Outten & Golden: Empowering Employees in the Workplace

Archive for May, 2009

Let Go, A First Person Account

Monday, May 11th, 2009

To everyone who has been laid off I have three things to say. It’s not fair. It’s not your fault. And, you’re not alone.

Recently I took a big financial hit when I was let go from a job I’d had for twelve years. I’d like to talk about it this week in a very personal way. Hopefully my journey will help you to cope when the shrapnel hits you at work, and unfortunately, the odds are that it could.

I wrote a column and a blog for over twelve years at the ABCnews.com web site. Twelve years working for a dot.com makes it sound like I was right there when Al Gore invented the Internet. Not quite, but I do remember the strange looks from colleagues when I first put my email address on my business card, especially one guy who called it “unprofessional.”

I had a sense that storm clouds were on my horizon when my editor at ABC wrote me a terse note saying that he had “problems” with my column. Despite multiple calls and emails to my editor, the “problems” were never identified to me.

Like reading in the newspaper about a big layoff at your company, getting let go is often the antithesis of The Donald’s “Your Fired.” No, it’s much closer to an enhanced interrogation technique, where it almost seems like they bring in consultants to maximize your pain and disorientation.

Shortly after getting that email, I got a call from another editor who I never had heard of, or talked to, before. I nicknamed her the “assassin.” She announced to me that after repeated attempts to “improve” my column, ABC was going to have to drop it. I asked about those attempts, but again was told that I’d been fully informed of what they were.

Does my little dance in a parallel universe sound familiar? Problems that are never explained, discussions about the problems that never happened. Being let go would be painful enough if they treated you with dignity and respect, but clearly that is out of the skill set of most in management today.

I have no problem with anyone making the decision to drop my work. It’s just that after twelve years, I just thought I’d earned the opportunity to receive feedback so I could get a shot to renew our vows before I was shown the door. Okay, maybe I’d been to Disneyland one too many times, but I thought I was part of something after all those years I’d put in.

So what did I learn from this experience? A corporation is a corporation and not your mother. Or friend. Or distant relative. In short, they don’t care. So it’s silly for you to care. There were many times where I’d been approached by other media outlets and turned them down because I had a “home.” Now I know the true meaning of the phrase “giving you the business.”

My second big lesson was that the anger that you feel when you are dumped is a powerful force. It can eat you up inside or it can drive you to find new opportunities. Luckily for me, it led me to a much better place, Workplace Fairness.

Accept that you’re angry. Accept that you were treated unfairly. Then use that as fuel to rise above where you were before the body blow took the wind out of your sails. Recovering will probably take longer than you want it to, but living well is always the best revenge.

It was embarrassing to tell this story. But I thought that if it even helped just one person, it was worth it. I rose from the ashes, and you can too.

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About the author: Bob Rosner is a best-selling author and award-winning journalist. He has been called “Dilbert with a solution.” Check out the free resources available at workplace911.com. You can contact Bob via [email protected]

Happy "Recessionary" Mother's Day

Sunday, May 10th, 2009

Adecco Group North America’s latest American Workplace Insights Survey indicates the economy is changing life at home and work, leaving moms feeling the most stress.  Surprisingly, more than three quarters (80%) of working moms are working because they have to, showing there is likely an increased strain on family budgets due to the economic crisis.  Additionally, almost half (48%) of working moms are more stressed due to the current economic volatility.

While the majority of moms work because they have to, there are distinct advantages to being a working mother. According to Adecco’s survey, children of mothers who work are more likely to be better behaved and do better in school.  74% of working moms think their children do well in school compared to 60% of non-working moms.  72% of working moms think their children are well behaved while 65% of non-working moms feel this way.  Additionally, working mothers are 10% more likely to think their kids find them to be a role model than non-working moms (67% vs. 57% respectively).
Adecco’s survey also finds:

  • Working more: Nearly one in five (16%) working moms report that their work hours have increased in this economy.  Almost half (48%) wish they could spend more time with their kids.
  • Re-entering the work force: 13% of working moms went back to working recently due to the economy.
  • Michelle Obama most admired: Michelle Obama took the top spot as the most admired famous mom over Sarah Palin, Hillary Clinton, Reese Witherspoon, Kelly Ripa, Jenny McCarthy, Angelina Jolie, Elisabeth Hasselback and others.

