How Green Is Your Business?

With companies like Apple, Tesla, and Continental Airlines making headlines with their initiatives to cut down their carbon footprints, smaller businesses often forget just how much they can do to reduce waste and emissions at their offices. Sure, Apple can afford solar panels that cover a staggering area, but perhaps the daily changes your business can make can place you in the same category of caring for the future of our earth. In celebration of Earth Day, we want you to test your business's environmental impact by inviting you to take our quiz to find out how green you really are.

Each time you answer All the time to a question below, give yourself 4 points. If you answer Sometimes, give yourself 2 points, and if you answer Never, give yourself 0 points. Add your score at the end to determine your "Green" rating according to TradePost!

  1. My office uses solar panels.
  2. We print emails only when necessary.
  3. We use recycled paper and other office materials.
  4. We have energy efficient sinks or we turn the faucet all the way off to prevent dripping.
  5. We have motion detector lights in rooms that are frequently unoccupied.
  6. We print on both sides of the paper.
  7. We recycle all recyclable materials.
  8. We use high efficiency toilets.
  9. We invoice clients and pay vendors electronically.
  10. We hire local candidates only, allow our commuters to work from home, or facilitate carpools for commuters.
  11. We use heat and air conditioning only when necessary.
  12. We pack items in smaller containers for shipping.
  13. Our company vehicle is a hybrid or electric model.
  14. We properly dispose of batteries and other toxic waste.
  15. We keep a company garden and/or compost.
  16. We have energy-efficient appliances in our break room.
  17. We use our own mugs for coffee and dishes for food rather than paper products.
  18. We discuss new environmental efforts in staff meetings.
  19. We do community service projects that benefit the environment.
  20. We have environmentally minded employees.

Now score yourself!

0 to 30 points – Not so green.
Your office is busy, and it is tough to make time to pay attention to the environment. However, you should consider putting forth a little more effort as some of these things will save you money in the long run. Start with the easy ones – like reducing paper use and recycling – and build from there.

31 to 60 points – Doing fairly well.
You may not have solar panels or a hybrid vehicle, but you and you staff do try to reduce waste and help the earth. Keep going and soon your business will be a real friend of the environment!

61 to 80 points – Green Superstars!
Your staff really knows how to be conscious of our great planet. You're doing a lot as a business owner or manager and you should keep up the good work!

Being green doesn't mean that you have to keep up with every latest option for your space or never print an email. It just means that you and your staff are working toward reducing the amount of waste at your office and helping to save a great environment for our children and their children. If you need more tips on how to make your workplace more environmentally friendly, read this great article from Office Depot!

Readers: What green effort are you most proud of at your workplace?

Use Social Media for Business…Carefully

Did you see the surprising tweet this past week from U.S. Airways? Twitter, Facebook, and other social media platforms blew up immediately with comments about the accidental post by the airline company. Every respectable online media professional says the same thing – you must jump on the social media bandwagon or risk losing a great way to communicate with your customers. That's a scary thought, but an even scarier one is that your company, like U.S. Airways, could nullify its efforts in one moment by offending even a small subgroup in its audience. In this post, we take a look at a couple of memorable social media "fails" and how companies can avoid them or even clean up after themselves if a mistake is made.

Do you remember the issue with Progressive Insurance and its robotic responses to several tweets criticizing the handling of an insurance claim? How about Gap's insensitive marketing ploy during Hurricane Sandy? There are many other examples of poor judgment exercised by company social media handlers. In short, it seems to be easy enough to make a mistake on your company social media account, and anything that offends someone enough can blow up online in a matter of minutes. Information sharing and social media have become a double-edge sword where one day you can interact with your customers to generate business and the next a campaign has launched to boycott you and any associated companies.

