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11 posts from April 2010

April 30, 2010

How to reduce job stress

Today, I'm feeling totally stressed out -- too much on my plate. Can you relate? Most workers can because new studies show job stress is at an all-time high.


Fortunately, there are ways to take control and chill. Karen Koffler, Medical Director, Canyon Ranch Hotel & Spa Miami Beach, is weighing in on my Work Life Balance Blog today with some suggestions. She has some great credentials. At Canyon Ranch,  a luxury boutique hotel dedicated to wellness, she serves as the Medical Director, using functional medicine and natural approaches to help transform the health of guests. Koffler says says stress has also been shown to reduce blood flow to the brain, impairing our memory and preventing creative thinking.  These reactions are certainly counterproductive in the workplace.


Canyon ranch Here is her advice to manage your stress in the workplace:


1.    Become aware of what you are feeling.  Believe it or not, many of us live in such a state of perpetual stress that we have become immune to noticing it.  The first step in reducing it though, is to check in with your body and notice what you are feeling.

2.    Breathe: one cannot both be stressed and focused on your breath at the same time.  When you sense the tension caused by stress, shift your attention to your breath and breathe in for a count of three, out for a count four in a smooth rhythm for 10 breaths.  No one will have any idea you are doing this.

3.    Push away and go for a quick brisk walk.  I like to go in the stairwell down the hall and run up to the 10th floor and back again.  Physical activity even in brief bursts can alleviate stress and re-focus attention.

4.    Daydream:  the most powerful word in the English language is “imagine.”  Just allowing yourself 5 minutes to imagine something positive and uplifting: a good encounter with a colleague, a vacation plan, an enjoyable experience you have had or anticipate, will soothe your physiology.  Kids know this best and we can learn from them.

5.    Avoid coffee.  We frequently use coffee as a means to distract ourselves, as in “taking a coffee break.”  But all that caffeine stimulates the fight or flight response, worsening the stress burden in our body.  Instead, calmly prepare a cup of green tea (1/5ththe caffeine of coffee) which is rich in L-theanine, a compound that is calming to the nervous system.  The simple ritual of preparing a cup of tea, long-revered in Asia, can function as a mindful meditation and dissipate your stressful thoughts.  In addition, it has numerous health benefits so you will be doing yourself good.

6.    And finally, self-acceptance.  It's hard to relax when one in a space of non-acceptance or self- judgment.  Acceptance is relaxation.


Do you feel like workplace stress is greater than pre-recession? Or do you feel as if the recent emphasis on wellness has helped? 

April 28, 2010

Employers now understand work life balance starts with financial help

Will your employer bail you out of debt? Not likely. Will your employer give you a financial education so that you don't go into debt. More likely.

Employers are beginning to understand that productivity suffers when workers are trying to hide from bill collectors or figure out how they ever will retire. If there's anything companies can do to provide help with work life balance, it's offering financial education.

Today, my Miami Herald column tackled the topic. Let me hear from you if your employer is doing anything innovative.

Companies help employees who have financial stress


Dave Lewis tries to appear like a dedicated employee when he walks into work each morning, but his thoughts sometimes are on which creditor might hound him by lunchtime rather than what sale he might clinch. Lewis says he hides his financial troubles from his boss and admits he even has called in sick to avoid embarrassment.

With more Americans staving off foreclosures, considering bankruptcy and fretting over the balance in their retirement-savings or college-savings plans, financial stress has permeated almost every workplace.

As the economic downturn hit, employers shared their financial pain with employees, cutting paychecks and freezing matches in retirement-savings plan. Yet, they left them alone to figure out how to manage their shrinking budgets -- until now.

Topics that used to be taboo to discuss in the workplace are spilling into workshop offerings and company-wide webinars.

``Some employers are taking on heavy-duty stuff,'' said Kathie Lingle, executive director of the Alliance for Work-Life Progress. ``Companies are looking at financial fitness as seriously as health and wellness. We hadn't seen this before.''

As the economy struggles to recover, employers have begun to understand the effect their workers' financial woes have on the company's bottom line.

Almost two-thirds of employers believe that employees are less productive when they are worried about personal financial problems and 52 percent believe that absenteeism increases when employees are dealing with personal financial issues, MetLife's annual Employee Benefits Trends Study shows.

Howard Dvorkin, founder of Consolidated Credit Counseling Services, says employers are naïve if they don't realize how much of the work day is devoted to personal financial concerns.

