October 31, 2005
Work with Ghosts?
I love watching the Travel Channel and learning about haunted places. I don’t necessarily believe in ghosts, but I’m not completely convinced they don’t exist. I guess you’d have to say I’m a paranormal agnostic.
Living in an older town like Boston, you hear stories of ghosts all the time. For example, there are supposed to be two elderly, well-dressed women in 1800s clothing who leave the Ritz-Carlton and go for a stroll in the city’s Public Garden. (You can learn more about the nation’s top 10 most haunted cities here.)
Evidently, a lot of hauntings happen in the workplace. For example, one woman’s story is told on Suite101.com. She was a bartender at a Hollywood bar and enjoyed recalling stories about the big stars who came in. This story is about another unforgettable patron:
“She'd been on her job less than a week when she noticed the strikingly handsome, well-dressed man at the end of the bar. He seemed to be desperately trying to get her attention, but she was so busy on that Saturday night, he was gone by the time she was free to serve him. A few nights later, she looked up, and he was back. He wasn't any movie star she could recall ever having seen, but he certainly had the good looks and fashion sense of any star. This time she promised herself she would serve him no matter how busy it got. Smiling broadly she walked up to the man. When she was close enough to hear his order over the music, the man smiled sadly at her and vanished. Scared and shaken, she ran to the manager, who chuckled at her discomfiture.
‘That's handsome Joe. He was crossing the street when some drunk driver ran over him and killed him 'bout 20 years ago.’
She gasped. ‘So what's he doing in here?’
‘He always appears to our new bartenders at least once. Guess it's his way of saying not to serve a patron more than he can handle.’”
According to the Aware Foundation: Paranormal Research site, “There may be many reasons why a workplace is haunted. There could have been a tragic accident, or maybe someone really enjoyed their job, so that after passing they might still want to continue to work, or if the workplace could have been built on haunted land.” The Web site also notes that nursing homes and hospitals often top the lists for haunted places.
But sometimes spirits might attach themselves to a beloved object, like in this tale:
“A local antique shop owner reported strange occurrences just after he purchased a sideboard from an estate sale. Working late at night, he would often hear the sound of many voices in the front of the shop, but upon closer inspection, he would find that he was alone. Things placed on the sideboard for sale would be found moved to another area as if someone did not want the items there. Many other noises would occur throughout the store, with no explanation as to what was causing them. Strangely all occurrences [stopped] as soon as the sideboard was sold.”
And Forbes included this story in an article that ran last week:
“Gloria McCary, a deputy district attorney in Socorro, New Mexico, says that her former office had a ghost. She says she and some of her colleagues heard noises and voices they couldn't explain. Once when preparing for a felony trial, McCary heard a chair and files being moved in the office next door -- but no one was there. Another time she heard typing coming from a keyboard that wasn't being used.
McCary enjoyed the experience. ‘It would be really cool to know who it was,’ she says. ‘I thought working in a haunted office was incredibly interesting.’
Interesting until closing time, at least -- when the ghost became a good reason to hightail it home. ‘The building was so frightening after dark that I took work home,’ says McCary. The district attorney's office has since moved to a newer building.”
As for us here at Monster, I’m not aware of any haunted happenings. But I wouldn’t be surprised, since the old Mill we work in has a long history.
October 28, 2005
Networking Opportunities Are Everywhere
At a recent meeting, we chatted with an out-of-town guest about all the fun associated with air travel and mentioned the phenomenon of the occasional garrulous seatmate. One coworker said she doesn't like talking to strangers in an enclosed space, because you can't pick your conversation partner. As for me, I think being thrown together can be an opportunity to learn something new -- and may even be good for your career.
I used to travel quite a bit for several of my old jobs, so I've spent a lot of time on planes. Sometimes you get an antisocial neighbor, or you want to get some work done, and you're the one making the skies unfriendly. But when I've gotten to chatting with the person in the next seat, I've almost always had a good conversation.
One of the first things we generally ask any new acquaintance is what the other person does for work. This question leads to why you're on the plane in the first place, which turns into talking about the other person's profession, and so on. I've had great chats with people about work, and I've learned a lot about what others do as well as general trends in their fields.