In order to avoid these potentially business-crippling mistakes, we must note what types of posts are likely to be misread. Posting advertisements in relation to any sort of emotional issue is likely to land your business in hot water. From mass shootings to natural disasters to legislation relating to human rights, the news is filled with hot-button issues. Don't use your company page as a platform for any controversial views you hold personally, especially if you are advertising something at the same time. Another common misstep seems to be advertising on holidays in memorial of fallen military members or community members. Remember that you do not always have to be part of the public conversation about something. However, if you choose to post something, make it respectful and lay off the marketing language for that day.

Most of the companies having large-scale problems with social media are actually very large companies. With giants like American Apparel and McDonald's clogging the airwaves with their social media gaffes, you may think that smaller companies are safe. That may not be true though. Take for example the case of Amy's Baking Company in Scottsdale, Arizona. This small company made headlines when the owner herself responded to negative reviews and comments on multiple platforms with name-calling and rage. This restaurant did appear on a national television show, but the fact that it is a small business that erupted on social media should scare any business owner. The lesson: no matter how large or small your company, poor Internet interaction can cost you.

If your company does happen to offend audience members, consider apologizing and let that be the end of it. In the case of Esquire Magazine, their apology after accidentally tweeting an ad of a man falling out a building on the anniversary of 9/11 was really no apology. While the mistake was fixed quickly, telling everyone to "relax" was probably not the best idea.

Avoiding these social media mistakes can be tough, especially when you hire a person or team to handle this part of your business. Keep in mind that these people are managing your public face and on the Internet, the whole world may be watching. Hire someone that is trustworthy and knows how to be responsible. Set in place an approval process so that no half-baked post ideas make it to the web because once they do, you cannot take them back. Social media is a business blessing and can help you to gain more customers and supporters, but remember to be sensitive to your audience!

Readers: Does your company have a page on at least one social media platform?

Workplace Attire and How it Holds Women Back

Last week, TradePost examined the important topic of pay inequality for women. This week, we take a look at the frequent scrutiny of women's dress in the workplace and how it can create obstacles to initial hiring and subsequent promotions.

It is no secret that women endure an extreme amount of both strange and familiar faces telling them what to wear and how to look, but there is an added pressure at work, especially in the corporate environment.

Almost all companies have guidelines that dictate appropriate attire for their particular environment. Often found in these guidelines are notes about safe shoes, undesirable hygiene, and expectations of looking professional rather than wearing jeans and tennis shoes. The women's section is often expanded to include a prohibition of "tight or revealing clothing," "low-cut tops," or "sleeveless blouses."

The fact that women have more restrictions when it comes to dress codes is not surprising given the nature of many women's styles, which is to be flashy, revealing to a degree, or even purposefully attention-grabbing. Women are tasked with a very difficult feat every day – be stylish and well put-together and attractive, but do not attract too much attention. Basically, somehow meet the exact medium that very few people fall into naturally. This results in a lot of extra time and energy for women to meet these standards.

The fact that women's workplace attire is still so harshly criticized on a daily basis likely contributes to the lowered likelihood of leadership roles, promotions, and raises that women receive at work. Women who are considered more attractive or that dress more stylishly often receive more positive attention from bosses and coworkers, and therefore receive more raises and promotions. However, the women who are considered to dress flashier or who underdress for work are more likely to be passed over for opportunities. The battle that women have fought for years to be taken seriously at work is made much more difficult by having to figure out how to satisfy their critics when it comes to workplace clothing.

The judgment of women's clothing, or even appearance for either gender, is not likely to go away any time soon. However, the fact is that workplace attire continues to hold women back in the business world. As a manager you can help this situation by looking to your team members' skills and attitudes first. Remember that while you should address dress code violations with your staff, you can also remain objective when it comes to considering them for promotions and raises. Do your qualified female employees a favor by helping them to succeed in all areas of your company!

Readers: What has been your worst dress code or fashion violation at work?

March 2014 Jobs Report

The unemployment rate remained stable at 6.7% in March, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics' Employment Situation Summary. Some 192,000 jobs were added to nonfarm payrolls, making March another month of little change for the United States' employment situation.

