Don’t Be Blind to the Signs You are About to be Terminated

I feel the need to vent.

I’ve received three calls today from long-term employees who were fired out of the blue and have no idea what they are going to do with themselves. Again I say it. Never stop making yourself more employable, and keep your eyes open for the writing on the wall that you may be about to lose your job.

I’ve written before about how you must continually be improving your employability, so this time I will focus on how to recognize the warning signs that you may be getting the boot.

The company implements extreme cost-cutting measures.

First understand that the signs may not have anything to do with you, but rather the overall economic health of the company. If you see the company is struggling, then you should assume that a reduction of the staff will soon follow.

In the traditional office environment, things like overtime, company lunches, free soft drinks and other perks will disappear. In the retail setting, just look at the shelves. A struggling store will cut back on inventory. There will be a hiring freeze, and the company could be encouraging a staff reduction with severance packages.

You have seemingly become incompetent.

Alternatively, the signs could have nothing to do with the economic health of the company, but rather how you are suddenly being treated.

The vast majority of terminations are not wrongful under the law due to the at-will employment presumption. Nonetheless, that does not stop employees from suing for wrongful termination anyway, and those actions are costly to the company. Therefore, the company will want to build a package on you so that if you do sue, there is a paper trial showing that you were incompetent in your job. To that end, the following acts are red flags that you are being papered. Continue reading

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Top Ten Ways to Blow a Job Interview

Interviewing prospective employees is an amazing process.  How long does an interview last?  Ten minutes? Twenty minutes? Maybe an hour and a half if the interview is over lunch?  And yet, even over such a short amount of time, it is amazing how some interviewees cannot keep from revealing their true natures.  They are doing something that will likely change their live in a significant way, and they can’t put on a good show for even that small amount of time.

I don’t mean to imply that someone should put on a false front, but interviewing is like a first date; the other person knows you possess some flaws, but they want to feel like you respect them enough to forgo slurping your soup just this once.

So, make sure your phone is off before you walk into the interview.  Unless your wife is nine months pregnant, don’t even check who is calling.  Be super nice to the support staff, because they may well be asked about you.  Don’t be late, and don’t act rushed.

For a list of ways to blow an interview, go to Top Ten Ways to Blow a Job Interview.

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Time Management – Do You Create An Effective To-Do List?

to do list

With the new year a few days away, I wanted to offer a useful article on the most basic of motivational and organizational tools, the humble to-do list.  Some lessons have to be learned over and over, and in my case it is implemenation of a to-do list.  I know I’m not alone in this, because I took a poll over a couple of days, and did not find one person that was properly using a to-do list.

What were they doing wrong?  Well, assuming they even maintained a to-do list, they did not have it with them.  Most had a to-do list on their desk at work, but that fails to do anything about personal goals and long-term projects.

So, my simple advice:  Keep it with you and keep it simple.  I experienced a quantum leap in efficiency in bringing all my back-burner projects to the front burner when I started keeping a to-do list in my top pocket.  If I have a thought, I pull it out and write it down.  Yes, I WRITE it down.  I keep an electronic to-do list on my iPhone, and it syncs across my Kindle Fire, iPad and PC (the program I use — Remember the Milk — is free at rememberthemilk.com).  That is very useful, and I really like that I can sit down for a brainstorming session and create a master list of projects and then break it down into individual tasks, but in my experience a lot of my spontaneous ideas don’t get recorded if I have to pull out my phone and navigate to a to-do program, and then type in my thoughts.  Pen and paper still wins, at least for me.

On that subject, I came across the following article by Lawrence Ng [reprinted here with permission] about implementing to-do lists.  It’s all pretty common sense stuff, but as my poll revealed, most people don’t follow these suggestions. Continue reading

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10 Workplace Myths that Will Bite You in the Butt

I spend a good part of my days explaining basic employment law to callers, and on occassion I get a caller who tells me I obviously don’t know what I am talking about, because what I am saying is contrary to one of their cherished myths about employment law.  The sad thing is, I usually get that type of call when the employee has relied on a given myth and been fired as a result.

