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January 30, 2007

Short takes: extreme work, discrimination, home workers, pet peeves and more

Extreme work - Chris McKinney of HR Lawyers' Blog discusses the the dangers inherent in a culture of extreme work.

Discrimination research - Workplace Prof Blog calls our attention to a disturbing study that finds skin-tone prejudice against darker-skinned legal immigrants.

"Light-skinned immigrants in the United States make more money on average than those with darker complexions, and the chief reason appears to be discrimination, a researcher says.
Joni Hersch, a law and economics professor at Vanderbilt University, looked at a government survey of 2,084 legal immigrants to the United States from around the world and found that those with the lightest skin earned an average of 8 percent to 15 percent more than similar immigrants with much darker skin.
"On average, being one shade lighter has about the same effect as having an additional year of education," Hersch said."

OSHA logs - Diane Pfadenhauer of Strategic HR Lawyer reminds us not to forget to post OSHA 300 logs, a requirement as of February 1. She provides a link to the form.

Working at home - Jon Coppelman of Workers Comp Insider discusses recent class action suits by home-based workers alleging that the arrangement violate basic employment laws. Jon makes the point that there is a difference between an independent contractor and a home-based employee, and suggest employers ensure that their status is clarified.

Declining union membership - According to a recently released Department of Labor report, union membership fell by 12.5 percent in 2006, a decrease of more than 300,000 members. In 2006, 12.0 percent of employed wage and salary workers were union members.

Work environments - Many think that a greener workplace can be a healthier and more productive place to work - as well as good news for the bottom line. Wondering where to start? How to Green Your Work offers tips, ideas, and resources.

Pet peeves - Workers ask for help dealing with irritating co-worker behaviors.
How to deal with a loud-mouthed coworker.
My bookkeeper stinks!! Bad!!
Stopping a non-stop talker
My co-worker poisons the office

January 25, 2007

Resources to help employees get their financial house in order

Holidays come with a price and you probably have plenty of employees struggling this month to pay all the bills from the “Christmas Shopping Season”. We at ESI offer comprehensive financial counseling to our members but if you don’t have this type of benefit, check out some of the links below to offer resources to troubled employees. Or review them for yourself if you spent beyond your budget. When we are thinking about how to make ends meet we are not thinking about our work.

This Web site of the National Foundation for Credit Counseling helps users find a nonprofit credit counselor in the user's area. It also offers how-to advice, such as a how to request a copy of your credit report, and a budget calculator that compares your monthly spending to others.

Geared toward teens but useful for adults, this site by Visa teaches the basics of money management in an engaging way.

All things credit card oriented. Cardweb.com is where to go for third-party information about the credit-card industry, as well as news and commentary for consumers about individual cards and card issuers. CreditCards.com is sponsored by credit-card companies, and is loaded with offers broken down by rates, special offers and special needs. Bankrate.com is a major clearinghouse for consumer finance information. It includes credit-card basics and calculators that let consumers determine their credit and budget, and tally how long it will take to pay off debts.

This amazing site offers calculators on any aspect of your financial life you want to know about, and some you may not want to know about. Various functions tell your net worth and estimate how much you need to save to retire without having to start a lemonade stand at age 75.

At this U.S. Department of Energy site you can search for the cheapest gas prices by city, and compare automobiles' gas mileage, greenhouse gas emissions, and pollution and safety ratings. The site also includes tips on how to get the best gas mileage out of your vehicle and information on hybrid and alternative fuel vehicles.

Want to check on the estimated value of your home, and also peek at the values in the neighborhood? Go to Zillow and plug in your address and watch the magic happen. You get a satellite or line drawing view of the neighborhood with accompanying prices based on records from sales, physical characteristics of the homes and so on. You can use the My Zestimator tool to add information, such as about remodeling, that will refine the estimate. You also can request information on comparable homes, which could come in handy in doing research if you are considering appealing your tax assessment.

Check this simple yet thorough source for information on mortgages, home equity loans and lines of credit. Calculate what you can afford to borrow, or look at what you gain or lose using an adjustable-rate loan vs. a fixed-rate loan. The site also explains financial terms.

This is an easy switch most of us never think of. Compact fluorescent bulbs promise a seven-year lifespan and lowered electric costs. Cflbulbs.com also contends: "If every household in the U.S. replaced just one incandescent light bulb with an energy-efficient compact fluorescent light bulb, it would eliminate the equivalent of the emissions created by one million cars. And that's only one bulb per household! Most homes have 15-30 bulbs."

