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Shocker: tech giant tried to patent a job candidate’s ideas

(CAREER) When a potential employer talks to you about your ideas, might they rush out to patent them? Yep. Time to protect yourself.

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In 2014, Jie Qi was invited by Google to share her idea: pop-up electronic storybooks.

Combining her love of storytelling with interactive elements like light and sound, Qi was on the road to developing a new kind of interactive storybook. After years of research and while enrolled in a PhD program, Qi was invited by Google to their Advanced Technology and Projects lab. There she shared her ideas for interactive storytelling and much to her surprise, was offered a job on the spot.

Qi ultimately passed on the opportunity to finish her PhD program. Two years later, Qi came to find out through friends that Google had applied for patents on electronic interactive pop-up books for the same ideas she’d discussed and shown to them in 2014. In the end, Google’s patent was rejected as Qi was able to prove that the idea was hers.

While Qi’s story may not leave many of us surprised, it should.

What’s so jarring about Qi’s story is that the stealing of her idea is so flagrant.

Google seemed to think they were too big to get caught or even be held accountable. Further, had Qi not been informed of the patent application’s existence, chances are Google would’ve gotten away with stealing her ideas.

If you think companies don’t steal work all the time, you’re mistaken.

It’s not uncommon for companies to ask applicants to complete a small project as part of their application process. Mock projects are a way for potential employers to gauge an applicant’s skills and at times, help them choose one applicant over another.

These projects should take very little time to complete and should not be used by the company in any capacity other than to review an applicant’s potential. However, sometimes the sample projects get used by the company – and the applicant, whether or not they get the job, isn’t informed and is definitely not paid.

A few years ago, Toronto-based agency Zulu Alpha Kilo made a great video illustrating the common practice of asking for work on spec. Speculative (spec) work is the practice of essentially asking applicants to work for free and then deciding whether or not they want to pay for the work. It’s a common practice in the advertising world when trying to choose an agency of record that should not be implemented in other industries and yet, it’s happening more and more, particularly in tech.

So, what should you do if a company you respect asks to see your work? Feel free to show them samples of your work, but I don’t believe you should work for free. If you suspect that a company has stolen your work, confront them and if you must, take legal action. We’re all professionals who’ve put in the work to get where we are and what we deserve. When a potential employer declines to pay you for work or even downright steals it, that employer doesn’t value you and you shouldn’t want to be involved with them.

Job seeking is stressful and the competition can be fierce. Employers know this and some leverage those factors to their advantage. If you feel that you or your work is being taken advantage of, trust your instincts and take a hard pass on any company that tries to diminish your worth (and for goodness sake, if you opt to do these “assignments” anyhow, in fear of losing an opportunity – watermark and lock down any works as best you can).

Meg Furey-Marquess is a Staff Writer at The American Genius. She has covered tech for The Metro Silicon Valley and The Bold Italic. She was named one of the Top 39 Writers on Medium in 2016.

Business News

How companies are embracing the gig economy to fight employee burnout

(BUSINESS NEWS) The gig economy has had plenty of ups and downs, but employers are using it to advantage their teams and the gig workers. It’s a pretty interesting model we’re watching evolve…

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If you’re an employer of a lot of people, it’s no secret that there are a lot of moving parts involved in the day-to-day processes of keeping the business going. You’ve got full-time employees, people earning both salary and hourly wages, part-time workers, and more than likely have used a staffing agency over the years to fill in the blanks.

Depending on your experience, some managers love working with temp agencies, while others aren’t the biggest fans. Like toppings on a hot dog, it all comes down to personal preference.

But, there’s one segment of the market that’s roaring – the gig economy.

While on the surface, it might seem simple (someone comes in and does a job and leaves), it’s a little deeper than that. Depending on the industry, there needs to be a more nuanced approach to solving how staffing issues are handled.

