains among the 30 percent of U.S. workers who are engaged with their jobs. Santos, a nuclear oversight inspector at FPL’s Turkey Point, credits a combination of influences. She enjoys having her girls at the onsite daycare and uses the flexible work schedule that allows every other Friday off. She likes the camaraderie and team work that is encouraged through picnics and events.

But mostly, she stays engaged because her supervisor has worked with her to create a career path that allows growth while providing her work life balance. She recently changed departments to a quality assurance position that doesn’t require her to deal with middle-of-the-night emergencies: “I still have the feeling of being part of the big picture.”

Boosting engagement, particularly at stagnant organizations, is no easy task. But Gallup research shows attempting to reverse the worldwide trend is well worth the effort. Organizations are more profitable when their employees are more engaged, and employees benefit, too.

Gallup has discovered that engagement has a larger affect on employee well-being than any other benefits, such as wellness programs or vacation time. “Employees who are engaged are more than three times as likely to be thriving in their overall lives,” Harter says. “They are happier, healthier and more interested at work.”

 

 

January 30, 2014

What does the next generation CEO look like?

Last night I was channel surfing and caught an interview on Bloomberg West with Yahoo Chairman Maynard Webb. It was eye-opening. My favorite part was when he spoke directly about how he wants to see more women CEOs. He says future CEOs will need some of the same attributes as current CEOs. In the future, he said CEOs will need to be more visionary and way  more in tune with how fast everything is evolving.  "At the end of the day, every CEO just plain has to work hard," he said.

People want to work with someone who has vision, Webb pointed out. But he says "I don't know a CEO who hasn't made mistakes long the way. It's how fast you learn from them and correct them.

 

 

 

January 15, 2014

Should you tell a sick co-worker to go home? Flu season hits the workplace...

I woke up this morning with a terrible cold. I'm convinced I jinxed myself by talking to so many people with the flu last week. When you work from home, you can be sick and it doesn't affect anyone. But when you work in an office, going in with the sniffles and a cough can lead to others getting sick. So which is the better route...to brave through it and get work done...or to stay home and keep the germs contained?

I tackled the topic in my Miami Herald column today:

 

Should sick workers stay home?

 

Bringing flu and other communicable diseases into the workplace can significant hurt business. But many employees are reluctant to stay home.
 
 
Flu is expected to hit especially hard nationwide this year, with tourists sure to bring germs to South Florida. Local workplaces will surely face the question of whether to ask sick employees to stay home.
Flu is expected to hit especially hard nationwide this year, with tourists sure to bring germs to South Florida. Local workplaces will surely face the question of whether to ask sick employees to stay home. 
SPENCER PLATT / GETTY IMAGES

  

BY CINDY KRISCHER GOODMAN

BALANCEGAL@GMAIL.COM

After four days in bed with the flu, Cindy Papale returned to her office only to have a colleague come in sniffling and coughing, touching common surfaces and spreading germs. Within a few days Papale was out again with a fever. “If people would stay home, then the rest of us might not get sick, too,” she said.

Flu season is here with a vengeance and it can be tough on the workplace, creating resentment among co-workers, testing flexibility policies and putting the boss in awkward situations. Whether motivated by fear of losing their jobs, a desire to look responsible, a need for income or reluctance to give up vacation days, employees inevitably come to work sick. Some even put up a fight when colleagues or a boss suggests they go home.

“When you work in a close environment, if someone is not telling you to go home, they’re thinking it,” explained Papale, an administrative assistant in a Miami-Dade office. “We’re all just trying to stay well.”

Experts are calling this flu season the worst in a decade, predicting that at least 20 percent of the population has fallen or will become ill. In the last few weeks, odds are that if you haven't had the flu, you know someone who has had it.

For businesses, a single flu-struck worker can have a domino effect. According to a new survey from the office supply company Staples, nearly 90 percent of office workers come to work even when they know they are sick. California-based Disability Management Employer Coalition estimates that employees who come to work with the flu increase lost workdays by 10 percent to 30 percent.

Still, some workplaces seem blind to the potential cost. One non-profit employee complained that in her workplace, if you call in sick, the boss treats you like you're a slacker and even compliments the work ethic of those who come to the workplace sniffling. Others say they are given a cold shoulder by fellow workers when they ask to work from home.

