Tuesday, August 4, 2015

The Best (and Worst) States For Student Loan Debt

You have student loan debt, because the average university education is onerously expensive these days.

But you'll make up for it by landing a great job in a great state after graduation! We've all been there. Maybe we're still there decades later, just kicking back with our student loans and wondering when they'll go away. Maybe we need to move far away?

Wonder no more, because personal finance website WalletHub is here with its ranking of the best and worst states for student loan debt!

The "WalletGurus" at WalletHub wanted to learn which U.S. states have the highest levels of student debt compared to their residents' income levels and the overall muscle of the state economy. WalletHub relied on seven key metrics to look at all 50 states and the District of Columbia. These metrics included the level of average student debt; the percentage of students with past-due loan balances; and the state's unemployment rate for 20 and young 30-somethings.

So, what did WalletHub find?

It ranks Utah, Wyoming and North Dakota as the top-three best states for residents with student loan debt, while Mississippi (#51), Rhode Island (#50) and Connecticut (#49) rank at the bottom of WalletHub's list.

California ranks 37th, while New York ranks 45th. If you can make it there, then you can make it anywhere -- if you're free of student loan debt, that is. Don't start spreading the news. Still a fantastic song, though.

Here's a blue graph that sums up our nationwide student loan woes:

Source: WalletHub

You can get the full report right here. Wow, two years of community college is looking like a much better deal all the time, isn't it?

Monday, August 3, 2015

Working Women Don't Know What They Want For Lunch

It's lunchtime, the best part of the work day! But do you know what you'll be having for lunch?

Well, a new survey finds that many professional women don't know what they're having for lunch until they actually go to lunch!

Cleveland-based marketing services company WorkPlace Impact finds that 90% of 3,435 professional women surveyed make their lunching decisions in the moment. As in, it's lunch time RIGHT NOW and they have to decide what, and where, to eat, stat!

According to an excellent rundown in The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette:

"Not only are working women spending money frequently on lunch, but they are making last-minute decision on where to go," said Tara Peters, director of marketing at WorkPlace Impact.

Quick! What are you going to have for lunch today? (If you thought ahead and brought a sack lunch to work -- good for you! -- then you don't have to answer the question.)

More than half of professional women surveyed buy lunch at least three times per week. Throw a daily latte or two into the mix, and one begins to wonder to what extent all this take out might be impacting take-home pay. But maybe that's just me; I gave up daily, store-bought lattes long ago when I became a writer.

Working women are also looking for three specific things in the work day lunches they purchase. First, they want quick service. Second, they want low-cost menu options. Third, they want to see some healthy lunch options on the menu.

Two words: house salad.

Also, 86% of those surveyed said they "regularly or occasionally" prefer to eat alone. Hey, we all need some downtime to rest and refuel our minds as we watch the world go by. Can't say I blame them.

So, what does it all mean?

Hmm. I think it means that if you're off to lunch with a female work colleague and she blurts out, "What sounds good for lunch?" then she's not being courteous so much as she's asking a very serious question. Better hurry up and choose wisely, the lunch clock is running!

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Is the Modern Workplace Ready For Serif Fonts?

Even in the age of texting, the average American employee spends roughly one-third of the work week reading and sending email written in boring, non-artistic fonts. Well, not anymore!

It's almost August, which means quirky workplace news is slowing to a crawl just like our productivity levels. Then I came across an interesting article in Australia's Sydney Morning Herald entitled "Your Email Font Is Ruining Your Life."

While the corporate world has long relied on sans-serif fonts -- e.g., fonts where the letters stick to function over form by avoiding pretty end strokes and wavy-gravy curves -- our wide variety of hand-held electronic gadgets increasingly have the resolution to allow for pretty, formally-unreadable serif fonts to lean in to our corporate writing.

The question is, are we brave enough to use them at work? Could Comic Sans cut it in the workplace?

Well, companies such as Amazon have tested how we read various fonts online. Amazon, for example, found that reading comprehension increases 2% when we read something written in a font called Bookerly.

Font designers, meanwhile, are looking into new, exciting fonts to fit our evolving, 21st-Century e-communication needs.

So will you be the brave soul at work who tries sending co-workers an email written entirely in Buttweasel? It's bold, it's eye catching, but does it proclaim professionalism? Hmm. Perhaps we can start small by using Georgia, which is elegant and more understated.

The point is, we can now make the argument for employing a wider range of fonts in our workplace communications! Our co-workers can no longer make the case that they "can't read it" because smartphone screen resolution can finally keep up with the likes of Caslon and Calluna!

Have some fun figuring out which font works best for you at work. As Pam Beasley from The Office might say: "It's a good day."

