Thursday, June 18, 2009

Are You Afraid to Take a Vacation This Year?

Are you afraid to take a vacation this year?

The answer may depend on how secure you feel with your job right now. But if a recent study is any indication, the answer may be that instead of hauling your butt to the beach, you're going to make sure it's glued to your office chair.

According to a recent Towers Perrin survey of 650,000 workers, fewer people are "seriously considering" leaving their job: 71 percent reported they're not looking for work right now, up from the 64 percent recorded last year. Clearly, workers aren't messing with what they've got, whether they like it or not. They know the job market is tough, and they're hunkering down.

How is this impacting the way employees work? Looks like it means they're giving up some work/life balance -- and not complaining about it. While 55 percent of workers said they could balance work and personal responsibilities (down from 62% last year), the report found that "increased anxiety about work/life balance doesn't appear to be a function of a change in company policies."

Specifically, the study found that 70 percent of employees say their work schedules give them enough flexibility to meet personal and family needs, which is just about what it was last year.

"This suggests," the report says, "employees can't, or won't, take advantage of the flexibility they do have and may be putting pressure on themselves to work longer hours, whether to deal with expanded workloads, help overtaxed colleagues or protect their jobs."

So, I ask again: Are you afraid to take a vacation this year?

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Friday, November 14, 2008

10 Good Things About Working Longer Hours

With the economy in the crapper, most people I know wouldn't even think of uttering the words "work/life balance." As more people are laid off, it's up to the survivors to pick up the work load and do it without complaint -- if they want to keep their job.

But it's tough. Real tough. That's why I thought I'd end the week with a sort of optimistic view of what many of us are going through right now -- work/life imbalance.

So, without further ado, here are ....

10 Good Things About Working Longer Hours

1. Your mom feels so bad for you she's started doing your laundry.

2. Your neighbors are dropping off meals at your house, thinking you died. (The tuna casserole was excellent.)

3. The dog has quit shredding the drapes. It's no fun when you're not around to yell about it.

4. The overnight security guard at work has been letting you in on some really good deals. It's amazing the stuff that falls off the back of a truck!

5. You won $5 from the cleaning lady who said no way would a sleeping bag fit under the desk. Way!

6. No standing in line for coffee at Starbucks. You're first in line when the doors open.

7. Living in the same suit for five days straight has really cut down on your dry cleaning bill.

8. For Halloween, you didn't have to buy a costume. You went as one of the "undead" and won first prize in the scariest costume category.

9. Your stalker finally gave up and went away, saying your schedule was just too exhausting.

10. You don't have far to go for your weekly groceries -- the vending machine is just down the hall!

Are you working longer hours? How do you remain upbeat?

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Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Feeling Like What You Do Is Never Enough

Why are you working so much?

C'mon, I know it's true. You're on your Blackberry at the dinner table, you get up at 4 a.m. just to answer a few e-mails and you've never been in a car without the cell phone to your ear. This is above and beyond the long hours you put in at your desk.

So, again I ask you: Why are you working so much?

Some of you are going to claim it's because you have no choice. You will say it's to please the boss, keep up with the workload, further your career or simply because you have no idea what to do if you're not working. You're worried what someone else will think of you if you're not working. Bottom line: You're scared not to work.

But here's what happens when you work too much: You get anxious. You get mad and depressed. And then you look for someone to blame.

That means you start fighting with your spouse, you yell at your kids, you begin to hate the guy in the cubicle next to yours and you begin to ignore the boss, who you hate more than anyone.

But I've spoken with some very successful people over the years, and whether they're entreprenuers or work for Fortune 100 companies, they've provided some good insight into making sure you control the work, not vise versa.

