« August 2009 | Main | October 2009 »

10 posts from September 2009

September 29, 2009

How to succeed in business

   On Saturday, I sat in the audience at Office Depot headquarters in Boca Raton with about 150 other women listening to some of the most captivating speakers in the country tell us how to succeed in business. Here's the secret they shared: delegate, outsource....hire people to do the things you're not good at doing.

      I've been hearing this for years but somehow it made more sense to me when I heard successful women talking about precisely how they had built their businesses by using coaches, accountants, lawyers, website developers to help them. Thus, they freed themselves up to dream, networkk, market and build their companies. Its the key to work/life balance, too.


Nell Merlino qa

"You can have it all as long as you don't do it all," said Nell Merlino, president of Count Me In for Women's Economic Independence. Merlino addressed the group at the Count Me In Leadership Institute and told us she's convinced that small business owners have the ability to solve our country's unemployment woes if they hire one person, permanently or short term.  "There is talent out there that you may never have the opportunity to hire again."

     Merlino says start by looking at your to-do list. Then ask yourself, is everything on there key to your success. If not, what can you ask or hire someone else to do. Do you want to embrace social media? Maybe you can hire someone (an out of work college grad?) to help you. Do you know what it takes to get to the next level in your business. Maybe you can hire a business coach. Do you want to get government contracts? Maybe you can hire someone to fill out forms.  

     Says Merlino: "We are happy when we are doing what we are best at. Imagine if  you were surrounded by people doing what they are best at." She says you may need to give something up to get the money to pay the person, but it just may be worth it.

      What do you think of Merlino's answer to unemployment and her key to business success? Can you see yourself making a hire?

September 23, 2009

What's happening to our health?



The Families and Work Institute released a report today and the news is pretty bad. We're a sick bunch of individuals. Well not exactly sick but we don't feel good about our health.

    Why? Because of work, of course. We're overworked and exercising less. The FWI report shows most American workers haven't exercised at all in the last 30 days, and 22 percent are not engaging in any rigorous exercise. Despite a push to stop smoking at the workplace, one in four still smokes. 

      We're also extremely stressed: 41 percent of employees report experiencing indicators of stress sometimes, often or very often. More of us also are depressed and have trouble falling asleep or sleeping through the night. There's more. Less than half of workers are using all their vacation time --- fearful to take time off. One in five is receiving treatment for high blood pressure. Two of three Americans are overweight. Click here to see the full report.

    Yes, it's a bleak picture the report reveals.

     Wake up employers, you need to care about these findings!!!!!!Your employees' physical and mental health, stress levels, sleep quality and energy levels affect their work engagement, turnover intent and job satisfaction.

     I wrote in my Balancing Act column today about what some employers are doing to tackle the obesity problem among employees.

   But there's so much more employers can be doing. Here's another interesting nugget the report reveals: Employees care a lot about a work life. Sadly, over the last five years, more employees are experiencing work/life conflict, especially men. Those that experience conflict feel less positive about their work.

   When employees were asked to rank what makes an effective workplace, work life fit was consistently among the top three indicators. We want our lives to be about more than work and we want our employers to make that possible.

   Here are some suggestions for employers from FWI: treat your workers with respect. Give them autonomy over how they do their jobs. Help and encourage supervisors to promote work life fit. 

   I truly believe this statement by FWI:  "Improving the work environment is a low to no cost investment that every employer should make." Click here to see FWI president Ellen Galinsky's take in The Huffington Post.

  With this new information, how do we as a society overcome the barriers to a healthier workforce? 

September 22, 2009

How to decide if entrepreneurship is right for you

      As someone who toys with the idea of entrepreneurship on a regular basis, I have written enough on the topic to know it's risky. And that's the very reason why a Wall Street Journal article on entrepreneurship spoke to me. I love the way the writer compared it with being a parent: you have to be committed to its constant needs until it's mature enough to hum along on its own. And even then (much like a child) it will always need you in some capacity, no matter how old it gets.


     I just finished writing a piece for The Miami Herald's MomsMiami.com website. I profiled three mom entrepreneurs with successful business they started from home. The common ingredient I detected was enthusiasm. But as I struggle with my own work/life balance now as a freelancer, I'm discovering how much there is to learn from others and that enthusiasm can blind you to the reality of what entrepreneurship requires. 


