Tag Archives: Norma Shirk

We’re Better Together

On Saturday, July 14th, about one billion people watched France win the FIFA World Cup.  No other sport draws as big an audience and only the marriage of British royals can draw a similar global audience.  July 14th is also Bastille Day, a celebration of the French Revolution when France transformed from a monarchy to a democracy.

Both events demonstrate the benefits of globalization. Football (soccer to Americans) is the most popular sport in the world. Players leave their country of origin to compete in the top leagues in the world which makes them better players when they represent their country at the World Cup.

The winning French squad included individuals who play their club football in Spain, Germany, and England. Croatia, their opponent, has stars that play in Italy, Spain and England. The English Premier League is expected to suffer a loss of top talent after Brexit due to immigration barriers and the loss of passport-free movement around Europe.

The U.S. also benefits from this international trade. Several of our top players are honing their skills in European leagues against the top players in the world. Our domestic league, Major League Soccer, has many stars who are national team players in their countries of origin.  (The same is true for our national women’s team and league.)

The other big French event, Bastille Day, symbolizes the globalization of democracy.  The French revolutionary ideas of liberty, equality and fraternity flowed across Europe with their armies and eventually around the world.  The concepts inspired popular uprisings in 1830 and 1848 as oppressed Europeans fought to overthrow oppressive governments.

The “losers” of these European revolutions fled to the U.S. where they became soldiers in the Civil War, homesteaders, business owners and politicians.  They helped build the U.S. into a world economic and political power.

After World War II, the U.S. used its economic and political power to create a global system anchored by democracy.   Political stability is maintained through the United Nations and similar international organizations. Economic stability is supported through the World Trade Organization and multilateral trade agreements.

Unfortunately, the benefits of globalization are being undermined by populists.  Like the royalist forces in 1789, 1830 and 1848, they believe in an illusory past glory when they were the “winners” and the condition of others was irrelevant.  If the populists succeed, I expect to pay more money to see a lousier game of football.

 

About Norma Shirk

My company, Corporate Compliance Risk Advisor, helps employers (with up to 50 employees) to create human resources policies and employee benefit programs that are appropriate to the employer’s size and budget. The goal is to help small companies grow by creating the necessary back office administrative structure while avoiding the dead weight of a bureaucracy.  To read my musings on the wacky world of HR, see my weekly blog HR Compliance Jungle (www.hrcompliancejungle.com) which publishes every Wednesday morning. To read my musings on a variety of topics, see my posts on Her Savvy (www.hersavvy.com).

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Have We Ever Been So Divided?

 

These days, our country seems hopelessly split in half politically. The only issue that most people agree on is that our country has never been so divided before.   Actually, it has.

The colonial population was split on whether to rebel against England. Northern states were in competition with English businesses and so they favored rebellion. But the Southern plantation owners depended on English businesses that loaned them money to grow cotton which was later sold to English textile mills.  Rebellion meant insolvency for Southerners so they opposed it.

One of the ugly facts erased from American history books is that as much as one quarter of the population were “loyalists”, people who remained loyal to and often fought with the British. These individuals were chased from the colonies by mobs of their neighbors in an 18th century version of ethnic cleansing.

The divisions remained after the U.S. became a country.  The founders argued about whether to abolish slavery, allow new immigrants, and whether to have an economy based on agriculture or manufacturing.  Southern states wanted an agricultural economy which supported their economic system of slavery.  Northern states were insolvent due to devastation caused by the American Revolution and wanted to rebuild quickly through an industrial economy.

The U.S. could easily have become a failed state. But it didn’t because of a blend of pragmatism and idealism epitomized by the Constitution. The idealism is reflected in the complicated structure of three co-equal branches of government which created strong institutions that could withstand corruption and tyranny.  The pragmatism is reflected in the tacit bargain that allowed the South to keep slavery in exchange for accepting a strong federal government that mutualized northern debts allowing for an economic recovery.  It was far from an ideal bargain but it saved the country.

