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. 


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. 




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. 


December 17, 2013

When your boss catches you shopping online

Shopping online


You're a click away from a great deal on new earbuds for your son when you feel a presence over your shoulder. Yep, it's the boss. Now what?


While you might think it's just women that have found themselves in this predicament, you're wrong. Men shop online at work, too. It's kind of the way we balance work and our personal lives. Most of us think we're great a being discreet with our online shopping habits -- until we get caught. If it happens to you, there are few ways you can recover gracefully.

An article in Self Magazine offers these suggestions:

Accept that you're busted. You're first instinct will be to minimize your screen or toss your smartphone off to the side. (Right?) Career expert Lindsey Pollak says don't do this because you will look more suspicious. She says your boss might even think you're doing something worse, like job hunting.

Confess.  Pollak suggests saying something like, "Oops, I had a few minutes of downtime and was just taking a little mental breather."  Odds are the boss has shopped online during the workday, too, and admitting it could make you look honest and be better in the long run.

Drop it. Once you admit it, don't mention it again. The boss probably has more important thing to worry about (like finishing her work so she can take time off). After any mistake in the workplace, the best thing to do is pretend your boss is watching you 24/7 for the next week, so don't repeat the mistake again and do something to earn extra credit, Pollak says. 


Have you ever been caught shopping online at work? If so, how did you handle it? If your the boss, how did you handle it when you caught an employee doing it?




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 ( etiquettecentre.com)






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!