April 27, 2015

The ideal worker is ruining our lives

                                                 Ideal

 

 

The idea worker is not me and it likely isn't you.

The ideal worker doesn't take parental leave when a child is born. He or she has no need for family-friendly policies like flexible schedule, part-time work or telecommuting. The ideal worker doesn't need to find babysitters, deal with school closures or worry about child-care responsibilities.

The ideal worker, freed from all home duties, devotes himself completely to the workplace. He or she is a face-time warrior, the first one in in the morning and the last to leave at night. He or she is rarely sick, doesn't take vacation and is willing to hop on a plane whenever needed. The ideal worker will answer email at 3 a.m. or pull an all nighter if asked. He is the guy who works endless hours, even if it cost him or her their health or family. 

In her book, Overwhelmed: Work, Love and Play when No One Has Time, Brigid Schulte brilliantly points Overwhelmed-TPBookshot-250x372out that the notion of the ideal worker wields immense power in the American workplace. "We are  programmed to emulate him at all costs, or at least feel the sting of not measuring up," she notes.

Here we are in the 21st Century, one in which most women and men work and most have some kind of home responsibilities. Yet, as Brigid points out in her book ( a must read!) most of us are being penalized because we can't meet the expectations of the ideal worker. 

This outdated notion of the ideal worker is a big reason why some education mothers disappear from the workplace and why some men hate their jobs. "Fathers are stigmatized when they seek to deviate from the ideal worker," Brigid writes. That leaves men with children faced with a sharp choice -- either they choose not to be equal partners at home or they choose to be equal partners and hurt their careers, she writes. 

What's it going to take to zap this longtime definition of the ideal worker?

That's a loaded question because with fast emerging technologies, the ideal worker is now expected to be on call and ready to roll all day, every day, all the time. Even worse, people who work for ideal worker managers sleep less than those who have flexible managers and are at great risk for heart disease, Brigid points out.

"No matter how much you do, how hard you work, how much you sacrifice, how devoted you are, you can never attain the ideal," Brigid convincingly argues.

So, here we are raising our kids, trying to please our customers and bosses, working crazy hours, and still, the workplace demands more. We are stressed. We are exhausted. We are on an unfulfilling search for happiness and we need a new definition of the ideal worker. NOW.

My definition of the ideal worker is someone who gives work his or her full attention while at the office and refuels once he or she leaves. My definition includes working parents who take their vacations, fathers who take their children to school or meet with their teachers, and singles who take time to do activities they find enjoyable. Under my definition, the ideal worker doesn't necessarily work less, he workers smarter and more innovatively.

If the outdated notion of the ideal worker is ruining your life, causing you to be overwhelmed and unsure of whether you can ever please everyone on the job and at home, it's time to work toward change. We can make the new definition stick, we just need to acknowledge it needs changing and get the movement started. 

April 08, 2015

Is chit chat ruining your work life balance?

                                         Chitchat


A few days ago, a panel of women leaders gathered for The Commonwealth Institute South Florida luncheon. During a panel discussion, one of the women leaders , Gillian Thomas, spoke about how she came from the U.K. where meetings are run differently than in the U.S. Mostly, they are more efficient, she said, because they are all business. When she arrived in the U.S., she realized that chit chat is part of most business meetings. "I've had to learn to respect that," she said.

Yet, there is a movement underway to shorten business meetings and eliminate chit chat.

Not long ago, you may recall I wrote about a business owner who does most of his interaction by email. He considers phone calls and in person meetings a huge waste of time, mostly because he abhors chit chat. He calls small talk: "the biggest time waster known to man."

And, plenty of productivity gurus will tell you that chit chat wreaks havoc on our work life balance because it makes meetings and phone calls longer and distracts us from getting work done.

Still, I'm a big proponent of chit chat. To me, it's what makes the person sitting next to you more human. From a business perspective chit chat helps you find common ground with a client or co-worker. Getting to know someone on a more personal level makes them more likely to want to work with you. It makes them see you as a whole person and often it makes them respect your personal life that much more.

Have you ever worked with someone who was all business? I have and while I was extremely efficient when I work with them or for them, I didn't feel motivated to give any extra effort.