``The majority of people contact our offices while they are at work because people they owe money are contacting them at work. Our highest Internet traffic is at 10 a.m.'' Dvorkin says the message should be clear: ``When an employee is going through a financial problem and you give then information to resolve it, they will be more productive in their job.''


Earlier this month, Tonya White, manager of building design and construction at University of Miami, spent her lunch hour at two back-to-back workshops as part of UM's Financial Wellness Week. More than 500 attended.

``I've done a lot of things differently,'' White said about a week after the workshops. She has put a new budget into place. ``My husband had been planning for retirement but I realized I need to think about it, too, and take some steps to get ready.''

Bill Plough, an instructor with Consolidated Credit Counseling, says UM is just one employer who has brought him onsite to educate workers. ``Employees are going to human resources asking for advances, and advice because their house is going into foreclosure, or their car is about to be repossessed. HR people don't have a solution.''


Meanwhile, some companies have looked inward to their own educational resources, tapping them to help staff.

Gibraltar Private Bank & Trust in Coral Gables realized its employees could benefit from the personal finance workshops it offers customers. More than 30 employees attended each of three sessions.

``We don't want our employees to be drowning in debt when we are a bank and have all these resources,'' said Elaine King, Gibraltar's director of wealth and well-being. The workshops were a hit, she says. ``Our employees needed to step up their own personal financial discipline if they are going to talk to our clients about it.''

Pepsi Beverages Co. took its financial-fitness program a step further. Not only does the company offer access to financial-management tools and programs, it also paired with PricewaterhouseCoopers to give its 33,000 employees free, unlimited access to financial advisors through a call center. Since the program's inception in 2008, 20,000 employees have participated, according to spokeswoman Kristine Hinck.


Even small businesses on a tight budget are finding ways to offer financial fitness, mostly by making information available on websites and allowing employees to participate in educational webinars on company time.

Two nonprofit websties are smartaboutmoney.org and mymoney.gov. ``An employer can say, I understand your hardship. Here are places to go to reevaluate your budget,'' says Paul Golden, a spokesperson for the National Endowment for Financial Education. ``Offering something like that can go a long way to benefit an employee.''

April 27, 2010

Freelancers fight to be paid

For the newbie's who find themselves doing project or consulting work, the WSJ today had a great article on freelancers and their pursuit of payment. Some of the suggestions in the article can apply to any business owner who finds themselves becoming a de facto bill collector.

Having recently spent six months trying to collect payment from a magazine, I can relate to the consultants  quoted in the article who are spending a crazy amount of hours trying to get paid. I hold out hope for others because my persistence paid off. I finally received payment after a bunch of phone calls and emails. Who knew that in the struggle for work life balance, I would have to allot so much time to the collection side of my job?

About 40% of freelancers had trouble getting paid in 2009, according to a survey released in mid-April by the New York-based Freelancers Union, a 135,000-member organization for independent contractors across the country in fields such as media, technology, and advertising. This was the first year the union asked members about this topic.

Some suggestions from the article:  Before accepting a job, freelancers can search consumer complaint Web sites like RipoffReport.com and industry discussion boards. Michelle Goodman, author of  "My So-Called Freelance Life", also suggested checking gawker.com, which often shames businesses that stiff freelancers. Michelle advises having penalties for being paid late built into a written contract. Of course, going to court is an option, too. Typically, it's a last resort. But who wants to resort to that?

Have you experienced difficultly getting paid? How long is too long to be considered reasonable? When does it no longer become worth your time to pursue an unpaid fee?

April 22, 2010

The Top 50 Fastest Women-Led Companies being announced today

If you think women-owned business are small start ups that bake cookies or create baby products you are sadly mistaken. In Fort Lauderdale today, the Women Presidents' Organization and American Express Open will announce the Top 50 Fastest-Growing Women-Led Companies. The largest company on the list has $115 million in revenue. These women are leading companies in every industry imaginable.

Unfortunately, guess what will be missing from that list? There will not be a single company from my home state of Florida, the location where the event is taking place.That's the bad news, at least for those of us from Florida. It's particularly bad because I know for a fact that we have some of the most dynamic women-led businesses in our state. To be eligible for the ranking, businesses are required to be privately held, women owned/led companies in the U.S. or Canada and have reached revenue of at least $500,000 by the first week of 2005 and $2 million in 2009.

The good news is that nationally, women-owned businesses contribute nearly $3 trillion to our national economy and support 23 million jobs. That's a SIGNIFICANT amount of money. And these women business owners say they are optimistic that they will experience revenue growth in 2010 and 2011.

