Q: Should a boss be friends with his or her employees?
A: Treating employees like pals didn’t always work out for Steve Carrell’s Michael Scott character on The Office, but you can be friends with people who work for you—if you set boundaries.
“When you’re working side-by-side, day after day with people, it’s perfectly natural for friendships to develop,” says Brian Fielkow, a CEO of a Houston logistics company and author of Driving to Perfection: Achieving Business Excellence By Creating A Vibrant Culture. “Some people believe work and your personal life should be separate. But most people don’t want to just punch a clock every day.”
Indeed, there’s lots of research that shows that having work friends is good for business. People with office buddies tend to be happier, more productive, and less likely to quit. Even workers who aren’t thrilled with the job itself are happier when they have friends at work because it gives them someone to vent to and reduces stress, according to Michael Sollitto, assistant professor of communication at Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi and author of a recent study on workplace relationships.
But the rules are different when the relationship is between people on different rungs of the corporate ladder. “Friendships with subordinates can be dangerous for your career and for the workers who are your friends,” says Fielkow.
If you’re going out to lunch, grabbing drinks after work, or playing golf with people who report to you, perceptions of an uneven playing field can fester. “Employees who aren’t part of that clique may start to feel like your chummy pals have better access to you than the rest of the team and are more likely to receive special treatment,” says Fielkow. People may not respect you if you play favorites.
Your friendship with a subordinate can also color co-workers’ feelings toward that person. If your friend gets a promotion or a big raise, it might be chalked up to your relationship, not his or her merits.
Plus, workplace friendships can make it harder for you to do your job. “It may be difficult to be critical of a friend you manage,” says Fielkow. “What if you have to lay to lay them off?” And if the friendship goes sour, that worker could undermine you by sharing intimate details about your life.
None if this means you can’t develop close relationships at work. If a friendship with a colleague grows, agree on boundaries. Don’t talk about other workers or business issues when you’re outside the office. Don’t share company information before it becomes public knowledge.
And make sure that you’re equally accessible to all members of your team. Communicate regularly with people who report to you. Walk around the office. A simple “how was your weekend” at the water cooler can go a long way toward making you approachable. “Showing a personal interest in your employees’ lives can help you be a better manager and create an atmosphere where people get more out of work than work,” says Fielkow.
The economy is on the mend. Unemployment rates are down. So what's up with all these companies slashing jobs by the thousands?
Here’s some explanation—note we used the word “explanation” not “justification”—for why a handful of companies are laying off large chunks of their workforces even as the economy is on the upswing and unemployment is falling month after month.
eBay: 2,400 jobs
On Wednesday, eBay announced it would be cutting 2,400 jobs in the first quarter of 2015. The company says that the layoff figure includes positions that are unfilled, so the actual number of people losing their jobs will be less than 2,400. What’s more, eBay points out that the figure represents only 7% of the company’s total workforce. (Are we the only ones surprised to hear that eBay currently employs 34,600 people?)
Among the factors influencing the layoff decision: “Weak holiday sales” and revenues that have been lower than analysts expected, as well as a company restructuring in anticipation of the spinoff of eBay’s online payment service PayPal. The company said it may also spin off a third division, eBay Enterprises, which runs e-commerce operations for other companies, explaining in a statement: “It has become clear that [eBay Enterprise] has limited synergies with either business, and a separation will allow both to focus exclusively on their core markets.”
As for weak sales, one reason eBay is suffering is that, unlike Amazon—which effectively uses its Amazon Prime membership program to create legions of shoppers who make the vast majority of their purchases at its site—many eBay customers use the site randomly and haphazardly rather than habitually. “It’s the infrequent shopper that comes two, three, four times a year,” eBay CEO Donahoe told USA Today. “They didn’t come back at the rate we thought.”
