The silly March Madness workplace study

A recent article appeared on many internet sites suggesting that the office pool madness during the NCAA men’s basketball tournament is responsible for companies losing nearly 2 billion dollars due to lack of productivity. It is believed that many employees simply do not have their minds focused on their work, instead, they are more concerned with how their brackets are doing. Doesn’t it seem like there is always some study that comes out during this time of the year warning employers about this so-called annual late winter, early spring disease affecting thousands of companies? If you read enough of the article, you might wonder why office brackets are not banned altogether. Just take every bit of fun from our daily workplace lives!

I wonder how these geniuses doing the study came up with the 2 billion dollar figure. For starters, a large majority of the games do not take place during normal workday hours. The only games that do are the first round match ups and many lack any type of suspense. I don’t think too many employers or bosses need to worry about their employees during the first few days of the tourney. I am a huge fan of the tournament, but my mind is fully on my job. I will check my phone to see how the games are progressing and that is it. No watching the games on any live stream feeds because most of the games at that point are relatively meaningless.

One of the great things about having a big office pool is that it brings people together and isn’t that one of the objectives of any work environment? I fully realize that some people are not basketball fans and do not like the constant basketball chat, but by and large, many like to discuss how their brackets are doing. It is a fun little competition between co-workers. A place that is fun to work at means employees are more than likely to be more productive.

If employers want to ban any type of office pool during the NCAA tournament, then perhaps they should also monitor other things that take place in the workplace. The person who feels annoyed when bracket chat takes place probably has no problem wanting to chat about something that he or she is deeply interested in and bothering other people as well. While we are at, perhaps employers should just ban employees from carrying their phones into the workplace. How much time and money is wasted with people texting or updating their status of Facebook.

A company who feels they are losing a lot of productivity and money during March Madness needs to look in the mirror and maybe realize that the problem is not the employees, but rather the employer themselves. I highly doubt employers are getting royally screwed like the study seems to suggest. Office brackets are a healthy thing for any company. Shouldn’t there be some part of work that is actually fun for a change? By the way, my boss is participating in our pool this year.


A few words of advice to college graduates

A few weeks ago, I attended a college graduation ceremony, and of course, the commencement speaker spoke about the future and offered up some rather good advice for the students to follow their passions and dreams. So what would you say if you had to give a commencement speech to hundred of graduating students? I think if you asked a hundred different people, you would probably get a very diverse number of responses. Regardless, I have a few words of advice to the many young people who will be venturing out in the workplace. I can offer up these words of advice because I was once in your shoes. The day I graduated from college was one of the happiest days in my life and I know how excited these graduates are to start a new chapter in their lives. So here are a just a few words of advice from Uncle Mark.

1) Work on your people skills-  Just because you are some 4.0 straight A student does not mean jack if you are some condescending, hard to get along person who thinks they know all the answers. People who tend to succeed in the workplace are very often those who can work with others, respect other people’s ideas and can accept responsibility for their actions without making excuses or pointing fingers. I know this sounds like a very simple thing to work on, but having worked with a number of very bright people in my life, it is amazing how so many people lack these skills.

2) Keep learning-  If you have just graduated and think that your days in the classroom are finished, you might want to think again. Why not even add to that degree by picking up more classes and making yourself even more marketable? There is never a finite amount that you can learn. In fact, many people who have been out of school for 20 years are going back to brush up on their skills or take new classes. The business world is constantly changing and your skills need to keep getting updated.

3) Money management-  The post-graduate days are when many young people will be out on their own. It is the first time that many will purchase a new car, townhouse or rent an apartment. Along with those purchases comes that annoying debt that most students pile up. This is a good time to develop a plan for managing your finances or even better yet, talk to a financial planner. They can probably give you some very good advice on how to spend or save those first few paychecks. I also want to add that it would be a great time to start a 401k.