For example, I once spoke to a high school guidance counselor who, like me, was flying home. She told me stories about how fast kids grow up today, which left me scratching my head, and how the modern guidance counselor helps out. She also revealed that many kids now want to work as forensics experts in a crime lab due to shows like "CSI," while a few years ago, they all wanted to be marine biologists because of the popularity of the movie Free Willy. Another seatmate wound up being an engineer and was interested in writing for the trade magazine I used to work for.
"Networking" can seem like a trendy buzzword, but it's important to remember that it's just conversation that can take place anywhere: the line at the grocery store, your next family party, even the bathroom. Chat it up even if you have a job, because business is based on connections -- and you can't make them sitting in silence.
October 27, 2005
Are Women Becoming the Breadwinners?
With the death of Rosa Parks this week, there has been a lot on the news about the equal rights movement. It’s hard for me to imagine what the United States was like as a segregated nation, but what’s even stranger is that it was only 50 years ago. It makes me wonder what major changes will occur in the next 50 years.
I have recently noticed a trend among my female friends. Most of those who are married or live with a guy make more than their male counterparts. A close friend who is planning on having children has decided her husband will most likely have to quit his job and stay home with the kids, because it’s not worth it to pay for child care in comparison with his salary.
Employment rates differ significantly between men and women, and those differences will likely continue into the future. While women’s employment rates are rising and men’s rates are declining, women are expected to continue to leave the labor market periodically to assume the lead role in child rearing. Since 1950, the proportion of men in the labor force has declined from 86 percent to 75 percent. In contrast, the trend for women is on the rise. In 1950, one-third of women worked outside the home. Almost 50 years later, 60 percent of women are in the labor force.
While women still have a ways to go before there is complete equality in the workplace and home, there is a trend in the right direction. Who knows -- maybe in 50 years, we will wonder how we lived in a world where men didn’t stay home with the children.
October 26, 2005
Why Pay for Gas? Go Green
I’m a patient commuter. I meander my way to work every day via 1.5 hours’ worth of public transportation (three hours total daily). I don’t have a car, nor would I have space to park it at home if I did. And with the hike in gas prices, it’s the best, albeit tedious, option for me. And, hey, I feel better knowing that I’m refraining from doing my share of diluting environmental sources. After all, according to the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), emissions from motor vehicles account for about 30 percent to 40 percent of ozone-causing pollutants -- and are thus the primary source of what we know as ecological pollution.
And it looks like I’m not the only one warming up to the idea of green commuting. Last week, the EPA and the US Department of Transportation released their annual list of "Top 20 Best Workplaces for Commuters." A good number of these companies are high tech, with Intel topping it off. To make the roll, companies proved to be proactive about encouraging their employees to leave their cars at home -- offering incentives like on-site bike storage and dry cleaning to reduce daily car use, for instance.
Currently, only 5 percent of US workers get these kinds of benefits. Why haven’t more companies jumped on the environmentally friendly bandwagon? In addition to conserving natural resources, doing so would actually have a significant effect on the bottom line. “In fact, if half of all employers in the United States offered commuter choice benefits, American workers would save about $26 million in gasoline costs every working day, or $6 billion each year,” according to the EPA and Department of Transportation.
It seems like it would therefore be as obvious for employers to offer commuting benefits as it is to offer health insurance to their employees. It’s not easy being green -- but that doesn’t have to be the case.
October 25, 2005
How's the Weather There?
It's raining here in New England -- again. And like so many workplace conversation starters the world over, even this blog entry leads off with a comment about the weather. At work, we talk about the weather, because it's the one thing -- for certain -- we have in common. How else would you begin a business telephone call with someone you've never met sitting in an office you've never seen in a place you've never been? "How's the weather there?" is one way to get things going.
For some people, the weather is just small talk, a preliminary before business. But I'm what you might call a weather nut -- someone for whom all the vagaries and complexities of the weather hold endless fascination. It's partly because I'm a sailor, an activity where understanding the weather and what it might do can mean the difference between having fun and enjoying yourself and enduring frustration and discomfort, or far worse. It's also because weather seems to combine two distinctly different ways of thinking -- the sciences of measuring and forecasting and the aesthetics of appreciating something so elemental and uncontrollable, beautiful, powerful and awe-inspiring.
