December 10, 2015

Yes, it's okay to buy your boss a holiday gift

                                                Gift

 

My husband was explaining to me that his administrative assistant seems truly stumped every year by what to get him for the holidays. Some years, she flat out asks him what he would want.  When he told me this, I asked him whether he thought she even needed to get him a gift at all. His answer was "it's always nice to feel appreciated."

Many people struggle with whether to get their supervisor a holiday gift. I have been one of those people who has contemplated this dilemma many times. Like you, I don't want to look like a kiss up but I also want to show a good boss that he or she makes my work life enjoyable.

Over the years, I've given my editors something I knew they would enjoy --a fun mug with their favorite coffee, a container of homemade chocolate pretzels, a gift card to Starbucks with a note. Actually, I think the note is the important part. Some managers feel pressure from above -- all the time -- and appreciate someone on their staff acknowledging that they are good at their job. I've written short notes like: "Happy Holidays! Thanks for being a great editor!"

Another option is to pool with your colleagues to get one gift from everyone. Just don’t make it too personal or offensive. Miss Manners says this group present should be inexpensive (each person's contribution should be less than what the boss spent on them) and consumable, according to the boss's taste. A bottle of wine, a box of chocolates, or something similar.

Last holiday season, more than a quarter of workers said they planned to buy for the boss, according to a survey by staffing company Spherion. To get a boss' perspective, I asked a former editor of mine, Terence Shepherd, his thoughts about giving a supervisor a holiday gift. "It's really sweet," he said. But then, after a few minutes he added, "Of course, it's also risky. You have to know your boss well to know how it's going to be received. Also, don't expect anything in return." Terence says in prior years, he has given his boss a bottle of wine or champagne -- gifts he considers low risk. He also has received gifts he appreciated, including a scarf.

If you've got a particularly bad boss, I can't fathom buying him or her anything. However, you might have to contribute to the group gift to avoid landing yourself in the dog house.

Alison Green who writes the popular Ask a Manager blog, suggests looking closely at the culture of your workplace – and knowing your boss. A reasonable manager would never penalize someone, even subtly, for not giving her a gift at the holidays. On the other hand, you might not have a reasonable manager. Know your own situation, and proceed accordingly. (But know that etiquette is on your side if you choose not to give a gift.)

Also as a manager, you don't want to set the tone that gifts are expected. You might have to be outspoken about this if you truly don't want to receive gifts. In that case, as the employee, you can always give a nice card. 

What are your thoughts on giving a boss a gift? Has it ever made you uncomfortable to give or receive a gift at work?

December 03, 2015

Why Holiday Office Parties Are Big Deal

Last night, my husband began telling me who wasn't coming to his company's holiday party for managers. The way he was presenting it to me was as if the two people who weren't coming were doing something extremely offensive. I turned to him and said, "Why is it such a big deal if they don't come?"

His answer surprised me. He sounded kind of exasperated and answered: "Because they are part of the team."

While some of us think of our holiday office party as no big deal, senior managers, like my husband, consider it crucial to showing you want to be part of the team.

I know you might be thinking... "I can spend my personal time how I want to spend it and if I don't want to hang around my co-workers on my time off, so be it." You might also be thinking, "I don't want to go alone or I don't want to be around my jerk of a boss after hours."

Those are good reasons. But not really.

If you are in a bad place, skipping the office holiday party will only make it worse. And, if you use the opportunity well, there is a lot to gain.

One year at my newspaper’s holiday party, I ended up sipping champagne with one of the top editors. It was the first time I had a conversation with her outside the office and about something other than business. I learned she actually had a sense of humor, a quality she rarely showed in the office. We joked about our college experiences and compared our favorite cocktails.

The next time I saw her at work, she treated me more kindly and seemed to have more time than usual to ask me what I was working on. I was thankful I had attended the office holiday party and I realized what a significant networking opportunity it had provided me.

When my brother-in-law told me he had no intention of going to his office holiday party, I told him to think about someone at his company with whom he wanted a better relationship and use the festive environment to make that happen.