4) Keep an open mind-  Many graduates are very closed-minded about their first job after graduation. Just because you are Business major specializing in finance does not mean that should neglect other job openings outside your field. It is amazing how many people actually are working in fields totally outside of their major. After graduating from college, I accepted a position at a company that was very unrelated to what I studied in college. I grew into the job and really enjoyed doing it. That first job doesn’t have to be your career job; it is just something to bolster that resume.

5) A company owes you nothing- Some graduates walk into a company expecting the world to be given to them. Nothing could be further from the truth. If you expect that, then you might have a rude awaking coming. A better attitude is to have is to remain humble, ask many questions and then those good things will start coming to you. Remember to have this attitude “It is not what the company can do for you, but what can you do for the company”

There are obviously many other words of advice that could be given, but those are some important things that I learned shortly after graduating. In the meantime, I certainly want to congratulate any new college graduate on a job well done and best of luck with any future plans and goals.





A stupid PR move by Target

In response to the growing transgender bathroom debate, Target (a major retail store chain) decided to join the grandstanding by several companies in announcing that all employees and customers are free to use the store’s bathrooms based on their own personal gender identity, not based on what is on their birth certificate. As you can only imagine, this announcement by the retail chain has only added fuel to the already hot button transgender bathroom debate. Last week, it was announced that nearly a million people signed a petition stating that they are going to boycott the store. As a long time shopper at Target, I must confess that I am close to boycotting the store as well and spending my hard-earned money somewhere else. This announcement by Target might go down as one of the all-time worst public relations moves ever by any retail store and I would not feel one bit of sorrow if this costed Target dearly. They rightly deserve to take a hit.

Just think for a minute about what their statement means. So essentially that means that if I have to go pee and the men’s room is too crowded or perhaps not clean enough for my liking, I am free to use the women’s restroom by stating that I currently identify as a woman. I clearly look like a male, but because of this new policy statement, I am now free to use the women’s restroom if I just happened to feel like a woman on a particular day while I am shopping at Target. How ridiculous of a policy is that?!! So how are they going to stop men and especially perverts from entering the women’s bathrooms? After all, they may just feel like a woman at a particular moment and claim they identify as a woman.

Target beats their chest in talking about how they refuse to discriminate against anyone. I can certainly appreciate their concerns and efforts to be inclusive and fair to everyone. But what about the women and children who are now put at risk because of their stupid decision. Is it really worth risking the well-being of perhaps your biggest big customer base, women, in an effort to kiss the rear ends of maybe 1 out of 1000 of your employees who may be transgender? Any pervert can now claim to be a transgender and walk into a women’s bathroom with a cell phone and have a field day.

I can certainly understand and appreciate the outrage over this statement by Target. Would you want your daughter sharing a bathroom with some creepy guy who claims to a woman? Furthermore, I find it rather interesting that a store like Target who boasts so much about being accepting towards LGBT people have products on many of their shelves which are produced in countries that have some of the worst atrocities towards those same members. Talks about a double standard!

As a consumer, I have many other options besides Target. There are a couple of Wal-Mart stores within a 5 mile radius of my home.  The products that I buy at Target can easily be bought somewhere else. It is not like they are some sort of speciality retail store. This latest controversy may be the final straw for this very loyal Target customer. I am sick of them pandering to a few special interest groups at the expense of a majority of their shoppers. Shame on you Target! Wake up!


Get ready for 15 dollar burgers in California

The state of California made headlines this week when its legislature passed a historic measure that would bump up the state’s minimum wage to 15 dollars an hour by the year 2021. No other state in the country has a minimum wage at that level so this piece of legislation is very unprecedented. The current minimum wage in the state is 10 dollars an hour. The state of New York is will soon follow suit and pass a similar law. Supporters of this new law are naturally very gleeful and want more states to pass laws that would bump up the low-end wages to that level. In fact, if these supporters had their way, there would be a federal law requiring all states to have a 15 dollar per hour minimum wage. While many people seem to be jumping for joy over this new law, this blogger, who has worked in business for several years, is not. I think it is a stupid idea for the government to dictate how much a company should pay their employees. In the end, minimum wage laws like this will hurt the people for whom it is designed to help, the poor and less experienced workers.

