Friday, March 27, 2015

Goodbye, Girls: Technology Conference Boots "Booth Babes"

Bringing in very attractive people to hawk products has become a common sales tactic at conferences. Now one major technology conference has apparently decided it's time to say goodbye to the "booth babe." Oh no, now everyone will have to pay attention to the products!

Okay, let's call these very pretty people "promotional models" instead, which is the proper terminology from what I can gather? Anyway, Network World reports on an impending technology conference that no longer wants such an attractive distraction standing front and center on the conference floor.

It's a brave new world, technology conference attendees! You won't be able to sell products and sign deals on the power of unattainable pretty people anymore -- at least not at this particular conference? Think less sex appeal, more SQL server. Let's focus on the technology, people! Zzzzz...

Now the question is, will other major conferences -- in technology, automotive, the UFC, and other sectors -- eventually follow suit by requiring attractive "promotional models" to wear business suits instead of tight body suits, or whatever? I guess we'll see if it turns into a larger conference industry trend over the next few years.

In the meantime, you'd better pretty up your product lines, marketing teams! You know, just in case. Well, at least we'll always have conference swag, right?

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Ahh-Choo! Finding Workplace Respect For Spring Allergies

Springtime is here, which means your allergy-prone co-worker is going to be sniffling, sneezing and wheezing all the way to quitting time. Oh, sniff, sniff.

Yes, allergy season is upon us, and it has real-world impacts on the workplace. One study estimated that nearly 7 million U.S. workdays are lost each year to hay fever allergies, because employees are either absent or present but less productive. Let's refer to the latter as "pollen-induced presenteeism."

The mind-blowing price tag amid all this springtime nose blowing? Employers can lose more than $600 million in annual productivity to seasonal allergies. That's nothing to sneeze at, is it?

Maybe you're lucky never to have folded like a deck chair in the face of pollen season. Sure, your nose is a little bit runny and your eyes were vaguely itchy the other day, but you're not sure if allergies were to blame. Maybe you simply had a stray eyelash in your eye, or a piece of dust? Whatever it is, Zyrtec is for other people.

Namely, it's for the co-worker sitting across from you today with watering eyes, a rough, red nose, a bonus-sized box of tissues, a raging sleep deficit, and a supply of 12-hour generic, over-the-counter allergy medication front and center on his desk.

You try to feel sympathetic as this co-worker updates you on the pollen count and says he slept a total of three hours last night because he couldn't stop sneezing. You try to be forgiving that he can't seem to sit through a status update meeting without wheezing. You hold down the fort while he empties his trash can full of used Kleenex. Again.

A few weeks into your co-worker's pollen party, however, you might feel like your patience is running a little bit thin. You can't quite understand how pollen could still be impacting your co-worker to this extent.

Now please stop for just a second to imagine how your sneezing, wheezing co-worker feels.

He feels like warmed-over dog poop all day long with a headache, muscle aches, dizziness, a stuffy nose, plugged ears and a non-contagious sore throat, in addition to feeling somewhat sedated due to allergy medication. Then he goes home and feels the same way all night long. For weeks on end. Perhaps even for months on end.

Along the way, he might even wonder quietly if a few of his pollen-proof co-workers think he's exaggerating his symptoms for dramatic effect.

No really, guys, I'm not kidding! I do feel this terrible all the time right now. It's worse than a bad cold, because at least when you have a bad cold everyone understands. My ears are totally plugged at work because all the sunflowers and chamomile plants you guys planted in the company organic working garden are blooming at once, and somebody keeps propping open the back door with a box fan to let in the fresh air, which means pollen comes floating right to my desk! Help me!!!

In all seriousness, poo-pooing a co-worker's springtime allergy symptoms is a workplace angle that we never talk about, which is exactly why I'm bringing it up. Springtime pollen allergies deserve more workplace respect as a real big drag, in more ways than one.

I've known a few people who get ahead of their work in the late winter, knowing full well that they will feel crummy as soon as the first daffodil blooms. Oh, but it's so pretty, isn't it? Let's all say it together: Spriiiiing!

Nearly three-fourths of asthma sufferers will have spring allergies. The pollen can trigger an allergic response. So if your co-worker has asthma, chances are good he or she will have pollen-related spring allergies, too.

