Thursday, November 12, 2015

Five Tips For Taking Kids To the Company Party

You have received an invitation to the company party that says young kids are welcome. So...are you going to bring your kids, or not?

I've been there, shadowing a trouble-seeking toddler who was aggressively roaming the very well-manicured, multi-level home of The Boss, who just so happened to collect colorful, and incredibly breakable, vases! Of course, grabbing the glassware and dropping it on the floor was the ultimate goal of our toddler, who, for some reason, did not have bookcases filled to the gills with gorgeous, prism-shimmering glassware at home.

The boss was incredibly gracious and welcoming, but playing successful shelf defense*** was utterly exhausting. As fun as the party was, I felt like a shell of a human being on the drive home as our toddler snored in the car seat.

I suppose my story isn't a ringing endorsement of hitting the company party circuit with children in tow, but I learned a few things from the experience! Bringing young kids to the company holiday party can be done, and here are five basic tips for making it a better experience for everyone.

1. Decide whether they're up to it. You know your kids best. Could they handle an environment filled with boring adults potentially talking shop for hours? Is the party venue (a very upscale restaurant, etc.) decidedly not kid-friendly? If the very thought of managing your rambunctious children at the party leaves your stomach tied in knots, then it might be better to hire a babysitter, or grandma, for the evening. No worries. You might say the kids were excited to see their grandma who is in town for the weekend, or simply say they were too tired after a busy day to attend. Maybe next year!

2. Outline your expectations. Sit the kids down and tell them what you expect. We're going to my boss's house for a party. It will be fun, but you'll need to be on your very, very, very best behavior. Then explain what you mean by "best behavior." Depending on the age, brush up on words such as "please," "may I" and "thank you." Teaching children not to interrupt constantly (e.g., learning strategies for how to wait their turn to talk) is a good idea, too. Your co-worker, who can't seem to finish a thought before being interrupted (again!) by an inquisitive first grader, will thank you.

3. Bring emergency backup. Bored kids can make for a very long evening. There's no shame in keeping a few, small things on standby for the kids to do. New crayons and a coloring book, a small, toy-like item of few removable parts, and yes, a tablet featuring their favorite games (with sound turned off, please). You might inquire beforehand if it's okay to bring such items. Who knows? The host may have already lined up a bouncy house, face painting, and a visit from Santa!

4. Put the older kids to work. Kids 7 and older can take on a little bit of responsibility at the company party, and they'll probably enjoy being put in charge of something, no matter how small! Just make sure it's okay with the host first. Older kids can, for example, make sure everyone has a napkin, help to entertain the younger kids by showing them how to use a Wii or Xbox -- whatever works to keep them from uttering the dreaded two words: I'm bored. You might even offer to pay them an allowance for their hard work. (Hey, they've earned it!)

5. Don't sweat the small stuff. Your child reaches up to take a cookie, and the whole platter falls to the floor. Ahhhh! Relax, things happen. Any working parent has been there and quietly understands, even if they won't admit it. Graciously pick up the pieces and move on quickly. If your child has a tantrum, immediately take him or her somewhere else (outside for some fresh air, to an empty spare room, to the car) until everything's better. Go with the flow, and appear unflappable. This is your life -- work and home, together as one -- and you're managing it all the best you can! You're doing a good job, too. Hang in there, you can go home soon.

Trust me: You're not the first, and you won't be the last, to ask this question! A few quick years from now, you can look back with a smile to remember what it was like to be in your co-worker's spit-up covered shoes. Kids are awesome and they're part of the circle of work life for many of us. Of course, our children were perfect angels at the company party. Just kidding.

*** We left without breaking any glassware. I'm still proud of it to this day.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

How To Turn Workplace Gift Giving Into A Gift For Yourself

It's not even mid-November, but this year is moving quickly toward its logical conclusion: December.

This means it's time to add new entries to my annual Oh No, It's the Holidays Again! blog series. So far, we've uncovered the unfortunate truth about Secret Santas, sent the potluckphobe to the company holiday potluck, dressed down co-workers who brag about their expensive holiday gifts, discussed how to talk to a co-worker's spouse at the company holiday party, and figured out what happens when a company's holiday gifts don't stay current with the times.

I was planning to blog about the 2015 holiday season "soon," just like I'm procrastinating with my holiday gift shopping. Then I came across an Ad Age article about McCann's new holiday ad campaign for Office Depot, and I suddenly felt inspired to blog about the holidays.

This year, Office Depot is touting its 2015 holiday Co-worker Collection. As the article points outs, it's a departure from Office Depot's 2014 ad campaign, which focused on B2B giving. I say, just buy your clients either the good chocolates or a gift basket, write a thoughtful note in a holiday card, and be done with it.

But what about the co-workers you see every day, including the 30% of co-workers who can't remember your name and the 25% who don't know what you do for a living?** Well, you know them a little bit better. Perhaps you wish you knew less about them courtesy of the office grapevine, and, quite frankly, you're looking for innovative ways to help them help you.

