Bed Bugs

Recently, I was hanging out at the pool with a friend and she was telling me about an incident where one of her children had head lice. I shuddered at the thought and thanked God none of my six children had ever had such an incident. What a nightmare that would be! Little did I know what would be in store for me a few weeks later.

A few nights ago we got home late from a swim meet. We were all hot, sweaty and tired. I was putting my youngest to bed, a task normally left to my husband, and noticed a lot of bloody dots on her sheets. Upon looking further I saw a bunch of black dots on her quilt and then I saw a bug. My heart sunk. I was in denial but I knew right away it was not good.

I told my daughter to go lay down in her brother’s bed and I hit the computer. I was right.  We had a major problem — bed bugs! Where in the world did they come from? I called for my husband and we stripped the bed and threw everything in trash bags and put them outside. We closed the door and I tried not to think about it since I knew there was nothing we could do until the next morning. I didn’t sleep well that night. I was horrified that my little girl, who suspiciously had had a lot of mosquito bites lately, was most likely bitten and sleeping with those things.

The next morning I started calling the exterminator at 7:00 a.m. I finally reached someone at 8:15 and they said they could send an inspector over that afternoon.  She asked me a lot of questions: Had we traveled recently? Did we go to a movie? Did we buy any used furniture or mattresses? The answer was no. Later it occurred to me that we had moved my son home from college about a month before. He had a futon we had put upstairs in the playroom to store. My daughter plays up there all of the time. Another son had already dealt with mice in his dorm room so why not bed bugs? I think we had our source.

The exterminator came and confirmed my suspicion. They were only found in the playroom and my daughter’s room. Somehow they were not in my college son’s room or any of the other bedrooms. We were going to have to pack up everything in those rooms and put it all in sealed black plastic bags. Then it all had to be hauled outside to sit in the sun. Heat kills the bugs. I also had to wash ALL of my daughter’s clothing and put anything I could in the dryer. Then came the estimate for the extermination. It was over $2000! There was a lot that went into the treatment. The bugs are hard to get rid of. While pricey, I didn’t care. I just wanted them gone.

 So we packed everything up. Luckily there were plenty of helping hands to put everything outside. Meanwhile, our bedroom became full of excess laundry we couldn’t put away. I hate clutter. It has been driving me crazy!

The exterminators came. They asked a lot of questions. They decided we should probably clear the college boys’ rooms so they could treat there and I needed to wash all of their bedding even though there was no sign of bugs. Ugh! Another day of washing and drying, washing and drying. In the meantime, the regular laundry of eight people has been building up.

So the treatment has been done. We have the all clear to move everything back. I have been assured that everything is good now. But I’m so afraid to bring all that stuff back in the house. What if we missed something or something didn’t die?  Should we throw away more stuff? But so much of it are my daughter’s toys and very expensive to replace.

 I guess we’ll have to make some decisions as we open up the bags. I think it’ll be months before I can pull back the sheets on anyone’s beds and not look in terror for signs of more bugs. My husband is going to be traveling extensively in the next few months. I’ll worry about what he might bring home. I’ve been assured that in time, I’ll look at this as a distant memory and I’m sure I will. I wouldn’t wish this on anyone though. Not only the expense and work, but also the emotional drain. I would advise everyone to inspect hotel rooms, don’t bring home used upholstered furniture or mattresses and also be wary of anything coming from a college dorm. I certainly have learned my lesson.

Elizabeth Cogswell Baskin

How to Talk to Employees About Supreme Court’s Health Care Decision

Is your internal communications team prepared to respond to the Supreme Court’s health care decision? Whatever the court decides today about the Affordable Care Act, you can bet employees will be talking about it. Here are some issues to keep in mind:

Employees will be anxious. It goes without saying that illness and health-related issues can be emotional, anxiety provoking issues. Employees will be concerned about how the changes will impact their families, not just health-wise but also financially.

Be honest, even if it’s bad news. When you don’t give employees information about an upcoming change, what they imagine can be far worse than the reality. Plus, by being open about any negative repercussions in your company can help build trust with employees.