Our political history is full of such compromises, most notably the Great Compromise of 1850 which delayed the Civil War for ten years.  But in the 1850’s, everyone lost their idealism and their pragmatism.  The North/South divisions ran so deep that voters elected only those politicians who pledged to never compromise on the key issues of the day: immigration and slavery.

Today our country is as divided as it was in the Federalist period and in the 1850’s. My hope is that we will follow the Federalist example. It’s the only way our country can remain strong.

 

About Norma Shirk

My company, Corporate Compliance Risk Advisor, helps employers (with up to 50 employees) to create human resources policies and employee benefit programs that are appropriate to the employer’s size and budget. The goal is to help small companies grow by creating the necessary back office administrative structure while avoiding the dead weight of a bureaucracy.  To read my musings on the wacky world of HR, see my weekly blog HR Compliance Jungle (www.hrcompliancejungle.com) which publishes every Wednesday morning. To read my musings on a variety of topics, see my posts on Her Savvy (www.hersavvy.com).

Like what you’ve read? Feel free to share, but please….. Give HerSavvy credit. Thanks!

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Lessons Learned from Blogging

As a small business owner who blogs weekly, I field plenty of questions about my experience. Most of the questions are from other small business owners who are thinking about blogging to market their business. The most difficult conversations are with entrepreneurial sorts who are just starting their business and are looking for a quick way to generate revenue.

I know how they feel. When I started my human resources consulting business, I was transitioning from a career giving legal advice. I had no clients and a small network of contacts.  I began blogging when other methods of increasing my client base seemed to have failed. But after almost five years of blogging, I can’t tie a single dollar of revenue directly to my blog.

So my biggest lesson in blogging is that it won’t jumpstart the revenue stream of a business. What it has done is establish my company’s digital presence so potential clients know we exist and it keeps me in front of potential referral sources who are also loyal readers. That’s a return on investment that money can’t buy.

I continue writing my blog because I enjoy it.  It’s a wonderful way for me to demonstrate the scope of my knowledge on human resources and employee issues. It’s also a fabulous way to examine how humans work together in groups. Our relationships with our co-workers are the longest term relationships we ever develop outside our families. That means drama.

Drama can take many paths from bitchiness to physical violence. That brings me to my next lesson in blogging. Some drama is simply too controversial to cover in my blog.  Drama related to race, religion or politics is so polarizing that any conversation is immediately short circuited by the reader’s existing beliefs.

My readers reflect the diversity of our country.  If they want polarizing arguments, there are plenty of other bloggers who would love to have them as readers. But who wants an HR expert who causes workplace drama?

So I touch on these subjects very carefully while leaving the controversy to others. I prefer to look at topics that illustrate the absurdity of human behavior in common workplace settings.  I would never mock anyone’s behavior because that’s cruel and petty. But we’ve all seen (and will sometimes even admit to) creating workplace drama.  In hindsight, it’s often funny.

That’s the other big lesson of my blog. I want it to be enjoyable. HR is so boring if we only look at the rules and what is prohibited. If my blog is full of pontificating pettifoggery, no serious small business owner will want to hire my company to help with their problems.  But if the business owner has a chuckle about a situation she or he faces every day, they can face the day with a smile.

 

About Norma Shirk

My company, Corporate Compliance Risk Advisor, helps employers (with up to 50 employees) to create human resources policies and employee benefit programs that are appropriate to the employer’s size and budget. The goal is to help small companies grow by creating the necessary back office administrative structure while avoiding the dead weight of a bureaucracy.  To read my musings on the wacky world of HR, see my weekly blog HR Compliance Jungle (www.hrcompliancejungle.com) which publishes every Wednesday morning.

Like what you’ve read? Feel free to share, but please….. Give HerSavvy credit. Thanks!

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Filed under Business Savvy

You Are Being Watched

 

A now cancelled TV series began with a voice saying, “You are being watched”. The series was about a small shadowy group that used technology to achieve social justice. The final two seasons of the series were scary and depressing as another shadowy group built a supercomputer program that undermined our democracy.  The bad guys’ supercomputer system eventually destroyed the good guys’ supercomputer system.