Let's watch the new Office Depot ad to jot down a few ideas, which you would almost certainly do if your co-worker weren't borrowing your pen. Again.

The ad makes some great points, actually. We can become as strategic with our office gift giving as we are with our business strategy!

In other words, how can you turn your co-worker gift giving into a small holiday gift for yourself? Think of each co-worker you plan on buying a small holiday gift for, and ask yourself this question: What does he or she keep borrowing that I'm tired of lending?***

Admire how co-worker gift giving becomes a win-win in light of this simple, somewhat-cynical question! Of course, it's no guarantee that your co-workers will actually stop taking/borrowing/using your things, but personalizing your office gift giving a little bit on the cheap might be worth a try? At the very least, it's far better than lending things to the co-worker who never bothers to return them. Grr.

So forget about the impending business articles that will mention some obscure website for finding the "perfect," trendy, quirky holiday gift for your co-workers this year. This obscure website has told you everything you need to know about co-worker gift giving "trends" this year. In a pinch, you can simply buy a bunch of $5 gift cards from the grocery store and be done with it.

** Hmm. One wonders if these two statistics are in fact the same person?

*** If it's money, then I'm so sorry. You'll have to close The Bank Of You. Maybe you can tell this co-worker that you weren't too big to fail after all?

Monday, November 9, 2015

Workplace Distractions Creep Into the C-suite

Do you feel like workplace distractions have taken a toll on your ability to concentrate? Take heart, everyone: Senior managers are feeling attention span pain, too!

Workplace distractions abound in the 21st Century, and with today's open office environments they're only getting worse. From peripheral movement to co-worker chatter to the rank smell of our co-worker's day-old fish platter, we might feel like there are barriers beyond our control when it comes to concentrating at work.

But what about distractions at the senior management level, where the job might include nifty features such as closed doors and executive assistants? Yeah, how distracted is the C-suite these days?

In what may be a small glimpse into the modern life of senior management, software and services provider Abila looked into the challenges facing non-profit CFOs and found that almost half (49%) view "daily interruptions" as their most pressing workplace challenge!

In fact, dealing with the warp and woof of workplace distraction courtesy of "people from other departments" is taking up 5.4 hours of the surveyed chief financial officers' time each week. These "hey, do you have a minute?" requests are equal to the amount of time it takes these CFOs to close out the books each month.

And you just know the average CFO has run the numbers on this one, don't you?

This study involves CFOs at large and small non-profit organizations, which may be wildly different from what's going on inside the average Fortune 500 C-suite. Still, it's somehow comforting to know that some CFOs are feeling distracted behind closed doors. Just like us, they're fighting the office culture of constant connectivity to maybe, just maybe, get something substantial done today! On time. It's a goal, anyway.

Ping! You have another 'urgent' email that isn't very urgent! We'd better call a meeting to figure it out!

Could distractions facing the senior management desk set eventually lead to better company-wide processes around workplace communication? Hmm. Let's hope so, because we're getting very tired of watching our co-worker clip his toenails on our desk.

Friday, November 6, 2015

The Millennials Are the Most Jealous Generation

A new study reveals which generation is the most likely to have the green-eyed monster quietly lurking within, and I'll warn you now that it isn't pretty.

We've already discussed our jealous co-workers, but what drives their envy and how old are they?

Researchers at UC San Diego looked into it, and discovered that younger people tend to be the most envious, and over a longer list of things! Here's the main gist of our jealous ways, according to the press release:

Envy was a common experience. More than three fourths of all study participants reported experiencing envy in the last year, with slightly more women (79.4 percent) than men (74.1 percent).

The experience declined with age: About 80 percent of people younger than 30 reported feeling envious in the last year. By ages 50 and over, that figure went down to 69 percent.

Are these findings surprising? In some ways, no. It makes sense that we let more things go than our waistlines as we age. When we're young, we're constantly looking around to see how we're doing in comparison. We may still do it a bit as we get older, but we also learn how to put things in better perspective, how to discern what truly matters, and when to speak our mind versus when to hold our tongue.

These traits certainly don't ring true for everyone over a certain age (69% is still a decent number of envious elders, and we all know a keep-up-with-the-Joneses Gen Xer!) but time does teach us to pick our battles a little bit better. Some things simply aren't worth the time and trouble anymore past a certain age, especially at work.

So what are today's 20-somethings so jealous of, exactly? Curiously, it sounds like something straight out of Mad Men. Millennial men tend to envy "occupational success," while Millennial women most envy someone else's looks. Perhaps not surprisingly, envy breaks down along gender lines. Men tend to envy other men, while women tend to envy other women -- at work, and everywhere else.

What the paper doesn't examine is how our decade of birth formed our basic sense of envy. In other words, how did growing up as a Gen Xer -- without social media, 500 TV channels where nothing's ever on, and the pressure to wear designer duds by second grade -- impact how we see others? And how does our sense of envy compare to the Millennials, some of whom are in the process of disappearing from social media due to the continual pressure to look perfect?

