Category Archives: office

Spring Forward; Fall Back.

With the purpose of reducing energy consumption, the Daylight Saving Time (DST), also known as Summer Time in some countries, is a practice that was first set forth by Benjamin Franklin during the late 1700’s when he insisted on the idea of French people rising early, completing their work throughout sunlight hours, and thereby reducing the amount of lamp oil used and candle money spent by calling it a day earlier. However, this idea wasn’t implemented until the early 1900’s in Europe during World War I (WWI), a few years after “London builder William Willett … proposed advancing clocks 20 minutes on each of four Sundays in April, and retarding them by the same amount on four Sundays in September.”
Back then, and after the approval of several acts relating to DST by the U.S. Parliament, the time established for changing the clocks was 2:00 a.m. on a Sunday. Nevertheless, the observance of this practice was soon revoked in the U.S. and employed again in the early years of World War II (WWII) for the period of the energy crisis in 1974 through a “double daylight saving time (2 hours ahead) during the summer months.” Finally, during the mid-1900’s the Uniform Time Act set forth the rules of regular DST all over the U.S. extending such period from the Sunday following the third Saturday in April until the first Sunday in October. This provision was later revised during the late 1900’s to change the DST period so that it would extend from the first Sunday of April until the last Sunday of October.

Even though the point in DST has been explained for years and may be obvious to most people, a great portion of the population still doesn’t get it. The rationale behind DST is to facilitate the adjustment of daylight hours with waking time and work hours so that the amount of artificial light needed in residences and the workplace can be reduced. As a result of this, the consumption of limited resources such as oil and coal is also reduced, which allows the world to simply conserve energy and make better use of daylight. This is so because the amount of human activity is greater in the early evening than in the early morning, so the shift forward in time during the period of the year with the most hours of daylight (late spring, summer and early fall) results for instance, in longer summer days, which means people save electric power since they will be home fewer hours or simply don’t need to use power until after the sun sets at night.

It has been proved that the energy reduction in the evening when people go to bed early outbalances the amount of electricity consumed by people who wake up before dawn. This wouldn’t be the case if the DST was not in place because early birds would still consume more energy in the morning without saving any energy in the evening resulting from the extended sunlight that DST entails. In other words, DST “saves energy for lighting in all seasons of the year, but it saves least during the four darkest months of winter (November, December, January, and February,) when the afternoon advantage is offset by the need for lighting because of late sunrise.”

Although the “power use in the commercial and institutional sectors … tends to be more or less constant throughout the day,” DST has been shown to save about 1% of electricity every day in the U.S., which is a small but significant quantity when we take into account that this percentage amount is equal to “100,000 barrels of oil per day.” In other countries the proportion of energy saved reaches the 3.5 and even 5%, “yet, the implementation of Daylight Saving Time has been fraught with controversy since Benjamin Franklin first conceived of the idea,” and outbreaks of confusion and resistance have made obvious that “not everyone is a fan.”

Ever since DST was first implemented, farmers have argued that the time shift gets in the way of their customary work schedule, IT professionals have been worried about technical malfunctioning, and authorities have mentioned “that energy is not always saved.” Furthermore, some complaints have been filed regarding the increase in sleep disorders due to difficulties in adjusting to new sleep schedules, the increment in accidents, and the inconvenience of changing clocks. Other arguments revolve around the increase in oil consumption due to people running errands and visiting relatives during the early evenings of long summer days and those using their air conditioning (AC) devices at their homes for extended periods of time on warm summer afternoons.

Moreover, some people propose leaving the time alone and having darker mornings rather than earlier darker afternoons during winter, reasoning that if “it stayed lighter longer, we would use less energy to light up our homes,” but what they fail to consider is that what we called the “’Normal’ time is the way we set our clocks in winter — when it gets dark in the late afternoon (5:00 PM or earlier).” This means that we actually apply the DST not during winter, but spring, when we set our clocks an hour forward, which allows us “to sleep in until 6:00 AM and not be awakened by the sun at 5:00.” During spring, the days tend to be longer and the sun rises earlier, let’s say at 5:00 AM, but since we shift time an hour ahead, it will then be 6:00 AM when the sun rises. During this time of the year we have more light both in the morning and in the early evening, but since we need most of the daylight during nights, we shift that hour from morning to night.