I fully get the arguments out there for this 15 dollar an hour minimum wage law. If you give a worker 5 dollars an hour more in their pockets, they will spend more and thus the economy will grow since consumer spending is the biggest factor in expanding the economy. Furthermore as proponents will argue, fewer people will be on government assistance due to the fact that their wages will increase. Looking at the argument from that side, it is a no brainer. Heck, why not bump it up to 25 or even 50 an hour! Why settle for 15? However, do these supporters look at the big picture and see how this will affect many companies, especially the food and restaurant businesses?

Let’s say that I own a business and now I am forced to give a bunch of low waged workers in my company a 50 percent bump in pay. What about the rest of my employees? If someone who works in a department that requires very little skills or experience gets that kind of pay increase, what about the people who actually do have unique skills or talents that help make my company more profitable? Are they not entitled to a 50 percent pay raise as well? I cannot think of too many business owners who could afford to give all of their employees those kind of raises.

There are a number of consequences that a huge minimum wage hike will have. If a company is forced to pay workers more, they will make it by increasing the price of their products and pass it on to the consumers. The product that you buy at the store will increase because it costs more to produce it. The buying power that a bump in wages for a low-income person will have is offset by having to pay more for many products. Secondly, the fact that many employers will be forced to increase their payrolls will lead to less hiring among low experienced or skilled workers. Companies will try to cut costs by having employees perform more tasks or worse yet, lay off people. This will create more unemployment so the argument that fewer people will be on government assistance is not correct. Sure many workers might not need more assistance due to their higher wages, but many may lose their jobs or not be able to find work due to their high price tag.

If someone wants a living wage, then go out and EARN IT! Make yourself marketable by picking up unique skills that puts you in demand. You don’t even have to attend college or get a 4 year degree to pick up those kind of skills. Pushing a broom for 40 hours a week is not what I call a very marketable skill.

Instead of having this debate about paying some person more to flip burgers, why are we not having a discussion about increasing the wages of the middle class? Only about 3 percent of all workers in this country earn minimum wage and many are not the sole bread winners of the family. Many of us in the middle class have not seen a substantial pay raise in years. It seems as though the more the government sticks their noses into businesses by requiring certain mandates such as wages and health insurance, the more everyone is hurt. Many politicians including a few who are running for the president have no idea or clue on how to run a business. Their policies will further hurt our economy.

The next time you visit a state which has a 15 dollar per hour minimum wage and stop by a restaurant to pick up a hamburger, be prepared to fork out some cash for that next meal. We will all suffer the consequences of having these mandates put in place. On the surface, what California is doing looks a great idea until you dig into it and look at what the consequences could be, especially the low-income people. I hope other states who want to implement this law listen to their business leaders first instead of caving into a bunch of radical people who have no knowledge of the basics of business or economics 101.

Life lessons from playing sports

It is commonly agreed upon by many that a young person needs to take a wide variety of classes in school in order to become a brighter, more well-rounded person later on in life. Courses in mathematics, writing and reading are essential for anyone to have a meaningful career. I might add another thing that can be very essential for helping someone achieve greater success in their careers; that would be the lessons learned from participating in sports.

During a job interview many years ago, the interviewer asked me about some of the classes that I took in high school and college and how I thought they would prepare me for the future. Without any hesitation, I listed some classes and why I took them. Some of the classes had little to do with the current job opening, but by taking and having success in them, it showed that I had the flexibility to learn different things. He also took from my resume that I had participated in several team and individuals sports during my youth and that really seemed to caught his attention. He asked me a question that I was not really prepared to answer, but I did anyways. So tell me Mark, how has playing sports helped you as a person? I thought about the question for a minute then talked about how my background in sports could really help me in this and any company. I received extra training on how to work for a team, how to set goals and make sacrifices, how to deal with failures and successes and so forth. The interviewer was a former athlete himself and seemed very impressed with my answers. I had never really tied in my background with playing sports with business until at that moment.