When you think of the gig economy, you’re probably thinking of Uber or GrubHub, but a whole world has opened up – you can get your car fixed in your driveway or hire movers to come and take boxes away. There are a lot of apps out there putting money in people’s pockets thanks to taking on tasks like food delivery but also working on a crew for a day or being hospitality staff for a corporate gig.

Many people love the gig economy because honestly, the Internet has democratized our lives so much that millions of workers would rather be their own bosses, which honestly works to the advantage of businesses as well.

First, there’s less demand for the business because if they need a specific job taken care of, they can bring in some ringers to bang out the job, collect their pay, and move on. For companies, this helps because they’re only paying a one-time fee versus keeping someone on staff and paying them annually.

The boom right now is applications connecting workers with businesses who need help.

Instead of the consumer being the end-user, the applications connect a worker with a temporary or sometimes long-term employer with a click.

And the process is simple – workers are in just as much control as the companies. The price point is established by the company and the hours and people they need, but the worker can set their skill level and availability. So, when there’s a match, everyone wins.

While some of the companies offering access into the space, provide workers with gigs for whatever length of time, some of them are even doubling down on retention, offering W-2s and full insurance for staying in the worker community so employers have a larger pool to choose from.

This model works because it incentives both parties: the worker gets to work on their terms and still receive benefits, and the company gets the staff they need for project work without the HR/taxes/risk.

Listen: That W-2 aspect is enormous. The reason being is if you’ve ever had to deal with a 1099, they’re the worst. Taking away the burden of taxes is a significant win for the worker, especially those of us who still have trouble figuring out, “should I claim one or zero?”

Because this model addresses a major staffing problem, concerning short-term help, it’s still very focused on the worker.

The aspect of flexibility is built into the fabric of the concept, considering the labor pool is what matters – you can have a bunch of open jobs, but you need qualified and motivated people to fill those roles. While this is a gig-working scenario, it’s also unique in that there’s less focus on the person performing an idealized task like delivering food, but rather jumping on a team to solve a problem or finish a job.

Basically, they’ve digitized the temporary staffing model but cut all of the ugly overhead and worker quality issues out.

They’re taking a labor market and connecting it with a consumer via an app on the iPhone. But, the consumer isn’t someone who needs a ride to the airport, it’s a company who needs help staffing a Pearl Jam concert in a stadium.

With the market evolving pretty much on the hour these days, there’s a clear through line at play – we’re seeing more and more businesses adopt gig workers, if even for the day.

It’s easier to bring someone in as a temp to help clear projects or just get things finished the regular staff is too busy to handle. One of the biggest pluses of the model is that it helps avoid employee burnout.

For a place like a hotel, if there are a bunch of small jobs that keep piling up, it’s easier to spend the cash for a day or two worth of work rather than add to an already overworked staff’s load.

It’s a new world that’s evolving every day, but with every swipe, tab, and click, we see the workforce develop in ways we could have never imagined just a few short years ago. If the future of work is now, imagining five years from now is mind-blowing.

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Business News

How to work with someone who’s a never-ending stress mess

(OPINION EDITORIAL) Working with, or around, people who seem to always be carrying stress can be detrimental to your health and theirs, here’s how to deal with them.

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My baseline level of anxiety is pretty high. I get stressed out if I forget to pack a fork in my lunch even though there are utensils at the office. If someone is mean to me, I get on edge. If I make a small mistake I’m probably going to carry it with me for a few hours.

Others may not exhibit stress unless they’re up against a tight deadline or coming from a difficult meeting, but it seems like they’re always inclined towards stress regardless of their schedules. While many people exhibit stress in understandable, fleeting situations, for some stress is a default setting. It can be difficult to work with someone who’s always stressed out.

When someone is perpetually stressed, it takes a toll on everyone else too. That energy can be toxic and leave you wondering if you should be helping or if your colleague is intentionally being a Debbie Downer.

For starters, don’t make a judgement call about your coworker. Everyone handles stress at different levels, and for some people that means not really handling stress at all.