Office manager Rosie Toledo doesn’t agree with that line of thinking at all. “You have to think about the whole office,” she said. Toledo, who manages a Miami medical office, said she has no qualms about telling sick employees not to come in, or to go home if they come in ill.

“If you work somewhere with little interaction with others and can quarantine yourself, then it’s understandable to come in,’’ said Toledo. “But we interact with patients. I’d rather struggle without a person than have someone sick in the office.”

Toledo says she will allow an employee to work from home doing what they can and take a partial sick day. “I try to be flexible. It is tricky. Some people will question, ‘are they really that sick?’ ” Toledo notes that an employee at any workplace who comes in under the weather, typically fails to be productive, anyway. “When you are sick, you’re not fruitful anywhere you are at.”

Of course, some hourly workers come in sick because they need the income. More than 70 percent of low-wage workers get no paid sick days at all, according to the recently released Shriver Report, A Woman’s Nation Pushes Back from the Brink. Others save their time off to care for sick children.

Salaried workers who do get paid sick days say their behavior stems from dedication or fear. Research suggests businesses should be doing more to curb employees’ perceived workplace obligation to be at the office. “It’s rare that you have a manager who tells an employee who is sick to get his butt to work unless there’s a pattern of abuse of sick days,’’ said Bruce Elliott, manager of compensation and benefits at the national Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM).

As flu season drags on, bosses often find themselves in an awkward quandary. They need work completed, but they also want to avert widespread absenteeism.

At a restaurant, if a dishwasher stays home sick, that’s a hole in a key position. But the alternative could be worse. “If someone is on the edge and comes in, it can be devastating if they take out two or three other employees,” said Abe Ng, CEO of Miami-based Sushi Maki and Canton Chinese Restaurants, which has 15 locations. “It’s hard because some on the team are hourly, and they want to work.”

Telling a worker – or forcing them– to go home can be problematic. Ng tries to use diplomacy. “They understand when I explain the bigger picture. If they tough it out and get really sick, they will be out longer. If I am down one sushi chef, no big deal. But if I am down three, I’m in trouble. I try to put it in context for them. “

Increasingly, bosses say they get pushback from employees who insist they are well enough to be present.

“It comes down to counseling the employee and letting him know he really should go home,” said Elliott of SHRM, who has told employees to go home. Still, he says, “I would caution managers that if the employee says he is fine, leave it. You might want to monitor his activity though, and if it is way off, talk to him about taking tomorrow off.”

Some businesses try to curb flu outbreaks in their workplace by administering vaccines. Others rely on an effective leave policy and encourage workers to step up hygiene efforts.

Elliott said he has seen a definite return on investment for employers that offer flu shots in terms of lessened absenteeism. “It’s a proactive approach.”

This year, the Miami Dolphins took that proactive approach and gave its players and office workers flu shots. Some sports teams have gone as far as to quarantine players with flu symptoms to prevent contaminating teammates.

DHL, with 600 employees in Plantation, encourages flu shots by reimbursing the cost at 100 percent and emphasizing preventative care. The company allowsworkers to accrue sick time by hours worked from their first day on the job. And it separates paid vacation time off from sick time to encourage its use.

Most importantly, says Mari Toroker, senior manager of H R at DHL Express Americas, “We’re a tight environment, a cubicle environment, and we encourage anyonewho is sick to work from home. We really promote that internally.”

In the workplace, the flu viruses can survive on hard surfaces like keyboards and desks for up to 48 hours. But the most common way flu virus is spreadin offices is through person-to-person contact and airborne from coughing, said Giorgio Tarchini, an infectious disease doctor with Cleveland Clinic in Weston.

Often, he notes, people go back to work too soon. “They should wait 24 hours with no symptoms,” he said.

For those who have yet to get a flu shot, there still is time and reason to do so, said Tarchini. Flu season peaks in January and February and runs through April.

Now that she’s feeling healthy after two bouts of the flu, Papale is taking precautions by wiping down her work area and telephone. She hopes others in her office will do the same, that feverish co-workers stay home and that the flu virus is finally behind her -- at least for 2014.