Monday, June 8, 2009

Healthcare Reform: It Starts With My M&M Jar

Anyone who follows me on Twitter knows I have trouble controlling my M&M addiction, especially when I'm working. Computer eats my story? Time for an M&M. Editor loves my story? Time for two M&Ms.

It's tough to stay healthy at work. I mean, the stress is what drove me to my M&M problem in the first place. I've even contemplated looking into a 12-step M&M recovery program, but then I have to have a red M&M just to think about it (the red ones actually boost brain power...the green ones are for when I need to power down and just think about life).

That's why I was so interested in a story about how work can help you get healthy. Seriously? With the bagels and cream cheese for the Monday morning meeting, the double chocolate cake for a co-worker's birthday and the endless hours sitting in a cushy chair staring at a computer screen? Healthy at work? I grabbed a new bag of M&Ms and prepared to make some calls.

I talked to Roy and Diane Morrison, some really nice folks who shared their story about how Vought Aircraft Industries' wellness program has made such a difference in their lives. Roy admitted that his expanding waistline had made it a bit difficult to perform some of his carpentry duties for the company, and Diane, his wife, said she always wanted to get healthier, but Roy wasn't too interested.

But then Vought launched a major wellness initiative a couple of years ago, focusing not just on improving the health of its aging workforce, but also on improving the health of the employee's family. Company officials were upfront about the fact they're looking to save money -- the National Coalition of Health Care says the annual premium for an employer health plan covering a family of four averaged nearly $12,700 last year -- but they also want their company to stand out as a great place to work.

For the Morrisons, jumping on the wellness bandwagon at work meant more than improving Diane's diabetes or helping the couple lose weight and eat better. They have an adult daughter with cerebral palsy.

“The doctors said that we would have to institutionalize her,” Roy explained.“We told them that we would give her the care that she needed.”

Still, with his wife Diana’s diabetes and bad back, and Roy ready to celebrate his 59th birthday this summer, the couple knew changes had to be made if they wanted to fulfill their wishes for their daughter, who often must be lifted.

“We have to be in good shape for her,” says Diana, 54, who has lost 57 pounds in the last year and improved her blood sugar levels. She says she often uses Vought’s online wellness education and support, and Vought wellness coordinators even call her periodically to check in.

Vought's program is extensive. Among its offerings: health risk screenings, financial incentives for improved health, on-site exercise equipment, healthier food choices at work and a host of support and education for employees and their families. CEO Elmer Doty has lost 50 pounds and the top brass has been educated about how they can use their leadership to improve the lives and health of the company's 6,500 employees in seven locations across the U.S.

Still, it's not always easy. Says Diana: “The whole process has really been more mental. Every day is a choice. Some days are harder than others, and sometimes you fall. I have fallen, but you have to get back up."

As President Obama and members of Congress begin pounding out healthcare reform, I can't help but think about people like the Morrisons and companies like Vought. Better health and better healthcare is something I believe we all want, and just like the Morrisons, I have people I care about. I want to be around to help when needed.

Work is very stressful for many of us right now. But just like Diana Morrison said, you have to realize that every day is a choice. Today, I choose to put down my M&Ms. And I'm not going to think about that leftover cheesecake in the fridge....

Do you have any tips to share about staying healthier at work?

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Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Obama Has His Cabinet in Place -- Do You?

As Barak Obama begins his first days in office, he'll be surrounded by trusted advisers.

Before he makes a decision, he's likely to consult members of his Cabinet. He'll probably ask their opinions on everything from foreign policy to domestic issues. In the end, of course, the final decision will be his. But he will make that decision based on input he's received from people he trusts and respects.

So, who is in your Cabinet?

You may think you don't need a trusted group of advisers. After all, you're not the president of the United States, and may believe that it's a luxury reserved for world leaders.

Not so. In fact, no one may need a Cabinet today more than the average worker.

