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Thursday, September 28, 2006

balance or benefits

Do you think that a part-timer working reduced hours while you burn the midnight oil deserves the same benefits package? No way, most workers would say. Most companies agree with that. As a part timer, I didn't get health insurance for many years. I chose balance over benefits. I have learned flexibility often means throwing benefits out the window. It isn't fair, but it's reality.
Last week, I spent time looking at the staffing industry through different eyes. I discovered the life of a temp isn't bad at all and detailed the industry in a Miami Herald article. Like me, temps who really aren't looking for permanent work choose balance over benefits.
Typically, temps don't get benefits. If they do, they are not very favorable. But temps do make higher than minimum wages. The median pay rate is $11.80 an hour. I spoke with temps in Miami that earn as much as $35 an hour. Some staffing companies offer health insurance but the premiums are high. Unlike part-time jobs which offer reduced hours, temp positions usually are full days. You may be able to work a few full days a week, or a few weeks at a time. It's a good alternative for people who don't want to commit to a traditional schedule. Just don't expect the perks of a traditional full time job.

Monday, September 25, 2006

Helicopter parenting

A glimpse of the front page of today's Miami Herald gave me lots of reasons to rethink my stand on helicopter parenting. For those of you who haven't heard the term, it describes today's parents who are too involved in their kids lives. These parents hover over their kids at college, choosing their classes or tagging along on job interviews. I've seen helicopter parents in action and have wondered how their kids will fare in the long run. But then....
The first story I read in my paper today was about teens who beat a homeless man but didn't kill him only because the last teens who beat and killed a homeless man are on trial for murder. From there, I went on to read about a college student who was severely beaten for four days during a fraternity hazing. The boy's father reported the incident to authorities and frat boys are set to go on trial in Tallahassee.
I have to wonder, where are the parents of these children who are perpetrating these beatings? Maybe helicopter parenting isn't so horrible when you look at the alternative!

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Motivating younger workers

I received some great feedback in response to an article I wrote on the huge value that younger workers place on their time. Manny Figueroa a Miami CPA and attorney says he has found it challenging to motivate the younger generation of workers. Although he has tried various employee benefits, he reports the most success with Paid Time Off and comp time. Figueroa found this option works: he allows employees to work 5 hours on a Saturday and gives them off a full day the subsequent Friday.
To me, it's a no brainer. I'd be willing to make the trade to get a long weekend. I think (hope) more employers will look at these alternatives to get the work done and show their workers that their time has value.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Are lawyers flexible?

Is change in the air, or is it just lip service? The large national law firm White & Case annouced today it will start a Flexible Work Arrangement Program. In a press release, the firm says any employee can ask for flexibility in their schedule, WITHOUT giving a reason. Here's what they consider flexible arrangements: part-time, take timing off between assignments or telecommuting on a regular basis.
"This is important,'' the release says, "because a stigma is often attached to associates who request part-time work, such as sometimes occurs when women lawyers request reduced schedules so they have more time for child-rearing."
The firm says its new program allows lawyers to remain on the partner track, because participants will continue to meet the same performance standards as their colleagues who work more traditional hours. If a male or female wants this arrangement, they must get an executive partner's approval.
While I applaud the law firm's efforts, I'm skeptical about how it will play out. Is it possible to ask for and get flexibility without giving a reason, especially to a law partner? By their nature, lawyers demand more information. Is it realistic to think that someone with a flexibile schedule will advance at the same pace as someone who puts in lots of face time? I hope the answer is yes on both counts. This is a bold first step for a law firm. The next step, implementation, will be even more important. Perhaps our workplaces will advance enough that one day soon, White & Case's bold step becomes the standard for all firms.

Friday, September 15, 2006

Women athletes and balance

I watched an excellent report on HBO Sports recently about the women's world champion soccer team, which includes Mia Hamm. I am so impressed by these women. I was especially impressed by how they forged ahead regardless of any setbacks and paved the way for young girls to participate in group sports. One of the players continued on the team even after she married and had children. She would bring her babies to the field and run back and forth between the sideline and her practice. Her daughters now have a love of the sport too. I really loved the story she told on the report about the accident her potty trained daughter had when she was traveling with the team. Her mom asked her what had happened and the little girl answered, "I just lost my focus mom.'' While many parents are struggling with work/life balance, our kids are learning important lessons about work ethic and doing it all.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006


As the new school year kicks in and organizations gear up, I find myself with a case of volunteeritis. I wonder if any of you have this disease. I have commited to be the girl scout leader for my daughter's troop. I have commited to be the room mom in all three of my kids' classes. I want to show them that although I work, I'm there for them(that guilt factor kicked in). Realizing I was starting to overcommit, I vowed to pause when anyone asks me to do anything and answer "I'll think about it.'' I was so confident it would help, that I started advising others to do the same.
But when an editor recently asked me to do a freelance article, I answered yes. No pause. No "I'll think about it." I immediately regreted making the commitment. Sure, the money is enticing. But I know I'm going to lose sleep (literally) trying to get the article done. If only I paused.

