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Opinion Editorials

Post pandemic what does ‘ideal worker’ even mean?

(EDITORIAL) A global pandemic has forced companies to challenge their thinking around what an ideal worker looks like, and if the office is that important.

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“As a smart person once said, never let a good crisis go to waste. Let’s not waste this one. Instead, let’s work together to ensure that a silver lining of this vast and frightening pandemic is a new definition of the worker as someone who’s ambitious, focused, and committed—but who must also balance work obligations with caregiving responsibilities. When 30 million kids are out of school, employers can’t just ignore that.”

There’s an incredible explanation of the fallacy of the ideal worker that dates back to the Industrial Revolution (late 1700s) in this Harvard Business Review article.

Many of us have been looking far and wide for the bright side on this whole COVID-19 aka Global Pandemic aka Coronavirus situation. No commute! No spending $15 on lunch because you added guacamole and a drink! No business casual (at least on the bottom, wink)! No rushing out the door with wet hair! No excuses not to work out or cook at home (ok, for some this has been a great time to make homemade sourdough bread…that might not be happening for many of us too.)

In groups of friends and co-workers that are still safe and healthy, there has been lots of discussions about how hard this has been (moving fully to remote work while also losing childcare) which makes sense because we are grieving our old ways of living. At the same time, there’s a sense of gratitude that we are home and safe and we’ve put pressure on ourselves to adapt and adjust as quickly as we can for our livelihoods depend on it.

For those that haven’t lost their job in the swift drop in the economy, workers can rejoice that they’ve done it! They learned new software tools (or at least different ways to use them like Zoom, MS Teams, Slack, FaceTime and now Google Meetups and possibly Facebook Rooms), they made meetings happen with children and/or pets on their laps, they were able to keep their composure in front of the camera (many tears shed off camera) and most likely, complete their highest priorities and projects.

It is time to re-define the Ideal Worker as well as office life and move away from the late 1700s and acting like we don’t have both parents working out of the home. Can we please accept that the old school requirements of being in an office 8:30am-5pm (or earlier and later) doesn’t necessarily depict a dedicated, competent, reliable worker? Can we please re-define the work week? We’ve now experienced that by letting people work remotely, they (statistics prove this) are actually more productive and work more. What if (bear with me), we didn’t worry so much about time punching but clearly outlined work responsibilities, projects and timelines and trusted our employees to complete them.

This is a big task to ask, no doubt. This may put a lot of additional strain on managers if they are not equipped to deal with their teams in a virtual environment. This would require everyone’s communication styles (phone, email, IM or a meeting) being addressed up front because as we work on teams, if we all worked whenever we felt like it or it worked around our those we care for (children, elderly parents, community members), it may be difficult to connect and/or get on the same page.

An idea here wouldn’t be to go all the way to completely random work schedules but what if there were some hours agreed upon the team that you would be online and available? But other than those set hours, you could figure out your work style and the hours that you are most productive to complete your tasks. Would this then allow you to also get in your exercise, self-care and all those things that provide you with joy and allow you to rest and rejuvenate from work?

Many in the corporate world have felt for years that there are too many meetings but what if a regular meeting was set to check in, review and discuss issues and always more focused and fuller of purpose and intent. What if you threw out the 40 hours/week requirement (gasp, we know most of us are working more than that anyway)?

Would we be trading in our current expectations and get more than we asked for if we just took the rails off the whole office culture? We may find that we have become so accustomed to this system (where we basically block off our schedules and give our work boundaries certain time of the day) that it would be difficult to blur the lines of work and home too much more.

Right now, they’re are all jumbled, and it seems many are looking forward to sorting them out. There are lots of companies asking themselves these questions as they look to bring people back to office spaces. You may argue that the “water cooler” conversations are a waste of time, but for some people that is part of what brings them joy to work and they love connecting and discussing ideas with their colleagues.

Managers, Directors, CEOs, COOs, etc., I’m begging you to ask your employees what works well for them and really try to put your people first as you plan your steps forward. Yes, profits are necessary and revenue matters, but this has been a traumatic experience and you must take care of your people first. You may find that the majority are fine coming back to the office if they are allowed to have a little bit more flexibility in hours to meet the other demands of life (and missing traffic never hurts).

