Tuesday, November 30, 2010

A First for My Website

I've started something new today I've never before done on this blog or my website.

I'm now accepting advertising.

This wasn't an easy decision, and one I've avoided for years. As a journalist, I've always worried about a conflict of interest. I didn't want anyone to think I covered an issue or wrote about someone because they advertised on my site and I made money from the deal.

I also didn't want to let a third party decide what ads would be posted. I wanted to have some say about products touted in any ads on my site.

Usually I just say "no" to ad requests, but I began to see that this was a short-sighted approach. There are plenty of worthwhile services, organizations and individuals with something to offer the readers of this blog.

So, now I will accept ads -- but they will be approved by me, first. (This means you will not see ads for overnight miracle cures.)

If you're interested in learning more, click on the "advertise on 45 things" link on the top of my blog page and it will lead you through the process.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Why Employers May Not Be Hiring Veterans

Do you know a veteran? Do you know a veteran who can't get a job? Then, this column I did for Gannett/USAToday may be a real eye-opener for you. If you're an employer, I hope it hits home for you and the next action you take is picking up the phone to find a vet to hire....

With a national unemployment rate of 9.6%, finding a job is challenging for many Americans.

But for veterans trying to re-enter the work force — despite having a variety of skills — landing a position can be even tougher.

Part of the reason is because it's often difficult for former military personnel to explain how their skills can translate into the civilian world. But another reason is often not discussed openly among employers.

Specifically, many companies fear that veterans have post-traumatic stress disorder and would be a problem at work.

Movies or television shows that depict veterans "going postal" upon hearing a car backfire are the kinds of images that can keep civilians from understanding that PTSD is not just a military problem, but one that many people confront if they've had a traumatic experience such as a car accident or physical assault.

While some veterans do suffer from severe PTSD and need medication and counseling, others are able to cope with minimal assistance, experts say.

According to a Society of Human Resources survey, 46% of surveyed employers said they believed PTSD and other mental issues would be a problem in hiring veterans. But only 13% said they had real problems with veterans in the work force who had PTSD.

With some estimates of 294,000 Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans returning home with PTSD, the odds of finding employment if companies turn away from those with PTSD is daunting.

Kurt Ronn, president of HRworks, which specializes in military recruitment, says the key to hiring "wounded warriors" is moving beyond the photo opportunities and lip service from many company executives who say they want to hire veterans.

"I've been at Walter Reed (Army Medical Center) and seen these senior executives with our wounded warriors and they thank (the veterans) for their service, take some photos with them, shake their hand — and then the veterans never hear from them again," Ronn says. "If you're going to make the commitment to these people, then it has got to come down to an actionable program."

Ronn says the key is making sure that a hiring manager, who he calls a "champion," will follow through and hire a veteran. Interested hiring managers can find help in hiring veterans through the Wounded Warrior Program.

Linda Sykes, a retired Marine and project manager of military recruitment for HRworks, says that any employer hiring former military will find them to be workers who are educated team players with leadership abilities.

"Of course they've been trained to carry a gun, but they're not equipped to only work in security," she says. "They have a wide variety of skills and have taken on a lot of different responsibilities."

There are nearly a half million people on LinkedIn who list the military as part of their profile for the professional social network.

LinkedIn Corp. says after mining its data, the most popular industries that attract vets include information technology, telecommunications, financial services, law, computer software, government, higher education, health care, retail and management consulting.

While under the law no one is required to disclose in their interviews that they have PTSD, many veterans often want to be honest with employers and so reveal their condition. The problem is, they often end up losing a job because of it, she says.

"We had one man who told the employer he had PTSD, but he only needed to go once a month to the VA (Veterans Administration) and see a counselor for one hour a month," she says. "But he didn't explain that, and the employer didn't call him back for a job."

Sykes and Ronn agree that for some employers, accepting a soldier into a company who has perhaps lost an arm or leg may be easier that hiring one who has PTSD — or one they may suffer from it.

In other words, employers may be more comfortable dealing with a disability they can see — such as an amputated limb — rather than something that may not be easily visible, such as symptoms of PTSD. In addition, many employers may not understand the stress disorder, which can include a wide variety of issues — in varying degrees — such as insomnia, anger and depression.

