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. 

December 12, 2014

Why a task expands to fill the time you allow it

Calendar

 

 

Planning to write an end-of-year holiday letter? How much time will you spend on that? 

Planning to shop for a new wreath?  How much time will you spend on that?

If you haven't thought about those tasks from a time perspective, you should because if you haven't noticed, our to-dos expand to the amount of time we allot them.

In my line of work, everything is about deadlines. Sometimes, when the deadline is way in the future, an article takes me much longer to write than if I had to get it done in an hour.

Organization gurus tell us to put almost everything on our calendars and give ourselves a set amount of time to complete each task. Reading email is a great example.  If we don't set a specific amount of time aside for it, clearing email can fill many more hours of your work day than it should. One productivity expert told me that limiting the amount of time we give ourselves to complete a work project increases our productivity and quality.

But we don't just need to work smart, we need to play smart, too.

Yesterday, I looked at a friend's calendar and thought she was insane. It's color-coded and jam packed. She has allotted herself three hours on Saturday to run errands. As she explained why, I had an a-ha moment.

By allotting herself only three hours for errands, my friend has prevented chores from filling up her entire day off work. That's pretty smart because we all know that running to the grocery store and the dry cleaner and the drug stores can expand into an all day event if we allow it.

In her blog post, Jennifer Lea, The Energized Mom, asks: Does having more (free) time lead to greater fulfillment?

The answer is not necessarily.

How you use your free time is critical to work life balance. No one wants to have to follow a minute by minute schedule. But without slotting set amounts of time for certain tasks, you can easily find yourself reading email for hours instead of taking a bike ride with your spouse. Maximizing your time at work by confining tasks to time slots can mean the difference between leaving at a reasonable hour and staying late unnecessarily.

Life is so much more than spending hours doing something unfulfilling that could have taken just 15 minutes.  So, take some time on the front end to identify your high and low priority work and home tasks and decide in advance how much time and energy you want to invest in them. Nothing is too small to allot a set amount of time, even picking a restaurant for a date or browsing Facebook. 

It is so worth creating more time for those activities you most enjoy!

 

December 09, 2014

How to cut holiday stress

 

Holiday_stress_medium

 

This morning,  I woke up early thinking about what teachers I need to buy gifts and which of my business contacts I should send holiday cards. Already, the season has become stressful.

Lately, my inbox is stuffed with emails that provide practical ways to make the holidays more joyful and less stressful. I have compiled what I consider the best tips and decided to share them with you. Let's hope all of us can get through the holiday season feeling joyful, grateful and as relaxed as possible.

Here are two tips from Glass Hammer that I found helpful:

Give with Your Heart
Many people find that gift shopping is the single most problematic “chore” associated with the holidays. If gift-giving is part of your holiday tradition, here’s an easy way to make it less burdensome. Close your eyes and think about each person for a moment. What pops into your mind? Try to come up with a gift that’s personal and from your heart–something that’s thoughtful and fits the person. Non-material gifts are sometimes the best and most memorable of all. For example: a hand-drawn card with a message, or a short video of you reciting 10 reasons you appreciate this person. Gifts from the heart increase feelings of joy, in you and in the recipient.

Make a Holiday Spreadsheet
You’re organized at work, so use those same smarts to prepare for the onslaught of holiday chores and appointments. Make a list of everything that needs to be done so you minimize anxiety and the feeling that there’s just too much to do and not enough time. This could include card writing, party organizing, shopping, cooking, work deadlines, travel/lodging arrangements, and family/friend communications. Schedule your to-dos on specific days so they don’t pile up close to the holiday. Once you start ticking off tasks one by one, you won’t feel so agitated as the holidays approach.

This tip is from Working Mother and I plan to follow it:

Create Holiday Boundaries

The reality is that during this time of the year there will mostly likely be more demands on your time than what you can give. If we try to meet all these demands, or others expectations it sets us up for feeling not “good enough” or like we have failed in some way. The key is to set boundaries and be confident in saying “no.” 