At holiday parties, the dynamics are different than other times of the year. People attend to eat, drink and mingle with no specific business agenda. Whether it's your own company's holiday party, your spouse's or a professional organization's, the event is a chance to get in front of someone who can give you a future job, send business your way, or even make your work life easier. Holiday parties can be worthwhile for the opportunities they present when the atmosphere is festive.

Let's say you are at your spouse's holiday office party and you get one-on-one time with his boss. You can casually mention something your partner contributed that his boss might not be aware of or might have overlooked. Or, let's say you have had a hot/cold relationship with one of your co-workers. Sharing time outside the work environment might help you discover you have more in common than you realize. 

So, while you might initially consider skipping a holiday office party as no big deal, it's actually far from that. Drink in moderation, mix as much as possible and get in front of supervisors while they may be in a rare good mood. Just being there is a much bigger deal than you might think. Use the opportunity well and there is a lot to gain. 

December 01, 2015

The Best Way to Unwind

Fried out

 

Last night after hours of writing and flipping screens at my desk, I got up and feel mentally depleted. It was the exact sensation that Ana Veciana-Suarez described in her Miami Herald column today as feeling like her body had been plowed over by a tractor after too many hours in front of a computer. This affliction is not the same kind of exhaustion one would feel after running a marathon. It's a mental tax in which someone longs to do little else but veg out. 

Have you ever felt that way -- as if your brain is completely fried out?

Ana writes: "I find myself wanting to talk to no one, wanting to stare at nothing. The idea of sitting still, in silence as gathering twilight provides a protective blanket, has become so attractive. And comforting." For Ana it used to be that taking a walk across the hall or looking away from her monitor for a few minutes was enough for her to restore and redirect. Now, she says, that pause button no longer works.  "A fried brain apparently needs more than a few minutes."

It sure does. 

This is a challenging time to be an American worker trying to find work life balance -- or just merely unwind from a busy day. It's getting increasingly difficult to keep information coming at us from every direction. Some of us do almost everything with our smartphones in our hands. When we're not behind our laptop monitors, we are Facebook messaging or texting from our mobile devices. The demands for our attention are accompanied by pings and rings that practically scream at us to respond. Simply walking away from our computer is not enough to relax us. 

So how do we unwind when most of us have become used to exchanging one screen for another? 

The answer is we must become more comfortable with discomfort. 

David Greenfield, founder of The Center for Internet and Tech Addiction, explained to me that taking a tech break or completely powering down can be an uncomfortable experience the first time we try it. Imagine leaving your phone behind when you go to the movies or for a long walk. Can you do it without feeling slightly panicked?  But Greenfield says, "If you do tolerate the discomfort, the next time will be easier."

In this 21st Century period when our brains are on overdrive, Greenfield points out: We are not designed to be in a constant state of nervous system arousal.

So, next time you walk away from your monitor and pick up your cell phone or iPad, think twice. There's a certain sense of relief in letting our brains focus on something other than a screen. It's the kind of unwinding that we need to get used to doing more often. 

November 25, 2015

Why is Showing Gratitude at Work So Tricky?

Thankyou


As you sit around on Thanksgiving saying what you're thankful for, will you save some of those thank yous for people at work?

Let’s face it, showing gratitude is rare in most workplaces. Even while there have been numerous studies on the positive relationship between gratitude and work engagement, the concept isn’t often embraced by the people in charge. When is the last time your boss said thank you?

Some bosses fear saying thank you to staff will weaken their authority, while others worry employees will take advantage of them if they show gratitude. There are also some managers who believe they already thank their staff by giving them a paying job, and some who will argue that because they don’t receive appreciation, there is no need to dole it out.

It is no surprise that people are less likely to feel or express gratitude at work than anyplace else, according to a 2012 survey of 2,000 Americans by the John Templeton Foundation. “It’s the habit that people bring to the workplace,” says Emiliana Simon-Thomas, science director at the Greater Good Science Center at the University of California, Berkeley. “They feel reluctant at work to say thank you but those bosses who do actually tend to be more respected.”

