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11 posts from March 2010

March 31, 2010

Total Woman Breakthrough Conference almost here

Today's working woman is not just  busy. She's crazy busy. She's making business decisions, family decisions and household decisions. Taking a day off to attend a conference may seem like a luxury. But sometimes, it's worth it.

Elvira Amankwa wants it to be worth it. Recently, I met Elvira, president of Impact Creation Events. Elvira is an inspiring woman. She loves to travel, is certified in planning meetings and events and and is a mother of two, one of them a college student. Elvira believes there is great power as like-minded women gather in a supportive atmosphere. She has created the Total Woman Breakthrough Forum, which takes place at the Marriott Hotel on Hollywood Beach, Florida on May 13 & May 14.

I wanted to share the information because this looks like one of those rare educational opportunities you don't want to miss. Some of the speakers I know personally. The conference will features talks on everything from wealth strategies to beauty tips for an improved corporate image to wellness and marketing makeovers. Also expect some facilitated networking sessions and lots of exhibitors. WE Magazine for Women, a sponsor of the event, points out that many women are feeling stressed, burned out and stuck in a rut. "I want women to walk away feeling taller and stronger with tools to help them in their daily lives," Elvira says.

Here's a link to register

Female executives share tips for work life balance

At the ungodly hour of 7:30 a.m., 29 female senior level executives are gathered around a conference room table. I am among them, seated at the table to share my work life balance insights. Instead, just during introductions, I get an eye-opening look at modern-day challenges of professional women who have made it to the top in their professions and want a fulfilling personal life. If you think earning a good salary makes the juggling easier, here's some enlightenment: These women must perform at the top of their game, while taking care of young kids, elderly parents, needy spouses and demanding clients, partners and customers. These are the tools they use to keep their business and home lives better balanced:

  Office Location. Why drive 20-30 minutes when you can cut it down to five? Sheri Schultz, a CPA, reduced the stress in her life when she convinced her business partner to relocated the firm office. I helps that her parter is her understanding father. Schultz, the mother of three, says the shorter commute allows her to exchange drive time for billable hours, especially during tax season. It also allows her to zip over and pick her kids up from school. "Now I'm more productive, " she says.

    Friendship. Make new friends but keep the old? Not always. Karen Zemel, board chair for the Jewish Federation of Broward County and a fundraising consultant has come to realize how important friends are to work life balance. For her, there's nothing better than sitting around with friends talking and drinking wine. But she's learned to be selective when blocking out time for friends. "It's important to let go of toxic relationships and stick with friendships that are meaningful."

   Volunteering. Retirement isn't for everyone. Former attorney Katharine Barry, founder of H.O.M.E.S. Inc, housing for low income girls, discovered after her two children were grown, she was able to bring meaning and balance into her life by giving back. "I'm working harder than I ever did in my life." Yet, she says, she's completely fulfilled and says she has more energy than ever before.

   Adapt to new situations. Key Transportation founder Orlie Jedwab recently married and instantly acquired a family. She finds herself a stepmother of four children. "I journal a lot and I think hard about what to let go and and what to work on." Jedwab says she carefully carves out alone time with her new husband, even if it's at 5:30 a.m. to exercise together.

   Date night. Spouses need attention, often more than children. Banker Aimee Le Winter tries to keep normal 9 to 5 hours and spend evenings with her husband and puppy. But most female executives know an irate customer or unexpected client demand can extend the work day by hours without warning. When Le Winter finds she's worked late several days in a row, she'll make a date night with her husband.

   Career change. Ask yourself a simple question: am I in the right job? Sheryl Greenwald called herself a banker for 30 years. She recently reinvented herself as a real estate manager at her family business. Greenwald says the new arrangement allows her to have the flexible schedule she dreamed of for years. "At least now I can watch my kids grow up."
Read more from my Miami Herald article: Learn how Randi Grant balances conference calls and manicures.


