Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Let's Make Break Time Happen Again, America

A recent Staples survey found more than 20% of U.S. employees never take a break -- except maybe for lunch! -- because they feel too guilty to stop working. Let's step away from our workspaces for a minute without feeling the least bit bad about it!

The May 2014 survey, which queried more than 200 U.S. and Canadian employees, found more than half of those surveyed (55%) don’t feel like they can leave their desks. It's leading to a serious case of collective burn-out: More than four in 10 employees (41%) feel completely, utterly exhausted.

Desk-based peer pressure may be partly to blame as employees think to themselves: "Yeah, I should take a break, but I have to get this done today. Besides, nobody in the office ever takes a break anymore, so I'd probably look like a total slacker if I left for 15 minutes and came back looking like I just took a break."

Is every employee thinking this? No. Are enough employees thinking this way in order to be statistically significant? Apparently so. It's up to management to encourage regular break times and view them as essential to productivity increases, not to mention better employee morale. The whole idea of stopping every so often to be more productive might feel highly counter-intuitive, but it's the key to doing a better job at pretty much everything.

Now Staples is starting a multi-city, national “Breakroom Tour" to encourage well-stocked employee break rooms and a general spirit of break room re-exploration. There will be free snacks, so let's go make break rooms happen again, America!

We will -- just as soon as we remember how to take a break without feeling guilty about it. Hey, it's been a long recession.

Friday, September 26, 2014

What Your Halloween Candy Says About Your Workplace Personality

Yes, I know. We still have more than a month to go before Halloween. Retailers have been celebrating this annual fructose candyfest for the last month, however, and they're already desperate to move out Halloween merchandise to make way for Christmas.

So let's not waste any more time in discussing the most pressing workplace issues of the day! Specifically, what does the Halloween candy wrapper we instinctively reach for in the office candy bowl say about us? Here's a list of favorite Halloween candy choices and what they say about our workplace personality:

Hershey's Kisses. They're small, they're cute and they're a favorite choice of employees, everywhere. Who doesn't like Hershey's Kisses? Put out a bag, and they're gone within minutes. As an employee, you tend to be the office idealist, the employee who sees a better way to do just about anything. You're charming, and able to diffuse office arguments with a simple comment and an unforgettable smile. You're the office peacemaker. If two co-workers start to bicker, then you whip out a bag of Kisses from a desk drawer and suddenly these co-workers are kissing and making up (figuratively speaking, of course, this is a workplace). We couldn't do our jobs without you!

Mini chocolate bars. Life may be like a box of chocolates, but we know what we're going to get with this chocolate choice. The mini chocolate bar, whether you prefer Nestle Crunch bars, Hershey's or Mars, is a known quantity. It's a safe and satisfying bet, and we rarely go wrong with it. As an employee, you tend to bite off more at work than you can chew, but you're willing to take on the harder projects, too. You can take critical feedback without turning bitter just like your favorite dark chocolate. Everyone respects you as a hard worker.

Licorice. Licorice offers all the fun of candy, but without the fat content. Licorice lovers are the happy, fun-loving, sweetness-and-light co-workers we all love. Red or black or grape or strawberry, they don't care. If there's licorice in the bowl, they've got dibs on it! As employees, licorice lovers are flexible, go with the flow type of personalities who get the job done. They keep our projects on track.

Snackwells/organic treats. We think you're no fun. At all.

M & M's. What can we say about this candy other than it's one of the most rockin' candy choices on the planet? You can eat a bunch of them without feeling like you've had too many, and you can even buy this candy in stuffed-animal form. Not many candies can say that! As an employee, the M & M eater is classic, traditional, yet has an edge to his or her personality. You like choice, but might take time making up your mind. You're fun, and funny to be around, and you're interested in what makes people tick. You have your job down to the letter, and that letter is M.

Anything with a creamy, nougat center. There's a feeling of biting into air when eating a sweet nougat bar. Before you think I'm about to write something along the line of "all office nougat eaters are airheads!" rest assured that I'm not. The nougat-loving employee is smart. He or she is also all heart, all the time. You're the one we lean on to get us through tough projects and really bad days. Do you have any mini 3 Musketeers or Snickers bars you're willing to share? Of course you do!

Candy corn. We wonder about you. All the time.

