Outten & Golden: Empowering Employees in the Workplace

Archive for the ‘productivity’ Category

Care Too Much

Monday, February 7th, 2011

Image: Bob RosnerHave you ever worked in a job where you felt like the Energizer Bunny, Superman and James Brown rolled into one. You know what I mean, like you’re the hardest working person in your company always willing to leap tall inboxes in a single bound?

If you’re like many of the people who write to me, the only problem is that the people you work with seem to be a combination of Homer Simpson, Eddie Haskell and Rip Van Winkle. We’re not just talking about your co-workers here, often your boss seems to care less about work than you do.

Well I have a simple rule, you shouldn’t care more, or work harder or be more patriotic about work than the person who signs your paychecks.

Okay, I know what you’re thinking. If everyone felt this way then our productivity would just go down the drain.

Maybe. But at least you won’t be losing sleep over a job where the mucky-mucks are sleeping like babies.

Another way to look at this is that if the world were metal chain, then your standard of work should be equal to the weakest link.

Am I saying that we should all strive for mediocrity?

Yes, that’s exactly what I’m saying if the bosses themselves don’t care about how things are done. If you feel like you’re working in an episode of the Jersey Shore, then it’s probably time for you to either mentally check out or find a new job. One where the leaders are actually interested in creating an environment where people are rewarded for working hard and where the leadership models this behavior.

To quote Charles DeGaulle, “The graveyard is full of indispensable men.”

That’s the problem. So many people are sweating, losing sleep and worrying when the people above them don’t share this level of passion, commitment or engagement. We should have a Surgeon General’s report on how dangerous this is to your health. Because it is. Not only for you, but for all the people who love you away from the job.

If during the 60’s the phrase was “tune in, turn on, drop out,” then the phrase for anyone struggling in a job where you seem to care more than your boss, the mantra should be, “tune out, turn away, get out.” Even if you can’t get out physically at least you can check out mentally, and maybe even physically.

Caring at work is great, but only when it’s supported by the powers that be.

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. Check the revised edition of his Wall Street Journal best seller, “The Boss’s Survival Guide.” If you have a question for Bob, contact him via bob@workplace911.com.

Inspiration for World War II Rosie the Riveter Dies

Tuesday, January 4th, 2011

Image: Mike HallThe 17-year-old  Michigan factory worker who was the inspiration for the iconic World War II Rosie the Riveter, “We Can Do It” poster, died Dec. 26 in Lansing, Mich. Geraldine Doyle was  86.

According to a Washington Post obituary, Doyle was on the job in a metal factory just a few weeks after graduating from high school in 1942 when a United Press International (UPI) photographer shot a picture of  her leaning over a piece of machinery and wearing a red and white polka-dot bandanna over her hair.

Westinghouse Corp. commissioned artist J. Howard Miller to produce several morale-boosting posters for display inside its buildings. The project was funded by the government as a way to motivate workers and perhaps recruit new ones for the war effort.

Smitten with the UPI photo, Miller reportedly was said to have decided to base one of his posters on the anonymous, slender metal worker—Doyle.

The poster and the name “Rosie the Riveter” came to symbolize the millions of women who entered the World War II workforce and who were especially instrumental in the war industries—shipyards, munitions plants and airplane factories—that had been strictly male dominated. With millions of men in the armed services, women took over these vital jobs.

For more on Rosie and women on the World War II home front assembly lines, visit the Rosie the Riveter Trust.

This article was originally posted on AFL-CIO Now Blog.

About The Author: Mike Hall is a former West Virginia newspaper reporter, staff writer for the United Mine Workers Journal and managing editor of the Seafarers Log. He came to the AFL- CIO in 1989 and have written for several federation publications, focusing on legislation and politics, especially grassroots mobilization and workplace safety.

Poor Leaders Can Decrease Worker Productivity By Up to 40 Percent

Tuesday, December 21st, 2010

Mark Harkebe

As Newswise reports, based on employee engagement research by Florida State University business school professor Wayne Hochwarter,

recession-based uncertainty has encouraged many business leaders to pursue self-serving behaviors at the expense of those that are considered mutually beneficial or supportive of organizational goals.

