December 11, 2013

Holiday gift giving in the workplace: Should you give your boss a gift?

For many years, my editor was a close friend. He gave me guidance in life and at work. So when the holidays rolled around, I felt like I wanted to give him something. I usually opted for holiday treats, which I presented discreetly. Finding the right gift for someone in the workplace and deciding who to give a gift is tricky.

I got some advice from the experts for my Miami Herald column. How do you handle workplace gift-giving? Have you ever given a gift to a boss?


From left, Joanie Stein, a senior manager in the tax department, shares a laugh with Celia Cue, the director of human resources and Richard Berkowitz, the CEO of Berkowitz Pollack Brant Advisors and Accountants. EMILY MICHOT / MIAMI HERALD STAFF


One day in the company lunchroom, Jason Ibarra and his co-workers had a conversation about what they were going to buy their boss for the holidays. As the agency director at Exults Internet Marketing, Ibarra considered aloud how much to spend and asked: “What do you get a guy who probably has money to buy himself more than I can afford?”

In the workplace, holiday gifting can have big implications. Buy too extravagant a gift for a boss and you look like a suck-up. Worse, don’t buy a gift and you could come off as unappreciative. “It can be a little awkward,” Ibarra says.

Ibarra solved his dilemma by putting a black-painted jar in the lunchroom at his Fort Lauderdale firm. He suggested staff put in whatever they feel comfortable giving for the boss’ gift. They collected $250 and bought the boss a fishing rod, which they presented to him as a group gift for Hanukkah.

Etiquette experts say bosses should give their employees gifts to thank them for performance or dedication, but employees don’t need to give a gift back. In the workplace, giving should be down — supervisors to employees — rather than up. “Don’t feel the need to reciprocate if your boss is showing appreciation for your year of hard work,” says Amanda Augustine, a careers expert with TheLadders, an online job-matching site for career-driven professionals.

If you do give the boss a gift, do it for the right reason. “If you feel appreciative of opportunities this year to work in your organization and you’re pleased with the way you were treated, it’s nice to acknowledge a supervisor with something small and a handwritten note,” says Alice Bredin, small-business advisor to American Express Open.

Experts say the best gifts are handwritten notes and something consumable such as a platter or basket of treats. The worst gifts are expensive or too personal such as jewelry, cologne, or intimate apparel. If you’re giving a gift to curry favor, you might want to reconsider. “If you are not a cultural fit or under-performing, sending the boss a really nice gift is not going to save your job,” says Augustine of TheLadders. “The person is going to feel uncomfortable or offended, and, either way, I don’t think the outcome is going to be favorable.”

If you are new to the company, it pays to do a little research on precedent by asking a veteran employee. “On-boarding 101 is always enlisting someone who can tell you what you will not find in the company handbook,” Augustine says. If there isn’t a gift-giving precedent, she advises erring on the side of caution and avoiding giving “up.”

Surveys show the majority of employees spend less than $50 on a supervisor’s gift and the $10 to $25 range is the average. “Bosses usually make more than you so if you spend too much money, they are going to feel embarrassed,” said Elena Brouwer, director of the International Etiquette Centre in Hollywood.

This year, only about a third of employers of all sizes plan to give employees holiday gifts, and about a fifth will give non-performance based bonuses, according to a member survey by the Society for Human Resource Management. However, small-business owners may be less generous. This holiday season, fewer small business owners will give staff gifts (30 percent compared to 44 percent in 2012) or plan holiday activities to celebrate the season with their employees (32 percent vs. 40 percent in 2012), according to the 2013 American Express Small Business Holiday Monitor.




•  Give everyone the same level of gift within your budget.

•  Write a handwritten thank-you note if you receive a gift from the boss.

•  Consider a group gift from the team for the boss.

•  Choose a gift related to someone’s hobby (gift cards are acceptable).

•  Exchange gifts with a specific co-worker/friend outside the office.

•  Stay away from giving alcohol (some policies forbid it).


