Sunday, October 31, 2010

Favoritism in the workplace

Sue has been assigned to two jobs as part of a recent downsizing initiative implemented by my company. In the mornings she assists the administrative team, while afternoons are spent performing her old job in the sales department. Sue has become obsessed with Amy, another member of the administrative staff. Amy is a single mom rumored to be dating her boss. In Sue’s eyes, Amy receives favoritism: she comes and goes as she pleases without repercussion, has a more favorable work schedule, is allowed to run errands with the company vehicle, takes too many smoking breaks, refuses to assist with the phones and so on.

Amy is an average worker who is unable to multitask, but is organized. Her inability to multitask along with her organizational rules leads others to believe she is inflexible and many have labeled her a Prima Donna. Her work is highly regarded by her immediate supervisor (duh! he’s dating her)* and our VP of Operations. She does complete the small amount of work she is assigned at a high level. The VP of Operations has made it clear he doesn’t see a problem with favoritism and considers Sue to be a petty complainer with a chip on her shoulder.

Sue made the mistake of becoming so upset with Amy’s perceived favoritism she now performs her own job at a lower level and is rude towards anyone in the Amy camp. She was even rude with me. When I asked her what was wrong (thinking she had a problem with her work load) she complained Amy and her boss were on another smoke break.

The answer to Sue’s problem can be found in Marie G. McIntyre’s Your Office Coach column "Workload Inequity isn't co-worker's fault" in today's Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.**  If I apply Marie’s answer to Sue’s problem it would read:

Instead of continuing to complain about Amy, talk to your manager the VP of Sales about correcting the work imbalance. You perform two jobs while Amy is performing half a job. If you do manage to get the work reallocated, then Amy will be busy and your problem will be solved. But if this proves to be impossible, try to remember that Amy’s relaxed working conditions have been created by her managers. As long as they are pleased with her performance she is doing nothing wrong. Continuing to dwell on this inequity will only make you increasingly unhappy and will affect your own job performance.

*Amy's supervisor denies he is dating Amy.

** I can't locate the actual column on the web.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Is a book about 'The History of Capitalism' dull?

I was discussing my latest read Joyce Appleby's The Relentless Revolution: A History of Capitalism with my company’s CEO when he said, “I could never read a book like that. It sounds so dull. How many pages is it? I hope the author included a lot of charts and graphs.”

Appleby’s book which is 436 pages long is not a typical history book. She approaches capitalism as an extension of culture unique to a particular time and place rather than a description of historical economic facts. Her argument is: without a supporting culture, capitalism cannot thrive. She found the true catalyst of capitalism to be the agrarian revolution that occurred in England in the 17th century. Innovations like crop rotation and the private enclosure of public lands resulted in a commercializing of agriculture. This took workers off the farm freeing the labor pool to pursue other endeavors culminating in the industrial revolution.

An important insight she makes is that capitalism manifests differently in different places and cultures. She describes how Germany and the United States overtook England’s capitalist lead in the 19th century, then goes on to describe capitalism’s manifestations in other countries including Japan, Russia, India and China. It is interesting to see how the politics of totalitarian communism and democratic pluralism led to very different forms of capitalist integration.

Appleby, who is a historian at UCLA, writes:
Teaching is a great revealer of ones ignorance. Everything seems to fit together while one is taking notes from someone else’s lecture. When the task of making sense of the past falls on you, gaps and non sequiturs stand out like hazard lights.
Filling in the gaps and non sequiturs of my inept history education is precisely what I enjoyed about this book. Appleby’s chapters describing the rise of capitalism in the 18th and early 19th centuries were riveting.* Thus, I am sorry to say I found the final chapters of the book to be disjointed and I hate to say it down right dull. Reading the last 100 pages which discussed modern day capitalism was a real struggle. Appleby whose main premise I think is “Capitalism today needs to find the right balance to survive” can’t seem to get her point across.**

*Also interesting were the reasons why capitalism never flourished in countries such as France. France like England and the Netherlands had sent out explorers to the New World fast on the heels of the Spanish. At that time France had the largest European army and grandest royal court. So why did they fall behind? The effects of France’s backward agriculture and the special perks Kings awarded favorites, such as the right to charge a fee to cross a bridge. The holder of this privilege could bequeath it to his heirs. Over time, tolls for roads, bridges, canals and towpaths accumulated, making it slow and costly to ship food from region to region. In a country as climatically diverse and large as France, harvest failures would not occur everywhere, but the fact that there was food elsewhere in the land didn’t help the hungry, because distribution was clogged by these seigniorial privileges. (pgs. 50-51)

** If you’ve read the book and came to a different conclusion I’d love to hear your thoughts. Please share.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Army botches "The Message"

I choked back tears watching The Messenger last night as my husband recounted his real life experience with the Army’s Messenger. We were only a couple of scenes into the movie when my husband said, “The army sure botched my brother’s message.”