Although the main idea behind DST is to save priceless energy, an extra public health benefit to DST has been recognized, as it is “supposed to lower the incidents of traffic accidents and crime, and boost the morale of people suffering from Seasonal Affective Disorder;” this is supported by several American and British studies revealing that the net number of traffic incidents during DST (evening hours) is reduced by almost 1%, which offsets the smaller increase in accidents occurred during dark winter mornings. In addition, and due to the shifting of one daylight hour from morning to evening, individuals have also more daylight time and sunny summer evenings to enjoy from outdoor activities after work or school.

Different latitudes have different DST clock-change dates, and some countries are not affected by this practice. For instance, there is no DST in India, Japan, and China, and countries near the tropic and the equator are also immune to DST since “day and night are nearly the same length (12 hours)” all year round; however, those countries that are closer to The Poles tend to have longer daylight periods during the summer season.

In the European Union (EU) DST starts the last Sunday in March at 2:00 AM (GMT time), and it ends at 2:00 AM the last Sunday in October (it was today for me,) and the change in all time zones in the union occur at the same instant following the 1996 DST regularization. In the States, the traditional DST as established under the Uniform Time Act has been recently changed with the endorsement of the Energy Policy Act of 2005, which states that beginning 2007, the U.S. DST will begin at 2:00 AM and extend from the second Sunday in March (rather than the first in April) and will revert to standard time on the first Sunday in November (rather than the usual last in October.) Unlike in the EU, “in the U.S., each time zone switches at a different time,” and the implications of the new DST seem to be varied.

The new U.S. proposal for extending the DST is assumed to save further energy based on the previous 1975 study yielding the 1% power saving. However, some officials have argued that the study is not only outdated but also inconclusive and that it “failed to consider the net energy impact of extending DST into March.” More recent studies examining the effects of undertaking DST three weeks earlier this year on energy consumption have concluded that such practice is likely to yield only modest improvements on energy conservation, traffic safety and crime prevention. For this reason, “Congress retains the right to revert to the by-now traditional American DST schedule” after the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) completes a study on the net energy impact of extending DST and reveals whether the overall results show a “peak electricity use by shifting some electricity consumption from the high-demand evening hours to lower-demand – and, incidentally, cheaper – morning hours.”

In Canada, some controversy emerged since in certain regions, extending the DST as suggested by the U.S. would possibly call for the amendment of existing provincial laws, as would be the case in Quebec. Canadian authorities initially refused the proposal by claiming that “extending DST by four weeks is unlikely to significantly alter energy consumption patterns in this country” since in some cities such as Ontario “the sun would have set by the time most people get home, even with DST.” Nevertheless, and considering the interrelation and integration of both the U.S. and Canadian economies, Canada decided to follow the U.S. lead this year and adopt the American DST policy.

Some countries observe DST and some others do not, and “throughout history there have been several variants on this, such as half adjustment (30 minutes) or double adjustment (two hours), and adjustments of 20 and 40 minutes have also been used.” Each country or region observes DST it in a different way as it was the case with the extended DST in the U.S. and Canada this year, so although the future of DST can’t be predicted, this practice works and it does save energy.

“Just as sunflowers turn their heads to catch every sunbeam, so too have we discovered a simple way to get more from our sun.”

Image by: Jenny Rollo @ Stock.Xchng


Posted by on October 28, 2007 in conservation, DST, energy, history, office, power, savings, time, work


The Most Powerful Force in The World

Consisting of the total number of employees actively working or available for work in a specific nation, region, or company at a particular point in time, the workforce represents the most important resource available when it comes to making an organization succeed. However, some degree of employee commitment is required so that recruits stay in tune with their organization to achieve business goals, but if the workforce impact on the success of a company is so evident and essential, then why is it so tough for companies to recruit and retain ‘perfect’ employees, and moreover, are such employees really in the employment market?
Although many positions in different industries are in high demands, many companies don’t have the necessary human resources available to recruit the right, best and most competitive applicants. The decision of hiring new recruits is not simply about filling job openings but about employing people who will stay with the company in the long run, but how and where do employers find perfect candidates? I think the answer extends beyond simply recruiting the people who are most fit for the job, and it reaches out to having the corporation committed to keeping good performers who already are a part of the organization. Nonetheless, many employers fail to spend in their people because training programs can be expensive. Even so, what they also fail to consider are the costs of turnover, of advertising openings, and of spending time screening resumes and interviewing new candidates to say the least. So how can employers have ideal employees if they’re not wiling to invest in their human resources and prepare their people for the kind of jobs they are to perform?

