Articles in Brief
A quick synopsis of what other publications are
saying about topics related to leadership, employee
involvement, quality, and organizational
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 Vault.com, 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
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
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
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.
- Don’t grow up.
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
Ultimately, when deciding whether to terminate
employees for off-duty behavior, HR professionals
will need to ask, and answer, two important
- Are there any special legal factors at issue in
- 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
Street Smarts: The Path to the
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.
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
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?