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Showing posts from June, 2009

Are You an Innie or an Outie?

I had a fascinating conversation yesterday with career and workplace expert Jennifer B. Kahnweiler about her new book, The Introverted Leader: Building on Your Quiet Strength (Berrett-Koehler).

This book is based on Kahnweiler's own two-year study and conversations with introverted leaders. I learned some interesting things. First, that introverts tend to be largely misunderstood on the job. Their quiet, introspective, think-about-it-from-every-angle-before-offering-any-input style can be quite off-putting to the extroverts around them, who want quick solutions instead of pensive meditation.

Second, I learned there's a difference between being shy and being introverted. Shyness is a psychological thing. Introversion is the way you are, the way your mind naturally works.

Third, I learned that about 40% of employees are natural introverts. That's a lot of employees who are feeling misunderstood, and they can end up insecure, even angry, on the job. Introverts who are job hunt…

It's Good to Think Before You Tweet

I recently wrapped up a story on the topic of social media, and it's on my mind lately.

So I was intrigued this morning when I came across an Entertainment Weekly piece about author Alice Hoffman, who apparently used her Twitter account to take revenge on a book reviewer. From the article:

But one Boston Globe reviewer, Roberta Silman, has found herself in a bit of a pickle thanks to novelist Alice Hoffman, who was not very pleased with the reviewer's negative write-up of her latest novel, The Story Sisters. After Silman's piece ran in the newspaper, Hoffman took to Twitter and began lashing out at Silman over the course of several tweets: "Roberta Silman in the Boston Globe is a moron. How do some people get to review books? And give the plot away." "Now any idiot can be a critic. Writers used to review writers. My second novel was reviewed by Ann Tyler. So who is Roberta Silman?" "No wonder there is no book section in the Globe anymore -- they don…

MySpace: How Not To Do a Layoff

I believe that the manner in which an employer lays off employees makes a big difference, not only to the employees being let go but to the reputation of the company itself.

Consider social networking site MySpace, which is in the news this week for apparently botching a 30 percent reduction in force. According to TechCrunch, MySpace is really botching it.

Mistake number one: Apparently telling laid-off employees not to cash their last paychecks because of an accounting error. The company is in the process of re-issuing new checks.

Mistake number two is even better, and I'll let the TechCrunch article take it from here:

This isn’t the company’s only blunder during this sensitive time. We’ve heard that that last day for the terminated MySpace employees was chaotic and poorly planned, and that the company hasn’t been very tactful regarding treatment of laid off employees. In the press release announcing the layoffs, CEO Owen Van Natta called the company “bloated”, displaying a surp…

A Startling Number of Companies Plan to Keep Furloughs

A new survey of 179 employers by consulting firm Watson Wyatt has some interesting results in regard to furloughs. Among the key findings, as stated in the above link:

Of those companies who implemented a reduced work week ...

•29% plan to reverse the practice in the next 6 months

•39% plan to reverse the practice in the next 12 months

•10% do not expect to reverse the practice

•23% do not know

And of those employers who put a mandatory furlough in place ...

•20% plan to eliminate the furlough in the next 6 months

•45% plan to eliminate the furlough in the next 12 months

•10% plan to eliminate the furlough in the next 18 months

•10% do not expect to eliminate the furlough

•15% do not know

You can see what caught my eye. One-tenth of these employers say they don't plan to end their reduced workweeks. Additionally, nearly one-fourth of these companies indicate that they are basically undecided as to whether they'll increase employee work hours again.

Sure, 10% is definitely in the minority,…

Is Being a WAHM Really the Bomb?

I have two young kids, ages 4 and 1. For the time being, I work very part-time from a home office, usually on the NEW (naps, evenings, weekends) schedule.

My husband, who also has a somewhat flexible schedule, will watch the kids some mornings if I have a big story deadline or a phone interview to do. Otherwise, I'm with the kids.

Working from home does have its benefits. I can take our kids to the park in the morning and hit the grocery store long before the 5 p.m. rush. Our kids will only be young once, and I'm grateful for the time with them.

I wear the uniform of the typical stay at home mom (SAHM): Khaki capris, simple shirt, sandals. I suspect most people I meet when we're out and about on a weekday assume that I'm a SAHM. But when they ask, I tell them that I'm a WAHM --- that is, a work at home mom. I decided on this title a long time ago. I think it has a nice ring to it. Besides, I don't fit neatly into the SAHM lifestyle because I still work part-time,…

Nice Work If You Can Get It, I Guess!

