Friday, November 25, 2011

The Day After...Black Friday

Today is Black Friday, and sorry, retailers, I didn't spend a dime today. There is nothing that I am willing to stand in line for at 2 a.m. in the morning with a bunch of crazed shoppers, no matter how incredibly cheap it is. The story in today's headlines about the woman who sprayed pepper spray on other shoppers so she could get a deeply discounted item she wanted is beyond comprehension and an abuse of what the holiday season is all about.

This is going to be a very weird holiday season, after all. It's tough to get your head around the high unemploynment rates, foreclosure rates and the real, hidden story of the economic downturn--hundreds of thousands of people living in upscale and middle-class neighborhoods putting on a brave face while debt mounts, credit card bills go unpaid, and relationships crumble under the stress of trying to keep up the charade of prosperity. You wouldn't know it by the retail ads on TV...the happy faces, shoppers carrying bags and bags of fresh new purchases. No mention of how they are supposed to pay for all that "stuff" and what to do when the bills come in January.

If the Occupy (take your pick of cities) people are right, who are all those people out shopping on Black Friday? That's more than the 1% rich people. No, it's all of us, the 100% with credit cards flashing, dazed by 50% off signs, IPads for $100 (only two in the store)and mesmerized by the sparkling lights and holiday music. My take is that they are not right. The reality is, the holidays suggest, no almost require, you to get out and buy. Not having the money isn't an excuse. On Christmas Day, you gotta have something for little Jimmy or Aunt Helen under the tree. And if you really love your spouse, there will be a shiny new Lexus in the driveway topped with a gigantic red bow.

The sad, reality part of all this is we really do need to get out and shop. The consequences of not shopping on Black Friday or the rest of the holiday season would be devastating to the economy. Retailers, especially small businesses, make 40% of their annual sales between Black Friday and Christmas Day. If they don't make it, they may have to close up, leaving hundreds or thousands of people without jobs. And, the ripple effect to suppliers, delivery services and countless websites would be astounding.

So, get out and shop. Actually, I did buy something today...a book from for a business proposal I am submitting. This year, I'm going to shop, but I'm going to try to give gifts that are more than bling or just "something" under the tree. I'm not a bargain shopper willing to stand in line for hours to save $5. And I'm sort of over "stuff." I'd rather give experiences--summer art camp for the grandchildren, an advanced class on digital photography at SCAD for my husband, or a spa visit or golf lessons. Something to enrich someone's life, open new doors or just make them feel good.

Are you changing your shopping habits or the way you celebrate the holidays this year? I'd love to have your comments and thoughts on the subject.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Becoming "Frankly Frugal"

Are you unemployed, yet still shopping the malls on the weekend, or clicking away online lured by the hot bargain on What are you thinking?

If you haven't gone through the five stages of grief after losing your job, it's time to get on the fast track, and go from denial to acceptance. You can't live your old life (when you had a job and a paycheck) anymore. Well, not for awhile at least. It's time to take a good look at the narrowing gap between your savings and your bills and get "frankly frugal."

Being frugal, which means not spending money if it isn't absolutely necessary, is an old habit, made into an art by the depression-ear babies. No, not this one. The BIG one. Around 1920's or so. My parents were children of the depression, and even after they got out of it, they kept their frugal habits, which allowed them to acquire a tidy bit of wealth without masters degrees or corporate jobs. They just didn't spend money if it wasn't necessary. To illustrate, my mother, who never had two nickles to rub together when we were growing up, once gave each of us six grown children $10,000 because "the banks will only insure $100,000."

Now, necessary is the pivotal word here. Today, we've been duped into thinking the latest app, or version of the IPhone (one every three months) or a 62" flat screen TV with DVD and 3D (oops, that was last week's model) is a necessity. Or at least the way to escape embarassment because EVERYBODY has one (it, them.) Really, none of those things are necessities. In order to sustain life...that's more a definition of necessity. Not QUALITY of life. Many of people are going broke and broker trying to gain or sustain a completely unnecessary quality of life, even though they no longer have the income to support it. Really, we need very little to sustain life. Food, shelter, clothing, meaningful activity, love, companionship. You can add your own, but there aren't that many more.

Let's look at what costs so darn much these days, and how you can get frankly frugal. You can go down your monthly bills for great examples. First, the electric bill. I'm sure you don't want to go back to conditions during my childhood when we didn't have air conditioning, but it is true that human beings actually did survive without it. Plus, the electronics we feel we can't live without all need to be plugged in or kept charged in order to provide us with entertainment, connections and other comforts we were able to live without somehow. Unplug. Open a window. Go outside and talk to your neighbors. Take a walk. There are plenty of ways to entertain yourself, or keep cool without making your electric meter spin like Disney's teacup ride on meth.