Friday, July 24, 2015

Hearing New Messages Is As Distracting As Answering Them

Trying to concentrate on work? Then you should mute your smartphone and put it where you can't see it, stat!

New Florida State University research finds that simply being aware of a missed call, email or text can be as distracting -- and productivity-draining -- as actually stopping to respond to the message!

We can also make mistakes when we hear (unchecked) messages roll in on our phones and tablets. Our minds tend to wander as soon as our phone beeps with the sweet sound of impending, virtual human interaction! Or a "reminder" from the game app our kid put on our phone, as the case may be. So much for multi-tasking, right?

Beep! Even when we choose to not check the message, we can't help but wonder who is trying to reach us. Mulling the possibilities takes up a chunk of mind share, and then we wonder how we made a mistake on the project at hand.

By the way, putting our phones on "vibrate" doesn't help. The mind still wanders.

So what does this study mean for workplace productivity? Never underestimate the power of the ring tone to throw us off-task in a big way. If we hear the siren song of an incoming message, then we can't help but lose some of our work focus.

If we really want to concentrate, then we might have to (gasp!) hide our mobile gadgets for a few minutes. Okay, I'll let you go see who texted you just now.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Congratulations, Your 9-to-5 Job Is Officially 24/7

A new CareerBuilder survey concludes that the 9-to-5 workday is running out of time.

CareerBuilder surveyed more than 1,000 employees working in traditional, 9-to-5 jobs for their thoughts on whether 9-to-5 is still a relevant work schedule.

It's a nutshell, it's not: Verging on two-thirds (63%) of survey participants think the 9-to-5 concept is outdated.

Even more, nearly one-fourth (24%) can't seem to leave the office behind when they leave its four walls. Roughly 1 in 4 surveyed admit to checking work emails when they're hanging out with family and friends, while 2 in 5 surveyed (38%) keep right on working like they're still at the office.

Of course, the "always-on" work model is just the way it is for the average working professional these days. It's the path to productivity, and progress:

"Workers want more flexibility in their schedules, and with improvements in technology that enable employees to check in at any time, from anywhere, it makes sense to allow employees to work outside the traditional nine-to-five schedule," says Rosemary Haefner, chief human resources officer of CareerBuilder. "Moving away from a nine-to-five work week may not be possible for some companies (yet), but if done right, allowing employees more freedom and flexibility with their schedules can improve morale, boost productivity and increase retention rates."

So "allowing" employees to work outside the traditional 9-to-5 window just makes sense, because it's the way to "freedom" and "flexibility." But is working from home into the wee hours and surviving on five paltry hours of sleep a night a good thing in the long run?

I don't think so. Employees who feel like they can't put the work away will burn out in our don't-look-past-the-current-quarter economy. We need to pace ourselves, because a career is a marathon not a sprint.

Repeat after me: Not every email is urgent, and some calls can go to voice mail. We'll get back to them later, because we want to be present in our own life as a loved one tells us about their day. Now that's freedom.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

The Office Know-It-All Knows Less Than You Think

Every office has a know-it-all employee, but a new study concludes that he or she doesn't know everything. In fact, he or she may not know that much after all!

Researchers at Cornell University and Tulane University reveal that know-it-alls tend to "overclaim" -- meaning, they can pull "facts" out of thin air and rely on made-up information. No wonder they tend to talk so much!

The researchers asked 100 study participants to rate their knowledge of financial investing. Would a few know-it-alls rise like Apple stock from the group, and would their self-proclaimed investing knowledge be highly accurate, or somewhat exaggerated?

To find out, the researchers presented the group with a few examples of fake financial terminology (pre-rated stocks, fixed-rate deduction, annualized credit?) sprinkled among a set of bonafide financial terminology (IRAs, inflation, etc.) and let them...discuss.

Here's what happened, as reported by Psych Central:

As expected, people who saw themselves as financial wizards were most likely to claim expertise of the bogus finance terms.

"The more people believed they knew about finances in general, the more likely they were to overclaim knowledge of the fictitious financial terms," [Cornell University Psychological Scientist Stav] Atir said. "The same pattern emerged for other domains, including biology, literature, philosophy, and geography."

In another experiment, participants were asked to share their knowledge of biology. The catch: They were told up front that some of the biology terms presented to them were made-up and entirely false. Even after being warned, those who tended toward know-it-all-ism asserted a clear conversational confidence in intellectually-iffy terms such as "meta-toxins" and "bio-sexual."

So what is the take away here? Well, it's obvious, isn't it? As the office know-it-all attempts to fill in your knowledge gaps once again, you would be right to wonder how much is fact, and how much is fiction. Trust your instincts, and your own mind. Trust, but verify.

And go to your inner happy place while it's happening. Trust me, it works.