It's not a bad gig working for Oprah Winfrey: Apparently, she's rented an entire cruise liner and taken her employees, their spouses and kids (about 1,700 people total) on a 10-day cruise of the Mediterranean as a "thank you" for all their hard work.

The getaway is billed "The Trip of a Lifetime." Man, I'd say so.

The cost of Oprah's kind gesture is around $5,400 per person. Let's see...

$5,400 x 1,700 = $9.2 million

That's chump change for Oprah, but I'm sure it buys a lot of loyalty from her employees.

Good on her for keeping her employees happy, even in a crummy economy.

A Shameless Bit of Friday Afternoon Self-Promotion

Here's my latest management column on Entrepreneur.com. It discusses how companies are keeping more experienced (ahem, older) workers in this downturn at the expense of Gen Yers.

I'll share more on my thoughts about this article next week after a looming story deadline passes. First things first.

My next column should be up soon; I'll post the link as soon as it goes live.

Have a great weekend, everyone! TGIF, Chris

Are Competitors Trying to "Friend" Your Employees?

Yesterday, I interviewed an entrepreneur who told me that one of his company's main competitors is looking up his employees on Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and other social media sites.

This competitor is trying to "friend" this entrepreneur's employees on Facebook, wants to "follow" them on Twitter and is trying to add them to its network on LinkedIn.

Needless to say, it's pissing off this entrepreneur, who sees it as a burgeoning problem for his company.

But what can he do about it? Can you force your employees to ignore a competitor's Facebook and LinkedIn invitations? Can you require them to block certain followers on Twitter? It's a very modern workplace dilemma.

I'm going to ask an employment attorney about it soon. I suspect --- based on all my years of conversations with employment attorneys --- that the best thing companies can do is to add social media sites to their intellectual property policies concerning information that employees…

Don't Call Me Liz!

I find this email exchange hilarious and disturbing at the same time.

It's an email chain between an assistant to U.S. Rep. Jim McDermott (D-WA) named *Elizabeth* Becton and an anonymous someone who was trying to schedule an appointment with Rep. McDermott.

Why is *Elizabeth* noted in asterisks, you ask? Well, let's just say that she prefers people to address her that way.

She's one side of an email exchange that will live on in email etiquette infamy.

Here's the gist: The person who contacted Ms. Becton addressed her initially as "Elizabeth" and shortened it to "Liz" in a following email. This set her off, as you'll see in the email chain that has made its way on to the Internet. The other person apologized profusely in a number of follow-up replies, but Becton's indignation level didn't budge:

From: Becton, Elizabeth
Sent: Wednesday, May 27, 2009 6:04 PM
To: XXX
Subject: RE: JPMC Meeting Request

Let me put it this way, they don't know m…

Want the Job? Then Give Us Your Facebook Password!

If you're an applicant for certain jobs with the City of Bozeman, Montana, you'll have to add a new friend to your Facebook page --- the city government.

That's right: You'll have to list all your social media login and password information on your application. That means your logins for Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, YouTube, etc.

Not surprisingly, the public and privacy experts are up in arms over the new requirement and are questioning its legality.

...Bozeman resident Michael Becker has problems with how the city views that information. He sent an email to Sullivan Thursday with 14 questions on the legality of the practice.

Asking for passwords is not just an invasion of privacy, Becker said.

"Well, first of all it is a violation of Facebook and MySpace's terms of service. Both of them prohibit giving out your password to a third party, right in the terms of service, the one's you agreed upon when you signed up for the site. So that's not illegal, but…

New Survey: Nearly One-fifth of Employees Cheat on Time Cards

Having worked some retail jobs that involve time cards, I'm not too shocked by this new Workforce Institute/Harris Interactive survey.

The survey finds that 21 percent of the 2,241 hourly employees surveyed have cheated on their time cards to earn more money. How are they doing this? From the link above:

Of the total number of respondents who state that they game the clock, 69 percent admit to punching in earlier or punching out later than scheduled;
22 percent admit to adding additional time to their time sheet;
14 percent say that they don’t punch out for unpaid lunches or breaks;
Five percent admit to having someone punch them in or out (“buddy punching”).

For employers, it means total payroll cost increases averaging 1.2 percent *and* the potential for violating federal and state break and meal laws.