•  Feel like you’re expected to reciprocate gift-giving.

•  Give a gift to a co-worker on a tight budget.

•  Give a gift too personal (nose-hair trimmer, flowers, lingerie).

•  Give a gift that involves self-improvement (weight loss, makeovers, etc.).

•  Re-gift an item from anyone in your office to another co-worker.

Source: Elena Brouwer, director of the International Etiquette Centre in Hollywood (






October 31, 2013

Halloween: the ultimate work life balance test

When it comes to being family friendly, employers prove themselves on Halloween night. I brought back this blog post from the past that reflects my thoughts on this important day for working parents.



If you're a working parent, chances are high you are nervous right about now. You are stressing over making it home in time to enjoy Halloween night with your kids. Any small obstacle to leaving your workplace at a decent hour becomes a giant source of frustration.

Halloween is the make or break it night when it comes to expecting flexibility and understanding from the boss. If you miss out on trick or treating and you will be resentful for the rest of the year. I know because it has happened to me.

As a news reporter, Halloween has always terrified me.  What if a news story were to break out in the late afternoon? Would I get stuck tracking down sources and miss out on trekking through the neighborhood with my Thomas the Train or Indian Princess?

A friend of mine, a high powered lawyer, told me she once cried all the way home at 9 p.m. on the Halloween night after getting stuck at the office with a partner who demanded she stay and work with him on a legal brief. She quit a few months later to go to a smaller, more family-friendly firm. This year, she took the day off, just to make sure she would be home at dusk.

My two older kids are teens. They no longer want to go door to door in costume, especially with mommy trekking along. I now realize how little time we have to enjoy the trick or treat experience with our kids. I am thankful for those Halloweens past I spent trick or treating with my kids, rather that at work.

For all you parents stuck at the office tonight, you have my sympathy. For all of you bosses, your behavior tonight toward working parents speaks volumes about how much you value them. Behave wisely.

Happy Halloween!


October 22, 2013

Resigning for family reasons -- work life balance or bogus?

As I sat eating my breakfast, reading my newspaper and saw an article that Mark Templeton, the CEO of Citrix had temporarily resigned for family reasons.

My reaction was "really?"

Mark has been at Citrix since 1995. He led the Citrix vision and is responsible for the company’s market direction, product strategy and passion for customer care. Mark transformed Citrix from a $15 million organization with one product, one customer segment and one go-to-market path, to a global powerhouse with annual revenues of $2.59 billion in 2012. He is the face and the brain of the Fort Lauderdale company. 

So, for him to resign must have been difficult.

Usually, when I read that someone resigned for family reasons, I have my doubts. The majority of the time, when it's men, "family reasons" is code for I want to leave gracefully and take another job as soon as possible." It can often mean "I'm being forced out." It kills me when that top leader who resigned for family reasons takes another high profile job within a few months -- turning that term into a big farce.

The article went on to say that Mark's son had died this summer. Here's a man who has wealth, and business success, but may be in need of some down time to grieve or regroup. In this case, "family reasons" seems plausible as the explanation for a leave.

The press statement read like this: 

Citrix Chairman Thomas F. Bogan said, “As many know, Mark recently suffered a tragic death in his immediate family. He now needs to step back from his executive responsibilities for a period of time to be with his family and heal from the impact of this loss. "

Mark's example may help other men. 

Recently, I read about a head college football coach who never missed a day of work when his son died  -- but struggled season after season to bring his team victories. 

Will Mark's example send a signal to the younger generations of men who look up to him as a role model? I would like younger managers and future leaders see that it's okay to step out of the workforce temporarily when family matters take priority.

Some workplace experts believe millennial men already think differently.