Ronn expresses frustration when talking about employer unwillingness to hire vets because of PTSD or other concerns.

"You know what? These employers need to just suck it up and deal with it. If we all wait for the perfect program (to hire vets), we've taken an enormously complex situation and thrown up a roadblock. If these employers want to help these people, then they need to take action and find a way to make it work. If they don't, well, that's the real crime," he says.

Sykes says that at a time when companies desperately need workers who are focused on helping them be more competitive and boosting the bottom line, vets offer the right solution.

"The military is mission driven. Their training is going to kick in when they've been given an assignment, and they're going to focus on what they have to do to make things happen," she says. "If that means they stay until 9 p.m. when everyone else is packing up at 5 p.m., then that's what they're going to do."


Friday, November 19, 2010

Learn to Handle Verbal Smackdowns

In my family, there's a saying about "two floors later." It has to do with the time a family member had a run-in with another person and couldn't think of a good comeback. Instead, she got on the elevator, fuming.

She says that "two floors later" on the elevator ride she came up with just the right comeback. Now, whenever our family has a difficult conversation and can't think of the right way to respond at that moment, we talk about how "two floors later" we found the right response.

At work, we may not have that long to try and save our reputation. Confronted with a snide comment from a co-worker, or an inappropriate remark from a boss, we wish we had just the right comeback. I did a column for Gannett/USAToday.com that may be just the ticket for those who get tongue-tied....

Sometimes it happens just before you fall asleep.

In a flash of brilliance, the perfect response to the snide comment a co-worker made to you earlier that day finally hits you.

Unfortunately, the comeback wasn't there when you needed it, and now you're tossing and turning in frustration, replaying an upsetting conversation in your head.

Why couldn't you have thought of that great response immediately?

It might be because you didn't ready yourself for such a verbal skirmish on the job — even though most workers experience them daily. And, when you don't hone your communication skills, you can easily become the victim of a verbal smackdown.

For many people, finding the right response at the right time is often difficult, frustrating and stressful.

A colleague's subtle put-down, the boss' accusatory comment — they're all statements for which you wish you had just the right comeback. But Kathleen Kelley Reardon says you can become more powerful in your exchanges at work as long as you're willing to practice for such interactions.

If not, she says you might not only come out on the losing end of a discussion, but your career also could suffer.

"We are at least 75% responsible for the way people treat us. So if you don't respond to someone who goes beyond what you consider your threshold of common decency and respect, then you've said that they can treat you that way again," says Reardon, management professor at the Marshall School of Business at the University of Southern California.

Workers need to be more prepared than ever to deal with verbal jabs from colleagues who may be feeling unsettled and prone to show more aggression in protecting their jobs during a difficult economy, she says.

"I think people are more willing to say things to improve their chances of being noticed at work while decreasing it for others," she says.

At the same time, Reardon says she worries that workers who spend too much time texting or e-mailing as their primary way to communicate are further diminishing their ability to verbally hold their own in various office interactions.

"You have to be able to respond on your feet at work, and I think some people are becoming less adept at it," she says. "They need to use these (verbal) skills regularly in order to become good at it."

The key to learning the right comebacks for the right situation is identifying the kind of verbal interaction that best fits your personality, Reardon says. In her new book with Christopher T. Noblet, Comebacks at Work, (Harper Business, $24.99), some of the suggestions for comebacks include these:

Reframing. If things are getting heated, you can say something like, "This isn't a fight. It's just a disagreement."

Rephrasing. If you find yourself offended by another person's statement, you can say, "Another way you could say that without getting my back up is.. ."

Rebuking. You can chastise someone by saying, "If that was meant to be funny, you missed the mark."

Requesting. Question the other person by asking, "Can you tell me more about what you just said? I may be misreading something here."

Revisiting. If you've had earlier success with someone but are now failing in your interaction, try: "We've always worked well together. Let's not change course now."

Retaliating. This is not for the faint of heart and should be used sparingly. A comeback is used strictly to strike at the other person for a comment. You can say, "Since incivility is your style, I have a few choice words for you as well." Then use them.

Always ask the other person for clarification before assuming the worst about a comment, Reardon says.

"Give the other person a chance to do the right thing," she says. "It's truly a generous thing to give someone an opportunity to hear what they said."