In sum, the co-worker sitting across from you breathing through his mouth doesn't want your pollen-related pity, but he (or she) would love a daily half-dose of prescription-strength understanding in the short term. Pollen allergies are real, they impact some of us a lot more than others, and those who are laid low by them are going to feel absolutely ghastly for the next month or so. Luckily, it doesn't last forever for most of us. Cough.

Monday, March 23, 2015

I Do! Companies Create Trendy Perks For Employees' Spouses

Do you ever feel married to your work? Well, now companies want your spouse to feel married to the work, too!

Recent studies (which I've blogged about) found that having a happy, supportive spouse is highly important to our overall work performance, and some companies are taking such findings to heart by creating trendy workplace perks around spousal participation.

An article in today's New York Post reports on employers who are busy incorporating employees' spouses into the company fold by offering brown-bag continuing education lunches, third parties that can answer pressing benefits questions, and opportunities to accompany spouses on all-expense-paid business trips, among other things.

These companies are finding that this type of spousal inclusion helps to create a happier, more loyal, and more harmonious workplace, especially these days when many employees can feel overworked and tethered to their work gadgets 24/7.

When a working spouse must work late or must bring work home, the other spouse invited to participate in various company perks is less likely to see the work as disruptive to family time because he or she feels more included in "our" company. The employee might feel less trepidation in taking on the work, too, knowing his or her spouse is going to be okay with it.

An excerpt from the article:

Klick Health CEO and "The Decoded Company" author Leerom Segal agrees with this holistic approach. The health agency recently flew employees and their significant others to its annual Town Hall meeting in Toronto — all-expenses paid. He says when employers provide perks and experiences to significant others, it’s a no-brainer motivator. "When the employer needs a little extra time or concentration, the employee is much more able to say, 'I have to work late tonight because I have this big project coming.' But if the spouse or partner feels recognized and valued, the workers are "far more likely to be supportive."

It turns out that the saying "happy wife, happy life" is true! (Sorry, I haven't had enough coffee to think of a "happy husband" equivalent.) Maybe we can expand it to "happy spouse, happy workhouse"? Eh, no. That sounds awkward. Let's just call it the "workplace marriage motivator."

Brown-bag lunches for spouses on various professional or "ask an expert" topics are a fantastic idea, sort of like auditing a college lecture. Of course, if the employee's spouse works full time as well, then these brown bag lunches might not work for his or her schedule. But it's the thought that counts, right?

Okay, I know what you're thinking. This "workplace marriage motivator" stuff is simply a creative way to wring even more out of employees who wear a wedding ring! Perhaps.

But if it works, it works, and there's a lot of work to do. So if a client brings his or her spouse to a future working dinner or far-flung business conference, then you'll know what's up.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Does Your Work Peer Treat You Like A Personal Assistant?

Your team has just worked out the time coordinates for an upcoming meeting, when a teammate asks you to remind him about it when the time comes. Let's talk about the calendar-averse work peer who treats you like a personal scheduling assistant!

Reading this story got me thinking about the employee who relies on other people's time management skills. While everyone else on the team takes personal responsibility for jotting down the time, this co-worker prefers to drop the responsibility of reminding him (or her) into somebody else's lap.

Would you drop me a text the morning of to remind me? Thanks.

It's one thing if the calendar-averse co-worker is your boss. In this case, it's an annoyance, but one you might be willing to put up with on the job.

(Hint: If you're spending more time running your boss's errands than doing your own work, it may be time for your boss to consider hiring a personal assistant.)


No matter how hard we try, we all forget details on occasion. We were distracted and didn't write it down. Hey, was the status update meeting moved to 1 or 2 p.m. today? You scratch my scheduler, and I'll scratch yours. Help a teammate out by providing the updated time coordinates, and good karma will come back to you when it's your turn to ask. (At least, I sure hope so.)

Maybe you've entered into a mutually-beneficial time alert arrangement with a valued work peer. He reminds you about a scheduling change, and in return you remind him that there will be cake in the break room today at 4 p.m. The constant reminders keep both of you on track, and benefit both sides equally. Plus, there's free cake at the end of the message. It's a win-win!