In my search for my less-than-ideal job here in Spain, I’ve come across companies that don’t have a HR department, and the ones that do, don’t adequately use their resources to recruit new candidates. Most of the interviews I’ve been to at both small and large corporations are deficient in orderliness, and people who aren’t nearly prepared for interviewing have performed many of them. I’ve encountered interviewers who seem to ask questions from the top of their heads, happen to go over the resume in front of me making obvious that they haven’t looked at it in detail in advance, and they also seem to inquire about issues that aren’t relevant to the job and most of which would be illegal in the States. Being my field of expertise I can ascertain that the importance of a HR department and of people who are trained to interview and recruit applicants is essential to the success of any organization be it small or big, so sometimes I find hard to believe the informality that characterize many companies when it comes to handling its scarce resources.

As another example, I’ve gone to interviews where they have asked me to describe and rate myself on certain aspects, but in addition to those subjective questions I haven’t seen any other standard measures that would allow an interviewer to actually compare potential employees. I know what employers are looking for and the answers they want to hear on interviews, and for anyone who has this information and even for someone who just uses commonsense, it would be easy to lie during the interview not because the candidate is a liar or cheater, but because the competition is fierce in the employment market and we all want the kinds of job that are in short supply.

One of the interviewers I met with, and who also happened to be owner of a medium-size corporation, told me that he liked my professional profile but that he didn’t like my age. He said young people tend to have less clear objectives and that they tend not to last within the organization. Aside from stereotyping and making discriminatory remarks, he furthermore said that during interviews these candidates would say something about themselves and then they would show different behaviors on the job, but of course he hasn’t thought about the fact that his people are asking applicants to rate themselves during interviews when interviewers should be the ones rating and evaluating candidates. Moreover they’re not asking the kinds of questions that could reveal the true personality of potential employees, but rather those that are for the most part irrelevant to the position in matter.

The most relevant problem that comes to mind is the fact that employers want perfect employees, but they are less-than-perfect employers. To begin with and like aforementioned, job interviews oftentimes lack the formality and structure that they should have so that interviewers avoid typical errors and subjectivity. In addition, employers are frequently reluctant to be up-front about their expectations of the job, and as a result, people like me who are potential candidates leave the interview feeling like they don’t have a clear understanding of the job or of what is expected. Moreover, many employers are hesitant about making job offers when they come across a candidate who has a good chance of being successful on the job. They aren’t ready to offer packages that match or beat those presented by competitors or additional perks that can compensate for less-than-ideal salaries and shifts.

For instance, I’ve gone to lots of interviews for positions that were advertised as administrative, and after getting to the interviewing site, I realized that the job they actually offered was completely different from what they had advertised. Have companies thought about the impact that these misleading ads have on applicants and their thoughts of the organization? If you ask me, I’m tired of feeling like these interviews are a total waste of time. These employers make you go to an interview because they refuse to give you the details of the offer such as the salary, the working hours or the job duties in advance, and they also make sure to sell you a position that doesn’t really exist. Of course you don’t know this until you get to the interview. Once there they start talking about the duties you’ll be responsible for only to make you aware that it is nothing like what appeared on the newspaper.

So the workforce is left facing with managers who demand ideal employees and by ideal I don’t simply mean responsible, organized, determined, friendly, enthusiastic, and innovative people, but I mean candidates who are actually willing to take the crappy salaries that employers offer, become accomplices in the unlawful practices that owners and the company might engage into, people who are willing to work 11- or 12-hour shifts without receiving extra payment, applicants who are willing to sign contracts that state they’re earning less money than they actually are so that the corporation can evade its taxes and people who simply fit in whatever employers need from a newly hired individual, and I don’t mean job-related factors but more personality and attitude traits that define whether the employee will put up or not with the company’s not-always-legal way of doing business.