Not long ago I heard a businesswoman tell her story about how she landed a seat on a prestigious all-male board of a major corporation. She had played hockey in college and was a huge fan of the local NHL team. The chairman of the board was a big hockey fan too. During the interview process, they had chit chatted about hockey. It disarmed the man and made him see this woman as someone who could fit in. The male candidates who interviewed for the board seat had avoided chit chat but the woman, who also had amazing credentials, stood out.

I've noticed that small talk can lead to a variety of positive outcomes, from a merely pleasant exchange to the signing of multimillion-dollar business deal. It's a way to connect and while it may seem like a time drain to some, likeability is a key factor in getting hired, promoted or engaged as a vendor. And what determines a large portion of your likeability? You guessed it: your ability to small talk.

At the same TCI luncheon last week, the panelists were asked about their leadership styles. Alex Villoch publisher of The Miami Herald, said her style is all about getting out of her office and chit chatting with staff. "When you stay in your office, people will come in and tell you want they think you want to hear," she said. By roaming around and talking to employees, Villoch says she picks up small tidbits that often lead to big ideas.

Some of us feel guilty about wasting time at work. I say, go ahead and build chit chat into your workday. Good leaders do it, good networkers do it, good team builders do it. Small talk matters. That's something to consider next time you feel annoyed by a simple "How's your day going?"

March 20, 2015

On International Day of Happiness, lots to think about

Happy

 

 

Today is International Day of Happiness and it's making me wonder: Is there too much pressure on us to be happy?

The prior generations worked hard at home, in manufacturing plants, in offices. They found happiness in small moments when family or friends were gathered around the dinner table or sitting out on the porch. Today, we're so busy. There is so much pressure on us to make money, eat healthy, exercise, respond to what's on our smartphones. We're supposed to do everything on our to-do lists, help solve world problems, raise super-motivated kids and be super happy.

Have we set ourselves up to fall short?

I just read an article in the New York Times about a new play on Broadway, a revival of Wendy Wasserstein's The Heidi Chronicles. The headline of the article read: A Debate of the '80s, Motherhood vs. Career, Still Resonates. Even as more women work than stay at home, we still are debating whether we can have it all. We have put tremendous pressure on ourselves to have amazing work lives and happy home lives. 

And, on top of that, we can't even manage to allow ourselves time off to take real vacations. 

“Americans are among the world’s worst vacationers,” said John de Graaf, President of Take Back Your Time. “According to U.S. Travel Association, some 40 percent of Americans leave an average of seven or more days of paid vacation on the table every year."

Why can't we slow down and allow ourselves to be happy? Is our struggle for work life balance standing in the way of our happiness?

We need to look at what's standing in the way of our happiness in our personal and wife lives.  It requires introspection and maybe some rethinking of the definition of happiness.

Experts tell us the obstacle to a happier life could be ourselves, or someone else. In the workplace, we tend to be unhappy when we clash with our boss or co-worker. At home we tend to be unhappy when our expectations from our friends, relatives or children aren't met.

Regardless, we have the power to improve the lines of communication, lower our expectations, and tell others what we need from them. 

Gretchen Rubin, author of The Happiness Project, believes we can tinker with our small habits to create more happiness in our lives. I think we can all be happier if we stop putting pressure on ourselves to be perfect, happy people who are elated and confident every moment of every day.

On this International Day of Happiness, I'm issuing all of you a challenge: Come up with one small change you can make that will increase your level of happiness. Take a vacation day, refuse to let a co-worker ruin your work experience, ask your spouse for help with chores, take up a new hobby, allow yourself to make mistakes. Most important, notice when you are happy and recreate that experience as often as possible.

I'm planning to allow myself time each day to power down and live in the moment. I'm convinced that will help me feel happier.

What are your thoughts on happiness?

Are too many of us just getting through our lives without examining whether we are happy? If you've made a change that has increased your happiness level, please share!

March 02, 2015

Where are all the women law partners?

To say I'm disgusted is an understatement.

My fellow journalist, Julie Kay at the Daily Business Review, reported today that between lateral hires and promotions, Greenberg Traurig, a national law firm headquartered in Miami, named 18 new South Florida partners in the past year.

Seventeen were men.

Julie notes that by comparison, of the 24 new South Florida partners named by Akerman Senterfitt in the same period, seven are women, both laterals and promotions. That's a small number too, but at least it's better than the ratio at Greenberg.

