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13 posts from July 2010

July 27, 2010

Vacation Time


I will be on vacation this week. I'm going to try to practice what I preach and disengage from work.

Wish me luck. I'll be back to blogging on Monday.


July 23, 2010

When Divorce Affects Your Work Life

Now that I'm in my 40s, some of my friends who are married with children are starting to divorce. I've seen firsthand how hard it is for them at home and at work. One friend completely botched a work assignment because she was so emotionally spent. It's almost impossible to hide your personal life from your boss when you need to ask for time off for depositions.  

Still, I had no idea what a hot button divorce is in the year 2010. The rules are different with women working, alimony in flux and men seeking joint custody.

Divorce In my Balancing Act column a few weeks ago, I wrote about efforts by the American Bar Association to make divorce less destructive on families. I have been inundated with email from across the country. Men and women want to tell me their sad stories of bitter divorces and how difficult it has been to keep their jobs and their kids on track while battling with a former spouse. It must be so tough to be a family law judge.

Then there's this new element of social media. Facebook and other social networks, such as Twitter, Flickr, Photobucket and MySpace, are becoming the latest legal tool in divorce and child-support battles.A recent article in the Orlando Sentinel discusses just how nasty it has become.

In response to my article, I have heard from lawyers who believe mediation and collaborative law are the answer. I have heard from proponents and opponents of joint custody. I have been accused of being part of a media conspiracy that favors the father's movement. I have been told that alimony is at the heart of divorce disputes and that permanent alimony is hardship that today's workers can't afford.

I am left with my original thought. Something needs to change. Destructive divorces hurt employers when productivity is affected. It hurts children when they're pulled in two directions and it hurts the people going through it who suffer emotionally and financially.

There are some great tips offered by divorce360.com for juggling career and divorce. The basic advice: don't talk about your divorce at work. Keep the details private.

If you've been through a divorce, what do you feel would make the process better for your home and work life?

July 22, 2010

Gain more control over job stress

The last few nights I've slipped back into the habit of getting on the computer late at night. Giving up sleep for work is a horrible habit I want to break.  Larry Tobin, can help with that. He's the co-founder of the website www.habitchanger.com. Larry offers his customers a plan to kick hundreds of habits from nailbiting to overspending or overeating. His own life-long struggle with bad habits such as smoking and dieting led him to create a website that would help others break bad habits. Tobin is my guest blogger today and offers his tips on how to break bad habits that lead to job stress.


It’s no secret- the way we manage our time, relationships and energy at work can make life quite stressful. We often let this stress spill over into our personal lives, causing us to lose focus and sense of control.  From the moment we hop into the car on our way to work, negative voices can take over, draining our confidence, self-esteem and motivation: “I’m not going to meet the deadline”, “I’ll never get ahead in my job”, “I’ll never be able to go on my vacation when work keeps piling up” It’s easy to let stress take over.

When managing stress, our choices stem from habits we’ve built over the course of our lives. Most of us have a deeply ingrained habit of negative thinking, a habit that can be difficult to change. Learning a method to stop negative thoughts right in their tracks helps us get to the root of the bad habit and break the cycle.

S.T.O.P. is a simple acronym that can help you remember a series of steps to take to break this cycle. The moment you notice that you’re engaging in negative thinking, go into S.T.O.P. mode:

S: Say the word STOP to interrupt your internal destructive thoughts. Tell yourself firmly to STOP over thinking.

T: TAKE a deep breath. Then take a quick break: Go for a short walk, read a magazine article, listen to your favorite song at your desk. Do anything to take your attention away from over-thinking and, if possible, try to change the environment.

O: Focus on the OUTCOME, the goal or goals that you’ve set for yourself. Think about why you are committed to your goal and remind yourself of the positive consequences of achieving it.

P: PRAISE yourself for the progress you are making. Remember, you're looking for progress, not perfection.

You would never allow anyone speak to you the way your negative mind does. You’d ask them to stop. Tell yourself to STOP now and start reducing your stress.




July 21, 2010

The key to work life balance during a job search

I remember many years ago, looking for a job and feeling frustrated. It was either send out more resumes or take a day off and go to the beach with a friend. I went to the beach, feeling a little guilty about being a slacker.

But the next day, I received a job offer and I was so glad I hadn't spent the day at home stressing. I could start my new job with a tan. Of course, today's job market is completely different and people are spending months out of work. But that experience gave me the idea for the topic I wrote about in my Miami Herald column.

I'm curious to hear your thoughts. If'  you are in the midst of a job search, do you give yourself time off? Do you think it's possible to spend too much time on a job search?