The scary part was that we are under constant surveillance. We’re told that it’s for our own good.  Security cameras in buildings help catch trespassers. Cameras at intersections catch dangerous drivers.  Blinking blue lights in high crime areas tell the bad guys that their future criminal trials will feature photos or video showing them in the act.

We accept these invasions of our privacy because we trust the self-proclaimed good intentions of the private companies and government entities who invade our space.  Are we wise to be so trusting?

Consider Fitbit and similar devices which allow us to track our personal health. What if a health insurer uses that information to decide who is an acceptable risk worthy of their insurance coverage?  Who trusts Facebook after they proved that their profits are more important than the privacy of one billion daily users? Technology companies share our personal information with the government with or without a warrant signed by a federal judge.

The militarization of our society and its vocabulary means that everyone, including employers, wants to “surveille” and to gather “intel”.  Employers introduce wellness programs that help employees to live healthier lives; but really it’s about reducing employer losses due to low productivity caused by sick employees.

Employers also say they want to help employees work more efficiently in order to increase productivity and profits. That’s understandable; a lack of success means a lack of jobs. But how is technology being used to increase productivity? The newest tech toy for employers is described in the March 3, 2018 edition of The Economist.

Amazon has just obtained a patent for a wristband that would allow the company to track detailed information about each employee’s location and movement.  Amazon says this gizmo is intended to nudge employees into performing their jobs more efficiently.  Amazon is not using their new gizmo yet.

But what if employers treated their employees as the real assets that make the company a success?  What if employers rewarded employees for their productivity gains with better pay and benefits rather than blowing the gains on stock buybacks and pay raises for overpaid senior managers with golden parachutes?

Employers who trust and value the contribution of every employee don’t need to spy on them to nudge performance improvements.  Or to put it another way, just because technology exists doesn’t mean it’s a good idea to use it.

 

About Norma Shirk

My company, Corporate Compliance Risk Advisor, helps employers (with up to 50 employees) to create human resources policies and employee benefit programs that are appropriate to the employer’s size and budget. The goal is to help small companies grow by creating the necessary back office administrative structure while avoiding the dead weight of a bureaucracy.  To read my musings on the wacky world of HR, see my weekly blog HR Compliance Jungle (www.hrcompliancejungle.com) which publishes every Wednesday morning.

Like what you’ve read? Feel free to share, but please….. Give HerSavvy credit. Thanks!

 

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Road Rage in the Age of Victimhood

Recently I was involved in a road rage incident while on my way home. It all began, as so often happens, with a passive aggressive driver who would speed up every time someone tried to pass him. Eventually he was stuck behind a plumber’s truck and a line of vehicles blew by him of which I was driving the last.

Apparently the driver was so enraged that he followed me into a nearby grocery store. If I had known a nut was chasing me I would have swung by the local police precinct instead. I became aware of him when he tried to block me against a deli case so that he could spew a stream of profanity-laced filth, wrapping up by calling me a fat c—t and a lesbian. (Why is it that inadequate frustrated men always call women lesbians?)

I have lots of friends in the gay community so being called a lesbian isn’t particularly insulting. I’ve also been called many vulgar names while doing collections work and I worked a factory job long ago where I learned to out-cuss a drunken sailor. This guy was a comparative amateur. I couldn’t help myself. I smiled; almost laughed.

That set him off again and he followed me for several minutes through the store spewing comments about my putative lesbian love life.  He didn’t scare me at the time. There were plenty of people around and it was obvious that the tubby little man wasn’t going to get physically violent. When I left the store, he didn’t follow me.

Later I couldn’t help thinking about the guy. In my experience, that kind of rage boils up from months, even years of frustrated ambitions and blighted expectations. In other words, the guy felt like a victim and he needed a target for his victimhood.

We live in an era of victimhood.  There are economic victims of globalization, job automation, and the financial industry meltdown caused by blatant greed of the global elite. There are racial victims, ethnic victims, sexual harassment victims, and religious intolerance victims.  All victims have suffered a grievance based on a valid and real injustice.