    So here are the five questions the WSJ suggests you ask before you start your business:

1. Am I passionate about my product or service? Let's face it: the start-up phase is stressful. You will find yourself questioning whether you've made the right decision, especially when the hours are long and the initial profits (if any) are lean. As the business owner, you're also chief salesperson for your company. Your enthusiasm for your product or service— whether it's hand-knit sweaters or top-notch tax preparation— is often the difference that hooks customers, lands deals and attracts investors. It's unwise to start down the path of entrepreneurship unless you've got a zeal that will get you through rough patches and keep you interested long after the initial enthusiasm has faded.

2. What is my tolerance for risk?Whether it's quitting your day job or signing a lease on a new space, nothing about starting a business is for the faint of heart. Just ask Ina Garten, who bought a specialty-foods store called The Barefoot Contessa in East Hampton, New York, in 1978 and has since branched out into cookbooks, television and a line of products. Garten tells aspiring entrepreneurs that you have to "be willing to jump off the cliff and figure out how to fly on the way down." Even with enough passion to launch a thousand ventures, you could find any number of circumstances hastening your failure: a location that turns out to be less than ideal, a problem with city or state zoning boards or a kink in the supply chain that can't easily be ironed out. There's no guarantee of success, or even a steady paycheck. If you're risk-averse, entrepreneurship probably isn't the right path for you.

3. Am I good at making decisions? No one else is going to make them for you when you own your own business. Consider how you might handle these early decisions: Do I work from home or do I lease office space? Do I hire employees? Do I pursue high-end clients or sell to the masses? Do I incorporate? Do I advertise? Do I borrow money from friends or family? Do I use my entire savings? Keep in mind that the decision-making process only gets more complicated as time goes on, once you have employees or clients depending on you. The choices you make can lead to success or downfall, so you must feel confident in your ability to make the right call.

4. Am I willing to take on numerous responsibilities? While a corporate employee focuses on a special skill or role within the larger corporation, a business owner must contribute everything to the business. Solo entrepreneurs in particular must be versatile and play a number of roles, from chief salesperson and bookkeeper to head marketer and bill collector. If juggling many roles doesn't suit you, entrepreneurship probably won't, either. The recent economic downturn has made it more important than ever for business owners to have a good working knowledge of their companies' finances. While you will undoubtedly learn much on this topic from getting your hands dirty, the more knowledge you have in advance, the better prepared you'll be.

5. Will I be able to avoid burnout?Working seven days a week, losing touch with friends, abandoning old hobbies and interests and not making time for loved ones can quickly lead to burnout in the midst of starting up— and ultimately to business failure. That's what happened to James Zimbardi, an entrepreneur in Orlando, Florida, who says he didn't know any better when he started his first company in 1997 and worked as hard as possible, for as long as possible, until his creativity, enthusiasm and energy were sapped. By 2002, he was a broken man— the business took a downturn, and so did his personal life. Now Zimbardi is at work on his second company, Allgen Financial Services, and sticking to better habits to maintain work/life balance, such as not working on Sundays, making time for hobbies such as sailing and salsa dancing, and building close ties with other business owners through a faith-based support network.

Colleen DeBaiseof the WSJ says: Take some time to mull over these questions, do some soul-searching, and then if you think you have what it takes, go for it.

If you have gone for it, are there any other questions to ask that you can share?

September 17, 2009

Facebook: Ban it or embrace it?

At a recent conference of Professional Employer Organizations, some executives gathered in the back of the room. They were chatting about how to deal with employees spending their work time on social media sites like Facebook or MySpace. It was interesting to me that there were strong opinions on both sides of the argument.

One employer said he was firing someone who was spending hours updating his Facebook status all day long. (I thought it was pretty stupid of the employee to do if he knew his boss could see it). But other top execs thought it crucial for workplaces to create a culture that embraces social networking.

Dianna Sheppard, CEO of Advantec, told me all of her employees have a page on Yammer and spend much of their work day interacting with each other and clients on the social networking site.

Gregory Hammond of TriNet Total HR Services says he wants employees who are well connected and interacting with others. He thinks employees who Facebook will be better prepared to contribute to the organization.

Of course, some consumer product companies are trying to promote their offerings and improve customer service through social media sites. Does that make it okay for an employee to Twitter at work?

Personally, I struggle with balancing work, family and social media. It's a topic I wrote about yesterdayin my Miami Herald column. I gave some tips from experts.