But a work peer who relies regularly on teammates to act as a human Google Calendar in the age of scheduling apps?

Hmm. Perhaps you've been singled out to time manage your work peer's day here and there, but you don't seem to be getting any time management benefits in return. You're not sure what to do when this work peer asks:

Hey, could you remind me to pick up the cake for my mom's birthday party when I leave today? Thanks.

Over time, these requests can begin to grate, not mention impact your own productivity since you're now time managing for two. How did you end up with the responsibility of time managing this work peer? Do you really want your co-worker's mother feeling sad that nobody remembered her birthday cake this year? What's going on here?


It could be laziness, a disregard for the importance of writing things down, or a personal time management issue. Maybe your co-worker thinks you are fantastic at time management, and wants a piece of it. At worst, your co-worker's habit could be a way of claiming workplace superiority. It depends on the situation,** and the people involved. The question is, what can you do about it?

Being put in the awkward position of constantly reminding a work peer can feel like a heavy responsibility, particularly if the success of a project (or Mom's party...) depends on your willingness to act as a reminder. It's time to have a private talk with this work peer. You might say how it is distracting you from your own work, and how you'd feel terrible if something highly important on his or her "to do" list fell through the cracks. Then gently ask this co-worker to please stop asking for so many reminders.

Aim for polite, kind, but firm. Boundaries are your friend.

With any luck, this work peer will stop relying on your time management skills so much.

If the opportunity presents itself, you might recommend your favorite, highly-intuitive scheduling app. In some cases, this employee might not have learned how to use modern time management apps, and would prefer to kick it old school by using an old-fashioned desk calendar or leather-bound scheduler. That's fine; there's something quite nice, and oddly comforting, in putting pen to paper instead of pecking it out on a tiny keyboard and saving it. Whatever works.

In a pinch, you might buy this employee a scheduler you found on the clearance rack come Secret Santa time, or place a stack of Post-It Notes front and center.

Is it okay to go to management, or HR, with this very human time management problem? It's always best to work it out with the employee one-on-one privately if at all possible. If you've spoken with this co-worker about it and nothing changes, then it may be time to reconsider. You'll have to ponder how it would play out in your workplace, however, since every workplace is different. It may not be worth it. Can you move your desk to the other side of the room?

Ultimately, it's not your job to keep reminding a work peer of the things he or she should be writing down for future reference. It's a bad habit on your co-worker's part, and bad habits are meant to be broken. Please make a note of it.

**In the very worst case scenario, this co-worker may be exhibiting some memory problems, which is an entirely different post. For purposes of this post, however, we'll stick to work peers who simply can't be bothered to write anything down.

Friday, March 20, 2015

Panera Bread To Record Employees As They Work

Ah, Panera Bread. The go-to stop for mid-level leaders who lunch, laptop-toting self-employed types who wear headphones, and gabby, stay-at-home moms who need to get out of the house.

And, um, employees who are being secretly taped while they prepare orders to see how they might be screwing up.

St. Louis-based Panera Bread says that it will secretly tape employees working in one unnamed store location to discover ways to speed up service and to see where mistakes are being made. Ah, ah, ah -- you forgot the lettuce, and hold the mayo!

The St. Louis Business Journal reports that it will be similar to reviewing an athlete's performance on game film.

So let's rewind and go to the videotape! That Chipotle Chicken Panini Sandwich prepared last week was clearly out of bounds and we're calling a flagrant foul. Er, fowl.

I'm all for companies trying to increase reliability, work out the kinks in their processes and help employees improve, but I'm not sure what secretly taping employees at one store location will reveal. Can the lessons learned from a sample of one be spread system-wide like horseradish sauce slathered on a Steak and White Cheddar Panini Sandwich? I guess we'll find out.

Now I'm hungry, and the bigger question is whether other restaurant chains will follow suit in an industry where an estimated one in seven orders is prepared incorrectly. In the meantime, we'll take a Cinnamon Crunch Bagel to go.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Will Starbucks Workplace Delivery Service Grind Down Morale?

Starbucks plans to bring us the future of coffee by delivering it to us at the office. Now you won't have to get up and walk down the street for a cup of Joe. That's progress, right? Too bad you'll still have to deal with your quirky, coffee-swilling co-workers, though.