 

This tip is from Julie Cole is one of the founding mompreneurs of Mabel's Labels Inc (mabel.ca). You can find her on Twitter @juliecole, as well as her company @mabelhood:

Don't be a martyr

You may say you love entertaining and doing it all yourself, but if you find that you’re barking orders at your husband and getting grumpy with the kids, I’ve got news for you – you’re not having fun anymore. There is no “Holiday Martyr Hall of Fame” so you might as well ask your relatives to each bring a veggie dish or dessert. Heck, I delegate the actual turkey out to a family member!

• Put those kids to work. There is no reason for you to do it all. Have your kids set the table, for example. I know the settings won’t be perfect, but get over it. Kids should contribute and the holidays are about being together, not perfection. The more relaxed you are, the more fun everyone will have.

• If you MUST do everything yourself, stress can be reduced by doing things in advance – have the table set the week before, prepare and freeze suitable food. Keep things simple and easy to prepare. 

 

Here's are two tips from my pal Luly B who never fails to come up with great advice for us working moms.

Accept help.

 Say "yes" to the guests that are asking if they can do anything to help. Delegate tasks like picking up ice on their way to the get-together, bringing dessert or even setting the table. Similar to the work environment, determine what ONLY you can do and delegate everything else as much as possible...you'll thank me later for that reminder!

Caution against making it all Pinterest-worthy. 

At a recent speaking engagement, a participant confessed to me that she wished she could be a "Pinterest Mom." She was feeling the pressure of making the homemade cupcakes and cute crafts for her kindergartner. The challenge is that if that's not who you are and you don't enjoy any of that, it will show...I promise. So if you're not a Pinterest-y kind of person, Thanksgiving isn't the time to try. Stick with the regular ol' selfies or family shots instead.

 

This one comes from Harlan Spiva at the San Jose Examiner

Show Gratitute

Make a short gratitude list. It doesn't have to be deep, contemplative, or profound. Perhaps start with time away from work and with those you love. Think of the resources you now have compared to years past. If others have a significant positive impact on the season, be grateful for the skills they possess and use to make it so.

Try making an effort to show genuine gratitude through conversation, notes, small gifts, and by sharing positive experiences with others. By simply recognizing the efforts of others, you have an opportunity for a significant impact. Especially celebrate those who create something for you to enjoy. They put much of themselves into it.

Lastly, this one is from the Carol Blog called Five Things To Do Less of This Holiday Season:

Let Go of Complaining.

When we lack personal boundaries and insight to what we really want, we often feel we have to make decisions to please others.This might look like agreeing to host family dinner if we don’t want to, baking six dozen cookies for your kids’ classroom celebrations or shopping with a friend at a busy mall. When we make decisions that dishonor our choices, we feel powerless. As a by-product, we start complaining about things we’re doing that we never wanted to do to in the first place!

 

I hope these tips help you. I know I'm going to try as many as possible. If you have any tips you'd like to share, I'd love to hear them!

December 05, 2014

Stressed out over who to tip this holiday season? Let me help

Next week I have an appointment to get my dog groomed. Already, I'm thinking about whether I need to give the groomer a larger than normal tip for the holidays. Deciding who to tip and how much is one of the most stressful parts of the holiday for me. 

I figured it was a good time to go back to a Miami Herald article I wrote several years ago where I created a guide to holiday tipping. Reading it over, I decided it was packed with such great info, I had to repost it. Keep it mind it was originally written more than five years ago but I think most of the suggested tips are still appropriate today.

Tips on tipping: A guide to holiday gratuities

You're grooving to the tunes at your holiday party and the D.J. plays the song you requested. Hand him a dollar bill.

 

You're having your hair put in an up-do for your company's holiday party. Slip your stylist 20 percent of the bill.

Your housekeeper is looking for a show of appreciation for Christmas. Give her at least a week's pay.

Yes, it's that time of year when you open your hearts -- and your wallets to shell out tips. Make an etiquette blunder and it could cost you embarrassment. Tip too much and it could cost you a fortune. But tipping for a one-time service is different from showing appreciation for those you can't live without -- such as the maid, nanny or dog groomer.