Clearly, creating a culture of gratitude can be tricky. For one corporate leader, finding the right approach was a learning process. When Criag Ceccanti, CEO of Pinot’s Palette (based in Houston; it has seven studios in Florida) gave his employees high-fives and thanked them often for their work building his paint and sip concept into a national franchise, the show of gratitude backfired: “They began not working as hard and not striving for the next level.”
 
Now he thanks employees during staff meetings, when they do something that deserves recognition. 

 

Dr. Jason Pirozzolo approaches gratitude at the office the way his mother taught him as a kid — through handwritten thank you notes to his employees for going above and beyond their routine job descriptions. 

It's not just bosses that can show gratitude. Thirty-year-old Jimmy Sinis says he thanks his co-workers when they put in extra effort on team projects. They do the same for him: “Because we have situations where it gets stressful, when we get to finish line together it’s gratifying. Saying thank you is part of the routine.” Sinis says if a co-worker pitches in to alleviate a few late nights, he reciprocates beyond verbal of gratitude: “I’ll say, let me take you to lunch, you really got me out of a jam.”
 
If someone deserves gratitude, Bob Preziosi, a professor of management at the H. Wayne Huizenga College of Business at Nova Southeastern University, believes saying thank you is best done publicly so that it is observed and can permeate the culture. However, Preziosi sees nothing wrong with employees giving the boss a push. “An employee may need to do a reversal and shoot a gratitude bomb at their boss,” he says. “Hopefully, their boss will pick up on it and respond.”
 
 
What are your thoughts on gratitude in the workplace? Do you want to be thanked for a job well done? Do you think a boss that shows too much gratitude is going to be stepped all over? 
 

November 20, 2015

Does Thanksgiving Stress You Out?

                                               Turkey

 

 

It may just be me but I find Thanksgiving to be stressful. It started when I got my first job and I had to work the day after Thanksgiving. While everyone else seemed to be at the stores, I was stuck in my office. I stressed over whether to take a vacation day, whether to cut out early or whether to just grin and bear being an average American worker with limited time off.

As the years have gone by, there are so many additional aspects of Thanksgiving that stress me out -- the cooking, the setting up and cleaning up. And, of course there's the family dynamics to fret about. Someone is bound to say something that offends someone else. I have seen a simple compliment of a recipe lead to a big brouhaha.

This year, my husband is stressed over potentially overeating. He's trying to lose weight by year end and already is worrying that he won't be able to resist pumpkin pie. 

I have friends that are stressed over Thanksgiving travel. This year, travel experts predict more than the average travel craziness so there's good reason to be stressed.

I have friends in retail that are stressed about having to work on Thanksgiving and others who are stressed about whether or not to cut their holiday short and shop the sales.

Of course, even with all this stress, most of us need to realize that we have a lot to be grateful for. At a time when the world seems to be volatile, we are fortunate to be able to find a sense of peace and hope. 

I offer these five tips for making it through Thanksgiving with the least amount of stress possible.

1. Smile and nod. There is very little you can do to control your relatives. However, you can control how you respond to them. The other thing to remember is that when it comes to conflicts between family members, they don't necessarily need to involve you. Don't take sides and don't assume it's your job to resolve those conflicts on Thanksgiving. Practice self-control. Smile and nod and don't let anyone ruin your day.

2. Make your life easier. Order what you can. Make what you can. Ask for help with the dishes. Use paper, plastic and foil. If someone doesn't think your holiday meal is fancy enough, let them shop, cook and clean up.

3. Enjoy your company. My young cousin was around to celebrate Thanksgiving last year. This year he is gone. His death certainly made me more appreciative of the people at my holiday table and made me realize I want to make my meal last as long as possible. I can hit the sales the next day.

4. Take a walk. Let's face it, we probably will eat more than we should on Thanksgiving. We probably will find travel exhausting and we probably will deviate from our normal exercise routine. But taking a walk is an amazing stress reliever and great bonding time with family members. Do it, you won't be sorry!

5. Make a pact. Agree going into the Thanksgiving weekend that you will not argue -- not with your spouse, your friends, your parents, your cashier, the jerk in the parking lot who takes your spot or the pushy customer who butts in line in front of you. Telling yourself (and reminding yourself) you will stay zen regardless of what craziness you encounter will lead to a much more enjoyable holiday weekend.