That's because times are tough. It's hard not to be pessimistic about the future, or at least concerned that your portfolio has taken a huge hit and no raise or bonus is on the horizon. But with a Cabinet in place, you not only can do a better job of keeping difficult times in perspective, but you can have in place people to advise you when times are bad -- and good.

Who should be in your Cabinet? Well, let's consider who Obama has chosen. Some descriptions that come to mind: Smart, savvy, experienced and diverse. His advisers are not wilting lilies -- and Obama has reportedly encouraged them to be true to themselves and offer their unbiased opinions.

That's exactly what you're aiming for with your Cabinet: Smart, savvy, experienced and diverse. Now, let's look at how you put a Cabinet together:

* Make a list. Think of those you've worked with in past and current positions, or others you've met through various professional functions. For your Cabinet, it's best to steer away from personal friends and family members. You want people who are more concerned with what's best for you professionally, rather than just becoming emotional about what happens in your career.

* Don't rush. Putting together your Cabinet won't happen overnight. You need to carefully consider each person, and the strengths and experience they can offer. And, you need to be able to offer something in return. You're not a monarch -- this is supposed to be a relationship that is beneficial for them as well. Perhaps you'll be a Cabinet member for them or be able to offer valuable contacts or help when needed. If you don't think you can offer reciprocal benefits, you may need to consider someone else.

* Who has your back? In the working world it can often be tricky to know exactly who to trust. A person may say they have your best interests at heart, but actions speak otherwise. When looking for a Cabinet, think about who has covered for you at work without whining about it. Or, the person who gave you a heads up about a new project that you might like or the person at another company who alerted you to a great new job that was opening up. Your Cabinet members should be supportive of you, and show they have your best interests at heart.

* Always assess your Cabinet strength: If you put a Cabinet together and then discover that someone isn't really contributing, it's time to cut your losses and find someone else. Don't be ugly or unprofessional about it -- just tell them that you've learned a lot and probably won't need to be calling on them as much in the future. Remember: You never want to burn bridges with professional contacts.

* Be realistic. Your Cabinet isn't going to do your work for you. That's still your responsibility. They're in place to give you advice, to act as a sounding board and to give you their honest opinion whether you're doing the right thing or headed for disaster. Don't abuse their talents and don't take them for granted. Make sure you always offer something of value in return, and you and your Cabinet will go far in the coming years.

What are some other considerations for a career Cabinet?

Lijit Search

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Thursday, November 20, 2008

10 of the Toughest Interview Questions Ever

My last post generated a lot of comments regarding the tougher stance employers may be taking regarding truthfulness from job seekers based on President-Elect Obama's criteria, and it got me to thinking about just how far the new administration may be willing to go when it comes to vetting job candidates.

The Obama Administration is reportedly going to check into everything from an applicant's friends, family and associates to past e-mails, texts, online comments, etc., looking for anything that they believe might make a candidate unworthy to work in the "change" White House.

Recently I was able to get access to questions asked of a job seeker by an Obama hiring manager and thought they might give us insight into how tough the questions might be:

1. "I understand you had a dog named 'Cuddles' when you were 12-years-old. Did you remember to feed this Cuddles as you promised, or did a third party -- say, your mother -- have to step in when you forgot?"

2. "We have videotape of a high school basketball game and it appears to show you wearing hard shoes on the gym floor. Can you explain this clear violation of school policy?"

3. "On Twitter, we have found you made a request for Sarah Palin's moose chili. Care to comment?"

4. "Have you ever sent a text message with the words 'you suck' in it?"

5. "An off-duty Secret Service agent is willing to testify under oath that he saw you bringing in outside food to a showing of 'March of the Penguins.' Specifically, a box of Whoppers. Can you explain this clear violation of the movie theater rules?"

6. "Our records indicate you purchased 'Guitar Hero Aerosmith' through your company computer. Are you telling us that you expect a job in this administration when you have shopped online while at work?"