March 25, 2010

Work life balance when working from home

Working from home sounds ideal but as expert Kate Lister at Undress4success.com pointed out, unless you have discipline it can wreak havoc on your personal life. Lister and her husband, Tom Harnish, both work from home. Lister made me laugh when she said that the two sit a few feet apart in their home office but communicate at times through email in order not to disrupt the flow of the work day.

When I put out a tweet on the topic, I received all kinds of tips from work at homers. Some feel strongly that you need a separate home office to be successful. Others believe you need the right frame of mind. I'm happy to share some tips. If you have any to share, join the conversation.

Here's my article that appeared in The Miami Herald:

Laura herde

About a year ago, I left my office cubicle and joined the ranks of more than six million people who work from their homes most of the time. Having always enjoyed the camaraderie of the newsroom, sitting alone behind a desk in a home office sounded kind of lonely to me. Even more, home had always been a refuge, a place to escape from work.

Some consider working from home a huge work-life perk. For me, it was a transition. I save time on the commute and I'm home the moment my kids return from school to hear about their days. The challenge has been using my new flexibility wisely and confining work to a 9 to 5 day.

In the past two years, the work-at-home population has spiked, partly because of the downturn in the economy and the surge in self-employment. Indeed, the number is up 40 percent and most of the people who work from home now are men, not just mothers seeking flexibility, a new census report shows.

Like others making this transition, I quickly discovered that the moment you relocate the office into your home, the barrier between what is work and what is not starts to break down. It takes discipline to stay focused and set boundaries. Kate Lister, coauthor of Undress for Success: The Naked Truth About Making Money at Home, told me the biggest documented challenge for work-from-homers is overworking.

I find myself seeking tips from successful work-from-home business owners or employees. To avoid a deterioration of work-life balance, here is some advice I've received:

Set work hours. Anne Alexandra Kessler raised six kids while working from home as a legal assistant. Her advice for those whose schedules aren't dictated by an employer: set office hours. They don't have to be 9 to 5, she says, they just have to work well for you.

Kessler would work intensely from 8 a.m. until 2 p.m. and take the afternoons off to spend with her kids. Then, she would return to her office in the late evenings.

For the throngs of men who are joining this work from home, setting office hours also lets those who you do business with and those you live with know when to expect your availability.

Close the door. Closing my office door makes me feel isolated. Yet, it appears to be the reason I'm less productive than I should be. One of the biggest adjustments is getting family and neighbors to distinguish between my physical presence and availability.

Laura Herde works as a sales manager for Continental Airlines. When the airline closed its Fort Lauderdale office five years ago, Herde set up a home office in her bedroom. Closing her bedroom door has helped her set the ground rules with her children, ages 18, 11 and 5. ``They know don't bother Mommy unless they are bleeding.'' At times, she's had to put a sign on the door to remind them of the rules.

Allow set breaks. My friend, Linda DeMartino, works from home as a communications consultant and schedules a lunch break into her day. ``The exact time may fluctuate, but the allotment remains the same,'' DeMartino says. I know some men who do this, too. She uses that one-hour period to run errands or join a friend for a meal just as if she was working from an office. It's a disciplined approach to allowing yourself to leave your home office without losing the integrity of the workday.

Planning breaks also prevents you from jumping back and forth to do chores haphazardly. The first few weeks I worked from home, every piece of laundry I owned was clean, but it was taking me twice as long to write an article because of all the disruptions.

Some, like Herde, advise staying away from chores altogether during the workweek.

Use flexibility as your ally. If the car breaks down or the washing machine explodes, I can get it repaired without messing up my workday. If I were chained to a desk with a taskmaster boss, this wouldn't be as easily possible.

Create a trigger for winding down. Ending the workday can become extremely difficult. Lister says you need to develop cues to help you wind down. She sets an alarm at 6 p.m., giving herself an hour notice to wrap up e-mail and clean up her desk. ``I enjoy what I do and get absorbed in it.''

Howard Lawton, who works from a home office for a technology company, makes a to-do list for the next day at 6 p.m. as a signal that his day will end. It's his way of wrapping up the workday guilt-free.