I don’t want to knock the importance of taking a good dose of challenging course during your academic years, but the lessons one learns on the ball field or basketball court tend to stick with you the longest. My basketball coaches used to harp on the importance of teamwork and making sacrifices for the good of the team. Today, those words still ring loud and clear in my mind while I am at work. I work in a very team driven environment and those lessons of teamwork from the basketball court have really paid off in my current job. I can also work more effectively with other people and put aside my selfish tendencies to make them better. The same holds true of dealing with successes and failures at work. Being mentally tough at work can often be the difference between an average and a good employee. My background in sports have taught me how to handle the failures and disappoints that so often come up in a workplace environment. My level of competitiveness from playing sports has helped me strive to succeed and reach for higher and higher goals. I always want to get better and learn new things and set new goals for myself.

I fully realize that everyone is not gifted enough to play sports in high school or college. There are many clubs available to those non-jocks that reap some of the same benefits as participating in sports. Any participation in some form of extra-circular activity looks very good on a resume. It is almost like taking a bunch of extra classes to go along with the normal course load. Any potential employer has to be very impressed with someone who makes those kinds of additional sacrifices with their time and energy. Those activities may make the difference in who gets chosen to fill an existing position.

The lessons that I learned in the classroom have pretty much faded away. Isn’t that the case with most people? Those complicated Calculus word problems are a distant memory. However, the lessons of life that I learned from playing sports are still very fresh in my mind today. The time that I spent on the basketball court might have been the best internship that I ever had in preparing me for the future. Funny how such a meaningless game can have such a huge impact on a person’s life. The lessons I have learned from playing sports have greatly helped me in so many ways. Those lessons will never be forgotten.

A company lifer

Many years ago, it was very common for a person to get hired at a company straight out of college or high school and remain at that company until he or she retired. These days, those so-called company lifers are becoming less and less frequent. According to many surveys, the average worker will now change jobs several times in their lifetime. I bring this topic up because I will celebrate a very significant anniversary at my company this week. Yes, I am one of those company lifers who has only worked at one company since graduating from college and I have no definite plans to jump ship and work for a different company anytime soon.

Several years ago, my goal was to find a good, well-paying job in a large metropolitan area. Since I was a lifetime native of Minnesota, the Minneapolis, St. Paul area seemed to be the logical place to move and try to find a job after I got my degree. The bigger cities have more job opportunities and I was willing to take any type of job just to get my feet in the door and get some work experience.

Initially, my job search was extremely frustrating, hundreds of resumes sent out to no avail. Similar to today, the job market for students with college degrees was extremely tight. Finally I got a phone call from a manufacturing company in St. Paul. They had a position open that required someone with a strong math and computer background. Since I studied mathematics in college, the position seemed like an ideal fit. I interviewed with the company and was soon offered the position. Despite the fact that I had a good educational background, the job was a huge struggle for me at first and quite frankly, very humbling. Much of the work as it turned out had very little to do with what I had studied in college. But I was able to adapt and learn on the go. I was happy to be working at a meaningful job, but it was not my dream job by any stretch of the imagination. I wanted an even better and bigger job so I continued sending out resumes. My plan was to use this job as a stepping stone to bigger and better opportunities. I had some job interviews with other companies but nothing prevailed. A few years after I started my new job, a few individuals from my department left and my responsibilities increased. Soon after, I became the lead person of my department and my duties continued to increase as well as my knowledge of the job. I became more and more content with the company. And the rest is history. Several years later, I am still working for that small company which is now growing and I continue to grow as an employee.

People have often asked me if I have ever considered leaving and pursuing more lucrative openings. My attitude is that grass is not always greener on the other side of the fence. One of my co-workers took the bait and went to a bigger company which paid him more. About a year into his new job, he was laid off and sought to come back. Sure it is great to earn a lot of money at some company, but job security is much more important to me, especially these days in this bad economy. I like the fact that I am consistently pulling in a paycheck to pay my bills. My years of service can help in making my job secure. I also love the fact that I work with a good group of people who are very much like my second family. The relationships that I have built with many of my co-workers has been wonderful. We know each other better than many of our immediate families know each other. The comradory of my fellow co-workers is what makes my job even more special.