7. "On your best friend's Facebook page, we found a photo of you at a recent industry conference with a toilet seat around your neck, wearing a grass skirt and holding some kind of pink drink in your hand. Oh, yes, and a little blue umbrella appears to be stuck up your nose. Was this part of a specific training exercise?"

8. "Your blog claims that you have the record for taking the most photocopies of your face on the office copier, and you're going for your third straight win in the 'burping the alphabet' contest during this year's holiday party. Was there a reason you neglected to list these skills on your application?"

9. "As you know, we talk to family members. Your brother has admitted to us that you knowingly watched 'Catwoman,' even after the reviews came out. Can you explain why you would ever knowingly watch such a horrendously bad film?"

10. "Is it true that the last time someone touched something on your desk at work they required a tetanus shot?"

OK, I may have taken a few liberties with this fictional account, but do you know of any other tough questions that might be asked these days?

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Monday, November 17, 2008

Get Rid of the Big Fat Lies -- and the Little Skinny Ones -- on Your Resume

"Welcome, Ms. Smith. Please have a seat."

"Thank you. I'm very excited to have this opportunity to interview with Blubber, Inc.."

"Great! Well, let's get down to it. It says here that you attended the University of Florida and graduated in 1995 with a degree in business. Is that correct?"

"Yes. I worked very hard and learned so much. I'd really like to put that knowledge to work for Blubber."

"That's very interesting, Ms. Smith. But could you please explain why the University of Florida says you graduated with a degree in fine arts, with an emphasis on basket weaving in Africa?"

"Oh, uh, that must be a mistake. I'm sure we can clear that up."

"OK, then let's move on. You also say that you had the project management job with XYZ Corp. for three years. But their records show you worked as an office assistant, and never headed up a $2 million project."

"Yes, I did. Well, not technically. I worked for the woman who did, but I was heavily involved. I wasn't specifically the project manager, but I was pretty darn close."

"Uh huh."

"Really close."

"Ms. Smith, I have to tell you we're concerned about some of these discrepancies. Didn't you read our ethics rules when you applied for this job? That we have specific rules about truthfulness and full disclosure?"

"Well, sure I did. But I thought they were more like guidelines, rather than actual rules."

"Goodbye, Ms. Smith. And good luck -- you're going to need it."

Right now, I want you to look at your resume. Look at it hard. I want you to find any errors, and I'm not talking about typos or grammatical mistakes. I'm talking about inflated information that doesn't just make you sound worthy -- it turns you into a liar.

Times are tough, and you're desperate to land a good job. Or maybe you started padding the resume so long ago you're not sure anymore what's true and what's not. But here's the deal: Obama is headed for the White House.

You may wonder what that has to do with you, but it's going to have a big impact. The vetters for jobs in the Obama Administration are checking everything from text messages and e-mails of job candidates to whether they've ever gotten a ticket for more than $50. Tough? Yes, but that's to be expected for the president-elect who is promising big change in the way business is done.

While a private employer may not be quite so tough, I think candidates are going to be checked out as never before. Already, employers are being advised on how to spot resume fraud, and with the glut of candidates on the market, employers have the luxury of not only taking time to vet candidates thoroughly, but making certain that they know exactly who they are hiring.

So, it's time to come clean. Here are some facts that are easily checked -- either by an employer or the background checking company they hire -- to make sure you are telling the truth:

1. Schools. Make sure your dates are correct, as well as the major field of study, GPA, etc.
2. Honors. Everything from graduating at the top of your class to an industry award can be verified with a couple of phone calls by an employer.
3. Job titles. While many former employers will only verify your dates of employment, it's easy enough to use online resources to find people who used to work with you and can talk about your past work performance, titles, duties, etc.
4.Credit history. If you are applying for a position where you will have anything to do with money, chances are good your credit history may be reviewed. Be prepared to explain why it's bad, if that's the case, and what you're doing to improve it.
5. Criminal history. Unless you're applying for a government job, it won't be required that you answer if you were charged with a crime. And, most employers are willing to even overlook some convictions if it was a youthful indiscretion or you got caught with one too many glasses of wine in your system. If you were convicted of a crimes that involve sex, drugs or theft, it's going to be tougher. On the application, simply note that you would like to discuss the issue. Remember: It's pretty simple to access court records concerning a conviction, so it's better to come clean in person and try and explain it rather than lying outright.
6. Online. First, try and clean up your reputation with these tips. Second, get your story together on how you'll explain anything that an employer digs up about you online. It's better to show you've learned your lesson rather than trying to lie about something unflattering that is revealed on the Internet.

