Practical Support for the Changing World at Work 
Linda F. Willing
P.O. Box 148
Grand Lake, CO
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Consider This...

Fall 2006 Issue Number 87

Is a monthly electronic newsletter which links current events and issues to the daily challenges faced by fire and emergency services managers. Current topics in the areas of leadership development, workplace diversity, change management, and conflict resolution will be discussed.

We hope that you find the information here useful and provocative.
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Upcoming Events  

12th Annual Conference of Fire Service Women, April 25-29, 2007 Oakland, CA. Go to for more information.

In the News

Attitude from the Beginning

The negative effects of “getting up on the wrong side of the bed” aren't just myths anymore. Recent research at the Wharton School of Business has revealed that mood at work is most greatly determined by what happens to you first thing in the morning, and that positive or negative moods formed then can go on to color the rest of the day, regardless of what happens subsequently.

The researchers found that both positive and negative moods affect employee productivity. Most importantly, they discovered that the mood a person brings to work with him or her has stronger effect on the day's mood, and on work performance , than mood changes caused by events in the workplace. “The fact that start-of-the-day mood has such a strong and consistent effect is pretty powerful,” said one researcher. “It is something that organizations don't take seriously.”

This research is important for all organizations but particularly for those that require great resilience and positive attitude from their employees, such as the emergency services . According to these findings, if an employee comes to work in a positive state of mind, little that happens during the day will diminish that. However, if an employee comes to work mired in negativity, little that can happen during the work shift will change that employee's approach.

Another important aspect to this research is the reiteration of how important off-duty factors are in creating a highly functional employee on duty. For example, if employees are sleep deprived, stressed from childcare problems, frustrated by a long commute, or dealing with any other stressful factors first thing in the morning, these issues are likely to affect their work performance for an entire shift. Likewise, what happens immediately upon arrival at work will have disproportionate influence over the rest of the work shift. What is the atmosphere upon arrival at work: inclusive, energetic and structured by positive goals, or polarized, negative, and marked by cynicism? This research points to much greater effect from these factors than previously thought. The researchers wrote, “One of our findings shows that the mood people bring with them at the very start of the workday influenced employee mood more powerfully and more consistently than any other variable... We show that daily mood at work can influence important work outcomes.”

Source: Knowledge@Wharton online

News Brief

Recent challenges that entry level tests for firefighter candidates are too easy have led to changes in the process in one city, and consideration of changes in another. Incumbent firefighters and union officials have complained that both the written and physical abilities portions of current tests in Dallas and Chicago are too easy, and are allowing passing grades for candidates not truly qualified to act as firefighters.

The Chicago Sun Times, September 27, 2006

The Dallas Morning News, September 13, 2006

Sexual Harassment Update

Clarity Matters

Do employers have a legal obligation to provide directives written in plain language for their employees? When it comes to defending themselves against claims that they violated the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA), the answer from a recent lawsuit is clearly yes.

The case concerned layoffs of older workers which occurred at IBM in 2001. The company offered workers severance pay and some other considerations if they signed a waiver of their right to sue under the ADEA for the reduction in force that affected older workers. Under the Older Workers Benefit Protection Act (OWBPA), an addendum to the ADEA, employees may not waive rights or claims arising under the ADEA unless the waiver is “knowing and voluntary.” In order to qualify as knowing and voluntary, among other things, any signed agreement must “be written in a manner calculated to be understood” by the average employee eligible to participate in the agreement.

Many employees signed the waivers required by IBM but some later said that they did not completely understand the terms included in those contracts, and sued on that basis under the OWBPA amendment to the Age Discrimination in Employment Act. Lower courts found in favor of their employer. However, an appeal to the 9 th Circuit Court of Appeals reversed the lower courts' rulings.

The 9 th Circuit pointed to requirements in the law that employers must write such waivers taking into account “such factors as the level of comprehension and education of typical participants” noting that such considerations “usually will require the limitation or elimination of technical jargon and of long, complex sentences.”

The court found that the language included in the waiver, although technically accurate, was sufficiently arcane as to confuse the average employee asked to sign it. Indeed, IBM recommended to the affected employees that they might wish to consult an attorney prior to signing. Quoting a similar case, the court said, “to rely on the agreement's direction to seek legal advice... for clarification of the waiver, would nullify the distinct requirement that the agreement be written in a manner calculated to be understood by the participant (as opposed to his attorney.)” Based on this finding, the court reversed the previous ruling and remanded the case back to lower court for renewed consideration.

This case is a clear reminder that clarity counts– not just in day-to-day communication, but particularly in the writing of documents that hold legal weight in your organization.

Source: Syverson et al v. International Business Machines Corporation (class action) 9 th Circuit Court of Appeals, No. 04-16449

© Linda F. Willing, 2006

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