I also love the variety of work that my job requires. I understand why many people leave their positions. The job fails to become challenging to them. I have to admit that this is one area that I struggle with at work. I know many people who have worked at the same job forever can agree with me on that. Sometimes the job can become very boring, but I always look for new challenges at work such as training others to help develop their knowledge. Constantly setting new goals has always kept my job fresh and exciting.

My job is far from the being the perfect job, but what job is the perfect job? There are far more important things to consider than just making a whole lot of money at any particular company. My current company has several things going for it that would make any worker happy. It has been a great fit for me and hopefully for many years to come.

5 things that I refuse to talk about at work

I am fortunate enough to have a great bunch of co-workers at my office. They are like my second family. I have gotten to know many them personally and for the most part, we enjoy each other’s company and occasional conversations outside of the normal work related topics. For example, many of them, myself not included, love to play fantasy football and it is always a daily topic of conversation. We also love to discuss other sports, certain news events, our families, cars, home projects and certain high-tech gadgets that are coming out. I love to chat with my co-workers and friends about those things, however, there are certain topics that are completely off-limits to me. For instance, telling a dirty blonde joke or any other dirty joke at work is totally unprofessional. Sure it may amuse you or a select group of people, but it may offend some other co-worker or co-workers. This is especially true in a work environment of both sexes. Offensive comments or jokes can certainly create some friction between people at work and that is the last thing any company or business needs. I would like to share a few subjects that I try very hard to avoid talking about while at work.

1) Any health malady. Nearly every work place has someone who is not ashamed to discuss every little ailment that is bothering them. You know, the person who talks about how many times they had to run to the bathroom the previous night because of a stomach disorder (perhaps too much Mexican food!). Or the person who has some sort of nasal problem and they go into great detail for the entire office to hear. Some of those details belong and should stay at the doctor’s office.

2) Incompetence of a fellow employee or management. This is one subject that I really struggle with. It is so easy to chime in when one of your co-workers is ripping another employee or manager behind their back. Those words can get back to the co-worker or manager and you can get into a whole lot of trouble. Negative words about others can bring deep divisions in the work place and should be avoided at all costs. It could also cost you your job.

3) Sexual talk. Like I mentioned in my opening paragraph, any type of sexual talk or jokes has no place in the workplace unless you work in the sex industry. The same goes for intimate details about what you and your spouse, girlfriend, boyfriend or partner do in the bedroom. What goes on in the bedroom should stay in the bedroom!! The rest of us do not need to know all the details!

4) Religion. In any workplace, there are bound to be many who have very differing views towards religion or Christianity. This is a very sensitive and difficult subject to deal with. I have no problem with some expressing their faith, however, there are those who may not share your views towards your faith and become agitated with your words. In some ways, it is almost the direct opposite of the dirty joke comments issue. Religion is a highly personal issue that can cause conflict among people. Another issue that can bring unwanted divisions at work.

5) Political issues. I find it amazing how politics can get people’s blood pressures up so high! People tend to take it personally when someone does not agree with their stance on a political issue or issues. I don’t think there are too many things that divide people more than politics and therefore, I tend to stay hush on that topic. Of course, politics does come up at work and I try hard to take a very neutral position if the subject does comes up. For example, when someone starts ripping either the Republicans or Democrats, I point out that both parties are incompetent just to calm down the discussion. Being some crazy vocal wing nut is not very appealing to many people and could greatly hurt your popularity at work. I have strong opinions on many political issues, however, I try to mask my true opinions as best as possible. No sense creating a bunch of tension at work over something as silly as politics.

In summary, I tend to strongly watch saying things that will offend someone else. Much of it is just using some common sense. My relationship with my co-workers is very important to me and I will strive to respect who they are. Those idle words from the mouth can have devastating long-lasting effects at the workplace. It will just create much disharmony and divisions among workers and make work a very unenjoyable place to be. Sometimes the best way to effectively communicate at work is simply keeping your mouth shut!