Next is the phone bill. The constant connection to everything that we can't live without comes with a hefty price. In money, and in concentration, distraction and interruption to the point of rudeness. Not to mention the $200 or so phone bill every month. Frankly frugally speaking, do we need to be constantly reminded of where are friends are eating lunch or how they are feeling every minute of the day?

I have been struck lately, driving through Savannah, that there are very few areas that have clotheslines. While we are all running the dryers all day, other people are getting exercise, and slipping into fresh, air-dried clothes and sheets, free of charge. One of the hottest selling air freshener today is "fresh linen." So, for an extra $4.99, you can pay to have your house smell like mine did growing up. If you have ever hung clothes out on a clothesline, you know you had some great exercise, bending to pick the clothes out of the clothes basket, stretch to hang them on the line above your head while squeezing the clothespins to secure the clothes, and doing it over and over again. That was an easy way to get 45 minutes or so of great exercise, fresh air and save a bundle by not running the dryer and then spending $5 on air freshener (which is really a bunch of chemicals that, we'll probably hear on the morning news, are probably going to make you sick some day.) I have strung a clothesline between the queen palm trees in the back courtyard at home and hung sheets and towels to dry, and what a luxury (and trip down memory lane) to slide inbetween those air-dried sheets at night. Things that take forever in the dryer, like rugs or sweatshirts, when hung on the line are a real money saver. Those little wooden dryer stands are great for sweaters. Soak hand washables in the bathtub with a little woolite, roll them between bath towels to get most of the water out and drape over a wooden dryer stand or lay flat on a bed to dry overnight. Takes a bit of planning, but the savings on electricity, dry cleaning and driving to take and pick them up adds up.

Unemployment, or just trying to save a few bucks to pay the bills, can be an adventure. Unplug something tonight before you go to bed. Just because you unplug your laptop from the charger doens't mean you're saving money. Unplug the charger from the outlet as well.

What is your hot to for becoming "frankly frugal?" Leave them in the comments section. More to come on another post.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Laborless Day

With unemployment stagnant at 9.1%, I suggest we rename this holiday "Labor-less Day." For many people who have been unemployed for over two years, exhausted their unemployment benefits and are struggling to meet their financial obligations and feed the family, this is no day to celebrate the dignity of work. Hey, they just want a shot at working again.

Contrary to the news, there are lots of jobs out there. But the jobs that were lost--middle management and supervisory jobs, manufacturing and production jobs--are probably not coming back, and not at the same pay rates as before. What has happened in the almost three years since the recession (yes, a rose by any other name...) is that companies have learned to live without the extra staff they used to have. They have replaced or eliminated positions with technology or figured out that the people they have weren't working all that hard after all and could do a lot more with a faster computer or better software. They also found they could do a lot virtually on the Web, or could get hungry freelancers to produce quality work for little money. They are sitting on a lot of cash as an emergency fund, and why not?

Everyone is (or should be) socking a little money away for emergencies these days. There is a delicate balancing act going on in most households. There is just so much money coming in, and if some expense goes up, something else has to go down. We're battling the energy bills during this record-breaking heat wave summer because if it goes up another $50, we'll have to cut out something else, like food or gas.

Back to the jobs. There are jobs, but in some cases, not enough qualified individuals to fill them. Many of the unemployed are overqualified for the lower-level jobs that are still available. If you have been off work for awhile, you may be regarded as an employment risk who has lost the drive and discipline of the regulated work day and accountability necessary to work in a business environment. If you are over 50, you may be regarded as a dinosaur, lost in outdated work habits and less likely to adapt to technology and your relaxed "whatever" generation co-workers, one of whom may be your boss.

With so many entitlement extensions, it is difficult for someone on unemployment to give up the weekly "paycheck," freedom, flexibility and hope of a better paying job, to take a low-paying job outside his industry and below his training, education and experience. There are simply so many jobs that we feel are beneath us that we won't take at all. What happened to the notion that all work has dignity?

Many of the unemployed are waking up to the fact that their old jobs are gone and they need to take some action to reinvent, repurpose and retool themselves to fit into today's changing workplace. They are finding exciting ways to use their talents and discovering opportunities to make a living and a satisfying life. Sometimes letting go is the best way to go forward. There are numerous ways to create business opportunities with the world as your marketplace. Washington, Congress, the President and all the cry babies on the news aren't responsible for employment or lack thereof. We are. Make this a real Labor Day and find what you want to do and, as Nike says, "Just Do It."

Monday, June 6, 2011

Wake-up Call or Company Wake? It's Time to Choose

Organizations are battling the challenges of the 21st century workplace. Day-to-day manual tasks are now done by machines or computers. Very small companies can operate on a global scale through websites on the Internet. Employees work from virtual offices at home in their pajamas.

