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July 26, 2010

The ADA at 20 Years

To commemorate today's 20th Anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act, Rep. Jim Langevin of Rhode Island presided over the House. This was noteworthy because Langevin was the first quadriplegic elected to the House ... and this was the first time that he had access to presiding from the rostrum, a chore that's routine for other House members. Recent renovations that installed hydraulic lifts allowed him access to the speaker's podium in his motorized wheelchair.

Langevin is one of many. More than one in five Americans are disabled and more than three million Americans over the age of 15 use wheelchairs. Gary Talbot is one of that number and he tells his story a spinal cord injury and the discrimination he faced. He finally had a chance to make a difference when he became assistant general manager for systemwide accessibility for the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority. His story clearly illustrates the difference that the ADA has made.

But despite the many gains since the landmark legislation was passed, debate about the ADA still rages. Many wonder: Could Bush's Americans With Disabilities Act pass today?

"The ADA was the first comprehensive declaration of equality for people with disabilities--ever, in the world--and many nations soon followed President Bush’s lead and enacted similar legislation. The curb cuts, automatic doors, braille signs, “kneeling” buses and handicapped parking spaces that we take for granted now were not a part of American life before then. In fact, there’s a whole generation of teenagers, born in the years since that summer day in 1990, who have no idea what it used to be like. Millions of people joined the mainstream of American life that morning, and not long after many were able to attend public schools for the first time, get jobs for the first time, even just go to movie theaters for the first time. Think of all the people you know whose lives would be very different today had that bill not become law 20 years ago."

ADA resources
ADA home page from the U.S. Department of Justice
ADA Resources for Employers from the U.S. Depatment of Labor's Office of Disability Employment Policy
ADA Guide for Small Businesses
ADA Toolkit for Employers - This resource from the ADA National Network offers various Events & Educational Materials, including FAQs on the ADA, to help employers learn about the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and disability-related topics.
Regional ADA National Network Center Websites

The ADA video gallery features several short films, including:
10 Employment Myths - Many employers misunderstand the Americans with Disabilities Act and are reluctant to hire people with disabilities because of unfounded myths. This seventeen-minute video responds to concerns expressed by employers, explaining the ADA in common sense terms and dispelling myths about this often overlooked pool of well-qualified employees.

Ten Small Business Mistakes - This video identifies common mistakes that small businesses make when trying to comply with the ADA and addresses the importance and value of doing business with 50 million people with disabilities. The video features statements by store owners expressing their doubts or misunderstandings about the ADA followed by responses from the Assistant Attorney for Civil Rights and other Department of Justice employees explaining the law in common sense terms.

July 18, 2010

Is it getting crowded in here?

Yet another reason to be concerned about the collective expanding waistline of the workforce. According to a cool infographic and item entitled Size matters In Metropolis, a magazine about architecture and design, the average real estate of corporate cubicles is getting smaller while the average employee's "footprint" is expanding. At its introduction in 1968, the average cubicle size was 10' by 10' - but by 2006, it had shrunk to 6' by 6.' Over the same period, men have gained an average of 28 pounds and women have gained 24 pounds - so we are all squeezing more bulk into less space. (See our prior post when gyms and offices collide for some ideas to make the cubicle a less stagnant, more active place)

While weight is an issue we've discussed before, the flip side of this equation is the cubicle itself. Even the cubicle inventor came to question his invention, calling it "monolithic insanity." You can lean more about its checkered past and view a slideshow of historical images in Cubicles: The great mistake, an entertaining historical overview that Fortune featured a few years ago.

Will the cubicle culture ever die out? Probably not, but the nature of where we work is indeed changing. Sue Shellenbarger of Wall Street Journal has a blog called The Juggle, in which she writes about tradeoffs and choice people make juggling work and family. In a recent post entitled Beyond the Cubicle she talks about alternative places - and oddball places - that people work.


July 15, 2010

Vanishing professions and a look towards the future

In 10 Careers Gone for Good, Ira Wolfe of Perfect Labor Storm 2.0 looks at the issue of occupation extinction, noting that more than 25%, or over 2 million, of the jobs that were erased from the economy over the past two years are probably gone for good.

He cites an excellent NPR feature on the Jobs of Yesteryear - obsolete occupations. It includes a review of a dozen jobs that no longer exist, including a photo essay and some audio snippets from people who held those jobs. One of our favorites was the job of lector: "Cigar makers in Florida and New York City would sometimes pool their wages to pay a 'lector' to read newspapers or political tracts aloud to them while they worked."

