June 26, 2015

Are meetings killing your work life balance? How to hold a better meeting

                                      Meeting


Have you ever been sitting in a meeting thinking "This is such a waste of my time!"

Or, worse...have you ever been in a meeting when most of the participants are tapping away on their smart phones, not even paying attention to the person speaking?

In her new book, Essential Meeting Blueprints for Managers, Sharlyn Lauby says employees spend between 21 and 28 hours a week in meetings and this number continues to rise in double-digit percentages. For those of us who want work life balance, much of our time spent in meetings is unproductive. 

So, what can be done about that?

Lauby Hi ResLauby, author of HR Bartender and  president of  ITM Group, Inc., a training company focused on talent engagement, outlines different types of meetings and how to run them effectively (She does an amazing job!). I pulled out some of her suggestions and presented them as questions .

  • What's the meeting really about? Lauby says the first rule of meetings is to understand why a meeting is being held and what role each person plays towards the meeting's success. People will attend meetings when they understand the reason for them. They will participate and engage if they feel they are a part of the agenda. 

 

  • Why am I at this meeting? People need to know the reason they're being asked to attend the meeting and the purpose of the meeting. (Is the purpose to convey information, reach a decision, get feedback?) They also need to know their role in the meeting's success and the objective that is trying to be achieved.

 

  • What kind of meeting is it? Is it a status meeting, a strategy meeting, a problem solving meeting, a brainstorming meeting, a networking meeting, a training meeting, a pitch meeting, a project meeting?  Each meeting has a different purpose and different rules. Status meetings should be focused on conveying information. When there is no information to share, the meeting should be cancelled. This truly demonstrates respect for participants and eliminates ineffective meetings.

 

  • Are the right people in the room? What a waste of time to hold a meeting when the right people aren't there! Going in, a manager needs to know if there a problem solver at the meeting or a decision maker. He needs to look at whether a meeting facilitator is needed and whether senior leadership should be present. Without the right people, a meeting could go on for what seems like forever or end without a solution. But inviting the people who don't need to be there wastes time as well. People can participate in the process without attending the meeting.

 

  • What's the solution or outcome? A business meeting can be completely ineffective if the solution arrived at is unattainable or the participants have no clue who is going to implement the action steps. Lauby says in thinking about the implementation plan, the group might want to consider breaking down the solution into smaller components or milestones. It becomes easier to monitor and evaluate results. She says at the end of any meeting, participants should be on the same page regarding the following three things: The actions that need to take place outside of the meeting, the individuals responsible for those actions, the timeframe for accomplishing the agreed upon actions. 
 
  • What makes a bad meeting? It's a bad meeting or time waster when the meeting leader is unprepared, meeting participants are unprepared, the wrong people are at the meeting, the participants take over the meeting or take it off track, and when the meeting runs much longer than necessary. Unfortunately, most of us have been at a bad meeting.

 

  • What makes a good meeting? Well-run meetings provide valuable information, help companies solve problems, and allow employees to make better decisions. Participants leave with everyone on the same page. 

Lauby told me as a manager, it should be your goal to have people leave your meeting and believe it was a good use of their time. "The biggest compliment a manager can get is when someone walks out and says, 'that was a great meeting,' Lauby says. "That should be your goal!"

 

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June 03, 2015

How to be healthier at work

                            Summer2


As I slipped on my shorts and t-shirts to brave the summer heat, I got mad at myself for indulging during the winter months. As I do most summers, I vowed again to be healthier. For the last few days, I am eating more fruits and vegetables and forcing myself to exercise at least every other day.

I'm sure I'm not that different than the rest of American workers who get a dose of reality when they peel their jackets and slacks off to celebrate the summer months and suddenly notice cellulite that we hadn't noticed a few months ago.  So what can we do about our exercise and eating habits when we work hard for a living? If you're like me, it's so easy to say, "I just don't have time for exercise."

Sue Blankenhagen_CeridianMy guest blogger today is Sue Blankenhagen, Wellness Program Specialist & Certified Wellness Coach with Ceridian LifeWorks ( I happen to be a work life blogger for Ceridian LifeWorks)

Sue notes that while we benefit from a healthier lifestyle, our employer benefits as much as we do.  Reserach shows employees who spent 30-60 minutes at lunch exercising boost their workplace performance by 15%, according to the American College of Sports Medicine. Additionally, 60% said their time management skills and ability to meet deadlines improved on the days they exercised.