American Express: 4,000 jobs
During the course of 2015, AmEx plans on cutting costs by trimming 4,000 jobs after failing to meet long-term revenue growth target of 8%. The Wall Street Journal pointed to “a stronger dollar, a weak December for retail sales and the sharp drop in gas prices” as forces that hurt the company’s fourth quarter results—which actually showed revenue and profits increasing, just not enough to satisfy investors. The 4,000 layoffs represent 6% of AmEx’s total workforce of roughly 63,000.
Baker Hughes & Halliburton: 8,000 jobs
The two energy companies agreed to merge last autumn, and both ended the year strongly, with Halliburton posting revenues up nearly 15% and Baker Hughes achieving record revenues for the quarter. Nonetheless, in light of plunging crude oil and gas prices, oilfield services provider Baker Hughes announced plans for layoffs of 11% of its workforce, roughly 7,000 employees, while Halliburton plans for about 1,000 job cuts of its own.
“This is really the crappy part of the job, and this is what I hate about this industry frankly,” Baker Hughes CEO Martin Craighead said this week in a conference call with analysts. “This is the industry, and it’s throwing us another one of these downturns, and we’re going to be good stewards of our business and do the right thing. But these are never decisions that are done mechanically.”
Schlumberger: 9,000 jobs
Another oilfield services company, Schlumberger also reported surprisingly strong fourth quarter results despite the steep drop in oil and gas prices—and it too recently announced big-time layoffs. Last week, the company said it had laid off 9,000 employees worldwide in late 2014 as profits fell and demand for oil retreated.
What do you do about someone with icky workplace behavior? MONEY's Donna Rosato explains how to handle the situation.
Money's career expert Donna Rosato explains when and how it might be a good idea.
Be on the look out for these work-related waistline expanders
Packing on pounds while climbing the corporate ladder? You’re in good company: in a 2013 Harris Interactive survey of more than 3,000 workers conducted for CareerBuilder, 41% of respondents said they’d gained weight in their current jobs. Workers who spend long hours sitting at a desk (like administrative assistants) and have high stress levels (like engineers and teachers) were more likely to have gained weight.
The truth is, there are lots of reasons your work could be affecting your waistline. “It really has to do with diet, physical activity, and behavior,” says Katherine Tryon, a medical doctor with the Vitality Institute, a global research organization based New York City. Here are some potential factors, and how to steer clear of their consequences.
Hours of sitting
The most obvious cause of work-related weight gain is the lack of physical activity many employees get from (at least) 9 to 5, and in the CareerBuilder survey, workers pointed to “sitting at my desk most of the day” as the number-one reason for their expanding waistlines. Though it’s true that research shows people who stand or walk throughout the day burn more calories, which can translate to fewer pounds gained over time, a 2013 British study failed to find a strong link between time spent sitting and obesity. The authors say that while sedentary behavior certainly doesn’t help, there are clearly other factors fueling weight gain as well.
Your long commute
In addition to time spent at a desk, the average American spends 25.4 minutes commuting to work and then again to get home, according to the US Census Bureau, and the American Community Survey shows that 86% of workers commute by car. Those who take public transportation to and from work tend to have lower BMIs than those who drive or ride in a car, found a 2014 study published in the British Medical Journal, as do those who walk or ride their bikes. “Businesses need to think about ways to turn commuting into a healthy activity, like offering bike racks and showers to their employees,” says Dr. Tryon.
Boss on your case again? Try not to freak out: High levels of the stress hormone cortisol can trigger fat and sugar cravings, and can also cause the body to hang onto fat and store it around the midsection. And a 2014 German study found that work-related stress is a risk factor for type 2 diabetes.
You may also feel like you need to forget healthy habits in order to get ahead, says Frances Largeman-Roth, RD, author of Eating in Color. “Maybe you used to go for a walk at lunch but then you change jobs or get a promotion, and suddenly all eyes are on you,” she says. “You may feel like your daily break from the office is no longer acceptable, so you put in the extra time and your weight suffers.”
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Employees who burn the midnight oil to meet deadlines or keep up with heavy workloads may also blame their restricted sleep schedule for excess weight gain. In a 2013 University of Pennsylvania study, adults who got only four hours of shuteye a night for five nights in a row gained more weight than those who got eight hours, thanks to the extra meals (and higher-calorie foods) they consumed during late-night hours.