So, what the heck is going on? Will the male partners have the nerve to say that women opt out of the partnership track because of work life issues? That's an excuse I've been hearing for decades from male leaders at law firms.  

Nationally, the percent of women law partners is slim. In a 2014 Catalyst Women in Law Survey of the 50 best law firms for women, only 19 % of the equity partners were women. The survey also shows women lawyers made 78.9% of men lawyers’ salaries in 2013.

In a statement, here is what Greenberg Traurig CEO Richard Rosenbaum told Julie: "Our annual election of new partners is based on a system of meritocracy. While we always strive to provide opportunities for a diverse group of attorneys, each year that number may fluctuate based on the pool of candidates under consideration."

Boy, that's some fluctuation because at most firms nearly 50 percent of their associates are women. I believe some women don't want to become partner, opting out for work life reasons, but let's be real...those Greenberg numbers for new female partners should be MUCH higher. 


Deborah Baker, president of the Miami chapter of the Florida Association for Women Lawyers, expressed disappointment at Greenberg Traurig's lopsided partner gender split in South Florida.

She told Julie: "Often there are subtle exclusions of women that prevent them from rising in the ranks, and I hope that Greenberg Traurig will engage in a meaningful examination of its own firm culture and the steps it is taking to ensure that women are able to achieve the levels of professional success that their male counterparts do."

I called Deborah Baker to get some ideas for what firms can do differently. 

One of the big challenges, she says, is societal: men need to take a bigger role in parenting. "It can't always be mom making sure the sick kid gets to the pediatrician.  Society needs to recognize there are two parents and both need to give each other's career equal priority."

I agree with Deborah. Yet, I wonder what kind of reaction a male lawyer gets when he says he needs to stay home with a sick child. (Can't your wife do it?)

In addition, Deborah believes law firm culture needs to change.  She said firms need to put their senior male partners in charge of diversity. "They need to stop looking to women to handle HR and diversity issues. They are giving the women things that take time and they don't get credit for...if diversity is important, the message needs to come from the top."

I asked Deborah what she thinks of the usual rationalization by law firm leaders that women take themselves off the partnership track. "Some women do take themselves out. Some men don't want to be partners either. But if law firms and corporations value women in leadership roles, we all need to change the expectation that mom is the only parent capable of caring for a sick child. If there's equal parenting, firms will provide flexibility for men and women and help them get through the years when their kids are young. "

Still, Deborah insists the biggest obstacle for females to making shareholder is firm culture. "Law firms are pretending they are banging their heads against the wall and honestly it's not that complicated. When the head of litigation takes male associates out and women aren't invited, when it comes time to dole out the great work assignments, he is going to give it to the people he is friendly with, the people he socializes with - the men. That culture needs to end, and it's not ending. It still goes on."

Readers, what are your thoughts on Greenberg's lopsided new group of South Florida shareholders? What do you think needs to change for women who want to advance to actually reach partnership level? Is it law firm management's responsibility to advance more women, or is there something women need to do differently?

(The Good Wife's Alicia Flores has had her battles) 

  Goodwife

February 16, 2015

Stressed at the office? How to use mindfulness at work

Today I'm enjoying a day off for President's Day. I plan to stay in the moment with my kids, enjoy the beautiful South Florida weather and make the most of the day because it's so easy to let the stress of work take over our lives.

My guest blogger today provides some great insight into staying in the moment through a practice called mindfulness, giving us tips on how to use it in the workplace to stay zen instead of stressed. Charles A. Francis is the author of Mindfulness Meditation Made Simple: Your Guide to Finding True Inner Peace (Paradigm Press), and co-founder and director of the Mindfulness Meditation Institute. He also leads workshops and mindfulness meditation retreats through his company, MindfulnessMeditationInstitute.org.

These are simple techniques he shares but they can make a big difference in how we feel about work life balance.

Charles A FrancisHeadshot

4 Ways Mindfulness Can Beat Workplace Stress -- It’s as Easy as Taking a Walk

Workplace stress is an epidemic. The World Health Organization calls it a leading health problem in the United States. Stress takes a toll on productivity, memory, and concentration, and can trigger health, mental and emotional problems, turning a day at the office into an anxiety-ridden routine. But employees can break that pattern by practicing Mindfulness, even for a mere ten minutes, just a few times a week. It’s as simple as changing the way one breathes, walks, listens, and talks.

