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Archive for the 'Business' Category

Tuesday - July 8, 2014

Paid to be a Quitter

800px-FEMA_-_37931_-_Meals_Ready_to_Eat_being_moved_by_fork_lift_in_a_Texas_warehouseCompanies that are looking to (wanting to) reduce their workforce (number of employees) will sometimes offer people who are close to retirement (age when people typically stop working, traditionally 65-years-old) something called a “golden parachute.” A “parachute” is something you wear on your back that opens when you jump out of an airplane to slow and soften your landing on the ground. In the old days, when people retired, they were given a gold watch.

A golden parachute, then, is a large payment with perhaps other compensation (something worth money given for work done) that is given as an incentive (enticement; something that makes you want to do something) to quit early. With that extra money, your transition (change from one situation to another) to retirement will be easier.

But how would you like to be paid to quit your job now, even if you’re not close to retirement age? That’s what Amazon.com is doing. It’s offering employees in their fulfillment warehouses (large storage places where orders are prepared for shipping) up to $5,000 to quit their jobs if they are not happy.

The program is called “Pay to Quit” and is offered once a year.  If you quit after the first year, you get $2,000 and that figure (number) increases by $1,000 each year until it tops out at (reaches the maximum or highest number) $5,000.

Why would Amazon pay people to quit? Amazon says that workers who are unhappy and dissatisfied with their jobs cost the company money. They have lower productivity (how much work is done in a given (specific) period of time) and they don’t help to create a good working environment.

Two other large companies have tried this same strategy (plan): Netflix, a large video company, and Zappos, a large online shoe company. All three companies made their decisions based on the data (information) available and have concluded (decided) that having a workforce (all workers for one business or organization) of people who want to be there and who are enthusiastic (happy and excited) to work for the company is worth the expense (money paid) of paying unhappy or disgruntled (unhappy and complaining) people to quit.

Are you in a job you don’t like? The top amount of $5,000 isn’t a lot, but it might help you make the transition to a new job. If you were offered this golden parachute now, would you take it?

- Lucy

Photo Credit: FEMA – 37931 from Wikipedia

Tuesday - May 20, 2014

Do As I Say, Not As I Do

icon_936It has long been an accepted (widely-believed) axiom (rule; law) in the world of marketing (selling things to people) that you never ask people how much money they would pay to buy something. If you ask a group of consumers (buyers), “Would you pay $15 for this?” their answer may be “yes,” but when you actually try to sell it to them, they may not buy it.

Take (Consider; Think about) the example of concert (musical performances) tickets for famous rock stars and other singers. In many U.S. states, you can buy tickets for concerts through what is called a ticket broker, which is basically a company that buys tickets to concerts and sporting events and then resells them to people who want them but weren’t able to get tickets themselves. The price for these tickets can be very high.

For a recent concert by the singer Cher here in Los Angeles, one ticket broker was advertising (telling people they could buy) tickets for $385. Another was advertising the same kind of ticket for $409.

Which ticket would you buy?

Wait! Before you answer, here’s one other important piece of information: the ticket advertised for $385 has an additional (extra) charge you have to pay of $95.82 for a “service fee,” so the total cost of the ticket is $480.82. But you don’t learn about this until you have already started to buy the ticket online. The “real” price comes right before you enter in your credit card information on the website.

In comparison, the $409 ticket includes everything – there is no extra fee. You pay only $409. This is called “all-in pricing,” meaning the price includes everything, with no “surprises” when you go to pay.

Okay, now which one would you buy?

If you ask most people, they will tell you that “of course” they would buy the $409 ticket. But that’s not what actually happens. A lot of people will still buy the “$385″ ticket, which actually costs a lot more.

You see, when you ask people if they want “all-in pricing,” almost everyone says “yes.” But when you then look to see what people actually do – in this case, which tickets people actually buy – it’s often the ticket which seems to have the lower price, even though in the end it is more expensive (costs more money).

There are a couple of possible reasons for this. First, people are used to “added fees” when buying tickets from ticket brokers, so even though one company may say that their price is “all inclusive” (includes all fees and taxes), people may not believe them.