The Miami Herald

Laid off but working hard? Time to take a day off


Joe Hurwitz recently broke his daily routine -- ride bike to gym, exercise, line up interviews -- and took a brief vacation.
Joe Hurwitz recently broke his daily routine -- ride bike to gym, exercise, line up interviews -- and took a brief vacation.
The lazy days of summer are here but for people who are job hunting, taking the afternoon off to soak up some sun may feel like a luxury they just can't afford.

Just as work life balance is a struggle for those with jobs, the challenges of time management can be equally complex for those who are looking for work.

As companies tip toe back into hiring, unemployment still hovers near 10 percent nationally and the average length of a job search remains at about 26 weeks. With competition fierce for every opening, candidates walk a fine line between conducting an aggressive search and becoming frustrated, desperate and worn out.

One job seeker I spoke with wondered: ``If I have sent out dozens of resumes, called recruiters and attended a few networking events this week and there's still no sign of a job, is it OK to call Friday a half day and head outdoors?''

Recruiters typically advise job seekers to treat a search like a full-time job. Matthew Beck, managing director of the Mergis Group's Miami office, also advocates stepping back and taking a mental break every now and then. Just don't drop out of the search for more than a week, he says. ``I don't think summer is good time to completely shut down your search. You never know when you might miss the right opportunity.''

More often these days, the right opportunity comes from connections. Lauryn Franzoni, vice president of ExecuNet.com , says that her recruiting firm's research shows only 20 percent of jobs available are advertised. The best places to learn about hiring, she says, are the golf course, basketball court, a book club or church meeting.

``Get involved in something you love and wish you had time for and use it as a way to meet others who can help you,'' Franzoni says.

Clint White, a Florida pilot, has been laid off three times in the last two years. He has wrestled with taking time off from the search. ``I know it's good to be active but there's always this nervousness in the back of your mind.''

During his earlier bout of unemployment, White started a blog -- www.helpclintfindajob.wordpress.com -- where he chronicled his experiences on the hunt and his views of the aviation industry. Writing, he says, has given him some balance, a break from pounding the pavement and trolling job boards. It also helped White get attention in his industry and land a job. Unemployed again, he now has a network of contacts. ``I can go out with my wife for a drive and my network is working for me.''

Of course, the intensity of your search may depend on your personal circumstances -- whether you've depleted your savings, run through your unemployment benefits, been out of work only a few weeks or a few months. Another factor may be whether you have another household income, such as a spouse's salary or another source of funds such as an inheritance or severance.

The more you need the job, the more the search can become stressful. Have a plan and avoid time wasters such as applying blindly for online postings, says Carlos Gil, founder of JobsDirectUSA, a national job search organization. ``You don't want to get to the point you are so overwhelmed that it takes away from energy needed to stay focused.''

Joe Hurwitz has plenty going for him in his job search. He's young, creative and wants a job in marketing or sales. He has been searching for a position for six months while working toward his MBA on the weekends. Taking ``me time'' every morning helps him stay positive. He rides his bicycle to the gym, exercises and then goes home to line up interviews or mine his social network for leads. Recently, he did the unthinkable for an unemployed professional. He took a vacation to the Florida Keys, a 3-day getaway with his girlfriend. ``I felt like it was OK because I've been working hard. I don't want to look worn out in front of a potential employer.''

Job hunters who are married, say there's another component to their time management dilemma -- the pressure from a spouse. Michelle DeLeon spends her days and nights searching job boards and building a network. She says her husband questioned her recently when she wanted to spend an afternoon with her nieces. ``He's old fashioned and doesn't understand why everything I'm doing is not producing results.''

DeLeon since has formed a support group in North Florida for job seekers to chat over lunch and take a break from their intense hunt. ``We are all really trying to help each other keep a balance so we don't go crazy.''

Meanwhile, Krisia Zulueta-James , an architect and construction administrator, has been out of work more than a year and says she is trying to make the best of her unemployment, spending her summer days enjoying free outings with her children to the park or library and using evenings to scour job boards. ``I feel guilty and frustrated, but the search continues.''

© 2010 Miami Herald Media Company. All Rights Reserved.

Read more: http://www.miamiherald.com/2010/07/20/v-print/1739494/laid-off-but-working-hard-its.html#ixzz0uKdcNb7D

July 20, 2010

Avoid the E-mail Trap

If there's one thing that kills my work life balance, it's e-mail. I love receiving e-mail. Most of the time. But I just haven't mastered the art of organizing it. (Confession, I have almost 5,000 emails in my Inbox)

Earlier this year, productivity guru David Allen said to me: "I don't know anyone whose job is reading email. It's not what we are getting paid to do." I try to think about that and be more efficient with how often I check email.

I also recently read an article in Inc Magazine about Mark Cuban, an effective billionaire CEO who communicates almost entirely with his staff by email.

