Tag Archives: Norma Shirk

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

 

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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.

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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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Finding Inspiration in Losses

soccer-panoramic

I am constantly searching for examples of how other businesses stay successful despite losses. Examples are everywhere, but one of my favorite examples is Southampton Football Club (Southampton FC).

Southampton FC is based (obviously) in Southampton, England and it plays in England’s top football (soccer) league, the English Premier League.  Each year the club loses their best players to rival clubs with more money to spend on acquisitions. Each year they lose their head coach (manager, in England) to rival clubs.

Any business that consistently loses its best performers would be expected to slide into oblivion.  Southampton FC temporarily appeared doomed to such a fate. In 2008, Southampton FC was bankrupt and demoted. They began the 2009/2010 season in the third tier of English football. (By comparison, the U.S. has two tiers of professional soccer.)

Then a group of new owners bought the club and initiated two key strategies. First, they brought financial stability with a cash infusion and a new team of experienced financial advisers to run the back office. Southampton’s problems were apparently rooted in poor financial practices.

Second, the new owners reinforced the existing corporate culture of the club. The club has a reputation for developing young talent. Their corporate culture requires everyone from the youth academy to the senior players to use the same system of training and learn the same game tactics or style of play.  That may sound like a no-brainer, but an amazing number of businesses try to change their corporate culture each time they choose a new manager.

Southampton FC hires managers (coaches) that fit their system. The corporate culture is so resilient that each year the manager changes and the top players are sold but the club remains competitive.  It’s called “the Southampton way”.

By the 2012/2013 season, the club had played its way back into the English Premier League and has finished in the top ten every year since.  Other businesses now regularly travel to Southampton to study the club’s business model.  Southampton FC’s four-year journey from loss to success is truly inspirational.

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/.

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A Christmas Truce

a-christmas-truce

December is a difficult time of year for many people.  December can be especially lonely for soldiers who are far from home.  In 1914, lonely soldiers caused one of the most extraordinary Christmas events.  They (briefly) stopped the First World War.

The impromptu ceasefire began on December 7, 1914, when Pope Benedict XV suggested a temporary ceasefire so that the soldiers in the trenches could celebrate Christmas.  The governments of Britain, France and Germany refused to observe an official ceasefire.

It’s not clear why they said no, but there were probably two main reasons for refusing a ceasefire.  First, no one was tired of the war.  In December 1914, the war was only about five months old.  The major slaughters, like the Battle of the Somme when a million men were casualties, didn’t happen until 1916.

Second, and I think more importantly, the governments opposed a ceasefire out of fear.  Specifically, fear of fraternization.  Soldiers are better able to do their job of killing the enemy if they don’t know their enemy.  It’s why we demonize our opponents as a faceless “other” and use derogatory nicknames to dehumanize them.  If a soldier sees the enemy as human with a family and personal aspirations, it becomes difficult to shoot to kill.

Consider the line “from a distance, you look like my friend, even though we are at war.”  It’s taken from an anti-war song called “From a Distance.”  The song became popular during the First Persian Gulf War in the early 1990’s and it evokes a universal sentiment.

In 1914, the soldiers in the trenches ignored their governments and saw the enemy as a friend.  On Christmas Eve, they sang Christmas carols to each other across no-man’s land.  On Christmas Day, they crossed no-man’s land to exchange food and talk of their families back home.  In one instance, they played a game of football (i.e., soccer).

After Christmas, some of the soldiers decided they couldn’t return to war.  One anecdote says that some French and German soldiers refused to fight each other.  Their commanders threatened them with all sorts of disciplinary action to no avail.  Eventually, the affected French and German units were pulled out of their trenches and sent to fight in other sectors.

The Christmas Truce of 1914 has never been repeated.  As wars continue around the world, that is one of the saddest commentaries on this holiday season.

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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From First Lady to FLOTUS

eleanor-roosevelt-2

When the founders of the U.S. created the office of President they didn’t waste any time on the role of the First Lady.  That’s not surprising.  The founders were all men and in the 1780’s, married women were expected to keep quiet, have lots of babies and not interfere in politics.

Martha Washington was the original First Lady and she followed the social standards of her day.  She hosted salons, genteel affairs where the upper crust of society could hobnob with the President and members of the Cabinet.  But she stayed firmly in the background and had no political opinions.

The women who succeeded Martha Washington are mostly cyphers forgotten by history.  The one exception in the 19th century is Mary Todd Lincoln.  She is remembered because she had a dreadful life in the White House.

Her husband was despised by half the country, including many northerners and Mary lacked the political smarts to be an asset to him.  Her political follies could fill a book. For example, she decided to redecorate the White House and was shocked when journalists attacked her for wasting money on new curtains and china while the country was at war.

She also endured personal tragedy.  Most of her family sided with the Confederacy which led the newspapers to brand her a traitor living in the White House.  She lost her son Willie to a lingering illness.  The crowning sorrow was the assassination of her husband.

For decades after that, First Ladies kept a low profile until social standards changed the role of women.  The epitome of the modern First Lady is Eleanor Roosevelt.  She entered the White House with her own political agenda.  She wrote a daily newspaper column arguing for labor rights, an end to racial segregation, and much more.  She was so busy she developed her own office and a staff.

Since then, each First Lady is given an official staff and expected to support her own causes. Recently, she even became an acronym: First Lady of the United States (FLOTUS).  However, First Ladies must still avoid being too overtly political.  Eleanor Roosevelt and Hillary Clinton were criticized for interfering in politics.  As a result, First Ladies tend to support “women’s issues” such as children’s health and education. Michelle Obama supported healthier lifestyles to reduce childhood obesity.

It will be months before the in-coming First Lady defines her role as FLOTUS. She certainly has a wide range of role models to choose from.  But her choices may be more limited than other recent First Ladies because the last time an incoming president was this unpopular was 1861.  The only certainty is that the newest FLOTUS will mirror some aspect of current social standards for women.

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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