Any other advice for facing down snide comments at work?

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

7 Tips for Memorable Business Entertaining

Do you feel it?

It's that slight motion that may signal we're turning the corner. More companies are beginning to offer perks again at work, like -- gasp -- bonuses. The office holiday party this year may actually be more than cold pizza with a side order of greasy chicken wings.

Maybe you're feeling a bit more optimistic, as well. You and your co-workers have survived some pretty tough times, and you'd like to offer some cheer as the holiday season approaches by opening up your home.

But before you uncork that first bottle of wine or pop the cheese puffs in the oven, let's go over some rules about entertaining business associates in your home. It won't take long -- but save you a lot of embarrassment and perhaps save your career, as well.

1. Get organized. Co-workers have looooong memories. Remember how they still talk about the copy machine repair guy who kept calling your boss "Bob" even though his name was "Jim"? And that was five years ago? Do you honestly think they'll let you live down a disorganized party that you throw together? Not in this lifetime.

2. Send invitations. Don't send just e-vites that might be missed or end up in "junk" mail. Send out formal invitations that give clear directions to your house and provide a dress code.

3. Ask friends. Putting together a different mix of people can provide a more interesting atmosphere, and give your guests something to talk about other than work. Invite buddies who will also provide good morale support, and can be depended upon not to embarrass you with stories that put you in a less-than-positive light.

4. Clean up. Don't worry about how business associates may judge your decor. It's a chance for them to relax and get to know you better, but you also need to make sure the bathrooms are clean, and there's a clear space to store coats or personal items.

5. Not everyone loves pets. I know, I know. How can that be? But honestly, your yappy Maltese, your shedding Persian kitty and your slobbering St. Bernard aren't so precious to others, who would prefer not to be jumped on, drooled on and shed on all night long. Do your furry friends and your guests a favor, and find a safe and comfortable place to put them away from the guests while you entertain.

6. Don't overfuss. Most people enjoy sitting around a kitchen table eating simple, casual food. If you're going to have more sophisticated fare, consider having a caterer. Your job is to be mingling with your associates, getting to know one another better. Fussing in the kitchen misses the point of the gathering.

7. Watch the bar. It's a good idea to recruit a friend or family member to watch alcohol consumption. If you think someone has had too much to drink, call a cab or drive the person home. Remove alcohol as the evening winds to a close and start offering plenty of non-alcoholic beverages. The last thing you want is for a co-worker to be embarrassed -- or gossiped about -- because he or she got drunk.

If you entertain business associates, what are some of your tips?

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Are You Putting Off Having a Baby in This Bad Job Market?

Anyone who has ever been pregnant on the job knows it's not easy. You try not to barf in meetings. Your feet get so swollen you can't get on any shoes besides your Nikes, and those make a less-than-professional impression.

In the early part of your pregnancy, you can't think of eating without getting queasy. When that passes, you can't stop eating.

Some co-workers, who think they're so darn funny, can't decide which is bigger: You or the Goodyear blimp. Other colleagues give you disapproving looks when the fatigue hits so hard you sit slumped in your chair, considering whether you can make it to the bathroom for the one zillionth time that day.

And yet, thousands of pregnant women go to work every day, giving the job 100 percent, even if they feel like crap and raging hormones have them considering stapling a co-worker to the wall.

But how tough must it be to be pregnant when the economy is so bad? I imagine a lot of us never stopped to consider the extra stress that is being placed on these mothers. It's a topic I decided to explore for my Gannett/USAToday.com column...

Taking maternity leave is often fraught with anxiety for many working women.

They wonder how much time off can they afford to take. Will taking longer than the standard six or eight weeks hurt their career?

But in these unsettling economic times, that anxiousness has gotten worse for some women, who fear they may be fired because of their pregnancies or lose their jobs while on maternity leave and be unable to find other positions, says Roberta Matuson, president of Human Resource Solutions in Northampton, Mass.

While federal and state laws protect women from such action by an employer — as they do for disabled workers — the harsh reality is that many women don't fight back legally because the battle could stretch on for a long time, she says.

In addition, many women fear that getting another job while filing a complaint on a previous employer would be very difficult.