Certainly, our use of email is a topic of debate.  Many of us complain about being overworked. But have electronic communications made us more efficient or just given us new ways to kill time and think we are busy?

Today, I read an interesting post onThe Ethical Workplace Blog with some great tips. In light of the flood of e-mails that are wasteful, distracting, improper and risky, here are some questions posted by Stephen Paskoff is president and CEO of Atlanta-based ELI Inc. to consider about how we’re using electronic communications:

 Before sending an electronic message, ask yourself:

• Is this message really necessary?
• Is this the best way to communicate this information?
• Would I want this message to last forever?
• Is it OK with me if anyone in the world read this e-mail?

If the answer to any of these questions is “no,” it may be best not to send the message(s).

July 16, 2010

Control over work hours ranks more important than maternity leave

In the daily struggle for work life balance, what's more important to you....paid maternity or paternity leave or control over your work hours?

An Australian survey of 1,700 mothers has found that working women rate control over work hours as the most important work life benefit. The survey found paid maternity leave, employer-provided or subsidized childcare, and being able to bring your child to work were appreciated, but not rated as highly.

I couldn't agree more. As our kids enter different stages, their school hours change. Having control over our hours makes a HUGE difference in being able to get them where they need to go -- on time. I would take control over my work hours above ANY other work/life benefit.  I'm pretty certain if researchers conducted the same survey in the United States, they'd find similar results.

Janeen Baxter, a professor of sociology at the University of Queensland, and the co-author of the study Perceptions of Work/Life Balance, has her theory on why this is: "Benefits such as paid maternity leave are most relevant to women with small children. Whereas shorter hours and flexible start and finish times are relevant to all workers in different stages of life."

"For some part-time work is a desirable arrangement but the key issue is to have control over the length of the working week and the work hours," Baxter stated.

The survey found that having access to family-friendly provisions improved workers' experience of the daily work-life juggle, even when they did not use the entitlements.

How do you feel about these results? Would you rather have on-site childcare or control over your work hours? Which do you think most employers believe we rank as our top choice?

July 13, 2010

Michelle Obama preaches anti-obesity, is it realistic to avoid fast food?

Michelle To my fellow working mothers, I ask: "How realistic is this push by Michelle Obama to end child obesity?"

Yesterday, as the keynote speaker at the National Association of Colored People's national convention in Kansas City, Michelle spent much of her half-hour address discussing her Let's Move Initiative.

Now, I'm all for getting kids to move around. It annoys me to no-end to see my kids in front of the television playing X-Box. I've had to set time limits and make threats.

That's not my real beef with you, Michelle. You say you had recess twice a day and gym twice a week when you were growing up. How lucky! Sorry, Michelle, but the government isn't helping us keep our kids slim. You're telling us not to make our kids fat? Do you know parents have had to fight hard to ensure our grade school kids get recess once a day because our teachers are way busy teaching our kids how to take standardized tests, fearing a poor test score will cost them their jobs. And then there's gym class. At a school nearby me, specials like PE are being cut. The PE coach has just become a fifth grade teach to stay employed. So, it's now up to parents to keep our kids moving, and parents don't have a lot of spare time or energy to do it. 

Michelle, you say children are spending too much time in convenience stores where they walk out with caloric food and beverages. You are right. How about offering them a nutrition course in school and teach where to get low cost healthy alternatives? You need to get more involved in public education! My daughter is going to high school and she's learned zip about how much sugar is in soda.

Do you know why some kids are at convenience stores and eating fast food? Because otherwise they wouldn't eat. Their parents don't have an on staff chef. They work, probably more hours than ever these days to earn the same money they used to get. They aren't getting home in time to make their kids dinner or leaving too early to make breakfast and the only choice might be frozen food or a donut from 7 Eleven.  

Michelle, you say our kids are "living a lifestyle that's dooming too many of our children to a lifetime of poor health." Help create more jobs. Jobless America can't afford organic chicken with a side of spinach.

Do you know how many kids go home on Friday after getting a free lunch at school and don't eat again until Monday? Along with obesity Michelle, our nation has a very high rate of children living in poverty with not enough to eat. In 2008, households with children reported food insecurity at almost double the rate for those without children, 21.0 percent compared to 11.3 percent, according to FeedingAmerica.org.

Parents need help if we're going to keep our kids healthy. We need better options at convenience stores and fast food restaurants. We need more jobs with decent hours and better pay so parents can afford to make healthy meals for our kids. We need to encourage physical fitness in schools, not cut athletic programs.

This working mother believes in your message, Michelle. She just needs more from you.