For many of us, the coffee experience is not to be trifled with on any occasion. We take our morning Joe seriously. It must be made to our specific instructions, or else.

It's easy when we can control the process by brewing our own coffee -- be it black, cream and sugar, only cream and no sugar, sugar and no cream, a spoonful and a half of sugar ONLY, hazelnut coffee creamer, vanilla coffee creamer, mocha coffee creamer, skim milk, 2-percent, whole milk, half and half, half caf half decaf, whipping cream, cinnamon, sprinkles on top.

Sprinkles are for winners, of course, and you load up on them like there's no tomorrow.

Perhaps you've gotten to know your local barista, who has your cup of coffee ready to go by the time you reach the counter. It's a mutually-beneficial arrangement representing major efficiency gains. The cup of coffee is perfection every time, too. You hope this barista never leaves you.

Now you're getting ready to take your coffee buying experience online, step by step, app by app, cup by cup, delivery by delivery, unintended workplace consequence by unintended workplace consequence.

Not to pour it on or anything, but will Starbucks delivery service risk becoming a huge workplace distraction? We'll find out soon enough in major markets like New York City. In the meantime, here are The Five Most Annoying Online Coffee-Ordering Employees of the Future:

1. The Caffeine-Deprived Complainer. "OMG, my head hurts, I need coffee noooooooow!" Get used to listening to your caffeine-deprived co-workers complain until their morning coffee arrives. "I ordered it 5 minutes ago, and it's still not here! Why is it taking so long?" You'll be rooting for delivery as much as they will be, both because you feel their decaffeinated pain and you want them to stop filling you to the brim with workplace angst. Heart-shaped whipping cream on top not included.

2. The Indignant Orderer. The coffee arrives, and it's all wrong! Your co-worker ordered the SKIM hazelnut latte, not the whole milk mocha latte with extra chocolate sprinkles. Not only does everyone in the office get to feel uncomfortable watching this co-worker berate a flustered third-party delivery employee, they now know exactly how this co-worker takes his or her coffee down to the last detail. Prepare to spend the next 30 minutes listening to this co-worker complain while a new cup of coffee is en route.

3. The Office Panhandler. I assume it will be proper to tip the coffee delivery guy for the delivery service, just like we do the restaurant delivery guy (or gal)? What this means for you: Get used to the pocket-padding, wallet-surfing co-worker who asks, "Hey, do you have any cash on you so I can tip the coffee delivery guy?" Your co-worker forgot to leave an online tip, assuming Starbucks will allow customers to leave a tip online while ordering. Some employees, however, will prefer to tip in-person based on how they rate the delivery service. Your department may need to start a spare change jar for this reason.

4. The Party Pooper. You're taking a break to go on a coffee run when this co-worker sniffs: "Oh, you two are going out to get coffee? I just ordered a grande mocha latte online, so I can sit here and get even more work done. Buh-bye!" Congratulations, your workaholic co-worker has found a new way to one-up you in the productivity department! Butts in seats, coffee en route. Before you know it, the entire department feels the pressure to work through their coffee breaks, which, as I noted the other day, isn't always a bad thing. Breaks are for closers. Still, having to justify your daily coffee run doesn't sound fun, and you were looking forward to venting about the workaholic co-worker, weren't you?

5. The E-xcited Trendsetter. Look everybody! I just ordered a cup of coffee online and it's being delivered to my desk! Awesome! This employee could be talking about it for the rest of the day, telling everyone how they can do it, too. And it's so easy! Just go to this web address or download this app on your phone and now you can...blerg. The rest of us may need an extra cup of coffee to deal with this daily grind. And don't make it decaf.

Will any of these workplace "situations" actually take place once the Starbucks delivery service is up and running? Who knows, but I'm willing to bet on human nature. People are people, and as I noted, we can be very particular about our coffee.

How will companies handle any unintended consequences in the workplace? Will some of them say: "No more! Coffee delivery represents too much of an employee distraction!" You'll have to leave the building on your scheduled breaks again whenever you want a cup of coffee***. Bummer. Well, it's nice to get outside and you do need to vent, after all.

*** Drink the coffee in the break room? Get real!