Mindfulness is a 2,500-year-old practice that trains the mind to become calm and focused. Based on straightforward techniques, it doesn’t take years to master. Employees can practice it during the most basic activities at work. Not only will it quiet the mind and improve performance and concentration, it has a great effect on office dynamics as well.

Here are four simple tips for beating workplace stress:

Take a breath.

Mindful Breathing slows down those racing thoughts and moments of agitation. It can be done anywhere, at anytime. First, stop what you’re doing. Then, take three to five breaths. As you take each breath, pay close attention, shutting out thoughts of anything else. Focus on the feeling of the air you’re breathing in and breathing out.  Count each breath. It will put you back in the moment, but in much calmer state.

Go for a walk.

We walk way more than we think we do, even at work. Practice Mindful Walking, and every walk you take is a chance to get calm and centered. Heading to the water cooler? As you walk, focus on each step, shutting out the rest of the world. Focus on the way your foot falls, and on the time it takes. Do this for three to ten steps, counting as you walk and being deeply aware of each step. And slow down: by slowing down your body, you force your mind to follow.

Listen closely.

Stephen Covey once said, "Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply." Deep Listening radically improves communication as we learn to focus on the conversation, instead of being distracted by second-guessing or getting a word in edgewise. First, start by looking into other people’s eyes as they’re talking. Pay close attention to what they’re saying. Fight the temptation to let your mind wander. By showing sincere interest in what the other person is saying, you’re also doing wonders for the relationship.

Choose words carefully.

The consequences of saying something thoughtless or regretful can be profound in the work environment. Mindful Speech is a way to choose the words that can create harmony instead. When responding to what someone’s just said, take a moment to reconsider the words you’ve chosen. Ask yourself: Are my words too reactive? Are they going to worsen an already tense situation? Try to choose words that are respectful, and kind. Just like Deep Listening, Mindful Speech can help heal the stressful workplace, replacing tension with transformation.

 

 

February 11, 2015

Choose your Valentine wisely if you want career success

There is no doubt about it. I am CEO of my home. Because I am conscientious and get things done at home, my husband can put in really long hours as CFO of his company and still spend time with the kids when he gets home. However, because he is conscientious too, I can advance in my career, and count on him when I need him to take over dinner or a meeting with the teacher so I can turn an article in on deadline.

New research shows what many CEOs already know. Who you marry is key to career success. If you are a go-getter, it's best to avoid partnering with  someone who is lazy, resentful or lacks confidence.

Male or female, you stand a better chance of career success if your spouse or romantic partner is conscientious, reliable, organized, extroverted and generally happy. Think Michelle Obama, or David Goldberg, SurveyMonkey CEO and husband of Sheryl Sandberg.

 

“Even if they are not going into your workplace at all, somehow your spouse’s personality is having an influence on your career,” says Joshua Jackson, co-author of new research published in Psychological Science on the link between a spouse’s personality and job success. “People can benefit at work not just because they are married, but in part because of who they married.”

 

 

Here are three reasons why you need to choose a conscientious partner if you are ambitious:

* First, a conscientious partner helps with household tasks, taking some pressure off you and freeing you  to concentrate on work.

* Second, a conscientious partner allows you to feel more satisfied in your marriage or relationship — happiness that spills over into greater satisfaction at work.

* Third, a conscientious partner sets an example, leading his or her mate to mimic his or her diligent habits.

You might also want to choose someone who is outgoing. Researchers also found that people with extroverted, outgoing partners are more likely to have higher levels of job satisfaction, “mostly because your spouse is happier and you take that with you into your workplace,” Jackson says. An added benefit: an outgoing spouse who comes with to work events can help you network or strike up a conversation with the boss.

Most C-suite executives, millionaire entrepreneurs and high-powered law firm shareholders will confirm that a romantic partner with the right personality can provide career advice, lift your mood while you work, encourage you to see opportunities and even refer you business or help you make connections.That's definitely something to keep in mind when you're searching for a Valentine!

These new findings linking a partner’s personality traits and career success supplement previous studies that show your happiness level rises when your mate’s does the same. Research has also found that workers put in more time in the office when their intimate relationships at home are going well, and the right romantic partner can become one's closest workplace confident and advisor.
 