July 09, 2010

Work Life Balance as a Mother of Teens

My middle child turned 13 yesterday. I am now the mother of two teenagers. That feels strange to say out loud. I've successfully transitioned through the crunch years when my three babies needed so much from their mother and guilt was a way of life. I remember how tough I thought it was to juggle deadlines and diapers. My first two kids are a  year apart and it was the pre-laptop days. Driving home after a long day at work, stuck in traffic, knowing they might go to bed before I saw them was heartbreaking. Even worse, I remember walking in the front door, greeting them and getting a phone call from my editor with questions about my story that I filed on deadline. A toddler just doesn't understand that mom is home but needs to go to a quiet part of the house to talk on the phone. Oh, how I wanted the balancing act to get easier.

The good news for us working moms:  It gets a little easier in some ways and more difficult in other ways.  At some point our kids can drive themselves to the various activities they want to participate in. Teens understand that mom is on deadline and needs to shut the door to her office. But I realize now that being there for a teenager at the precise moment he or she needs you or wants to open up about a day's event is critical.

 As a working mother, parenting teens and finding work life balance is a completely different ballgame and it isn't the easy street I envisioned. I have to make pockets of time to push myself into my teens lives to mold them and have those conversations about texting, talking to adults with respect, and being a good friend. I have to worry about what classes my kids sign up for and whether their grades will be good enough to get into the college of their choice. I have to hold my ground about them seeing R movies when "every one else's parents let them." This is not easy stuff. Many days, I wish my son was on the floor having a two-year-old temper tantrum instead of fighting with me over whether he can buy a violent video game with his own money.

Yet, with my daughter entering high school this year, I can see the day in the near future when one by one, my kids leave the nest and my work life balancing act enters an entirely different phase. So I plod through these teen years, trying to tip my energy in favor of my kids as much as possible, and be there for them, even when they don't act like they want me to be.  I no longer feel guilty over being a working parent. But finding balance through the teen years is difficult. I wonder what the rest of you parents of teens think. Is finding the balance between work and family more difficult when you're raising teens or do you think the baby-toddler stage still ranks as the toughest?

July 08, 2010

Reduce stress at work, drink a soda

Boss stressing you out? Drink a soda.Soda

I know that sounds crazy but a new study out today claims sugary drinks may help ease tension at work and make employees less argumentative. Who knew? All this time I've been drinking water for its health benefits.

Now I find out that the sugar in beverages like sweetened tea gives people bursts of energy that may allow the brain to control impulses and prevent them from reacting too quickly in stressful situations, according to Australian researchers.

"When provocation is likely -- for example, when encountering a difficult supervisor at a work meeting -- drinking a sweetened beverage prior to this encounter might increase one's ability to effectively inhibit aggressive impulses," the U.K.'s Telegraph quoted study authors as saying.

The researchers suggested their findings might apply not only at work but at home.

"Consuming a sweetened beverage on the commute home following a stressful day could reduce aggression toward family members or fellow drivers," the authors said.

Of course with a provocative finding like this, there are doubters. A California nutritionist responded to the study with another alternative: "Better than reaching for a sweetened drink would be eating a light snack of fruit and nuts three hours after a main meal." He suggests low-glycemic fruits like apples, cherries or grapes to avoid the sudden spikes and drops in blood sugar, and walnuts or Brazil nuts.

So now you know the key to staying calm, cool and collected in the workplace or home -- go for the soda!


July 07, 2010

Google fixes disparity in benefits for same-sex couples

By now, most of us know all about how great Google treats its employees. We've heard about the onsite restaurants, the stock options and the environment that fosters creative thinking.

Now, here's another reason to work at Google in the form of work/life benefits. Below is a report from Workforce Management.

Google Inc. is offering to reimburse its gay and lesbian employees for the additional federal tax they pay on the value of company-paid domestic partner benefits.

The offer, which would apply retroactively to January 1, came after a gay employee pointed out the disparity for same-sex couples covered by the Mountain View, California-based technology firm’s employee health benefits plan, a spokesman said Thursday, July 1.

Laszlo Bock, Google’s vice president for people operations, acknowledged that it wasn’t fair that same-sex couples were paying an estimated $1,069 more annually in federal taxes on those benefits, the spokesman said.

To equalize other benefits available to same-sex partners of employees, Google also is eliminating a one-year waiting period to qualify for infertility benefits. It also is including domestic partners in its family leave policy, going beyond the federal Family and Medical Leave Act, which requires employers to give at least 12 weeks of unpaid leave to workers to recover from a medical condition or care for family members.

The Google spokesman said it is uncertain at this point how many of the company’s 20,600 employees are likely to take up Google on the reimbursement,

“We’re not actually increasing the salaries of the employees. Salaries are tied to the work you do. It’s more of a reimbursement."