Establish ground rules for after hours. It's a slippery slope from hopping onto the computer just to read a few e-mails after dinner to emerging at midnight. Herde has made a rule for herself -- no sneaking back on the computer in the evenings or on weekends. ``My husband doesn't like it if I do. He says, `you already gave a full day, why are you on the computer. What about me?'' Instead of turning her computer on, Herde uses her BlackBerry after hours like many office workers do to keep an eye on any urgent e-mail.

Read more: http://www.miamiherald.com/2010/03/23/1544123/it-takes-discipline-to-successfully.html#ixzz0jCzY3rGR

March 22, 2010

Does parent lack of work life balance cause deliquent kids?

Are parents so busy with work that we are forgetting to teach our kids the most important life lessons? And if so, do schools need to step in because parents aren't doing their jobs at home?

RatleyI have read a series of newspaper articles that make me wonder if schools should teach a mandatory class on integrity and anger management in middle school because parents are too busy or too stupid to do it themselves. I am totally sickened by the story of 15-year-old Josie Ratley, a Deerfield Beach girl brutally kicked in the head seven times by a 15-year-old boy wearing steel-toed boots because of something she texted him that enraged him. The girl is hospitalized in a coma. The 15-year-old boy, whose father has been in and out of jail, seems bewildered that his actions have resulted in public outrage and an arrest on attempted murder. A new term is being bounced about called text rage. If texting triggers a kid into text rage, he or she needs some anger management help before they even get to high school.

The sad story of 15-year-old Micheal Brewer doused in rubbing alcohol and set on fire only a few months ago by a group of teen boys is another example of complete disregard by high schoolers for the repercussions of their actions. Brewer survived burns on more than two-thirds of his body.

I have kids and I realize that they often don't always think before they act. The filter just isn't there. Even more, I read another article that said kids are using high-tech devices to cheat in the classroom in greater numbers than ever before. Let's see, today's teens are suffering from a loss of integrity and increased violent behavior and a complete incomprehension of the results of their actions. Where are the parents? Are we not present in our kids' lives?  Are we so exhausted or preoccupied that we are not trying hard enough to teach them right from wrong?

I say yes to both. Maybe some anger management skills early on would help cut back on campus violence and workplace violence, both on the increase. If you're a parent, struggling with work life balance, when is the last time you were present, really present, to teach your child how to deal with unwieldy anger?

Do you agree with me that schools need to step in?

March 18, 2010

People in their 50s, shifting work life priorities

Are you getting close to 50? Are you already there? Either way, you'll want to read about what to expect as far as the shift in work life priorities.

Here is my column that ran in the Miami Herald:

March 16, 2010

Quota for female managers - is it a good thing?

Germany's Deutsche Telekom AG has made a daring move by introducing a quota for female managers, aiming to fill 30 percent of upper and middle management jobs with women by the end of 2015, compared with only 13 percent in 2008. The company has 15,000 manager positions worldwide.

Is this a good thing? I say, yes. Some might argue that quotas never are a good thing. Not me.

Ideally, it would be great if companies advanced women based on qualifications. But waiting for that to happen could take decades. It think mandating a quota will force Deutsche Telekom to remove whatever work life roadblocks exist to female advancement.

The company was smart enough to realize that just setting a quota is not enough. It paired the announcement with some major changes. It plans to expand parental-leave programs and introduce more flexible working hours for managers. Fewer than 1 percent of the company’s managers work part time. The number of available places in company child-care programs in Germany will double to around 700 from 350.

I particularly like this statement from the company’s chief executive, René Obermann: "Having a greater number of women at the top will quite simply enable us to operate better."

I have seen this firsthand. This is not just about having women. It's about having diversity of thought at the upper level, something that I've seen in action and it does make a difference in how a company operates, almost always for the better. Sometimes, all male managers really don't understand the implication of a new policy or the approach they take in expanding a line of business. A female manager, one who speaks up, can save a company millions of dollars and keep it from losing customers.