Several industries added jobs in March with the most notable being professional and business services (+57,000). Within that category, temporary help services added 29,000 jobs. Health care also added 19,000 jobs, while food services and drinking places (+30,000) and construction (+19,000) also had substantial gains.

Government employment as well as manufacturing, wholesale trade, retail trade, transportation and warehousing, information, and financial activities remained unchanged from February.

The Real Reason behind Unequal Pay

This week on April 1, 2014, the Paycheck Fairness Act had yet another hearing in the Senate (click here for the recording). Although this bill has been killed twice before by Congress, both in 2010 and again in 2012, it has been brought before the Senate again as its sponsors feel that more progress must be made toward equal pay. Although the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act has helped fight pay discrimination, Democrats feel there is more to ensuring that workers are paid equally for equal work. In anticipation of Equal Pay Day, which falls this year on April 8 and symbolizes how far into 2014 a woman must work to catch up to her male colleagues' pay from 2013, TradePost would like to again bring to light the real issue of unequal pay in the workplace.

Many opponents to this bill have claimed reasons why the statistics on the wage gap are faulty. Some have argued that women tend to enter into careers that pay less out of a need for comfort, such as clerical work, and that they tend to do less dangerous or uncomfortable work, such as construction. Another reason some claim that women are paid less overall is that they take jobs that are flexible enough to allow for child-bearing and more time off for family commitments. Therefore, many claim, women are as a whole paid less than men due to their own choices.

While many women do gravitate toward careers that pay less in general, it would be dismissive to say that the pay gap has nothing to do with on-the-job discrimination. We have cited before the statistics of women who hold leadership and government positions, which are dramatically unequal to men (TradePost, 4/14/11). It is not likely that most women have no desire to rise to a leadership position, and this statistic more likely reflects discrimination than merely a choice to work jobs that have less responsibility.

There is also the concern from opponents that pay gap statistics are not comparing women and men who do the same job at the same level, but that is also incorrect. According to a recent blog article, an experienced lawyer tells her story of pay discrimination in a job offer (Huffington Post, 3/28/14). Women in male-dominated fields also still earn less (American Association of University Women, 3/10/14). Finally, statistics prove that women's earnings are less than their male colleagues in almost every position, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

While there is a great deal of data about pay rates and gender as well as other factors that have been studied, such as minority status, family size, and education, it is clear that there is still gender discrimination, and it does not stop at pay. In fact, lower pay for women may be the product of a more implicit and elusive form of discrimination, which is that employers simply do not help women in their companies advance, or they may not hire them at all. Some employers have cited that they do not want to go through the hiring process again if a woman becomes pregnant and needs time off for maternity leave. So, while it is true that women may more often take jobs that pay less, there are reasons that have made those decisions necessary as it seems less likely that women will be considered for jobs where there is more responsibility.

The Fair Paycheck Act would seek to better protect workers who discuss their pay with each other as well as allow women and men to inquire about salary information at their workplaces without the fear of retaliation. If this bill passes, it would be another step in the right direction. However, the more grim bias against women that still exists in many industries is keeping women out of jobs and positions of leadership altogether. Until Americans address this as a social issue, no amount of legislation will ensure complete protection to women.

Readers: Have you witnessed or experienced gender discrimination at work or during a company's hiring process? Share your story with us!

Managing Ineffective Partnerships on Your Team

For the past two weeks, we have presented a series about partnerships in your workplace. The first aimed to help you identify potential partnerships on your team (TradePost, 3/13/14), and the second contained tips for managing those partnerships (TradePost, 3/20/14). This week, we will wrap up our series with signs of an ineffective partnership on your team and tips on how to improve or dissolve those teams that are not working well together.