Marsha Marsha Firestone, founder of the Women President's Organization, which now has 525 members, was kind enough to share some of the findings of a survey of these women-led businesses. She plans to present them at the annual conference tonight.

Most of the Top 50 are lead by women of an average age of 47. They started the business in their mid-30s. "It looks like they got experience, then said I can do it better. I can  earn more money and have more power," Firestone said. About 80 percent of the women started the company themselves, 14 percent bought it and 5 percent got it from a family member.

Once women become owners and leaders, they they don’t want to give it up their control. Very few of them have investors and most started the business with their own funds, Firestone said.

Another interesting fact: Women business owners take care of their employees: 72 percent provide health and life insurance, 86 percent offer a 401k,and  52 percent offer tuition reimbursement, 56 allow telecommuting, 50 percent allowed flex time. "It's  amazing what they are doing for their staff," Firestone notes. 

 I think Firestone is accurate when she says women need to be recognized as major business contributors and not just as mom operations.  "They contribute tremendous amount to economy and employ tremendous number of people." Even better news: most of them plan to hire in the next year.

April 19, 2010

A horrifying look at the wage gap in Florida

Not long ago, employment attorney Richard Tuschman of EpsteinBeckerGreen came to visit me at The Miami Herald building. He wanted to enlighten me about the wage gap between what men and women earn. He insisted it isn't as bad as the numbers indicate because women tend to take jobs in lower paying professions, which is why as a group, they earn less than men.

That may be true. However, the National Partnership for Women & Families issued a new report today with some pretty horrifying numbers.

The report, broken down state by state, says that without the gender-based wage gap, Florida’s women and their families could afford food for another 1.4 years, mortgage and utility payments for five more months, or family health insurance premiums for 1.8 more years.  That’s because full-time employed women in the state are paid $32,506 per year, compared to $40,672 for men. 


The report was issued in conjunction with Equal Pay Day which is April 20 this year.  It is designed to shine a spotlight on the fact that women must work for nearly four extra months in 2010 for wages equal to what men were paid in 2009 alone.


National Partnership President Debra L. Ness is urging the Senate to use this report's findings as the catalyst to push through the The Paycheck Fairness Act. She believes the Act would make it harder for employers to justify wage discrimination; prohibit retaliation against workers who ask about employers’ wage practices or disclose their own wages; authorize the government to collect wage data so civil rights enforcement agencies can target their resources; and offer employers technical assistance to help them analyze their pay data and make sure they are not discriminating.  


I do believe Tuschman's argument carries weight. I do think women tend to choose professions that pay less. But  why can't those professions pay more? I also believe there are many workplaces where men are paid more for doing the same job as women and frankly, those women may even be doing the job better. In some cases, it may be an oversight by the employer. Let's make it okay for companies to get help analyzing their pay data. Let's make it against the law to discriminate based on gender.


What do we have to lose by paying women equal salaries? If entire households benefit, it looks like all of us have a lot to gain.




April 15, 2010

How to make tough transition back from maternity leave much easier

Loreen My guest blogger today is Loreen Chant, President of Johnson & Wales University's North Miami Campus. Chant took some steps during her maternity leave to enjoy bonding time with her new daughter while managing her responsibilities on important university projects and initiatives in her absence. She shares how she made the transition back and set an example for other female administrators.


As a sleep deprived maternity leaver who was tracking the happenings on campus on my home computer (e-mails, articles, announcements, etc.) and via phone, I was struck by the pace with which we work every day.  As my countdown to March 1 progressed, I wondered how quickly I could get back up and function again at that speed and how I would manage the transition.  Was I ready? And how would I manage this the third time around with far more responsibilities?


The good thing is - because I genuinely enjoy what I do - it was a pleasure being back on campus. In fact being at work, in many ways, it has been much easier than being at home – no one has colic here. Multitasking doesn’t involve a conference call with a crying baby in my arms as I hit the mute button and hope no one asks me a direct question. Nor does work require that I sit in my car in my driveway for an hour to participate in an interview to avoid distractions – that is if you don’t think a 9-year-old staring at you from outside the car is a distraction.


At times the transition has been difficult, I won’t lie.  Getting three kids ready for the day is a major accomplishment and could be considered a full-time job. And some evenings, I have to give myself a pep talk on my commute home to make sure I am up for the grand finale: homework for the older kids, bath, bottle and bonding for the baby, family dinner, bed time for everyone, preparation for the next day.