Some tips:
· Avoiding the “never enough” trap. When surveys ask people how much more money they need to be financially comfortable, without fail they answer 20 percent to 40 percent more than they are making – whether they have an annual salary of $20,000 or $100,000. We always seem to want more, and when we don’t set limits, we can get caught in compulsive behaviors, such as working more hours. But if you don’t set the limits, no one will. Determine what you need to do to be satisfied, and stick to it.
· Evaluate your work. Look at your job from an objective point of view – what would another person you respect say about what you accomplished in one day? Would this person judge it as adequate? If the answer is yes, then you have done enough for one day.
· Make choices. Pick the one or two events outside of work that are most important, and bow out of the rest. While the choices you make may not please everyone, remember that there is nothing in life that pleases everyone.
· Working for completion. If you stick to the thought that you can’t go home until all your work is done, you’re going to be at the office until your body is found covered in cobwebs by co-workers. Keep in mind that the long hours may mean you have some inefficient work habits, such as forgetting to prioritize the most important tasks each day. At the end of your work day, only unimportant tasks should be left – and those can wait until the next day.
· Something came up. It always does. Last minute emergencies do happen, but if they're a regular thing, you need to evaluate what -- or who --is causing it and try to find a way to head it off in the future or remedy the problem so it's not a continual one.

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Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Babies a Morale Booster on the Job

I spent part of my afternoon yesterday sitting in my basement as the tornado sirens sounded, so I had plenty of time to contemplate what I wanted to put in this Tidbit Tuesday as I asked myself why I have four broken kitchen chairs, a screen door from a house we had 15 years ago and a lawnmower that hasn't run since Jimmy Carter was president.

Baby on board: In the never-ending debate about balancing work and family demands, Time magazine has a story on some offices that allow parents to bring their babies to work, especially as more women move into upper-tier positons. One opponent of such pratices says it's "totally inappropriate," while another notes "I don't think a baby is more distracting that talk about Dancing With the Stars or your weekend." Still , one study suggests that having babies around doesn't affect productivity and can boost morale among colleagues.

Unmasking bloggers: Should bloggers be required to give their real names when they post anything to the Internet? That's the debate raging, as some contend that whistleblowers would never expose any wrongdoings if they had to use their real names, and no employees would feel free to blog for fear of losing their jobs. Many newspapers require that any letters to the editor be verified for real names and addresses, but some contend that some letter writers have legitimate fears about being exposed. Still, the amount of snarky and hateful comments by anonymous posters have led many to believe that if you're going to post such comments, you should have to put your real name behind them.

You crack me up: According to a Ritz Cracker Fun-analysis (who knew?) survey of 1,000 people nationwide, fun is vital to all aspects of our lives, especially when it comes to the workplace. Their findings:

• 84 percent of employed people say they have a lot of fun at work
• 77 percent of employed people say the ability to have fun is an important part of choosing a job
• 42 percent say having fun at work is more important than making good money.
A whopping 69 percent of full and part-time employees agree that their boss is fun.

Now, pass the crab dip and get back to work.


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Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Childless Workers Deserve Fairness

There's no shortage of stories being written about the dilemmas of working parents. The problems of trying to balance the needs of family while maintaining a career are written about every day, and I know I've written my fair share of these stories.

But each time I write about the subject, I get mail from someone who is fed up with all the focus being on the needs of the working parent, and would like some attention given to the childless worker who sometimes gets the short end of the stick.

I think many of them have a legitimate gripes: they often are expected to work on or around holidays because they don't have a "family,"; they often are left to pick up the slack when co-workers leave early to attend a child's event or to care for a sick child; their desires to have a flexible schedule are often put on the shelf in favor of a working parent's request; they often feel socially isolated if they work with a majority of workers with children; and they feel they are rarely rewarded or recognized for their work in helping fill the gaps.

Generation X originally brought up these gripes years ago when they were the new kids on the block. Some of them are still childless, and they still complain. Now, GenY has joined the refrain, as they face a workplace that sometimes has evolved very little in terms of flexibility (which is why many of them would rather strike out on their own.)

Part of the problem is that employers have allowed bosses to use personal judgement -- instead of business sense -- to respond to the personal needs of workers.

