SOUNDING OFF

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You can learn a lot by observing and asking questions. But to shake things up, you have to get real ticked off about the important things that need fixing. The dangerous alternative is complacency.

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Sick of reading about old people? Part 2

Sick of reading about old people?

Are Your Finances a Mess?

The Happiest Industries to Work In

Why We Have a Problem Listening

Sick of reading about old people? Part 2

North Americans love tossing numbers around. A few years ago, a lot of ridiculous touchy-feely stories told of rethinking aging based on the fact that people are living longer. With little interpretation, if we took our one-a-day multipurpose vitamins and all the pills that keep us fit and trim as any 30-something ab-bulging, muscle-bound jock and slather our faces and bodies with every anti-aging cream, salve, soap or elixir, we would act and feel 10, 15 and 20 years younger than our chronological age. Hence, the eye-catching newspaper and magazine headline “60 is the new 40.”

If we believe them – and God help us if we do – we probably believe that winning the Powerball lottery is our destiny.

Why well-healed boomers haven’t put a bounty on the guy who came up with those ridiculous phrases is beyond me.   

As dumb, and ill-founded as they are, they never the less triggered a raft of print, Internet and TV stories. With all the horrific things going on in the world, why are editors assigning and publishing these stories?

Maybe I’m a hopeless idealist with old-school values, but I’d like to think that it’s not their decision, although they take the heat.

Some media critics have said that journalist standards have sunk to an all-time low. I don’t agree. There are a lot of good journalists out there doing great work. Many are working for newspapers and magazines, others are working for websites. There are even some fine journalists working for TV and cable networks.  The problem is they are scattered all over the place, and the trick is separating the wheat from the chaff.  Thanks to the advent of the Blogosphere, anyone can call themselves a writer and publish themselves on the Internet.  Equally confusing, thanks to the self-publishing explosion, anyone can call themselves a published author and have their books, bound, paper or E-format, and sold on Amazon. The quality of the writing and subject matter has nothing to do with the self-publishing process. The only important factor is being able to foot the cost of producing, packaging and formatting the book. You may not sell one book; nevertheless, you can call yourself a published writer. And if you manage to scrounge up some sales, most self-published authors are lucky if they sell 100 books or more. So separating quality content from unreadable hogwash is a fruitless and futile effort.   

Posted on: May 01, 2015 07:27 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sick of reading about old people?

The aging of America has become a twisted, mangled story, which combines facts,  self-serving “all-is-good” nonsensical New Age messages, with the horrors of aging, and grossly inaccurate stories extolling the joys of retirement. Talk about mangling facts.  It doesn’t take an ace reporter to know that  each year fewer and fewer boomers can afford to retire.  Statistics tell the whole story.  A safe stat is less than 25 percent of boomers socked away enough money to retire.

In sum, since the oldest baby boomers turned 65 in 2011, there has been an explosion of content — web, TV, radio, print — about our aging population.

If I’m not reading a Panglossian, aging-is-great story or a bloated rah-rah piece about our senior years being our most productive and creative period,  I’m wading through a depressing story about how our understaffed, ill-equipped healthcare system is struggling to care for a rapidly aging society.  Making matters worse, thousands of boomers are having a tough time finding jobs because our ageist culture prefers to hire young fast trackers who jog 100 miles before work, and put in 12 and 14 hour work days, rather than super-smart balding, out-of-shape experienced boomers who can accomplish as much or more than a hyperkinetic 30- or 40-year-old in seven or eight hours. 

What about all the badly reported stories with headlines like “60 is the new 40?” The newest feel-good numbers are “80 is the new 65,” which was gleaned from a Retirement Survey from Wells Fargo & Co. 

I wonder who came up with those catchy phrases. I’d like to think it was a marketing or advertizing writer, rather than an editor or columnist.

They eye-catching headlines triggered a raft of stories trying to substantiate those claims. It didn’t matter that they were bloated with hyperbole and unsubstantiated facts.  A lot of folks read them, because they appeared online, in  print and on the tube.   They were all triggered by the fact that Americans are living longer. 

Posted on: May 01, 2015 07:24 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Are Your Finances a Mess?

Two-thirds of Americans have made a significant money mistake, according to Jim Chilton, founder and chief executive officer of the nonprofit Society for Financial Awareness. 