What do you think about employees on Facebook or social media sites during the work day?

September 14, 2009

Would we rather play with our iPhones than our kids?

    I'm sitting in the stands over the weekend at my son's basketball game and I look around. Guess what I see? If you thought I was going to say  parent cheering their kids on, you are right and wrong. I see some parents cheering and at least a dozen moms and dads typing away on their smart phones.

      I'm convinced a growing number of U.S. parents find their iPhones more fun to play with than their kids. Look around the playground and you likely will agree with me. What's going on out there...are we becoming a nation of  "Smartphoniacs?" Or are they making so many new, fun apps for our phones that it's getting more difficult to put them down?

Iphone  The WSJ reports that while there hasn't been a formal study of Smartphoniacs in America (although there is one underway at the University of Florida), we know that between the second quarter of 2007 and the second quarter of 2008, the North American smart-phone market grew 78.7%. About 139.3 million smart phones were sold world-wide last year, and half of U.S. smart-phone users report using their devices more today than they did just three months ago.

    Don't get me wrong, I LOVE my smart phone. There's nothing more exciting than turning boring wait time in the carpool line into catch-up-with-friends time by tapping into Facebook on my smart phone. But I fight with myself every day to draw the line on letting the phone steal my precious time with my kids. Maybe I feel that way because I now have teenagers and I see how their friends are becoming more interesting to them than their parents.   

    Here's how to tell if you are a smartphoniac: You have an irrepressible fear that you will miss something if you put it away.  I assure you, you will miss something if you don't put your smart phone away. I've seen firsthand what you have missed -- your son scoring his first basket. So what do you think, can more parents just say no to smart phone addiction? Do you think we are going to find our country in need of Smartphonics Anonymous?


September 10, 2009

Another Paid-Leave Proposal Hits Capitol Hill

      You never know what direction Congress is headed with family-friendly legislation but I'm hopeful real change is in the works. Here's the latest from Capitol Hill, according to a report in BusinessBrief.com.

           Capitol hill                Jim Giuliano writes:  Something benignly called “The Balancing Act of 2009″ is getting serious consideration in Congress this year. It’s really just another paid-FMLA proposal, but it has a real chance of passing this time.

To facilitate passage, a number of proposals were recently consolidated within a single bill that could bring about the most sweeping reforms since the Family and Medical Leave Act became law 16 years ago. On June 25, 2009,  Representative Lynn Woolsey (D. CA) introduced the bill, which incorporates multiple expansion efforts. Taken together, these provisions could have significant implications for employers and employees alike.

Within the bill is a proposal that would essentially convert FMLA to a paid-leave statute, allowing employees to take upwards of 12 weeks of paid leave over a 12-month period for qualifying family, medical or military-exigency reasons. Here’s the way it would work:

* A federal “Family and Medical Leave Insurance Fund” would be established to finance paid-leave distributions.

* Employers and employees would jointly subsidize the trust fund by contributing 0.2% of employee earnings. That comes out to an average of about $100 per employee. The fund would be managed by the U.S. Department of Labor.

* The act would expand FMLA coverage by creating new forms of protected leave for both “parental involvement” and “family wellness.” Parental-involvement leave would allow workers to participate in certain academic and extracurricular activities of their children and grandchildren, while family-wellness leave would enable employees to assist family members in attending medical appointments and to care for elderly relatives.

* The legislation contains additional provisions that would: 1) require covered employers to provide a minimum of seven days of paid sick leave per year; 2) extend protection to victims of domestic violence and sexual assault; and, 3) allow leave to care for a broader category of family members, which would include domestic partners and same-sex spouses.

* While the FMLA currently covers only employers with 50 or more employees, the Balancing Act would expand the coverage to those with 15 or more employees. The bill would also extend eligibility to certain part-time employees who work 1,050 or more hours per year, a substantial reduction from the current minimum threshold of 1,250 hours per year.

Click here for the full text of the bill.

MarkbI asked employment attorney Mark Beutler at Epstein Becker & Green in Miami to weigh in. These are his thoughts: "Bills like this show up from time to time. The probabilities of passage are greater than they once were but it will be parked behind a health care reform bill and the Employee Free Choice Act. The probability of passage next year may be more promising."