Monday, September 11, 2006

Work/life lessons from 9/11

People really talked a good talk after 9/11. All of us vowed to work closer to home, put our families first, not take our co-workers for granted. At the time of the terrorist attacks, I had a three month old and had just returned from maternity leave. I felt for all those babies whose mothers wouldn't come home that night. In the last five years, I relocated to an office closer to home. I also changed my work schedule allowing me to be home more afternoons with my children. But I have sacrificed income and advancement and that's a luxury not every working parent can afford.
I know many working people who haven't been as successful sticking to their post 9/11 vows because their bosses won't cooperate. I feel their frustration. Just this morning, a colleague told me her boss is on her case to put in more face time, despite the fact that she is doing an excellent job working from home at nights. I am hoping that today, as memorial services commemorate the lives lost, one boss out there might show more understanding to an employee who shows commitment. Many of us are proud to be good parents and good employees and trying hard to stick to the vows we made five years ago.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Some moms go back to work

I am discovering that a growing number of women do not fall into clear-cut "working mom" and "at-home mom" categories. When I drop my children at school in the mornings, I see moms this year in work clothes who used to be there in t-shirts and shorts. Their transformation indicates more employer willingness to embrace women who want to return to the workforce. And, it shows that more moms are sliding back and forth between two worlds.
Far more moms work part-time than I ever imagined. And today's full-time working mom might take some time off once she's gotten a key promotion or burned out. We're seeing more moms slide back and forth from stay-at-home to back-at-work depending on their kids' ages, families' financial needs and moms' desires.
Over the 10 years I've been a mom, I've worked full-time and part-time. I've blended in on playgrounds and in boardrooms. Contrary to the controversy about the mommy track, I don't see that womens' careers suffer over the long run from time-off. Women returning to the workforce may not find the ideal job right away. They may have to sacrifice salary or title. But sliding along the work-home spectrum has allowed me and other moms to bring ethusiasm to motherhood and paid work.
What's your experience? Has combining work and parenthood been easier or harder than you imagined?

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Fantasy football and work/life balance

Today I explored the growing fascination with fantasy football in my Miami Herald column. For so many people, it's become an addiction, one that lures them into checking Internet sites and sending e-mails while at work. I have learned there's a lot of work involved, choosing the right players and selecting who you will start and who you will bench each week. But there's something really enticing to me about joining a league. Maybe it's that competitive spirit or the chance to bond with colleagues.
I discovered that although 96 percent of the 37 million people who play are men, it's growing in popularity with women. Jennifer Kuperman, a corporate event planner, played fantasy football before she met her fiance Tadd Schwartz. Now the two of them are team owners together. Schwartz says he thinks it will enrich their lives as a couple. Otherwise, he says, "she would think I'm a lunatic about football. "
I received an e-mail today from Joey Epstein, a Fort Lauderdale CPA. He says his wife, Kip, is as addicted as any man who plays. Writes Epstein: "My friends don’t even acknowledge me in our leagues unless they get Kip’s approval. She watches 3 TV’s in the family room, including satellite, and controls the clicker every Sunday."
It sounds like fantasy football, the latest rage, will battle for our time along with work, family and other hobbies. But those who play, especially those who wager money on it, say it's a great outlet for friendly competition.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

A working mom's struggle to lose weight

Welcome to the today's guest blog. I am featuring the views of a guest writer. Feel free to send me your entry (300 words or fewer) for consideration. Obviously, the topic should be something related to balancing your life.

By Jill Dolan

As my beloved, late grandmother would say, “Good intentions pave the way to heaven, but they don’t get you in.”
Heaven for me would be the loss of 30 pounds. I’m a married mother of two with a full time job, and despite the best intentions and a world of resources, I just can’t make it happen.
I have a gym at work that we are urged by our company to use faithfully, a health club membership near my home, a state of the art treadmill in my basement, a pool in the backyard large enough for laps, a double jog stroller, and a shiny red bicycle. With all those resources, which I realize I’m fortunate to have, I can’t go wrong, right? .
I have purchased almost every popular diet and fitness book and cookbook out there. I’ve read and tried them, with small successes (albeit temporary) here and there. I have a multitude of fitness videos. I buy them figuring I’ll get up early or do them after the kids go to bed. I can certainly make time for that, right? All I need is 30 minutes, the DVD player, and a toy-free space on the carpet. No problem.
I buy vegetables and lean meats on every grocery store trip, with the intention of making healthy and low fat meals for my family. I peruse my cookbooks for healthy recipes. My mission is to transform them (and myself!) into healthy eaters. Those are my intentions. This is my reality.