Organizations must wake up to the realities of the new workplace. Those who refuse to embrace change will find it difficult to do business, attract top talent and retain market share and profitability. To thrive in the 21st century and beyond, management needs to acknowledge and adopt the realities of a new workplace.

Step 1
Develop managers who care. Employees in the 21st century want leaders who value and care about them. Managers should meet with new employees the first week on the job and discuss their background and help them set goals for the next six months. They should get to know their families, hobbies, hopes and dreams. Managers should spend time expressing admiration and sincere appreciation for an employee's talents and skills.

Step 2
Forget the old formalities. Establish a workplace with a casual dress code and informal interaction. Managers and employees should use first names from the start. Abandon formal meetings governed by Roberts Rules of Order. Consider replacing traditional position titles like manager and supervisor, and opt for team leaders or just team members with rotating leadership. Productivity doesn't have a dress code. T-shirts and jeans aren't just for Google and Microsoft. Allow people to be comfortable and place more emphasis on producing a quality product than how employees are dressed.

Step 3
Examine the physical structure of your workplace and operations systems. Some companies are still stuck in the past with offices that separate employees in mazes of cubicles. They operate with outdated manual processes. Study your competitors or the leaders in your industry to learn how they are structured. Survey your customers to determine their needs and preferences. Restructure your work hours to accommodate a global marketplace. Organization that are only available certain times of the day will miss out on global customers eager to buy their products and services. Abandon the old hierarchy that equips upper management with laptops and cellphones. Equip all employees with technology that will make them accessible and productive.

Step 4
Allow employees to combine business and personal time. Since so much of life is available on line, there is no need to separate the day into "work" and "life." Instead of restricting the use of cell phones, Internet usage and texting, equip employees with technology and encourage them to take care of things while they are working. Use technology as time management tools. Help employees set up a Facebook account so they can keep track of their kids after school or family members during the workday. Instead of restricting social networking, use it to your advantage.

Step 5
Adopt new policies today. Create informal work areas where employees can gather for impromptu meetings. Establish rest periods during the day for employees who want to take a short nap, watch TV or surf the Internet. Invest in an XBox or Wii and encourage employees to play games on their meal breaks to relax and relieve stress. Put up a ping pong table and a basketball hoop. The new generation workforce is tech savvy and results oriented. Management needs to awaken to the realities of how they work and the environment that makes them productive in order to prosper.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

The Co-Workers From Hell Survey

With so many workplace (and other) shootings lately, I thought it would be helpful to revisit a survey I conducted about 10 years ago, "The Top Ten Things that Drive Co-Workers Crazy." The survey was a hoot to do, and I even did several call-in radio shows where people driving to work in the morning were talking on their cell phones in morning traffic while on the radio, for God's sake, instead of watching where they were going. It was hilarious the stuff they came up with. Things like farting in the office, eating other people's food out of the refrigerator, sleeping through meetings while appearing to be awake. One guy was so sick of people stealing his favorite pens that he would take them apart and write the word "Gotcha" on a little slip of paper, roll it up and stick it back in the barrel of the pen and put it back together. Then, when he found someone with one of his pens, he would confront them. They of course, denied any such thing as stealing a pen, whereby he ceremoniously unscrewed the barrel, and with great flourish, pulled out the piece of paper, and yelled, "Gotcha." Ten years ago, the #1 offender was not returning phone calls and emails on time or at all. Other transgressions included taking the last cup of coffee and not making more, resetting the copy machine for 20% and 1,000 copies and not setting it back to normal, and exploding their lunch in the break room microwave and not cleaning it up.

Now these may not seem like much, but string them together on a bad day and you have Bob from Accounting going out to his truck at lunch to get his shotgun (legal in the State of Georgia) and delivering his own sort of disciplinary action. The survey results will be interesting at least, and may help save some lives by serving as a warning to all the jerks in the office to clean up their act before Harriet, who needs at least 14 cups of coffee in the morning to even come near civility, finds out that the pot is dry. Sounds like there could be a public service award for this thing, and I might even end up on Oprah.

There is only one question....and you can complete the survey on Survey Monkey at I will share the results of the survey in a future blog, after I get back from the Coast when they turn this survey into a movie with Cameron Diaz and Bruce Willis.

Monday, February 7, 2011

So You Want to Be In Pictures?

I saw an article this morning advising job seekers to jump on the latest trend and send a video resume. This was a video of you basically talking about your work history, experience while displaying your personality, communication skills and energy. Sounds like an interesting idea, but there are some things to consider before you call for, “…lights, camera, action.”