It’s okay to say you don’t know yet. Most likely, your company won’t yet know all the answers to the questions employees will ask. If so, be straightforward about that too.

Use the Yes But tool. If you do expect the ruling will result in some unpopular results at your company, try to pair a negative with a positive. For instance: “Yes, the amount employees pay for health coverage is likely to rise” could be followed by one of these sorts of buts: “But, not until 2013.” “But our insurance will still cover dependents up to age 26.”  “But the company is going to absorb some of that cost.”

Keep politics out of it. This has been and will continue to be a politically charged issue and politics has no place in employee communications. Your messaging should be about how employees at your company will be affected, not about whether the Supreme Court’s decision is right or wrong.

Internal communications can help reduce stress. By handling this issue openly and immediately, you can reduce the stress many employees are bound to be feeling. And any time you can reduce employee stress, you’ll help increase productivity.

Elizabeth Cogswell Baskin

Monday Zen: Make a Feng Shui Bagua Box

A bagua box is a way to combine both feng shui and visualization to help create the career and/or life of your dreams. For many years, I’ve seen the power of  both affirmations and visualization in my own life and business. I’ve also felt tremendous value in attending to the feng shui in Tribe’s office, our  home and even the placement of items on my desk.

Recently, I developed a tool to take advantage of both. It’s a crafty sort of project, so who knows? Maybe you can reap the added benefit of bringing out your inner child or artistic spirit at the same time.

First, a few definitions: One principle of feng shui is that any building, room, or space can be divided into the nine baguas. (Google “bagua map” and you’ll find plenty of examples, or try this link.) There is a bagua for career, one for wealth, one for helpful people, and so on. For instance, many people will place a green plant in the wealth corner of a room to help increase prosperity.

A treasure map is like the Pinterest of affirmations and visualization. With affirmations, you write a statement that you want to be true, like “I am now being promoted to vice president.” (For more on using affirmations, see last week’s Monday Zen post.) Visualization is the exercise of seeing in your own mind what you want to create in your life. The more clearly you can see it, the more likely you are to feel you can achieve it.

In the old days, we used to build treasure maps by cutting pictures out of old magazines. Now you can find almost any visual you want online. Either way, what you’re looking for is visuals that evoke the reality you want to create. For a treasure map, you collect a bunch of pictures that resonate for you and then glue them down in a big collage on a piece of poster board.

Here’s how to make  your bagua box:

1.  Find a nice box with a lid. A shoebox is fine, a hinged-lid cigar box is even better. It doesn’t need to be a square box; the baguas stretch to accomodate the shape of the space. (Instead of nine little squares you’ll have nine baguas that are rectangular.)

2. On the inside of the lid, glue or draw a bagua map. If you can find one online that fits the dimensions of your box, great. Otherwise, just draw the nine squares (like a tic-tac-toe board) and label each one with its particular bagua. Most baguas can apply to more than one aspect. For instance, there’s one for Creativity/Children/Projects. For each bagua, pick the one aspect that’s most applicable to your particular situation.

3. Collect photos to symbolize what you want. Or to symbolize the energy you want to bring to that bagua. For example, maybe stacks of gold coins symbolize wealth to you. A  picture of a luxury sports car might be your symbol of wealth — or maybe it just helps you visualize the speed with which you hope to increase your earnings.

4. Note the colors and elements of each bagua. Red, for instance, is associated with the Fame bagua, so you might decide you want a juicy red pomegranate there. The Fame bagua also includes the element of fire, so maybe you’d prefer a photo of a beautiful stone fire pit there.

5. Glue your photos in the appropriate baguas on the inside bottom of your box. That way, you can refer to your chart of baguas on the inside lid while admiring the visuals in the floor of the box. If you like, you can use the outside of the box lid for another bagua map of pictures, or you could cover it in beautiful wrapping paper or your company logo or a large photo that inspires you.