Adecco also offers the following tips for ways mothers can reduce workplace stress and work more effectively:

  • Focus on how parenting makes you a better professional:  Being a parent sharpens a wide range of soft skills including effective interpersonal communication, the ability to negotiate, and compassion.  These same skills are crucially important to being both a successful leader and team player in the office, better enabling parents to navigate both domains.
  • Focus on productivity over face time:  It’s more important that workers properly prioritize, manage their time and deliver other than simply putting in “face-time” until all hours at the office.     Workers do not need to be in the office all the time to make a powerful contribution.   Be sure to set defined works goals and results beforehand with your supervisors.
  • Be realistic about your goals. Do not expect to be able to spend the same amount of time with your child as someone who is a stay-at-home parent. Instead, concentrate on making the most out of the time you have. And let your children know too. Children, regardless of their age, need to know what to expect each day and they look forward to when you will be home.
About the Author: Bernadette Kenney is a working mother and chief career officer of Adecco Group North America.

For Mother’s Day, Let’s End Pregnancy Discrimination

Friday, May 8th, 2009

Forget the fancy brunches, chocolates and flowers for a moment. Mother’s Day is the perfect time to call attention to a persistent workplace issue: pregnancy discrimination.

In this country, anchored by adoration for Mom and apple pie, it’s almost unfathomable that discrimination against expectant mothers even exists. It is illegal under federal and state laws to discriminate against a working woman because she’s pregnant or has just given birth. Still, of the various types of workplace discrimination, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission reports the largest rate of increase is in pregnancy discrimination charges.

While you’re out perusing the Mother’s Day cards, consider this: The number of pregnancy discrimination charges received by the EEOC increased from 3,387 cases in 1992 to 5,587 cases in 2007 – a jump of 65 percent. According to figures released in March, the EEOC received a record 6,285 complaints of pregnancy discrimination in 2008 and officials say they expect pregnancy complaints to rise even more sharply this year.

Why the dramatic increase? Women have a better understanding of their rights and are more willing to assert them. But there’s something else: It’s the economy. In tough times, complaints of discrimination always increase. This time around, pregnant workers are among those who appear to be taking the hit. But tough times also mean working women are less inclined to just walk away from discriminatory treatment – especially when finding another job isn’t such an easy thing to do.

Their stories are disturbing; even more so around the second Sunday in May.

Kelly worked part-time for a big-box retailer. When she was six months pregnant with her second child, she was told all part-time workers would have their hours reduced. Later, she learned that the other part-timers, both men, had maintained their hours. She filed a complaint with her HR office. She’s now seeking advice from an attorney.

Angelika had excellent performance reviews at the pharmaceutical company where she worked – until she announced she was pregnant. Suddenly, she began receiving sub-par evaluations. One hour after returning to work from maternity leave, she was told that she had been removed from all projects and her direct reports had been re-assigned to others. She was given a choice: enter a performance improvement plan or take a buy-out. She filed a state civil rights complaint. It’s been nearly a year. Her case is unresolved.

Thirty years after the Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978 was signed into law, too many women still face workplace jeopardy. PDA says that an employer cannot refuse to hire a woman because she’s pregnant, cannot fire her because she’s pregnant, and cannot demote her or dock her pay because she’s pregnant. Even asking a woman about her child-rearing plans is illegal if an employer does not do the same for male job applicants or employees.

Last month, responding to the dilemmas pregnant workers, new Moms and other caregivers face, the EEOC released employer best practice guidelines. The agency urged employers to adopt policies that could help them avoid discrimination complaints and see increased benefits to the business bottom line – regardless of the economic climate. The EEOC guidelines encourage employers to recognize that workers with care-giving responsibilities need family-flexible workplace policies.

Paid sick days and paid family leave are critical so workers can care for themselves and their families without losing their pay or their jobs. The U.S. is one of only six countries in the world that doesn’t require paid sick days or family leave. While the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) provides up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave for the arrival of a new child or the serious illness of a spouse or parent, it only covers large employers and many workers cannot afford to take it.  Nearly 57 million American workers lack even a single paid sick day to care for themselves, and 100 million don’t have a paid sick day to care for a sick child.

Employers must also establish policies that increase workplace flexibility. Inexpensive solutions like accommodating unique family situations by allowing workers to set their starting and ending hours or decide when they take breaks or lunch periods, can make a huge difference for families and have been shown to positively affect worker productivity, as well.

Here’s some advice for workers who are pregnant, just had a child, or feel they may be discriminated against on the job because of their care-giving responsibilities: Know your rights! Document everything and keep a copy of your notes at home. If you belong to a union, talk to your steward. Or, seek help from your HR office. If you suspect discrimination, file a complaint. And speak out to support company and public policies that establish family-flexible workplace standards.

Government must protect workers with family responsibilities from illegal treatment and unfair job loss. But if we’re really sincere about showing Mom our gratitude, let’s get serious about supporting working mothers and mothers-to-be – not just on Mother’s Day, but every day, with workplace policies that provide the real economic security they need.

About the Author: Linda Meric is Executive Director of 9to5, National Association of Women, which helps strengthen women’s ability to achieve economic justice. 9to5 has staffed offices in Wisconsin, Colorado, California and Georgia and activists in cities across the country.