Here are some of Sue's suggestions for how we can become healthier and still have work life balance:

                        Summer

1. Get moving:

·         Take a brisk walk for just 30 minutes a day or choose the stairs over the elevator. Schedule and participate in “walking meetings.” If you are planning a face-to-face meeting with a colleague and you do not need access to a computer, plan to walk around your building while you meet.

·         Schedule and participate in “walking meetings.” If you are planning a face-to-face meeting with a colleague and you do not need access to a computer, plan to walk around your building while you meet.

·         Get your heart pumping by taking the stairs to another level. Walk laps on one of the floors or go outside and walk around the building perimeter or campus.

·         Taking a walk during the day with a co-worker while in a meeting or during a break - even if just for 15 minutes - will re-energize you and help to clear your head so you can remain focused and productive.

·         Try measuring your progress to help you stay motivated. Use a device to record the number of steps you take each day to help you keep track of your fitness goals.

                                     Desk
2. Fit exercise into your busy schedule while at work.

·         Sitting at a computer all day can strain the upper body causing back and shoulder pain. Use a standing desk, or purchase an adjustable platform to be able to use your laptop in a sitting or standing position.

·         Use an app on your phone, tablet or computer to remind yourself to get up from your chair and stretch during the day. While you are sitting, make a conscious effort to pull your shoulders back to encourage good posture, rather than remain hunched over your computer.

·         Give up your desk chair for an exercise ball. Sitting on an exercise ball will keep your back straight, force you to use your core muscles and serve as inspiration to stretch more often. You may also want to bring some light weights or stretch bands to work (keep them under your desk) so you can do arm exercises/curls while on phone meetings, behind closed doors.

·         Look for apps or YouTube videos with 5-10 minute workouts that can be done in the office, with no equipment.

·         Have sneakers and workout clothes at your desk or in your car, so you can take a walk or go to the gym right from work. Have a few travel-size toiletries at your desk to freshen up with after a lunchtime workout or walk. Or coordinate with co-workers to have a communal stash of toiletries in the ladies or men’s room, including spray deodorant, powder, wipes, hairspray, a blow dryer, etc.

·         Get your co-workers involved.  Create interoffice health and fitness challenges to spark some motivation and friendly competition amongst colleagues

                       Healthyfoods
 

3. Keep nutrition in mind.

·         Supply the office pantry and fridge, or your desk drawer, with healthy (yet still budget-conscious) snacks such as fruit, nuts, etc.

·         Offer healthier versions of treats as an alternative for celebrations.

·         Bring a water bottle or cup to work, and be sure to drink your water.

                                 Download
 

4. Look for ways to decompress mentally, not just physically. 

·         For stress relief, put up photos, bright fabric, or other visual items that make you smile and reduce your stress level.

·         Take a music break, or listen to music that you enjoy during the workday – making sure not to cause a distraction to your co-workers. If allowed, use ear buds to listen to your favorite music.

·         Find a restful spot for lunches or breaks, where you can take a few minutes to relax and recharge.

·         Practice random acts of kindness in the workplace. Send someone a thank you email, recognize them with employer-sponsored rewards programs, leave a healthy treat on someone’s desk – anything to brighten someone’s day. You never know when it will be your turn to be on the receiving end.

·         Smile more! The act of smiling, whether on the phone or when meeting others, can automatically put you in a happier state of mind. Who knows – your smile might make someone’s day.

For employers, Sue suggests considering providing resources, such as LifeWorks Employee Assistance and Wellness programs, to help employees struggling with their health on a more personal level. 

I just read an article on Examiner.com that suggest employers help us become healthier by blending healthy breaks into our work day rather than restricting our self-care to non-work hours. To me, that's the ultimate incentive. What are your thoughts? 

How involved do you want your employer to become in your health? Do you want your employer to help make exercise part of your work day,  or would you rather have your employer encourage you by giving you a flexible schedule that allows exercise and relaxation on your own time?