6. Keep your affirmation cards inside. If you use affirmations, you might want to keep a stack of index cards and a pen in your bagua box. I like to look at my bagua box each morning and do a few affirmations while I’m at it. Alternatively, you might want to keep a few symbolic tokens in the box, like a special stone or lucky coin or a particularly promising fortune cookie paper.

The Six People of Trivia

This week Tribe tried our hand at trivia. There’s been a buzz around the office ever since, causing people to arm themselves with random facts at all times. Pretty soon I started to realize that there are different roles for every trivia team. When I started to pay attention, I figured out the basic dynamic. So without further ado, I present the six people of trivia.

The Scribe: This is usually the first position decided. Oftentimes it’s the first person to go to the MC to get the pen and paper, but just as frequently it’s the person who has the best handwriting of the group. This person must be a good listener in order to gather a general consensus for what the group answer is. The Scribe is the metaphorical voice of the team and can ultimately put down a different answer than what was decided upon by the group. It’s important for The Scribe to be able to think quickly in the clutch, as there will inevitably be moments when time has run out and he or she will have to come up with an answer out of the blue.

The Captain: Your team needs order. You need someone to lead you to victory. He or she probably won’t be the most knowledgeable or the best at thinking through tough questions, but The Captain is definitely in charge. Like a maestro directing an orchestra this person knows who has the strongest voice for any given question, and he or she will make sure that person is heard. The Captain usually trumps all others in seniority and vocal range.

The 20/20 Guy: The music has stopped and the MC is now announcing the answer to the last question. You got it wrong. Now you have three choices for how to act: 1) You can move along and focus on the next question, 2) You can make a mental note that you almost had the right answer and next time you will talk it out better with the group, or 3) You can instantly announce to the table that you in fact knew that was the answer. The 20/20 Guy will always choose the third choice. This person operates solely in a world of hindsight — he lives for it. Common phrases heard from The 20/20 Guy are “I knew it was Somalia!” or “I told you guys Cosmology was the study of the universe! Didn’t I say it?” This person can be a threat to his own team, but at the same time The 20/20 Guy is almost always the most entertaining.

The Runner: You need somebody to survey the other tables. You need somebody fast and sneaky who can weave in and out of chairs and waiters without knocking anything over. You need a Runner. The Runner puts out a good vibe throughout the restaurant. He or she knows how to get on the good side of the MC with just a smile and a friendly comment. The Runner is attentive to how much time is left in the song and he or she is in great athletic condition and can take off at the drop of a dime. Tip: Don’t ever let The Runner order Buffalo wings or other finger foods.

The Wild Card: Nobody expects much from this person and he never lets you down. In fact, The Wild Card will impress you at least once a game. This could come in the form of your dad knowing a Mariah Carey chart topper or a twelve-year-old girl with a fact about Motörhead. Either way, you won’t ever expect it. When all hope is lost and your back is against the wall, here comes The Wild Card.

The Brain: This is why you came to trivia. The Brain is the person you build your team around. The invaluable component who knows the answers like clockwork. If trivia were a chess match he or she would be the king. However, as important as The Brain is to your team, he or she is actually in a lose-lose situation. If he or she answers the question right, it’s what’s expected and they’ll receive no praise from the team. However, when the team answers incorrectly, The Brain will take all the blame. What a guy!

Opportunities to Spotlight Employees

A little recognition can go a long way. Every day your employees have successes both big and small. In today’s competitive work environment, it only makes sense the people responsible for this hard work get their due attention.

Start simple. Acknowledging solid efforts and saying thanks is the easiest form of recognition you can do. Sometimes people don’t necessarily need the marching band to greet them at the front door, they just want to know they’re appreciated and the work they do matters. If differing schedules make it hard for face-to-face conversations, a note left on the person’s desk or a message left on their voicemail will work as well.

Have some fun with it. Sometimes the form of recognition can be a bit on the silly side. At Tribe, we instituted “The Virtual High-Five.” This is a great low-cost way to present an employee with something that has no real cost associated with it. “The Virtual High-Five” is simply a piece of paper with a traced drawing of a hand that is awarded as a way of saying, “atta’ boy!” when a minor feat is accomplished.