He doesn’t remember where he was that day; only that the scene he faced when he walked into his family’s home changed his life forever:

His mother was in hysterics. His dad was cradling the phone in his hands repeating over and over, "Richie’s dead," "Richie’s dead." His aunt had heard of his brother’s accidental drowning death in Corpus Christi, Texas on TV and had called to offer her condolences. He remembers prying the phone's receiver from his dad’s hands and hanging it on the wall. He remembers walking to the bus stop two blocks away (the longest walk of his life), to meet his sister as she came home from school. He doesn’t remember their conversation, but he remembers how quiet she was when they walked home. He remembers the army representative and the family's priest finally arriving at their home. He remembers he was the one to answer the door. He remembers saying:

"You're too late we all ready know."

Sunday, October 03, 2010

Are toning shoes a marketing gimmick?

Toning shoes which are currently manufactured by companies such as Reebok, MBT and Skechers claim to:
• Promote weight loss
• Strengthen the back
• Firm calf and buttock muscles
• Reduce cellulite and tone your thighs
• Increase cardiovascular health
• Improve posture
                                            • Reduce stress on knee and ankle joints

Or as the Skechers ad claims: "Get in shape without setting foot in a gym." All you have to do is wear them.

How do they work?
Toning shoes are designed with an uneven platform for the foot, which forces your muscles to work harder to stay balanced while you walk. The Skechers and MBT’s have a curved edge on the back made to mimic walking in sand.

How much do they cost?
A typical pair can sell for from $100 to as much as $250.

Clark Howard cautions listeners:
A couple of months ago, I heard Clark Howard caution listeners in his segment, "Toning shoes not all they're cracked up to be." He said:
The claims that you'll derive some kind of exercise-related benefit from wearing toning shoes are "utter nonsense," according to a professor of physical medicine and rehabilitation at Johns Hopkins University's School of Medicine in Baltimore. Moreover, people are suffering injuries as result of wearing these shoes, according to USA Today.
Co-worker receives toning shoes as a gift:
Last week, my co-worker informed me his son had given him a pair of toning shoes for his birthday. These shoes, which cost $109, were going to tone his legs and improve his posture. This co-worker suffers from gout, has chronic knee and foot pain, and walks on the sides of his feet. I couldn’t help thinking he’s going to fall off these shoes and hurt himself. I told him about the warning I’d heard on Clark Howard.

His response:
Joe Montana wears them. He heard Montana say his toning shoes had helped relieve pain in his knees and back which allowed him to start jogging for the first time in 15 years and that he hadn’t fallen off them yet.

Personally I think my co-worker should return the toners and invest in a good pair of orthopedic shoes, but others in the office disagreed they began chiming in on how these shoes tone your legs etc., so I gave up.

Here are the facts:
According to the WSJ health blog, in a study performed by a team of exercise scientists from the University of Wisconsin, La Crosse for The American Council on Exercise:
There is simply no evidence to support the claims that these shoes will help wearers exercise more intensely, burn more calories or improve muscle strength and tone.
John Porcari, UW-L exercise and sport science professor who led the independent study said, "There is no way these shoes would tone your butt."

And that

He is concerned about potential problems with extended wear of the toning shoes because they could change people's walking gait mechanics.
Just because the shoes may initially produce sore muscles doesn’t mean they work. The differently shaped sole and cushioning will definitely use different muscles than your regular shoes, but that doesn’t mean you’re working any harder, overall, or that you’re going to get toned. Some people do find these shoes very comfortable. If that encourages people to get out and walk more or exercise more — fantastic.
Bottom line:
More walking is a good thing, so if you think you’ll walk more in a pair of toning shoes by all means go buy a pair, but buyer beware ~ these shoes are not for everyone and are not the shape-up panacea they claim to be.