While most of your small teams in your office will be able to function well and produce quality work, there may be a few of them who have troubles that are not worth working through. Here are a few common scenarios where a good partnership may not be in the cards:

Anna and Henry have found that they do not care for each others' ideas and have begun to argue. This is probably the most common partnership pitfall. When you notice these team members starting to butt heads, the quickest solution might be to suggest that they stop working together. Before you take that drastic step, be sure that there isn't a way to mend fences. After all, we all have to work with people who initially rub us the wrong way. Talk to them individually and let them know you greatly appreciate their effort but you feel their arguments are getting in the way. Ask them for suggestions on how they can get along better or differently. Then, allow them some time to do that. If time doesn't heal these wounds and Anna's and Henry's jobs aren't dependent on the other's, their time may be better spent doing other things or working with a different partner. If you need to break up this team, be ready to deal with attitudes afterward.

David and Kat are spending too much time doing anything other than work. These two are enjoying working together because it's a weekly vacation for them. They spend hours together but never have anything to show for it. You will notice this when you meet with them and they do not have much to say about their time spent together. Let them know that you appreciate their great attitudes, but that you think their projects might be slipping. Give them a probationary period to produce more results. If nothing changes, split them up and let them know you think they need to spend more time on their individual work.

Greg is doing a lot of work, and Misty is not pulling her weight. These two get together and Greg comes prepared with lots of ideas, but Misty is never fully in the game. Greg may or may not have expressed concern to you, but you have noticed this lop-sided partnership. Talk to both partners individually to ascertain the root of the issue, which could just be different personalities and work styles. If you feel the two will not ever be able to share tasks equitably, try pairing them with new partners who have similar interests and goals.

Taneisha and Mary can't find much to do or talk about when they get together. These two may do great work on their own, but they seem to be lacking that chemistry that makes a great partnership. Instead, they spend all their time trying to figure out what to work on together. Let them know that their job duties or skills may not be as compatible as you or they thought. Thank them for their effort, let them know they are good at their jobs, and suggest they work on their own for a while.

Joaquin and Ralph get too excited about the possibilities and never get anything off the ground. They do have great ideas, and they are both very interested in new projects that could be great for the company. However, they spend a lot of time planning and never do anything. You have already met with them about this, and they are still having trouble implementing their plans. Suggest adding a third team member who is more grounded or re-pairing Joaquin and Ralph with new partners who will help them work on the details of their great plans.

There may be a few other ineffective partnerships you will encounter in your office, but these can be the toughest to work with. If you have noticed that a few of the small teams that you manage have hit a dead end, try mixing up the groups. You can do this every few weeks if you would like! This can help your employees try out different partnerships and match up with someone who will be a great close coworker for a long time. The key to finding your high-performance partnerships on your team might be trial-and-error, and trying many options can also keep things exciting in your workplace!

Readers: Have you seen other "bad" partnerships? How did you or your manager handle them?

Managing Effective Partnerships on Your Team

Last week, we began a three-part series on identifying partnerships in your workplace (TradePost, 3/13/14). We continue this series this week by examining those effective partnerships and helping you figure out how to manage them so that they continue to deliver excellent work and create a sense of community on your team!

Now that you have taken a good look around your office and have helped your team members establish workplace partnerships, we want you to be able to recognize those that are doing well in this situation. Not only do you need to see what these great cooperatives are doing right, but you also need to know how to help manage their time and projects moving forward. Consider these scenarios:

  • Johnny and Angie are both working on a common project and need guidance on how to help each other implement solutions from their partner meetings. When these two get together, great ideas fly around! One thing you have noticed is that they have great chemistry regarding coming up with solutions, but may not be able to figure out how to act on them. To help manage this combination, keep them accountable for their ideas by asking them to record thoughts from their sessions. Then have a short meeting with them to help them narrow down those ideas that are workable and get them going on implementation.
  • Suzie and Gary work in different jobs but want to help each other's skill sets, yet don't know how to get started. You have noticed that these partners have trouble gaining ground because they both have to spend time providing background information about what they're doing before the other can help them. Have them schedule their meetings with each other after writing a brief synopsis of their tasks for that week. Each can send his or her document a few hours before the meeting and be more prepared for each meeting.
  • Howard and Mindy could use each other's help with a similar project, but they have a hard time coordinating schedules. These employees have different, yet in some ways similar jobs, and they may be working toward the same goals. Since they work in different areas and have conflicting project schedules, they sometimes find it difficult to get together. Help these two schedule time together by sending out a meeting request. They can choose a specific time each week to work together for just an hour. By having these two excellent employees schedule a regular time to meet, it will become easier for them to plan.
  • Sharon and Katie work well together and they never miss a beat! These two employees love working together, they produce great work, and you never notice them having trouble getting together or mismanaging their time. The best way to manage this pair is to bring them in once in a while and tell them you're very excited to hear what they've been up to. Let them brag a bit, show you some great work, and then send them off to do it again for another few weeks.