When spotlighting accomplishments, don’t be afraid to award employees with things they can use. For medium accomplishments, Tribe instituted a $20 award program. It works like this: Managers who see an opportunity to recognize employees for their good work are able to instantly give them $20. Employees then have the satisfaction of knowing they did a good job and an extra 20 bucks in their pocket.

Spotlighting opportunities don’t only have to be from the top down. Tribe has a peer-to-peer program that takes place on the first Friday of every month. This is how it works: An employee who was recognized the previous month selects another employee who they think has done something special. The recognized person is then given a large glass bottle that sits on their desk for the entire month. At some point during that time period, the recognized individual will take a day off from work as a reward. On their day off, they choose an item or trinket that represents how they spent their day and place it in the bottle. This process will continue over and over and everyone will get to see the bottle fill with items from their coworkers’ day off.

These are some of Tribe’s recognition methods, but every work culture should have ways to spotlight employee accomplishments when the opportunity presents itself. In the end, a recognized employee is one who feels appreciated and engaged with the company they work for. This makes them more productive and helps the organization meet its targeted goals.

Limiting Your Values

Values are an integral part of any company but how much is too much? While it’s important to explain your values and how they help shape the company, there is a fine line between being thorough and overdoing it. By being selective and limiting your values, you can make them more effective and relevant to everyday responsibilities.

Make them memorable. A good set of values is one that any given employee is able to recite on queue. When putting together your values, don’t necessarily put a number on the maximum amount you’d like to have but do be cognizant of whether or not they are easy to retain. For example, if you have 10 values, most employees will not be able to remember what they are and in effect, will not exercise them in their individual roles. Instead, a limited number of values that are easy to remember and internalize will enable employees to always keep them in the back of their mind as they perform their jobs.

Try not to water down the really important ones. Another side effect of having too many values is that they may start running together. Even if your company places an extreme importance on a values-based culture, you should limit yourselves to the values that truly emulate what the company stands for. In our experience, this is typically done through three to six values. To have more than that, you may start to stray from putting together a set of values to simply listing attributes that describe your company. Focus instead on what you really want employees to remember and possibly use the additional attributes as supporting material.

Keep them unique and fresh. Your company values are a reflection of your employees and not what outside forces think a set of company values should look like. With this in mind, go ahead and eliminate the cliché values at the outset. Of course every company wants their employees to be honest; do you really need to say this in your values? Think of the attributes that separate your company from others and don’t be afraid to show a little personality, if that’s the type of culture you have. By cutting out the fluff values such as honesty or integrity, you can limit yourself to what defines your culture.

Elizabeth Cogswell Baskin

Monday Zen: How to Make Your Affirmations More Believable

Do you ever have a hard time believing a certain affirmation is even possible? In last week’s Monday Zen post on visualization and affirmations, we promised a simple exercise to help expand your comfort level with ambitious affirmations.

Here’s how it works: Take a big sheet of paper and draw a circle in the middle, making it large enough to write an affirmation inside. Then fill it in with an affirmation that feels like kind of a stretch for you. Not something clearly out of the question, but an ambitious statement that maybe only a small part of you believes is possible. A glimmer of belief is enough to start.

Then draw 12 short lines radiating out from the circle. It should look something like a five year old’s picture of the sun. Or maybe like the face of a clock with no numbers.

Start at one o’clock and add another circle at the end of that line. Inside, write one reason that supports the likelihood of the affirmation becoming a reality. Let’s say your affirmation is “I am the manager of my department.” And let’s say that you have a hard time seeing yourself as the boss. So that first support reason might be: “I’ve got five years of experience in this department.”

Then move on to two o’clock and draw another circle for another fact that supports the affirmation. Maybe this one is something like, “I led the team on the XYZ project and that was a huge success.”

Keep going around the circle, coming up with more and more support reasons. “When my boss was out with the flu for two weeks, I stepped in to handle most of her responsibilities.” “We’ll need a new department head if my boss takes the regional manager position.” “My MBA makes me more likely to considered as a department manager.”

