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Natural Disasters And Their Indirect Impact on Small Businesses

Late Sunday night Houston and its surrounding suburbs have been getting hit hard by rain and it is not looking like it wants to let up.  There are people in some areas who have reported over 20 inches!  4 people have died due to this disaster and there have been many water rescues and evacuations that had to take place (ABC13 Eyewitness News, http://abc13.com/weather/overflowing-bayous-force-residents-from-homes/39346/) .  This is not something to take lightly and everyone has thoughts, prayers and love going out to Houston.

http://abc13.com/video/embed/?pid=1296428

I am by no means trying to take away from the severity of this situation by writing this article.  I have close family-friends in the Houston area and I understand at this time the most important thing to do is to support them and pray for their safety and health.  However, I am noticing how negatively the business I work for is indirectly impacted by this natural disaster.

We have 3 groups from the Houston area scheduled to visit us for multiple days this week.  2 of the 3 groups have cancelled the trip.  Since this has happened I have observed that we have a possible loss of $20,000+, 11 staff members with no tasks for the week and a drastic drop in staff morale.  This is not the end of the world in the whole grand scheme of things.  It does make me recognize the indirect effects of natural disasters.  They are there and it’s something you never really hear anyone talk about since the direct impact (rightfully so) overshadows everything else.

Prior to 1999 I noticed that not much research was done on natural disasters and their indirect impact on businesses.  Post 1999 you can find several blog posts and business articles on the impact.  The overwhelming lesson that I learned from skimming all these posts was that most businesses do not have natural disaster plans.  It appears that businesses like to ignore the idea that a natural disaster could indeed impact their clients, staff and revenue.  Nick Statt from ReadWrite wrote a great infographic article on this in 2013, “Small Businesses and the Impact of Natural Disasters” (2013).  My company may not be in the direct pathway of a natural disaster, but 145 of our customers this week were. Luckily, they are all okay and safe.  When it comes to keeping the business safe though, it is vital for companies to see the whole picture, think ahead and be prepared.

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The Good, The Bad & The Ugly on Writing for the Professional

I am a horrible writer.  I am such a horrible writer that I took about 2 years off from this blog because I did not think I was good enough.  A wise person brought to my attention that writing is not just for the talented and the well
written.  Writing is for everyone…in fact, writing is vital in your professional survival.

What made me pick up where I left off many moons ago?  And what is so important about the art of writing?  Writing is an art form.  Today, it is a rare and unique art form for most cultures.  The current generation is windswept in abbreviations and whatever will make things get done quicker, faster and more efficiently. I know this, because I am a part of this generation. Many job postings will list that the candidates must not only be well spoken but well written as well.  I sometimes wonder what hiring managers and human resource folks think of the current generation’s style of writing.  Being in the recruiting and hiring field, myself, I am very picky on at how applicants fill out their application and how their cover letter is written.  I am also critical of the emails I receive from others.  When an applicant or a coworker send me an email with absolutely no punctuation I get completely thrown off and start to judge.  It dawned on me that if I am that picky when it comes to the writings of the young adults I hire and my coworkers then I better be picky about how I write.  I am back at the blogging to practice my writing.  I now understand how important it is to keep at it even if I am frustrated with myself and downright aggravated at my lack of skill.Writing Tools

Keep this in mind, I am a poor writer and I am judging others’ skill levels.  This means that all employers, hiring managers, teammates are critiquing how you come across in your writing.  It is so important to continue practicing your writing skills so you can offer the impression of a competent professional.  Trust me on this one.

I believe it is important in the changing times to encourage people to practice writing stories, documenting, recording and taking the time to right a full thought in complete sentences.  Writing is not just important for your professional life but it is good for the body and soul.  I have heard from many that maintaining a daily journal is therapeutic.  I have heard that writing keeps the brain active and engaged.  I have heard that writing is fuel to the brain and heart.  It may be apparent, but I am going to “suck it up, buttercup,” and get writing no matter how bad I am at it!

Motivating Co-Workers and Other Members on Staff

My boss recently asked me to help add to the Director Handbook we have at our company.  I am apparently been deemed The Outdoor School Leadership Expert, which I am not going to complain about that sort of attention.  I began researching some ways to motivate staff and how much work it takes to really make a meaningful difference.  I found myself on Forbes.com the majority of the time.  In fact, I give Forbes.com about 98% credit for my findings.  Here’s a little excerpt from part of my leadership section of the manual…

 

Motivating Staff

This is one of the more fun aspects of being a boss.  Giving out feel-goods also pays you back by giving yourself warm good feelings inside.  One caveat to praising employees is that if you do it too much and in a vague manner it will not mean much to the staff.  This section, however, is here to help guide you in complimenting and motivating staff in a manner that is meaningful.