"The reality is that a woman could lose her job while on maternity leave or when she returns from maternity leave because they employer could say she was going to be laid off anyway," Matuson says.

Another reason working women may feel extra stress while pregnant is that they simply can't afford to be away from work. Companies have trimmed maternity leave benefits — or eliminated them — as they seek to trim costly employee benefits.

Rebekah Goode-Peoples, 32, was a pregnant English teacher at a private school in Savannah, Ga., and says she assumed she got paid maternity leave. Then, she discovered she was required to use her sick days and vacation time for everything from doctor's appointments to time off after her baby arrived.

Weeks of bed rest her doctor ordered quickly sapped her vacation time, and the school administration denied colleagues' requests to donate their unused time off to her. She did receive short-term disability pay after 10 days, she says, but the amount wasn't enough to alleviate financial constraints.

"My husband was in grad school, so I was the only one working," Goode-Peoples says. "If it had not been for my mother-in-law giving us some money, I would have had to go back after three weeks."

Since then, Goode-Peoples and her husband found jobs in Atlanta, and with her current position she made sure she had paid maternity leave before accepting the job. She says she believes the reason her Savannah employer was so strict about time off for doctor's appointments — even though she says she put in many unpaid hours every day grading papers — was because the school was taking a economic hit as parents withdrew their children from the school.

At $20,000 a year tuition, many parents couldn't afford it anymore, she says.

"If this is happening to me, an experienced teacher with a master's degree, what is happening to other women" who don't have that kind of job? Goode-Peoples says. "I have a friend who is a CPA and a lawyer, and she says she absolutely won't get pregnant now because jobs are so up in the air."

Another working woman who has felt the economic pinch of maternity leave is Danielle Welsh, 28, a cashier for a car dealership in Detroit.

Declaring bankruptcy only weeks before she delivered her daughter, Welsh says she had supplemental insurance to help pay for her maternity leave, but that didn't help enough.

When she returned from eight weeks of maternity leave, she actually owed her company money.

That's because the employer continued to pay her health insurance, and she found out she owed about $750. She has worked out a deal with her company to get about $100 a week in take-home pay while the rest has gone to pay back her insurance.

Welsh says her employer has been supportive of her, and she never worried about losing her job while she was away.

"My job is an easy job to fill, but no one really wants it because they don't like what I do. I spend all day on the phone and dealing with customers," she says. "Sure, I would have loved to have taken more time off to be with my daughter, but my husband and I are in debt up to our eyeballs."

For women like Welsh, that financial difficulty may continue. A University of Massachusetts-Amherst study, recently found that working mothers at the lower end of the earnings scale have the biggest loss in hourly pay — what's become known as the "motherhood penalty."

The study found that while women earning larger salaries often postponed having children and developed their careers first, they also could afford to pay for child care that would help them concentrate more on their careers once they returned to work. Mothers earning less were less likely to be able to hold onto stable jobs because they were forced to quit when child care didn't work out or a family health crisis occurred.

That career instability led to lower-wage jobs and even employers being wary of hiring them, the study found.

Matuson says it's important that working women develop a game plan when they become pregnant, which can help ease the stress and lessen the effect on their careers. Among her suggestions:

• Don't tell until it's necessary. "The minute you tell an employer you're pregnant, they're going to be wondering how they're going to cover the time you're going to be gone, and how this is going to impact the work," she says. "It's a sad fact, but sometimes women miscarry. So, I would just wait to tell until you absolutely have to."

• Stay professional. Keep the talk about nurseries, ultrasound photos and baby names out of the of the office. "You're getting paid to work," Matuson says. "And believe me, nobody wants to hear about your pregnancy. You're not the first person to give birth. All they care about is that maybe you're starting to slack off and they're going to have to pick up your work."

• Plan ahead. "Lots of babies decide to arrive early, so don't put off finishing your work or planning how your work will be covered until the last minute," she says. "Train your replacement early."

• Stay connected. "In this economy, I think it's especially important that you stay in close contact with your boss when you're on maternity leave," she says. "Send him or her an e-mail when you can. A lot of women say they're coming back from maternity leave, but then they don't. So make it a point to stay in touch with the boss."