One example of this is the myth that you should refuse to sign a performance review or disciplinary write-up if you don’t agree with what it contains.  Wrong.  The employer can then fire you for insubordination for refusing to sign.  Another popular one is that under the First Amendment, an employer can’t fire you for something you say, and certainly can’t do so for something you said on your own time.  Wrong.  The First Amendment provides only that the government can abridge your free speech; that restriction does not apply to an employer.  Then, of course, there is the grandaddy of them all, that an employer needs a reason to fire you.  Wrong.  If you are an at-will employee, your employer does not need a reason to fire you.

Now, nothing is black and white under the law.  Having just debunked the above three myths, I’ll show you exceptions.

Refusing to sign a false disciplinary memorandum:  You can’t refuse to sign the memo acknolwedging that you received it, but if it is worded in such a way that it is requiring you to admit to something you did not do, there’s nothing to keep you from adding a note beneath your signature stating the you do not admit to any wrongdoing, and you can send a memo to your own personnel file explaining your side.

The First Amendment protects your speech:  The First Amendment has nothing to do with it, but there are many circumstance where the employer can’t fire you for something you said if that speech itself is protected.  In other words, if the speech in question was you complaining about the company failing to pay the required overtime, or a complaint about safety, that would be protected.

At-will employment:  Your employer does not need a reason to fire you if you are an at-will employee, but you can’t be fired for a reason that violates public policy.  So if the boss fires you because you collect salt and pepper shakers in your cubicle, that’s fine.  There is no public policy that protects the collecting of salt and pepper shakers.  But if your boss fires you for wearing a yamaka, that’s probably religious discrimination and that is a violation of public policy.

Bottom line:  A little knowledge is just enough to get you in trouble.  I get calls every week from employees who have left work because the boss was shouting at them, and when they return they are fired.  They call, confident that they have a basis to sue because, after all, that was a “hostile work environment.”  That is not what is meant by a hostile work environment (although it could be).

Don’t believe me?  Check out that and other workplace myths in this article by U.S. World and News Report.

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Kicking the Unemployed While They are Down

In a go-go employment market, it might be reasonable to assume that an unemployed job applicant did something wrong to become unemployed.  In other words, most people look for a new job before ditching the old, so when someone is out of work it may well be for job performance.  Refusing to consider unemployed applicants can be an effective, albeit imprecise, initial screening process.

But in the current economy with ten percent unemployment, that assumption is nuts.  Many outstanding employees are without work through no fault of their own.  Nonetheless, many employers are holding onto their policies that "the unemployed need not apply."  And they are not being at all shy about advertising the fact, literally.

Some job postings specifically state that applicants must be currently employed, or even that "unemployed candidates will not be considered".  Sony Ericsson advertised that the unemployed need not apply for jobs at the company's new Georgia facility, and a South Carolina recruiter imposed the same restriction for grocery store managers.

If you have not yet embraced my preference for working for yourself in order to control your own fate, perhaps this news will motivate you to meet me half way.  Even if you work for someone else, you can work for your own company at the same time.  In this way, there will never be a gap in your employment, and you will never be applying for a job as someone who is unemployed.

The story was reported by CNNMoney.com and can be found here.

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That Job is Not Just Boring — It’s Killing You!

BoredomContinuing with my theme of the importance of working for yourself, I now offer evidence that your boring job may well be killing you.

In an article to be published in the International Journal of Epidemiology, Annie Britton and Martin Shipley of University College London will report that job boredom can kill you.

They analyzed questionnaires completed by London civil service employees between 1985 and 1988, with an age range of 35 to 55. The employees were asked if they had felt bored at work during the previous month.  After approximately 25 years had passed, Shipley and Britton looked to see how many of the employees had died by April 2009.

The employees who had responded that they had been very bored were two and a half times more likely to die of a heart problem than those who hadn't reported being bored.

The researchers try to blunt the report a little by saying that the true risk factor might be the lack of exercise and good diet.  In other words, a depressed person might report being bored, and would likely be the sort of person that does not have the energy to exercise.  But to me that just sidesteps the reality.  If the person had a fulfilling job or, far better, their own business, they would likely not be depressed or bored and would be more likely to exercise.