All of your employees have the capacity to form effective partnerships with those around them. Even those whose jobs don't exactly sync up can make time together and help each other out by building skills or generating ideas. Be sure to check in with these pairs regularly and to pay attention to those situations where they may be facing difficulties so that you can help them manage their great workplace association!

Readers: Have you seen a very effective workplace partnership? Share your story!

Identifying Potential Partnerships on Your Team

This week, TradePost begins a three-part series on workplace partnerships and how you as a manager can find and foster these beneficial situations between your team members. This week, we cover how to help members on your team get together to accomplish great things in their jobs.

Many of us have a person at work that we feel comfortable with when it comes to sharing ideas and working together on projects. Did you know that even two people whose jobs are different can help each other in their work? It's all about finding that perfect personality and work style combination between two people. You may already have some members in your department who have naturally partnered up, but we want to help you find those less likely pairings around your office. Start with these tips!

  1. Try a personality quiz! Many people are interested in working closely with those who gather and understand information the same way and who have compatible ways of communicating. We recently wrote a series about workplace personalities, and we invite you to view that series as well as have your employees take the personality test in the first post. Just remember, being too similar is also possible!
  2. Ask yourself who has similar jobs. If Howard and Mindy are both handling aspects of payroll, they may be the best to help each other with ideas about their daily tasks and special projects.
  3. Ask yourself which members have similar goals. If Johnny and Suzie are both working toward improving operational processes, have them try working together. Even if Johnny is working on physical operations in the workplace and Suzie is improving operations with outside vendors or departments, you can see how they may have good ideas that can help one another in their work.
  4. Try pairing up two people who have never worked closely together. Perhaps Angie and Gary have vastly different jobs – Angie is in sales while Gary is the administrative assistant. They may have barely spoken with each other, but it is possible that Gary's prior experience can lead Angie to have some creative sales ideas. Angie may also be able to help Gary with some technical skills that would improve his clerical expertise.
  5. Finally, try letting your team know you want them to have close workplace partnerships. Have a staff meeting to speak with your whole team to encourage them to find someone in the office to work with. Then, watch which partnerships grow naturally. Perhaps some of your team members have wanted to work together but didn't think there would be time. This manager-approved option gives them the opportunity to begin working with someone they've always respected or felt would be a great person to ask questions.

Depending on time available, an effective partnership could mean just a one-hour meeting each week to talk about ideas and current obstacles. No two partnerships will be alike in your office. Make sure that your employees understand this time is for work and that you appreciate any productive brainstorming. You can have your team members structure their partner hours by putting it into their calendars and sharing it with you. However, also keep in mind that outside of this structured time, partners should be able to approach each other for ongoing advice or idea generation as needed, provided all work is still being completed in a timely manner. This experiment could actually improve productivity among those who take others' suggestions seriously, and it can help to bring your employees closer together!

Readers: Do you have a workplace partner? How do you help each other with your jobs?

February 2014 Jobs Report

According to the Employment Situation Summary from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the unemployment rate rose for the first time in over a year from 6.6% in January to 6.7% in February. This may be due to continuing layoffs of seasonal workers after the holidays. 175,000 jobs were added in the month of February, and the number of long-term unemployed persons increased by 203,000, accounting for 37.0% of the total unemployed.