Monday, November 8, 2010

Please Take Your Snotty Nose and Go Home

In the next several weeks, you're probably going to get sick. I know this not because I'm medically qualified to tell you so, or because I have a hot line to the Centers for Disease Control.

I know this because yesterday when I was out doing errands, I heard kids coughing. They were sneezing. They were whining. And they had runny noses and parents with really short fuses.

This tells me several things.

1. By this time next week, one or both of the parents will have the snotty nose, cough and crankiness.

2. In about two weeks, the germs will hit the workplace, and begin to spread despite the very visible hand sanitizer on the receptionist's desk and in the break room.

3. Blog posts and tweets will begin to pop up, as people lament they'd have to be dead for two days to feel any worse. They'll complain about body aches, sore throats and going through a box of Puffs every hour.

4. Co-workers will begin to complain they wish their sick colleagues would stay home. They wish sick bosses would stay off e-mail and just go to bed, dammit.

5. Steps 1-4 will continue until sometime around late March.

While this may be sort of a depressing scenario, just remember that the cold-and-flu season is nothing unusual. It arrives every year, just like a Will Ferrell movie. It's just something you have to learn how to survive.

That means if you're the boss, you get together with your staff and tell that that if they're sick, you want them to stay home. You want them to go to bed, and stay off e-mail and the phone. Working from home wasn't invented so workers could still labor while sick. Don't e-mail or call these workers and say: "I know you're sick, but there's just this one little thing...." No, no, no.

If you're a worker, start making contingency plans right now. Leave some kind of master list of phone numbers or contacts so those covering for you know what to do when you're lying nearly comatose under a pile of blankets at home. Put an auto responder message on your e-mail that says: "I'm sick. Call Bob if you need anything." And then give them Bob's number.

It's really not that difficult, but we seem to have made being sick a big deal in the workplace. We feel guilty if we're out sick. We suddenly cannot run a business and are headed for bankruptcy if we can't reach a certain worker because he or she has the flu.

Get real people. And then pass the Puffs, please...

Your thoughts?

Friday, November 5, 2010

4 Steps to Gaining Control of E-Mail

For those of you have been in a shopping mall recently, I'm sure you've noticed the holiday decorations that hit the stores sometime after Flag Day in July. While you may have thought that was a tad bit early to be thinking of what you want from Santa this year, this latest story may have you thinking about what you'd like at the top of your gift list this year: An empty e-mail "in" box. Intrigued? Here's how it can happen, as I learned in this story I did for Gannett/USAToday.com...

Think about it for a minute: How many hours could you add to your day if you didn't have to deal with e-mail?

Mind-boggling, isn't it? To think what you could get done at work if you didn't hear that little ping signaling another incoming e-mail every other minute. What would your evenings and weekends be like if you didn't spend them trying to catch up on e-mail? Can you even imagine a — gasp — empty e-mail inbox?

That's exactly what Rosemary Tator and Alesia Latson say can happen. For everyone.

No matter what you do for a living, no matter where you work, an empty e-mail box is attainable, they say. E-mail doesn't have to dominate your life, and you can put an end to e-mail being nothing but a huge time suck and stress-inducing activity, they claim.

The key is e-mail triage, they say. The emergency room practice that allows doctors and nurses the ability to quickly deal with the most critical cases first is a practice that the average worker bee also can employ.

In their new book, More Time for You, (Amacom, $18.95), Tator and Latson have several important steps to deal with e-mail effectively.

1. Separate facts from feelings. To change your e-mail habits, you have to understand how you feel about it.

"People often feel they're being bombarded with e-mail. They think it's ridiculous, and they get all worked up," Tator says. "So the first thing to do is to think about how you feel about e-mail. Is it an intrusion? Or do you see it as a way to stay connected with other people?"

2. Schedule time to handle e-mail. "Some people are just addicted to e-mail. They're addicted to their need to respond quickly. It's a badge of honor for them to answer an e-mail at 2 a.m.," Latson says.

Instead, the authors urge people to answer e-mail only at certain times throughout the day.

While it may take some coaching of others to get them to understand you'll respond to noncritical e-mail within about four hours, they say it's a habit that can influence others to do the same.

They say you should set up a procedure to reach others immediately via phone in urgent cases.