But populist politicians who lack any sense of morality and decency are cynically exploiting the sense of victimhood by promising that the perpetrators will pay.  The perpetrators are some hazy “other” group that is racially, ethnically, and religiously different from the victim.  For an alarmingly large number of men, who feel their status has comparatively dropped, the perpetrators are females.

Populist politicians use inflammatory language that encourages their audience to take action against the alleged perpetrators.  We’ve seen it in the rise of hate crimes.  It also might explain why an angry, chubby, balding man followed a woman into a grocery store to spew hate.  That’s when I started feeling scared. Thank God he didn’t have a gun.

 

About Norma Shirk

My company, Corporate Compliance Risk Advisor, helps employers create human resources policies for their employees and employee benefit programs that are appropriate to the employer’s size and budget. The goal is to have structure without bureaucracy.

Like what you’ve read? Feel free to share, but please….. Give HerSavvy credit. Thanks!

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Filed under Self Savvy

Kitchen Kitsch

I love to cook so I spend a lot of time in the kitchen. My cooking is pretty basic; I don’t use exotic ingredients and I have a battered set of pots and pans.  I grew up poor and learned to use what was available and in my price range.

These days I have more income but I stick by my old habits.  I buy in bulk and I look for what is on sale and then build recipes around those items.  Recently I realized that I was spending a lot of time in the kitchen slicing, dicing and chopping vegetables. I actually enjoy the process because it allows me to think about the various combinations of food, spices, oils, or whatever I need for the finished dish.

Kitchen time fills more than just the need to prepare my next meal. Kitchen time also allows me to reflect on ideas or issues that are important to me. I could get the same benefit from a long walk but at this time of year I’m doing my exercising indoors on a treadmill facing the TV.

Because I spend so much time in my kitchen, I began posting important messages for myself.  I always find it ironic when gifted, educated and powerful women say they struggle or have struggled with their sense of self. I’ve spent a lifetime struggling to think of myself in those terms, despite every accomplishment and achievement in my life.  So my refrigerator and kitchen walls are covered with inspirational notes to remind me of what I am; not what I used to think I was.

When I was a child, I was taught to cook because it was considered a “womanly” skill. Despite that handicap, I still enjoy cooking. Only now my kitchen time is usually spent thinking about reinforcing my self-image and building a stronger, successful business.

As a small business owner, I’m constantly thinking about where that next client will come from or the best (meaning most effective) method for prospecting for new clients or what tasks I should delegate to others.  Sure, I could sit down at a desk and cogitate on all these points. But it seems to flow more naturally when I’m doing other things, like chopping vegetables to make a stew.

About Norma Shirk

My company, Corporate Compliance Risk Advisor, helps employers create human resources policies for their employees and employee benefit programs that are appropriate to the employer’s size and budget. The goal is to have structure without bureaucracy. My company works primarily with employers that have up to 50 employees.

Like what you’ve read?  Feel free to share, but please…Give HerSavvy credit. Thanks!

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Thanksgiving in America

In two days, Americans will gather for the annual Thanksgiving feast.  Thanksgiving is a very American holiday because it is associated with the best and worst of our society.

The first Thanksgiving was held before the U.S. actually existed as a country.  In 1621, the Pilgrims celebrated with the Wampanoag Indians. The Pilgrims were English settlers who fled Europe in search of religious freedom.  They were saved from starving by the local Wampanoag tribe who helped them adapt to their new neighborhood.

What happened next? The Pilgrims discriminated against anyone who was not a Protestant in the Puritan image. That meant English Quakers had a rough time in New England. The Pilgrims also rid their new neighborhood of the “heathen” Indians using methods that today would be designated as ethnic cleansing.

Thanksgiving was designated a national holiday in 1863 by President Abraham Lincoln. Why did he decide to create a national holiday? By 1863, the American Civil War had dragged on for three years. The south was losing the war but the north wasn’t clearly winning.

Lincoln needed a win and Thanksgiving was a symbolic victory. It also allowed him to reiterate his message of binding the country together by using the day to “heal the wounds of a nation.”  His aspiration was never fully realized as we see with today’s political divisions on issues of race, gender equality, religion and immigration.