In interviews, many CEOs of both genders often say they could not have succeeded without the support of their partners, wives or husbands, helping with the children and household chores, lending an listening ear when needed and agreeing to attend corporate events or relocate when necessary.
 
Women who lead the largest private companies in Florida realize they have to be in a relationship that operates as a true partnership, says Laurie Kaye Davis, executive director of The Commonwealth Institute South Florida, founded to help women-led businesses become and stay successful. In fact, Davis says that while she is super-organized, she depends on her spouse, a litigator, to be a reliable partner when her job requires more of her time: “I can’t imagine some being hugely successful in marriage and work if you don’t have someone who helps you be the best you can be.”
 
What's your take on your significant other's role in your career success? Do you think the personality of your partner has helped you get ahead at work? Has it prevented you from getting ahead?
 

February 05, 2015

Could you do business only by email?

Last week, I called Jayson DeMers, founder and CEO of AudienceBloom in Seattle to talk to him about an opinion piece he wrote on overwork and work life balance. Jayson didn't want to speak to me on the phone and asked me to send my questions by email. He told me he does business almost completely by email and reference this Forbes article he wrote:  Email Only: 10 Reasons Why Phone Calls Are a Waste of Time

For a journalist, corresponding by email is tricky. It's way too easy for email responses to sound stiff when they appear in the paper and it's really difficult to ask follow up questions. At this point, I became fascinated by how Jayson manages to do all his business by email. I read Jayson's thoughts on why considers phone calls a waste of time and went ahead and sent Jayson my questions. I  waited about a day and a half for his response. Here are my questions and his answers:

  JaysonIf you rely mostly on email, doesn’t that make it more difficult to disconnect? Will you really be willing to pause your inbox?

(Jayson) For me, it's easy to disconnect -- all emails are work-related (nobody non-work related sends me email; they text me or call me). So when the workday is over, I simply pause my inbox, turn off my computer, and walk out of the office. It's simple, easy, and effective.

 When you haven’t responded to an email, or expect an answer through email, are you able to go home and not think about work?

(Jayson) It depends on the situation, but major problems or obstacles do tend to follow me home after work. However, that's life for an entrepreneur (and just about any professional who takes their work very seriously). There are ways to get your mind off work, such as video games, watching TV, playing with your dog, or spending quality time with your friends and family. 

 Have you ever sent an email that was misinterpretted?

(Jayson) Yes; I send and receive around 2,000 emails every week, and some are misinterpreted. 

In regards to small talk, isn’t it small talk that builds relationships, collaboration and even problem resolution? How do you accomplish that through email?

Small talk can certainly build relationships. As for collaboration, I often find that small talk doesn't advance a collaborative effort; it hinders it. Email, for me, is much more effective for problem resolution than any other method. It allows each party to be thorough, detailed, and clear. It also creates an archive of the conversation for later reference for each party. Phone calls often require one or both parties to send a "summary" email of the things that were discussed on the call; so why not just start with an email?

 Do you ever feel like people send out a bunch of back and forth emails when a matter can be quickly resolved by a phone conversation ?

Yes, that can happen.

Do you ever get frustrated when you send an email and don’t get a response? How do you handle that?

I wouldn't say I get frustrated, but I never let it fall through the cracks. I use a plugin for Gmail called Boomerang for Gmail which reminds you after a set amount of time if the recipient fails to reply to your email. 

 How much of your business would you say you do by email?

99%

 

I found Jayson's "Email Only" business philosophy so fascinating that I asked Alex Funkhouser, an tech recruiter and owner of SherlockTalent, for his thoughts. He said he could see email for some purposes, but he tries to steer away from email for important conversations: “People often make business decisions through emotions, email is a poor communicator of emotion.”

Soon after, Alex's friend, Bernie Cronin, called me to tell me he had a strong opinion on "email only" for business. Bernie, a longtime sales professional and sales management trainer, is a big phone guy. He wrote an article called Pick Up The Telephone (PUTT). 

Bernie says the telephone is more effective today than it has ever been because so few people know how to use it effectively.

Writes Bernie: Remember, 38% of our communication is our tonality, how we speak and how we sound. In fact, when you PUTT and get someone’s Voice Mail that can be a friend. Why? Because their message and it’s tonality can tell you a great deal about that person’s speech pattern. Do they speak fast, slow, soft, loud, are they Bernie or Bernard etc. Wouldn’t you like to be 38% more effective than you are today?.....then Pick Up The Telephone. In golf, they say “Drive for show and Putt for dough.” I say, in business, “email for show and PUTT (pick up the telephone) for dough.” 