Deutsche Telekom portrayed its move in part as a response to developments on the labor market and said that about 60 percent of business graduates from German universities are now women. That parallels what's happening in the United States. We could use quotas at U.S. companies to help women rise into management and likely that would spark some work life benefit changes that would help men and women.

Of Deutsche Telekom’s global work force of 258,000, 52 percent are in Germany, where women — especially working mothers — continue to lag behind many of their European peers and earn significantly less than their male counterparts.

The New York Timessays  Deutsche Telekom’s initiative follows a wave of efforts across Europe to increase the number of women in corporate leadership posts. Since 2008, Norway has mandated that women hold at least 40 percent of board seats at publicly listed companies, while Spain, the Netherlands and France have passed similar laws.

I applaud European companies for imposing these changes. If quotas are the only way to make change happen, I'm for it.  I think more U.S. companies should follow Deutsche Telekom's lead.

March 15, 2010

How to safely check smart phones while driving

Cell while driving
Are you jealous of people who have no need to check in with work once they leave their workplace? I am. I recently was talking with a nurse who has three days a week off. On those days, she has no expectation of a call from a boss or client.

Most of us face a different scenario as I mentioned in my previous blog post. Half of workers say they feel like they must check their smart phones while driving, particularly those in sales and professional services. Even more, workers say the current economy has made them feel even more compelled to answer every beep or check every text while driving, a new study by CareerBuilder.com reveals.

We all know it's dangerous but we do it anyway. Twenty-one percent of workers say they check their mobile device every time it vibrates or beeps and 18 percent report they are required by their company to be accessible beyond office hours via mobile device. Also, 14 percent of workers said they feel obligated to constantly stay in touch with work because of the current tough economy. It's no wonder then that
 17 percent of workers struggle with this aspect of work life balance saying they feel like their work day never ends because of technology.

So, what can be done to keep your boss and/or customers happy and keep you safe?

  • Pull over, there's no shame in doing so.
  • Have a back up plan in place. If you anticipate being needed while on the road, have voicemail up.
  • Turn your smart phone off and turn it back on when you arrive where you need to be.
  • Set priorities -- safety or text?

Do you feel you absolutely must answer your phone when it vibrates or beeps? If so, is it self-imposed or does your boss or client really expect you to respond even when on the road?

March 11, 2010

Is texting, talking while driving crucial to work life balance?

Heated debates are going on all over the country on whether to ban text messaging and cell phone use while driving. I've really been thinking a lot about this topic after judging a high school contest and talking to a student who has formed an organization urging people to stop texting and talking in their cars (STATIC). I really don't think teens have the maturity to text or talk on their cell phones and drive the car. I am going to ban my kids from doing it until they are driving for a few years. But I have to wonder whether adults have the maturity?

In Florida, momentum is building for a measure that would ban text messaging while driving. Distractions caused by mobile devices contribute to 6,000 deaths each year on America's highways. That's a scary number. (I bet politicians have a hard time with this because most of them text and drive.) Many people feel like using a blue tooth is okay. I have a hands free device, too, but I have to admit when you are talking on the phone you can get distracted. There's no way around it.

I have kids that will be driving soon. I figured I should start to role model good driving behavior for them. So, I tried to go cold turkey and stop using my cell in the car. What I soon realized was that my work life balance requires me to get things done while on the road. Putting the cell away is VERY challenging. I am now working on a happy medium, trying to use my cell more sparingly in the car and NEVER texting while driving. 

Do you think cell use should be banned while driving? Would your work life balance be challenged?

March 09, 2010

Underemployment -- so sad!

This weekend I read an article that had me riveted. If you haven't read it, you absolutely should. The topic: underemployment. It made me think about whether having a job way beneath your qualifications is better or worse than not having a job at all.

The original article ran in the St. Petersburg Times. Just the introduction alone is compelling the whole story: " Don Gould clocked in at the Publix here in central Pasco County. The green computer font on the small black screen told him to BEGIN SHIFT.

Gould is 46, has been married 21 years and is the father of three boys. Three years ago, he was living in Indiana, managing a small design company and making a six-figure salary.