General Motivational Guidelines

  • Make it Personal – Staff knows you are seriously impressed with them when you acknowledge them personally.  When you see something absolutely awesome just patting that person on the back and recognizing that they did something awesome will already instill in them the warm fuzzy feeling.  Mentioning to the entire staff how great you think the week went will have an instant feel good moment but it will not create enough positive feelings for them to become 100% motivated.  Next time you want to compliment the staff it would be in your best interest to make each person feel special in some way.

  • Be Specific – Make sure to mention the specific act or trait you are praising.  Do not make a general statement because it will not feel like much to that staff member.  When you mention a particular moment they create an emotional connection to it and then they feel even better about that specific moment.

  • Take a Genuine Interest in the Instructors – Get to know the staff.  It says a lot to staff members when their bosses want to know what their future career plans are or how their family back home is doing.  Showing interest translates to the staff that you think they are worth it and are greatly valued.

  • Listen – Just like having a tough conversation with someone, listening goes a long way when having a good conversation.   Listening not only develops a relationship and trust, but it can tell you a lot about a person.  If you listen to what they have to say you may gain insight into what works when motivating that particular person.

  • Treat Others the Way You Would Like to be Treated – It is easy to let the power of being a boss get to your head.  When everyone else is outside working hard on highway cleanup, you decide you’d rather be in the office even though you do not have anything pressing to do.  Instructors like supervisors who are willing to get down and dirty with them.  They like the hands on guidance at times.  Remember they are people too, and they are all remarkable people just like you.  Please keep this in mind when working with them and handing out work duty.  They will be willing (for the most part) to do the dirty work as long as they know that if you had the time you would be more than willing to do it too.

Adding these suggestions into your leadership style will already help in creating and maintaining a positive feel for the season.  But adding specific actions will also help to create a fun motivating staff environment. We’ve put some ideas below

….So the next time you find an employee or a teammate dragging during the day go ahead and try some of these ideas!

Seasonal Vs. Permanent Work

I spend a good amounhiredt of my time at work hiring seasonal staff, training seasonal staff, supervising seasonal staff and then repeat.  I live a carousel work life; I keep going around and around on this ride but new people hop onto the ride every 6 months and after being on the ride for 3 months they hop off.  And you guessed it, I keep on going around and around.  I understand this description makes my job sound redundant and tiresome, but because of the constant change in staff my job is probably one of the more ever changing dynamic jobs.

 

It makes more sense in our line of work (experiential education) to have seasonal staff since we only have schools visit us during the fall and spring seasons (during the school year).  There would be a lot of wasted work time if we had our instructors as permanent/full-time employees during the summer and winter months.  However, I did begin to ponder if other businesses would benefit from having seasonal staff members versus permanent employees.  When you start to job search you will at some point or another run into a staffing agency online who mainly find people for temp to hire positions.  There must be some benefits to having temporary staff members if there are so many agencies that hunt for temporary workers.

 

Don’t you worry folks, I did my research and discovered quite a few pros and cons to hiring seasonal/temporary employees.  One wonderful thing about temp work is that you are guaranteed to have staff during your busy time, but you will not have to worry about your down time and creating wasted work time.  A study in 2008 proved that temp employees are more productive than full time staff.  You can also benefit from using this temporary time as a trial period to determine whether or not you want that particular person on your team.  However, a lot more training time goes hand in hand with temporary employees.  Because employees come and go more frequently since they are temporary, it is necessary to  train the new temp employees.  This means that as the employer you’ll be performing frequent trainings for the new staff.  Hiring a lot of temporary staff also means that your staff teamwork will not be as high quality since they are only there for a short period of time.  It is also common to see low morale at times with the awkwardness of having a mix of temp staff and full time staff.  Imagine being a temporary employee and finding out that the guy sitting next to you is doing the same work and they are receiving a higher pay with benefits….AWKWARD.

 

There are plus and minuses if you are the one considering to do the seasonal work.  Seasonal work is great for building up your resume, gaining work experience, finding something to do during those gap years and so much more.  The downside though is that it is seasonal work which means your job security isn’t quite there.  Seasonal work does not pay too well either and benefits are not even an option most of the time.