"There's nothing set in stone that says you have to give a certain amount," said Jacqueline Whitmore, owner of the Protocol School of Palm Beach. "Everyone has a different budget and there are a lot of factors that go into it."

Tipping is that rare occasion when you give away money. And yet most people don't have a clue. No one wants to commit a faux pas when it comes to doling out end-of-the-year cash encouragement to the person who keeps your house bug-free, your lawn looking good or your pool sparkling.

So what's an appropriate holiday tip?

An amount equal to a one-time service -- about $15 to $20 for the exterminator, the pool cleaner and the lawn service, according to Whitmore, a protocol expert. She says sometimes a gift might be the better route -- two tickets to a sporting event just might be your ticket to a cleaner pool.

Sometimes it may seem sticking a fistful of cash in someone's hand may offend them.

Bob Hale, the security/concierge at the Biltmore II condominiums in Coral Gables, Fla., says initially he was bothered when residents gave him cash for taking luggage up to their condo. He formerly had been a grocery-store manager and had to make the adjustment to a service profession. Now, eight years later, he says he's thrilled when he gets a little something extra to pocket.

Hale says people usually slip him anywhere from $25 to $40 as a holiday bonus -- in excess of the money the building collects for a holiday fund that's divided among building personnel.

Then there's the crowd that blatantly asks for tips: the waiter who tacks gratuity onto the tab, the masseur who attaches a small envelope to the bill, the personal trainer who sends a holiday card just begging for a bonus. In those cases, tipping remains discretionary, a reflection of the service you received, say etiquette mavens.

Gary Matzner of Miami ponders how much he should stick in the white envelope that his newspaper delivery person has inserted into his paper.

"I've never seen the guy, but I don't want my newspaper to end up in the bushes every morning," Matzner says.

Mike Acosta, assistant home delivery manager for The Miami Herald, says the envelopes are sent out from the carriers, not from the company. He says subscribers should take into consideration the service they've received and tip accordingly.

"Has your paper been delivered on time? Has it been placed in a dry location? Was it stopped when you went on vacation? Anywhere from $15 to $20 is considered generous. The average is about $10," Acosta said.

Linda DeMartino remembers how guests marveled over the delectables at her dinner party and admired the silver platters they appeared on. But she wasn't sure whether the whopping food bill included extra money for the servers. She now asks the caterer ahead of time for a suggested range. DeMartino says she usually gives the lead server 5 to 8 percent more than the others.

"You don't need to tip if it's a good caterer because I pay my staff well. Gratuity is not required but graciously accepted," said Elizabeth Silverman, owner of Catering by Lovables in Coral Gables. "If you feel the server has done an exceptional job and helped make your event a grand success, you may want to tip."

Silverman said general guidelines are $10 to $25 per staff member paid directly to them.

Partygoers face awkward tipping moments as well.

Anyone who's been to a company holiday party with an open bar has wondered what to do when the bartender mixes a martini or pours a glass of wine and hands it to you. Tip or assume the company is tipping?

Etiquette gurus say it depends on whether there's a tip jar out. If there is, stuff it with a dollar or two.

And when you pick up your car from the valet, shell out $1 to $2 or more if it's a fancy establishment. However, experts say you should tip on the front end if you plan to leave early and request your car be placed where it can be retrieved quickly.

Ada Holian of Coral Gables, Fla., struggles with another holiday dilemma. She remembers when she selected a giant Christmas tree from the lot, and watched as a teenage worker lugged it out for her. She wondered whether a $3 to $5 tip was sufficient.

"Although all our employees are paid, tipping is a nice gesture," said Capt. Paul Boutin, manager of the tree lot run by the Coral Gables Firefighters Benevolent Association. "We have about 40 high school boys and some college students trying to make some extra money for the holidays. Usually people give a dollar or two, but if it's a larger tree they give anywhere from $5 to $20."

Don't forget those service providers who make you look good for your holiday party and all year round -- your hair dresser, manicurist, colorist.

Julie Hallman, a hairstylist at Salon Savvy in Plantation, Fla., said most of her clients are long-time customers who consider her a friend. She gets holiday tips of $25 in cash or gift certificates.