For example, a boss may decide that a worker attending a child's school play is a more important request than the one from the worker who wants to use the daylight hours to train for a bike race. But the result is that the childless worker becomes angry and frustrated with the boss, possibly leading to that valuable worker leaving the business.

As more younger workers enter the workforce armed with important skills, the employer who ignores the childless worker's needs does so at its own risk.

The key, experts say, is give all workers as much control as possible over their work lives, determining how and when the work can best be completed. The result, they claim, is a greater enthusiasm by all workers to do the best job possible.


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Monday, July 30, 2007

Losing My Perspective

I was recently interviewed on a radio show and the subject of work/life balance came up. I said at the time I’m not sure there is a one-size-fits-all work/life plan. As far as I can tell, everyone thinks they’re doing OK, but someone else should be doing it differently.

I’ve interviewed people about this subject for nearly 20 years, and the only thing I know is that I don’t want anyone telling me how to live my life and I figure the same holds true for everyone else. I’ve made the decisions I have about work and my family based on what I believed was best at the time.

But lately I’ve had this feeling that I really wasn’t making the “best” decisions. I was too focused on my work. I wasn’t able to turn it off any more, waking up at night with thoughts of what I should be doing, becoming distracted during personal moments with members of my family because I was thinking about my job.

I was ashamed of myself. Me, the workplace writer for 20 years, had fallen into the trap that I counseled so many to avoid. I had become so focused on my work that I was losing my perspective. I was exhausted emotionally and physically. But like a turtle on its back, I was incapable of helping myself.

Then, as it always does, life happened. My youngest son was hit in the mouth with a baseball bat. It sounds bad, and it was. (I never thought I would say it, but thank God for root canals and all the other dental wizardry these days that will keep him from looking like a jack o’lantern for the rest of his life.)

As I sat for hours watching my son go through medical treatment, I did think about work. What, I thought, could I learn from this experience to get myself out of this mess that I had gotten myself into? The more time I spent with him and away from work, the clearer the answers became.

As the days went by and my son began to heal, I found myself healing as well.

The greatest thing I can say it that my perspective is back, and I’m doing everything I can to keep it that way. I want to share some of what I learned, and maybe it will help others. I know I’ve written about this over the years, but this time it truly comes from the heart:

• It’s just work. At the hospital with my son, I watched an old man shuffle by slowly, carrying his wife’s pocketbook in one hand while he gently led her to the elevators. You know what? He could care less that I’ve written a book or never missed a deadline. But I was greatly impacted just watching the love and caring they showed for one another.
• It’s a choice. I chose to care too much about work, and I can choose to not care so much. It’s that simple. I know I didn’t lose my perspective overnight, and it did take me a while to get it back. I plan to be more vigilant from now on, and have entrusted loved ones to let me know if they see me start to backslide.
• I put blinders on. I no longer patrol the Internet and blogs constantly. I got caught up in the frenzy of technology, and it became the master. Technology can be a wonderful thing, but it can also get you in its frenzied grip, making you feel like everything has to be done right now, and you must react right now and you must always be at the top of your game right now.
• I turned away from e-mail. I check e-mail only several times a day. The world will not stop revolving if I don’t answer someone immediately, and I may just be more useful to them if I give my response more thought.
• I went to a museum. I walked the quiet halls with my son and pointed to beautiful landscapes and creative sculptures. I had no cell phone or Blackberry or any other agenda other than to simply move my feet from time to time. At first I was a little edgy – I didn’t know how to simply let my mind wander at will. But soon I found myself just enjoying the moment and felt myself take a deep breath and let go. And if felt great.


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Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Are you addicted to work?

When I was growing up, my dad sometimes worked three jobs in order to make ends meet. I remember my Mom working most of my life, including the times she took in extra ironing. But I never remember my parents doing their jobs at home. Their bosses didn't call them at home, their co-workers didn't stop by the house to drop off work and they never even talked about their jobs much, except to tell funny stories about customers or maybe gripe a bit about the boss.

Boy, have things changed. We all seem to be connected more than ever to our jobs. Because of cell phones, pagers and e-mails, our jobs never seem to be more than a heartbeat away.