Bottom line:  That boring, life-sucking job is killing you.  February is National Start a Business Month.  Make it happen.

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Reducing Calories Still the Only Fountain of Youth

One objection I sometimes receive to The Morris Plan Diet is that it is too low in calories. During the initial phase of the diet, calorie intake is just 750 to 1200 calories, depending on how aggressive you want to be. But research and reality are both on my side.

Most have seen the dramatic results achieved by the dieters on The Biggest Loser, where they are made to consume probably no more than 20% of their prior caloric intake. Yet, while those diet coaches see the wisdom of dramatic caloric reduction, even they feel that there needs to be some minimum number of calories consumed and would argue against the 750 to 1200 calories I promote.

Fountain of Youth Actually, the calorie consumption I suggest is not only healthy, it is life-extending according to researchers. It has long been know that calorie restriction is the only real "fountain of youth" yet discovered. Recent research has refined this knowledge further, and determined that reducing your caloric intake slows the aging process. In other words, you don’t need to reduce your caloric intake to starvation levels to get the life-extending benefits, you need only to reduce your calories below what you are taking in now. Greater reductions yield greater benefits, but any reduction is beneficial.

So, while people like things to be black and white, here is another example from the field of nutrition and diet where people with seemingly different ideas can both be right. My plan of 750 to 1200 calories is not intended to be a life long plan, but is only an initial phase designed to slim you down as fast as possible. It is not unhealthy at all in that context. On the other hand, the coaches on The Biggest Loser encourage their charges to eat, and within the context of the strenuous exercise program they follow that is also sound advice. The participants still receive the life enhancing benefits of reduced calories because even though they are consuming more than I recommend, the number of calories is a huge reduction from their prior levels.

I constantly preach moderation in all things. There are actually groups that have formed with the goal of working together to restrict their caloric intakes as much as possible. A July 9, 2009 article in the Wall Street Journal entitled Two Mammals’ Longevity Boosted contained this quote from the president of one such group. Commenting on the research showing that caloric reduction extends life expectancy, Brian Delaney, president of the North Carolina-based Calorie Restriction Society, stated, "It's all consistent with what human practitioners of calorie restriction have always believed. Any degree of restriction beyond what you're currently eating will confer health benefits and will slow the aging process." The group claims 3000 members, many of whom restrict their eating to near starvation levels.

I’ve seen some of these people interviewed; it’s not a pretty sight. They’ve lost touch with the message of moderation that I call out to my wife every time I go on a motorcycle trip over her objections. "It’s not all about preserving your life." I’ll trade extending my life by twenty years by being ridiculously skinny and not being able to enjoy eating for extending my life by ten years by just keeping my calories on the low side while still enjoying the occasional pizza and beer nights.

Update — September 24, 2009:  Of course this story is anecdotal, but given the nature of the above posting I had to add a link to a news item I just read.  The world's oldest man is currently Walter Breuning, age 113.  (I've noticed lately that these oldest man stories are a little depressing.  "The oldest man is Joe Dokes at 114.  Oh, wait a minute, now the oldest man is Bill Jones at 113.")  Seeing Breuning is very uplifting because he is still really sharp — not one of those old timers you see in the news stories staring blankly at a birthday cake.  As they always do with this type of story, the reporter asked Breuning for his secret to long life.  His answer was that he only eats two meals a day.  He is 5' 8" and has weighed the same 125 pounds for the past 35 years.  He says that you should push yourself away from the table while you are still hungry. "You get in the habit of not eating at night, and you realize how good you feel. If you could just tell people not to eat so darn much," he said.  Again, only anecdotal, but Breunig certainly supports the claim that restricting caloric intake is a means to life extension.

Update — December 28, 2011:  I decided to check in on Walter Breuning, to see how he was holding up.  I am sad to say that Walter made it to 114 years old, but died on April 14, 2011 (right before tax day — way to stick it to the man Walter!).  He was born on September 21, 1896 and remained sharp until the end, even appearing the News Hour with Jim Lehrer and participating in a question and answer article in Men's Journal magazine.