What other issues should a job hunter consider to pass the vetting process?

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Monday, November 10, 2008

Is the New Color of Success.... Green?

When this nation was in it's formative stages, many people were struggling with low wages, few jobs and limited opportunities. "Go West, young man," advised many.

So, thousands of people headed West, seeking their fortune and new lives.

Now, I'm about to offer the same advice. Want better wages, a new and growing career and unlimited oportunities?

Go green, ladies and gentlemen, go green.

If a job in any way, shape or form has to do with energy and the environment, grab it. Whether you're in construction, engineering, manufacturing or even advertising and marketing, green is where it is at.

President-elect Barak Obama has called for the government to help create five million new jobs by strategically investing $150 billion over the 10 years “to catalyze private efforts to build a clean energy future. That means thousands of jobs will be created as out-of-work construction and manufacturing workers are put to work retrofitting energy inefficient infrastructures, and thousands more jobs will be needed to support them -- everything from environmental engineers to truckers.

According to a U.S. Conference of Mayors report, there are currently about 750,000 green jobs in the U.S., but that is estimated to grow to 42 million in the next 30 years.

Last week I interviewed Van Jones, author of the new book, "The Green Collar Economy: How One Solution Can Fix Our Two Biggest Problems."

Jones is sort of a rock star in the environmental world, and has gained a lot of support for putting people to work and saving the planet at the same time. What he says makes a lot of sense, but rather the $350 billion he believes should be injected to jump start the economy and begin saving the planet will become a reality is anyone's guess.

Still, Jones has received a lot of support from some key players, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Google's Larry Brilliant, Sen. Tom Daschle, Arianna Huffington and (drum roll, please) Al Gore.

Jones already has convinced local governments of the viability of green collar jobs, getting public funds in California for training low-income youth in industries such as renewable energy, organic food and green construction. His non-profit organization, Green For All, hopes to raise at least $1 billion in federal funding within four years for green-collar programs and put thousands of Americans to work, much as the New Deal did after the Depression of the 1930s.

“Earlier this year, we stimulated the economy in China -- not at home -- when everyone went out and bought flat-screen televisions with their economic stimulus checks," Jones said. "Then, we bailed out the banks, not the people, with the financial rescue plan. We swung twice and missed. Now it’s time the government invested in this economy and jobs and the infrastructure. It’s the green New Deal.”

If you're thinking your industry is headed for tougher times, if you believe that your career needs to be revamped or if you're just trying to come up with some new job plans, here are some things to consider:

1. Green is good. More consumers are becoming supportive of efforts to save the planet and use more energy efficient practices. Helping your employer move in this direction -- either by making "green" proposals, researching green initiatives or volunteering to take on more green projects at work can help you not only get experience in this area, but make you more valuable to your employer.

2. Join green teams. Look for professional organizations that are involved in developing green initiatives and find ways to partner with them and learn. Green work is coming in a big way, and those who are ahead of the learning curve will be the most valuable. Jones told me that he believes any college student should at least get a minor in environmental sciences. Try and cross-train in departments that are taking on green projects, or even attend green-focused seminars -- on your own time if needed.

3. Network. Get to know those in your community who will be decision-makers in retrofitting or rehabbing local structures to make them more energy efficient, and connect with environmental educators, engineers, sustainable farmers, etc., to understand how you can fit into this new movement.

