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Thursday, January 31, 2008

The future of employee benefits

Will companies cut their employee benefits as the economy begins to weaken? And, will the trend toward employees paying more of their health care premiums continue? A panel of human resources professionals from top companies such as City Furniture and BankUnited debated these topics at a Watson Wyatt South Florida Employer Briefing at The Miami Herald on Thursday.

Here are the major points

* Companies are tailoring their benefits to their workforce. For example, The Miami Herald employees are under a lot of stress so the company offers onsite chiropractic and chair massages; Vitas Health workers work with dying patients so they offer generous time off for those who need mental health days; City Furniture has its headquarters out in the middle of nowhere so it is building a health clinic incase workers get hurt on the job.

* Employers are not marketing their benefits as if they were consumer products -- too many employees don't understand their benefits or the value of the total package.

* Expect to see a big increase in the use of benefits related to stress and mental illness. Health insurance will increasingly get more costly for workers but companies are making efforts to keep premiums down through disease management.

* Going forward there may be more hybrid retirement savings plans -- 401ks are dropping in value with the stock market. Just when companies want workers to retire, fewer will want to leave.

* The panelists did not feel employers would cut back on benefits if the economy continues to weaken but they do think they will shift which benefits they spend more on.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Battle corporate burnout with spa retreat

Westglow Resort & Spa has come up with a great marketing piece that grabbed my attention: the ultimate way to battle corporate burnout -- a spa retreat. The resort in Blowing Rock, North Carolina (which just received the distinction of being named the number one Bourtique Spa in the World!) has come up with a four-day package to battle burnout and help you redisover meaning in your work. In between yoga classes, hikes and spa services, are classes in creating balance, time-management and self care. The package has a steep price tag -- $2395 (meals included). Battling burnout isn't cheap, but either is having a breakdown! Do you think companies should pay to send their executives on these type of retreats?

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Why not offer good benefits?

I am really starting to wonder why companies don't offer more benefits. In tough economic times, I can understand why they don't dazzle us with big raises or lure new workers with fat salaries. But some of these benefits that help with work/life balance don't cost much and they really create loyalty.

Take on-site Weight Watchers classes, for example. Most companies -- large and small -- that offer this benefit make the employees pay for the classes. But by offering this convenience, employers score big. I am amazed by what the companies on Fortune's Best Places to Work list offer.

Are there risks? Are companies worried that an employees will twist an ankle during a lunchtime aerobics class? One of my colleagues says yes. But I really don't think that's what is stopping more from offering these perks. My guess is they just haven't put these benefits on their radar. My guess is as money gets tighter, more will expand their low-cost or no-cost offerings. Do you see companies getting more creative? What benefits outside of the basics do you think workers value most?

To see me talking live about benefits on CBS: click here to view.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Benefits or salary?

Let me start by being realistic. We all want to earn more money. But if that's not going to happen, we at least want some perks. I have just spent two intense months looking at benefits offered by large employers in South Florida. What I discovered is most want desperately to be called "One of the Best Places to Work" Earning that distinction doesn't always cost an employer much. It just requires some open-minded thinking.

We want perks that make our lives easier. And for the most part, companies are starting to react. Here are the four basic areas I address in my reports and the trends in those areas.

* HEALTH CARE --- Employers are desperate to find ways to cut their health care costs. That means making employees pay more of the costs, beefing up wellness and disease management programs. See article.

* RETIREMENT SAVINGS -- Traditional pension is going away. Employers here are offering 401Ks and they are generous with matching workers' contributions. See article.

* VACATION -- Don't expect employers to get more generous with vacation time. Instead they are creating Paid Time Off banks, which benefit workers who had let their sick time go unused. See article

* WORK/LIFE -- Lots of companies are piloting or considering formal flexible work arrangements. This benefit doesn't cost them any dollars and cents and creates good will. See article.

Here's a link to the charts we ran on line that shows how employers stacked up. The ability to work a flex schedule keeps me at my workplace. Let me know what benefits you think are most important.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Should you tell the truth in an evaluation?

I recently had my annual performance evaluation. I was completely upfront about the demands on my time and the goals I feel I can realistically accomplish in 2008. I was clear that I want to remain a part-time employee.

But in my early days of working part time I went along with my boss' comments on my evaluation that I some day hoped to return to the workforce full time. Motherhood, age, priorities and experience have played into how I now fill out my evaluations and set goals. Which makes me ask: How completely open should be during your performance review? Is it the right time to bring up flexible scheduling and issues you might be having with work/life balance?

My advice: Don't bring up work/life concerns unless you have a plan for how to resolve them.

In a blog posting by Leslie Morgan Steiner she asks:What has surprised you the most about your work-life challenges and the solutions you've found? What advice or guidance would you give if you could go back in time for a little chat with your pre-parent self?

I would tell my pre-parent self it's okay to have a career part-time and to show my supervisors during reviews that I can do this and still be productive. In my early days of being a part-time worker, I tried to do a full-time job in half the time and led my bosses to think my part-time status was a temporary arrangement. It has taken about a decade for work and life to fall into place -- and it is a constant struggle to balance competing demands.

What guidance would you give your pre-parent self? Do you feel performance reviews are the time to bring up work/life issues?

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Busy moms often eat poorly

It's true. Most working mothers spend so much time working about what our kids eat but we don't eat well ourselves. No matter how hard we try, our bodies never look as svelte as they did before kids. Two reasons according to an article I just read on this subject: hormonal changes and poor eating habits coupled with inadequate physical activity. (And then there's the little issue of snacking off our kids plates)

Apparently, working mothers claim that one of the biggest obstacles to healthy food preparation is lack of time. If you are like me and resolved to be healthier in 2008, here are tips from the previously referenced article with a little of my own suggestions:

1. Keep as much junk food out of the house as possible. And, if you do bring it in, put it out of sight.

2. Keep the healthy stuff in view. I just bought a crate of clementines and put them in a bowl in my kitchen. They've become my new favorite snack food.

3. Make lunch the biggest meal of the day. (I'm trying to eat more giant salads at lunch!)

4. Limit-stress inducing eating. Easier to say than to do. I'm trying to keep baby carrots on my desk for those stressful days. And, I'm going to try to get up from my desk and stretch instead of nibbling on chocolate.

5. Don't eat anything you wouldn't feed your child. (You would want your kid to have vegies with his meal, wouldn't you?)

6. Don't starve yourself. Also, the longer you go without food, the more likely you'll be to reach for junk once hunger gets the better of you. We certainly didn't put on our "baby weight" overnight, and it can't come off that quickly either.

7. Designate a food prep day. Pick one day for both grocery shopping and preparing foods so that they will be accessible later in the week. When you return from the store, wash and chop vegetables such as carrots and broccoli, throw the lettuce in the salad spinner, boil noodles, bake potatoes in the microwave, and even cook several boneless, skinless chicken breasts. I just read about a couple who cooks four breasts at a time and tosses them in salads, pastas and soups during the week.

8. Keep it simple. One-pot meals are easy and can be healthy. (I just bought a book of recipes with Campbell's Soup -- hearty, healthy, one-pot dishes.)

Let me know if you have tips to share!

Monday, January 21, 2008

Should children babysit children?

For me, there is nothing more troubling than the case of the 12-year old child who is accused of killing 17-month old Shaloh Joseph. The child had to baby-sit both the toddler and his 10-year old brother for about 12 hours each day while his mother and the toddler's parents went to work during the winter break from school. He became annoyed with her and may have killed her by using a bat on her head. Now, as Miami Herald articles have detailed, the boy could be prosecuted as an adult.

As a working parent, I know firsthand the battle to keep our kids occupied and safe while we're at our jobs on those days off from school. For some, adequate and affordable child care feels so out of reach. And too often, in my job I have interviewed parents who admit to leaving kids home alone during breaks from school.

Whose fault is it that this child didn't have the maturity to handle the situation he was put in? We need to look at the child care system we have in place, educate parents on their alternatives and give them more affordable options. Should children babysit other children? At what age is it okay?

I bet there are lots of kids home alone today on a school holiday while their parents are at work. Will parents continue to feel they have no alternatives to leaving their children home alone on days off? Do you feel employers are doing enough to acknowledge these child care concerns?

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Death of a woman CEO

In case you missed it, The Miami Herald ran an obituary on the death of Cinda Hallman. I always found her story a sad tale about Corporate America and work/life balance. Hallman gave work her all. She lived and breathed work and proved herself a strong leader. She accomplished what only a handful of women have been able to do -- become CEO of a Fortune 500 company. Hallman looked the part of a CEO and advocated for the advancement of women. Yet, she had little balance in her life -- no significant other, no children. She was hard at work leading Spherion to new heights and holding a board seat at Toys R Us when one day she fainted at work and had to be taken away in an ambulance.

It turned out, she had a brain tumor. (Although her exact illness was never publicly disclosed) Before long, Spherion replaced her with a qualified man. Corporate boards no longer had interest in Hallman because her thinking was affected by her illness. And so, on this past Christmas Eve, Hallman passed away at age 63. It must have been difficult for Hallman at the end of her life. Work friends are quick to move on. I had heard she tried to reenter her corporate circles but was never really accepted again. I had wanted to interview Hallman about her life, her success, her regrets but I never got around it. I'm left to wonder what she would say about her choices in life. I'm left thinking about her as I make my choices.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Finding Day Care -- for your parents

For a short spell, I had to worry about taking care of my now-retired mother who wasn't well and my children. Although my mom is back on her feet, I foresee the day when it will be an issue again.

That's why I found an article this weekend in The Wall Street Journal of interest. The article says as baby boomers seek quality care for frail parents unable to stay at home alone, they are looking for relief from day-care centers. These centers work like child-care facilities. You drop your relative off in the morning and pick them up after work. The advantage: they are more reliable and stimulating than hiring a home health-care aide. Another plus: A pilot program allows a portion of Medicare home health-care benefits to go toward adult day care. So far, enrollment growth has been robust, the article claims. The cost is about $60 a day.

To find a center: Ask for a list from your local Alzheimer support groups or local agencies on aging.

This is an option I had never considered. If you have tried it, let me know how it turned out for you.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Working parents and My Space

As a working parent, one of the biggest challenges I face is supervising my children's computer and video game usage -- particularly when I'm at work.

I haven't faced the My Space requests -- yet --- but I know they are coming. For now, just controlling who my kids are talking to on Instant Messaging is a chore. I have asked the babysitter to limit their leisure computer time to one hour in the afternoons and I insist on peeking at the screen every once in a while when I come home and they are instant message. Still, maintaining control isn't easy and my kids aren't always forthcoming when I question them about their online conversations or try to look over their shoulder. I really enjoyed a column by Ralph De La Cruz debating whether to allow his son to get a My Space page.

Recently, I have had co-workers complain to me about their teens' grades slipping because they are unsupervised after school and spend too much time playing video games instead of doing homework.

I'm curious about your experiences. Do you have any rules for use of technology while you are at work? What about when you are at home? Do your kids resent when you get home from work and try to put an end to their video game playing or computer use?

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Teen moms asking for maternity leave

Time to weigh in on the national stir caused by pregnant students in a Denver high school who are asking the school board for at least four weeks of maternity leave so they can heal, bond with their newborns and not be penalized with unexcused absences, according to an article in The Denver Post. Denver has one of the highest teen pregnancy rates in the state.

The stir began when counselors from East High School approached the school board saying the policy at their school is unfair because it forces new moms to return to school the day after being discharged from the hospital or face being charged with unexcused absences. District officials are reviewing the policy, which currently allows schools to set their own rules.

I'm torn. Returning to school the day after giving birth is physically impossible. That's why employers give maternity leave. There is a whole Family Leave Act that Congress passed to allow mothers to stay home to care for their baby. Shouldn't teen mothers also be covered by this?

But then these girls are irresponsibly having unprotected sex and getting pregnant. Should they be rewarded with four weeks maternity leave? This could possibly create more unwanted pregnancies because girls are trying to get out of school.

One blogger writes: Its a no win situation, but a real problem that at least is being addressed.

It's a controversial topic with no easy answer. What are your feelings?

Blog Party

Is your company blogging? Are you? Lots of people feel they just don't have time to blog.

But the National Association of Women Business Owners (NAWBO) insists it is crucial to blog in today's business world. (A public relations must!) So the group is throwing a blogging party Thursday night, Jan. 10 from 5-7 p.m. at Biscayne Centre in North Miami.

Tech experts at the state-wide “blogging party” will teach women entrepreneurs all over Florida how to create an association “blog” for their NAWBO chapters and one for their own businesses at the same time.

Sounds to me like an event worth attending. To register, click here.

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Sticking with your New Year's Resolutions

This morning I appeared on our local CBS affiliate to talk about the Miami Herald article I wrote yesterday, which gave tips for sticking with your New Year's resolutions.

Here's a link to this morning's TV segment:

One of the best tips give to me came from Toni Negas, director of marketing for Lady of America. She discovered most loyal exercisers have gained support from a friend, family member or coworker who encourages or joins them in their routine. Negan herself has a gym buddy she works out with. ``Many days when I want to skip it, she reminds me of the reasons why I should go.''

Do you have someone to support you in your resolution? A co-worker? A spouse? It could make all the difference for you this year.