Now he's living in Wesley Chapel near Tampa making $8.25 an hour. Publix calls him a front service clerk.

"I used to be a big shot,'' he said one day last week. ``Now I'm just, `Hey, bag boy.' '' Gould is part of the large swath of the humbled underemployed -- people who during the recession have gone from highly educated and highly paid to paper or plastic. 

Gould explained why he's doing the same thing he did for pocket money when he was 17. His sons are 18, 16 and 12. ``I want to be a role model by showing by example that no job is undignified.''

Don gould

 I asked one of my friends what she though of the story. "I honestly didn't' know it was as bad as it was out there."

Ask someone who has endured unemployment in the last year and they will tell you it's bad out there. If you're a parent, it can be devastating day after day to have your kids see you search for a job with no results. I recently spoke to a recruiter who told me some companies won't even look at a job candidate who has been out of work for a year or more. Personally, I don't think that's indicative at all of a candidate's abilities. But the recruiter's statement did make me realize why people are grabbing any job they can get.

Sue Shellenbarger in the WSJ wrote about a trend toward mini-shifts. "Cast off by mainstream employers or unable to find the job flexibility they need in a corporate setting, millions of workers are taking multiple part-time or freelance jobs, jumping back and forth repeatedly between work, other pursuits and more work." In a way, that's a form of underemployment, too.

Can you really blame workers for piecing together whatever they can to earn a living, or taking jobs beneath their qualifications?

I agree with Gould that showing your child you have a work ethic makes you good role model, regardless of whether the job you take is a huge step backward. I believe that if you need to support your family, no job is beneath you. In my daily struggle for work life balance, I proud that my kids realize that earning a living is important to me --whether I'm a cashier at McDonald's or a newspaper writer. 

What do you think? Does taking a job, any job, making you a good role model for your kids or is it better to hold out for a job that pays well and fit your qualifications regardless of how long you are unemployed? Do you think underemployment is a dangerous route for the laid off workers to accept?

March 04, 2010

Verbal job offers -- beware.

Today I was in a FedEx Office store and a woman walked in to get her resume printed. She mentioned that she has been on a roller coaster, celebrating after a verbal job offer  only to learn that she once again is back on the job market after the offer was rescinded. She talked about how her whole work/life balance is out of whack. She said having time to have a cup of coffee in Starbucks is nice. Not having the money to pay for it anymore, not so nice. Now she's back to plugging away at her new full time job, which has become searching for a job.

I really felt for this frazzled woman because I've been there. I quit my first job after receiving a verbal job offer that I thought at the time would take me to a better place. But after I quit, the editor who offered me the job stopped returning my phone calls. It turned out she really didn't have the authority to hire.

Apparently, recruiters are noticing a disturbing trend: Verbal job offers that get rescinded.  Fistful of Talent blogger Jessica Lee sent a tweet out about a candidate who wanted an official job offer letter from the recruiter before she quit her job rather than just an email outlining the terms. Lee was floored by the responses. "Recruiters and HR pros said they understood candidates responding in this way... it seemed there were a handful of folks who have had to rescind offers in the past, or that once offers had been made, they have had positions fall through, budgets disappear, or the requirements of a position changed... and job seekers who came back also saying they felt the same way about needing something in writing, with an actual signature, because they didn't trust verbal offers, probably were the recipients of offers made by the very same recruiters who responded to me."

Lee asks: Why have so many job seekers been jerked around when it comes to employment offers that they have to be so overly cautious? 

It's a valid question and maybe a sign of the times. We have become a society where people's words (just like their handshake) isn't good enough anymore. Maybe some of those recruiters need to see and talk to a candidate like the woman I met today who is trying to stay positive despite being jerked around.

It's simple. Hiring managers and recruiters, your word isn't good enough, these days. Just because there's a glut in the job market, doesn't mean candidates don't deserve fair treatment. I say, give them an official signed offer.I 'd certainly want one. Have you had either a good or bad experience with a verbal job offer? Would you ask for a signed job offer letter?