What are your thoughts on doing business by email only? Do you agree more with Jayson or Bernie? Do you think doing most of your business by email would make you more or less effective? Would it help with work life balance or make it more challenging to disconnect from the office?

 

December 30, 2014

Feeling The Workplace Malaise? You're Not Alone

This is the time of year that some of us feel workplace malaise. We feel like we should be out partying or vacationing and instead we're at work and we're not really thrilled with our workplaces. My guest blogger today is Amy Chen, communications manager for TINYpulse, a tool that offers leaders a way to keep a light, ongoing pulse on how happy, frustrated,or burnt out employees are before retention sinks. It also gives employees a way to be engaged and to give feedback to their leaders without fear of retaliation. Amy, a millennial, shares her personal experiences in the workplace and gives some insight into why employers would want to keep their workers happy.

 

 

AmyWhen I stepped away from my second startup, business was great, but I wasn’t. After founding and building two companies, I was unmotivated and burned out. I used to think that all I needed to be professionally fulfilled was to be part of growing a successful business. But personal experience showed me it just wasn’t enough.

 

It was one of the reasons I became part of TINYpulse. I wanted to give managers a way to directly measure what motivated and energized their employees, and what was frustrating and burning them out.

 

So, imagine my surprise when we started exploring the nature of sentiment in our Employee Engagement & Organizational Culture Report and I discovered those same feelings I had years ago are hitting today’s workplaces just as hard. Here are just some of the damning pieces of evidence we uncovered:

 

 64% of employees do not feel they have a strong work culture

 

 66% of employees do not feel they have opportunities for professional growth in their organizations

 

 Only 21% of employees feel strongly valued at work

 

 49% of employees are not satisfied with their direct supervisor

 

I was shocked to see such poor numbers around engagement. With so much information in the business press about the links between workplace satisfaction and retention, innovation, and bottom line growth, I expected a greater investment in organizational culture. Our report’s findings show this is simply NOT happening.

 

Luckily, there is a simple, 3-step process any organization can take to turn lackluster cultures into positive, thriving environments:

 

1. Learn what your employees are thinking: Pulsing employee engagement surveys, like the TINYpulse survey tool, are effective ways to get real-time insights into employee sentiment. With just one question sent every week, managers can see quickly and easily how employees are feeling.

 

2. Share any and all feedback: While it might be uncomfortable, sharing survey feedback with the team is critical to keeping the team invested in the process. Sharing both the positive and negative comments shows your team you are actually listening.

 

3. Create an action plan with that knowledge: It’s not enough to know the problem. You need to create a plan to tackle it. This is what ultimately changes your workplace for the better, and it shows your employees you are truly invested in their well being.

 

Sometimes, I think our clients say it best. When I asked Amy Balliet, Co-Founder and CEO of Killer Infographics, a Seattle marketing agency, why she uses surveys, she got straight to the heart of the matter. “As a creative agency, it’s paramount that our team can let their imagination run wild. Surveying our employees with TINYpulse gave us insight into process issues that, if left unattended, would have easily hampered our team’s ability to come up with some of the great ideas that have delighted our customers.”

 

Balliet also makes a great point about her company’s commitment to action. “We hold TINYpulse meetings every Friday at the same time, so that we can go over feedback as a team and discuss solutions. This allows us to unearth larger problems at times, quickly solve small problems, and keep the team working together towards the greater good."

 

If you’re ready to turn your workplace stagnation around, consider leveraging employee surveys in 2015. You might just find those employees who were considering changing jobs in the new year will be ready to stick around a bit longer.

December 26, 2014

How to return holiday gifts without wasting tons of time (and money)

Returns


I'm heading to the mall today but I must confess: I go nuts from the chaos involved in returning holiday gifts!

What seems like a simple exchange for size often becomes my biggest nightmare when I have to face crowds, encounter a grumpy sales associate or dole out reasons why I should NOT have to pay more for the same item in a different size.

I've been scanning the web for the best tips of holiday returns.

When I saw this article on the Time website it had a lot of good information to share:

Here is what Time says about returns. 