In my retail experiences, "buddy punching" happened at the end of the day, not at the start of the day. If you were late, that was your problem. No one was going to punch you i…

Bring on the Super Consultant!

I've been thinking since my last post about real company offices modeled on TV shows.

This in turn, got me thinking about TV shows --- er, reality shows --- based on the workplace.

There's the upcoming Fox network reality show, Someone's Gotta Go, where employees at a small company will get (have?) to fire a co-worker every week. The company will open its books to employees (!), who will base their decision on salary, HR record and round-table discussions. This is what show developer Mike Darnell told the Washington Post:


The idea came from watching a segment on a cable news channel in which a small-business owner decided to let all her employees know what each of them was paid.
"We've taken it a step further and opened up the books to everybody's salary, opened up their HR files and let them talk about each other and to each other -- this one's lazy, this one's a hard worker, I hear this one's having an affair. And in the end they will decide who…

An Office Modeled On a TV Show?

I love Gawker, and I look at it pretty much every day for little nuggets of information like this one featured in its semi-regular "cubicle culture" segments.

It's a video-taped office tour of a Los Angeles startup named Rubicon. The company founder talks about how the office is modeled on the TV show "24". There are metrics screens everywhere, including a prominent digital countdown clock for projects. I notice that the founder refers to the office as a "set." Hmm.

I'll admit, I've never watched "24", for whatever reason. I hear it's pretty good; I'll have to check it out sometime. When I think of the show, however, I think of torture, because pundits on cable news have compared the CIA's interrogations to what happens on "24", and vice versa.

Personally, I'm not a fan of open architecture office spaces where employees don't have any privacy and everyone can hear and see each other all the time. I would…

In California, Cockroaches Have Better Workplace Rights

I started reading this LA Times story last night and I read the entire thing (it's rather long). I found it incredibly compelling.

The story is about the workers in California's unregulated porn industry. Diagnosed cases of HIV and other health problems are on the rise again, but apparently very little is being done about it.

The story features the very sad tale of one former porn star who has HIV, hepatitis C and other ailments she believes she contracted during her days as a porn star working in California. She now lives in a Hawaiian homeless facility, just waiting to die. That's because porn stars don't have access to workers' compensation like employees in almost every other industry, and the fight for this right would be an uphill battle for California's politicians, who really don't want to address the issue due to public stigma. The porn industry does its share of lobbying in Sacramento, as well.

So when porn workers report safety and other violations…

AIG Goes MIA

It's a sign of the times, I guess.

AIG allegedly has removed its logo from employee badges and company credit cards because its employees have been taking so much flack for its role in the sub prime debacle and subsequent bailout.

It's being reported that AIG employees can no longer mention their employer's name in public, and that they're being advised to travel in pairs. The company is busy stripping its logos off of its locations and subsidiaries.

Stories say it's a move to protect AIG's employees from harm, because as this story reveals, AIG employees are receiving death threats:

Chief Executive Officer Edward Liddy told Congress in March that employees got death threats after news that staff in the unit blamed for AIG’s near-collapse got $165 million in bonuses that month. Lawmakers stoked the anger, including Senator Charles Grassley, an Iowa Republican, who said that the executives should “resign or go commit suicide.” Grassley later said what he wants from…

June is National Safety Month

Did you know that June is National Safety Month?

To mark the event, the Bureau of Labor Statistics website has posted its latest report on workplace fatalities.

BLS reports that 5,657 workers were killed on the job in 2007, but workplace fatalities overall have fallen since 1992. Workers over age 45 are at the greatest risk of dying on the job, due to just being older (aging is a bitch) and labor laws that bar the youngest employees from certain jobs due to safety concerns. Younger workers also work fewer hours, which lowers their overall risk of death.

Trucking and driving/sales have the highest death rates, with 1 in 6 deaths occurring in these jobs. Fishermen, loggers, pilots, flight engineers, steel workers, farmers and ranchers also have a higher risk of dying at work. Anyone who has watched "The Deadliest Catch" on The Discovery Channel could see how these fishermen are living on the edge.

I'm not surprised that salespeople top the list, since their cars are basically …

A Tale of Metrics Gone Wrong

I just read this piece about the recent increase in employee productivity. The article pins the rise on employee fears of layoffs. This is certainly true. If you're worried about losing your job, you'll work hard to keep it. We're all doing that these days. No news there.