 University of California at Hastings law professor Joan Williams  argues that Millennials—particularly the men—want a different structure in their work life priorities. She writes in the Harvard Business Review blog that there's a generational shift taking place between those currently in executive positions (where 75 percent of the men are married to homemakers) and the group behind them. The "he works all of the time, she does all the housework" arrangement won't cut it with the younger group, writes Williams

She cites a study by Michèle Lamont who finds that blue-collar men regard the competitive, all-consuming corporate ethos to be signs of "selfishness." Instead of accepting the work-till-you-drop culture, she says millennial men are beginning to do what women have done for decades: to work as consultants or start their own businesses that give them the flexibility for better work-family balance.

Men shouldn't need to work as consultants or step permanently out of Corporate America if they can create workplaces where dealing with personal problems are as accepted as dealing with work concerns.

I already admire Mark Templeton for the culture of mobility he has helped create at Citrix. Now, I will admire him even more if he becomes a role model for work life balance and gives some credence to citing "family reasons" as a valid explanation for taking time off. It will be interesting to see how and if the company handles his return.  

Readers, do you think a change is on the horizon? Are men able to comfortable take time off and return to the workplace?


October 11, 2013

Workplace suggestion boxes have gone high tech -- good or bad idea?

Do you think it would be a great idea to work half day Fridays but feel like if you mentioned it to your manager, he might think you're a loaf?

I bet all of you have great ideas for how to make your workplace better, save your company money, and improve employee work life balance. It's no wonder then, that employers have taken the suggestion box high tech, making it easier to contribute great ideas whenever and whereever  -- and kept the ability to let employees speak up anonymously. 

I think this trend toward electronic suggestion boxes is here to stay...Now, let's see if employers actually listen to what their employees suggest!


Suggest boxes

Employee suggestion boxes move into the digital age

At BGT Partners in Hallandale Beach, founder David Clarke wanted to give his staff a say in how to make the company better. So, Clarke took the classic suggestion box into the 21st century, creating a dedicated website where employees anonymously give him input on everything from perks to problems they want addressed. “It exposes things I otherwise wouldn’t have known about,” Clarke says.

The physical suggestion box has gone digital, creating new opportunity for workplace communication. From phone apps to websites to intranet portals and blogs, businesses are replacing paper communication with an online format where employee can manifest their visions and ideas.

“Companies have discovered that the ability to let their employees give ideas and share information is critical,” said Leslie Caccamese, director of strategic marketing and research with Great Place to Work. With employees often dispersed in multiple locations, leaders are turning to technology to encourage innovative ideas and help transmit them to the key decision-makers within the company. The companies that land on the Best Places to Work lists are those that have a foundation of communication, and increasingly electronic suggestion boxes are part of their program, she said.

Research shows employees want to have their say on issues or problems that arise in the workplace. On an informal basis, some 54 percent of employees make suggestions to their bosses at least 20 times a year, according to a recent survey by Right Management, an international career and outplacement consultancy firm. But without a formal system to submit ideas and respond, only a small number of those suggestions turn into results. “At a time when many employees feel stifled in their job, it is even more important that employers show that they are listening,” said Monika Morrow, senior vice president of career management for Right Management, in a statement.

At BGT, Clarke says he gains valuable insight from employee suggestions and has made it clear nothing is off limits. Through its interactive website, BGT Damn, employees anonymously have shared opinions on work-life issues, suggestions for perks and concerns about some managers’ lack of communication and leadership skills.

“We were able to provide coaching for leaders and prevent bigger internal issues that may have come from that down the road,” said Clarke, who sold his 150-employee interactive marketing company to PricewaterhouseCoopers’ advisory strategy and consulting services arm last month. Clarke says for his company, the complete anonymity of it allows people to be brutally honest; “it’s an important feature because we really learn more from the bad than the good.”

In other workplaces, employers are using collaborative suggestion boxes with a sharing component. Last year, hotel company Kimpton — which counts the Epic in downtown Miami and Surfcomber on Miami Beach among its 50 boutique hotels nationwide — launched a “Great Ideas Board” website where employees can upload suggestions and brainstorms at any time, from anywhere. Co-workers are able to log on and build on those suggestions. Steve Pinetti, Kimpton’s SVP of Inspiration & Creativity, started the concept to get employees brainstorming together. Either he or the appropriate division head provides a response to every post within 48 hours.