Do you find Thanksgiving stressful? Have retailers added to our stress levels or made it easier by starting sales earlier?

November 18, 2015

Finding Work Life Balance And Hating It

                                         Tipped

 

 

The other day I met a friend for lunch. She is finally in a job that has normal work hours, one that allows her to make lunch plans and have dinner with her family. She no feels exhausted or has a high level of responsibility at work. But she is miserable.

"I miss feeling excited about going to work every day," she told me. "I found work life balance, but I thought I would enjoy it more."

My conversation with my friend replayed in my mind this morning when I read a Huuffington blog post by Erin Blaskie. In the post Erin writes that after being a entrepreneur for 12 years, she burned out and thought that more balance was the answer. So, she decided she would concentrate on a year of self care. What she discovered when she scaled back in her business to a more manageable size, was that being less than all in made her miserable.

In her post she writes: "Stepping out of my craft, to focus on everything but work, created a hole in my soul where my business used to be. It created a void and I filled it with negative behaviors." She describes those behaviors as experiencing envy at what her colleagues were doing and questioning everything she had done in her business for the last 12 years. Even though she was able to take nights and weekends off, she was not happy. 

"The truth was, I wanted my business, my purpose and my passion back, " she writes. Erin says she began to ramp up again in her business and felt happier. "When you've found your calling, work fuels your life and your life fuels your work."

What Erin and my friend have come to realize is that work life balance will look different to everyone and sometimes when you do find balance, it doesn't look like the balance that everyone else says it should.

Erin said it well: Look for the version of work/life balance that is going to work for you.

I often hear from readers and friends who have tipped the scale one way or the other between work or life -- and they are happy. Balance doesn't have to be an equilibrium. Remember there will be times in our lives when responsibilities require we spend more time caring for family or our own needs. And, there will be times when we need or want to devote more attention to work. Work life balance means making choices that are best for us and not those choices we think we are supposed to make.

 

 

November 12, 2015

Would You Take Your Parents to Work?

IMG_0004

(Fiorella, a design coordinator at Stantec, and her parents, Angel and Marlene)

 

 

For the last few years, parents have taken then daughters and sons with them to work to give them a glimpse at what their work day is like. Indeed, Take Your Child to Work Day has become well celebrated nationwide.

Three years ago, LinkedIn started Bring Your Parents Day after finding about a third of parents don't understand what their children do for work. That's kind of a big deal when about a third of all millennials still live with their parents

I admit that at first I thought the whole thing was a little ridiculous...I wondered if this was just another extension of over-involved parenting. But I have learned a little more about what the day is about and have changed my mind. 

Last Thursday, Stantec in Miami, an engineering, architecture and interior design firm, invited its employees to bring their parents with them to work for the day. 

Architect and Senior Principal Jon Cardello of Stantec in Miami gave them a tour and answered questions. “Stantec recognizes that parent support plays an important role in employee job satisfaction. When parents visit their children’s place of employment, they will better understand their child’s profession and encourage their workplace goals,” Cardello said.

Fiorella Mavares, 28, lives at home and often works long days and late nights as a design coordinator at Stantec. She brought her parents with her to the office to give them a feel for what she does and why she's challenged with work life balance.

"They saw everyone working and meetings going on...at first they were a little overwhelmed, but they liked it," Fiorella says. "It helped them understand why I stay late so much and the level of difficulty of stuff we do."

Fiorella says she took her parents with her to an internal meeting for a project her firm is working on in Wynwood. "They sat there and they realized, it's not only artsy stuff we're doing, there are legal issues and zoning codes and technical stuff we're involved with as well.

Both of Fiorella's parents work. Dad works as a realtor and mom as a mortgage broker. Still, Fiorella says spending time at her office made them more supportive and proud of what she does for a living. 

Last year more than 50 businesses opened their doors to more than 20,000 parents. I wonder whether it made any difference -- or further reinforced why some of us are miserable in our jobs.