Who hasn't witnessed the guy on his Blackberry at his kid's baseball game? Or the woman who can't get off her cell phone while dining with her family or friends? And, what about the e-mail that arrives at 3 a.m.?

When I interviewed Tom Stern about his book, "CEO Dad," he was quite serious for being such a funny guy. He didn't shy away from admitting that he thrived on work, and got a "high" from being a bigshot business guy. But,as we all know can happen, life smacked him upside the head. He faced a series of personal traumas that finally made him take a hard look at his life and his priorities.

It used to be so easy for me to turn on my phone's answering machine and close my office door at a certain time. But now, with this 24/7 world we live in, I find it much harder. It's like I'm afraid if I don't keep up with what's going on, I'll somehow fall behind. And, who knows when that next great opportunity will come along? What if I miss it?

And then, I try to stop what I'm doing and ask myself this question: "What is the most important thing going on right now?" On one hand, I have e-mail to check and phone messages to return. On the other hand, my family wants to play Frisbee in the backyard or watch "Sandlot" for the 10th time. Thankfully, I still have the inner strength to turn on the answering machine and close the office door. The day I can't do that anymore is the day I know I've gone to the dark side.

So, while I have found a way to balance my work and family life, have you? One way to tell may be if you answer "yes" to three or more of these 20 questions from Workaholics Anonymous (

1. Do you get more excited about your work than about family or anything else?
2. Are there times when you can charge through your work and other times when you can't?
3. Do you take work with you to bed? On weekends? On vacation?
4. Is work the activity you like to do best and talk about most?
5. Do you work more than 40 hours a week?
6. Do you turn your hobbies into money-making ventures?
7. Do you take complete responsbility for the outcome of your work efforts?
8. Have your family or friends give up expecting you on time?
9. Do you take on extra work because you are concerned that it won't otherwise get done?
10. Do you underestimate how long a project will take and then rush to complete it?
11. Do you believe that it is OK to work long hours if you love what you're doing?
12. Do you get impatient with people who have other priorities besides work?
13. Are you afraid that if you don't work hard you will lose your job or be a failure?
14. Is the future a constant worry for you even when things are going very well?
15. Do you do things energetically and competitively including play?
16. Do you get irritated when people ask you to stop doing your work in order to do something else?
17. Have your long hours hurt your family or other relationships?
18. Do you think about your work while driving, falling asleep or when others are talking?
19. Do you work or read during meals?
20. Do you believe that more money will solve the other problems in your life?

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Thursday, April 19, 2007

Job sharing challenges

In covering the workplace for more than 15 years, I've heard plenty of companies talk about how they have a "family friendly" environment and programs in place to help employees achieve "work/life" balance.
I've also read lots of nice feature stories in various publications that have named employers to their "best" lists regarding companies that support employees in achieving this balance between their personal and professional lives.
Unfortunately, I don't think we're hearing the whole story.
Too many employees have told me that while their companies have these programs on the books, in reality they feel little support for achieving a work/life balance. Their managers, they tell me, still pressure them to put their personal lives behind their professional dutues, regardless of the circumstances. These workers believe that if they don't sacrifice their personal lives, then they will be hurt professionally, losing out on pay upgrades, promotions or top projects.
In my interview with Kelly Watson of Career Partners, she told me that her company recruits executive women who want to job share. She says that by acting as a sort of traffic cop, her company makes sure these job sharing arrangements can work by supporting women (and men) throughout the process. As she notes: "Bosses feel that if you're serious, you stay at your desk."
Job sharing is an arrangement that appeals to a lot of employees. Workers who have aging parents, baby boomers who are nearing retirment and want to cut back and parents who need to juggle child and work needs are attracted to the idea.
And while Watson's company may be a solid step toward helping employers and employees achieve a work/life balance, the sad reality is that many workers who need that support the most-- lower income or single wage earners -- continue to struggle to cope with increasing work and family demands in this 24/7 environment.

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