September 26, 2013

How to make difficult workplace conversations easier

Q. When does your personal business become a workplace issue? 

A. When it affects how other's respond to you.

Here is my article in The Miami Herald on the topic. I think it has some great tips. If you've had to have a tough conversation in the workplace, how did you approach it?

A few tips make tough workplace conversations easier

One morning, shortly after ABC News contributor Tory Johnson stepped off the set of Good Morning America, her boss called her into her office. Barbara Fedida, the highest ranking female executive at ABC News, told Johnson she didn’t look as good as she could and offered to connect her to a stylist that would give her a makeover.

“She never used the words ‘fat, diet or obesity,’ but her message was clear: I needed to lose weight,” Johnson says. “Let’s face it: On TV, looks matter.”

They matter in other workplaces, too. Awkward conversations around personal appearance and behavior are increasingly happening in businesses of all sizes. From weight concerns to body odor, inappropriate outfits to annoying behavior, managers find it daunting to tackle these uncomfortable discussions with workers. Yet, sometimes there’s just no avoiding it.

Such conversations can go in several directions. For Johnson, a Miami Beach native, it led to shedding more than 70 pounds over 18 months, mostly because she says she was ready to hear the message. “If you want someone to change, offer solutions; don’t threaten them. And, don’t expect overnight results. Change happens over time in small increments.”

Handling the difficult conversation requires skill and empathy and works best when the person initiating it has a good, trusting relationship with the employee. “When you love your job and respect the people you work with, you are more receptive to hearing something from them,” says Johnson, who has published her weight loss story in a new book, The Shift.

Even when there’s mutual trust, a soft entry tends to work best: acknowledging that you are about to bring up a sensitive matter and offering a solution or encouraging the other person to come up with their own.

The assumption should be that the person is oblivious to their appearance or behavior problem, which turns out to be a great conversation opener, says Scott Garvis, president of Dale Carnegie South Florida. “You could say something like, ‘You are probably not aware of it, but you are judged in the business world on how you look, how you act, what you say and how you say it.’ ”

A few years ago, urged by the rest of the staff, Garvis had to tell an employee he talked too much. “It was not fun. I had to give myself a pep talk to remind myself I was doing him a favor.”

Garvis says it helps to cushion an awkward conversation by showing empathy. Offer up an example of your own blind spots or mistakes and emphasize that someone spoke up to allow you to make changes. “I’m here to be the person for you that this other person was for me.”

Managers who dread these conversations often get nudged into them when other employees complain about the uncomfortable behavior, dress or habits of a co-worker. At one workplace, a manager’s bushy nose hair became so distracting to his staff during presentations that executive speaking coach Anne Freedman was asked to have the difficult conversation with him about it. She says she approached it by addressing the positive first. “I pointed out that the company was investing in him to be a better presenter and said that when you are making a presentation you need to look your best from head to toe and allow others to think of you as a star.”

 Freedman, founder of SpeakOut in Miami, says in almost any difficult conversation, you need to get across that what you are recommending is going to help the person with his or her relationships with other people.

Choosing the right place for the conversation is important, too. If your office seems intimidating or too public, arrange a private meeting. You might also consider inviting the employee for lunch or a cup of coffee.

For Adam Cronin, a personal trainer, the uncomfortable conversations were with clients and he held them outside the gym. He asked clients to take a walk with him, told them he was changing genders to become a female and urged them to continue on as clients in his new exercise facility.

“When you are going to have a conversation that is difficult, half of it is the set up — being in an environment they are comfortable in and letting them know you are going to talk about something that’s difficult,” Cronin says. Reactions were varied. “I knew that would happen. Going into a difficult conversation, you have to be prepared for any outcome while remembering you are doing what you need to do.”