Second, once you take the first step toward some goal (for example, clicking on the Buy button on a website), you are more likely to take the second step, and then the third, and so forth. Of course, you can stop at any time, and many of us do, but stopping means that we have to admit that we made a mistake to begin with, by taking the first step. We don’t like to admit we’re wrong, even if it costs us more money.

We have a saying in English, “Do as I say, not as I do,” meaning that you should follow my advice, do what I am telling you to do, and not what I actually do, since that may be very different.

~Jeff

Image credit: Ticket by Nick Levesque, The Noun Project

Tuesday - April 8, 2014

Rethinking Tattoos

400px-Tattoo_artist_with_latex_glovesAmong some groups in the U.S. today, having a tattoo is becoming more and more commonplace (not unusual; ordinary). A tattoo is permanent writing or drawings made under your skin. Tattoos can be made in almost any shape and size, from a fierce (dangerous; tough fighting) animal or other symbol to words or phrases (often, comically, misspelled or incorrectly written).

About one in five (21%) of Americans have at least one tattoo, up from 16% in 2008, according to a 2012 Harris poll. A separate poll found that among people 18 to 29, the figure (number; percentage) is closer to 40%.

While it’s true that tattoos have become more socially accepted in some parts of American society, there’s still one place where you might want to keep them covered: the place where you work.

Many employers (company owners or bosses) prefer to hire workers without tattoos. That’s almost certainly because, for many people, tattoos continue to carry a stigma (negative views and opinions). According to the Harris poll mentioned above, 45% believed that people with tattoos were less attractive, 27% thought they were less intelligent, and 25% thought they were less healthy.

(Apparently (It seems), companies don’t want to give jobs to people who they think are ugly, stupid, and in poor health. For those like me who are all three of things and who don’t even have a tattoo, this is very bad news indeed!)

Many workplaces actually have policies for people who want to get tattoos or already have them. The U.S. Army, for example, issued new restrictions (limitations; rules on what is allowed) last year on tattoos. The new rules say that tattoos are not allowed on parts of that body that aren’t easily covered, such as the arm below the elbow (where the arm bends) and above the neckline (skin area below the neck and above a shirt). Many hospitals require that employees cover their tattoos, especially ones that may offend (insult) people or frighten children.

Do you have tattoos? Are there rules about tattoos in your workplace? What are your opinions of people with tattoos?

- Jeff

Photo Credit: Tattoo artist with latex gloves from Wikipedia

Tuesday - March 11, 2014

Work Would be Great Without the Coworkers

RED # 18355 64-NA-193The French philosopher Jean-Paul Satre once famously said, “Hell is other people.” I’m not sure who poor old (unfortunate) Jean-Paul’s neighbors, friends, or coworkers (people who work at the same place you do) were, but obviously they were not exactly ideal (perfect; the best possible).

There’s no question (no doubt) that getting along with other people can be difficult, especially when you are at your job. A recent article tried to look on the bright side (focus on the positive) of bothersome (causing trouble) coworkers and suggest ways that these types of people can actually be helpful. I’m not sure if I’m buying that argument (am convinced; agree), but I thought I’d talk about a few common terms used for these difficult types of coworkers in the U.S. Perhaps you know someone who fits (is similar to) one of these descriptions:

  • A social butterfly is a person who likes to talk a lot, be around other people, attend parties and other social events, and meet and know a lot of people.
  • A gossip is someone who likes to talk about other people, even if what he says isn’t true. You can have a social butterfly who just likes to chat (talk informally), but who may also be a gossip.
  • A workaholic is someone who works too much, and is always thinking about work, even when not working.
  • Malcontents are people who are generally unhappy and who may find ways to do things they are not supposed to do, or may express their unhappiness in other ways.
  • Someone who is passive-aggressive is someone who shows her unhappiness in small ways, rather than confronting (meeting face-to-face or openly) the person who is making her unhappy. A passive-aggressive person might misplace (lose temporarily) important papers, not return your phone calls, or “forget” to do the things she promised to do for you. So, it’s possible for someone to be a malcontent who is passive-aggressive. Even worse, this person could be a workaholic who is a passive-aggressive malcontent!
  • A narcissist is someone who believes everything should be focused on him or her, believing his or her own ideas, views, and beliefs are the most important. A person who is a narcissist might attract people who are suck-ups.
  • A suck-up is willing to say or do things — such as compliment someone a lot or say how great he is — to get an advantage in the workplace.
  • Backstabbers are people who pretend to be friendly with you, but make critical (disapproving) comments or do things to harm you when you’re not around.