Whether you bring your child, your parent or even your spouse with you to work for the day, seeing you in your work environment, meeting the people you work with and experiencing the challenges you encounter can help to build an understanding. The truth is we all need to feel supported by the people when live with. 

What do you think your family member would learn about your work day by coming to your workplace? Is it anything they don't already know?

November 10, 2015

The Fight for $15: A home care worker's perspective

Today my guest blogger is Brenda Williams, a Florida home care worker. Brenda works a difficult job and balances it with her home life. Along with other home care workers, she is fighting for higher wages. This is a hot button political issue but one that deserves our attention.

HCFF15_GuestPiece_BrendaWilliams_Photo

(Brenda Williams and her client Mr. Dukes at his 102nd birthday party)

 

This election season, I’m thinking about my grandson. I’m looking for a set of leaders that will fight for our families and communities and our ability to care for one another. And for me, and thousands of other home care workers, that means supporting $15 an hour and union rights for low-wage workers everywhere.

In my eight years as a home care worker, I’ve worked miracles to keep families together. I provide daily support services to seniors and people with disabilities that allow them to age with dignity and independence in their homes, surrounded by friends, family and their community. But how can I take care of my loved ones when I’m struggling on low pay?

I am paid $11.50 an hour, and it’s not a fair wage. I live paycheck to paycheck, with one eye constantly on when my next bill is due. It isn’t right that I’m 62 years old, work constantly and am unable to make ends meet. A raise to $15 an hour would mean an opportunity to save for the future, and not just for myself. I moved to Florida 17 years ago to support my grandson, and I dream of being able to put aside savings for him. Home care workers everywhere are wondering how they’ll be able to provide for their families’ futures on low wages.

Sadly, low pay for home care workers has discouraged many from the job. Across the country, the number of seniors in need of home care services has outpaced the number of home care workers available. In Florida, there is one home care worker for every 35 seniors who need care. It’s clear that the system isn’t working for our elderly, it isn’t working for home care workers, and it isn’t working for families. We all deserve better, and we’re demanding that elected leaders stand with our call for change.

I’ve had some of the most remarkable home care clients. The first of them, Mr. Dukes, was a wonderful man and like a grandfather to me. Mr. Dukes had muscular degeneration and impaired vision. Over the years, he’d lost contact with his family and his home was filled with stacks of letters he was unable to read. I began reading the letters and reaching out to relatives and friends who had written them. When Mr. Dukes turned 102, I invited everyone to a birthday party. I told him 13 people would attend and over 50 came, including many long-lost relatives. His alma mater even sent a picture of him from his college years. It was a moving and powerful experience to help my client reconnect with his family and community, and he felt it too. 

Home care workers provide invaluable services to seniors. We help with cooking, bathing, and doctor’s appointments and provide the stability and consistency of care that allows families to stay together and thrive. But too often, low wages mean we can’t cover the basics of food and rent, much less take care of our kids and grandkids the way they deserve. It’s a simple matter of fairness that home care workers should be able to provide for our family members the way we provide for others.

Today, November 10, is one year from the 2016 election. I’m coming together with other home care workers and low-wage workers in the Fight for $15 in our largest nationwide mobilization yet. For too long, our families have been on the line. Now our votes are too. We’re letting candidates know that, whether they’re running for local office or President of the United States, they’ll only get our support if they support $15/hr and union rights.

Home care workers need leaders in office that know what families need. If you stand with us, we’ll stand with you. 

November 05, 2015

Is there a such thing as work life balance?

Maryam

 

At least once a week, someone will tell me they don't believe in work life balance. This week it was Maryam Banikarim, global chief marketing officer of Hyatt Hotels Corp., a risk taking, change maker with two teenagers at home.

When I began my conversation with Maryam, one of the first things she said to me was:  "I don't believe in work life balance."

Then, she added:  "I think we juggle lots of different things, and make different tradeoffs at different times in our lives so we never really have balance." Balance implies there is an equilibrium, she told me. "At different times something gives. I recognize family is important, but there are moments when I make a different decision because something is urgent at work."

In other words, Maryam believes what I do. That balance isn't about a moment in time but rather about the big picture in life. It's about fast forwarding to when you turn 100 and you ask yourself, "Was my life fulfilling?"