Even with a well-framed approach, the person on the other end might become angry and defensive. If so, remain calm, respond in a way you can be proud of later. “Make it clear that your concern is professional, affects others and that you’re not making a personal criticism,” Garvis advises.

In many workplaces, the new tough conversations increasingly involve bad behavior around tech use. Those can be particularly tricky, especially when they involve someone senior to you in the organization.

Laura Berger, an executive coach and leadership consultant with The Berdeo Group in Fort Lauderdale, said she was asked to help staff at one company tell a CEO his incessant smartphone usage during staff meetings was offensive to his team. Berger forced him to role play with her. “You want them to sit in the shoes of someone else and observe,” she said. Then, she posed a question, “What do you think is a most effective way to modify your behavior?” She suggests, “Let them come up with ideas to solve it.”

While difficult workplace conversations take courage, the consequence of not having them can be costly. An overwhelming majority (85 percent) of employees at all levels say they experience workplace conflict to some degree, spending as much as 2.8 hours per week dealing with it, according to a CPP Inc. study. Managers tend to postpone these talks, or skirt the real issue, hoping the concern will go away on its own, says Berger: “That almost never happens.”

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. 



June 26, 2013

Is working harder the answer, or the problem? Ask a workaholic.

Should some of us forget about work life balance and go for financial success?

(My answer to that question as it appeared in today's Miami Herald!)

Just last month, Ivan Glasenberg, the 57-year-old billionaire CEO of Glencore Xstrata, outspokenly told the media that he is not interested in helping his employees find work/life balance. He touts a tough, old-school 24/7 work ethic as a reason to buy shares in his commodity trading and mining company.

“We work,” he said. “You don’t come here to take life easy. And we all got rich from it, so, you know, there’s a benefit from it.”

Glasenberg, who boasts about his grueling travel schedule, said his company operates a hyper-competitive environment where if someone lets up, they get ousted by the guys below. “Some guy suddenly decides: I want to take it easier, I want to spend more time with the family’… an attack will come. I tell investors, come meet [my employees], and tell me who you think is going to lie at the beach.”

Even in an era of fun workplaces and flexible schedules, Glasenberg has the attitude that working your butt off is a great thing. It’s a formula that has worked for some companies for decades. But is it still what works today? Is working harder the answer to business success, or the problem?

We have seen the business reality: if you have shareholders to answer to, sell time as your product, or run a fast-paced business and want financial success, you give it 100 percent and demand employees do the same. But it’s an approach that comes with a cost, both both personally — in relationships and health — and corporately, when managers burn out.

A new study from Harvard Business Review says putting in more than 70 hours per week reduces work performance to roughly the same level as being inebriated. And a new FSU study on workaholics found that when employees habits fall far on either the low or high end of the “workaholism’’ scale, both the company and the employee are likely to suffer.

In other words, too much focus on work can fry enthusiasm and health. “At some point you are going to burn out, particularly when it’s not a choice,” says Wayne Hochwarter, the Jim Moran Professor of Business Administration in Florida State’s College of Business, who authored the survey.

“When in excessively low or high ranges, both the company and the employee are likely to suffer.”

Still, some leaders believe overwork is only possible if you are not having fun at work.

Advertising executive Jordan Zimmerman, much like Glasenberg, is a self-proclaimed workaholic who has kept up momentum over nearly three decades even when others insisted he would burn out. He believes cranking 24/7 is an absolute necessity in a service business and authors a blog called “We live in a world of immediacy. When a client needs you, you have to be available.”

On its website, Zimmerman Advertising declares that employees work at the speed, velocity and intensity of retail itself. A graphic tracks the weekly performance of its 1,900 employees’ performance from the weekly number of boarding passes issued to staff (307) to the number of antacids chewed (492): “Some call it relentless. We call it a good week,” it boasts.

Zimmerman says his employees must have high energy and be extremely responsive — qualities that are tested during the interview process. “We are looking for people who want the opportunity to grow into a higher position at a faster rate and are willing to sacrifice personal time. They must be available 24/7 and their clients’ business has to become their business.”