 

These are just some things to consider if you are either an employer debating whether or not to implement some temporary positions OR if you are someone who just found a sweet position but it turns out it is merely a seasonal job.  Feel free to read up on the topic yourself, below are the websites I got a lot of my information!

 

The Pros and Cons of Hiring Temporary Employees by Ryan Kohler, SPHR, 08/23/13

The Benefits and Drawbacks of Working a Seasonal Job by Christina Pomoni, 12/10/2010

8 Pros and Cons of Seasonal Positions by Brittany Schlacter, 11/26/2012

Pros and Cons of Seasonal Employment by Cindy Abbate, 12/2/2010

Women in the Workplace AND How Far We Have Come

malala-21A friend I follow on Twitter posted an inspiring TEDTalk, Ziauddin Yousafzai: My Daughter, Malala.    Malala is the young lady who was shot by the taliban in Pakistan on her way to school.  Malala and her father are both education reformers.  Mr. Yousafzai, Malala’s father, talked about women’s rights, especially in a patriarchal society.  He talked about his own life and what Malala experienced in Pakistan as a woman.  He shared his opinion on the importance of equality between men and women within all areas of life.  Education is so important for a child, both male and female, because once you attend school your independence and identity are acknowledged.  Education is also the gateway to dreams and aspirations.  Why would you restrict part of the population from that?  Ziauddin Yousafzai asks himself at the end, “Why is my daughter so strong?”  And his response was, “Because I didn’t clip her wings.”

Once I was done watching the TEDtalk, I started to really contemplate women in the workplace.  I remember learning in college about how women’s salaries on average are lower than men’s.  I remember learning about how women on average did not get hired in prominent, desirable positions over men regardless of their qualifications.  Reminiscing on this lesson in school made me want to check again with the Department of Labor to see where exactly women were standing within the workplace.

The median weekly earnings of women in 2012 was $691 while for men it was $854. Women were only making about 65% of what men were getting paid in 1980.  The percentage has increased to 81% in 2012.    The unemployment rate in 2012 for women was at 7.9% while men were at 8.1%.  There are some occupations in 1985 that the government either doesn’t have data for or woman just did not have positions in that field.  Social work is one of those occupations lacking data from 1985.  Currently, 80% of social workers are women.  Another occupation without any data from 1985 is dentistry.  Now, over 20% of those in the dentistry field are women.  Women as lawyers as gone up form under 20% in 1985 to over 50% in 2012.

I am grateful for Malala and her father for sharing their story.  Because of their voices it has inspired me to actually dig a little into what gender equality looks like in the United States.  It is exciting to see how far we have come within the workplace.  However, it is also very clear that we still have to keep moving forward to make that gap smaller and smaller.  Read, I am Malala, to acquire some inspiration or just to learn more about those who fight for equality!

April Fool’s Pranks That Won’t Get You Fired

April Fool’s Pranks That Won’t Get You Fired April Fool's Day

I came to work today to find quite a few pranks being executed by the staff.  While I was sitting here in anxiety wondering when the next prank would be implemented and whether or not I was a target, I got to thinking about it all.  Are April Fool’s Pranks appropriate in the workplace? AOL Jobs posted an article yesterday sharing some great tips on how to “celebrate” April Fool’s Day in the workplace.

Is the Social Media Hype All It’s Cracked Up to Be?

Months past and I do not post a single thing on the Water Cooler Effect blog.  The more time passes the more overwhelmed and anxious I feel.  There are moments when I associate the feeling of drowning to my viewpoint of social media.  My ideas and emotions towards social media at this point begin to build into a negative skyscraper.

The solution I always like to use when I feel lost in a subject, at this moment it’s social media, is to research it.  Gaining knowledge on something that is frustrating helps me acquire the tools I need to tackle those frustrations.  Long story short….apparently social media does create some sweet benefits personally and in the business sector.  This is something any person could easily google like myself.  I am not about to start listing the hundreds of websites out there that weigh the pros and cons of social media; however I will share one website I enjoyed.  99 Favorite Social Media Quotes and Tips by Mirna Bard is a simple webpage that lists some great quotes regarding social media.  This page was such a great reminder for me of why being involved in social media is so important these days.

Whether it is for yourself or for the company you work for, it is a good idea to start getting involved in social media even if you are convinced this is a just a fad.  One of the articles I read mentioned that the usage of social media is no longer just a suggestion but more of a social rule.  No matter how terrified you are of this quickly changing world, my advice is to just dive in, but DON’T FORGET TO BREATHE!