 

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In All Things, Moderation — Vegetarianism As An Eating Disorder

I’ve always considered vegetarianism to be an eating disorder in many. And while I haven’t yet convinced the American Psychiatric Association to include vegetarianism in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), I now have research to support that vegetarianism is a strong indicator of a possible eating disorder.

Stay with me and I’ll explain.

Vegetarian A recent dietary study was led by nutritionist Ramona Robinson-O'Brien, an assistant professor at the College of Saint Benedict and Saint John's University in Minnesota. The study concluded that adolescent and young adult vegetarians were four times more likely than their meat-eating peers to binge eat and engage in extreme weight-control measures such as taking laxatives and forcing themselves to vomit. The study further concluded that teenage vegetarians as well as young experimenters — those who try it but abandon it — may be at higher risk for other eating disorders compared with their peers.

The study authors suggest that parents and doctors should be extra vigilant when teens suddenly become vegetarians. Although teens may say they're trying to protect animals, they may actually be trying to camouflage some unhealthy eating behaviors.

This is why I’ve always been suspect of vegetarians. I have no beef with the dietary choice, it is the reason for the choice.  In all things, moderation. True, if the stated reason for the diet is not to eat God’s little creatures, then it’s basically an all or none proposition.  I can respect that; I'll order a steak when we meet for lunch, but I can respect that position (although I love all the conditions – "I’m a vegetarian, but I still eat fish, dairy and eggs.")  But if the stated reason for the diet is health, then that’s a potential disorder. There is no net health gain by skipping an evil Whopper Jr. with 290 calories and 12 grams of fat, only to then drink a Starbucks Venti Frappuccino with 680 calories and 21 grams of fat while singing the vegetarian song (Incense and Peppermints by the Strawberry Alarm Clock, I believe).

The rational dietary response should be, "meat contains fat, so I’m going to keep my consumption of meat to a minimum." Not, "meat is evil and I’m going to remove any chance of it from my diet, to the point that I don’t want to eat something cooked in a pan that might have previously been used to cook meat." The latter shows too much fixation on one component of a diet, and that dietary fixation explains why the study reached the predictable conclusions.  For an interesting first person story of using vegetarianism as a means to mask an eating disorder, go here.

Radio doctor and author, Dr. Dean Adel, who I have always found fairly reasonable, will lecture you on the dietary problems with eggs and cheese, but acknolwedges that his weekend ritual is to make himself a big cheese omelet.  Wine is bad if consumed in excess, but a single glass offers health benefits.  Even drinking too much water can be deadly, but does that mean it should be avoided?

In all things, moderation.  Even your dietary limitations.

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Posted in Diet, Fitness, Food and Drink, Losing Weight, The Morris Plan, Weight | Leave a comment

When Conducting a Job Search, It’s Easy to Distinguish Yourself

It’s not often that I get to observe the hiring process first hand. I’ve had ZERO turnover in my Jobs employees since starting my firm, which says something about my screening process and their loyalty.

We recently found ourselves in need of a part time paralegal, which afforded me the opportunity observe and offer insights into the recruitment and hiring process. Here is how it started:

I placed an employment ad on a job site, explaining that we were looking for a part time paralegal. I stressed this point, imploring people not to apply if they were really interested in full time work.

I like prospective employees to apply a certain way, so the ad directed them to a prior article on this blog, entitled, "One Employer’s View of Job Hunting Screw-ups." I asked that they read the article before submitting their resume. The article made these strong suggestions:

1. Read the listing carefully to make sure you understand what the employer is seeking;

2. Always submit resumes as PDF files, not in Word format (unless requested to do so); and

3. Target the employer.

I received 57 emails over a five day period. Out of those 57 applicants:

– 27 submitted their resumes in Word format when PDF was specifically requested.

– 13 did not attach resumes at all, but instead just put the resume text in the email (some offering the explanation that they did not know how to create a PDF).

– 17 submitted resumes as PDF files as requested.

– 2 made reference to the wrong job in the email.

– 5 specifically wrote that they were looking for full time work.

– 6 mentioned why they were looking for part time work.