As CEO, Zimmerman sets the example. He regularly talks to clients after midnight and before 6 a.m. and lives with a cellphone to his ear, even on the ski slopes. By doing so, he has built a $3 billion empire that has produced some of the catchiest campaigns in the business for clients such as Party City and Papa John’s. “Work invigorates me. I’m passionate about what I do, about making a difference in brands we represent,” he said. After 28 years of working at madman pace, he is still going strong.

Some experts argue that being a workaholic in a competitive industry isn’t a choice. Such is the case in luxury real estate, says Mark Pordes, CEO of Pordes Residential Sales, Marketing and Acquisitions in Aventura. Pordes put in 10-hour days to turn around flagging sales at Canyon Ranch Miami Beach, creating a campaign that led to 300 sales in 18 months. Now, he is applying his expertise and tenacity to the high-end Veer Towers in City Center in Las Vegas.

Pordes says selling high-priced condos and landing customers around the globe means working harder, longer and being available at all hours. If you’re busy having too much of a life outside of work, you could lose a sale, he explains.

“If you don’t respond quickly and accurately, the client is off to the next person. There is low loyalty in luxury sales.”

Like Glasenberg, Pordes believes the job of a company isn’t to help its employees find a work-life balance, but rather to make money. Employees must learn time management and work-life balance skills on their own, he says.

Although he still considers himself a workaholic, he has started to see the toll. A recent hip problem has led him to rethink time management and take an hour a day to exercise. “I’ve learned if you’re feeling better, you will perform better at work.”

In some scenarios, being a workaholic seems to be more palatable. For example, it comes with the territory for small-business owners or managers motivated by a huge monetary incentives. But for those who will never get rich — even working 24/7 — it seem just a question of time until they balk at their work-life imbalance.

Most of us have had weeks, months, even years when our scale tipped far more toward work than life. But when it’s demanded of us relentlessly, there is a point when stamina and payoff erode, research shows.

Wayne Hochwarter, a Jim Moran Professor of Business Administration in Florida State’s College of Business, studied workaholism and found the breaking point differs for each person. However, a signal of a problem is an all-consuming guilt for taking time off.

“A passion for work is great, but when it’s no longer a choice, when work is overwhelming you, that’s different,” Hochwarter says.

Like many former workaholics, Paul Lipton, 68, has realized a work-centric life comes with a pricetag. The former trial attorney with Greenberg Traurig in Miami says he loved his job but now regrets the price for spending long hours in his office and the courthouse.

Newly retired, Lipton says he didn’t realize how much he missed out on personal and family milestones, both big and small. He wants to change his situation going forward and has documented his awakening in his new book Hour of the Wolf, in which he tells others to live life to its fullest.

Lipton understands that success is measured in different ways. For some, it’s money and the elite status that comes with surviving in a Glencore-like work environment. For Lipton, success is now defined in personal fulfillment.

I have to wonder, a decade from now, will Glasenberg feel the same way?

May 02, 2013

Are companies really beefing up perks?


An article in the Sun Sentinel this morning says employers are beefing up perks to keep their talented rosters intact. One staffing recruiter said the pendulum has swung back and that bonuses are back in vogue. Another company said it's going to offer employees additional training.

To that, I say, "Hogwash!"

While some employers in very specific industries might be saying outloud that they are increasing benefits, I'm having trouble believing its true in most industries and for most businesses.

Is your employer becoming more generous?

To me, It just doesn't seem like the economy has come back enough for employers to want to take on any upfront costs for more or better benefits.

Just this morning, the Daily writes: 

Wondering why you haven't seen the performance you've hoped for from your 401(k) lately? A big reason may be that your employer is simply not putting what it used to into the account. 