This plays out in behaviors that Hochwarter’s team classified using the biblical Seven Deadly Sins as a framework.  While the percentages attached to each of those “behavioral sins,” based on feedback from more than 700 mid-level workers, is interesting, what appears further down in Newswise’s article caught my attention more from a productive workplace standpoint: FSU found that employees with leaders who committed any of these “sins” said they cut back on their contributions by 40%.  Notably, they were also:

  • 66% less likely to make creative suggestions, and
  • 75% more likely to pursue other job opportunities.

Hochwarter’s findings tell me that workplace qualities that some leaders might consider as soft (or at least far down on the totem pole of what they need to worry about day to day), such as trust, respect, and fairness, are not just “nice to do’s” – they have a real impact on product/service delivery and quality, and company spending on recruiting and retraining.

This is one of the reasons that Winning Workplaces revised our Top Small Company Workplaces award application for 2011 to take a more in-depth look at how things like rewards/recognition and employee leadership development strategies impact business results.  Year after year of our small workplace award program, we see that happier, more highly engaged employees lead to better outcomes, while the opposite lead to a path of lower profitability and competitiveness in the marketplace.

This post is cross-posted on the Winning Workplaces Blog.

About The Author: Mark Harbeke is Director of Content Development for Winning Workplace. He helps write and edit Winning Workplaces’ e-newsletter, IDEAS, and provides graphic design and marketing support. Mark holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Drake University.

Fewer Workers, Bigger Profits—and Endless Recession?

Tuesday, July 27th, 2010

Roger BybeeMotorcycle-maker Harley-Davidson is revving up its engines, nearly tripling last year’s profits in the second quarter by hauling in $71 million.

This follows first-quarter profits of $68.7 million. But Harley is still roaring toward a head-on collision with the workers in its hometown of Milwaukee, where the company has been a beloved symbol of the city’s gritty blue-collar image and pride in craftsmanship. Harley is still demanding $54 million worth of wage and benefit cuts, along with changes in work rules, from the United Steelworkers within the next 60 days.

Unless Harley gets the concessions before the current contract expires in April 2012, it has announced that it will zoom off to a new location with at least 1,400 jobs. Harley, like many other U.S. firms, is managing to extract bigger profits despite slow, sometimes declining sales and shrinking workforces, as the New York Times reported:

This seeming contradiction — falling sales and rising profits — is one reason the mood on Wall Street is so much more buoyant than in households, where pessimism runs deep and joblessness shows few signs of easing.

Many companies are focusing on cost-cutting to keep profits growing, but the benefits are mostly going to shareholders instead of the broader economy, as management conserves cash rather than bolstering hiring and production.

Clearly, bigger profits are doing nothing to promote an economic recovery. CEOs have little motivation to invest in new machinery and hire more people as spending power continues to lag badly—due precisely to the widespread wage-slashing and job cutting by other corporations doing the very same thing.

FORD NOW PRODUCING 62% OUTSIDE U.S.

The persistence of high unemployment—widely predicted to extend for as long as another four years or even longer—gives CEOs enormous leverage over workers. Even when profits are roaring back, as at Harley, U.S. corporations face no obstacles to relocating production in low-wage southern states or repressive nations like China or Mexico if workers refuse to concede to their demands.

Ford is cited by the Times as another firm that has managed to make bigger profits with lower sales and fewer workers:

At Ford, revenue in its North American operations is down by $20 billion since 2005, but instead of a loss like it had that year, the unit is expected to earn more than $5 billion in 2010. In large part, that is because Ford has shrunk its North American work force by nearly 50 percent over the last five years.

Somehow the Times’ neglected to mention that 62% of Ford’s production now takes place outside the United States. More generally, the environment of long-term, prolonged joblessness has created an environment where maximum production is squeezed from the fewest workers possible, the Times stated:

Because of high unemployment, management is using its leverage to get more hours out of workers,” said Robert C. Pozen, a senior lecturer at Harvard Business School and the former president of Fidelity Investments. “What’s worrisome is that American business has gotten used to being a lot leaner, and it could take a while before they start hiring again.”