These are great questions, but here's the score: If you're under 30, then a few of your same-gender, same-age colleagues are most likely envious of you in some way, shape or form! It's called being young, and this too shall pass -- and more quickly than you think.

Your older co-workers, meanwhile, wish you would learn to pick your battles better so as not waste valuable mental energy ruminating on things you can neither control nor change so we can finally get some serious work done around here.

On that note, we don't need to get everyone's input before making mundane decisions like deciding which office pens to buy, because this business-by-consensus mindset is slowing everything down, Millennials! But that's an entirely different study that hasn't been conducted yet. I'll be envious of the researcher who finally makes the decision to conduct it.

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Disclosing A Disability In Cover Letters Is Risky Business

Imagine you've been handed two cover letters that look virtually identical in terms of qualifications and experience, except for one thing: One of the job applicants admits to a disability on paper. Which one would you interview?

Well, a new Rutgers/Syracuse study reveals that disabled-but-highly-qualified job applicants are 34% less likely to hear from employers than nondisabled job applicants with the same qualifications.

The researchers sent out more than 6,000 fictitious resumes and cover letters in response to advertised accounting jobs. I'll let the official Rutgers rundown offer an overview of the study methodology:

The research team carefully crafted robust resumes and matched the experience to job openings on a major job-search website. No employer was applied to twice. There were two candidate profiles—one with six years' experience, the other about a year out of college. Candidates with and without disabilities were equally qualified. One-third of the cover letters mentioned no disability, while one-third revealed a spinal cord injury and the other third Asperger's syndrome, both conditions chosen because they would not affect the accounting abilities required.

It turns out employers were significantly less interested in the cover letters that disclosed a disability.

In fact, employers contacted fewer than 5% of the applicants who disclosed a disability, compared to 6.6% of nondisabled applicants who did get a response. The difference in the two numbers, according to the researchers, represents a 26% "lower chance of employer interest" in job applicants with disabilities.

Studies have found that slightly more than one-third (34%) of working-age Americans with disabilities were employed in 2013, compared to nearly three-fourths (74%) of Americans without disabilities. So there's been quite a gap in the job market.

It may be worth noting that companies with fewer than 15 employees are not subject to the requirements of the Americans With Disabilities Act, which prohibits workplace discrimination against the disabled in areas including recruitment, advancement, pay and benefits. Employers who do fall under the ADA, meanwhile, are not required to provide a reasonable accommodation that would be very difficult, or very costly, to create (also known as "undue hardship").

It's a complex employment topic that deserves greater attention in a still-recovering job market. I'll let you come to your own conclusions about the study, because you're smart and have a mind of your own. In the meantime, it may be wise to take great care in disclosing a disability in a cover letter.

Friday, October 30, 2015

Half Of Us Have Cracked A Smartphone Screen

Have you ever cracked the screen on your smartphone, but kept right on using it for months?

Well, you might be interested in a Motorola global survey that phones home just how often we crack our smartphone screens, how it happens, and which countries have the highest percentages of cracked smartphone screens!

The Motorola survey, entitled "Cracked Screens and Broken Hearts" (don't roll your eyes, watching someone scroll through a cracked smartphone screen can be a shattering situation) surveyed 6,000 adult smartphone users in six different countries: The United States, the United Kingdom, India, China, Mexico and Brazil.

What did the survey reveal?

Of the countries surveyed, India boasts the highest percentage of cracked smartphone screens. While an estimated 50% of global smartphone users have experienced a broken screen, a whopping 65% of smartphone users in India have cracked their smartphone screens. Mexico (64%) and China (63%) round out the top three, followed by Brazil (50%), the U.K. (38%) and the United States (34%).

A broken screen, however, doesn't stop us from continuing to use our phones: Nearly one-quarter of smartphone users surveyed will continue to use a phone with a cracked screen, even if it cuts their fingers! U.S. smartphone users seem to be among the slowest to replace a broken phone screen, too.

What are the most common ways we break our smartphone screens? Half (50%) reported having their phones fall out of their hands, while nearly one-third (32%) had their phones fall out of their pockets. More than one-quarter (27%) had their phones fall off their laps when they stood up. This sad, lovely Linda Ronstadt song pretty much sums up how we feel afterward.

Unfortunately, I've done all three. I need a smartphone that's built Ford Tough. Nevermind, that's a mixed marketing metaphor.

Speaking of marketing, now somebody has to coin the buzzword for cutting our fingers on our phones. Maybe it can play off the word "papercut." Smartcut? Dropcut? Hey, I'm only on my third cup of coffee here. I can't be expected to think "big picture" just yet.

So, there you go! If you're whipping out a broken smartphone screen and receiving questioning, why-are-you-still-using-a-broken-phone glances from friends, family and colleagues, you now have a survey to back you up! I'll let you put a Band-Aid on your smartcut now.