Would You Like a Side of Swine Flu with Your Order?

Thursday, May 7th, 2009

In President Obama’s “first 100 days” news conference, he gave good, common-sense advice:

– “Stay home from work if you’re sick; and keep your children home from school if they’re sick.”

But this advice is about as helpful as being told to eat an apple a day to keep the doctor away when nearly 50 percent of private-sector workers have no paid sick days. This statistic jumps to four out of every five low-income worker going without paid sick days. Overall, 57 million private-sector workers in this country have no paid sick days, and 94 million cannot use their paid sick days to care for a sick child [Source: Public Welfare Foundation]. There is a bad joke somewhere in there about the 48 million Americans going without health insurance not needing the sick days to go to the doctor, but the punch line is tragically unfunny.

The survey, conducted by the National Opinion Research Center of the University of Chicago, found that when workers took time off for illness or to care for a sick family member, one in six say they were fired, disciplined or threatened by their employer. Another study done by Harvard and McGill University researchers finds the United States ranks at the bottom of 21 high-income nations in providing paid parental leave for workers.

In fact, 145 countries guarantee paid sick days; the United States, the wealthiest nation in the world with the most productive workers, is not one of them. We can do better.

Bottom line – employment law and policy have consequences far beyond the relationship of employees and their employers. If we want our co-workers to take time off to recover from illness and not jeopardize exposure to colleagues, if we want the ability to strategically close a few schools when flu cases are identified and keep children at home, then we need a policy to support it or else being told to ‘stay home from work’ becomes meaningless.

Preparing for pandemic illness requires stocking up on vaccines, improving access to health care and tracking cases, as well as giving people the ability to take sick days. The Healthy Families Act is a federal bill that will let workers accrue up to seven paid sick days a year that they could use to recover from illness or care for a sick family member.

Disappointingly, but not surprisingly, Corporate America considers the right to seven paid sick days a year as “paid vacation.” These are some of the same folks that are ‘championing’ workers’ rights’ to a management ordered secret ballot election for union representation. In case I’m being too subtle – workers’ advocates are championing the Employee Free Choice Act so that employees may collectively bargain for benefits such as paid sick days. Corporate America is threatened by a more unionized work force because it jeopardizes unchecked greed; and is fighting the legislation making it easier to form unions under the guise of protecting workers’ rights just as they are lobbying against the Healthy Families Act. This is a side point to the one I’m making about sick days, but I think worthy of consideration.

Paid sick days are a basic workplace standard. Or, more accurately, should be a basic workplace standard. And to make the point personal, do you want your restaurant food handler working on the day he has the flu? How about your child’s daycare worker?

It’s time to pass the Healthy Families Act. You can get involved with a number of groups. I recommend the National Partnership for Women & Families as well as the Everyone Gets Sick online rally.

Eileen Toback is a political strategist and labor relations expert. To read more of Eileen’s commentary on labor issues check out unionmaiden.wordpress.com. If you have a question for Eileen, contact her via [email protected]

10 Steps to Ending Forced Arbitration

Wednesday, May 6th, 2009
If you look close enough at an employment or credit card contract you’ll typically see some fine print sized like this that says something to the effect of, “By signing this contract both parties agree to submit to binding arbitration. Both parties acknowledge that if there is one or more disputed items that remain unresolved at the end of arbitration, the arbitrator will render a final and binding decision on those unresolved items and his/her decision will be written on a separate settlement agreement and shall be signed by both parties.” It might be confusing. But you might sign it anyway because you need the job, or you need the credit card.

Did you notice the part about “binding arbitration”? That’s the part of the contract where you loose your rights to a trial by judge and jury if a dispute arises between you and that company.

What about the 7th Amendment, you ask? Aren’t we all entitled to a trial by jury? Well, unfortunately binding arbitration, also known as mandatory arbitration or forced arbitration, is legal. No courts or typical rule of law are involved in making decisions through mandatory arbitration. And if we don’t tell Congress to pass the Arbitration Fairness Act, it’s only going to get worse.

The Arbitration Fairness Act stands on the side of workers and consumers. It will make it illegal for companies to force binding arbitration. Instead, the Arbitration Fairness Act will make arbitration a voluntary option where both parties must agree to arbitration, rather than making it mandatory, binding, or forced.

  • Forced arbitration is the reason Jamie Jones of Houston, Texas cannot bring the men she accused of raping her on the job to trial.
  • Forced arbitration is the reason James Myers, also of Houston, Texas cannot bring the Halliburton-subsidiary he accused of demoting him due to age and race discrimination to trial.
  • Forced arbitration is the reason Irene Lieber of Brooklyn, New York cannot bring MBNA, the credit card company that forced her to pay $45,000 in stolen credit card fees, to trial.