You’ve probably heard friends and acquaintances bemoaning the job market. They may have said something like, "I’ve sent out over 500 resumes and have not received a single call." May I humbly submit that the above numbers may say why?

A good paralegal needs to be very detail oriented, and while I am of course ultimately responsible for his or her work, I would hope that he or she would catch details that I might miss. If an applicant submits a resume in the wrong format, regarding a job that requires attention to hundreds of procedural rules, how can I reasonably consider that applicant? Thus, as an initial matter, the applicants that took a few extra seconds to read the job ad and submitted their resumes in the proper format improved their odds from one out of 57 to one out of 17. (I received one very angry email telling me how unreasonable I was being "to expect people to buy Adobe in this economy." You don’t need to buy anything to convert a Word file to PDF. See www.primopdf.com.)

The ad also expressed that while the job was part time, we were very flexible on the schedule. Five of the 17 distinguished themselves by explaining why part time work was perfect for their situations, thereby providing me with confidence they were not just settling for part time work until they could find a full time position.

And finally, only TWO took it to the next level and did a little detective work to determine to whom they were responding. I don’t know whether they did this because the article suggested it or it was already their practice, but these two people targeted their email directly at my firm’s areas of law, making it sound as though this was a fit made in heaven.

The article also suggests that an applicant should "follow up without being a pain" in order to keep their name in front of the employer. Out of the 57 applicants, just ONE sent follow up emails.

I might be tempted to think that some of these applicants gave this particular job a half-hearted effort because it was only a part time position, but these numbers were typical of what I have seen in the past. The numbers demonstrate how, with just a few extra minutes of effort, you can move yourself to the top of the stack and greatly improve your odds. 

Stop thinking quantity and go for quality.  Focus on the job, and customize your approach.  Even your resume should be tailored to that specific job.  And if you don't quite match the qualifications sought by the employer, sell yourself and explain why that will not be a problem.

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Use Your Company’s Small Size to Full Advantage

I need all you big businesses to skip this blog post. I have a private message for smaller businesses.Blogs

Are they gone? Okay.

Rather than be intimidated by your bigger competitors, you should be smug in the knowledge that it is your nimbleness that permits you to clean their clocks. The Internet and the social networking it brings gives you a huge advantage.

An article in today’s Wall Street Journal reminded me of an incident that occurred when I was working as an associate at the world’s largest law firm, all those many years ago. The firm had just introduced email, and decided that in order to standardize the email addresses, all employees would use the initials from their first and middle names, followed by their last name, i.e., APMorris@hugefirm.com. But who knows the middle names of fellow employees? Every time you wanted to send an email to another Smallvsbig employee or provide the email address to someone else, you had to call the person and ask for their middle initial. Not very efficient.

At this firm, everyone had a printed firm directory sitting on their desk. Always the trouble maker, I suggested to management that we add the middle initial of everyone to the next printing of the firm directory. (Having an on-line directory was far too sophisticated, and would have required hours of training on how to access it.) I expected a resounding "doh!" to ring down from the management offices. Instead, a committee was formed to consider my proposal. Memos were distributed, taking a poll of the attitudes of the employees to the middle initial proposal. In the end, it was decided that publishing the middle initials was too invasive because some employees are sensitive about their middle names, and having them in print could lead to embarrassing questions. A policy was issued permitting employees to decide if their initials would be included in the directory. To send an email to anyone who had opted out required the old approach of picking up the phone and asking them for the information. This afforded them the opportunity to refuse to disclose the middle initial if they were uncomfortable with your request.

The WSJ article was discussing how many large companies are now considering adding blogs to their marketing mix. I’ve been blogging almost since the day the Internet went commercial. Not in the technical sense, because the feed system had not been established, but with the use of Frontpage I’d post my thoughts on my website whenever something noteworthy happened. Still do: http://www.toplawfirm.com/recent.html

These companies are just now getting to blogging, while you’ve been there done that and added Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and other sites and techniques to your marketing mix. Keep your size advantage firmly in mind, and use it to stay in front of the plodding dinosaurs.

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Posted in Current Affairs, Income, Weblogs, Work | 1 Comment