Mint patties. The mint patty workplace personality can be oddly complex. As an employee, you tend to stick with tradition, but you like to have fun, too! You're sweet on the outside, yet you can pack a crisp, tart punch on the inside. Your co-workers never quite know what to expect from you, and you prefer to keep them guessing. Your novel ideas stun potential clients, who become sort of like the smashed, melted mint patties you stashed, and then promptly forgot about, in the bottom of your work bag yesterday. Ooops.

Mints. You tend to be very conscientious about your appearance and everything else in life, because why would you reach for this year-round office hard candy staple when there are Halloween mini Hershey's to reach for?! Hello! That said, you're an incredibly hard-working person, the dependable one. At work, you can be a stickler for perfection. You regularly like to reach for the stars on projects. (Butter mints don't count.)

Gummies. You're still a kid at heart, aren't you? You're carefree and relaxed about things, because why else would you consume a Spongebob Squarepants Crabby Patty gummy burger in front of your work team? Your co-workers adore you, however; you're always the life of the office party! Even if they wince and look away as you pop a dollar store gummy worm in your mouth after offering some great insight during the staff meeting.

Payday bars. In choosing this candy, you're sending a not-so-subtle signal to management. That message is: Give me a raise already! Hey, it's been a few years since a pay increase, and your employer who pays you peanuts (no pun intended) owes you for all your hard work. Until then, your salary-conscious self will drive the point home by leaving Payday wrappers on your desk this Halloween. You're very competitive, and have a strong will to win. But you're not shy about giving credit where credit is due, and that's why your co-workers love working with you.

Almond Joy/Mounds bars. People either love these bars or absolutely loathe them. Chocolate mixed with coconut and maybe a few almonds thrown in? For most people, it's either "Yum, yes!" or "Ew, no!" without any in-between. It's a stark choice for most people. As an employee, however, you like to look at an idea from all angles before making a final decision. Once you get firmly behind an idea, it's full steam ahead! Your enthusiasm can be influential, and infectious. What's not to love about that?

Are there dozens of other candy bars** (and wrapped candies) to mention? Of course. Do I have time to run down the entire list? No way. Or should I say, Milky Way. And if you're wondering which one has "me" written all over it, I would debate with myself between M & M's and the mini Mounds bar as I hover over the office candy bowl. In the end, I would probably take the mini Mounds bar first, along with a small packet of M & M's on the side. Red licorice would be tempting, too. Yes, I know what you're thinking. And who are you to make fun of us candy corn lovers? Ha! But at least you have to give me credit for being honest.

** Kit Kat Bars and Reese's Peanut Butter Cups, to name two glaring omissions.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Is Seattle's New Food Waste Fine A Load Of Garbage?

As my mother used to say: "Waste not, want not." If you're a company manager employed in Seattle, then you might soon find yourself telling employees: "Fine not, want not."

The Seattle City Council has passed an ordinance that could fine businesses that put too much food in the trash. That's right: Too much food waste can be a fine-able offense in the fine Emerald City! As The Seattle Times reports:

Under the new rules, collectors can take a cursory look each time they dump trash into a garbage truck.

If they see compostable items make up 10 percent or more of the trash, they’ll enter the violation into a computer system their trucks already carry, and will leave a ticket on the garbage bin that says to expect a $1 fine on the next garbage bill.

According to the story, apartment complexes and businesses with get two warnings before they're fined. Okay, a $1 fine isn't that much, but the fine jumps to $50 after the third violation. We know how much companies like to save money. Who will be mom-tasked with telling employees: "Uh, you need to finish that bagel, okay? You're not leaving this break room table until you do! I'll be back to check your plate." Can we still hide our canned peas inside our mashed potatoes, just like we did in grade school?

I grew up in the rainy Pacific Northwest, and I can tell you: Recycling is a way of life. Seattle's 2013 recycling rate was 56% -- pretty respectable, as big-city recycling rates go. But the City of Seattle would like to see a recycling rate of at least 60% by 2015, which, egad, is only a few months away.