For those who want to help make sure the Arbitration Fairness Act is passed, and stories like these never happen again, the Fair Arbitration Now Coalition has set up an easy-to-use website. The site not only calculates who your member of Congress is, but places the phone call, so you don’t even have to dial the number or worry if you’re calling the wrong office.

Here’s how it works:

1. You go to this website: http://bit.ly/arbitrationfairnessact which has been set up by the Fair Arbitration Now Coalition and sponsored by Workplace Fairness.
2. You enter your name, address, phone number, and zip code, then click “submit.”
3. Your two Senators and local Representative will be listed. Choose one of them and select “call now.”

(If it seems easy so far, you’re right. It is!)

4. Review the short script which starts, “Good day. I am a constituent and…”. This is a suggested script you can use when calling the representative’s office.
5. When you are ready to place your call, click “place call”, found at the top of the page.
6. A few moments later you’ll be pleasantly surprised to receive a phone call at the phone number you entered in step two. It will be a short recorded message from Paula Brantner, from Workplace Fairness and the Fair Arbitration Now Coalition, thanking you for your help and reminding you to mention that you are a constituent when you talk to your representative’s office.

(If you’re like me and you’ve never placed a call to a Congressional office you might be a little nervous at this point. But that’s ok. Just take a deep breath and remind yourself that this is democracy in action and making these calls is exactly how we do our part to get this bill passed.)

7. After Paula’s short message DON’T HANG UP. The Click-to-Call system will place a call for you directly to your selected Congressional office.
8. An office assistant will answer. Tell them you are a constituent and simply follow the script from step four.
9. Make note of the Congressional representative’s current position on the Arbitration Fairness Act, as well as the name of the person you spoke to and any additional comments, then click “submit your response.” The info will be submitted to the Fair Arbitration Now Coalition.
10. Be sure to go back and call your other two members of Congress.

You might be afraid of these 10 steps. But not to worry. You don’t need to know how to contact your Senator or Representative before making the call. You just need to visit http://bit.ly/arbitrationfairnessact and be willing to help put an end to forced arbitration with the Arbitration Fairness Act.

Fine print: by reading this blog entry you retain all your rights.

About the author: Brett Brownell is a New Media Fellow with the New Organizing Institute and Workplace Fairness, and was a blogger and videographer for the Obama campaign’s new media team.

Surviving the Four Kinds of People at Work

Monday, May 4th, 2009

Everything that I need to know about people at work I learned in Online Dating. Amidst the dull dates, intrigue and ships passing in the night, I’ve learned stuff that you can take to work. Trust me, knowing about the four groups of people will save you a lot of pain at work.

Group One. This is the smallest group. I call them the “Whole Truth and Nothing Buts” group. These people are scrupulously honest. I’m not sure they could lie, even if they wanted to. You always know where these people are coming from.

Group Two. This group is slightly larger than the first group, but still a relatively small slice of life. These are the pathological liars. They lie even when it doesn’t serve a purpose. One HR manager commented that the good part about a pathological liar is that they lie so indiscriminately, you can usually catch them by just checking little details, like if the dates they worked at a certain job are accurate. Lucky for all of us, this group is relatively small.

Group Three. This group is much bigger than groups one and two, combined. I first was introduced to this group when a woman who was six feet tall thought that was too tall to list in her online profile. So she put herself down at 5’10”. Unfortunately the great guy she found at 5’10” was really only 5’8”. Needless to say, they didn’t exactly see eye to eye. I call this group the “Rounding Errors.” It’s not really a lie, they just rounded things a bit.

Group Four. Unfortunately this seems to be the biggest group out there. To understand this group, I need to refer to one of my favorite Seinfeld episodes. It was one where Jerry needed to pass a lie detector test. So he went to the best liar he knew, his friend George. George said, “Jerry, there is one thing you must remember. It’s not a lie, if you believe it to be the truth.” I call this group the “Self-Deceivers.”

Think about the people you’ve come across at work. Chances are that you’ll find a lot of examples of “The Whole Truth and Nothing But…,” “Pathological Liars,” “Rounding Errors” and “Self-Deceivers.” Hopefully this will help you to better navigate your workday and to be a bit more charitable to groups three and four, because their mistruths probably aren’t intentional.

One final thought. These four groups also apply to you. Yes, it’s time for a small bit of humble pie. Talk to friends and colleagues to see which of the four groups you fit into at work. Chances are good that you may be surprised by where they place you. As hard as this information is to hear, I’d much rather learn it myself from friends that I trust.

About the Author: Bob Rosner is a best-selling author and award-winning journalist. For free job and work advice, check out the award-winning workplace911.com. If you have a question for Bob, contact him via [email protected]

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