Employment in professional and business services rose by 79,000, and within that category temporary help services added 24,000 jobs. This continual rise in temporary services can likely be attributed to the ever-approaching employer mandate in the Affordable Care Act, making temporary help a viable solution for many businesses. Wholesale trade rose by 15,000 with most of those gains being in durable goods (+12,000). Food services and drinking places trended upward by adding 21,000 jobs.

Construction (+15,000), and health care (+10,000) each added some jobs, but made no notable change in employment for the month. Retail trade lost 4,000 jobs in February, and information declined by 16,000 jobs.

3 Mistakes Managers Make When Motivating

TradePost would like to welcome back Bonnie Cox, founder of Power Training Institute, to build on last week's topic of inspiring your employees to perform by using the relevant "love language." Bonnie offers up some words of wisdom when it comes to the mistakes managers often make when trying to motivate their employees.

Don't you wish there was a magic wand that would transform your underperforming employees into superstars? Unfortunately developing an outstanding staff is not quite that simple, but avoiding three big mistakes will make motivating employees a much simpler process with higher performance, productivity, and morale at the end of the day.

Mistake #1: Employees don't understand what a "job well done" looks like.

Have you ever seen an employee who arrives on time and works steadily all day, but deadlines are missed and unimportant fluff comes before high priorities? Are they lazy? Unmotivated? Careless? Perhaps they just don't know what is expected of them.

If performance expectations are not set clearly and quickly, then there can be no accountability for an employee's behaviors or actions. A Florida State University study found that less than 20 percent of employees are certain they know what is expected of them at work each day, with the majority reporting varying levels of clarity concerning responsibilities. That means only 20% of your staff knows what a "job well done" looks like! The other 80% is unsure about what their job responsibilities are and whether they're performing them well.

Job expectations should be goals that are set together with you and the employee from the start. These expectation conversations are an ongoing dialogue, but need to start within the first week of employment.

Mistake #2: Employees aren't held responsible for results until their annual review.

Let's say that you've hired a new person on your team and you sat them down and had a productive performance conversation within the first week of their hire date. Together, you outlined goals that were definitive and attainable. Now three months later, that employee's large project is unfinished and behind schedule. Six months after that, the project is complete but there are gaps in the finished results. Three months later you sit down to have an annual review with the person, and they are shocked by the negative review. They thought they were doing so well!

This is a classic example of the second big mistake: lack of accountability. If employees don't receive feedback on their work at regular intervals, they will be surprised to hear in their annual review how unhappy you were with their work. As a manager, you should be meeting one-on-one with your employees regularly, offering feedback, and discussing project updates.

Mistake #3: Managers don't evaluate why poor performance happens.

The third mistake comes in two forms:

  1. Managers may not give any or enough feedback to employees about poor performance. Low motivation, poor quality, and other performance issues are rarely addressed or ignored altogether.
  2. Managers point out mistakes or unmet expectations, but they fail to ask why an employee doesn't perform up to standards.

As a manager, you have power and you could use your power to reprimand and take a punitive approach, but you should try other avenues first. The best way to evaluate poor performance is to ask questions and establish a plan going forward.

  • "Do you feel motivated in your job?"
  • "Do you think you've had the training you need to do your job well?"
  • "What other tools do you need to be more proactive?"
  • "How well does our company culture support your goals?"
  • "What will be our plan going forward?"

These questions dig deep into the reasons behind an employee's performance. At the end of your conversation, you'll better understand an employee's behavior and you'll be able to establish renewed expectations and standards as part of your plan going forward.

There's no quick fix for bad behavior or poor performance. Transforming an employee into a superstar will take effort and time, but avoiding these three massive mistakes will get you about as close as you can to having the magic wand of motivation.

This blog post is based on PTI's half-day seminar "3 Mistakes Manager Make When Motivating." Call PTI today (805-456-5227) to equip your management staff with the knowledge to avoid these common mistakes.

Readers: Has any manager made other mistakes while trying to motivate you?

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