Jones told me that the Sunbelt states and desert areas can be the Saudi Arabia of solar energy, while the wide-open Plains states can be the Saudi Arabia of wind power. Now is the time to make sure you're in on the next new frontier of the American economy.

What are some other ideas to position yourself for the changes coming to the American workplace?

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Monday, September 29, 2008

Can a Crisis Revive Your Reputation?

One of the interesting bits of theater to emerge from the financial bailout has been watching certain people revive their reputations during our nation's Wall Street meltdown -- and arguably, no star has begun re-burning more brightly than Sen. Christopher Dodd.

Dodd, whose presidential aspirations were dashed when pitted against the formidable Sen. Barak Obama and Sen. Hillary Clinton, was forced to limp back to his regular job on Capitol Hill after he bombed miserably in the early presidential caucuses earlier this year.

It must have been embarrassing for Dodd, a veteran politician with more than three decades of service. (He was already under fire for his handling of the mortgage mess in his role as chairman of the House banking committee.)

But now, here we are, seeing Dodd interviewed on every major news outlet as one of the key players in brokering a deal on the financial rescue, and being given enormous credit and praise for his ability to bring both Republicans and Democrats together.

Dodd is a terrific example, I think, of how to understand that just because your reputation takes a beating on the job, it doesn't mean your career is over. Let's take a look at what we can learn:

* Own the criticism. When you're under fire for something at work, don't run and hide from it. As much as it may hurt your pride, be honest with yourself and say: "Is any of this justified?"
* Be a Monday morning quarterback. Write down just the facts from when the problem started until present day. Make notes about how you might have handled a decision or action differently if you had to do it over.
* Go for the ugly. Dodd obviously had to be in on these negotiations because of his job, but he clearly put himself out there to deal with a very controversial idea. He didn't shy away from it, didn't try and push it off on someone else. He took some risk -- he knew that it was a chance to redeem his reputation, and he went for it 100 percent. If there's a "not pretty" issue at work, go for it. Resolving a difficult issue is one of the best ways to garner respect and admiration when your reputation has taken a beating.
* Reach out. One of Dodd' s key abilities has been working with diverse opinions to form a solution that everyone can live with. If your reputation at work has taken a nosedive, now is not the time to hunker down only with your supporters. Reach out to your most vocal critics. Those who often bitch the loudest are often the most willing to sing your praises once you work to resolve differences.
* Be prepared for a marathon. If you've gotten a look at Dodd after more than a week of wrangling over this bailout plan, he looks a bit rough around the edges. He looks tired, his voice a bit hoarse at times. But he's still intense and focused when asked about the issue. If you're going to revive your reputation, it's important that you look like you're trying really, really hard. It means putting in long hours, it means meeting with others when all you want to do is go to bed or have a beer (or maybe both). It means showing others beyond a shadow of a doubt that you're willing to hang in there and get the job done.

It will be interesting to see how Dodd's actions contribute to his political power in the future. One thing is clear, however, is that he's done a lot to gain one of the lead roles in a real national drama. His script is one we could all learn from.

What else can someone do to restore a battered reputation at work?


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Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Are You OK With Workplace Hugs?

In my entire working life, I can remember only one time when a male boss hugged me, and that was when I told him I was pregnant with my first child. I remember how awkward I felt, and I think I might have even jabbed him (accidentally, of course) with the ink pen I was holding.

But if you watch what is going on these days, bosses are hugging people all the time. Look at John McCain and Sarah Palin. Hug city. Hug when they see one another, hug when they leave, hug when they say something inspiring.

This hugfest has puzzled some people, especially since Geraldine Ferraro was told to not even think of touching Walter Mondale when she was his vice presidential pick in 1984. If you watch the video of them accepting the nominations, they don't even hold hands and raise them together in a typical "we are the champions" pose. No touching. Definitely no hugging.

Fast forward to 2008. Barak Obama and Joe Biden are hugging. Granted, it's sort of a boy hug -- that weird thing where they lean in and bump chests -- but they're hugging.