Without realizing it, I've developed a reputation for weather knowledge. On the commuter train or the shuttle bus to work, when the conversation turns to the weather, my colleagues and fellow commuters turn to me about the forecast. I hasten to assure them I have no inside knowledge. My secret: The Internet, which has done more than anything to turn me from casual weather fancier into a weather nut. You can find so much great weather information online, I can't imagine how I got along before logging on.
This is also fan mail for the Feds. I am very happy to have a portion of my federal tax dollars support the work of the women and men at NOAA and the National Weather Service. They are constantly working to improve forecast accuracy and the presentation of forecast and climate information on their Web sites. If you haven't visited your local National Weather Service Web site, you should. They represent tax dollars well spent.
Here are some weather sites that can be great workplace conversation starters, not to mention helping you decide if you need sunscreen or an umbrella when you step outside:
- National Data Buoy Center: Want to know what it's like at sea in a storm? This little-known service provides real-time data from weather buoys and stations around the world.
- National Weather Service: Navigate to your local forecast from this map, right down to the "point forecasts" for your town.
- Tropical Prediction Center: Hurricane season still has about five weeks to go. The archives of past hurricanes are fascinating.
More Weather Sites
- Intellicast: This commercial weather service has some of the best animated radar weather maps around.
- Mount Washington Observatory: New England's tallest peak is notorious for bad weather. The weather station at the top measured the strongest wind gust ever recorded.
- Weather Underground: This commercial site offers lots of data from personal weather stations and weather blogs.
October 24, 2005
Working the Coolness Factor
I must admit that when meeting new people, it doesn’t hurt to be able to say that I work for a popular Web site. The point isn’t that I’m trying to impress people based on my employer, but it helps that there is some name recognition. Of course, once my husband mentions that he’s a truck driver, the focus is usually on him.
This CareerJournal.com article got me thinking about the coolness factor when it comes to work. When people think my job is cool, chances are it’s because they’ve seen Monster’s ads on TV or they’ve found their jobs through the site. The article talks quite a bit about while some might find editorial work interesting, the coolness really comes from how well-known the publication is.
Back when I worked for Tele-Publishing International (TPI), paginating and proofreading personal ads for newspapers in North America, I would always try to get some cred by saying I worked for the parent company, Phoenix Media. Around here, everyone knows the Boston Phoenix and WFNX, but no one knows TPI. Although I must say, the part about reading personal ads all the time was an instant conversation starter.
But being a truck driver is cool for another reason: It’s the type of job little boys dream about. Unless they’re in the industry, people don’t seem to care who my husband works for. They’re always more anxious to find out what he transports and if he’s ever picked up a hitchhiker during his days over the road.
October 21, 2005
Work and an Autoimmune Disease
A few months ago, my relatively peaceful life with my husband became chaotic. He'd had strange symptoms and blood readings for several years, but further testing couldn't pinpoint the problem. All that changed when he began getting really sick. We went to the hospital, where he was finally given a diagnosis: Systemic lupus erythematosus, known more commonly as lupus or SLE.
My reaction was to get as much information on this disease as possible. I found out that lupus is a chronic condition that's one of more than 80 autoimmune (AI) diseases -- other commonly known ones include rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis and scleroderma -- in which the immune system attacks healthy tissue. Turns out that nine out of 10 people who have lupus are women, and it first tends to strike in prime childbearing (and career) years. There's no cure, but it can be managed, and 80 percent to 90 percent of people with lupus live a normal lifespan.
That's a huge improvement over even 20 years ago. But my husband's job is demanding, and one of his major worries was how to balance work and his condition. Since being diagnosed, my husband has started a course of treatment and is doing much better. But not everyone is so lucky. According to this article, many workers with AI diseases retire from the workforce prematurely. With more than 50 million people in the US estimated to have an AI disease, 75 percent of them women, that's a huge issue -- for both workers and employers.