September 08, 2009

Paying new employees $1,000 to quit

   Judi Casey had an interesting  post on the Sloan Work and Family Research Network Blog that I want to share. I love to see creativity from companies when it comes to boosting employee engagement. 

She writes: "Here’s a unique idea implemented by the online shoe company Zappos that really got me thinking. Located in Kentucky (fulfillment center) and Nevada (corporate headquarters), Zappos is just 10 years young, employs more than 1,000 people, and generated more than $1 billion in gross merchandise sales during 2008.

Here’s the idea: Zappos offers their new call center trainees a $1,000 bonus to quit at the end of their 4 week training period in addition to any salary earned for training participation. The thinking is that if you’d take a grand instead of work for them, you don’t have the level of commitment and enthusiasm that they are looking for in their new hires. In fact, the number one priority of Zappos is to provide the “best customer service possible.” Apparently, only 10% of the trainees accept their offer and quit! The remaining trainees have demonstrated that they really want to be part of the organization and definitely embrace the customer-service focus espoused by Zappos as critical for success.

Their business model is also intriguing. Basically, they believe that if they can be the best at selling shoes by providing stellar customer service, they can be the best at “anything and everything,” so their plan is to expand their markets to other products, which of course, is limitless.

From their website: “We believe that if we continue to focus on providing the absolute best service and the absolute best shopping experience, then we can continue to grow as a company. Our hope is that our focus on service will allow us to WOW our customers, our employees, our vendors, and our investors. We want Zappos to be known as a service company that happens to sell shoes, handbags, and anything and everything.”

Judy wonders whether Zappos acquisition by Amazon will change anything. I wonder whether other businesses will learn anything from Zappos example. I can't understand why customer service at many places still stinks - even when they are supposed to try harder to build business. Is the fact that worker productivity is up related to this decline in customer service. Are employees working longer and harder and caring less?  I would answer yes. What are your thoughts?

September 04, 2009

Special Labor Day report on American jobs


I just got a heads up on what sounds like a very interesting special edition of the Nightly Business Report. It should be useful, especially the portion on which sectors are hiring.The report airs at 7 p.m. in Miami and at 6:30 p.m. in most other major cities.

“Working It Out” Monday, September 7

Roughly seven million American jobs have disappeared since the recession began…and the job losses aren’t over yet. In this Labor Day Special Edition, NBR examines the employment situation and outlook.

·         Midwest Bureau Chief Diane Eastabrook begins by introducing us to the unemployed—the people behind the numbers. She takes an inside look at their daily struggles and their hopes for the future.

·         Anchor Susie Gharib then talks with former Labor Secretary Robert Reich and Dr. Robert Brusca, Chief Economist at Fact & Opinion Economics about fears that a “jobless” economic recovery may be in the works.

·         Correspondent Suzanne Pratt delves into the ins-and-outs of the employment statistics, questioning how accurately they represent the number of people who are out of work.

·         And if you’re searching for a job, Reporter Dana Bate has some useful information on industries and sectors that are expected to add positions in the near future.

I asked producer Melissa Harmon what she feels people will take away most from the report: What touched me the most were the people Diane Eastabrook spoke with… the group of unemployed professionals from a Chicago area networking group.  Most were in their 40s and 50s and facing unemployment for the first time.  Some had been out of work for over a year and yet each and every one of them remained positive and hopeful about the future."

September 02, 2009

It's a bad time to be pregnant

Below is my Miami Herald story today about pregnancy discrimination. I'm glad I'm all done having kids. I feel for those women who can't take the career risk to start a family in this recession or who are pregnant and contemplating a job search.

Pregnant-ILLUS.embedded.prod_affiliate.56 Samantha Stone, 29, would like to have a baby soon. But with the job market tenuous, being pregnant in the workplace has become much more risky.

Just look at the number of pregnant women who are blogging about job discrimination, filing lawsuits for unfair removal and turning to advocacy groups for relief after being targeted in job cuts.

Claims of pregnancy discrimination are on the rise, maternity leaves are a luxury and conducting a job search while pregnant is like trying to win the lottery.

Even more, many pregnant women are shocked to learn they have few workplace protections. Women swept into the layoff frenzy are discovering you can be fired while pregnant or on maternity leave.

In the tough economy, employers consider expecting mothers to be expendable employees, says Robert Weisberg, a Miami labor lawyer who represents victims of discrimination. ``In these times, pregnancy is viewed as a real liability.''