 

May 11, 2015

Working Mothers' Biggest Challenges

One day last week, I was interviewing someone for an article while in the waiting room at my son's orthodontist. My son came out and was trying to get my attention. I was trying to signal that I needed a few more minutes of phone time. He was aggravated. I was aggravated. This is the kind of craziness that working mothers go through trying to achieve work life balance.

As working mothers our work life balance challenges are similar to those of fathers, but yet, so different.

In celebrating mothers this month, TheLadders.com sent me info on a survey they previously conducted to find out how working mothers feel about their work life balance. Want to know how they feel?

Overwhelmed and guilty.

Working mothers walk around with massive guilt --  Guilt that we are not spending enough time with our kids, coupled with guilt that our work may be suffering from not having our undivided attention 24 hours a day.

The Ladders surveyed 250 women and found balancing a career and a family is a huge struggle for 87% of of them, with 55% admitting that “excelling at both is overwhelming.”

On the phone with Nichole Barnes Marshall, I asked her about her work life challenges. Nichole is Global NicholeHead of Diversity and Inclusion for Aon, a job that has her traveling and connecting with thousands of Aon professionals. Nichole is also a married, working mother with three children ages, 4, 7 and 9. 

She told me her big challenge is prioritizing work in way that she can be operating at high performing level and be available to go to her kids activities like the recent school Cinco de Mayo festival.  "I wish I could be there for all the activities."

"The challenge for me is how I can be my best at work and be the best mother," she says. "I try to manage that by focusing on quality, not the quantity."

Nichole, like many other mothers, works to contribute to the household income but also enjoys her work. "I’m getting lot of satisfaction out of what I do, which makes  it (the balancing act) worthwhile. But, that doesn’t take away the twange when I get sad eyes from my kids for leaving for another business trip."

Not only do us working mothers feel challenged by and guilty about work conflicts causing us to miss events in our kids' lives, most of us feel guilty about any detail of our kids' lives that falls through the cracks.

I found myself nodding in agreement with every word of this op-ed piece in the New York Times titled Mom: The Designated Worrier.

Here's the gist of it:

Sociologists sometimes call the management of familial duties “worry work,” and the person who does it the “designated worrier,” because you need large reserves of emotional energy to stay on top of it all. I wish I could say that fathers and mothers worry in equal measure. But they don’t.

While fathers are helping more with household work and child care, women still keep track of the kind of nonroutine details of taking care of children — when they have to go to the doctor, when they need a permission slip for school, what they will eat for dinner."

So, in addition to our job demands there is tons of pressure on mothers to be the right kind of mother who keeps all the details straight and our families organized. That's our big challenge.

No wonder we walk around worried, overwhelmed and feeling guilty!

To all you sleep deprived, overwhelmed working mothers, you are awesome.  Lose the guilt, stop worrying and realize that whether or not you miss an event or forget to sign a permission slip, your children still love you.

 

 

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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. 

February 13, 2015

When your friend experiences heartbreak

This morning, I am in shock. My friend's son killed himself. He was only 20.

What do you say to a mother or father who gets that news? There are no words. 

As we run around, worrying about answering an email or returning a phone call, we forget that the routine tasks on our plates mean little when it comes to losing someone you love. There is nothing that can replace that hole.

Some days, it's really hard to disconnect from work. Some days, we're tired of our commute, our boss, our customers, our lack of work life balance. It is those days that make the quality time we spend with our children, our partners, our parents more valuable.

My friend may never understand why this tragedy occurred. But she will always wish she could have done more. She will think of every time she hugged her child, every moment she spent with him and wish there were more.

So, for all of us who have more time with our loved ones, let's disconnect this weekend. Let's not worry about the customer or supervisor who is giving us aggravation or the emails we need to answer. Let's put our mobile devices in our pockets and leave them there. It's Valentine's weekend and the best time ever to show love to those you care about by giving them what most of us want the most -- our undivided attention.

My heart aches for my friend who has been clutching her son's photo since learning of the news. She has experienced the kind of perspective no one should have to endure. I know there is nothing I can do for her right now. It's a helpless feeling. So, for her and the other parents who have been in her shoes, let's make the most of our Valentine's Day and be present. Single or married, kids or no kids, we all have people in our lives we love  - let's show them through our actions. As my grieving friend as learned, roses and chocolates are nice but they pale in comparison to real conversation and a big hug.