Chilton offers the following six tips to help get your finances in order:

1.      Create an emergency fund.  Roughly three-quarters of Americans are living paycheck to paycheck, with little or no emergency savings, according to a Bankrate.com survey. Even if you’re working at a job you love in a stable industry, and you’re careful about living within your means, you can’t control the national and global economic tides. Chilton recommends setting aside a six- to 12-month financial cushion that covers critical expenses, such as mortgage (or rent), utilities, food, clothing and other living expenses.

2.       Check credit ratings. More than 70 percent of credit reports contain some sort of error, Chilton said, and identity theft is on the rise. Check your credit reports annually to make sure they are accurate.

3.      Plan for retirement.  A significant percentage of Americans fail to prepare for retirement during their most productive earning years.  Four of 10 Americans have retirement savings of less than $10,000, and three of 10 Americans have retirement savings of less than $1,000. Nearly a third, or 31 percent, of U.S. adults said they had no savings or pension, according to the Federal Reserve Board. And 19 percent of Americans approaching retirement, between ages 55 and 64, had no savings. Even more alarming, 19 percent of those very close to retirement age, between the ages of 55 and 64, said they had no savings. More than 40 percent of Americans can’t afford to retire, according to a report by the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants. An AARP study found that 74 percent of baby boomers (born between 1946 and 1964) can’t retire, and 40 percent of boomers plan to work until their 80s. And if you think Social Security will take care of you, think again, Chilton said. Social Security is designed as supplemental income, not to replace your entire paycheck.It provides 73 percent of the typical retiree’s income, compared with 17 percent from pensions and 10 percent from savings and other sources.

4.       Avoid credit card debt. Americans are carrying more than $800 billion in credit card debt, Chilton said. Making a conscious effort to use cash will help wean you off your reliance on plastic. The more credits cards you have, the greater the likelihood of incurring more debt.

5.      Get good advice.   Financial planners are easy to find. The tough part is finding a highly competent one with impeccable credentials who is affordable.

6.      Create a flexible long-term financial plan. Many financial problems that took years to create aren’t going to be fixed overnight, Chilton said. Create a long-term plan with achievable goals. Over time, try to make small changes that will lead to larger commitments.

No one is infallible. “Even as we get older and presumably know more, we are still bound to make a misstep here or there,” Chilton said. But if we realize our limitations, we’ll learn to make fewer mistakes and do a better job of managing our money, he added.

I wouldn’t put heavy money on that. 

Posted on: April 30, 2015 02:40 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

The Happiest Industries to Work In

I’ve had many jobs.  If you’re a journalist, it’s par for the course. My criteria for each job were pretty basic and logical. They were no different than the majority of journalists pounding the pavement.  They included quality of company, beat, pay, and advancement potential. “Happy place to work,” which sounds ridiculous when I say it, was never one of them. So when I stumbled on a report about the happiest industries to work in, I thought it worth passing on. 

The happiest workers are in the construction and facilities-services industry. Runner-up industries are consumer products and services; technology and software; telecom; energy and utilities; and health care, pharmaceuticals and biotech. 

These are just a few of the conclusions of the recently released “2015 Best Industry Ranking Report,” conducted by website TINYpulse (www.tinypulse.com), which surveyed more than 30,000 employees from 500 companies. 

TINYpulse was created by entrepreneur David Niu to find out what makes workers happy and, conversely, unhappy. Niu contends that when employees are happy, they’re more productive and engaged, and that customer service, retention and the organization’s bottom line improve.   

Conditions contributing to a happy workforce

Heading the list of happiness conditions is “working with great people,” followed by “satisfaction with colleagues and with individual projects,” according to TINYpulse’s research.  Employees who feel comfortable expressing their opinions, positive or negative, are more likely to be happy and engaged.

Conversely, conditions contributing to an unhappy workforce include “having an unsupportive manager,” followed by “lack of tools and resources to complete a job,” “little opportunity for growth,”  “poor internal processes and systems,” and “dissatisfaction with colleagues.”

Voice your opinions anonymously

If you’re reluctant to express negative opinions that could improve working conditions because you fear reprisal from management, consider suggesting that management initiate anonymous surveys, TINYpulse researchers advised. Anonymous surveys can be an objective resource for finding out why employees are unhappy and disengaged.