Who do you think are the most disruptive (interfere with your work or cause the most problems) where you work: social butterflies, gossips, workaholics, narcissists, malcontents, suck-ups, backstabbers, or passive-aggressive people?

- Jeff

Photo Credit: Photograph of the Division of Classification and Cataloging

Tuesday - December 10, 2013

The Peer-to-Peer Economy

774px-Albert_Anker_-_Stillleben_-_UnmässigkeitIn the past few months, I’ve been reading more and more about services that match (put together; connect) people who have something to sell or some service to provide with the people who are looking to buy it. This newer way of doing business, what people are calling the peer-to-peer economy, bypasses (goes around) the middleman (person between the seller and buyer, usually a salesperson). (A peer is someone who is like you in important ways, such as being the same age or with the same status, being in the same grade in school, having the same skills, etc.)

For a few years now, people have been using websites like Airbnb that match people who have accommodations (a place to sleep and stay) to rent for a short time with people who are visiting a city and want a place to stay. It could be as simple as a free sofa, bed, or bedroom to an entire apartment or house. This often cheaper and more roomy (with more space) alternative (other choice) to hotels is appealing (attractive) to many people.

More recently, people have begun to use smartphone apps (computer programs) to give and get rides (transportation in a car or other vehicle), similar to a taxi service. Instead of calling a taxi, you go on the app to see if someone in your area is available to give you a ride. In Los Angeles, for example, actors, musicians, or other people in the entertainment industry (business) with time between auditions (interviews for a performance job) or jobs can make some money this way. There are now companies that screen (check; investigate) a driver’s and car’s records and make sure the person has a proper license, registration (properly registered with the government), and insurance (an agreement with a company to help pay for damages or healthcare costs in case of accidents). Like renting a room in someone’s house, this type of ride service is typically less expensive than using established (already there) services.

New to me until recently are services that allow people to sell a place at their dinner table. Let’s say you’re visiting a new city or a new country and you want to eat some authentic food of that place, perhaps a home-cooked (meal cooked in a home, not a restaurant or bought from a store) meal. You can use these new services to find someone wiling to cook you that meal, or allow you to join them for a meal, and experience what it is like to eat with locals (people who live there) the type of food that a local eats.

For people who are struggling (having difficulty) in the poor economy of recent years, this type of peer-to-peer service helps to make ends meet (earn enough money to pay for the necessary things to live). For others, it’s a way to supplement (add to) their earnings (pay).

Are these types of services available where you live? Have you participated in the peer-to-peer economy? If not, would you consider renting out a room in your home, giving someone a ride in your car, or cooking them a meal in your own home?

- Lucy

Image Credit: Albert Anker-Stillleben from Wikipedia

Tuesday - September 10, 2013

Headline English: A Modest Step Toward a Grand Bargain

Peaceful_ResolutionLet’s talk about a business headline today. This one comes from a recent issue of Bloomberg Magazine, one of the largest business magazines in the United States. Here’s the headline:

A Modest Step Toward a Grand Bargain

The news story is about the president of the United States trying to negotiate (work out; come to an agreement over) a deal (agreement) with Congress. In the U.S. political system, as you probably know, Congress is a group of elected representatives in charge of (responsible for) passing or approving laws. After Congress approves a new law, the president has to sign or agree to the law. (It doesn’t always work exactly that way, but that’s the normal process.)

Now, one of the problems that we have in our modern American economy is the same as in many economies: how much should people pay in taxes? That is, how much money should businesses and individuals have to pay the government for the government to do its job?

The headline is about negotiations between the president and Congress. It begins with the words “a modest step.” The adjective modest usually refers to a person who is humble, a person who doesn’t brag, a person who doesn’t like to talk about himself or herself. If someone compliments (says something nice about) a modest person, that person might say, “Oh no, that’s not really true. I’m not very good at that.”