First off, if you know you don’t want the gift you’ve received—perhaps you already have one, or it’s not remotely in your taste—don’t open it. You have the best chance getting a refund or the full value in store credit for packages that are unopened and in brand-new condition. Next, check if the gift was accompanied by a gift or regular receipt. If yes, the person who bought the gift saved you some potentially big hassles, because without a receipt you may have no right whatsoever to a return or exchange. (Note to self: Always include gift receipts with presents.)

If there is no receipt, you could ask the giver—nicely, cautiously, graciously—where the gift was purchased and if he or she still had a copy of the receipt. This could be quite tricky, and if you’re going there it would be wise to mention how deeply you appreciate the thought behind the gift, but that there was a reason you wanted something slightly different; it could be as simple as needing a different size. Then again, there are reasons to steer way clear of this route. Not only could the giver wind up being offended, the situation could make an extremely awkward turn if, say, the giver didn’t want to reveal that the present was purchased at 85% off.

Assuming there is a receipt, look up the store’s return and exchange policy online, and then be sure to bring the item back to the store before the period expires. As the comprehensive holiday return report from the site Consumer World notes, around the holidays many major retailers institute policies that sensibly make it easy for recipients to bring items back after Christmas. Walmart, for instance, normally has return policies of 14, 15, or 30 days, depending on the item, but for purchases made between November 1 and December 24, the return period countdown doesn’t commence until December 26. In other words, if the item was normally subject to a 30-day return limit, the recipient would have to return it within 30 days of December 26, even if it was purchased in early November. What with the crush of crowds hitting the malls in the days right after Christmas, you might consider waiting for a bit before handling the return. 

Time says if you don’t have the receipt but you know where the item was purchased, go ahead and bring it back to the store. It’s likely the item was purchased with a credit card or was otherwise tracked by the retailer, so there will be a record of it on file, and you should be offered store credit or the right to exchange. (An outright cash refund is extremely unlikely, and pretty much impossible unless the original transaction was in cash, but it can’t hurt to ask.)

When bringing the item back, bring ID. One way retailers try to curtail abuse (and arguably, cut down on returns in general) is by requiring ID during returns and exchanges. Victoria’s Secret wound up on Consumer Reports “Naughty” list this year for its rigid requirement that customers present a government-issued ID for all returns and exchanges. Beyond having ID at the ready, be polite and patient. Store managers are more likely to give you the benefit of the doubt on a return if they perceive you as a potentially good customer down the road.

Here is what Time says about Regifting


If you think that regifting is a no-no, you’re in the minority. An American Express survey revealed that 42% of Americans repurposed presents they received by passing them along as gifts to someone else, while 76% of respondents deem regifting as “acceptable.”

But as with hand-picked and purchased gifts themselves, there are thoughtful and thoughtless ways to go about regifting. For example, it’s bad form to regift an item within a circle of friends who socialize regularly because it’s easy to see how word could spread and everyone could find out where the gift originated. It’s also the opposite of generous to pass along a gift to someone else when you found it hideous. Check out our five-step guide to regifting to repurpose presents in a way that won’t offend anyone, and that (hopefully) won’t get you branded as a crass, thoughtless regifter—which is even worse than being a thoughtless giver.

The National Retail Federation offers these tips:

• Check return policies before you head to the store.  Many retailers have their return policies posted online.  Some stores charge a "restocking fee" for returns.

•Know your online store policies, too. Though millions of gift-givers are in-store shoppers, many purchase gifts online. When making an online return, it's important to know who pays for shipping (the customer or retailer) and the exact location that returned items should be sent. Some online retailers have made hassle-free returns a key part of their business model. Others are less generous.

 

CNBC published this list of six retailers have the worst return policies. It's worth a read before you head to the mall and find yourself aggravated. Those retailers who made the list are Sears, American Apparel, GameStop, Barnes & Noble, ThinkGeek.com, Rakuten.com.

Here's a 2011 article from LifeHacker.com on how to turn your unwanted gifts into cash or something better. I figured at least some of these suggestions might still be valid.

Happy Returns!

 

December 16, 2014

Parenting Do-Overs for 2015

Do over.