This new ordinance, however, leaves us with a few unknowns to chew on. For starters, how will trash collectors estimate "more than 10%"? What if, for example, a small company throws out expired food, or food that's been recalled and therefore cannot be consumed? How will trash inspectors be able to tell the difference? What if the food is in trash bags? What about the variety of "we're not sure if it's really food or not" items such as coffee grinds, hummus** and candy corn? Will more companies install sink garbage disposals in the break room to avoid fines, and who will get the privilege of being the Departmental Disposal Technician (hello, clerical temps and company interns!) disposing of the half-eaten bagel an employee abandoned on the break room table? Perhaps it's better to lead with a carrot rather than a stick? Make that an organic, free range carrot, since we're talking about Seattle.

And will other cities follow the Emerald City's lead?

From a glass-half-full perspective, such an ordinance could get companies thinking more about the benefits of composting, the types of break room snacks they buy but fail to consume entirely, and what, exactly, is going in the trash vs. what could be donated to area food banks in desperate need of food donations (the holidays are approaching, please donate). Thinking about how to minimize food waste is good. Waste not, want not.

Well, these are a few of the questions I would raise my little hand to ask -- just like I did in grade school, and the lunch lady would tell me that no, I may not be excused for recess (e.g., dodgeball, survival of the fittest back then) as she discovered the pale canned peas buried underneath the lumpy mashed potatoes on my rectangular lunch tray. Those canned peas were the worst, and don't get me started on tuna noodle casserole day. I need more coffee.

** No offense to lovers of hummus, it's just not my thing. However, candy corn lovers are sick.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Is A Co-worker Quietly Stealing Your Work Space?

It's no secret that the Great Recession has downsized the average office space in addition to shrinking the number of available good jobs. The question for employees navigating today's trendy, open office environments is: Why does my co-worker keep putting all of her crap in my work area? Let's talk about the office space hog!

Work space has become a commodity, and eventually we'll work alongside the real-estate-grabbing co-worker. As we work hard to keep our elbows to ourselves, this co-worker is pondering innovative, disruptive ways to "incorporate" more of our work area into his or her work area.

Work space mission creep usually starts very innocently. One day, the new co-worker sitting next to you might ask with a big smile: "Is it all right if I set my work bag next to your chair for a bit?" Being the nice person you are, you respond: "Sure, go ahead."

Skip ahead six months to a year, where everything from invoices to coats, shopping and gym bags, smartphone chargers and your co-worker's randomly-placed family photos have pushed their way into your contiguous work area. It's been known to happen, especially if you have a very desirable work space. You know the one. It has the good view, the natural lighting, the productivity-enhancing quiet, the well-placed office foliage, decent storage space, the better filing cabinet, the upscale zip code -- or all of the above. You've got it, and your new co-worker wants to get it, too.

You're starting to feel like this co-worker is gradually taking over your meager work space, and you would be correct in this assumption. These co-workers are on a constant mission to acquire more work space. Would it be all right if I just set my stapler here for a bit until I find a better place for it? Thanks!

Soon the stapler is joined by a tape dispenser, a paper clip holder, a three-tiered inbox, a cup of pens, a half-eaten bag of Doritos, a half-empty (or half-full, depending on your perspective) bottle of water in front of a half-dozen, empty Starbucks cups this co-worker has collected along the back splash that runs into your ever-shrinking work area.

You wonder where it all went wrong one day as this co-worker's leaning stack of papers falls on to your lap as you bang your elbow again. What's going on here? You never gave the go-ahead for this co-worker to store her gym bag underneath your desk, did you? How has this new co-worker managed to incorporate so much of your work space as her own, and how can you reclaim this lost space without looking like a selfish jerk?

Remember how it all started with a simple request to set a work bag (or some other item) in your work area? While most employees would view it as a single, one-time favor, the office space hog sees it as permission for space acquisition. The modern-day, streamlined open office environment, which may not set any boundaries between or control over individual work areas, certainly doesn't help matters. In fact, it might help bolster this co-worker's view that it's okay to work themselves into somebody else's work space.

It's time to take off your noise-cancelling headphones and have a talk with this co-worker about proper boundaries -- specifically, where the boundaries lie in terms of your individual work areas. This is mine, that's yours, let's co-exist together peacefully in this space, please take back your Simpsons figurines. Be kind, but firm. I notice that your stuff is creeping more and more into my work area, and it's making it harder and harder for me to do my work. I'd appreciate it if these items could be moved back over to your work area, thanks so much!