"It's really a personal thing," Hallman said. "It's a way for people to show their appreciation for service."

During the year, she said, people should tip 20 percent of the bill for a hair cut or color.

"It shows that you are pleased with the outcome," she said.

Is tipping the owner of a salon or any service business appropriate?

That depends on whom you ask. Whitmore says she's asked a variety of owners and has come to this conclusion: "If you go to a salon and see the prices and realize the owner charges more, don't tip because he or she has accounted for the fact that they will not get tips. But if he or she is not charging more than the others, tip that person at least 15 percent."

Having flowers, furniture or food delivered during the season?

Manny Gonzalez, creator of the Original Tipping Page at www.tipping.org, says give about $2 to the pizza delivery guy, from $5 to $10 per person to the furniture delivery people and $2 to $5 to the floral delivery person.

During the bustling season lines can get long at local restaurants, especially in South Florida as snowbirds flock to popular establishments.

Mark Brennen, author of "Tipping for Success" (Brenmark House, $12), says it's not how much you tip but how you conduct yourself that can help you get in. He applies that to getting a reservation in popular restaurants to catching a taxi on a crowded street, even to airline, hotel, or rental-car bookings and upgrades.

"To get in a situation you would normally be shut out of you can't throw money into someone's hands," Brennen said. "It could be demeaning. You give the tip afterward when there's a good-faith implied bargain between the patron and the service professional."

Brennen has strong feelings about end-of-year tips.

"I think you miss the boat when you wait once a year to give your doorman or your manicurist a tip. Take the opportunity during an off month like June or July and bring them a Starbuck coffee or a sandwich. It may be something modest but it says a lot. It sets you apart. You don't have to spend a lot of money to send the message to someone that they are important," he says.


Tipping guidelines

For those who provide a one-time service:

Bartender: 10 to 15 percent of total drink bill.

Shampoo tech: $1 to $2.

Hotel maid: $1 to $10, depending on how expensive your room is and how messy you are.

Taxi driver: 10 to 15 percent of the total fare.

Dog groomer: 15 percent of the bill, no less than $2 per dog.

For those providing an ongoing service:

Personal trainer: $50 or more.

Hairstylist: $25 or gift certificate.

Day-care worker: $15 to $25.

Custodian: $20 to $30.

Babysitter: Two nights pay or a gift.

Mail carrier: No more than $20.

Pest control, pool or lawn service: Equal to one-time service fee.

December 04, 2014

Laugh without guilt this holiday season


Schweddy Balls on Saturday Night Live - Photo courtesy NBC
 (Photo courtesy NBC)

 

 

I LOVE the Saturday Night Life Holiday Special. I look forward to it every year. For me, it's a sacred hour of laughter.

I sit there, refuse to be interrupted, and I crack up. My favorite skit is one about dangerous toys with Candice Bergen and Dan Aykroyd. It makes me laugh out loud every time I see it. I also love Alec Baldwin in "Schweddy Balls" sketch. Hilarious.

Watching this special has become a holiday ritual I share with my kids. They know I love it and they look forward to it too. We sit together and laugh out loud. Last night, I was tempted to browse email while I watched it. But I stopped myself. 

Why is it so hard to let ourselves laugh and play without feeling guilty?

Sometimes in the frenzy to buy gifts, attend parties and send out cards, we forget that laughing and playing is part of the holiday season. Rather than getting tangled up in holiday anxiety, I'm reminding myself to make time to just play!

You also might want to consider building a snowman, playing a board game, or watching your favorite holiday special.  The act of playing or laughing will help you manage holiday stress.

If you missed the SNL Holiday Special, I'm sure you can watch it on demand or watch the highlights online. You might have your own holiday movie or show that you look forward to watching every year. Prop up your feet, sink into the couch and don't feel guilty about taking leisure time. It's the best way to balance your body and mind.

 

December 03, 2014

Shopping online at work: The key to work life balance

At 3 p.m. on Cyber Monday, I nabbed the boots for my daughter wants for the holidays for a bargain price. Coming off the high of snagging a great deal, I plunged forward into completing an article that I had been working on for weeks. Rather that distracting me, my online holiday shopping left me energized and ready to focus.

