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February 26, 2011

Changing how we think about ability and disability

Aimee Mullins looks at language and the way we use words to define ourselves and others. "It's not just about the words, it's what we believe about people when we name them with these words - it's about the values behind the words and how we construct those values. Our language affects our thinking and how we view the world and how we view other people."

Aimee Mullins was born without fibular bones, and had both of her legs amputated below the knee when she was an infant. She learned to walk on prosthetics, then to run -- competing at the national and international level as a champion sprinter, and setting world records at the 1996 Paralympics in Atlanta. At Georgetown, where she double-majored in history and diplomacy, she became the first double amputee to compete in NCAA Division 1 track and field. She has built a career as a model, an actor and an activist for women, sports and the next generation of prosthetics.

For more on remarkable Aimee, see her Ted Talks biography, as well as this fascinating video: Aimee Mullins and her 12 pairs of legs

February 20, 2011

News Briefs: leadership, guns, pot, jargon, court rulings & more

Leadership - Richard Branson shares his thoughts on empowering employees to break the rules. The founder of the Virgin Group and companies such as Virgin Atlantic, Virgin America, Virgin Mobile and Virgin Active, regularly shares his thoughts on various aspects of leadership at Entrepreneur - you can see an archive of his articles, which range from taking chances to effectively harnessing social media.

The big picture - Do your employees understand your organization's mission, goals, and strategic plan? Do they get the big picture? Dan McCarthy says that a leadership failure to impart and communicate the "big picture" can result in a team that under delivers, that works on the wrong things, that makes poor decisions, or that is demoralized. He offers 5 questions to test understanding of strategy and the big picture.

Guns on TX campuses - Texas could soon become the second state (Utah was the first) to give students and professors the right to carry guns on campus if a recent measure put forth by the Texas House passes the Senate, as is expected. "Similar firearms measures have been proposed in about a dozen other states, but all face strong opposition, especially from college leaders. In Oklahoma, all 25 public college and university presidents declared their opposition to a concealed carry proposal."

Medical marijuana - Last week, Michigan court rulings dealt a double blow to medical marijuana. One of the Michigan rulings upheld the firing of a Walmart employee who had been proscribed the drug to control symptoms of his brain cancer. Expect to see more court rulings on the intersection of medical marijuana and the workplace. As of now, 15 states and DC have enacted laws to legalize medical marijuana and another 9 have pending legislation dealing with legalization.

Bankruptcy and employment - Can you refuse to hire someone who had a prior bankruptcy? Yes, if you are in in Delaware, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and the Virgin Islands, according to a recent ruling by the U.S. 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals, which ruled in Rea v. Federated Investors that it's legal for a private employer to refuse to hire someone based on a bankruptcy. But experts suggest that just because you can doesn't mean you should. Employment law attorneys suggest taking care if employing bankruptcy checks in the pre-hire background screening process, particularly in this time of financial stress. Also note: "The rule does not apply to government agencies, which are not allowed to reject an applicant because of bankruptcy. In addition, it's illegal for a public or private employer to fire an employee who files for bankruptcy, say attorneys."

Job market - According to a Labor Department report assessing job trends, as of December, nearly five unemployed workers for every job opening. And a rather worrisome trend line shows that advertised job openings and actual new hires are diverging.

FMLA Abuse - In SHRM, Dolly Clabault, J.J. Keller & Associates Inc. offers tips for minimizing the abuse of FMLA. Many of the excellent suggestions revolve around knowing the law, training managers in the basics of the law, and documenting and administering absences appropriately and consistently.

Telecommuting can save money - Did you know there was a national Telework Week? We didn't, so we are a bit late in acknowledging, but the Telework Research Network suggests that by adopting a model in which companies allow workers to work from home one day of the week, a savings of as much as $6,500 per once-a-week teleworker worker could be realized. To find out how much your community or your organization could save, calculate the potential with their Telework Savings Model.

Taking care of business - Having trouble competing for your employees' attention in this information-laden era? In Employee Benefit News, Tina Whitelaw suggests an innovative way to get the attention of a worker while they are "stalled," so to speak. She offers tips for best practices in bathroom communications.

Jargon watch - Forbes offers a glossary of the most annoying business jargon, along with an accompanying article which encourages putting a stop to the linguistic gobbledygook has taken over America's conference rooms. We think that's a big, hairy audacious goal because business jargon is the new normal. You've barely opened the kimono on this topic, Forbes. At the end of the day, when it comes to corporate jargon, we think you need a little more thinking outside of the box to come up with best in breed examples.

Innovative workplace - For those of us who never want to grow up, we think we've found the ideal job: Take a rare tour of what it's like to work in Pixar's animation studio. It's a fun glimpse into a work environment that fosters creativity.

February 13, 2011

Taking the pulse about workplace romance on Valentine's Day

On Valentine's Day, life might be just a box of chocolates - but be careful not to chip your tooth. Daniel Schwartz of Connecticut Employment Blog warns us about legal perils on Valentine's Day - a day that he says "brings out the the inner sexual harasser in far too many instances." He recounts a series of workplace valentine's gestures or actions that led not to romance but to the courtroom.