The article says accommodating an AI disease in the workplace is both the worker's and employer's responsibility and outlines some of the resources available. It also points out that AI disease symptoms are often invisible, so suffering can go unseen.
From my end, I've taken time off to be there for my husband's doctor's appointments and tests. I've tried to make sure my work gets done and keep everyone updated on what time off I'll need to take. Similarly, I hope more workers with AI diseases ask for the appropriate accommodations so they can keep contributing to and benefiting the workforce.
Consult the American Autoimmune Related Diseases Association Web site for more information on AI diseases.
October 20, 2005
Out of the Office
It’s not really my fault, but there has not, nor will there be, a single week this month that I’m actually in the office every day.
It all started with the Jewish High Holy Days, for which I had to take three days off to attend services. This turned into a number of non-Jewish colleagues asking me if I get annoyed using personal time off for days like that. Do I? Not really, because I make sure to budget my time accordingly. And it’s not like I’d want to be one of a handful of people sitting in the office working all by myself on a more broadly celebrated holiday. Another coworker sent me this article from the Boston Globe. You can learn more about religious accommodation in the workplace here.
And then this week I was at an offsite meeting for two days. While we did get some key planning done for next year, I kept jotting down things I had to attend to once back in the office.
And that brings us to next week, when I’ll be taking three days of actual vacation. Right now, I feel like I could have planned better, but my husband chooses his vacation time at the beginning of the year. We chose next week, because it’s our anniversary. Word to the wise: While October is a beautiful time to get married in New England, it is not the best time to go on vacation anyplace else. The temperatures are already dropping, and the more tropical locales are subject to hurricanes and monsoons.
Whatever reason you plan to be out of the office, whether for a day, a week or more, don’t forget to:
- Set your out-of-office assistant on email.
- Appoint backup people for all projects in process.
- Reschedule or cancel any standing meetings.
- Remind people that you will be out.
- Write a to-do list so you’ll know what to do once back in the office.
October 19, 2005
The Corporate Name Game
Sometimes it seems like corporate American bigwigs just have too much time on their hands. They have time to create slogans or catchphrases for internal projects, for instance. Think about the pet names executives have assigned to the work you do. Are you working on a “Project Fire”? Have you gone into a “The Big Event” brainstorm?
We get our fair share of mottos here. It can be amusing -- and it does add a little personality to what could otherwise be a lethargic venture. But how effective are these internal slogans in actually motivating employees? And, more importantly, how do they influence the success of a project?
A recent CareerJournal article suggests that, if not mindfully named, internal catchphrases can actually hinder performance by confusing employees about the end goals of an endeavor. What’s more is that sometimes managers can be married to a name so much that they use it to define a project; in other words, if a certain element of the venture doesn’t fit under the umbrella name, it may be mismanaged.
There seems to be a delicate balance companies need to achieve in order to motivate employees while maintaining their focus -- and in some cases, a strong aphorism might do that. But if not carefully selected, it can actually work against its own purpose.
Are internal slogans in your company effective or just funny?
October 18, 2005
Love Those Boomers?
I arrived at work today to find a colleague had left the latest issue of BusinessWeek at my desk, with a cover story called "Love Those Boomers!" It's about how marketers are, not surprisingly, shifting their messages to appeal to the sizable number of consumers who are or will soon be in their 50s. The cover story offers some great examples of how knee-jerk assumptions about what appeals to these older consumers can be wildly wrong.
Marketers with products and services to sell may want to get cozy with the Boomer crowd, but marketers aren't the only ones making incorrect assumptions about this group. Many employers, it seems, don't love those Boomers. Why?
Frustrated older job seekers say employers assume older workers are:
- Too expensive.
- Resistant to change and learning new things.
- Lack energy and enthusiasm.
- Want to retire soon.
As the representative Baby Boomer on Monster's Content and blogging team and the producer of our Careers at 50+ channel in partnership with the AARP, I've seen and heard lots of examples of this shortsighted behavior by employers. Monster's Age Issues message board is filled with posts from highly qualified older job seekers who have been passed over, ignored or rejected during their job search because of employer assumptions about age.
Monster and the AARP have lots of good information about conducting a job search as an older worker. Here are a few articles: