Thursday, March 31, 2011

Modern Workforce: Reflections of a Single Working Dad

Guest Post by Jim Webber

While I was at the local coffee shop this week, I noticed a young father typing away on his computer as his baby napped in his lap.  The thing that caught my attention was that no one else paid any attention.  He was just another guy doing some work while enjoying his latte.  

It made me happy.

It was very different twenty years ago when my two daughters were toddlers and I was a newly single dad.  Back then, most of our treks out into the real world made me think that I could be a viable candidate for “Father of the Year”.  Total strangers praised me for being a great parent because I was handling them “without help”.     

Before any moms start sending hate mail my way, I get it.  I was only doing what moms have been doing since time began -- taking care of the kids.  I don’t consider myself to be a trail-blazer, but back then I was an oddity.  We simply did not see too many fathers going about their business with the kids in tow and a mom nowhere in sight.  (For the record, there is and was a great mom in the picture.  After she and I separated, we shared custody and remain on very good terms).  

Today, it seems that dads (married or single) are much more involved in raising their kids.  That’s a great thing.  I have done extensive research – about five minutes on-line – and realized that there is not much useful advice for the new working dads.  I emphasize the word “useful”.  There are lots of tips telling you to  “spend more quality time with your children” and  “do not take them into biker bars”.  Dads could have figured those types of things on their own.  What today’s dads need is the voice of experience about what matters most.

That voice has arrived:
  1. Develop a sense of humor.  You’ll need it and it may keep you from having a major stroke before your time.   An elderly woman who I had never met before passed these words of wisdom on to me when my daughters were 3 and 2 years old.  She was standing near my girls and me as I was about to take a photo of them in their new dresses.  The photo was going to be a great one – I had them posed in front of a beautiful fountain.  As I was focusing the camera, my youngest flashed an evil grin.  (Wherever does she get it?).    Before I could intervene, she turned and shoved my older daughter into the water.  Based on her expression of utter joy, it was the best moment of her life up until that day.  She was clapping and laughing, her sister was splashing and sputtering and I could feel the veins in my head about to explode.  That’s when the silver-haired, well-dressed woman walked up to me.  She patted me on the shoulder and, in a tone of voice usually reserved for talking crazy people down from tall building ledges, told me that this would be really funny some day.  “I can tell you’re a great dad,” she said, “and your girls have a lot of spirit.  That’s so much better than boring, don’t you think?” She laughed, I laughed and I have remembered her wise words many times.   They have not always made me laugh, but they have kept me off the ledge.
  2. Always carry a towel and change of clothes.  See above.
  3. Be prepared for odd fashion moments.  As a father of babies or kids, you need to be ready to look ridiculous from time to time.   They will beg you to wear the Mickey Mouse ears at Disneyland or the crazy tie they picked out because they love Spongebob Squarepants.  They might want to paint your toe-nails hot pink.  Just go for it.   My oddest fashion moment came when I was appearing in court for a client and the judge asked about my baby.   My pride deflated as I thanked the judge for asking and noticed he was tapping his shoulder.  I heard some muffled laughs from the people waiting for the next case to start and then looked down at my own shoulder – and saw the burp cloth draped over it.  The drape cloth I had used earlier that morning to protect my suit as I gave the baby a good bye hug.  (She tended to urp up on me on a regular basis, especially if I was in my nice clothes).  I’d managed to wear the diaper on my shoulder as I rode the bus downtown, walked to the courthouse, rode the elevator and then sat with a crowd of other attorneys and parties waiting for the court calendar to start.  No one said a word until the judge.   (To this day, I am thankful that the cloth was clean that time.)
  4. Beware of cameras.  Your kids will probably be able to talk you into doing crazy things.  Go ahead and do them, just try not to end up on YouTube or Facebook doing them.  This was easier for me – there was no social media in the 1990s.  When my youngest talked me into wearing a giant cookie costume to help her sell Thin Mints and Samoas in front of the grocery store, the experience did not go viral.  Neither did the time I dressed up as Big Bird or had my toe nails painted.
  5. Be prepared to be embarrassed.  This next cautionary tale is based on an experience that happened when my  “baby” had just learned to walk and my oldest was a talkative two-year old with an advanced vocabulary.  It was a Saturday morning and my daughters invaded the bathroom to ask about breakfast as I was drying off after a shower.  I covered myself with the towel, but not soon enough.  “What’s that?” the oldest asked, pointing you-know-where.  “My towel,” I replied, hoping for the best.  My daughter rejected that response and asked again, this time with her tiny hands on her hips and a rather stern expression on her face.  I had not expected such questions to start so soon, or when I was naked and dripping wet.  I was stuck.  The girls’ mom and I had agreed that we would be candid and honest when the girls started to ask anatomical questions.  I held on to my towel, took a deep breath and told her that it was my p--.  I quickly explained that only boys have one and let out a sigh of relief when this seemed to be no big deal to her.  Getting caught in the shower was not the embarrassing part.  Several days later, when I took the girls into the office for a quick visit after a doctor appointment, my oldest walked up to my secretary and said, “Did you know that my daddy has a p--?” I survived and so can you.
  6. Work can usually wait.  Your job is important.  Making a living is not an option for those of us without trust funds.  I know there will be times when you can’t get away from work, but you need to be organized so you can block out a morning for the school play or the afternoon when the students display their best art.  These are big events to your kids and it means the world to them when you show up.  It’s good for you, too. 
  7. Time is your enemy.   My daughters are basically grown up.  My oldest is a college junior and my “baby” is about to graduate from culinary school.  (As a bonus, neither of them has been to prison and the tattoos are tasteful).  Here’s the thing – I have no idea how we got to this point so quickly.  They were babies and now they’re not.  Find a way to spend as much time with them as you can when they are little and – as much as they say they hate it – continue to find ways to be together when they are teenagers.  You do not have as much time as you think.   Road trips worked for me.  We covered most of the United States on one of them --  here’s proof:
You are going to do a lot of things in your life, but if you are a dad – nothing is more important.  You can survive and thrive through all of it.  Really.

Jim Webber is the author of Evil Skippy at Work ( and a human resources trainer/consultant/investigator based in Seattle.  In a past life, he was an employment lawyer.   You can follow Evil Skippy on Twitter (@EvilSkippySays) and also be a fan on Facebook.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

March Carnival of HR - Safe at Home

Don't miss the 2nd March Carnival of HR over at Lean HR - the theme is Safe at Home and you'll be amazed by the variety of approaches people took with this versatile title.

Retention: Rhymes with eBook

As the economy turns around, up to 84% of employees across the US have said they are looking at the possibility of changing jobs.

That's a lot of people.

We all know the numbers on employee turnover and the impact it has on the bottom line. So what's our alternative?  

Retention. Keep the good people around (not by force, hopefully) and keep them on our team.

That's where the free eBook titled "Where do you think you're going? A guide to employee retention" comes in. It's full of strategies and ideas for how to retain your best employees in turbulent economic times.

Contributors include: Tim Sackett, Heather Vogel, Benjamin McCall, Chris Ferdinandi, Paul Hebert, Laura Schroeder, Dave Ryan, Keith McIlvaine, Robin Schooling, and Stuart at 1.00 FTE. You can find links to each of these contributors' websites within the guide.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Safe at Home

Ah, Spring. Warm sunlight, light breezes, budding flowers, laughing children, young German couples washing their cars…

There's magic in the air. We want to be outside.

In colder, harsher seasons we seek the haven of home, where we can lock out the rest of the world and feel safe.

But are we ever really safe, even at home?

The Japanese thought so…

It’s human to want to bury your head and ignore big problems until it’s too late. That's why we try to avoid thinking about gloomy topics like pollution, global warming and nuclear disaster.

That's why, despite problems we can see like massive oil spills, nuclear plant containment failures, melting ice bergs and dying species we believe people who tell us what we want to hear.

  • We keep voting for politicians who ignore the problem or pretend it doesn't exist
  • Leading countries continue to rely on outmoded, centralized, unsustainable energy production
  • Other countries follow their lead, probably with even lower safety standards
  • Industrial leaders lobby for lax environmental laws and win
  • Nursing moms can’t eat tuna because of high mercury content
  • Tokyo - one of my favorite cities - has radioactive water

We’re not safe at home. The Germans have recently woken up to this fact, electing the green party in the heart of car manufacturing country. They get it.

What about the rest of us?

I read an excellent post today about envisioning the future you want but belief must be combined with action. How we vote, how we buy, how we behave is just as important as how we believe.

By combining belief with action we can create the future we want to live in.

A future in which are safe at home.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Project Social: The Dark Side of HR

This tongue-in-cheek video (below) depicts HR as a covert informer who invites confidences from employees then rats them out behind their backs. 

My project social partner Dave Ryan and I were chuckling about this recently but he admitted that there is a grain of truth.  Perhaps more than a grain, as you can read about in his latest post.

Of course, it's unfair to expect HR folks to rise above sordid matters like needing a paycheck and represent the interests of employees because HR professionals are employees of the company just like everyone else. 

So yes, if an employee shares information that might damage the company or result in litigation HR has a professional responsibility to inform management.

Mwa ha ha.  (But not really.)

Here's the video... And next time you have a wild impulse to confide in HR about how you added an emetic to your manager's coffee remember who you both work for.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Top 25 HR Digital Influencers

Check out the latest top 25 HR Digital Influencers for 2011 at HR Examiner and a warm welcome to the new folks on the list!

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Modern Workforce: March Five Faves

I recently kicked off a Modern Workforce series, which focuses on workforce diversity topics such as remote workers, global teams, generations, working moms, adoption of Web 2.0 technologies, etc.

Last month I highlighted a few great posts that contribute to this topic and here are my picks for this month.

The overriding themes are flexibility and good management.  Enjoy!

First up at Tuttopersona is a thoughtful post about how work and personal life get confused as more people work from home: Work Life / Personal Life Blurred

Next, check out Fast Company’s article on what modern employees wish managers would finally figure out: Ten Things Your Employees Wish You Knew About Them

After that, share Google’s epiphany that people don’t want to be managed by techies, they want to be managed by good managers: Google’s Quest to Build a Better Boss 

Don’t miss’s article on how flexible work arrangements improve retention and increase engagement while saving money: When Time is Money

Finally, check out Stephanie Thomas’ excellent post about the perceived value of time: Time, Money and Value

Friday, March 18, 2011

Retention: Rhymes with Detention

We’ve all heard the buzz about retention. There’s a war for talent on. Your best talent is at risk. Replacing employees is expensive. Yada, yada, yada.

Don’t get me wrong, retention’s important. But while my project social partner Dave Ryan and I were chatting about retention last week, the words ‘rhymes with detention’ just popped into my head.

If you think about it, there’s a fine line of distinction between the two words: To retain someone means you secure them for possible future use. To detain someone means you hold them back. In both cases you’re hanging onto someone or something for your own purposes, but detention implies confinement.

Typical retention policies focus on rewards but rewards alone can leave employees feeling trapped, for example if they receive seniority pay that they can’t match somewhere else. If you don’t also offer good management and some sort of career development you may be detaining employees rather than retaining them.

Depending on the circumstances an unmotivated but adequately performing employee may be better than no one. But if you’re detaining people instead of retaining them, chances are you’ve got a performance gap that’s impacting your bottom line.

Or, a better way of putting it might be that you have an opportunity to increase shareholder value by closing that gap. So, what you really need is an engagement policy because engaged employees are more likely stick around and make you glad they did.

Where to begin? Dave Ryan wrote a great post about retention that I highly recommend. And don't miss the free eBook on Engagement in this same series.

Bottom line:
Hire the best people you can.
Treat them with respect.
Give them opportunities to learn.
Don't micromanage.
Pay fairly.
Reward excellence.
Say thank you.
Lighten up.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

March Carnival of HR - The WORST of HR

Don't miss this fine selection of crappy HR practices over at HR whY.

This month's Carnival of HR will help you say no to best practices and embrace WORST practices MWA HA HA HA HAAAAAAA!!!!!

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

The Future's So Bright... I Gotta Wear Shades

I study nuclear science
I love my classes
I gotta crazy teacher
Who wears dark glasses

I'm doin' alright
Gettin' good grades
The future's so bright
I gotta wear shades!
-Timbuk 3

My German husband remembers vividly when Chernobl blew up.  As far away as Munich, he had to stay indoors for about a month until the nice men with the Geiger counters said it was 'safe' to go outdoors again. 

Nuclear energy may be perfectly safe as long as all safety protocols are strictly followed and no natural disaster occurs... See the problem?   As soon as something goes wrong - some greedy fool lets a safety measure slide to save a few pennies, for example, or an earthquake hits - you've got a global disaster on your hands.

If only there was a renewable source of energy that didn't cause global warming or birth defects... oh, wait, there is! 

So, why are we still building nuclear power plants and dumping oil in our oceans?  Because renewable energy is still too underdeveloped to meet our needs.

Here are some ways you can help support renewable energy:
  • Follow Greenpeace and Environmental Defense Fund on Twitter and help them reach out to Congress.
  • Buy inexpensive carbon offsets for your home, car and air travel, for example with TerraPass.
  • Call your energy provider and ask about renewable energy options.
  • Buy energy saving appliances.
  • Vote sustainably.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Project Social: Humane Resources

Once when I changed jobs my new manager asked me to set up 1:1 meetings with the rest of the team, to get to know them and let them get to know me.

One of these conversations stands out in my mind, partly because it was with a French colleague who spoke so beautifully that everything she said sounded elegant and wise. But it was her description of our manager that really stuck with me:

‘He’s a very humane manager.’

I’d never thought about managers being ‘humane’ before. I suppose if you’d asked me I’d have said a manager was good or bad but the term ‘humane’ seemed to denote something more worthwhile.

Last week I was telling my project social partner Dave Ryan that I feel saddened by job postings that say only employed people need apply. Last year was hard on a lot of good people who did nothing wrong. Those of us who were lucky enough to weather the storm should help those who weren’t so lucky, in part because it’s the humane thing to do.

Dave’s comment and current blog topic said it all: If you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem.

This doesn’t mean companies should hire less qualified people out of a misguided sense of compassion. It just means we should treat unemployed applicants as we would want to be treated in the same situation.

Of course, there’s more at stake here than how we behave in our daily dealings with others. There’s also the big picture, i.e., if companies keep shuffling around the same employed people, the economy won’t rebound. Fewer people will buy stuff. More companies will suffer losses and more jobs will be lost.

Maybe yours...

Are you part of the solution or part of the problem?

Friday, March 11, 2011

Pimp My Comp

My latest post over at Compensation Cafe looks at how companies can pimp up their compensation with low-cost perks and benefits.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Project Social: Managing HR Talent

During a recent chat my project social partner Dave Ryan and I agreed that HR certification doesn’t automatically confer expertise in all the myriad facets of HR and a new post topic was born! Be sure to check out Dave’s latest post about the many hats HR must wear.

HR is like housework: There are things you have to do every day, like dishes and picking up toys. There are some things you’d like to do to make your house look better but you never have time, like re-painting the kitchen or sewing curtains. Finally, there are things that would increase the value of your house - like upgrading the bathroom - but cost too much.

When it comes to HR, compliance is like doing the dishes, i.e., dull but necessary and you’re never done. You also have to pay people - so that's also like dishes - but being strategic about it is more like hanging curtains, i.e., a nice idea but who has time? Finally, talent management is like re-doing your bathroom, i.e., it creates value but costs time and money to do it right.

HR is often criticized for not being strategic but they face several real challenges:
  • The first challenge is lack of information. Due to disparate HR systems and insufficient analytics tools it’s not always easy to get reliable information about the workforce, i.e., who works here, what they're doing, how much they cost, whether they have right skills and how they're performing. Without this information it’s hard to build a business case for strategic HR.
  • The second challenge is specialization, which Dave recently wrote about over at Xpert HR. A benefits expert is not typically a recruiting expert, for example, and a labor relations specialist is not a talent manager. Of course, even specialists may have broad knowledge in other areas but their area of specialization tends to be where they live.
  • The third challenge is time. Many HR professionals don’t have time to be strategic because their time is taken up with tactical stuff like paying people and avoiding lawsuits. Even if we disparage that excuse, managing talent isn’t something you do in your free hour between NHO and performance reviews - it’s a full-time job. Ditto for benefits, recruiting, labor relations and pretty much everything HR is responsible for.

HR talent needs to be "managed" just like any other kind of talent. That means providing the right tools and information, offering training where needed and staffing appropriately.

Just like anywhere else in the organization.

Monday, March 7, 2011

March Great Leadership Carnival

Everything you ever wanted to know about leadership is right here, hosted by Dan McCarthy over at - what else? - Great Leadership.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Is There Really a Glass Ceiling?

I'm excited to join the amazing Women of HR blogger team.  My first post takes a tongue-in-cheek hard hitting look at whether there's really a glass ceiling...

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Engagement eBook

Studies show that employees that are "engaged" in their work perform significantly better than those who are not. The problem is finding real, tangible ways to make that happen. 
Thanks to Ben Eubanks there's a new eBook that includes personal stories about engagement and what it means, tips for companies on communication and culture, and some really great, specific how-to content. 

Contributors include: Nathaniel Rottenberg, Chris Ferdinandi, Paul Smith, Laura Schroeder, Dwane Lay, Dave Ryan, Krista Francis, Jennifer V. Miller, Lisa Rosendahl, Keith McIlvaine, Karen Seketa, Tamkara Adun, Cori Curtis, Lance Haun, Robin Schooling, and Tanmay Vora.
Check it out!

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

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