Weisberg says more employers consider new mothers less productive and don't want the disruption of maternity leave. ``Women are telling me they've been encouraged, coerced or told by their boss to have their baby and stay home.''

He adds, ``When business is good and the job market isn't as tight, they're much more tolerant.''

The numbers reflect this lack of tolerance. Pregnancy-bias complaints recorded by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission rose 14 percent in 2008 to 5,587, the biggest annual increase in 13 years.

As the complaints stream in, Nora Curtin, an attorney with the EEOC, says, ``It's still shocking to me that some employers are blatant about this kind of discrimination.''

In Florida, the EEOC is suing one of the largest general contractors in the Southeast, Choate Construction, on behalf of an administrative assistant. The woman claims a manager on a construction site criticized her for getting pregnant, harassed her, and called her a liability. She was fired shortly after she complained to human resources.

Choate denies the claim and says the firing was performance based.

Attorney Stuart I. Grossman says the most common employer defense against pregnancy bias has become the economy. ``Companies will assert they need to reduce their workforce to survive and the burden shifts to the employee to prove otherwise.''

What employers cannot do is treat expecting mothers differently than they would another employee or job candidate. The Pregnancy Discrimination Act says it is illegal to fire, or not hire, a person because she is pregnant. To succeed in a claim, a woman who brings charges must prove an employer's action was motivated by her pregnancy or status as a mother.

``The law is not designed to treat a pregnant woman or new mother differently or give them more rights. It's designed to keep them equal,'' explains Grossman of Tew Cardenas, which defends employers against bias claims.

In the most obvious way, getting the ax while pregnant is a double whammy. Employers are warned that asking personal questions in job interviews can get them in legal hot water. But in a tight job market, chances of finding work while pregnant are minimal, even with the law on your side.

Combine job fears with economic factors and it is no wonder America's first decline in births this decade came in 2008. Florida and California, the two states hit hardest by the housing crisis, saw the largest drops.

``I had really hoped to have two children by the time I was 30,'' says Stone, who fears being laid off, pregnant, and without health insurance.

Stone works at a construction company and her husband is self-employed and covered by her policy.

Such risk has become too high for families that depend on women for economic security, says Debra Ness, president of the National Partnership for Women & Families. ``In this recession, many men have been laid off, leaving families with the wife's paycheck as the primary source of income.''

New moms often are unaware they aren't entitled by federal law to paid childbirth leave. Nataly Kogan, founder of WorkItMom.com, says if your family needs your income you have to make some judgment calls. ``The harsh reality is that it's important to be in the loop, be visible. That may mean shorter maternity leave,'' she says.

It may also mean grappling with how to handle a job search. Career websites are filled with pregnant women out of work querying whether they should tell a prospective employer they're pregnant during the interview process. Kogan says the key is to emphasize commitment to your job. ``The burden is on the employee to emphasize your productivity and your intention to come back.''

September 01, 2009

When to be honest at work

    Nataly                        Last night I had an interesting conversation with Nataly Kogan, founder of WorkItMom.com, one of my favorite mom websites. Kogan (smiling in the photo to the left) was telling me that her husband just took at new job. Typically, she says, he would have emphasized his commitment to family during the interview and ensured the employer was onboard with his desire for work/life balance.

     But these are different times.

     Even though he feels that way, he wasn't willing to risk that conversation during a job interview.

     Nataly and I both agree that there's an unspoken discrimination toward working parents. There's subtle undertone that workers must put in WHATEVER hours it takes to make a business profitable and any outside family obligations that interfere with that aren't appreciated. We all know that for every job right now, there are candidates lined up and willing to take it for much less than you earn. Anyone who wants a special accommodation, an openly asks for one, is taking a career risk. Is it better to quietly slip out early?

      Kogan says she's a little afraid of what the recession will do for work life balance.

    "It may not be a good thing," she says. "People are working more, bosses are squeezing more productivity...people are so happy to have job."

     Along with work/life balance, I'm a little concerned what the recession will do for honesty in the workplace. Women are hiding pregnancy during job interviews and men are trying harder to look like they're in the office or logged on to their computers when they're having dinner with the kids. I can't see this changing anytime soon.

    I'd love to hear your thoughts. Do we have to wait a year or two for jobs to be more plentiful before we can be honest about our balance needs?