It's a nostalgic look back, and makes the point. The nature of the work that people do is changing at breakneck speed. Wolfe's post also includes a chart from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) that looks at some jobs that are currently on their way to extinction.

For those job seekers who find this topic depressing, we would point to Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2010-11, also from BLS, which offers trend information and projections about the shifting landscape in job sectors that are growing and declining. It includes tables listing the occupations with the fastest growth, occupations with the largest numerical growth, and occupations with the largest decline.

July 11, 2010

News briefs: mental health parity, telecommuting, social media & benefits, scam alerts & more

Mental health parity - Joanne Wojcik of Business Insurance reports that pending issuance of mental health parity rules, the Labor Department will establish "an enforcement safe harbor under which authorities will not take any enforcement actions against employers that divide outpatient mental health benefits into two sub-classifications — office visits and all other outpatient items and services — as long as that arrangement applies to 'substantially all' outpatient medical/surgical benefits as well." For the full article, see Employers get more time to tweak mental health cover

Survey: keep your benefits stuff out of my social media - At Daily Diversion, Kelley Butler is mystified at the results of a recent survey by the National Business Group on Health, in which about 4 out of 5 of the social media users surveyed said "... they’re not interested in receiving information about their employer-provided health benefits, or tips on how to exercise, eat healthy or save money on health care via Twitter or text messaging. In addition, three in four said they had no interest in getting this information via Facebook." She speculates if this reluctance is due to privacy issues - wanting to keep a firm line between work and personal life - or if wellness is not something they care about.

Scam alert - Consumer Insurance Blog alerts us to recent FBI warnings about phone and social networking scams. It includes good links and resources to share with your employees. And member employers should make use of ESI's tools for online safety - see our newsletter describing ESI's Cyber Safety Resource Center

Telecommuting - Business Green reports that a recent study by the Telework Research network finds that telecommuting saves companies $10K per employee yearly, or a cool million for every 100 workers. The report also points to a $6,800 per year employee savings. Where do the employer savings come from?

"About half of the $1.1m that a company would save ($576,000) with 100 workers telecommuting halftime would come from increased productivity from fewer interruptions, better time management and employees putting in more hours by working when they would have been commuting.

Companies would also save $304,000 a year in electricity, real estate and related costs from parking lot leases, furniture, supplies, maintenance and space consolidation. About $113,000 would come from fewer unscheduled absences, less sick time and from employees working while sick or waiting for personal appointments (cable installation, delivery, etc.) that would normally result in a full day off of work. Lastly, $76,000 would be saved due to lower employee turnover."

More on obesity - following up to our recent post about the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, we have another report on the nation's obesity problem from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Trust for America's Health: F as in Fat: How Obesity Threatens America's Future (PDF). Here's a bit of a preview:
"Adult obesity rates rose in 28 states over the past year. Only D.C. experienced a decline in adult obesity rates. More than two-thirds of states (38) now have adult obesity rates above 25 percent. Eight states have rates above 30 percent – Alabama, Arkansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Oklahoma, Tennessee and West Virginia. In 1991, no state had an obesity rate above 20 percent. In 1980, the national average of obese adults was 15 percent."
Financial aid - Monster Thinking recently featured a series of posts on financial planning, financial aid and scholarship advise that would likely be of interest to any of your employees who are parents. It answers many common questions parents and students have about planning and paying for college: Part one: Making Financial Aid Pay Off; Part 2, and Part 3

ADA - How to Stop Accessibility Lawsuits Before They Stop You - employment law firm Jackson Lewis on what small businesses should know about the ADA.

July 5, 2010

Point - counterpoint: do benevolent tyrants make good leaders?

A recent article in Entrepreneur by George Cloutier entitled Your Company Is Not A Democracy is raising a bit of a ruckus and eliciting some push back. The article advocates a "tough love school of management" and takes the position that the most effective leaders are benevolent dictators and that the only opinion that counts is that of ownership: "You cannot be effective as the owner of a business unless you are feared and respected by your employees. Likability is nice but not necessary. You've got to demand what you want." The author suggests eight attitudes and practices that small-business owners need to adopt. Here's a sampling: "Tell your employees: "Don't think--obey."

At Lead Change Group's blog, Mike Henry calls the article as a biased justification for poor leadership. While he acknowledges a few truisms in the article (eg, that employees must be held accountable), he takes issue with the overall philosophy that fear is the best motivator and that managers must choose between the options of failing or dictating. He draws a distinction between effective leadership and good leadership, offering five reasons why he (and many others) would avoid the "my way or the highway" type of managers.