It is precisely such potential peril that leads us to view the whole business of "work spouses" with such a jaundiced eye. Sue Shellenbarger of the Wall St Journal Work & Family blog posts about co-workers acknowledging their work spouses on Cupid's Day. It's not that we don't think that strong bonds in the workplace aren't something to be valued and acknowledged. But we question framing them with trappings that have been traditionally associated with romance.

Despite the perils, workplace romance seems to be thriving. A recent CareerBuilder survey seems to indicate that the taboo against dating coworkers may be breaking down. "Approximately 40 percent of workers say they have dated someone they worked with over their career; 18 percent report dating co-workers at least twice in their career. Additionally, 30 percent report they went on to marry a person they dated in the office."

Is there anything an employer to do to limit liability? Some suggest love contracts, a form of consensual relationship agreements, as a way to minimize the employer's exposure. (We posted about these previously - see: "Love contracts" may limit employer liability for office romance). Mark Toth of the Manpower Employment Blog polled his readers about whether such "contracts" are a good idea or not and found his readers split. As for his own opinion, he has no love for love contracts.

EEOC - Sexual Harassment; see Prohibited Practices
Sexual Harassment Training: A Must-Do for Employers

February 11, 2011

Nigel Marsh: How to make work-life balance work

Just after listing a crop of work-life blogs, we found a new Ted Talk on the topic. Nigel March, author of "Fat, Forty and Fired," offers his thoughts on Work-Life balance. He makes the case that balance is too important an issue to be left in the hands of your employer. March lays out an ideal day balanced between family time, personal time and productivity -- and offers some amusing and inspirational thoughts about why it's a worthy goal and how to get there.

February 6, 2011

7 blogs that focus on work-life issues

The New Old Age - from New York Times, this blog says, "Thanks to the marvels of medical science, our parents are living longer than ever before. Adults over age 80 are the fastest growing segment of the population, and most will spend years dependent on others for the most basic needs. That burden falls to their baby boomer children. In The New Old Age, we explore this unprecedented intergenerational challenge."

Working Parents Blog - This BusinessWeek blog posts about "...issues and day-to-day concerns of working parents, offering up interviews with work/life experts, examinations of relevant research, and their personal accounts of bouncing between separate, sometimes conflicting worlds."

The Working Caregiver - by Susan Avello, the Vice President of Network Development with AgingInfoUSA and a caregiver advocate. She describes the blog as "an everyday guide for working caregivers."

Corporate Voices for Working Families - the blog's sponsoring nonprofit organization describes itself as "the leading national business membership organization representing the private sector voice in the dialogue on public policy issues involving working families...Collectively our 50 partner companies, with annual net revenues of more than $1 trillion, employ more than 4 million individuals throughout all 50 states."

The Juggle - Wall Street Journal sponsored blog that "examines the choices and tradeoffs people make as they juggle work and family. The site provides readers with news, insight and tips on parenting, workplace issues, commuting, caregiving and other issues busy readers with families face. It is also a place for readers to share and compare their own work-and-family experiences and to seek advice and recommendations."

Work and Family Blog - sponsored by the Sloan Work & Family Research Council, this blog focuses on work/life issues, and frequently includes a great roundup of news stories related to work & family issues.

Working Moms Blog - Katherine Reynolds Lewis is an award-winning journalist whose articles on work, family, personal finance, business and politics have appeared in dozens of different regional and national publications. A working Mom herself, Katherine and her husband Brian are the proud parents of three daughters, aged 3, 6, and 17.

February 5, 2011

Will your next cubicle mate be a robot?

Will the HR Director of the future literally need screwdrivers, nuts and bolts in their workforce management toolkit? If the smart office robots that are now under development begin supplementing the human workforce, the pejorative about "having a screw loose" may take on a new meaning. BusinessWeek takes a look at the current crop of office-helper robots noting that there are currently 8.6 million robots in use around the world. "Many of them have been doing jobs that humans can't do in places humans can't go, such as plugging oil leaks in the Gulf of Mexico." But are a new breed of helper machines about to be unleashed in the nation's office settings, accomplishing tasks like document sorting, mail delivery, and going for coffee?


Here are links to more information for a few of the robots mentioned in the article.
HRP-4 could easily take on a "secretarial role...in the near future."

QB, a "remote presence robot"by Anybots is basically a videoconferencing system on wheels.

PR2 robot can do remedial problem solving, open doors without instruction, and plug itself into a wall socket when its battery is running low.

Also, meet some of your future colleagues in this slide show of workplace robots.

The idea of robots in the workplace helping with rote tasks and operations is not a new one - machines and technology have been helping humans perform work through the ages and they've been a mainstay in industrialized operations for decades now, albeit not with such humanoid incarnations. For more on this emerging office workforce, see the CEO Guide to Robots in the Workplace.

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