I say go ahead and shop at work. It's convenient and your boss is probably doing it too.

A new survey by CareerBuilder found bosses, and not the rank and file, are more likely to spend time on the company computer shopping this holiday season.

One senior executive told me she shops for almost everything online from holiday gifts to pantyhose to deodorant. She shops from home, work, airplanes and even during conference calls. She doesn't see shopping online at work as an intrusion but rather as a necessity. She wants to spend her free time with her kids, not searching for a parking spot and waiting in long lines.

With all of us squeezed for free time, online shopping has become the key to juggling work and a personal demands. A few clicks on the computer can help you reclaim your lunch hour for eating rather than battling crowds to buy a gift. Right now, most retailers are offering free shipping. You just can't beat the convenience!

“So long as productivity and customer service meet expectations, many employers are lenient in regards to a small amount of holiday shopping at work,” said Rosemary Haefner, Vice President of Human Resources at CareerBuilder.

It does surprise me though that some employers still don't get where this trend is going. 

Some employers are adamant about putting a halt to holiday shopping on work hours. In the 2014 survey 53 percent of employers said their organization blocks employees from accessing certain websites from work, and 32 percent said they monitor the sites employees visit. Some companies flat out forbid employees from shopping online at the office.

What they may not realize is that employees don't need to use our work computers to shop online. We have all we need in our pockets or our purses.  CareerBuilder found more than 1 in 4 (27 percent) of employees they use their personal smart phones or tablets to shop at work.

The key to shopping online at work is be discreet and reasonable.  Limit yourself to a few minutes during lunch or a break, and refrain from having large packages delivered to yourself at the office. Most important, use common sense: don't neglect a customer or work project just to take advantage of the deal of the hour. 

A few abusers can ruin the privilege for the rest of the office, so don't be that person. Know the rules of your workplace.

Eric Younkin, Cleveland branch manager for Robert Half Technology, told Cleveland.com that online holiday shopping done at work - within reason - could be a win-win for both employer and employee. Employees get to cross-off items on their holiday shopping lists and take advantage of cyber specials that may only be available during work hours. Employers don't have to worry about an employee taking a long lunch break to shop at a brick-and-mortar store. As long as an employee isn't spending hours of the workday surfing the Internet for holiday bargains, the minutes spent making an online purchase pale in comparison to a trip to the mall or the local shopping district, he said.

I agree that online shopping can be a win-win for all.

My motto this season: Shop smart. Work smart. And don't push the limits of your employer's trust.  

November 26, 2014

How to bring your idea to reality

 

 

When I ushered in the new year, I came up with an idea for a book I wanted to write, a business I wanted to start and an app I wanted to launch. Now, I am eating a turkey feast and realizing I have not focused on turning any of them into reality.

This Thanksgiving, I’m going to step back, look at all I am grateful for, and ponder the ideas I had wanted to pursue in 2014. With one month left in the year, I plan to ask myself some tough questions about where I have gotten stuck and what I can do to move at least one idea into action.

A friend of mine says she, too, has stalled while trying to move an idea forward. She wants to add an ancillary service that could help her pet-sitting business become more profitable. But like me, she has become bogged down in the daily struggle of balancing work and family.

Recognizing we all need help bringing our ideas to reality, I have turned to experts to share their best methods for follow through. These tips appeared today in my Miami Herald column.

 

 

Missy #5

(Above: Anne Louise "Missy" Carricarte, author of Power Wishing: Visualization Technology for Manifesting, at her appearance at the Miami Book Fair International)

▪ Do your research. Wifredo Fernandez has seen dozens of ideas come to fruition as co-founder of The LAB Miami and now as founding director of CREATE Miami, a venture incubator and accelerator at Miami Dade College. Fernandez tells entrepreneurs to propose their idea to at least 100 potential customers and even ask for feedback on how to improve on it.