Erin Wike is a Career Coach & Lecturer at The University of Texas at Austin and owner of Cafe Con Resume. Erin is fueled by dark roast coffee with cream AND sugar, her loving husband, daughter, and two rescue dogs. She is the Co-Founder of Small Business Friends ATX to help fellow entrepreneurs + hosts events for people to live a Life of Yes with Mac & Cheese Productions.

Opinion Editorials

The truth about unemployment from someone who’s been through it

(EDITORIAL) Unemployment benefits aren’t what you thought they were. Here’s a first-hand experience and what you need to know.

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Have I ever told you how I owed the government over two grand because of unemployment in 2019, and only just finished paying it back this year?

This isn’t exactly the forum for memoirs, but this is relevant to everyone. So I’ll tell y’all anyway.

It all started back in 2018 when I came into work early, microwaved my breakfast, poured coffee, and got pulled into a collaboration room to hear, “We love you and your work, April, but we’ve been bought out and you’re being laid off.”

It was kind of awkward carrying my stuff out to the car with that Jimmy Dean sandwich in my mouth.

More awkward still was the nine months of unemployment I went through afterwards. Between the fully clothed shower crying, the stream of job denial, catering to people who carried rocks in their nostrils at my part-time job (yes, ew, yes, really), and almost dying of no-health-insurance-itis, I learned a lot!

The bigger lesson though, came in the spring of the following year when I filed my taxes. I should back up for a moment and take the time to let those of you unfamiliar with unemployment in Texas in on a few things that aren’t common knowledge.

1: You’re only eligible if you were laid off. Not if you had quit. Not fired. Your former company can also choose to challenge your eligibility for benefits if they didn’t like your face on the way out. So the only way you’re 100% guaranteed to get paid in (what the state calls) “a timely manner”, is a completely amicable split.

2: Overpayments have to go back. Immediately. If there’s an error, like several thousand of Texans found out this week, the government needs that cash back before you can access any more. If you’re not watching your bank account to make sure you’re getting the exact same check each time and you have an overpayment, rest assured that mistake isn’t going to take long to correct. Unfortunately, if you spent that money unknowingly–thought you got an ‘in these uncertain times’ kinder and gentler adjustment and have 0 income, you have a problem. Tying into Coronavirus nonsense is point three!

3: There are no sick days. If ever you’re unable to work for any reason, be it a car accident, childbirth, horrible internal infection (see also no-health-insurance-itis), you are legally required to report it, and you will not be paid for any days you were incapacitated. Personally, my no-health-insurance-itis came with a bad fever and bedrest order that axed me out of my part time job AND killed my unemployment benefits for the week I spent getting my internal organs to like me again. But as it turned out, the payment denial came at the right time because–

4: Unemployment benefits are finite. Even if you choose to lie on your request forms about how hard you’re searching for work, coasting is ill-advised because once the number the state allots you runs out…it’s out. Don’t lie on your request forms, by the way. In my case, since I got cut from my part-time gig, I got a call from the Texas Workforce Commission about why my hours were short. I was able to point out where I’d reported my sickness to them and to my employer, so my unpaid week rolled over to a later request date. I continued to get paid right up until my hiring date which was also EXACTLY when my benefits ran out.

Unemployment isn’t a career, which is odd considering the fact that unemployment payments are qualified by the government as income.

Ergo, fact number five…

5: Your benefits? They’re taxed.

That’s right, you will be TAXED for not having a job.

The stereotype of the ‘lazy unemployment collector burdening society’ should be fading pretty quickly for the hitherto uninformed about now.

To bring it back to my story, I’d completely forgotten that when I filed for unemployment in the first place, I’d asked for my taxes NOT to be withheld from it–assuming that I wasn’t going to be searching for full time work for very long. I figured “Well, I’ll have a tax refund coming since I’ll get work again no problem, it’ll cancel out.”

Except, it was a problem. Because of the nine month situation.

I’d completely forgotten about it by the time I threw myself into my new job, but after doing my taxes, triple checking the laws and what I’d signed, it was clear. Somehow…despite being at my lowest point in life, I owed the highest amount in taxes, somewhere around the 2k mark.

Despite being based on a system that’s tied to how much income you were getting before, and all the frustrating “safeguards” put in place to keep payments as low and infrequent as possible, Uncle Sam still wants a bite out of the gas-station Hostess pie that is your unemployment check. And as I’m writing this, more and more people are finding that out.