The open office environment space acquisition artist (TM) might be quietly chagrined that you actually said something after being able to get away with it for so long. In some cases, this co-worker might turn passive-aggressive, or outright testy. What "desk area" are you talking about, anyway, because everyone shares space around here, all the time! 1985 called, and wants its cubicles back. You're kind of a jerk!

You're neither a jerk, nor an old-fashioned curmudgeon. You're simply protecting your physical work turf, or what's left of it these days. Your work area is your work area, and you need some space to get the job done. You shouldn't feel pushed out, particularly if the lack of work space is beginning to impact your daily productivity.

Next, look at the real estate comps in your office. Is everyone else feeling crowded out, too? Is there spill over from one desk to another that's creating a domino effect? Is it part of the office-wide, cubicle-sharing culture? There could be a larger problem that may require a CCO (Chief Clutter Officer) to send out a department-wide memo. Left unchecked, it could damage productivity, not to mention employee morale.

Perhaps you're fine with sharing your work space, in which case, I say good for you, I guess! Sharing is good, and it's always best to co-exist peacefully with our co-workers whenever, and wherever, we can. I'll certainly understand, however, if you can't find harmony in watching a co-worker pick his nose again. We all have our limits, and boundaries.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Only 30% Of Employees Trust Employers To Manage BYOD

Here's a quick question for you: Would your rather entrust your employer to manage your BYOD mobile devices, or a third-party?

A new AdaptiveMobile survey of more than 5,000 employees in 19 countries reveals that many employees do not want employers managing their BYOD connections, security and privacy. No way, no how, not ever, no thanks.

Wow. This song takes me right back to the mid-1990s, when "BYOD" meant nothing more than Bring Your Own Drink and any website took five minutes to download over a dial-up modem. It was a simpler time. Now we have to worry about Bring Your Own Devices and everything that comes with it. As HelpNet Security reports:

The research found that while over 84 percent of employees rated privacy as a top three concern, there was a clear lack of trust in the ability of their employer to manage their mobile security and privacy, posing mobile service providers with an opportunity to address end-users security concerns.

For those employees already using their own device for work purposes, trust in their employer managing their device was the major concern. While just 30 percent of respondents preferred their employer to manage their corporate mobility service, trust levels in their mobile operator were higher with 42 percent of people happier if their device at work was managed by their operator.

It turns out a significant percentage of employees are seeking to put a crowbar's separation between work and home over their phones. AdaptiveMobile finds more than four in 10 employees surveyed (44%) are working hard to keep their work and personal lives separate. Roughly one-quarter surveyed (24%), in fact, simply do not want employers to have any control over their devices in any way, shape or form.

You might say that employees don't want employers in the "framily." Does anyone understand this Sprint campaign, by the way? The woman appears to be in a relationship with the hamster in the ball, and Gordon is just there saying his name is pronounced "Gor-DON" for some reason, and the hamster is upset that they're going to be late for taco night. Hey, I can't blame him; who doesn't like tacos? But aren't long-term mobile phone contracts already confusing enough?

So when you think you're going to look cool and with it as a manager by saying, "Hey, everyone! We're going all BYOD around here and it's going to be totally epic!" you will immediately have a decent percentage of employees thinking, "And who, exactly, is going to manage the connection because I don't want you seeing all my cool cat photos and frequent Facebook status updates!" Or perhaps they're employees under age 30 who think it's all good because they haven't gotten burned yet.

Employers will have to connect the dots on this quiet workplace morale issue. In the meantime, we can try to figure out Sprint's quirky ads once and for all.

Friday, September 19, 2014

OSHA To Put More Workplace Safety Data Online In 2015

Attention, employers: More on-the-clock workplace injuries are about to go online.

Under current OSHA rules, companies must report within 24 hours whenever three or more employees require hospitalization as a result of a workplace injury.

Starting in January 2015, however, companies will be required to report each individual employee injury that requires hospitalization, which presumably means that previously unreported injuries will now be reported. Companies will also be required to report instances of employee amputation and eye loss within 24 hours. The data will be available online in the form of future OSHA safety reports.

It's safe to say that some business groups don't like the impending changes very much. It'll be interesting to see how this rule change impacts legal cases filed on behalf of injured employees, and if it has any affect on internet-savvy job applicants in the age of the online customer review. Will Yelp-using job applicants start factoring this more detailed, online OSHA workplace safety data into their decision to apply, or take the job? Stay tuned.