Adults who work multiple jobs, who start work early in the morning, or who commute longer distances are more likely to go without full nights’ sleep, according to a 2014 study also by University of Pennsylvania researchers. The authors suggest that flexible start times may help workers get more sleep overall.
Your lunch options
People who work in or commute through neighborhoods with a lot of drive-thrus are more likely to stop at them, and they’re also more likely to have higher BMIs, according to a 2014 British study. In fact, the study group with the most exposure to takeout joints on the way to and from work was almost twice as likely to be obese, compared to those with who were least exposed. “If you don’t have healthy lunch options nearby, you may need to make a real effort to prepare and pack your own food ahead of time,” says Largeman-Roth.
Lack of wellness programs
Dr. Tryon’s own research suggests that employers have a unique opportunity to improve public health by offering incentives and tools, like reduced insurance premiums and weight-loss support groups. But a 2014 research review from Hampshire College found that only 25% of large companies, and only 5% of small businesses, offer comprehensive wellness programs. Why? Companies say the programs cost too much and that they don’t want to meddle in their employees’ business.
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Candy jars and freebie tables
In any office, there’s someone who always keeps a bowl of candy out, says Largeman-Roth, and if you’re a dieter or a binger or a stress eater, that person is the enemy. “We know that when you put something delicious out on prominent display, people are going to eat much more of it than if it was tucked away in a desk drawer out of sight.” The same goes for the leftover desserts or doughnuts lurking in the kitchen, she adds. “If there’s a common area for sweets and you know it’s a weakness, you may need to steer clear and not let yourself be tempted.”
Coworkers’ eating habits
If you frequently go to lunch with your colleagues, their unhealthy dietary choices may rub off on you. A 2014 review study published in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics found that people tend to conform to “eating norms” in social settings. In other words, if you know other people are ordering high-fat foods, you’re more likely to do the same. This makes sense, especially in a work setting, says Largeman-Roth. “You want to fit in—no one wants to be known as the girl who only eats tofu or drinks green smoothies, so you go along with the crowd even if it’s not what you’d normally order,” she says.
Constant office parties
If your workplace is the type that marks every single birthday, anniversary, and promotion with cake and cookies, watch out: Nearly one in five respondents to the CareerBuilder survey said that these celebrations contributed to their weight gain.
“Employers may see these events as fun perks that boost company morale, so it can be quite controversial to suggest that they may not be so good for their health,” says Dr. Tryon. “The challenge here is in finding ways to celebrate and reward workers that doesn’t necessarily involve forcing sugary foods on them.”
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The vending machines
When you’ve got back-to-back meetings and even the cafeteria is too far away, the vending machine can be your savior—at least temporarily. But most of those packaged snack options are high in calories and low in nutrients, says Largeman-Roth.
Instead, try to keep healthy snacks like apples or fruit-and-nut bars at your desk. Before you give into a soda craving, drink a glass of cold water. (Chances are you don’t actually need the caffeine, not to mention the calories.) And if you must visit the vending machine, opt for a small pack of unsalted nuts or trail mix, which has protein and healthy fats to fill you up.
When’s the last time you took the stairs at work? Taking the stairs, even if that means changing into sneakers on your lunch break or getting off the elevator a flight or two early in an office high-rise, can add valuable calorie-burning steps to your day, says Dr. Tryon. Employers should take note, too. “Simple environmental changes, like lighting stairwells to make them more appealing for people to use, can create a healthier environment and healthier workers,” Dr. Tryon says.
Lack of sunlight
If you work in a windowless cubicle and you arrive at work before the sun comes up, you could be missing out on a powerful, all-natural weapon against obesity. A 2014 Northwestern University study found that exposure to the sun was associated with BMI, and that getting bright light in the morning hours seemed to have a slimming effect. Light helps to regulate circadian rhythms, which in turn regulate energy balance and expenditure, say the study authors. They suggest getting 20 to 30 minutes of sunlight between 8 a.m. and noon each day to avoid unwanted weight gain—yet another argument for walking to work or taking that mid-morning break!