So, given the challenges, complexities and the fact that there are only 24 hours in a day, how can you make it all work?  The biggest piece of advice I can give you is to use your resources. And, I’m not talking about money - although $20 to a high school girl/mother’s helper is the best 20 bucks I’ve spent in years!  I’m talking about my resources: my husband, colleagues, my friends, my sisters, my older children, and my friends’ daughters – the ones who are too young for a social life, but old enough to be an extra pair of hands. Hire a bi-weekly cleaning lady – just don’t have visitors the first and third weeks of the month, not pretty. Use on-line shopping. I haven’t stepped into a mall since the baby was born but have you been to Zappos.com? Auto bill pay whenever you can, and utilize any automated assistance you can for the task at hand.


These resources make a world of difference. You delegate at work. Delegate at home.


Temporarily I have had to adjust my standards, but so far so good. Just don’t lose your perspective. If you are insanely busy when you return from maternity leave, remind yourself you are only busy because you are managing your blessings.  And if that doesn’t help, I strongly recommend a glass of red wine.



April 14, 2010

Great convenience service to help with work life balance

Companies may be cutting back on work life benefits but you still can get some help if you turn to the private sector. Today, in my Miami Herald column, I wrote about some of the services out there to help you:

April 13, 2010

What the best companies do for their hourly workers

Recently, I met a Miami cafeteria worker, a single mom, who earned an hourly wage. She was ecstatic when her boss let her take an hour off work, with pay, to see her son receive an award at his elementary school. Hourly workers tend to really appreciate any perk they get. Most get no paid time off.

Did you know that about half the workforce are hourly workers? About 75 million people. These workers typically lack the benefits of a salaried worker -- health insurance, sick and vacation pay, tuition assistance.

I love that Working Mother Magazine has devoted an issue to Best Companies for Hourly Workers. The editors set out to recognize companies that set high standards for  how to treat hourly workers. I spoke with Suzanne Riss, editor-in-chief of Working Mother Magazine, about whether companies feel they need to accommodate hourly workers. Riss finds it encouraging that in spite of the bad economy, some companies are committed to serving hourly workers and their families.

Suzanne Riss  
Riss says all of the winning companies all offer flexibility to hourly workers—a family-friendly benefit not commonly offered to lower-level employees and yet incredibly important. The best example, Riss says, is a company that allows employees to work with supervisors and schedule shifts around their needs, or allows them switch shifts when an emergency arises.

"By showing the best practices, we think we are encouraging companies to look at what their competitors are doing and do better," she says.

The winners are detailed Working Mother’s May issue 

Here are what they are doing that landed them on the list:

CCLC – Portland, Ore.

  • This early-learning company operates 112 child-care centers in 25 states.
  • Best Benefits: Rather than cut jobs, CCLC held staff meetings at centers where enrollment declined due to parent job loss and allowed staff to decide how to share available work hours.

Marriott International – Bethesda, Md.

  • With 119,359 employees, this renowned hospitality services company is a major international force.
  • Best Benefits: Marriott waived its 30 weekly hours requirement for health insurance in 2008 and will continue to do so through 2010. As a result, no hourly worker will lose coverage when business is slow.

McDonald’s USA – Oak Brook, Ill.

  • The home to the Golden Arches has 99,987 employees, 90 percent of whom are paid by the hour.
  • Best Benefits: McDonald’s USA launched “McDonald’s Practical Money Skills,” a set of bilingual money management tools, including budget worksheets, Web resources and videos, for hourly restaurant workers.

Sodexo – Gaithersburg, Md.

  • This food services and facilities management giant employs moms at 4,673 locations across the United States, including hospitals, schools, senior centers and military bases.
  • Best Benefits: Hourly workers can trade shift, use floating holidays and take unpaid leaves without penalty, which helps a globally diverse workforce visit home countries.

University of Wisconsin Hospital and Clinics – Madison, Wis.

  • This 471-bed academic medical center also features 80 outpatient clinics.
  • Best Benefits: The University of Wisconsin Hospital and Clinics offered free tax prep for low-wage employees in 2009.

UNM Hospitals – Albuquerque, N.M.

  • Hourly workers make up 92 percent of this academic medical center’s 5,561 employees.
  • Best Benefits: UNM Hospitals restructured its own health plan last year to cut premium costs by roughly half for single parents seeking coverage for themselves and their children.

Johnson & Johnson – New Brunswick, N.J.