Two words that all of us think about at one time in our lives. If I could have a do over, I would stress a lot less when my kids were in elementary school about their homework, friends, and activities. I would approach parenting without guilt for being a working mom and realize that I'm teaching my kids responsibility rather than shirking my parental duty when I asked them to make their own lunch for school.

When I saw this guest blog post on the topic of do overs, I wanted to share it with all of you who may still have time to approach the juggle of work and family with new insight. Work life balance is a lofty goal and over our lifetime, we all have something we would have done differently.

The author of this guest blog post is Mary Jo Rapini, MEd, LPC, is a licensed psychotherapist and co-author with Janine J. Sherman, of Start Talking: A Girl's Guide for You and Your Mom About Health, Sex or Whatever. Read more about the book at www.StartTalkingBook.com and more about Rapini at www.maryjorapini.com.

 

10 Parent Do-Overs For 2015
Including "Embrace the Mess"

by Mary Jo Rapini, MEd, LPC
When my first daughter was six and my youngest was two, I came to a realization that helped me parent in a much different fashion. You see, I've always been a neat freak and I prefer structure and order in my home. Beds made, no dust, and I'm happy. No one told me I couldn't have that and kids too, but it wasn't long before I realized I would stress myself into a heart attack if I continued.
 
When you have kids, you should actually think of living in a barn because kids are hoarders; they're messy; they spill anything they carry; and they are curious and forgetful. They don't close doors, clean up toys, worry about mud, clean up art supplies or Cheerios. And, unless you pacify them with electronic gadgets (which don't stimulate their creative ingenuity as well as hands on manipulating things), your home will be full of rocks, leaves, sand and bugs.
Every parent I know who has a teenager or college-bound child reminisces about what they would do differently if they had a baby or small children now. Many of the things they say are enlightening and helpful when you are sure you're losing your mind with the little ones. I have come up with a list of ten things for parents to consider for 2015 as they continue raising their children.
I've found that hindsight gives you great insight, and if you hang in there a few more months, what drives you mad now will be gone with the next thing your child finds interesting. So, stay curious and take naps.
1. Play with your child every chance you get. Instead of putting them in front of the TV or iPad, get down on the floor and play with them. Your child's brain is developing at a speed you cannot understand. Every opportunity to play is an opportunity for your child to connect with you and their environment.

2. Work on your relationship with your spouse or partner.
Your child will be far better off if you keep your marriage intimate and close. They need your marriage more than they need you 24/7. Dads give children something moms cannot, and visa versa.

3. Power nap with your child. Instead of thinking about all the things you can get done at naptime, lay down and nap. Your power nap will give you more energy and clearer thinking, and both of those will benefit your child more than cleaning.

4. Forget the electronics until your child is in kindergarten.Coloring, gluing, and cutting are much more important for your child's motor and cognitive development than an electronic alphabet game. Being able to create new ideas with art supplies and blocks is not only a way for them to develop motor skills, but it also builds confidence and cognitive skills.

5. Go to the park any and all chances you get. Being outside and running, swinging, jumping, and observing is everything to your child. You playing with them helps them grow closer to you and the wonder of all they see. Talking on the phone or distracting yourself with work is not worth it when you are at the park with your child. Take the time...and be there.

6. Make lunches and cook with your child. Yes, it will be a mess, and yes, you will have to clean it up, but children who touch food and learn to make healthy food choices are also at an advantage as they grow older and become more independent.

7. Quit stressing over what is normal for your child. Kids grow at different rates and no two children are at the same height and weight at the same time. Relax. Use your intuition and parent sense to help guide you.

8. Your child is not going to go to prison because they won't share their toys. New parents make mountains out of molehills, and if their child is more stubborn or temperamental, they make the issue worse than it is. Staying structured with rules and following through with discipline is important, but don't stress over the little stuff.

9. Hug your child EVERY chance you get. Someday you will miss when they no longer want you to carry them, and they will grow out of wanting to sit in your lap during story time.

10. Never parent with guilt. Sometimes you have to be firm and that means teaching your child there are consequences for their actions. But, yelling or screaming at your child should never be done, and they are very forgiving; so always apologize. 
No one tells us how to parent, and kids don't come with an instruction manual. So, it is wisdom of hindsight that helps new parents feel comforted during the rough times...and there will be rough times. Kids get sick, they don't sleep, they like bugs and messes and spill water, milk and anything liquid. Love them anyway.