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All the wining-and-dining on business trips can add up: dinners on the company tab, lavish meals with clients or associates, and the lure of regional cuisine are all likely to trigger overeating, even for someone who’s normally very healthy at home, says Largeman-Roth. Plus, traveling for work two weeks or more a month was linked to higher BMI, higher rates of obesity, and lower self-reported health in a 2011 Columbia University study. The authors note that 81% of business trips are taken in cars, and that travelers are likely sitting for long hours and making poor food choices.
Night-shift workers may be at an even higher risk of obesity than daytime desk jockeys, according to a 2014 University of Colorado at Boulder study. Researchers found that participants burned fewer calories over a three-day period when they slept during the day and stayed up (and ate) through the night than when they followed a normal schedule. The body’s circadian clock can shift over time, the researchers say, but because shift-workers tend to revert to a normal schedule on their days off, their bodies never fully adapt to their work schedules.
Eating at your desk every day works against your waistline in more ways than one. Not only do you miss out the exercise you would have gotten by walking a few blocks to the sandwich shop, but you’re likely missing out on the full experience of eating. “You’re multitasking—answering emails, making phone calls, doing online shopping—and you’re not focusing on the enjoyment or the fulfillment of your food,” says Largeman-Roth. “And an hour later, you’ve almost forgotten you ate lunch and you’re already grabbing something else, not realizing you just had a full meal.”
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Your digital devices
Job-related obesity triggers don’t always disappear when you leave the office. In an ever-connected society, many employees find themselves tied to a mobile phone even in their so-called off hours, making it harder for them to escape work stress and demands.
Frequent use of these devices has also been linked to increased rates of sedentary behavior, which can in turn lead to unwanted weight gain. In a 2013 Kent State University study, people who used their cell phones most often were also most likely to forego opportunities for physical activity.
Happy hours and networking events
In many offices, after-work drinks are an expected part of the job—it’s where you bond with your coworkers, earn points with your boss, or blow off steam when a project doesn’t go your way. “You feel like you can’t say no, because you don’t want to be the person who’s killing the party,” says Largeman-Roth.
But calories from alcohol—and from those appetizers Susie in accounting just ordered for the table—can add up quickly. And because booze lowers inhibitions and stimulates appetite, the more you drink, the harder it will be to resist those pre-dinner snacks.
Your boss's decision to grant—or deny—your request could be influenced by a lot more than your performance.
Perhaps you’ve resolved to make 2015 the year that you finally get a big bump up in pay.
If so, you’ll first have to clear the biggest hurdle standing in your way: You.
Less than half of working Americans ever even ask for a raise and close to 30% are uncomfortable negotiating salary, according to a new study by Payscale.
It may help you feel more confident to go after what you want if you know the odds are generally in your favor. Of people who have put themselves out there to request better compensation, three quarters saw their paychecks go up: 44% received the amount they asked for and 31% got an amount that was less than they asked for. (Hey, that’s still something!)
That Payscale study also broke down the likelihood that those who ask shall receive based on annual salary, job, degree level, college major and state of residency.
You’ll have the best shot if you…
Once again, it’s good to be rich. The higher your annual salary, the more likely you are to have asked for a raise and the more likely you are to have received the raise you requested.
Individuals earning $150,000 or more a year were the most likely to see their employer match the exact raise they requested, with a 70% success rate. Only 8% of these high-earners saw their request for a raise go unfulfilled.
Meanwhile, only 25% of those earning between $10,000 and $20,000 saw their incomes increase by the amount they asked for, while 51% had their request for a pay raise denied entirely.
Somewhere in the middle? The good news is that if your annual income tops $70,000, you have at least a 50% chance of getting the pay raise you request.
Unsurprisingly, those who work in higher-paying jobs also have a better shot at having their compensation wishes granted.