Corporate America’s no-hiring mode continues a long-term trend, as job growth in the U.S. over the last decade has been under 1% compared with gains in of 22% to 38% every decade since 1940.

While corporations individually have discovered how to profit temporarily from vast reductions in their workforces and the biggest wage-slashing spree since the Great Depression, their strategies offer no way out of the Great Recession. As the Times noted, the increasingly leaner and meaner workplace has a downside:

The problem is that companies are not investing those earnings, instead letting cash pile up to levels not reached in nearly half a century.

“As long as corporations are reinvesting, the economy can grow,” said Ethan Harris, chief economist at Bank of America Merrill Lynch.

“But if they’re taking those profits and saving them, rather than buying new equipment, it hurts overall growth. The longer this goes on, the more you worry about income being diverted to a sector that’s not spending.”

The current direction of Corporate America not only prolongs the
recession. It also re-distributes wealth upward—thereby taking away the very spending power from working families that is needed to break out of the recessionary cycle.

At a moment when the richest 1% already hauls in 23.5% of all annual income in the United States, there is little likelihood that the super-rich will be igniting an economic recovery with even more cash on their hands. They are much more likely to simply add to their already-vast savings:

“There’s no question that there is an income shift going on in the economy,” Mr. Harris added. “Companies are squeezing their labor costs to build profits.”
In fact, while wages and salaries have barely budged from recession lows, profits have staged a vigorous recovery, jumping 40 percent between late 2008 and the first quarter of 2010.

About The Author:

Roger Bybee is a Milwaukee-based freelance writer and progressive publicity consultant whose work has appeared in numerous national publications and websites, including Z magazine, Dollars & Sense, Yes!, The Progressive, Multinational Monitor, The American Prospect and Foreign Policy in Focus. Bybee edited The Racine Labor weekly newspaper for 14 years in his hometown of Racine, Wis., where his grandfathers and father were socialist and labor activists. His website can be found here, and his e-mail address is winterbybee@gmail.com.

Chaos 1, Order 0

Monday, June 7th, 2010

Image: Bob RosnerBefore Northwest Airlines became a memory following its merger with Delta Airlines, it offered a moment of brilliance. The company decided it would no longer board their planes by rows. You know, seating people in ten row clumps starting from the back of the plane.

Why would they end what is clearly the most orderly and effective way to board an airplane? Precisely because it wasn’t.

Instead, they decided to let first class customers, the disabled, the kids and frequent flyers board first. After that, first come, first served. Now here is the wild part. According to Northwest Airlines, letting people get on the plane randomly, instead of by row, would cut five to ten minutes from the boarding process. By boarding randomly, the airline expected to get 200 people on a plane in 20 to 25 minutes. If my math is correct (and since I’m a graduate of the New Jersey Public Schools, you should have your doubts), that could result in up to a 30% reduction in boarding time.

Think about it. Forcing people to go onto a plane section by section creates logjams in different parts of the plane. On the other hand, letting people on randomly spreads the logjams all over the plane.

Why is this important for those not in the airline industry? Because it’s my experience, reinforced by my emails for the last ten years, that the vast majority of corporations think like Northwest Airlines used to think. They like to command and they like to control. Even when involved with a creative project, organizations want to see plans, projections, reports and lots and lots of meetings.

This announcement reminds us that sometimes a little chaos can get us all where we need to go faster. Significantly faster.

So why do corporations value order so highly? Oddly enough it all comes from our experience in elementary school. A number of years ago I worked for former Army General turned Superintendent of Schools for Seattle, John Stanford. He observed that our school system was largely set up in the early part of this century to create factory workers. And it hasn’t changed from its earliest days. That’s why if you’re like me, you probably remember so much of an emphasis on discipline from your early years.

Factory workers. Obviously these days most of us are not on the line, but rather in jobs that require creativity and initiative. Yet, our brains were trained during the majority of our formative years to value order over all else.