You may be able to breeze through your day with minor frustrations while others are thrown off by the smallest thing.

Holly Weeks, author of Failure to Communicate, notes “Don’t think what can I do to change this person?” Instead, she suggests considering how to neutralizes the situation and move forward.

If you want to offer the most basic form of help, acknowledge what’s going on and offer a compliment. Even if it doesn’t seem like much is going on, simply letting your stressed colleague feel heard and appreciated can make an impact.

Author of How to Have a Good Day, Caroline Webb, explains stressed people are “feeling out of control, incompetent, and disrespected. A compliment is your easy way to help them get back to their better self.” Make sure you’re not enabling them by dragging out the situation, though.

Acknowledge, offer some praise, and try to move with the conversation.

Although it’s not necessarily in your job description to fix your coworkers problems, you can still offer support. You may not actually be able to do anything, but offering assistance gives the other person a chance to think through solutions.

Webb also suggests brainstorming way to “reduce their cognitive load,” to ease what’s making your coworker feel overwhelmed.

Some simple solutions include splitting requests into smaller steps, shortening emails, or dividing work into parts.

Ultimately the job needs to get done, but you can provide your coworker with more manageable means of accomplishing tasks by breaking things into chunks.

You can also check in on your coworker to find out if you should be concerned, or if their stress limited to the work environment. If their stress is beyond what you can reasonably handle with these de-escalation tips, don’t hesitate to reach out to someone about further steps to take.

Check out our mental health series for some more insight if you’re concerned your coworker’s problem may be more than regular stress.

Just like some people are easily stressed, some easily pick up on the negative feelings of others. Be aware of how your coworker’s stress is affecting you. If someone is truly draining you, try to get some distance.

While that may be difficult in a small office, Weeks recommends keeping in mind that out of all the “office characters…the stress case’s temperament [is] less of a problem” than others.

Ultimately, it’s not your responsibility to destress your coworker, but you can certainly make your work life a little easier if you take these steps to make for healthier, happier collaboration.

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Business News

Company offers extra vacation days to nonsmoker employees

(BUSINESS NEWS) A Japanese marketing company offers extra vacation days for nonsmoker employees who don’t utilize smoke breaks – sound good to you?

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Anyone who knows me will tell you that I’m a huge fan of “The Office” (I mean, who isn’t?) I spend a lot of time reflecting on the awesomeness of that show and the situations that characters go through at Dunder Mifflin.

One thing that always stuck with me was a scene where Kelly is talking about how she will take up smoking in order to get the 15 minute breaks throughout the day. This statement made me think about how odd it was that smokers got breaks throughout the day while nonsmokers stay inside, maybe taking a water cooler break.

Being from Chicago, I always thought the concept of smoke breaks was crazy, anyway. I remember visiting my dad at work as a kid and seeing people standing in the freezing cold, smoking outside of his building. I don’t know if you’ve ever been to Chicago in the middle of January, but having to spend 15 extra minutes in that weather would be enough to make me stop smoking, cold turkey (pun intended).

All of these memories about the weirdness of smoke breaks came back today when I learned about Piala Inc., a Japanese marketing firm, and their new plan to give non-smokers six extra vacation days a year.

The policy was introduced in 2016 after employees complained about colleagues receiving multiple smoke breaks throughout the day. Since its implementation, 30 employees have taken advantage of the extra vacation days.

“One of our non-smoking staff put a message in the company suggestion box earlier in the year saying that smoking breaks were causing problems,” company spokesman, Hirotaka Matsushima, told The Telegraph. “Our CEO saw the comment and agreed, so we are giving non-smokers some extra time off to compensate.”

This is a great incentive for companies to offer employees. Not only in terms of equality, but would also be beneficial for a company’s health and wellness program.

While I’ve never fallen under the spell of nicotine, I would like to think that I’d prefer six extra days off compared to the habit of smoking. Apparently others are starting to feel this way as the company has reported that it has helped at least four people to stop smoking.

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