As you move around the circle, your support reasons will likely get stronger and stronger. By the time you reach the 12 0’clock position, you might find yourself writing something like “I’m actually the natural choice for department manager. Everything I’ve done in my career so far has prepared me to do a great job in that position.”

Try it. The process helps you support your dreams and ambitions with factual reasons why they’re really quite possible — or even likely.

A Little Perspective Goes a Long Way

When I moved to Atlanta from Michigan, I became a nanny to 10-month-old triplets and a three year old. For even more fun, the mom had another baby on the way. The mother, Mary Pat, was the youngest of seven kids and thrived on all that came with a big family. Having five kids under the age of four was an adventure and didn’t slow us down a bit. We took them to the beach, museums, play dates, music class and shopping at the mall. Anything you can think of to do with a kid, we did it with five.

After three years of being their nanny, the dad got a job transfer to the same Texas city where my older brother lives. Every year I go visit for a long weekend and spend a day with my brother. It’s a great to see everyone and I always look forward to it.

This is the first year my brother has asked me NOT to visit. A new step-dad to four kids, my sister-in-law said it’s too chaotic in the summer to have visitors because the kids are out of school and it’s hard to entertain them when it’s so hot outside. Mary Pat, also in Texas with five kids, replied enthusiastically about the dates I wanted to come and we planned my plane ticket so that I’d land in time to see the last of the boys’ baseball tournament. This week will also be swim team practice for the kids, a swim meet, company ballet practice for the older girls and gymnastic practice for the youngest girl.

Mary Pat said the summer was filling up quick with the kids trying to squeeze in all the activities. They love working around each other’s schedules. Sadly, I won’t be there on a Friday, as every Friday night has a theme party. For example, if one kid picks Sponge Bob, dinner would be served on Sponge Bob paper plates and would include decorations from Party City. The dinner would consist of crabby Patty hamburgers, Sponge Bob macaroni and cheese, Patrick pineapple, etc. Then an episode of Sponge Bob would be watched and, weather permitting, a family game of kickball.

This tradition started the first summer the oldest got out of preschool and has continued ever since. Mary Pat realizes the kids are all growing up and she wants to enjoy each stage of their lives as much as possible. It’s amazing to see the different perspectives. Ironically, both sets of kids are almost the same age and living in the same area. It’s just different perspectives that make their summers completely different.

It reminded me how my view on life can make a huge difference. I will try to remain positive and have a happy outlook no matter what life flings my way. And if I ever have four kids and anyone offers to come visit and lend a hand, my answer will always be, “Come on over!”

Sometimes the Best Channel is Where Your Employees Naturally Hangout

Tribe is full of ways to connect companies with the employees that drive them. From intranets to print publications, we’re full of solutions that help organizations deliver their messages to their workforce.

But sometimes it’s not that complicated. Sometimes all you need to do is take a look around your office, warehouse or loading dock and see for yourself where your employees tend to exist throughout the day. They may be living in cubicle city and occasionally meet up by the water cooler. Or they could be running around a factory floor all day and spend their lunch hour in a designated break room.

Once you’ve isolated a few locations, then it’s simply a matter of crafting the messaging you want them to comprehend and making it available for viewing. This could be as simple as posting on a bulletin board or putting up a monitor with rotating content. Employees need to look at something while taking a break, and details that pertain to their role with your company is information they’re sure to be interested in.

This blog is about the locations where your employees find themselves throughout the day. That being the case, for office employees, don’t forget about their desks. Even with the popularity of social media and video, the majority of employees still communicate with each other via email. Although considered old school by some, it’s a quick and easy communication vehicle that puts messaging directly in front of your employees.

And speaking of old school, don’t be afraid to show a little love to that black and gray box on your desk. Yeah that’s right, I’m talking about the phone. It may seem like an office antique but think about it, whenever you need to get in touch with someone immediately you never go online, you reach for the receiver and start dialing. This same principle can be used with your internal messaging. Make it a recorded message or open it up to a live speech. It may not offer the ability to create a two-way conversation, but it does get messaging where it matters most – into the minds of your employees.