Increased awareness of impact of surroundings

TINYpulse is not the only company studying the effect of workers’ surroundings on their performance and attitudes toward their jobs. Ergonomic researchers, for example, found that workplace injuries that relate to muscular and skeletal systems are often caused by inadequate seating.Similarly, work surfaces and equipment at inconvenient heights or work tools that are not within easy reach can create frustration and loss of productivity.Companies are addressing these issues by developing cost-effective ergonomic programs that not only prevent accidents and hazards, but also improve product quality and increase productivity.

Request management’s support

If management has been lax about upgrading and improving the workplace, consider requesting permission to improve and personalize your workspace.  While rank-and-file workers can’t insist on roomy offices bathed in sunshine — if they want to hold onto their jobs — it’s doubtful management will object when the results lead to constructive or innovative changes. Ergonomic research has found that certain conditions not only improve productivity, but also trigger team-building, flexibility and organizational loyalty.

The power of green plants

A recent study found that sprucing up an office with plants enhances employee engagement and boosts performance.

The right lighting

No definitive rules apply to office lighting. It largely depends on the type of work being done and the number of workers within a space.  Generally, fluorescent lighting is preferable to other types of office lighting. In many offices, indirect light fixtures provide the best lighting options.  For task lighting, low-glare, asymmetric lenses provide the right amount of light without triggering eye strain.

These are just a few ways to liven up your workspace so you can do your best work. Countless creative options are both inexpensive and easy to implement.

Posted on: April 01, 2015 09:44 AM | Permalink | Comments (3)

Why We Have a Problem Listening

Blame it on technology and our fast paced digital world.

Speaking is easy; listening is difficult. Yet it’s an essential skill, one worth honing — not only for our careers but also for enjoying a rich and full life. 

When you meet people, do you have difficulty remembering their names, and parts or even most of conversations?   If it’s any consolation, you’re not alone.  We have difficulty listening  because there is too much stimulation around us, according to Cherie Kerr, president of ExecuProv, a Santa Ana, Calif.-based communication training company. “It’s difficult to focus on one thing,” she said.

The culprit, she said, is technology — cellphones, iPhones and many other gadgets.

A former actress, acting coach and author of several books, Kerr uses improvisational comedy techniques to teach speaking and listening skills.

New York City-basedpsychotherapist Gilda Carle said that wehave trouble listening because we home in on body language 55 percent of the time and onvocal intonation 38 percent of the time. That leaves only 7 percent to devote to what someone is saying.

“We’re terrible listeners because we are distracted by 93 percent of these nonverbal cues as opposed to the 7 percent of what we should be hearing,” Carle said.

One of the cardinal rules in improv comedy, which Kerr emphasizes in her classes, is this:“Being here now. … We have to stay in the moment every second of a conversation,” she said.

That simple rule can be applied to the conversations we have every day. “People are either lagging behind (wishing they had said something or trying to remember an important point, ruminating over what someone just said), or they are anticipating what is to come,” Kerr said.

Emerson Smith, a sociologist employed by Metromark Research, a market-research firm in Dallas, advised adopting the techniques of veteran salespeople. “A good salesperson is always listening and paying close attention to what his or her prospects or customers are saying,” Smith said. “One way to remember what people say is to repeat back to them what they are saying.” 

Smith also suggests nodding your head to indicate understanding or agreement with what the person is saying.

A good way to remember names is to ask for business cards. “On the back of the card, write the date of the conversation and notes about the conversation, such as information you have promised to send to the speaker,” Smith said.

As for blocking out distractions and competing stimuli, Smith suggested focusing on the person’s lips, since the shape of the lips convey the syllables of the words the person is saying. Scan back and forth from the lips to the eyes to let the person know you are paying attention.

Don’t expect to become a good listener overnight. It takes time, patience, concentration and hard work. You can start by slowing down. Just because everything around you is moving at warp speed doesn’t mean you have to follow suit.

Apply the brakes, focus and you’ll be pleasantly surprised by what you hear and remember.

Posted on: March 30, 2015 09:03 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
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"Human beings, who are almost unique in having the ability to learn from the experience of others, are also remarkable for their apparent disinclination to do so."

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