I know what you’re thinking, that I’m taking one little example and getting totally carried away. Ironically, I’m going to accuse you—the corporate people reading this blog—of doing the very same thing. Stop embracing command and control at the expense of allowing pockets of chaos to thrive throughout your organization.

3M, widely seen as the corporation that consistently generates the most revenue from new products, allows each employee time to work on their pet projects during working hours. Sure they’ve got to finish their regular assignments, but they are given a little bit of leash to do something outside the scope of their jobs.

Which reminds me of the arch enemy of Maxwell Smart in the old TV show “Get Smart.” It was “Chaos.” All of our lives we’ve been told that chaos is the enemy. Make it your friend, like Northwest Airlines did, and you just might be surprised at how much more your organization will accomplish.

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. Check the revised edition of his Wall Street Journal best seller, “The Boss’s Survival Guide.” If you have a question for Bob, contact him via bob@workplace911.com.

Upward Assessment of Darth Vader

Wednesday, March 3rd, 2010

Image: Noel S. WilliamsA recent survey by The Conference Board, a not-for-profit organization that disseminates information about business management and economic trends, showed that job satisfaction in America hit a record low in 2009.  Part of the problem is managers who run roughshod over morale.  Part of the solution is employee surveys that provide an underpinning for managers’ performance appraisals.

Formal grievance procedures against miscreant managers are a drastic option, and often bring adversity to the whistleblower.  But so-called “upward assessments” empower subordinates by giving them input into management performance appraisals.  Measuring management behavior, not some nebulous notion that “the company cares about its people,” will rein in abusive managers simply because once something is measured, it generally improves.

I don’t need to refer to the human resource trend du jour — I already know this because my previous manager was Darth Vader reincarnate.  Recognizing the threat to his evil little empire, he usurped the survey process, twisting it to the dark side.

Published norms, articles about workplace bullying, quarterly process meetings and retreats were all his decoys, but his ultimate subterfuge was the employee survey.   He cunningly constructed this devious document to shirk responsibility and shroud his malice.  His dastardly plot recognized that direct surveys represented a powerful check upon his unfettered malevolence.

When I started this job I was bemused that our 25-person department had its own set of norms:  ten principles that basically boiled down to the golden rule.  Everyone else in our large organization was content to operate under organization-wide principles.

On the surface, our department was a group of top-notch professionals working in accord.   It seemed we had struck the optimal balance between efficiency, effectiveness and employee moral, but why did we have a special set of norms, I wondered?   Why were they plastered everywhere:  on the conference room walls, on our manager’s door, in meeting rooms?  One could not walk more than a few yards without encountering them.

I was new, but no one on our team seemed capable of belittling, intimidating, disrespecting or otherwise mistreating a co-worker.  Was this because of the norms?  Or was something more sinister at play that the norms were hiding?

A few months after I started it was time for my first quarterly “process” meeting.  As far as I could tell, this was rare, if not unique to our department.   Part of the unusual agenda called for a discussion of our norms and a potential employee survey.  An extra copy of our norms was posted on the meeting room door, almost as if there had been a recent breach of etiquette.  There had been, many breaches, the perpetrator ambushing her victims then squirming to our manager Darth for refuge.

As I ventured more frequently into various domains within our organization I noticed people wincing when I told them where I worked.  But I was new, an innocent wookie oblivious to the dark side of the force.  I went about my merry way even as my day or reckoning drew closer.

Our next departmental oddity was our yearly retreat.  Wait a minute; retreats are for dysfunctional teams, aren’t they?   I remembered from business school they might be an appropriate venue for an organization that manufactured widgets even while marketing was promoting screws and operations was into nails.  Clearly, they needed a retreat, but not our small, laser-focused workgroup; unless, of course, this was part of the elaborate charade.

It was, and my days of blissful ignorance were ripped asunder back at H.Q. when I fell into the crosshairs of Darth’s personal assistant.  Apparently, my tendency to ponder nuances annoyed her.  For daring to suggest that inventory items need to be entered into a database for proper tracking I was publicly excoriated.  Such was her venom that several witnesses were quite shaken, a 12-year veteran of salty Navy language, I was even taken aback but maintained enough composure to suggest she read our norms.