5:00 am. Alarm goes off. Time for yoga video. All I have to do is roll out of bed onto the floor and flick the DVD player on. I foggily think that I would get more benefit from 30 more minutes of sleep, since I stayed up late folding laundry while watching Entourage (or 24, House, Lost, Grey’s Anatomy, Sopranos, American Idol, name the night, I’ll name the show.)

5:30 a.m. Get up. Skipped yoga tape, but figure I’ll go to the gym on my lunch hour. Pack gym bag, shower, get dressed, then get kids up, dressed, fed, and off to first grade and preschool, then on to work.

7:30 a.m. At work. Plan to go the gym around 1:00, after the usual 12:00 rush. Schedule it on my calendar.

12:30 p.m. The boss calls. Emergency team meeting at 1:00. Special rush project for clients. Everyone has to pitch in. No gym today. Oh well, maybe I’ll jog the kids around the neighborhood in the stroller after dinner or go swimming, or maybe even walk in my neighborhood or on the treadmill after they go to bed.

5:00 p.m. Quitting time. Pick up both kids and fight nasty traffic.

6:00 p.m. Home. We all are tired and hungry. Look in fridge and think about some nice lean chicken and steamed vegetables for dinner. Kids will hate it and refuse to eat. Decide that spaghetti and meat sauce be peaceful, quicker, and use less pots and pans. Make some pasta and open a jar of tomato sauce, add some ground beef. Presto – quick dinner and the kids love it. I eat a portion that’s way too big. (By the end of the week, those vegetables in the fridge go bad. I throw them out and am wracked with guilt about wasting money and perfectly good food.)

7:00 – After dinner. Clean up kitchen while my older child does her homework. Kitchen cleaned up, homework done. Now they need baths. No time for walking or swimming.

8:00 – Baths done, kids have pajamas on. Bedtime. Read books to each child and talk about what happened that day and what’s in store for the next day. Tuck them in for the night. Put them back in bed after they get up to ask for a glass of water, or in the case of my youngest, asking to have any of his various pirate knickknacks covered up because they “freak him out.”

9:00 – Kids asleep! At last, some free time. The kitchen is clean, but the rest of the house is a mess, and there are piles of dirty clothes, even though I’m constantly doing laundry. And I haven’t read the mail or the newspaper yet. Do some straightening up, flip through the mail, glance through the paper, put in some laundry, and sit down to watch a favorite show for a few minutes and chat with my husband, who just got home.

10:30p.m. Go to bed. Set alarm for 5:00 a.m. in order to get up and do yoga video, I’ll definitely start that tomorrow.

OK, so this doesn’t happen ALL the time. I do make nutritious meals sometimes. But sometimes we also eat out, or order in, and our choices usually aren’t healthy. And, I do get to the gym at work most days. However, I change, work out, shower, change again, fix hair and makeup, and get back to my desk all in one hour. This makes for an all-too-brief workout. Even though I do this workout most days, I don’t think it has made a darn bit of difference, although it does keep my stress level in check. I always feel better after doing it. In addition, on the weekends, I do go swimming, ride my bike, or on rare occasions, go to the health club.

So with all these things, my weight still doesn’t budge. What the heck does it take? I know – a personal chef and trainer, and 4 hours a day to work out. Right. I’ll get right on that. In the meantime, I’ll keep working on turning my intentions into reality.

Jill Dolan works in the legal department of Bank of America Card Services. Dolan is an ex-Floridian who now lives in Deleware. She is the mother of a six year old girl and a three year old boy.

Response to invitation

For all of you who responded to my invitation, send me your guest columns and I will post them on the blog as quickly as possible. I can't wait to hear your thoughts and ancedotes on work/life balance.
Some statistics in this weekend's edition of USA Weekend are so interesting that I want to share them with you. It turns out all those arguments we have with our spouse about who does the dishes or makes the bed are trivial. A survey conducted by the magazine found 74 percent of couples say money is the cause of most family fights. Only 7 percent blame housekeeping. Here is another stat I found fascinating: About 33 percent of Americans would rather lose 10 pounds than land a promotion. That sure says a lot to employers about our priorities. Employers are going to have to be much more creative to motivate their workers. It's too bad that many still don't realize it.