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October 29, 2007

Halloween in the workplace

According to a recent Halloween at the Workplace survey released by Vault.com Inc., 37% of employees say they celebrate the holiday with their co-workers and 27% dress up in costume.

Susan Heatherfield of Human Resources at about.com says that Halloween is the second most popular holiday after Christmas and that celebrating it at the workplace "appeals to the child in each of us and helps create a motivational, team work-oriented work culture." She offers suggestions for celebrating Halloween at work, ranging from a themed breakfast or lunch to a pumpkin carving contest or philanthropic activities.

Of course, on-the-job masquerades are more appropriate for some workplaces than others. Mike Copeland of the Waco Tribune-Herald polled some local companies about Halloween practices, and unsurprisingly, there were varied responses. For some organizations, such as manufacturers or equipment handlers, costumes could jeopardize safety. Other organizations such as hospitals don't want to let professionalism slip for even a day, fearing that masks or costumes might alarm patients. And a local bank has two sensible rules: no masks and no toy weapons.

Far be it from us to be the wet blanket in the crowd, but employers do need to exercise some caution when it comes to any parties and celebrations. We favor the "no alcohol" at work rule, and suggest that you issue some guidelines about costumes. Here are a few recommendations for your work festivities:

  • Make wearing costumes optional. While some people enjoy participating in Halloween festivities, everyone doesn't love a parade. Some employees find the idea of wearing a costume horrific.
  • Consider charging a toll of a dollar or two for the privilege of wearing a costume and donate all proceeds to a favorite local charity.
  • Issue some basic rules about costumes. Put safety first and foremost, and let employees know that revealing, offensive, off-color, or racist costumes will not be allowed. (Employees: use good sense. No matter how clever the idea, resist any urge to wear a "career limiting costume.")
  • Discourage tricks or pranks that could scare others or pose a safety hazard.
  • If costumes don't "work" for your organization, consider some alternative celebrations, such as holding an off-hours parade or party that family members could attend or staging contests for best pumpkin carving, best kid's costume, best pet costume, etc.
  • Consider a free "ghoulish" buffet breakfast or lunch, or put special seasonal treats in the break room.

Halloween treats
Here are a few humorous seasonal links we thought you might enjoy:
How to make a Dilbert Costume - perfect!
How to build a better bat costume
How to look like a zombie
Gruesome Halloween recipes; more creepy cuisine.
Pumpkin House of Horrors
Cats in costume - just because!

October 26, 2007

Short takes: managing; planning for emergencies; politics, multiculturalism, and more

What do managers do, anyway? Casey Stengle defined management as "getting paid for home runs that someone else hits." What's your definition? Ask a Manager offers a breakdown of what managers are responsible for.

Give this man a job for a week - One Week Job - Sean Aiken is attempting to work 52 jobs in 52 weeks and blog the results. He says he will travel anywhere and invites employers to hire him for a week.

One of our favorite stops - Susan Heatherfield always has well-researched information on her Human Resources blog on about.com. This week, she experienced a nearby tornado and used the occurrence as a springboard to discuss the importance of every workplace having an emergency plan. A timely post as it coming as it does in the midst of hurricane season and on the heels of the California fires.

Health & Wellness - Nursing Online Educational Database offers a list of the top 100 health and wellness blogs.
The Visual Medical Dictionary is an interesting way to explore medical issues. Enter a disease, therapy or drug and begin exploring relationships.

Love me, love my candidate - as we gear up to the upcoming election year, it might be helpful to think about how politics can affect things at work. Scott Flander of Human Resource Executive discusses potential impact on the work force when the boss talks politics. Also, see our past post on When politics spills over into the workplace.

Multiculturalism - The Multicultural Advantage looks to be a good resource. It offers " ... a wealth of articles, job opportunities, event listings, research, tools, downloads, links and other resources for professionals from diverse backgrounds. The site also addresses the needs of diversity recruiting and workplace diversity professionals who are seeking to reach & understand them."

Communication - The American Sign Language Dictionary is a great visual learning tool. Pick a word from an alphabetized list to view a short video clip of someone making the sign for that word. It's both useful and rather fun.

October 23, 2007

Harnessing web communication technologies in a crisis: the San Diego fires

Our hearts go out to all the folks suffering in the terrible fires and related chaos in southern California. In the aftermath, there will no doubt be crisis-management lessons for employers in how to communicate with and support employees, just as there were HR lessons from Katrina.

Your technology and web staff should be front line soldiers in crisis planning and crisis management. The Web offers numerous tools that employers should learn to harness for both their public and Intranet sites in the event of natural or man-made emergencies. To learn more about these technologies and to view them in action, see Using Social Media Services to Track the California Fires. This article offers links and discussion about how Google, Flickr, YouTube, Twitter, Wikipedia and del.icio.us are being harnessed to offer real time updates, news, and resources about the San Diego area fires.

Note: some of the following links may change or expire as the situation evolves.

Nate Ritter offers an excellent example of how one individual is providing an important public service via the text messaging tool, Twitter. News station KPBS also has a good Twitter news feed.

Some very interesting (and terrible) updates are being provided via Google Map mashups, which bloggers and programmers are cobbling together quickly. This KPBS News map displays fire burn areas, evacuation areas, evacuation centers, road closures, and more. This blogger is mapping the homes that have been claimed by fire in his neighborhood of Rancho Bernardo. His blog, And Still I Persist is an example of the valuable role that bloggers can play in a disaster.

As they were during Katrina, newspaper message boards become an important gathering point for local residents to share information, resources, and help to neighbors. The Union-Tribune's SignOnSanDiego wildfire forums have logged tens of thousands of messages since yesterday, grouped by geographic areas. Many distant folks have been reading these boards to keep track of areas where friends and family live.

And don't forget—one other vital employer resource during and after an emergency is an employee assistance program. Sadly, there will be many, many hurting people when this terrible fire has run its course.

October 19, 2007

New blog discoveries for our sidebar

We've found a few new blogs and resources that you might find useful. There are brief introductions to each in this post and we've added them to our sidebar. (If you haven't checked out our sidebar lately, why not take a few minutes to poke around? There's an expanding collection of links to other business blogs and general HR resources.)

HR Metrics - The stated goal of this site is, "To help organizations optimize their performance by being the best source of HR metrics." The site has several useful components:

  • Metrics Center - offering templates and formulas that can be used to measure safety, training, benefits, hiring, and many other organizational matters.
  • Library - a compilation of hundreds of articles by HR experts on various topics, with an emphasis on metrics.
  • Blog - We note with some interest that the blog's most recent entry is on Measuring EAPs, suggesting that one standard for measuring effectiveness is to chart your EAP's impact on retention. There are several other excellent recent entries, as well.

KnowHR Blog - This is a smart and fun HR blog - it includes book reviews on HR literature, posts on serious HR issues, and a generous dose of humor, something we really like. How can you not like a blog that tells you about paper airplanes for HR pros?

HR Daily Advisor - offers a free daily newsletter from BLR, but you can also simply visit the blog's daily posting. Search hundreds of archived tips by chronological date or by topic matter. Today's post captures some of the baseball fever that's in the air: Workplace Lessons from Baseball's Cal Ripkin Jr.

October 17, 2007

Survey charts depression by occupational category

Depression is a major problem in the workplace. The economic toll of depression on U.S. Companies is estimated $30 to $44 billion dollars per year in lost productivity, employee absenteeism, and low morale. As part of its annual National Survey on Drug Use and Health, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) includes questions to assess lifetime and past year major depressive episode (MDE) among adults aged 18 or older. Combined data from 2004 to 2006 indicate that 7.0 percent of all full-time workers aged 18 to 64 experienced a major depressive episode (MDE) in the past year.

Depression is higher in some occupations and industry classes than others. Survey data reveals that personal care and service workers experienced rates of depression that were more than 2.5 times higher than engineers, architects, and surveyors. Here's a list of job classes and the rates of depression from the survey:

10.8% - Personal Care and Service
10.3% - Food Preparation and Serving Related
9.6% - Community and Social Services
9.6% - Healthcare Practitioners and Technical
9.1% - Arts, Design, Entertainment, Sports, and Media
8.7% - Education, Training, and Library
8.1% - Office and Administrative Support
7.3% - Building and Grounds Cleaning and Maintenance
6.7% - Financial
6.7% - Sales and Related
6.4% - Legal
6.4% - Transportation and Material Moving
6.2% - Mathematical and Computer Scientists
5.9% - Production
5.8% - Management
5.6% - Farming, Fishing, and Forestry
5.5% - Protective Service
4.8% - Construction and Extraction
4.4% - Installation, Maintenance, and Repair
4.4% - Life, Physical, and Social Science
4.3% - Engineering, Architecture, and Surveyors

More detailed information about survey results can be accessed at SAMHSA's Office of Applied Studies.

Managers and supervisors should be trained to be alert for changes in job performance that may reflect common symptoms of depression. While it's not a manager's role to be a counselor, managers are in a position to refer an employee to professionals such as an EAP who can help to discover the underlying reason for the change in performance. Employers can also facilitate help for their troubled employees by making basic mental health information available through health and wellness programs. Wellness programs tend to focus on physical issues related to key health drivers, such as obesity, exercise, and smoking cessation. Issuing basic information about mental health matters, such as checklists of signs and symptoms of depression in a company newsletter, can also be very beneficial to both employees and the organization's bottom line. For a few resources that might be helpful to such educational efforts, check The Partnership for Workplace Mental Health and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.

October 14, 2007

The lighter side: HMO rap, soul-crushing jobs, fantasy work stations

HMO rap - Health care benefits are increasingly complex. Explaining health care plans can pose a challenge to benefits managers everywhere. But take heart, now there is the HMO rap.

Soul-crushing jobs - Do you ever have one of those days where you feel like an insignificant little cog in a wheel? This photo essay on endless assembly lines and giant cafeterias in China might help to put things in perspective.

Still feeling badly about your job? Check out The Worst Jobs in Science, 2007. Popular Science issues this list annually as a salute to "the men and women who do what no salary can adequately reward." Next time you are having a bad day, you can console yourself with the fact that your career path did not lead you to whale-feces research or serving as a gravity research subject.

Fantasy work stations - Does your work station need a bit of a face lift? Maybe this ergonomic chair would help ease that back strain a bit. Although this nifty litle workstation is nice, too. Decisions, decisions.

October 9, 2007

October is Cyber Safety Awareness Month: 8 Practices to Stay Safe Online

October is Cyber-Security Awareness Month. We received a newsletter from one of our clients, the Connecticut Department of Emergency Management and Homeland Security (DEMHS) which included 8 important cyber safety practices compiled by the National Cyber Security Alliance. We thought it would be a good list to share with our readers, and Commissioner James Thomas of the CT DEMHS has granted us permission to do that. We've summarized the tips and provided links back to the source for more detailed information. We think these would be good tips to pass along to employees in your organization, too!

Eight Cyber Security Practices to Stay Safe Online
The widespread availability of computers and connections to the Internet provides everyone with 24/7 access to information, credit and financial services, and shopping. The Internet is also an incredible tool for educators and students to communicate and learn.

Unfortunately, some individuals exploit the Internet through criminal behavior and other harmful acts. Criminals can try to gain unauthorized access to your computer and then use that access to steal your identity, commit fraud, or even launch cyber attacks against others. By following the recommended cyber security practices outlined here, you can limit the harm cyber criminals can do not only to your computer, but to everyone's computer.

However, there is no single cyber security practice or technological solution that will prevent online crime. These recommended cyber security practices highlight that using a set of practices that include Internet habits as well as technology solutions can make a difference. The National Cyber Security Alliance's Top Eight Cyber Security Practices are practical steps you can take to stay safe online and avoid becoming a victim of fraud, identity theft, or cyber crime.

1. Protect your personal information. It's valuable.
2. Know who you're dealing with online.
3. Use anti-virus software, a firewall, and anti-spyware software to help keep your computer safe and secure.
4. Be sure to set up your operating system and Web browser software properly, and update them regularly.
5. Use strong passwords or strong authentication technology to help protect your personal information.
6. Back up important files.
7. Learn what to do if something goes wrong.
8. Protect your children online.

October 5, 2007

Short takes: great workplaces, domestic violence, overtime litigation, and more

Winning workplaces
What makes an organization a great place to work? The Wall Street Journal spotlights fifteen companies in its report on the Top Small Workplaces 2007. It's a great list, because often awards of this type focus on really large organizations, but these profiles feature companies that range from 12 to 492 employees. In selecting the companies, the article notes some commonalities:

These small businesses tend to let employees at all levels make key decisions, and they groom their future leaders from within. They offer generous traditional and untraditional benefits (how about a six-week sabbatical?). And they constantly hunt for new ways to improve the employee experience or engage employees.

And many share a sizable slice of their profits with employees, teaching them to read company financial statements so they grasp how their job is connected to the success of the organization.

Domestic violence in the workplace
In June, we posted about the role that employers play in curbing domestic violence. This week, Michael Fox at Jottings by an Employer's Lawyer asks why this issue hasn't received more attention, and points to an article an article on the role that employers play in preventing domestic violence that appeared in the Birmingham Business Journal. Here are two good reasons the article cites as to why many employers are taking an active role in prevention:

  • Studies estimate that 40 percent of violent events at the workplace result from domestic violence, and according to the National Workplace Safety Institute, 94 percent of corporate security directors rank domestic violence as a high security problem at their company.
  • According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, domestic violence costs approximately $727.8 million in lost productivity annually and more than $4.1 billion annually in health care costs.

Overtime litigation
George Lenard at George's Employment Blawg has a must-read post on the increasing trend of litigation related to overtime issues. He offers this good advice: "More than ever, employers are well advised to engage in systematically reviewing, or "auditing," the classification of employees for overtime purposes."

The wisdom of crowds
Ask Metafilter is a very popular site where members pose practical questions and other members offer answers. Questions span an endless range of topics, and often include questions about work or job-related issues. Here are a few work-related questions and threads with responses. (work warning: responses are "vernacular" occasionally including profanities.)

Really short takes ...

October 2, 2007

Gratitude: The Path to Happiness

Here's a seemingly impossible task—In the middle of your next busy day, put aside thoughts of work responsibilities or your kids' soccer schedule and take a minute to be thankful for what you have. According to recent research, you'll be much happier if you do!

Since 1998, Professor Robert Emmons of the University of California-Davis, has been studying the role that gratitude plays in happiness. As it turns out, grateful people are happy people. "People who show gratitude experience significantly higher levels of joy and other positive emotions," says Dr. Emmons. "They also seem much less bothered by minor illnesses and common stressors."

But gratitude was not a natural subject for Emmons. "Psychologists have a long history of studying things they're bad at. I was always someone who took things for granted." Indeed, his research revealed that a lot of people have obstacles to gratitude. The demands of everyday life and a resistance to being dependent on others are the two biggest. "Gratitude is the opposite of personal autonomy; you're acknowledging that you are dependent on others and that can be very hard for some people."

However, those who make a conscious effort to "take stock" of the good things in their lives as well as those who have helped make those things possible (parents, friends, co-workers, neighbors) report much higher levels of positive emotions and lower levels of stress and depression than those who are "me" centered. Grateful people also enjoy a greater sense of "connectedness" with their friends and family.

Other findings included:

  • Those who maintained a "gratitude journal" and made daily entries for three weeks experienced better sleep quality and duration as well as more energy than the control group.
  • "Gratitude journaling" resulted in quicker healing of illness and even seemed to lessen the pain of serious neuromuscular diseases.
  • A "gratitude intervention" in children produced more positive academic attitudes toward school in comparison with the control group.
  • Participants who maintained "gratitude journals" were significantly more likely to achieve personal goals (academic, interpersonal, health-based) over a two-month period than the control group.

If anger, fear, mistrust, or loneliness are impeding your ability to experience gratitude, you may wish to contact your employee assistance program to discuss how to achieve a more positive outlook on life!

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