3. Set up e-mail triage folders. Folders should be labeled "delete," "do it now," "respond today," "schedule a specific time on calendar," "waiting for response," "file it," "someday" and "freedom."

For example, anything that can be handled in less than 2 minutes should be in the Do it Now folder. If you're not planning any action but want to hold onto some information, put it in the Someday folder.

And the Freedom file? That's for those people who have an overwhelming number of messages and need a place to start. Anything more than two days old gets moved to that folder.

4. Unsubscribe. While you may have deemed it necessary years ago to get all notifications of of sales at your favorite department store, you may no longer find that helpful. Establish an Unsubscribe folder, then spend some time getting off the mailing lists of newsletters, alerts, bulletins, etc., that you don't find important.

Tator and Latson agree that e-mail isn't all bad. It provides instant gratification, Tator says, while Latson notes it's "a great way to handle the logistics of living" and has been a savior for more introverted individuals who find it difficult to communicate via phone or through personal conversations.

However, they caution that just as e-mail has good — and bad — aspects, the same is true for another communication tool: social media.

The explosion of sites such as Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn mean that users should get control of their use early before it becomes another source of stress and overload. Not putting rules in place could lead to bigger problems down the line, they say.

When deciding what social media to use, determine how and why you're using it, what you want to accomplish, where it fits on your priority list, and how much time and when you're going to devote to it.

The authors suggest using your calendar to remind you of when to visit your social-media sites, and then sticking to the allotted time so that it doesn't suck away your time.

Any other e-mail tips to share?


Monday, November 1, 2010

10 Things That Will Keep You From Being Fired Your First Day

I think I've got a bit of a Halloween-candy hangover (who knew you could eat too many Milky Way bars?), so I'm just going to cut to the chase today.

Here are my top 10 suggestions for your first day on a new job:

1. Be 10 minutes early. Give yourself time to stop in the bathroom and make sure you don't have anything funny hanging out of your nose. Comb your hair and pop a Tic-Tac.

2. Have a working pen handy. When the new boss asks you to fill out some forms, don't look like a dweeb when you have to ask someone for a pen -- or the one you have hasn't worked since you were in 7th grade.

3. Be prepared with personal information. If you don't know your Social Security number, have it written down where you can easily get to it. (Of course, then you must eat the paper to avoid identify theft, so pop another Tic-Tac. ) Also have a list of emergency contacts, etc. that human resources is doing to want. They don't want to have to look up your aunt's phone number in the phone book. They have better things to do, like take away some unruly employee's parking space.

4. Wear a watch. It becomes annoying to see you digging in your pocket or purse to find your phone so you can see the time. You're a real employee now, and real employees need to wear watches because....well, just because.

5. Turn off your cell phone. Seriously. No ring tone, "Freebird" anthem or vibration should come from that phone. It's best to let everyone on the first day believe you will never be one of those obnoxious people at work who gabs on a cell phone, talking about dry scalp syndrome with your girlfriend.

6. Have an energy bar with you. Don't leave your desk for more than 30 minutes for lunch the first day unless you're specifically told to get your butt out of the office for an hour lunch. If you're invited to lunch with the work gang, go. I don't care if you only eat dandelion leaves while facing west, go. If you don't like what they eat, you can munch your energy bar later. Or, if you don't get invited out, you can have your energy bar if you can't find someplace to eat. You can't pass out from hunger, because then HR has to fill out a report, and that makes them cranky.

7. Stay off social networking. Don't post an "I'm-so-bored-at-my-new-job" Tweet or rant on Facebook about how your new manager'ss comb-over looks ridiculous. Until you're crystal clear, A-OK, 100% sure it's OK to use social networking at work, don't.

8. Read everything you are given. Don't pass up a training manual because it looks boring, or ignore the online survey because you'd rather, well, do anything else but that. HR gets huffy about stuff like that. They don't like being ignored, and if they get huffy, then they get snotty with your boss. The trickle down snot factor means it lands on you. Not a great way to start a new job.

9. Stay late. Fifteen 15 minutes is good. Thirty minutes is better. Even if all you have to do is line up your pencils or alphabetize the HR forms, do it. Look busy and happy to be there while the other worker bees head for the exit.

10. Go home. And do this all over again tomorrow.

Any other suggestions?