  • The 124-year-old company makes sure that the nearly 12,000 men and women who fill its non-exempt jobs receive substantial benefits.
  • Best Benefits: Employees are eligible for family health insurance coverage after working just 19 hours a week and can tap free coaching programs that help them quit smoking, lose weight, manage stress and fight disease.


If your company does something worth bragging about, please share. If you believe companies feel no need to provide any perks to hourly workers, weigh in on that, too.

April 09, 2010

New Ways to Boost Your Energy at Work -- become a triathlete

If you are sitting in a South Beach cafe this weekend, you just might see Lucy Danziger, editor-in-chief of Self Magazine, whiz by on a bicycle, or run past you at top speed. Danziger is participating in the Nautica South Beach Triathlon this Sunday in Miami.

What's holding you back from entering a triathlon? Did you know it could help you in your career?

 Danziger, a mother of two teens and in her late 40s, just might be in the best physical shape of her life. I spoke to her as she was darting to the airport to fly south from New York. She told me that training for races has been good for both her personal health and her work life. "Part of the reason I like to do endurance activities is it allows you to think. I have found that training is stimulating for writing."

True, being behind a desk all day doesn't leave much time for brainstorming. However, we all know that squeezing exercise into your busy work day is tough. Wondering where Danziger finds time for training? The wee hours of the morning.  Danziger wakes up, between 5 and 6 a.m. to train. She'll run one day, swim another and bike another, usually for about 45 minutes. "For me, if it doesn't happen first thing in the morning, it won't happen," she told me.

You are thinking that waking up that early sounds pretty brutal. I'm thinking that too. But I can hear the passion and energy in Danziger's voice as she talks about racing. She makes it clear, it's not the competition she craves, she's doing this for the fun. She also thinks being healthy and fit is a good example to set for your kids. (Who can argue with that logic?)

 I asked Danziger for some tips for how crazed working professionals can get started on the path to becoming a triathlete. Here are her tips:

  • Have a work out buddy. It makes you accountable to someone and it makes exercising fun. After Danziger and her buddy trained for a short while, they got a coach and eventually joined a team.
  • Find your strength and resign that you may be better at one form of exercise than another -- swimming vs. running.
  • Find the time of day to train that works best for you. I enjoy running at night. Danziger prefers morning.
  • Set a training schedule and stick to your schedule. Sign up three months in advance for the race. (You can find one online)
  • Get a decent bicycle. Danziger says it should feel natural and pain free.

  • Work around your injuries. Run when you feel you can't bike,  swim when your knees hurt and you can't run.

  • Enjoy getting fit.  You are only in competition with yourself.

SELF photo shoot w Natalie Hoda KLG 017



April 07, 2010

Go into a career with your eyes open

How do know what a career really requires into you're a few years into it? I talk to people all the time who find their professions are much more demanding than they expected. 

Women may be particularly naive about what a career path requires.

A new survey shows women who jumped into finance are paying an incredibly high price to be in the industry, which is now considered a profession more demanding than medicine or law.   In the study, entitled “Harvard and Beyond,” Claudia Goldin and Lawrence Katz found that female investment bankers, who made up for the work they missed after taking time off to have a child, still saw the largest pay decreases. Even more, there's a physical, mental, and emotional toll that working such long hours and being away from their families has on female investment bankers.

In a report that appeared in The Glasshammer.com, Hope Hanner-Bailey, an organizational psychologist and management consultant for Management Concepts said:  “Maintaining work-life balance – which I prefer to call work/life-integration – is extremely important to a woman’s health and well being because if she does not allow enough time for at least minimal satisfaction at home, she can suffer from a variety of health problems, ranging from sleeplessness to anxiety and depression. She may also be in danger of burn-out or exhaustion.

If you're about to pursue a new career and/or reinvent yourself, ask people in the profession what "making it" requires. Ask men and women. And make note of this:The survey also found that occupations with the highest numbers of men also had the highest average number of hours worked.

If it's too late and you're already invested in a profession,  Bailey believes a balance can be had if women are willing to seriously assess their needs and do something about them.

1. Join a support group.  “Many women find tremendous comfort in venting with like-minded people or talking with a professional.”

2. Communicate. "I would urge these women to start communicating with their spouses on a daily basis – if they don’t already. It is critical that a woman and her spouse become a team..."

3. Plan the week to include me time. ’ If they don’t do this on a regular basis, continuing on will prove to be incredibly difficult.

Did you know what sacrifices were necessary before you pursued your career path? Would you have chosen a different occupation if you had gone in with your eyes open?