So there comes a point where it doesn’t matter whether you are truly qualified but rather whether you are willing to take the less-than-ideal working conditions in exchange for the less-than-ideal salary that employers offer. As an illustration, take my case for example. I only got a job recently after a long search that I started five months earlier. Considering I’m a graduate student with a BBA in both Management and HR Management and that I graduated summa cum laude, I thought I had a pretty darn good chance of getting a job. I didn’t have high expectations or ambitions because I know I need to work my way up and that it will be a while before I actually find my dreamed job, but I still thought I could get something fairly close to what I was looking for according to my qualifications, experience, talents and abilities. Well, it turns that that wasn’t the case, and I learned that my abilities don’t make me any more attractive over other candidates, at least not in the employment market of which I’m currently a part, and I realized that in spite of what I was taught in college, the reality out here is different.

I literally applied to dozens of jobs and went to quite a few interviews, and I experienced and saw so many things I didn’t like or understand that I can’t even begin to describe them. Based on all this, I can’t help but to highlight what is in my opinion the poor quality of management at most of the companies I’ve been to. These organizations go for an “employees-are-paid-to-do-a-job” approach that fails to consider the motivational aspect of employment. Employers’ attitude comes down to feeling like employees should be thankful that the owners of the company are feeding them when in reality the company would be nothing without its people. So who’s feeding whom?

If you think of it in biological terms, the employee-employer relationship could be compared to a mutualism in which both organisms involved are supposed to benefit, but in reality many of these associations end up being parasitism as employers benefit at the expense of employees. If employers would spend more time wittily thinking about what motivates employees, then there would be a mutual advantage to both. However, the fact remains that employers want committed employees when they are not willing to commit themselves or the company’s resources to their people.

A couple of other examples can be mentioned to reflect this point, and this time I’m talking about true stories that took place in the States. I once worked for a company that had me training for a week, I was to work for them a specific shift and after I made clear to them what my time availability was; they decided to hire me. All of a sudden after a week of training me on the job, they realized that the shift I was doing was not the shift they needed me to do. Then why the hell did they hire me in the first place to work that shift if they needed someone for a different shift I couldn’t even do because of school? That remains a mystery to me, but the worst part is that they didn’t pay me for the 30 hours I worked because they decided the training wasn’t paid. I would understand they do that with someone they’ll be hiring permanently, but with someone they’re kicking on the butt it is kind of unfair. A friend of mine was also hired to work as a salesclerk for a company who on his first day of work told him they didn’t have time to train him. Then why did they bother to interview him, make him wear a uniform and show up to work if they would be then giving him the “F-you” word on his first day on the job? Like I’ve mentioned above commitment is a key factor.

Further issues arise when employees don’t feel like the company honestly cares about them, and although such a thoughtless practice is far from successful when it comes to managing employees, many employers fail to positively an openly interact with its people. The outcome of this is workers who don’t know what they’re supposed to do and what’s expected of them, which at the same time results in poorly committed employees who become dissatisfied and unmotivated and are therefore more likely to take part in unethical activities. All employees have a sense of their own value, so workers who feel like they’re not being fairly rewarded and treated are more prone to trying to balance the scales. Because of this and because employees need to cover their financial needs, employers need to pay more attention to the importance of having a committed workforce that helps the organization succeed.

Both parties need to be committed to each other so that the mutual relation can work. The problem is many employers are not devoted to their people, and they fear employees going to work for competitors in the industry or giving away confidential information. But why would employees want to be loyal to a company that is not loyal to them? What reasons do organizations give to employees so that they want to be faithful to the company? Employees are not committed to the organization not because they can’t be or don’t want to be, but because they feel the company is not committed to them and therefore, they are not motivated to be committed in return.