Unfortunately, there is no commenting feature on Cloutier's original article so we cannot see any pro or con remarks that it may have elicited among readers, but the comments on Mike Henry's post are worth reading. Here are a few excerpts:

  • uxdesign.com: "I think what we’re dealing with here is less to do with management “style” and more to do with narcissism and a kind of power fetish that has been fostered by industrial age models of “management” designed to maintain the submission of labor."
  • Bruno Coelho: "Today, the most advanced economies aren’t competing in the industrial era league. They’re competing in the knowledge era league! The globalization and the speed of technological evolution has changed the way business compete and work. In the industrial era the focus was mass production. Today, the focus is personalized innovation. Today, the employee knows much more about the what, why, where and the how of building the product/service than his boss. Today, the employee plays a critical role in the way that customers experience a brand by delivering a world-class customer experience.

    The leadership style must adapt to this new reality. The new leadership style should focus on People and Results. And in this order because without People, I absolutely guarantee you that, you can NOT achieve any successful Results."

  • Dave Martin: "Moreover, they ["folks like Mr. Cloutier"] fail to grok the proper role of leadership which includes bringing out the best in people and respecting every person on the payroll as talent. Great leaders set the stage for greatness, create the environment needed for success to happen and they accept this reality: the only person they must manage to be successful is the person that will always prove the most difficult of all to manage – themselves."
We agree with Mike Henry's observations and those of many of the comments on his post. We point to a prior post on leadership, which offers lessons from some of the world's most respected leaders.

On that prior post, author and management consultant Bennet Simonton took the time to share his thoughts on leadership at some length in the comments. Because this excellent comment is buried in our archives, we take the liberty of reposting it here, given its pertinence to the topic at hand:

"One liners never helped me much in my 30+ years of managing people, as few as 22 and as many as 1300.

In my first 12 years, I used the traditional top-down command and control approach to managing people. I then changed to listening to them. After years of listening, I learned what they were following and thus what leadership is.

Leadership consists of sending value standard messages to people which most of them then follow/use. Thus we say that they have been "led" in the direction of those standards. Leadership is merely one side of the coin called values, the other side being followership.

Leadership in the workplace consists of the value standards reflected in everything that an employee experiences because these standards are what employees follow by using them to perform their work. Most of what the employee experiences is the support or lack thereof provided by management - such as training, tools, parts, discipline, direction, material, procedures, rules, technical advice, documentation, information, planning, etc.

Leadership is not a process any manager can change. It happens inexorably every minute of every day because of the way people are. The only choice available to a manager is the standard (good, bad, mediocre or in between) which he/she transmits to to employees.

For instance, the top-down command and control technique is a widely used method by which to manage people. Top-down concentrates on producing goals, targets, visions, orders and other directives in order to control the workforce and thereby achieve organizational success. Concentrating on giving direction prevents these managers from doing much of anything else. Thus top-down treats employees like robots in the "shut up and listen, I know better than you" mode, and rarely if ever listens to them. By so doing this approach ignores every employee's basic need to be heard and to be respected. This approach also makes top management ignorant of what is really going on in the workplace thus making their directives misguided at best and irrelevant at worst.

In this way and others, top-down demeans and disrespects employees sending them very negative value standard messages. The standards reflected in this treatment "lead" employees to treat their work, their customers, each other and their bosses with the same level of disrespect they received. No one can become committed to company goals while being treated so poorly.

This is the road to very poor corporate performance as compared to the results that would be achieved using a better approach. Top-down managers are their own worst enemies because they “lead” employees to the very worst performance.

To produce very high performance, swing to the other end of the spectrum thus leading toward the highest possible performance. To do this, first get rid of all traces of a top-down approach. Everyone wants to do a good job, but don't want to be ordered around like a robot.

Next, start treating employees with great respect and not like robots by listening to whatever they want to say when they want to say it and responding in a very respectful manner. Responding respectfully means resolving their complaints and suggestions and answering their questions to their satisfaction as well as yours, but most importantly theirs. It also means providing them more than enough opportunity to voice their complaints, suggestions and questions. Spend your time making your support reflect the very highest standards of all values by resolving their complaints and suggestions thus "leading" toward the very highest standards.

And realize that the highest quality and most respectful "direction" is the very least since no one likes to take orders or really needs them except in emergency situations. Anyone routinely needing extensive orders should not be on your team.

This treatment leads employees to treat their work, their customers, each other and their bosses with great respect. Listening and responding respectfully also inspires them to unleash their full potential of creativity, innovation and productivity on their work giving them great pride in it and causes them to love to come to work."

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