One of the best perks of 401(k) plans is the matching contribution that employers traditionally make when workers save money in the retirement accounts. Yet these days, fewer companies are making 401(k) matches: The number of companies offering matching has fallen by almost 7 percent since 2009, according to a study from American Investment Planners. The trend of cutting back matching is just one way employers are taking the scalpel to their benefits budgets. The AIP study found that 6 percent of 401(k) plans have been terminated outright.

Are times changing after years of layoffs and high unemployment? Maybe a little, but not much. We know it's costly to replace an employee. I just don't think most employers believe they can't easily replace most workers -- not yet!

Of course, there are benefits that help retain top talent without a big investment -- smart employers have figured that out.

What are those perks?

Rosemary Haefner, Vice President of Human Resources at CareerBuilder, "Being compensated well will always be a top consideration, but we're seeking work-life balance, telecommuting options and learning opportunities outweigh other job factors when an employee decides whether to stay with an organization."

So readers, what are your thoughts? Do you think companies are beefing up perks? Do you think they have realized yet that they will need to do that to keep their good workers?



April 22, 2013

Older men will make workplace flexibility and work life balance a reality


Thank you Sheryl Sandberg. Thank you Anne Marie Slaughter. You have brought the conversation of work life balance back into public discussion. But let's face it women, for all our years of talking about work life balance, flexibility and having it all, we really haven't made any huge progress.

I think that soon will change.

I think it will change because older men will make it happen. 

Just the other day, I was talking to Miami law partner in his late 60s who excitedly was telling me all about the summer home he was building in the mountains. I asked him whether he was going to take the summer off work. "Oh no," he said, "I'll just bring my laptop, my cell phone and I'll work from my cabin." This came just days after another senior partner told me he wasn't retiring but instead scaling back his schedule to work from home in the mornings.

Historically, men have been excluded overtly and subtly from the work life conversation. Tanvi Gautam,  managing partner at Global People Tree wrote this for "The assumption remains that “real” men (single or married) don’t need/want work-life integration. They work long, hard hours and miss meals with family, skip social events, so they can rise to the top of the corporate ladder, if need be at the expense of all else."

For the last decade, women and Millennials have struggled to get organizations to realize that flexibility is needed. Yet, male boomers -- the ones who have resisted giving flexibility to others -- are going to be the ones who make it happen. For them, it's about to get personal.

They are law firm founders, senior executives and chairmen of the boards. But as they age, they still will want their name on the masthead and to share their expertise. They just won't want the 10 to 12 hour days anymore. They will seek the ability to work from home a few days a week or from a vacation home. They will want to pull back from the extreme schedules they worked in the past, and make a gradual transition into retirement, even managing to get organizations to lift or delay mandatory retirement age.

Currently, just 13 percent of Americans are ages 65 and older. By 2030, 18 percent of the nation will be at least that age, according to Pew Research Center projections. The typical Boomer believes that old age doesn’t begin until 72, and the majority of Boomers report feeling more spry than their age would imply.

These senior male leaders will push for flexibility for their own personal use and they will get it because they have the clout and connections that women and younger workers lacked. And when the policies change to accommodate them, the women and Millennials will benefit, too. And that's how and when the workplace and policies will evolve.

For now, the rest of us just need to do our best to make our work and life fit together, and then "lean in" and wait for change to happen. It will happen. I see it on the horizon.

April 17, 2013

How to tell the boss you're overwhelmed

I'm not going to lie, even balance gal feels overwhelmed sometimes. But I've learned that there are tactics that can help and restore your work life balance. 

One of those tactics is having a conversation with your boss about your workload and priorities. How you go about that conversation is key. Today, in my Miami Herald column, I talked with career experts and bosses for their advice on how to tell the boss you're overwhelmed. Today's the day to have that conversation!


Overwhelmed at work? Be smart when you share it with the boss


Have you ever stormed into your boss’ office and blared out: “I’m overwhelmed?”

It’s a declaration more employees are considering after being stretched to the limits. With business picking up but employers still reluctant to hire, many workers find themselves with too many things that need to be done at once; others are responsible for tasks they’re not skilled to do well.