In 1939, Thanksgiving was moved to the fourth Thursday in November by President Franklin D. Roosevelt. Why the fourth Thursday of the month?  The Great Depression was grinding on and FDR hoped to increase retail sales by creating more shopping days before Christmas. Today, early sales begin on Thursday and end with the Internet-crashing sales on cyber-Monday. American capitalism is obscuring the purpose of the holiday.

But in spite of the rampant commercialism and the ugly elements engaged in race-baiting, gender bashing, and anti-immigrant claptrap, Thanksgiving shines through.  In two days, people will gather to eat turkey, ham, stuffing, potatoes, cranberries, fish tacos, burritos, turnip greens, cornbread, fry bread, sushi, ramen noodles, curries, or hotdogs and hamburgers. Whether kosher or halal or nothing in particular, we’ll all enjoy the feast.

Our annual feast has evolved as our society has evolved. That’s the best tradition for an American holiday.   Happy Thanksgiving!

 

About Norma Shirk

My company, Corporate Compliance Risk Advisor, helps employers create human resources policies for their employees and employee benefit programs that are appropriate to the employer’s size and budget. The goal is to have structure without bureaucracy.

 

Like what you’ve read?  Feel free to share, but please…Give HerSavvy credit. Thanks!

 

 

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I Wanna Live Forever!

Gilgamesh and his best friend Enkidu had many adventures together. Then Enkidu died. Gilgamesh was inconsolable with grief and loneliness. But he was also afraid of his own death. So he wandered endlessly in search of the secret to never dying.

Gilgamesh’s story is told in the Epic of Gilgamesh, written between 2150 – 1400 BCE.  It was the first major piece of literature in the western world, predating even Homer’s stories about the destruction of Troy.  Gilgamesh was a mythical king of Uruk, a Sumerian city-state in what is now Iraq.

His story may have been written over 4000 years ago but Gilgamesh was not so different from us today.  We are still looking for the magical elixir of life.  Gilgamesh hoped the gods would tell him the secret to immortality but they never did.

Today, our “gods” are the allegedly scientific studies on the benefits of exercise and food.  I say alleged because the studies usually provide conflicting advice and are often sponsored by industries that have a stake in the outcome.  Consider how the definition of “healthy” food changes constantly.

Years ago a study told us not to eat eggs because they have cholesterol which is bad for us. Then a study told us that eggs are loaded with protein; so they are good for us. The poultry industry celebrated.  Another study told us sugar is bad for us. Then a study arrived claiming that lab rats died from consuming saccharine and other sugar substitutes.  Suddenly sugar is good for us again. Sugar beet farmers and sugarcane refineries rejoice.

Along with diet, we’re told to exercise regularly. What does “regularly” mean? One study tells us to exercise until our hearts are thumping and we’re soaked in sweat. The next study tells us that we can achieve excellent health and long life from as little as fifteen minutes of daily exercise.   Recently, a BBC news story cited a new study which claims that prolonged sitting will kill us no matter how much we exercise.

What no one ever admits is that if we live forever, we’ll outlive all our friends. Then we’ll be as lonely as Gilgamesh was after Enkidu died.  Instead of agonizing over living forever, I’ll support a scientific study that says we should enjoy life with our friends, our favorite foods and exercise when we feel like it.

About Norma Shirk

My company, Corporate Compliance Risk Advisor, helps employers create human resources policies for their employees and employee benefit programs that are appropriate to the employer’s size and budget. The goal is to have structure without bureaucracy.

Like what you see? Feel free to share, but please……give Her Savvy credit. Thanks!

 

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When Should I Quit?

when-to-quit

I was raised to believe in perseverance and not giving up. Quitters were often labeled as losers who gave up too soon and therefore never achieved success. Think of childhood sports, like T-ball or soccer, where the coach and parents scream at the children to keep trying even when it is obvious their team can’t win.  No one wants to be a quitter.

The dilemma of whether to quit becomes riskier when one reaches adulthood. Adults who quit are often risking the loss of a job, ending a marriage, or losing money on a failed business venture. The emotional burden is much more severe than losing a kid’s game.