Chief executives were 76% successful in getting the exact pay raises they wanted. First-line supervisors in the construction trades had their requests granted 62% of the time. Other high-wager earners such as financial analysts and electrical engineers rounded out the top five professions most likely to receive a requested raise.
Those with jobs that commanded lower annual salaries tended to have their requests for raises denied more frequently. Nursing aides and orderlies have the worst chance of getting the raise they want followed by security guards and cashiers. Below are the top five and bottom five occupations for getting a wage increase.
While the level of education a person has obtained didn’t have much impact on their willingness to ask for a raise, it did affect the likelihood that their wish would be granted.
Those with post-graduate degrees were most likely to be successful in their requests, though success rates were highest for those with an M.B.A. (55%) and a law degree (59%).
Go figure that attorneys are good at negotiation.
Surprisingly, English language and/or English literature majors were the most likely to have asked for a raise (51%)—call it their way with words. Their requests paid off 49% of the time.
Those who studied public administration and social services were the most lucky in terms of receiving, getting what they wanted 56% of the time
Those whose college majors tended to land them jobs in the public sector, such as homeland security, law enforcement, firefighting and other protective services were least likely to have asked for a raise—perhaps because these jobs typically have set pay structures. Workers who came from these majors who did ask were only met with a yes 18% of the time, giving them the lowest success rate.
Alaska residents are the most likely to push for a raise, with 53% of the population having requested one (and they’ll need it to offset those heating bills). Residents of Rhode Island come in second with 51%, followed by Oregonians and West Virginians, with 48%. Dwellers of Massachusetts, Oklahoma, and Idaho tied for fifth with 47% advocating for a raise.
South Dakotans were least likely to ask for a pay increase, (31%), followed by residents of Arkansas (34%), Nevada (37%) and Nebraska (37%).
Alaskans’ assertiveness pays off, apparently, as they are also the state residents most likely to receive the pay increase requested. Delawareans were the least successful in their requests with only 32% getting the amount they were after. Below are the top six and worst six states for getting a raise request approved:
More from this series on Money.com:
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Make a New Year's resolution to organize your workspace
So you’ve made the New Year’s resolution to clean out your closet and your garage. Great. What about your office or cubicle?
A disorganized, sloppy workspace detracts from your ability to focus and get tasks completed efficiently. Physical clutter has a funny way of creeping into your head and creating mental distractions, say pro organizers. Here are their best tips for corralling your stuff.
Give your stuff a designated home. “Flat surfaces seem to attract clutter like a magnet,” says Donna Smallin, author of Clear the Clutter, Find Happiness (Storey 2014). “Before setting anything down, ask yourself, ‘Is there where this belongs?'” she says. To keep your desktop from becoming a sea of papers, coupons and memos, buy or make different spaces for different types of items.
Revamp your to-do pile. Rather than have one big, overwhelming pile of paper (that you’ll probably never wade through), create “action files,” suggests Barry Izsak, past president of the National Association of Professional Organizers and owner of Arranging It All. “There are two types,” he says. “There are permanent action files for the tasks that we will never be finished with.” Bills to pay, letters to write, people to call — you’ll always have these kinds of tasks, so keep permanent folders for these kinds of tasks. “The other type of action file is a temporary action file… for the projects that have a beginning, a middle and an end,” Izsak says. Label them with the specific name of the person, project or task.
Figure out if you need visual cues. If you’ll forget about something as soon as you aren’t looking at it, Izsak says your action files should be right on top of your desk. “Create this system… in a stair-step folder holder or with hanging files in a desk top hanging file folder,” he says. If that’s not your speed, he suggests using the file drawer of your desk or an easily accessible file cabinet drawer. “It really doesn’t matter what you do, as long as you create and use it,” he says.
Keep all the things you travel with in one place. Not only will this make your space neater, it’ll prevent you from forgetting things, says pro organizer Standolyn Robertson, who owns the company Things in Place. “In the office, [use] a credenza, desk drawer or even a canvas bag on your coat hook,” she says. “Get in the habit of putting things there that will leave with you.” This is where you should stick your keys, phone, train pass, empty lunch bag or food containers, newspaper and umbrella.