A Harris Interactive study released this month reports that more than 80 percent of those surveyed are feeling workplace stress. The top cause: an unreasonable workload caused by recession staff cuts.

John Swartz, regional director of career services at Everest College, which commissioned the survey, said although the economy has improved, choices employers made three and four years ago are taking a toll on employees. “If 83 percent of workers are stressed, someone will reach a breaking point,” he said.

Rather than wait for a disaster, you need to talk to your boss – and take the right approach.

Career experts say whether or not the boss will react favorably depends on how you present your situation, how much effort you’re putting into your job and whether you come in with a solution. “The cause of overwhelm has to be something specific that can be addressed,” Miami executive coach Margarita Plasencia explained. “Otherwise it comes off as whiney.”

Introspection can help you set the right tone, she says. Before you approach the boss, identify why you’re overwhelmed, what’s going on in your life, the systems you have in place for managing commitments and how you use your energy. Once you’ve taken stock of the situation, you’re ready to address the problem with your boss.

“You want to speak to the boss in a manner that exudes confidence,” Plasencia said. Most importantly, she advised, let the boss know what you need from him or her. “You want to bring a solution, not a problem. Most often, the boss is overwhelmed, too.”

Still, awkward moments can ensue. “If it’s handled poorly, a boss can look at [the complaints] as someone who is not putting in enough effort, or not being a team player,” said Scott Moss, president of Moss Construction Management in Fort Lauderdale, which has 240 employees and projects spanning the Southeast. And even the most positive approach won’t be effective if you routinely leave earlier than the boss or spend chunks of time making personal calls at work, say career experts.

But for hard-working employees focused on company goals, keeping your mouth shut and missing deadlines or making mistakes is worse, Moss said.

As a boss, he has had workers, even high level executives, come to tell him they have too many new jobs starting at the same time. Moss said he listens when the employee shows how the situation could adversely affect the company and suggests a solution. “I’d rather they speak up than the company suffer.”


Conveying the attitude that you are in this together to resolve an important workplace concern is a positive approach.

The majority of bosses are willing to help with setting priorities, managing competing deadlines or reallocating responsibilities.

Case in point: Lawyer Jeff Schneider, managing partner of Levine Kellogg Lehman Schneider & Grossman in Miami, was clacking away on the keyboard one day when an associate walked in. “I’m dying,” the young lawyer declared. “Deadlines are piling up on me.”

“Take a deep breath,” Schneider replied, “Tell me what the issue is.”

The associate explained that two cases had exploded at the same time and work was piling up. Schneider suggested bringing in another lawyer for support.

It’s a familiar scenario, Schneider said.

Most bosses prefer that conversation, he said to the alternatives — missed deadlines, mistakes or health issues. In the past, he has worked in environments where people fear speaking up or asking for help. “Usually, they lose it and quit.”

And, as the Pew study showed, many employers aren’t even aware how stressed employees have become.

Miami financial administrator Karen McCarthy was already stewing over an increasing workload that was leading to longer hours. As her boss handed the single mother yet another assignment, her heart began racing and anxiety took over.

When she snapped at her boss, he looked stunned. “That’s when I realized he wasn’t even aware of the weight of the workload he had dumped on me.”


But addressing the situation isn’t only the job of the company. Cali Yost, author of Tweak It and an expert on work-life dialogue, says while a boss can help set assignment priorities, it’s up to each of us to set our life priorities. Once we’re clear on them, we can make small adjustments to get the sense of overwhelm under control rather that reacting drastically, she says.

“The real reason people disengage or quit their jobs is an accumulation of small frustrations,” she said. She advises people to speak up before the situation becomes a powder keg. Ask for small changes that can lessen the load, like a more efficient computer program, a shift in work hours or a scheduled weekly priority meeting.

“People have to partner with their employers.” And that, she says, helps everyone prosper.