I’d like to end this on a more positive note…so let’s say we’ve all been positively educated! That’s a net gain, surely.

Keep your heads up, and masked.

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Opinion Editorials

COVID-19 acts are unfortunately too short sighted

(BUSINESS NEWS) The biggest flaw in the CARES act is simply that it won’t last. Numerous issues have extended the life of COVID-19 but the act hasn’t matched it.

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The CARES act gives an additional $600 weekly to those on unemployment assistance. The idea being that, combined with the $380 already granted by unemployment, the payments would roughly equal the wage of the average worker prior to the pandemic- about $1,000 weekly.

But on July 31st, the expansion that CARES provides will expire, and benefits will return to pre-pandemic amounts. Those currently receiving the maximum payment will see a 61% decrease in their income. In states that offer lower benefit payments, that percentage goes even higher. All of this comes during a national rental crisis, and moratoriums on evictions across the country are also nearing their ends or being extended last minute.

This isn’t the first or only “yuge” hole in the federal government’s COVID-19 safety net. Many Americans (this writer included) have seen neither hide nor hair of their promised stimulus checks. The HEROES act, which is being billed as a second round of stimulus money, remains under debate- as it has been for several weeks.

And the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, which requires certain businesses to provide two weeks of paid leave to workers who may be sick (or caring for someone who is) has plenty of problems too, namely the laundry list of exceptions to it.

This is just the most recent push to return to the pre-virus economy before effective protective measures have been put in place for workers and consumers alike. After all, with cases of COVID-19 spiking again in the US, it’s apparent that the act is still absolutely necessary. Our lawmakers either lack patience, or compassion – take your pick. Frankly, I say it’s both.

Not only have countless health experts warned that reopening too early will be disastrous, but if a second lockdown is in our future, all of the time, money, and human lives that went into reopening will be wasted.

There is a silver lining among the storm clouds on the horizon. Because ballooning unemployment has created long wait times for benefit applicants, unemployment assistance programs are shelling out retroactive back payments to those deemed eligible.

Good news, at least, for laid off workers who have been waiting months to hear their fate.

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Opinion Editorials

Women-owned businesses make up 42% of all businesses – heck yeah!

(EDITORIAL) Women-owned businesses make a huge impact on the U.S economy. They make up 42% of all businesses, outpace the national growth rate by 50%, and hire billions of workers.

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Women entrepreneurs make history in the U.S as female-owned businesses represent 42% of all businesses, while continuing to increase at DOUBLE the national growth rate!

Women are running the world, and we are here for it! The 2019 American Express State of Women-Owned Businesses Report, states 13 million women are now self-employed entrepreneurs. From 2014 to 2019, women-owned businesses grew 21%. Think that’s impressive? Well, businesses owned by women of color grew 43% within the same timeframe, with a growth rate of 50%, and currently account for 50% of all women-owned businesses! Way to go! What this also means is that women employ over 2.4 million workers who together generate $422.5 billion in revenue.

What can we learn from these women that’ll help you achieve success in your businesses?

  1. Get informed: In a male-dominated business industry, women are often at a disadvantage and face multiple biases. So, know your stuff; study, research, and when you think you know it all…dig deeper!
  2. Stay hungry: Remember why you started this journey. Write down notes and reminders, goals, and inspirations, hang them up and keep them close.
  3. Ask for advice: Life is not meant to go through alone, so ask questions. Find a mentor and talk to people who have walked a similar path. Learning from them will only benefit your business.

Many of these women found ways to use their passion to drive their business. It may not be exactly what they thought it would be when they started out, but is it ever? Everyone has to start off small and rejection is part of the process. In fact, stories of rejection often serve as inspiration and encouragement to soon-to-be self starters.

Did you know J.K Rowling’s “Harry Potter” book was turned down TWELVE times? Seven books later with over 400 million copies sold, the Harry Potter brand is currently valued at over 15 billion. While you might not become a wizard-writing fantasy legend like J.K Rowling, you sure as heck can be successful. So go for it, and chase your dreams.

If you want to support women-owned businesses, start by scrolling through Facebook or doing some research to find women-owned businesses in your community. Then, support by buying or helping to promote their products. Small businesses, especially women-owned, black women-owned, and women of color-owned, are disproportionally affected by the current economic crisis ignited by a health pandemic. So if you can, shop small and support local. And remember, there’s a girl (or more) doing a happy dance when you checkout!

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