Have multiple charging stations. If you plug in your phone, tablet and so on every day when you get to the office, you’ll probably have ugly wires and cables hanging all over the place. “The transition to laptops and tablets has led to pop-up work stations at home and work,” Robertson says. Eliminate that by investing in duplicates and tucking the plugs and most of the wires out of sight on your desk or a cabinet. (You can use magnets if you have a metal surface, or zip ties for bundling cables out of sight behind furniture.) Robertson points out that this also prevents the problem of leaving a charger behind and lightens your commuting load.
Get your junk off the floor, already. “The floor is not the place to store or hide the things or piles we don’t know what to do with,” Izsak says. “Everything needs a home to keep our offices productive and clutter-free and the floor space under our desk is not that place.”
Most employers say they support older workers. But boomers don't see it, and age discrimination cases are on the rise.
As the oldest boomers begin to turn 70 in just over a year, an important workplace battleground already has been well defined: how to accommodate aging but productive workers who show few signs of calling it quits.
Millions of older workers want to stay on the job well past 65 or 68. Some are woefully under saved or need to keep their health insurance and must work; others cling to the identity their job gives them or see work as a way to remain vibrant and engaged. At some level, almost all of them worry about being pushed out.
Those worries are rooted in anecdotal evidence of workers past 50 being downsized out of jobs, but also in hard statistics. Age discrimination claims have been on the rise since 1997, when 15,785 reports were filed. Last year, 21,396 claims were recorded. Not every lawsuit is valid. But official claims represent only a fraction of incidents where older workers get pushed out, lawyers say.
One in five workers between 45 and 74 say they have been turned down for a job because of age, AARP reports. About one in 10 say they were passed up for a promotion, laid off or denied access to career development because of their age. Even those not held back professionally because of age may experience something called microaggressions, which are brief and frequent indignities launched their direction. Terms like “geezer” and “gramps” in the context of a work function “affect older workers” and erode self-esteem, write researchers at the Sloan Center.
These are serious issues in the context of a workforce where many don’t ever plan to retire. Some 65% of boomers plan to work past age 65, according new research from the Transamerica Center for Retirement Studies. Some 52% plan to keep working at least part-time after they retire. In a positive sign, 88% of employers say they support those who want to stay on the job past 65.
But talk is cheap, many boomers might say. In the Transamerica survey, just 73% of boomers said their employer supports working past 65. One way this skepticism seems justified: only 48% of employers say they have practices in place to enable older workers to shift from full-time to part-time work, and just 37% say they enable shifting to a new position that may be less stressful. Boomers say the numbers are even more dismal. Only 21% say their employer will enable them to shift to part-time work, and just 12% say their employer will facilitate a move to a position that is less stressful.
These findings seem at odds with employers’ general perceptions about how effective older workers are. According to the survey:
- 87% believe their older workers are a valuable resource for training and mentoring
- 86% believe their older workers are an important source of institutional knowledge
- 82% believe their older workers bring more knowledge, wisdom, and life experience
- Just 4% believe their older workers are less productive than their younger counterparts
The reality is that most of us will work longer. The Society of Actuaries recently updated its mortality tables and concluded that, for the first time, a newborn is expected to live past 90 and a 65-year-old today should make it to 86 (men) or 88 (women). The longevity revolution is changing everything about the way we approach retirement.
Employers need to embrace an older workforce by creating programs that let them phase into retirement while keeping some income and their healthcare, by offering better financial education and planning services, and by declaring an age-friendly atmosphere as part of their commitment to diversity.
For their part, employees must take steps to remain employable. Most are staying healthy (65%); many are focused on performing well (54%), and a good number are keeping job skills up to date (41%), Transamerica found. But painfully few are keeping up their professional network (16%), staying current on the job market (14%) or going back to school for retraining (5%). Both sides, it seems, could do better.