I was beginning to connect the dots.  Our department’s public image was but a cover up, all a happy face on a veil that concealed the twisted anger of an ogre who was mollycoddled by lord Vader himself.

I was but the latest victim of a long line of rapacious rampages where employee pride and self-confidence were laid waste.  No wonder everyone was so compliant and cooperative, they had succumbed.  After each devastating raid, our resident ogre sought respite in Darth’s chamber.  Job done, she then retreated to her cube to suddenly transform into the public image of serenity beneath her conspicuous copy of our incongruous norms.

Now I knew why everyone winced, everyone except unaware upper-level management.  Job satisfaction is good for productivity so they must be informed.   Not through formal grievance procedures,  but by eliciting employee input into our manager’s performance appraisals, Darth could be redeemed, and the ogre laid bare and slain.

By attempting to hijack it, our manager had shown his repressive regime’s soft underbelly: the employee survey.   His rendition was an utterly corrupt and deceitful document that deliberately avoided questions about management, misdirecting potential blame to feeble droids.  The sham demonstrated that a targeted survey could be powerful straightjacket on managers disposed to running amok.

An employee survey designed to elicit upward feedback would shine light into the dank crypt where he and trusted assistant conspired to wreak havoc.  Executives could then expose the tyranny lest another promising career be dashed.  Powerful energies aimed at self-preservation could be unleashed toward productive ends, and that represents a big disturbance in the force for good.

About the Author: Noel S. Williams currently enjoys work as an Information Technology Specialist.  While he also holds a master’s degree in Human Resource Management, it is his training as Jedi Knight that gives him the fortitude to delve into the dark side of workplace unfairness.

Companies That Care About Workers' Rights: Apply Now to be Named a 2010 Top Small Company Workplace

Thursday, December 17th, 2009

Inc. magazine and the nonprofit I work for, Winning Workplaces, have partnered to find and recognize exemplary workplaces; those that motivate, engage and reward people. A model workplace can offer a critical competitive edge, ultimately retaining employees and boosting the bottom line.

Together, Inc. and Winning Workplaces will identify and honor those benchmark small and mid-sized businesses that offer truly innovative, supportive environments, thus achieving significant, sustainable business results.

“Growing, privately held companies have always excelled at competing based on the people they employ,” states Jane Berentson, Editor of Inc. magazine. “Their innate ability to innovate is woven throughout their cultures, including the way they manage and motivate their employees. Inc.’s partnership with Winning Workplaces is a great opportunity to fully recognize private company excellence in supporting their human capital.”

Click to apply for Top Small Company Workplaces 2010“Winning Workplaces is thrilled to partner with Inc. as we honor truly exemplary organizations who have created workplaces that are better for people; better for business; and better for society,” said Gaye van den Hombergh, President, Winning Workplaces. “These organizations are an inspiration to business leaders looking for ways to leverage their people practices to create more profitable and sustainable companies.”

The application process is open through January 22, 2010. To apply, go to tsw.winningworkplaces.org. The Top Small Company Workplaces will be announced in a special issue of Inc., which will be available on newsstands June 8, 2010, and on Inc.com in June. An awards ceremony, honoring the finalists and winners, will be held at the national Inc. On Leadership Conference in October 2010.

About Inc. magazine
Founded in 1979 and acquired in 2005 by Mansueto Ventures, Inc. magazine (www.inc.com) is the only major business magazine dedicated exclusively to owners and managers of growing private companies that delivers real solutions for today’s innovative company builders. With a total paid circulation of 724,110, Inc. provides hands-on tools and market-tested strategies for managing people, finances, sales, marketing and technology.

About Winning Workplaces
Winning Workplaces (www.winningworkplaces.org) is an Evanston, IL-based not-for-profit, whose mission is to help the leaders of small and mid-sized organizations create great workplaces. Founded in 2001, Winning Workplaces serves as a clearinghouse of information on workplace best practices, provides seminars and workshops on workplace-related topics and inspires and awards top workplaces through its annual Top Small Company Workplaces initiative.