January 23, 2007

Flexible work environments

Some of the nation's leading employers are throwing out the old rule book and experimenting with flexible work arrangements in an effort to attract, retain, and motivate the best employees. Here are a few related stories we noted this week:

Smashing the Clock by Michelle Conlin, Business Week Online:

"At most companies, going AWOL during daylight hours would be grounds for a pink slip. Not at Best Buy. The nation's leading electronics retailer has embarked on a radical--if risky--experiment to transform a culture once known for killer hours and herd-riding bosses. The endeavor, called ROWE, for "results-only work environment," seeks to demolish decades-old business dogma that equates physical presence with productivity. The goal at Best Buy is to judge performance on output instead of hours.

Hence workers pulling into the company's amenity-packed headquarters at 2 p.m. aren't considered late. Nor are those pulling out at 2 p.m. seen as leaving early. There are no schedules. No mandatory meetings. No impression-management hustles. Work is no longer a place where you go, but something you do. It's O.K. to take conference calls while you hunt, collaborate from your lakeside cabin, or log on after dinner so you can spend the afternoon with your kid."

Work less, gain more, an article in Management-Issues:

"Offering key employees the opportunity to work fewer hours at reduced pay and benefits might seem like heresy—particularly in U.S. corporations. But a new study has revealed that some household name employers have woken up to the very real benefits that such flexibility can bring.

According to Dr. Ellen Ernst Kossek of Michigan State University's School of Labor and Industrial Relations, flexible work schedules that offer reduced workloads could be a key way of attracting, retaining and motivating top-performing employees. She and colleague Mary Dean Lee of McGill University in Montreal looked at a number of American and Canadian firms that had been experimenting with reducing workloads for at least six years.
Their study included such big names as IBM, Starbucks, Deloitte & Touche and General Mills, where they talked to employees, managers and executives to get their thoughts on how the arrangements were working. Kossek says the study showed that reduced-load work arrangements can reap several key benefits for employers, including greater productivity, less turnover and cost savings."

Most Women Aren't 'Opting Out' of the Work Force, Simmons Study Finds - Women are Leading the Way to a New Career Model - a press release discusses this recent study:

"Noting that more than 60 percent of the women surveyed said they would be more loyal and "go the extra mile" for an organization that offered flexible work arrangements, Shapiro said that organizations can benefit significantly by encouraging flexible work arrangements for women and men.

"There's a workforce shortage on the horizon," she said, "and flexible work arrangements may be the main strategic advance in the coming decades in attracting and retaining male and female essential talent."

January 19, 2007

Short takes: Avoiding mistakes in hiring, FMLA, cell phone policies, the lighter side

George Kittredge of Labor and Employment Law offers seven personnel policies to avoid when hiring.

Tracey Levy at Human Resource Executive Online answers some reader questions about employer obligations under the Family and Medical Leave Act.

Susan M. Heatherfield of Human Resources at About.com offers a cell phone use sample policy.

Liz Ryan of BusinessWeek.com offers five practical tips for dealing with the coworker who is constantly complaining about the boss.

Earlier this month, we discussed seasonal affective disorder (SAD) in the workplace. We just recently came upon a discussion about Seasonal Affective Disorder and light therapy, and how light therapy can be useful in addressing other issues such as jet lag and shift work.

A new survey by Staples reveals some important information about managers. This is the kind of information we all need!

The office can be a dangerous place: When office supplies attack

January 17, 2007

Financial stress comes to work

Did you know that it takes 40 years to pay off a credit card debt of $5000 if you pay only the minimum payment on an account with 17% interest? I didn’t and most people don’t. Few of us realize the impact of using the credit we’ve so freely been given by the credit card companies. Many working individuals, if they budget at all, base their financial plan on what their monthly bill obligation will be rather than their total debt load. Credit cards are easy to get, companies raise the credit limit at will and with low monthly payments and longer term loans for cars and mortgages, a family can easily dig a deep hole.

January is a time when we see many employees stressed because they overspent during the holiday season, and the reality of their debt situation is now clear and frightening. Problems related to financial difficulties account for 25% of the calls we get at the EAP and, when we dig deeper into other problems such as relationship conflict, we often find debt problems there too.

As with most personal difficulties, financial stress shows up in the workplace in several ways and the HR Director should be ready with resources and advice as well as clear understanding of company policy. Employees may find their way to your offices with troubling stories and a dire need for cash.