 

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?

 

February 03, 2015

How a beauty queen handles work life balance

It might seem glamorous being a beauty pageant winner. But once that sash goes on, it's a title and a job. There are responsibilities involved and charity events to attend that often conflict with raising a family. My guest blogger today has been involved in beauty pageants since age 12 and gives us a glimpse into what her life is like as Mrs. South Florida International. 

 

Lindsey


By Lindsey Berman (www.lindseyberman.com

One word comes to mind when I look at my day-to-day obligations and responsibilities to my husband, three small children and carrying the title of Mrs. South Florida International  --  priorities. I am lucky to have a steadfast support system and have no problem having my kids in tow for appropriate charitable commitments.

I’m happy to say that when it comes to my personal life my husband and I run a pretty tight ship. We keep our life simple and focus on the good. It may seem like a lot for one person to juggle, but I like to keep my demeanor cool, personality agile and simply roll with the punches. By nature I am a very organized person, have always enjoyed multi-tasking. I don’t mind asking for help when I need it and at the end of the day, I realize I am only human.

You will most likely see me on the fields during the weekends, with my oldest two children being quite active in youth sports. “There’s nothing better than cheering your child on and seeing their face full of excitement as they score a goal or hit a home run!” 

I fully acknowledge that only so much can get done in one day and that helps me from feeling overwhelmed from time to time. I am not going to say there aren’t those moments where I am rushing around trying to figure out how I am going to get it all done.

However, I have found that keeping a clear perspective about what’s important and knowing that I get to participate in making a difference in the lives of people actually keeps me going.  I feel honored to be chosen to carry handle this task. Some days it feels like work, but most days I know how lucky I am. I feel gratitude from every aspect of my life. This is what I do and it’s something I pursue with genuine dedication and earnest passion. 

 

Here are a few questions I asked Lindsey:

(Cindy) What are the requirements as Mrs. South Florida International?

(Lindsey)  As Mrs. South Florida International I will be competing for the Mrs. Florida International pageant May 29-31, when all the state finalists will be judged on Interview, Fitness Wear, Evening Wear and our ability to eloquently answer On-Stage Questions.
 
(Cindy) Has it been more time consuming than expected?
 
(Lindsey) When I decided to represent South Florida in the Mrs. Florida International pageant, I made a commitment to truly make a difference in my community and ultimately throughout the state. It was a decision I did not make lightly because I knew how time consuming it would be. Although my community involvement and charity work is time consuming, for me it is more of a way of life. I am passionate about keeping kids safe through education to decrease preventable injuries. I truly enjoy being able to make a difference in the community. The more you give back, the more rewarding it is.
 
(Cindy) For how long do you hold the title?
 
(Lindsey) If I am fortunate enough to win the Mrs. Florida International title, I will hold it for a full year and ultimately compete for the Mrs. International title in July 2015.
 
(Cindy)How many years have you been involved in pageants?
 
(Lindsey) I started doing pageants in high school and held the titles of Miss Florida Junior Teen and Miss Florida Teen for the American Co-ed pageant system. Pageant weekends were a special time for my mom and I to spend quality time together and go on trips that truly made us the best friends we are today! I not only enjoy pageants as a contestant, but had a wonderful experience as Producer of the Miss Florida Gator and Miss University of Florida for two years while I was in college. I believe in everything that pageants have to offer girls and women of all ages, and I am the accomplished and confident woman I am today because of my involvement.
 
(Cindy) What don’t people know about being a pageant winner?
 
(Lindsey) I believe there is a big misconception about pageant winners with most people looking at them as just a pretty face that won a competition. In reality, titleholders are inspiring women working to make a difference. For me personally, pageants are not about winning a beautiful crown and holding a prestigious title, but about being a role model for others and making a positive impact in the community. I work tirelessly to give back to the community and be a voice for many worthy causes.
 
(Cindy) What do you want your kids to know about charity work?
 