In the headline, “modest” is used to mean something slightly different. It means a very small amount of something. In this case, we’re talking about how much progress is being made toward a certain goal. A step is normally a movement of your feet, moving one leg in front of the other to walk. You have to take steps in order to walk, but we also use that expression, “to take steps,” to mean to make progress, to do things.

So, a modest step is a small amount of progress toward some destination, some goal. The goal in this case is a grand bargain. The word bargain can have a couple of different meanings. One meaning for bargain is a good deal, a cheap price for something that you’re buying. But a bargain can also be an agreement. To make a bargain is to agree to do something. That’s the meaning that is used in the headline.

Finally, we come to the word grand. “Grand,” like modest and bargain, has a couple of different meanings. Here, it means something important, something large, something that is very complex and complicated that is going to solve a lot of different problems at once.

This phrase, “a grand bargain,” is actually quite common in American politics. You will see it in reading about American history, usually to describe how different political groups come to some agreement that solves a lot of  important problems.

In our story, the president and Congress are trying to come to a grand bargain about how much people should pay in taxes. I’m not sure how exactly it will all work out (what the specific result will be), but I’m guessing that whatever they agree to, it won’t be a bargain (good deal) for American taxpayers.

~Jeff

Photo credit: Peaceful Resolution by Nomadic Lass, Flickr CC

Tuesday - August 20, 2013

Your Office May be Getting in the Way of Your Work

800px-OpenPlanRedBalloon1If you’ve worked in an American office in the past 10 to 15 years, you may have noticed a change in its configuration (how things are arranged, including furniture and equipment). In recent years, large office spaces have been built to foster or encourage collaboration, working closely and productively with coworkers.

This has meant fewer traditional cubicles (workspaces with a desk and chair and high walls on three sides, without touching the ceiling). Instead, modern offices tend to have lower cubicle walls or open plans, where people sit close to their coworkers, sometimes facing each other and sometimes sharing one large desk area. The idea is that coworkers would get to know each other better, share ideas more often, and ultimately (in the end; as a result) produce better and more creative work. Not surprisingly, this type of office space also takes up (uses) less room (space) and companies can fit more employees into a given office space.

A recent study reported in the Wall Street Journal, however, says that open plan office spaces may not be helping workers get more work done. Open plan offices tend to be more distracting (for one’s attention to not remain on one thing) and workers find it hard to focus, taking more time to complete their work. The authors of the study say that the best type of office spaces tend to be ones that have a combination of spaces where people can work alone and places where people can work with others, so that they can choose where they want to work at different parts of the day.

I have never worked in an office that had an open plan. When I worked in an office early in my career, I always worked in a traditional cubicle or shared an office with one or two other people. Even with just one or two people working close by, I found it distracting hearing them on the phone or talking to a coworker. I can’t imagine working in a large space with a lot of other people.

Now, working on the podcast, I work in my own office and I can shut the doors when there is too much noise. Occasionally, I’ll go to a cafe to work, but I can seldom write in that environment unless I have headphones (earphones) in to block out ambient noise (noises around me). Even so, I prefer silence when I write or edit. I don’t think I have very good powers of concentration (ability to focus well when there is noise or activity around).

If you work in an office, what kind of workspace do you have? What is your preferred work environment? Do you like working in an open plan workspace or do you like a more self-contained (independent) space?

~ Lucy

Photo Credit: OpenPlanRedBalloon1 from Wikipedia

Thursday - February 14, 2013

Dynamic Pricing

800px-Onedolar2009seriesOne thing we are accustomed to (used to) when we shop is prices going up and down with sales and seasonal (different time of the year) deals. But what about prices changing frequently, as much as every 10 or 15 minutes?

If you’re like many Americans, you’re doing more and more of your shopping online (on the Internet). Popular websites are now using dynamic pricing to get the best price for their goods (items for sale) and urging (encouraging) you to buy. Dynamic pricing is when a business uses computer programs with complex (not simple) algorithms (math formula; math rules a computer follows in computing) to figure out the best price for a product. This algorithm takes into account (includes in its calculations) things such as inventory levels (how much of a product the seller has), competitor prices (how much other stores are charging), how quickly the item is selling in a given time frame (a certain amount of time), and your buying history (what you have already purchased from that website).