So, I'm wondering: Is this boss hug thing here to stay?

Letitia Baldrige, an etiquette expert since John Adams was in the White House, sniffed that "he’s (McCain) hugging her (Palin) to show the world that he’s all for her, and protecting her, but she doesn’t need that."

Baldrige is more supportive of a firm handshake between employees and employer, as opposed to the hugs we frequently see on television now. Other etiquette experts seem to think it's perfectly fine, this hugging by a boss, while others think we shouldn't even be discussing it.

I'm not making any judgment on Palin and McCain's hugging, and neither am I endorsing or condemning Obama and Biden doing the chest bump thing.

But I have to wonder if other people in the working world are comfortable with hugging their bosses, or co-workers, or for that matter, the barista at the local coffee shop. Who to hug? And when?

My career began during a period when women were fighting to just get a seat at the good old boys' table and we all were required to go through sexual harassment training to try and establish correct behavior between men and women in the workplace. I guess that's why the hugging thing has me a bit confounded -- would it be considered harassment, or not? Would it now be considered a bit of snobbery not to hug -- or chest bump -- my boss or co-workers?

Maybe this will all go away after the election and I won't have to worry about whether to hug or not to hug. Or to fist bump or high five or pat someone on the back.

I just hope air kissing doesn't become more popular. I'm definitely going to need an instructional video for that one.

How do you feel about hugging in the workplace?


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Monday, July 14, 2008

What's So Bad About Being No. 2?

As Barack Obama and John McCain try and decide who should be their vice-presidential running mate, let's take a look at what's so great about being No. 2.

OK. Hmmmm...

1. You're not No. 3.
2. You usually get a good parking spot.
3. See reason No. 1.

All right, all kidding aside, is it really so bad to be No. 2? Well, it can be kind of tough to proclaim that you're really proud to be second-in-command in this country. After all, aren't we programmed from an early age that we want to be -- no, must be -- No. 1?

Our children must go to the top preschool, elementary school, high school, college, etc. No one, after all, holds up those foam fingers at football games that proclaim "We're No. 2!" Companies proclaim they have the No. 1 laundry detergent and we must be the No. 1 sales team before we get our bonus from the boss.

But what if your life's aspiration is to be No. 2? Does that make you a loser?


The No. 2 can wield enormous power. Just look at Dick Cheney. (OK, on second thought, let's not.)

Let's instead look at all the reasons that being No. 2 isn't such a bad gig:
1. It's action-packed. While No. 1 gets to make the final decision, it's the second-in-command who puts it into play. If you like facing challenges, being the go-to person, this may be a job you love.
2. You can be a fly-on-the-wall. People pay a lot of attention to No. 1, and may carefully watch what they say or do around him or her. But the No. 2 can often sit back, observe and learn. Seeing people in their unguarded moments can be a fascinating adventure.
3. You learn from No. 1's mistakes. It's called second-mover advantage by game theorists: No. 2's gain an edge simply by observing what the first mover has done.
4.You get to keep your head on your shoulders. When times are tough, people are looking for someone to blame. That usually is No. 1. And No. 1 usually is asked, or forced, to take a hike.
5. You get a great parking spot. Did I already mention that?

Of course, there are downsides to being No. 2. In a sort of "kick the dog" syndrome, the No. 1 can take out frustrations most often on the second-in-command. Or, it can get frustrating seeing No. 1 taking credit for your hard work. And, when you're No. 2 sometimes you have to do things you don't agree with, but you have to because your boss is -- you got it -- the boss of you.

But if you can get past some of the frustrations, some of the blows to your own ego, No. 2 these days may be the best position on the field. You can be exposed to important people and jobs, you can have a real impact on a company's direction and outlook and you probably won't take the hit if things go south. If you have problems saying you're not No. 1, just remember the words of Margaret Thatcher: "Being powerful is like being a lady. If you have to tell people you are, you aren't."

Do you think being No. 2 is a good thing? Why or why not?


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