About the Author: Mark Harbeke ensures that content on Winning Workplaces’ website is up-to-date, accurate and engaging. He also writes and edits their monthly e-newsletter, Ideas, and provides graphic design and marketing support. His experience includes serving as editorial assistant for Meredith Corporation’s Midwest Living magazine title, publications editor for Visionation, Ltd., and proofreader for the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy. Mark holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Drake University. Winning Workplaces is a not-for-profit providing consulting, training and information to help small and midsize organizations create great workplaces. Too often, the information and resources needed to create a high-performance workplace are out of reach for all but the largest organizations. Winning Workplaces is changing that by offering employers affordable consulting, training and information.

What's Wrong with This Picture?

Tuesday, September 1st, 2009

The following is cross-posted on the Winning Workplaces blog. I thought it was appropriate for Today’s Workplace’s focus on taking back Labor Day. After all, this holiday should offer pause not just for workers, but for company leaders to reflect on how they can do more with less in this difficult economic environment. Enjoy, and feel free to drop a comment below.
– MH

According to two new, independent employer studies – this one and this one – while more than half of employers are planning to hire full-time employees over the next year, over half also don’t offer paid maternity leave (and those that do provide only around 50% pay, on average).

This recruiting/retention picture doesn’t add up for me.  Companies that believe they’re seeing light at the end of the economic tunnel should focus on pleasing their current workforce and getting employees engaged – especially if they’ve had to make some wage or other concessions since the beginning of the recession.  This is all part of sharing the recovery as well as the pain with workers.

This is not to say that companies that see more demand shouldn’t hire more talent to meet it.  But while they make plans to do so, they should use this time as an opportunity to ramp up their benefit packages and other methods for improving productivity and commitment so their existing knowledge base is fully on board for the increased workload – and so they can serve as better ambassadors to acclimate new hires to the organizational culture.

Do you agree or disagree with my assessment that the above-mentioned studies represent conflicting human capital strategies?

About the Author: Mark Harbeke ensures that content on Winning Workplaces’ website is up-to-date, accurate and engaging. He also writes and edits their monthly e-newsletter, Ideas, and provides graphic design and marketing support. His experience includes serving as editorial assistant for Meredith Corporation’s Midwest Living magazine title, publications editor for Visionation, Ltd., and proofreader for the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy. Mark holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Drake University. Winning Workplaces is a not-for-profit providing consulting, training and information to help small and midsize organizations create great workplaces. Too often, the information and resources needed to create a high-performance workplace are out of reach for all but the largest organizations. Winning Workplaces is changing that by offering employers affordable consulting, training and information.

Why Americans Are The Worst Vacationers

Thursday, July 23rd, 2009

Ahhhh, summer’s here, and with it come trips to the beach, bar-be-ques, fireworks and vacations. Been on a vacation yet this summer? How was it? Did you come back feeling rested and refreshed? Good for you. Or, did you get swept up into a modern ‘American-style’ vacation: unable to forget about work, anxiety about email pile-up, tweeting every moment as it happened, and returning home wiped out, cranky and desperate to get back to the desk and routine? Taking time to unwind is hard enough, and knowing how to unwind properly is another matter.

What has happened to our vacations? We work all year, and save up our hard earned dollars for a getaway, only to spend far more money than we intended, race around, and get annoyed with each other. For families, the trends are mega watt destinations like Disney, Great Wolf Lodges or all inclusive resorts with constant stimulation, plenty of places to burn cash, and little in unstructured relaxation or spontaneous adventure.

Many are not able to take a vacation at all this summer – can’t afford it. Sadly, these are often the times we need it the most. A vacation can be created with very little money; the commodity we are all lacking is time. Whether the job doesn’t allow it, or workers are afraid to leave; Americans take fewer vacations than most other countries, and the ones we do take are getting busier, more expensive and consumer driven. Are we the worst vacationers in the developed world?

Only 14% of Americans took two weeks of vacation last year, and the number of Americans taking family vacations has dropped by a third in the past generation. The price we pay, by not getting away to unwind, is huge on our physical health, relationships, and emotional sense of well being.