I’ve spent years of misery in jobs I hated before finally accepting the obvious fact that my values were incompatible with my employers. I’ve continued supporting ventures that sank faster than the Titanic because I didn’t want to be branded a quitter. But at some point, our “gut reaction” can’t be ignored. We need to accept that failure is probably the only realistic option.

Recently I’ve been struggling with the decision to quit a commitment I made less than a year ago. True to my usual form, I spent months stewing about it before I finally asked my trusted friends to help me decide what to do. They asked three questions.

  1. What goal am I trying to achieve? I joined an organization because I believed in their mission. Unfortunately, they were already in crisis and I realize now that I was recruited because I have skills that could help them resolve their problems.
  1. What support do I have to achieve the goal? I knew the answer to this question, but had been delaying accepting it. I lack support from the organization because key insiders are comfortable with the status quo and afraid of what change means for them personally. I can continue to suggest needed changes but my perseverance won’t change their resistance.
  1. What will I gain by quitting? Quitting would end the emotional toll of trying to change an organization that doesn’t actually want to change.

There is no bright line test to know when it is best to persevere and when it is best to cut one’s losses and quit.  Asking trusted friends or family for advice is a great starting point for making the final decision because their vision is not clouded by the emotional attachment that makes it difficult for us decide.

About Norma Shirk

Norma started her company, Corporate Compliance Risk Advisor, to help employers create human resources policies for their employees and employee benefit programs that are appropriate to the employer’s size and budget. The goal is to have structure without bureaucracy. Visit Norma’s website: www.complianceriskadvisor.com.

Like what you’ve read? Feel free to share, but please… Give HerSavvy credit. Thanks!

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Was Duchamp Really An Artist?

 

duchamp2Marcel Duchamp is considered one of the brightest artists of the 20th century.  Not to me.  I pretty much hate everything he did and wouldn’t pay a plugged nickel for any of it.  But that’s okay because it’s my opinion.  Art is subjective. If a piece of art doesn’t “speak” to you emotionally, it’s not worth a plugged nickel.

I learned that lesson from an English professor who taught a class in Renaissance English poetry. (It was the only English class that fit my schedule that semester.)  At first, none of us wanted to voice our opinion on the poetry we were reading because we didn’t want to sound gauche or uninformed.  Then the professor told us that any work of art, regardless of the medium used, only has value if it speaks to us emotionally.  Without that emotional connection, art has no value.

Years later I was invited to a special exhibit in Dallas, Texas of the private collection of one of the city’s leading citizens.  The collection was a mishmash of Benin sculptures, Anasazi pots, Mayan knickknacks, some random Asian artefacts and so on.  It was a 30 or 40 year history lesson in art collecting based on what the avant-garde defined as “art.”  The owner of the collection had buckets of money but apparently collected only what everyone else collected.

That brings me back to Duchamp.  This guy is famous for displaying three panes of glass.  When one pane of glass was broken during transit, Duchamp claimed he liked the piece even more. It’s still on display somewhere with one cracked pane.

Most famously Duchamp put a urinal on display.  Viewers proclaimed that it had classic lines rather than pointing out that it was a bathroom fixture that should be returned to the men’s room down the hall.  No one wanted to be mocked by the avant-garde crowd for lacking artistic sensibilities.

It’s amazing how much guff and abuse we are willing to take to remain part of the “in” crowd.  Duchamp always reminds me of that human trait.  He not only convinced people that panes of glass and a urinal were “art,” he induced them to pay huge sums of money to own one of his pieces.  So I admire his chutzpah and think he was one of the greatest marketers of the 20th century.  But, in my opinion, Duchamp was not an artist.

About Norma Shirk

Norma started her company, Corporate Compliance Risk Advisor, to help employers create human resources policies for their employees and employee benefit programs that are appropriate to the employer’s size and budget. The goal is to have structure without bureaucracy. Visit Norma’s website: www.complianceriskadvisor.com/.

Like what you’ve read? Feel free to share, but please… Give HerSavvy credit. Thanks!

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Filed under Fun Savvy, History