Yet, balance is something all of us chase. And we should.

For her new job with Hyatt, Maryam has relocated her family to Chicago. For now, her work and home lives both present a challenge, particularly with her son and daughter in high school. "Kids need different things at different times. When they get older, your presence is required in a different way," she explained to me and I agreed.

Maryam says in the first few months of her new job, she tried not to travel for work while her husband and children acclimated. "It's a challenge when you move your family for your work. You have to be empathetic to the people who are part of your journey."

Opportunities to make purposeful change at companies have always presented themselves to Maryam who says she uses this motto to guide her career decisions. "You only live once so I want to have left the world in a better place than I found it." 

Maryam made her recent leap into hospitality after working in the media industry, book publishing, consulting and sales. Her prior job was the chief marketing officer at Gannett Co.  She says jumping into a new industry is easier than one might think.  “You just have to have confidence your skills will translate."

Throughout her career, Maryam has held leadership roles and navigated through common challenges many women in executive positions face. Now as Hyatt’s CMO, she is responsible for bringing the company’s brands and experiences to life while initiating innovation around the guest experience and driving growth. Her main task has become differentiating Hyatt’s nine brands in the hospitality marketplace.

“When you come from the outside you look at things from a different lens. You might see different opportunities,” she said. “But it’s a combination of the view from outside, plus the expertise of those who know the business coming together that help you see a new path forward.”

Her secret to leadership: "You need to have people around you who have different backgrounds ... people who aren’t afraid to voice their opinions.”

As a leader, she has no qualms about voicing her opinions -- or taking risks.

Because she grew up in Iran during turbulent times, Maryam says she has a higher risk tolerance than most people and excels at ushering companies through purpose-driven change. For her, an ideal job is one where she can learn and have significant impact. She once told a former boss: “I will work hard while I’m here, but if there is nothing new to learn I will have to find another job.”

As a mother, Banikarim offers her teens this advice: “Pick something you care about, something you really want to do because you will end up spending a lot of time at work.” 

So do you agree with Maryam about work life balance? Do you think there are times when the scale needs to tip one way -- or the other  -- toward work and a personal life?  Can you be successful in your career and as a parent?

November 04, 2015

Couples, Money and Work Life Balance...how to blend all three

 

                                            Couples

 

When I decided to go part time when my children were young, my husband and I sat down and talked about how the loss of income would affect our household. I knew the schedule would make our lives easier, but I also hated giving up half my salary and becoming more dependent on my husband to support our family. 

Conversations about money and work are common in households across the country. Or, at least they should be. 

Instead, couples seem to be communicating less and hiding more from their significant others -- particularly as people work longer hours or get married later and have their own credit and debt. Indeed, Fidelity Investments found that 72 percent of the couples surveyed believed they communicate well. But four in 10 of the pairs didn’t know how much their partner earned, and one in five admitted to hiding some of their finances from their significant other.

As today's workers struggle with work life balance, there are more financial questions that they face (Is this job worth the time demands? Should I start my own business? Should I ask for a reduced schedule? Should I demand a raise? Should the breadwinner have more say over spending?)
 
I tackled the topic in my Miami Herald column today and in it I shared a piece of advice from Jeff Motske, a financial adviser and author of A Couple’s Guide to Financial Compatibility.  Jeff suggested couples have a financial date night once a month. He isn't advocating you show up with bank statements or a paycheck stub. He simply says sit down together in a stress free environment and talk about income and expenses, goals and dreams, work hours and income. Jeff says financial date night helps to get couples on the same page and reduce arguments that can destroy a marriage.
 
Experts say it's okay to have separate accounts and it's okay to have splurge money and it's even okay to keep pouring money into a business rather than taking a salary ---as long as you and your partner are open about it and communicate with each other. With bank statements now digital and online access to accounts, it's easier than ever to keep money secrets. But is it worth it?
 
Repeatedly, money is mentioned as the top source of arguments in marriage. Yet, all healthy marriages have disagreements over money, So, it seems well worth the effort to make a financial date night and get concerns out in the open. I'm planning mine, are you?