Employees with debt problems may ask for advances on pay or loans from the company. Very often employees will ask coworkers for small loans, for lunch money or money for their childcare. Pilfering materials from the office for kids who need school supplies is another way strapped employees sometimes try solve financial stress. In the most desperate cases there is theft and fraud. Even if an employee is not asking for money or help, he or she may be getting calls at work from creditors. This kind of distraction is difficult to ignore.

DebtAdvice.org is a great comprehensive resource for anyone who needs to understand more about how to manage money. There is education as well as support available for the struggling individual.

There seems to be loads of tips for managing spending on the web. I found Ten Resolutions to Trim Spending and Reduce Financial Stress offered by a credit union that is practical and sound advice.

In the next few days, I’ll continue to research resources and post again with links for you and your employees.

January 12, 2007

Short takes: NY law, employment trends, happiness at work, and "by the numbers"

NY public sector employers, take note - Diane Pfadenhauer of Strategic HR Lawyer covers the essentials of the New York Workplace Violence Prevention Law which affects public sector employers in New York State beginning on March 7, 2007. The Law is designed "to ensure that the risk of workplace assaults and homicides are regularly evaluated by public employers and that workplace violence protection programs are implemented to prevent and minimize the hazard to public employees."

Happiness pays off - Thanks to The Chief Happiness Officer for pointing us to a BBC article which discusses the importance of happiness at work: "Forget salary, location, prospects - happiness is the new weapon in the drive to recruit the best and brightest new workers." In an accompanying chart, the article lists the 10 things that make us happy at work:

  • Friendly supportive colleagues
  • Enjoyable work
  • Good boss or manager
  • Good work/life balance
  • Varied work
  • Doing something worthwhile
  • Making a difference
  • Part of a successful team
  • Achievements recognised
  • Competitive salary
Is the pendulum swinging? - Michael W. Fox of Jottings By An Employer's Lawyer notes that long-time employement law practitioners know that how the law is interpreted tends to swing back and one forth from one side to another just like a pendulum, and cites examples that he has recently noted that would indicate this swing is in progress.

Buckle up - According to a recent national survey by Yahoo HotJobs, employers could be in for a bumpy ride this year. In an online survey of 5,331 workers, 45 percent of the participants indicated they plan to change jobs in 2007. Only about one-third were so satisfied with their current position they were not expecting to look.(via The HR Lawyer's Blog).

By the numbers
Employment Laws - The 10 Most Common Mistakes Made By Employers from George Kittredge of Labor and Employment Law Blog

Top 10 Stupid Hiring Mistakes by Nick Corcodilos from Ask the Headhunter

10 Toughest Career Dilemmas Solved - With advice on everything from how to get a raise, to where the tech jobs are now, to the best way to get a rude co-worker to shut up, here are excerpts from Fortune's Anne Fisher's top Ask Annie columns of the year.

100 Best Companies To Work for
-The updated list for 2007 from Fortune. Related: What makes a job great, from Workplace Fairness.

January 9, 2007

Cool tools and business bookmarks

TradePub.com - Why pay for trade publications if you can get them free? At TradePub, qualified professionals can subscribe to free trade publications and technical documents. Browse by industry and geographic eligibility to find the titles that best match your skills and interests, then simply complete and submit an application form. Some publications offer generous trial subscriptions, while others offer ongoing free subscriptions. There are a variety topics - here's a quick link to the available Human Resources publications.

Benchmark your business - Ever wonder how are you doing compared to others in your industry? BizStats is an interactive site offers small to mid-size organizations instant access to useful financial ratios, business statistics and benchmarks. Simply select your industry and enter your revenue to determine if your expenses are above or below national industry averages. The site also offers links to dozens of statistics for various industries.

Quick MBA - Been putting off enrolling in that MBA program? In the interim, pay a visit to Quick MBA. The site is self-described as an online knowledge resource for business administration operated by the Internet Center for Management and Business Administration, Inc. It's a very handy reference tool!

Acronym Finder - Awash in industry jargon and pesky acronyms? The HR field is notorious for an alphabet soup of abbreviations and acronyms - this invaluable resource offers some welcome relief.

Newspapers24 - Need to find the local newspapers for your regional offices to submit a job ad or keep in touch with local headlines? This site is your one-stop shop, linking to 12,000 newspapers worldwide.

January 4, 2007

HR humor: work excuses, cheap bosses, on-the-job exorcisms, and statistics

When it comes to work absurdities, we ascribe to an equal opportunity philosophy - so in today's post, we are highlighting some stories that take both bosses and employees to task.

