ASQ - Team and Workplace Excellence Forum

Online Edition — March 2003

In This Issue
Walking the Talk: An Interview with Chris Richardson
Looking Toward the Future
Ask the PowerPhrase® Expert



AQP Connections
Our Readers Say
The Help Desk
Articles in Brief
News Bites
What’s Up?
Out of Context
Book Nook
March 2003 News for a Change—Home Page

NFC Index

AQP Home

Articles in Brief
A quick synopsis of what other publications are saying about topics related to leadership, employee involvement, quality, and organizational performance


February 2003

Why Spy?
It’s no secret that plenty of workers use their company’s high-speed Internet access to shop, make travel arrangements, or just surf the Web. The research firm ComScore Networks, in fact, found that, excluding auctions, 59% of all 2001 Web purchases in the United States were made from the workplace. Another study, by, found that 47% of employees spend at least 30 minutes a day cruising the Web for personal reasons.

In light of this, it would seem to make sense for managers to keep track of their workers’ Web habits. Shouldn’t employees conduct personal business on their own time? Think of all the lost productivity!

Not so fast. There are problems with this logic. First, while employers have increasingly been taking the Big Brother approach, thanks to software that tracks Internet usage and even lets the boss read a worker’s e-mails, the proportion of absenteeism attributable to personal needs has also been on the rise—almost doubling in 2002 to 21%.

Notice the lesson here: If you don’t want your people missing work to take care of personal business, maybe it would be better to let them take care of some of that business at work. Losing a few minutes here or there—or even a couple of hours—is cheaper than losing entire days.

Fast Company

February 2003

Strong Medicine
By now, most of us have settled into the post-New Year economic reality. We’re just sitting around, watching all of those resolutions fall by the wayside. If that’s you, here’s some advice: Stop wasting your time paying attention to all the economic pontificating. It’s nothing but a distraction that has the potential to make 2003 just like last year—a year we’d all like to forget.

Although the experts blather about recovery, recession, and double-dip recession, an elephant stands quietly in the corner, unmentioned. What lots of us have been silently hoping for, without ever quite saying it aloud, is that the good old days of a few short years ago will return. And when they come back, they’ll bring all their hope and promise—that we’ll once again live in a turbocharged economy that made it seem possible to find work that offered the spiritual solace of poetry and a compensation package that could handle a second house in the country. Well, the elephant has a message for us: Forget it.

It’s not so much that we’re guaranteed an economic death spiral into depressionary oblivion. Things aren’t that bad. But things have gotten bad, and seem even worse, for the simple reason that they used to be so good. At the height of the new-economy phenomenon, everything about work seemed up for grabs: the employee-company relationship, the definition of white-collar creativity, and the ownership of (if you will) the means of production. All of this blue-sky possibility has evaporated, and that’s the hardest thing to admit. Nobody talks about reinventing the idea of work anymore, and that feels like a defeat.

So how do we proceed? As an answer to that, imagine a four-box grid that charts the ways that you can move forward:

  • Grow up.
  • Adjust your expectations.
  • Restart.
  • Don’t grow up.

HR Magazine

February 2003

Off Duty, Out of Work
In most cases, termination for off-duty behavior appears legally safe. After all, private employers generally have the right to fire employees for almost any reason. Under the “at-will” doctrine of employment, “you can be fired for any reason or no reason, as long as it’s not illegal,” says Peter Petesch, an attorney in the Washington, DC, office of Atlanta-based law firm Ford & Harrison LLP.

What’s illegal? That’s the catch. A number of federal and state laws restrict the at-will employment doctrine and, in some cases, employees may successfully argue that these statutes protect their off-duty behavior. In fact, more than half of all states bar termination for various types of off-duty conduct. New York, for example, prohibits adverse actions based on employees’ political activities, “legal use of consumable products” and “legal recreational activities” off hours and off employer premises.

Ultimately, when deciding whether to terminate employees for off-duty behavior, HR professionals will need to ask, and answer, two important questions:

  • Are there any special legal factors at issue in this case?
  • What effect, if any, does the off-duty behavior have on the employee’s job performance, the workplace, or the company’s image?

The more off-duty behavior negatively affects workplace performance or the business as a whole, the more valid termination becomes as an option—provided no special legal protection exists.

Inc. Magazine

February 2003

Street Smarts: The Path to the Top
Are you an agent of change, or will you be a victim of change? You’ve probably heard the adage that there are three types of people in the world: those who make things happen, those who watch things happen, and those who ask, “What happened?” In business, there’s a comparable rule. Either you’re an agent of change, or you’re destined to become a victim of change. You simply can’t survive over the long term if you insist on standing still.

T+D Magazine
February 2003

Sight Mammals
We humans are sight mammals. We learn almost twice as well from images and words as from words alone. Visuals engage both hemispheres of the human brain. Visuals translate across cultures, age groups, and education levels. People learn from images as well as words, yet most corporate learning is delivered in text. It’s time to open our eyes to the possibilities.

Fortune Magazine

January 21, 2003

Union Pacific: Uphill Battle
Few companies have tried harder than Union Pacific Railroad (UP) to help employees slim down. UP has long known that many of its 48,000 employees—mostly middle-aged men—are overweight. That can be a dangerous problem for people who ply the rails.

So, 16 years ago the Omaha, NE, company began a massive program to help workers improve their health and shed pounds. UP has devoted so much time and money to this effort—$2 million last year alone—that it has won a slew of national health awards. The result? Employee smoking rates, cholesterol levels, and blood pressure are down. Yet the work force is fatter than ever. UP’s story shows just how tough it is for any employer to help its people slim down.

February 3, 2003

The Perils of E-mail
It was supposed to make life easier. Now e-mail has become a prosecutor’s number one weapon and the surest way for companies to get sued. How did e-mail became e-vidence mail? It boils down to this, to borrow an old phrase: Companies can’t live with e-mail, and they definitely can’t live without it. As we’ve seen it’s increasingly a legal albatross—and, at the very least, a fast track to public humiliation.

But then it’s also the most important business technology since the advent of the telephone. It’s invaluable in allowing far-flung offices to communicate, and it lets employees work from anywhere. It has freed us from the tyranny of phone tag and given us an effortless way to transmit lengthy documents without so much as a busy fax signal. If you have any doubt how much the technology has worked its way into your daily life, just ask yourself this: How many times a day do you check your e-mail?

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