Consider the case of my sister who works at a real state agency. Her company requires that all employees have a car and a cell phone, but the company is not willing to pay for gas or the telephone bills that employees incur in the normal course of business, which doesn’t make any sense to me because the company should provide the employee with the tools they need to work; in this case a car or at least a budget for gas expenses and a company phone or reimbursement for cell phone expenditures in any case, considering these are all work-related. In addition, she has a commission-based position so the base salary is around 500 euros that basically is what she spends on the car payment and insurance, gas, and cell phone while her car keeps depreciating and is about to hit the 20,000 miles in a span of less than a year. Then she earns commissions but only if the office sells, and the percentage they get from a total of a 6000- or 1200-euro commission is less than 1%. How is an employee under these conditions supposed to save or make a decent living, and how does this company support employees’ efforts?

Along the same line, company policy dictates that she is to work extra hours during the weekends in case she needs to show a property but without collecting extra pay or redeeming those hours from her regular shift. So you tell me what sense this makes and what sense of commitment this company displays. The company asks employees to go show properties on their days off if necessary, but then they don’t compensate employees for extra hours worked or allow them to recover those hours from their regular schedule. Why do employees keep working for companies like this? What happens is that these employees can’t afford to quit their jobs because as picky as they may be when it comes to choosing what they’re willing to do for a job, there comes a point where one can’t meet the expense of being unemployed and one ends up taking anything that comes around even if it’s not remotely linked to what one was originally willing to do and even if the working conditions are not slightly close to what is fair and decent.

Although the motivating factors that lead a worker to perform at par on the job depend widely on each person and although they vary from one employee to the other, it is broadly known that people work to obtain something in exchange, and this something comes in the form of compensation and benefits, which have a great impact on employees’ morale, motivation and the quality of their lives. Having a meaningful job, serving customers or simply accomplishing personal goals can be great job motivators for different workers, but at the end of the day work is indeed about the money because it is money what allows employees to pay the rent, their bills, provide for their families and make a living. Therefore, employers who underestimate the importance of compensation and benefits as the basis of a successful business that recruits and retain its people are at fault.

Nevertheless, attracting the best employees is an effort that entails more than average-paying positions. People want more from work than money and even though workers’ needs and wants are highly situational, most employees simply want to feel like they belong to the company and like they are an important part of the company’s mission. Employees usually look for recognition because of their accomplishments and they additionally want a stable job that gives them an opportunity to grow both personally and professionally while they are also able to apply their knowledge on the job for the company’s benefit. Workers need to be provided with timely feedback so that their performance can be accordingly aligned to the company’s goals and purpose. For this reason it is essential that employers focus on what matters to their employees if they are to achieve business success.

As I see it, the bottom line is employers often forget that the most important resource is the human resource because that is what moves the company and keeps it going, and employers can’t make customers happy if they don’t make their employees happy in the first place. What motivation do employees have to sell a product, offer a service or provide customer care if they don’t feel they are cared for by their employers? And the same results are obtained when we think of employees who feel threatened that employers will replace them in the first slight chance they have to recruit “more fit” workers to occupy their positions. Moreover, many employers also underestimate the importance that workers place on such things as a fair salary, flexible working hours and prospects for advancement and career paths within the organization, which are all elements that employees consider when making their decision to join or leave a company.

A good position is not only about having a good job description or a list of job duties that the employee is supposed to perform, but it is about a good working environment and working conditions, which include compensation and benefits. It is about forming employees; training them and making them better prepared for the positions they fill. But when most or all of these elements are absent, then we face employees who need to look out for themselves and they’re therefore always thinking of finding a better position, looking for a better job and simply giving a shot even if it’s long to other opportunities that may pay better results and provide them with a better chance of making a decent living and feeling like they’re cared for.

Because workforce commitment is highly influenced by organizational practices, employers need to participate actively in addressing the company’s issues that are likely to affect the organization’s people in the future. Recruiting and retaining the right employees is a crucial factor, in which training plays the most important role. Workers want to succeed at their jobs, but they can’t if they’re not provided with the necessary tools and skills and with a clear idea of what they’re supposed to do. Employers can’t overlook the fact that people are the most important asset to the organization and for this reason they deserve to be adequately treated, and the necessary resources need to be invested so that a culture of mutual commitment develops within the organization in such a way that the business is ultimately directed to achieving success.

Image by: Davide Guglielmo @ Stock.Xchng

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Posted by on March 3, 2007 in employment, HR, office, work, workforce

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