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. 

 

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?

Awkward.

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.

 

WORKPLACE GIFT-GIVING TIPS

Do

•  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).

Don’t

•  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.

 

Halloween12

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.”