"I accidentally flushed my keys down the toilet" - Heard any good excuses for why an employee can't come to work lately? We're sure you have. Kathy Gurchiek compiled some of the best excuses that hiring managers polled by SHRM heard in 2006 in an article entitled Runaway horses, charging buffalo kept workers home in '06. The list is amusing, with excuses ranging from being locked in a restroom stall to being cornered by a snake. But some seem almost reasonable. For example, post-holiday, I can definitely relate to this one: "I'm too fat to get into my work pants." Have you heard any unique excuses lately? Feel free to add them to the comments.

Bah, humbug - We missed Slate magazine's pre-Christmas announcement about the winners in the Corporate Scrooge Contest, but think the article about America's worst office Christmas parties, gifts, and bonuses is worth posting even at this late date. Maybe some of the winners can have a second chance to show their employees some love on Valentine's Day.

A word to the wise - Workplace Prof Blog offers this sensible advice: Don't perform exorcisms at work ... anointing your demonically-possessed colleague's cubicle with olive oil might get you fired, and the courts are unlikely to be sympathetic to your religious discrimination suit.

Lies, damn lies, and statistics - Need some statistics for your boss that just don't seem to exist? No problem - eSolutions data lets you create your own. You might want to test your luck out with these HR manager salary statistics in your next job review.

January 2, 2007

Snow, ice and the winter blues…Seasonal Affective Disorder in the Workplace

Feeling exhausted and cooped up? Afraid that one more dark and dreary weekend will cause you a complete melt down? As the calendar confirms, we are a long way from spring flowers. It would seem normal to be a bit depressed. Yet many of us feel this way every year as the days get shorter and the light fades. This cyclical depression, called SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder) probably affects many of your employees, causing lower productivity and missed days of work.

SAD affects an estimated half million people every winter between September and April, in particular during December, January, February and March. It is caused by a biochemical imbalance in the hypothalamus due to the shortening of daylight hours and the lack of sunlight in winter. For many people, SAD is a seriously disabling illness, preventing them from functioning normally without continuous medical treatment. For others, it is a mild but debilitating condition causing discomfort but not severe suffering. Physicians call this sub-syndromal SAD or 'winter blues.' And some experts think this is quite common, especially in the northern, colder part of the country.

What are the Symptoms?
The symptoms of SAD may vary in severity but usually recur regularly each winter. They include:

Sleep problems: Usually desire to oversleep and difficulty staying awake but, in some cases, disturbed sleep and early morning wakening

Lethargy: Fatigue and inability to carry out normal routine

Overeating: Craving for carbohydrates and sweet foods, usually resulting in weight gain

Depression: Feelings of misery, guilt and loss of self-esteem, sometimes hopelessness and despair, sometimes apathy and loss of feelings

Social problems: Irritability and desire to avoid social contact

Anxiety: Tension and inability to tolerate stress

Loss of libido: Decreased interest in sex and physical contact

Mood changes: In some sufferers, extremes of mood and short periods of hypomania (over activity) in spring and autumn.

For a more detailed description of the disorder and it’s prevalence check out the website for the National Alliance on Mental Illness

What can a supervisor do?
As a supervisor or HR Manager, you cannot diagnose depression. You can, however, note changes in work performance and listen to employee concerns. Contact your EAP and ask for suggestions on how best to approach an employee who you suspect is experiencing work problems that may be related to depression.

When a previously productive employee begins to be absent or tardy frequently, or is unusually forgetful and error-prone, he/she may be experiencing a significant health problem. Discuss changes in work performance with the employee. You may suggest that the employee seek consultation if there are personal concerns. Confidentiality of any discussion with the employee is critical. If an employee voluntarily talks with you about health problems, including feeling depressed or down all the time, keep these points in mind:

  • Do not try to diagnose the problem yourself.
  • Recommend that any employee experiencing symptoms of depression seek professional consultation from an EAP counselor or other health or mental health professional.
  • Recognize that a depressed employee may need a flexible work schedule during treatment.
  • Find out about your company's policy by contacting your human resources specialist.
  • Remember that severe depression may be life threatening to the employee, but rarely to others. If an employee makes comments like "life is not worth living" or "people would be better off without me,'' take the threats seriously. Immediately call for local emergency assistance.
Treatment for SAD is varied and quite effective. Check out the Seasonal Affective Disorder Association for details and as a resource for your employees. Now if you are done reading this…take a break and go outside for a few minutes, see if you can find the sun
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