 Let passion drive the idea: The pivotal shift from idea to reality happens once you find yourself unable to think about anything else but solving the problem. “The specific idea may change, but if you’re passionate and focused, your drive to solve the problem will push you to execute,” Fernandez says. 

 

▪ Believe in the idea. Most people fail in pushing forward an idea because the unexpected challenges become more than they think they can handle. If you want to be successful, “stage the day,” says Anne Louise “Missy” Carricarte, entrepreneur and author of Power Wishing: Visualization Technology for Manifesting. Take a moment before you step out of bed to think about what you want to accomplish and plan your intention for how it will happen.

▪ Continue with what works. With a month left in 2014, consider what you have done already to move an idea forward, rather than what remains unfinished. “That can shift the outcome,” Carricarte says. If you have moved an idea forward 10 percent, look at how you accomplished it, rather than at the 90 percent you haven’t achieved. “Build on what’s working,” she says.

▪ Tap your network. Whether an idea involves starting something new or building on something that exists, look at who you know that can help you convert it to reality. When Kim Weiss got an idea to package her photos of sunsets into a book, she enlisted her boyfriend to write the accompanying haikus and a publisher friend helped to get it into print. “There are people you surround yourself with who can help you realize your dream,” says the author of Sunrise, Sunset: 52 Weeks of Awe and Gratitude. “Everyone has a network they can tap.”

▪ Stay strong, focused. Shark Tank fans know successfully converting an idea into a reality is a marathon, not a sprint. Real work life conflicts will arise, as will naysayers. “The only way to get over disappointment, frustration or distraction is to get to work on your idea,” says Janet Burrowayauthor of plays, poetry, children’s books, eight novels and two textbooks. “It’s easy to terrify yourself into inactivity.” Burroway believes the longer an idea rumbles around in your brain, the less likely you are to act on it. When she has an idea for a book, she says she puts anything that pops into her head down on paper. From there, she allows her creativity to expand.

▪ Do something now. Rather than wait for the next calendar year, or for when you have more time or money, “take some sort of action today towards making your idea happen,” says Dave Lorenzo, founder of Miami’s Valtimax Consulting. “Even if you proceed in the wrong direction and make a mistake, you can take quick corrective action.” As a business owner, Lorenzo says he carries a notebook and jots down ideas all the time. Some morph into newer ideas and go through twists and turns before he brings them to life. Remember, he says, “The idea is not dead until you decide it is.”

What stops you from moving forward with ideas? Money? Time? Fear? Do you see yourself taking the first step toward moving an idea to reality by year end?
 

November 24, 2014

Should I let my son come along on date night?

As my kids get older, I feel more grateful when they want to spend time with me. With one in college and the other leaving next year, I'm clinging to my 13-year-old because I know the time he wants to spend with me is dwindling. 

So, this weekend, instead of date night on Saturday evening, my husband and I took our son out with us. By coincidence (or not) he sat right between us at the movies and then between us at the counter at a sushi restaurant. The seat choice was his both times.

My husband and I looked at each other, smiled, and decided to say nothing to him about it.

We probably wouldn't have responded that way with our two older children. Until now, we have guarded our alone time. In our struggle for work life balance, date night is an important ritual in protecting our relationship. Now, all of a sudden, we find ourselves torn on sticking to this ritual. We realize we have lots of together time ahead and less time to spend with our son, especially while he still wants to hang out with us. 

With our son munching on popcorn in between us, we find ourselves coveting him and yet already seeing the inevitability unfold. Tomorrow my daughter will return home from college for the Thanksgiving holiday. While balancing work and family is easier now, I never imagined when she was first born the sense of loss that I would feel each time she returns to school. 

As your children grow up, you realize that the time will come sooner than imagined when you are compelled to release all that you have held fast to for so many years. And with the benefit of hindsight, you understand your world continues to shift.

Holding fast to date night every week, once a critical component of my work life balance, seems less neccessary. Suddenly, my husband and I see no harm in letting our youngest sit between us or venturing out with him in tow because now we can see our future table for two much more clearly than we ever thought possible.

Do you agree with our parenting decision to let our son come out with us on date night? Have you changed any of your parenting rules with your youngest child?