Why are we reluctant as a culture, to support taking time off? Are vacations too costly to our GNP? Turns out job stress and burnout is said to cost our country over $300 billion per year. Our European friends have managed to compete in the modern era while continuing to take their month long “holiday”- are they just slackers?

As much as we’d like to think so, the answer is, no. The level of productivity per worker is the same, or slightly higher that ours, despite the fact they work 300 fewer hours per year. Europeans spend half the amount on health care as the US. They are requiring less health care, partly because Europeans are 50% less likely to have heart disease, hypertension or diabetes before age 50 than Americans.

Rethinking the importance of time off yet? Vacations are not just luxuries, or pithy pastimes for the rich. Statistics are showing that other countries who take regular vacations are happier, and live longer than we do. In 1980, people in only 10 other countries lived longer than we do. Now, people in 41 other countries live longer. Wow. That’s a pretty compelling reason to make sure that all Americans are getting some R&R, and that we learn how to truly “get away.”

As a matter of fact, 137 other countries are ahead of us in guaranteeing at least some vacation time. We have none. Zero. No required vacation time or paid holidays. According to the Center for Economic and Policy Research, 28 million Americans — or about a quarter of the work force — don’t get any paid vacation. We are the veritable Ebenezer Scrooge of the world for R&R. At a minimum, every European worker is guaranteed four weeks paid vacation by law; most get six or more.

Fortunately, there is a new bill, called the H.R. 2564: THE PAID VACATION ACT OF 2009, introduced by Congressman Alan Grayson, to offer one week of paid vacation time for companies with over 100 workers, increasing to two weeks after three years, for all employees working at least 25 hours per week. Grayson proposes more vacation will stimulate the economy through fewer sick days, better productivity and happier employees.

Keep in mind seven days is modest, compared to the required 20-30 days of vacation time required in Europe and Australia. Canada and Japan offer 10 days minimum to start. According to an article in Politico, “the United States is dead last among 21 industrial countries when it comes to mandatory R&R.”

John de Graaf is the national coordinator of Take Back Your Time, an organization challenging time poverty and overwork in the U.S. and Canada, and is a frequent speaker on issues of overwork and over-consumption in America. DeGraaf is fighting to make sure this bill is seen, understood, and pushed to pass to President Obama’s desk. He is hosting the first national “Vacation Matters Summit” conference on August 10-12 at Seattle University.

DeGraff states on his site, “A new poll finds that more than two-thirds of Americans support a law that would guarantee paid vacations for workers. The poll found 69% of Americans saying they would support a paid vacation law, with the largest percentage of respondents favoring a law guaranteeing three weeks vacation or more. Take Back Your Time advocates for three weeks paid vacation or more.”

Supposedly, the “idea” for advocating for paid vacation time came to Senator Grayson when we was at Disney World. He said,

“there’s a reason why Disney World is the happiest place on Earth: The people who go there are on vacation.”

He went on to admit that,

“as much as I appreciate this job and as much as I enjoy it, the best days of my life are and always have been the days I’m on vacation.”

I found this rather funny and ironic. While Disney is an amazing place, I am not sure it is the ultimate place for a relaxing vacation. I believe there are two types of vacations these days. One type is to “see-do-buy.” Enchanted by ads with pyramid water slides, entertainment and activities, these vacations clock a mile-a-minute pace, and usually run a hefty bill. They are fun for sure, but I am not convinced they provide the type of deep unwinding our bodies require to combat stress and fatigue. Our family has taken several of these vacations, and by the end, I am ready for a break!

The other type of vacation is just to “be,” with plenty of time to read, sleep, walk, and downshift. The recession is creating an interesting vacation trend this summer- a huge spike in camping trips and visits to National Parks. Cheap, full of fresh air and untold beauty, a trip like this is sure to help gain perspective on what matters, exercise the body, and offer time for more thoughtful conversations than, “Dad, can I have a few more tokens?” A national park, local hike or gazing at scenes of natural beauty, is a key component to unhook our nerves and reset the proverbial clock for any age, single, young couples, families, or retired.