Dynamic pricing is not new. If you’ve purchased an airline ticket in the past 20 years, you know that you may get a different price depending on when you make your reservation (booking before purchasing). In recent years, some sports teams have begun to price their tickets according to how popular a game is predicted (expected) to be and how many tickets have already sold, among other things, to make sure that it sells the most tickets possible. Now, this practice (way of doing things) is being used for all kinds of products.

I noticed dynamic pricing when using a popular online retailer (seller): Amazon. Amazon’s pricing system is so sophisticated that it’s a mystery to most people. However, if you ever put an item in your shopping cart (list of things you’re getting ready to buy) and leave it there for a few days or a few weeks, you’ll see the price changing, perhaps many times over that time period, depending on the factors I mentioned above and more, including what you buy in the meantime. This use of customer information is somewhat (kind of; fairly) controversial because some critics (people who don’t like it) say that it’s an invasion of privacy (viewing and using of personal information without your knowledge or permission). However, it’s being done all of the time, and not just with large retailers like Amazon.

Have you noticed dynamic pricing used in your online shopping? What do you think of this pricing practice?

~ Lucy

Photo Credit: Onedolar2009series from Wikipedia

Thursday - January 31, 2013

Yelp It!

In the old days, we learned about new restaurants, stores, and other businesses through word of mouth (one person telling another). We still do that these days, but many people have taken that online (on the Internet) to websites that allow user reviews (comments written by users or customers). One user review website that has become very popular in recent years is Yelp.com.

The word yelp means a short, sharp cry that comes out of your mouth when something suddenly gives you pain or surprises you. I associate yelping more with animals, like dogs, than with people, but if someone stepped on my foot, I would certainly yelp.

The website Yelp started in 2004 and allows people to post user reviews about restaurants, stores, services, and even prisons.  What?!  Prisons??  Yes, even U.S. prisons are listed on Yelp’s website and anyone can post a review of these “graybar hotels.” I don’t think anything could induce me (attract and convince me) to check in to a graybar hotel, but it’s interesting to read what former (in the past) or current inmates (prisoners) and those who visit inmates think of the prisons.

More commonly, people use Yelp to read about customers’ experiences before going to a new place or using a new service, and it’s a place where people can write laudatory (praising; complimentary) reviews or gripe (complain) about their experience. It’s so popular these days that it’s not uncommon to hear people use the verb “to yelp” to mean to read reviews on Yelp (or even other websites) similar to the way people use “to google” to mean to search the Internet, no matter what search engine they use.

In the past, I’ve used Yelp to get recommendations on all kinds of places and services: restaurants, car repair, plumbing repair, movers, hair salons, and many more.

Is there a popular user review website where you live? Do you use it, and if so, for what types of businesses or services?

~ Lucy

Photo Credit: Cele.jpg from Wikipedia

Tuesday - November 20, 2012

No Learning English at Work, Please

Many businesses worry about their employees wasting time (not doing what you’re supposed to be doing; being unproductive) at work when they use the Internet. A common solution is to install (put in) special software that will block (prevent; stop) you from accessing (looking at) websites the software deems (decides; determines) are a waste of your (and the company’s) time. Sometimes the software gets carried away (goes too far; does too much), however.

I recently went to a mechanic (someone who fixes cars) in order to get an oil change (when you put in new motor oil into your car’s engine). Like a lot of places nowadays, the garage (place where you get your car fixed) had wifi for its customers, so I fired up (turned on) my laptop and tried to navigate (go to) a few websites.

Since it was a workday (a day I normally work; Monday through Friday), I needed to check out the ESL Podcast website for a few things. But when I tried to go to eslpod.com, I wasn’t allowed to access it. Instead (in place of getting it), I got a notice (see photo) which said:

Block Reason: Forbidden Category “Education.”

Forbidden means not allowed, not permitted.

Apparently, websites related to education were considered a waste of time by the software.

So, folks (guys; informal for “people”), be careful about learning too much at work. It might be considered a waste of time by your company’s software.

~Jeff

Photo credit: Jeff McQuillan