(Lindsey) I strive to teach my children the importance of community involvement. Not only is giving back to your community simply the right thing to do, but it touches and changes your life along with the lives of others. My children are very involved in my charitable work, often making appearances with me. They even host their own fundraisers. We have made it a family tradition that instead of having traditional birthday parties, they host a children’s party where we collect items in need and donate them to local charities.

January 13, 2015

One theory on dealing with email overload

Over the winter break, I spend two deals cleaning out my personal and work Inboxes.  It took more two days and just to get my three Inboxes to a total of 60,000 emails. I realize I'm still doing something wrong. Email is my biggest work life balance challenge! I hate deleting because I use my Inbox for story and blog ideas. I guess there is a way to organize email better but I haven't made the time commitment to do it.

Last week, I was telling tech recruiter Alex Funkhouser, founder of Sherlock Talent, my email woes and he told me he has a completely different approach. He NEVER deletes email. He considers it a waste of time. Instead he flags important email and stores everything else on the cloud. Alex told me this approach is the key to his work life balance because it saves time he would spend in his Inbox and makes that time available for more productive tasks.

My friend Jessica Kizorek, co-founder of Two Parrot Productions, has told me that she keeps a VERY slimmed down Inbox by voraciously deleting email as it arrives. She swears staying uncluttered is the key to better work life balance.

Alex's approach is interesting to me but I haven't adopted it. I get too many junk emails to be okay with never deleting. Still, it works for him and saves him time.

What are your thoughts on Alex's approach to email overload? Are you a deleter, a saver, or do you have another approach?

Email overload

 

January 06, 2015

Getting What You Want in 2015

Startswithyou

 

 

For me, January feels so much less exciting than December, but it’s actually an important month for planning. It is the month to look ahead and figure out what we want from our jobs and our personal lives and how to get what we want.

Over the years, I have made some mistakes in getting what I want at work, such as more money, more flexibility, more vacation time, better assignments. I have made some mistakes getting what I want at home, too, such as more quality time with my husband or some help with the dishes at night. My biggest mistake was waiting for what I wanted to come to me, without asking for it.

With the benefit of hindsight, and advice from experts, I’m going to share ideas for asking for -- and getting -- what you want in 2015.

Come to the negotiating table prepared. Raises, promotions, even flexible work arrangements are driven by the value you bring the organization. If you have demonstrated the drive to stand out from the crowd and delivered more than expected, speak to your boss and come prepared with the data to prove it. At home, if you want more help from your spouse, come prepared with how and why giving you help will result in an improvement in household morale for all. 

Know the market. If you want a raise at work, find out what the going salary is for your position in your geographic area and what the standard raises have been for the last few years. There are lots of websites to help with research. PayScale.com is one of them. On the home front, if you want to go on weekly or monthly date nights, research the cost of babysitters and websites where to find them before you bring the idea up with your spouse. 

Rehearse. It pays to practice with a trusted friend or mentor how you will ask for what you want. Look for someone who can help you think through potential objections and take the emotion out of the negotiation. 

Don’t make it personal. A boss doesn’t care that you need more money to pay for your divorce attorney or your child’s school tuition.  Higher personal expenses are not a legitimate reason to ask for a raise or receive one. Outside the office, your close friend or gym partner doesn't care why you keep backing out on plans. He or she just wants you to stick to a commitment. If you want a closer friendship or a better physique, go get it. Convince your buddy you want another chance and this time, make it happen. 

Don’t compare. If you find out your co-worker earns more than you, make your request about your value to the company. Sell your boss on why you should earn more, or seek out an internal mentor who will advocate on your behalf. Outside the office, stop convincing yourself everyone has a more incredible life than you.   Map out one or two things that will bring you more happiness in 2015 and your plan to achieve them.

Highlight your contribution. If you have done something outstanding and believe you deserve a raise or promotion, bring it to your boss’ attention – even if it’s not time for your annual review. At home, if you've done something outstanding, bring it to your spouse's attention or your child's. Waiting around for a pat on the back only leads to disappointment. If you want more appreciation in 2015, be proactive in seeking it. 

Be strategic. If you are struggling financially or having a rought time balancing work and family, ask your employer how you can increase your value to the company in order to earn more money, or more time off.

Research shows most people who ask and make their case, get what they seek. Wishing you success in negotiating what you want in 2015!

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!