I asked about the difference between consumer vs. natural vacations to Bill Doherty, the Director of the Citizen Professional Center, and Professor in the Department of Family Social Science at the University of Minnesota. He said,

“Given the trend towards shorter and shorter vacations, it does seem to be the case that American families are packing in more activities into shorter time periods: fly to Disney World, run around for several days, and fly home. That’s different from the traditional long road trips and the trips to the ocean where they family holed up for a couple of weeks. The biggest benefits from family vacations come from down time and family members entertaining themselves, not from crowded entertainment schedules and consumer festivals. It’s kind of like the difference between a family dinner at home and a quick trip to McDonald’s.”

Moral of the story? If you believe vacations should be required, write to your local congressional leaders and express your support. Then, carve out a little sunshine for yourself, spread out a blanket, close your eyes and relax. Think of it as your own personal stimulus package.

Kari Henley: Kari is currently President of the Board of Directors at the Women & Family Life Center. She organizes the Association of Women Business Leaders (AWBL), and runs her own training and consulting practice. Kari is an avid writer, active in her community, and an expert in group facilitation. She has worked for the past 17 years with corporate, non-profit and public audiences. Past clients include Yale Medical School resident program, Fed Ex, Hartford Hospital, St. Francis Hospital, Price Waterhouse Coopers, Washington Trust Co., CT Husky program, the American Cancer Society. For more information, email: karihenley@comcast.net.

This article originally appeared at Huffington Post on July 12, 2009 and is reprinted here with permission from the author.

How Productive Are You?

Monday, June 29th, 2009

According to the U.S. Government, productivity is the measure of economic efficiency where economic “inputs” are turned into economic “outputs.” That’s not insight gleaned from my MBA program, I’ve long since forgotten every last bit of economics that I was taught. Or to describe my personal situation more precisely, despite considerable economic input, my personal economic output has trailed off to bubcus.
 
That productivity formula came from your very own U.S. Department of Labor, specifically the Department of Labor Statistics. I encourage you to visit their web site, where even the statistics even have statistics. It’s like Disneyland for the slide rule and plastic pen case set.
 
But I’m starting to think that I may be the only one who lacks interest on this topic. Just visit Google and you’ll learn that productivity is popular. No, make that POPULAR. It’s got over 133,000,000 links. Just to put that in perspective, Britney Spears is at 82,700,000 and Death is at 387,000,000. So productivity clearly a topic that we just can’t get enough of.
 
According to our government, productivity is both important to our national well-being and on the rise. It’s important because productivity is like the coins you find when you clean your sofa, it’s wealth that doesn’t take labor or capital to create. Think of it as “found” wealth.
 
And by almost all measures, we’re finding a lot of productivity increases of late. There are many possible reasons—technological efficiencies, the longer hours that we’re all working to cover for our dearly departed former coworkers or the proverbial cliché, we are finally working smarter. Whatever the reason, we appear to be a virtual productivity machine.
 
What is behind my sudden fascination with productivity? Gallup did a survey where they asked how much time do you waste at work and how much time do the people you work with waste at work?
 
I thought this study provided a much more realistic take on our productivity—in other words, that we aren’t that productive after all. According to Gallup each of us personally admits to wasting just under an hour a day. But when asked about our coworkers, the number rises to an hour and a half.
 
I can sense that you’re getting annoyed being called a slacker, because you never waste time at work. Get used to being in the minority if you feel this way. Because only a quarter of those surveyed report that they never waste time at work and slightly less than 20% of us feel that way about our coworkers.

Which leads me to my favorite part of the study. This is so good, that I’m going to quote Gallup directly. “There are no significant differences between men and women, younger and older workers, higher income and lower income workers, employees in private companies and government workers, those who work less than 40 hours per week and those who work more hours, and employees who are ‘completely’ satisfied with their jobs and those who are less satisfied or dissatisfied.”

In other words, productivity is on the rise and we all seem to fritter it away at a consistent pace. I hope you felt that this blog was a productive use of your time.

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

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