The State Of The Workplace

Originally published at
By K. Daniel Glover

At the turn of the 20th century, the American family faced a most unfriendly workplace. Breadwinners could expect to work a minimum 10-hour day, six days a week, in brutal conditions. The minimum wage, health insurance, sick days, and paid vacation were fantasy.

The snapshot of the workplace at the start of the 21st century is noticeably different. Laws limit the length of the workweek and mandate overtime pay, a minimum wage, and workplace safety. Employer-subsidized health insurance, vacation and sick leave are the norm. And more recent innovations—unpaid family leave, child-care subsidies and work/life conferences—are becoming commonplace. Some employers even offer quirky benefits like access to pet insurance.

The ‘family friendly’ revolution
The quest to help employees find the perfect balance between work and family obligations has become so popular that it has spawned an industry of work/life professionals — in higher education, in the advocacy community and in government. In December 1999, the federal government’s Office of Personnel Management, which has its own family-oriented Workplace Working Group, praised agencies with the best work/life programs.

Magazines like Fortune and Working Mother encourage the same kind of competition in the private sector. Every year, Fortune names the “100 Best Companies to Work For,” while Working Mother ranks the “100 Best Companies for Working Mothers.” Benefits geared toward the family are at the heart of both lists, and companies diligently seek that high-profile recognition.

“Particularly in the last couple of years with the war for talent,” says Carlene Zuzith, assistant vice president of human resources for Working Mother’s No. 2-ranked Allstate Insurance Company, “it has become even more important for attracting talent. Employees tell us that these things are really very important to them. They’re high value.”

Today’s workplace is, in a phrase, “family friendly.” “When you take that very long view, there are a lot of positives to think about in the last century,” said Shelly McDermid, director of the Purdue University Center for Families, noting developments like family leave, child-labor laws, Social Security and laws against pregnancy-related discrimination. “That’s pretty exciting.”

The changes have become more pronounced in the past 20 years, says Susan Seitel, president of the Minnesota-based Work and Family Connection, a clearinghouse that tracks work/life developments. She points to the growth of child-care programs as an example. Only 400 employer-supported plans existed when her firm began tracking the issue in 1984; today there are about 8,000.

Older Is Better: Late-career Job Hunting

Originally published at
By K. Daniel Glover

Fortune magazine painted a frightening career picture for older professionals in its February 1999 cover story, “Finished at Forty.” “Once you’re 55, it’s almost impossible to find a job in business. But a new trend is emerging: In corporate America, 40 is starting to look and feel old.”

To be sure, finding or keeping a job, even in a booming economy, becomes increasingly difficult as you age. But it is not as impossible as Fortune magazine would have seniors (and not-so-seniors) believe. While age bias does exist, it, like youth and inexperience, is an obstacle that can be overcome.

So what are older professionals to do when they are forced out of the workplace by downsizing or decide to leave their long-time jobs voluntarily to pursue other options? How do they succeed in a market that favors younger professionals who will work for less money?

First of all, assume a positive attitude. Carole Kanchier, author of the book “Dare to Change Your Job and Your Life,” says that can make all the difference.

She cites the examples of two of her clients, both of whom lost their jobs in the 1990s because of defense-industry downsizing, to make her point. One believed she had too much experience and knowledge to offer to potential employers to go without a job for long, and she was employed within two months. The other was convinced that he could never get a job because none were available in the aerospace industry. He was jobless for more than a year before seeking guidance and getting his career back on track.

“You need to believe that you’re going to get the job,” Kanchier says of older people on the job hunt. “If you think you’re too old and you won’t get it, then you won’t get it.”

Helen Harkness, the founder of Career Design Associates Inc. in Garland, Texas, and author of Don’t Stop the Career Clock: Rejecting the Myths of Aging for a New Way to Work in the 21st Century,” echoes that sentiment.

“You have to be excited about what you’re doing and really want to do it,” she says. “And then you have to communicate that excitement. … If you don’t have a plan, you fake it until you make it. You don’t go out there looking like a victim.”

The Free-Agent Mindset: Contracting

Originally published at
By K. Daniel Glover

Elaine Biech, then a trainer of teachers of disabled children, reached the proverbial fork in her career path some 20 years ago and abandoned the security of payroll employment for the potentially rewarding yet equally risky life of an independent contractor. When Biech made the move, she guessed she could earn enough income by charging clients $300 a day and working half-days.

She now readily admits that she, like many beginning entrepreneurs, guessed wrong. Biech failed to book even half of her days. And once business did increase, she realized that if she had booked all the time she had planned toward her actual consulting, she could not have done the work because of the time-consuming marketing duties of being self-employed.

Two months into the job, Biech doubled her prices. Now she does not hesitate to charge her executive-level clients $1,000 a day or thousands of dollars per project if the circumstances warrant. Years of experience, in other words, have taught Biech how to think like an independent contractor.

Life of the entrepreneur
The creative and ambitious souls who forsake the comforts of secure, full-time employment to fly solo in the wilds of the entrepreneurial jungle often do not realize how much their mindset will have to change to succeed. But change it must.

“They are definitely going to have to be more self-disciplined,” says Tom McGrath, president of the National Association of Independent Contractors (NICA). “You eat what you kill, if you will, and if you’re not out there killing, you’re going to starve. … You can’t be in your pajamas watching cartoons at 10 o’clock in the morning.”

“Free agents” more often than not are just that–on their own in every aspect of their business. “You’re your own bookkeeper; you’re your own marketing expert; you’re your own janitor; you’re your own typist and secretary,” says Biech, a speaker at Linkage Inc.’s “Consulting Skills Institute” in December 1999 and author of “The Business of Consulting: The Basics and Beyond.” “You do everything.”

Many independent contractors leave what they see as the constraints of the corporate world because they want to make a difference. They want to solve problems, help numerous organizations, do a variety of work and pursue exciting projects rather than necessarily make money. They are, in a word, altruistic.

“All that is true [about the consulting life],” Biech says. “That will happen. But you can’t dedicate 90 percent of your time to that part and 10 percent to running your business.”

Schmooze Or Lose: Career Networking

Originally published at
By K. Daniel Glover

Networking. Schmoozing. Office politics. You hear those buzzwords in the workplace all the time these days, and perhaps cringe every time you do. They may seem to simply be objects of Scott Adams’s workplace satire in Dilbert.

But even as you recoil at the realities of the modern workplace, you know you must master the art of networking. Trite as it may seem, that old saying about who you know being more important than what you know is undeniably true. You need a circle of influence to help you climb most rungs of the career ladder.

“This is an important way to build your career,” says career coach Karen Wood, author of the book “Don’t Sabotage Your Success” and the soon-to-be-published “Making Office Politics Work.” “You never know where a relationship could take you.”

Networking is crucial
The first step to successful networking, experts like Wood agree, is to realize just how important it is in today’s professional world. Up to 70 percent of new career opportunities are the result of networking, says Vicki Lind, a career consultant who heads her own firm, Evergreen Careers, in Portland, Oregon. “Only the dregs [of job openings] show up in the newspaper unless you’re in a very desirable career,” she says.

White-collar workers determined to excel also should take stock of themselves before they start schmoozing. It is natural to dislike network marketing, Lind says, “because you’re using friendships for other goals that sometimes feel a little bit creepy.” But it is possible, she adds, for individuals to create networking plans that are consistent with their personalities and values.

“If you’re not a schmoozer, golfer, joiner, etc., then don’t try to make yourself something you’re not,” says Dan King, principal at Career Planning and Management Inc. “Figure out how to make your personal style work for you.”