But what gets left out of productivity stories are the details of what companies are measuring, i.e., the metrics they're using to gauge gains in productivity. This could be the number of widgets employees make per hour, the number of cold calls they make, the number of calls they answer. The more, the better. It means employees are productive. It means the company is doing everything it should be doing.

What companies don't realize, however, is that employees have figured out these metrics and what they need to do to beat them.

Early in my work life, I took a job as a customer service representative for a large company. It was one of those jobs where the company engaged a temporary firm to recruit…

Need to Engage Employees? Bring On the Social Media!

A new survey finds employers are turning to social networking with renewed vigor as a way to keep employees excited about their jobs. Blogs, discussion boards and collaborative tools are especially popular as budget dwindle and layoffs ravage workplaces. An excerpt:

Nearly 80 percent (79%) of respondents said they use social media to frequently engage employees and foster productivity. Tools such as company blogs and discussion boards even outranked e-mail (75 percent) as means of keeping employees’ heads in the game. “It’s encouraging to see the rising popularity of social media in employee communication,” said Julie Freeman, ABC, APR, president of IABC. “Companies are moving away from the one-way communication model where they would send out information hoping people would read it. Using the various social media tools, companies can now engage employees in discussions and foster conversations between teams across geographic and other boundaries.”

Moving away from the top-down "we…

Do Showers Make Employees More Productive?

Okay, I'll admit I like this news story because it's weird.

A UK study has concluded that employees who take showers during the work day are more productive, creative and happier. From the link above:

Employees taking shower breaks at the four businesses—advertising agency Home (in Leeds), The Chancery Restaurant (in London), architects and designers 3s (also in London), and lingerie company Simone Perele UK (in Surrey)—saw an increase in productivity and creativity of 42% and 33% respectively.

And:

Employees generally felt that they had done a better job during the showering phase, with a 16% increase, and 23% felt they were in a better mood.

I'm not knocking the idea of a nice, warm shower. This study just leaves me "awash" in questions. For starters, it was conducted for shower products company Mira Showers, which immediately makes me question the results.

I'm not sold on how they measured increases in productivity and creativity, either. Sure, the shower could…

SEC May Require More Information About Employee Pay --- Well, Sort Of...

The Securities and Exchange Commission might require public companies to disclose more information in their 10-Ks about compensation of rank-and-file employees, but companies wouldn't have to reveal how much employees are paid.

I agree with this blogger that such a rule would be a useless exercise unless companies are required to disclose actual numbers.

Companies, of course, don't want to share this information for competitive reasons and will remain as vague as they're allowed to be. I just don't see how the rule change would make a difference to investors or anyone else who reads a 10-K. Just my take.

Are Employers Being Too Picky?

This WSJ article confirms what's I've been hearing from job seekers over the last few months: Employers are getting too picky in their hiring.

Here's the introduction to the article:

Melissa & Doug LLC, a fast-growing toy maker in Wilton, Conn., puts applicants through an interview process so grueling that one job seeker says she left in tears and felt psychologically traumatized.

Candidates must bring their lunch -- plus three years of W-2 statements. They spend hours on simulated work tasks, several with tight deadlines. They complete a lengthy survey, where they rank their interest in chores such as fixing a leaky faucet and changing the fax machine's toner. Some prospects walk out right after the all-day screening starts.

I'm hearing of employers letting positions go unfilled because the perfect hire is always right around the corner, and the applicants they do eventually hire are being put through interview after interview. What's interesting to me is that…

Are You Mingling or Singling?

I just got done reading this CNN story that's right up my alley. It's entitled "The 10 Worst Work Habits" that people need to break.

I always read the comments section, and worst work habit #5 -- refusing to mingle at after-hour company events --- seems to have some commenters in a dither. Here's what the writer says:

5. Refusing to mingle

Plenty of wisdom lies in the advice not to mix personal and professional lives. However, refusing to take part in any social activity -- such as the office potluck or a happy hour -- will not help your career.

You don't need to be the resident party animal, but being personable with your colleagues helps build camaraderie. You get to know other people better and they get to know you as more than the person they pass in the halls.

"Nice, but a Loner" responds:

My thing about #5 (refusing to mingling) is that by the time I've spent 8-9 hours my co-workers and bosses...I kinda want/need to get home to my family. I ma…

I'm Moving Online!

I'm starting a new gig as an online management columnist for Entrepreneur magazine. It's the way of the magazine business these days, for better or worse.

I'll be writing at least one article a month. My first column has just been posted. Let me know what you think.