1. Putting down your attributes on paper in a professional but still personally anonymous way has its advantages. Your ability to do the job is what getting the interview is all about. Recruiters and hiring managers are comfortable with the written resume and may not be with a video.
2. Even the greatest actors don’t watch their own films. Why? They don’t like what they see. You can be the most talented actor, but the greatness is mainly in the viewer. What you think is a great delivery may leave someone cold. You are looking for a job, not a Golden Globe. And in this job market, the competition is much more intense.
3. A video will reveal things that employers can’t ask in an interview – age, race, color, sex, and other personal characteristics that can be discriminatory. In my years as a Human Resources Director, I occasionally received a resume that included a picture. Before forwarding it to a hiring manager, I always made a copy of the original and covered over the picture. This then became the official resume that was circulated. You may find that after all your efforts your video is never seen for fear of a future claim of discrimination.
4. Some positions require a video. When I was seeking a position as a contract trainer for an international training company, I had to send a video of myself conducting a class. Since I would be representing the company to clients all over the country, they needed to see my presentation style. On the other hand, sending a video for an administrative position may seem a little excessive and brand you as a Diva instead of a viable candidate.
5. YouTube won’t do for an interview. If you are going to send a video, or if one is requested, hire a professional to script, shoot and edit the film. A professional videographer can suggest the proper clothing, hair style, mannerisms and an appropriate setting for the position. Consider getting some advice from a professional career coach as well to review the video from an employer’s point of view.
6. Your job search may take awhile, so if you change your hair color or style, put on (or take off) a few pounds you need to update the video. Resumes customized for the position are more effective, so if you are targeting different industries or positions, you may need several versions of your video. This drives up the cost and time investment to keep things current.
7. Voice tone, body language, communication skills, speaking ability—you need to be at the top of your game for the video. If you are uncomfortable speaking in public, it will come across in the video and can work against you.

There is no substitute for a solid, well-written resume that showcases your individuality and accomplishments. Adding a video to your application can be risky but will offer a closer look that could work for you.

As posted on February 3,2011,

Mary Nestor-Harper, SPHR, is a workplace consultant, blogger, motivational speaker and freelance writer for Based in Savannah, GA, her work has appeared in Training magazine, Training & Development magazine, Supervision, BiS Magazine and The Savannah Morning News. When she’s not writing, she enjoys singing Alto II with the Savannah Philharmonic Chorus and creating original gift items available on You can read more of her blogs at and view additional job postings on

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

I'll Have a Cup of Coffee With a Side of Hospitality, Please

Last week, in an effort to stimulate my creative brain cells, I decided to take my laptop to a local coffee shop across from Forsyth Park. The Sentient Bean is a comfortable, worn-around-the-edges coffee shop with several seating areas. You can settle down at one of the many tables with wooden chairs or opt for one of the comfortable overstuffed couches scattered around the two rooms. Coffee is $1.25, with refills at $0.50 each. You get a real cup if you are “sipping in” with variety of coffees and teas to choose from. Quiet conversations between patrons can be heard above the key tapping on laptop computers, gently adding their own light to the sunlight from the large windows, filtered today by a sky wrapped in blanket of gray and white tweed clouds.

Hotels have always welcomed their guests to sit and lounge in their lobbies or lounges. Comfortable chairs, sofas, tables and chairs made it possible for a guest to escape the confines of their guest rooms, meet with clients or friends, or just have a quiet conversation with someone sitting next to them at the bar. Restaurants and coffee shops are now following suit, realizing that while customers still want the privacy and option of solitude, they like to be in the company of others, feel the energy and break the isolation that so many experience-- Entrepreneurs who are struggling to get their businesses going or need a place to meet prospective clients, home-based business owners who need to escape the proximity and distraction of dirty laundry or dishes piled in the sink. Students looking for a place to have a coffee and a sandwich, meet their friends, do some studying. Desperate housewives dishing the latest with their friends. These are customers in need of services with a side of hospitality.

Sitting here, I am struck by the fact that there are no intrusive wait staff checking back with me every few minutes. Now, in a conventional restaurant, that kind of attention may be welcome, but it can also give the impression that they are rushing you out the door. No one has come to my table to see if I am having more coffee or when I am going to free up this table. I am free to go or stay, and welcome to get some more coffee, have a muffin or sandwich. The atmosphere is more like being in a comfortable home with food available if you want it and no one waiting for you to get up and go. It is home without the solitude and the opportunity for social interaction on my terms.

Social networking is built on the premise that people like to choose who they interact with and share as much or as little as they like on their terms. Judging from the fact that all the tables and couches are filled, the hospitality at the Sentient Bean is just as popular as the coffee and muffins.

Originally seen on

Mary Nestor-Harper, SPHR, is a workplace consultant, blogger, motivational speaker and freelance writer for Based in Savannah, GA, her work has appeared in Training magazine, Training & Development magazine, Supervision, BiS Magazine and The Savannah Morning News. When she’s not writing, she enjoys singing Alto II with the Savannah Philharmonic Chorus and creating original gift items available on You can read more of her blogs at and view additional job postings on