Dec 27

Sickness in the office is a two-way street

According to an article in the December 26th Health & Fitness section of The New York Times, ailing employees are dragging themselves into work in record numbers. Instead of staying home to nurse their cold, flu or virus, employees are working right through their illnesses and, in the process, infecting their peers. They do so either because they’re incredibly dedicated or incredibly afraid of losing their job.

The syndrome has become so widespread that researchers have even developed a name for it: ‘presenteeism" as opposed to "absenteeism.’

According to a National Foundation for Infectious Diseases study, more than one-third of workers say they feel pressured to go to work by their employers. Another survey taken of human resource managers revealed that 59 percent believed presenteeism had become a problem in their offices.

Speaking from experience, I can tell you presenteeism is a huge problem at Peppercom (and, it’s not because we pressure anyone to come to work).

Some of our employees come to the office when they shouldn’t and quickly spread their germs to unsuspecting co-workers. It’s a phenomenon that routinely decimates our workforce population at least twice annually.

We’ve tried to take steps to change employees’ mindset: for example, we encourage them to stay home and/or send them packing if we catch them hacking, sneezing or wheezing in the middle of meetings.

According to the Times, presenteeism occurs because many companies refuse to provide sick leave for employees. In my mind, that’s being penny wise and pound foolish. I’ve seen the havoc one sick employee can have on the overall productivity of our firm.

Happily, Congress is planning to step in and require employers with 15 or more workers to provide seven days a year of paid sick leave. That’s a step in the right direction, but the onus is on employees as well. If you’re not well, stay home. Infecting others reflects poorly on you and on the firm. What seems like dedication on the surface can quickly become destructive if the germs that are spread within the petri dish that is most office environments end up impacting overall productivity and morale.

I know I speak for most enlightened employers when I say, ‘stay at home and get well. The business can manage without you.’

Dec 26

Dumb and dumber

I’m a bit late, but I’d like to comment on last week’s incident at LAX airport whereGg932
a 56-year-old woman put her month-old grandson through an airport x-ray screening machine.

According to reports, crack TSA security guards noticed the outline of a baby as he wended his way through the X-ray conveyor belt along with your typical assortment of shoes, bags and god knows what else. Happily, the quick-thinking guard quickly extricated the tiny tot, who was rushed to the hospital and later released.

Doctors said he was "….exposed to as much radiation as he would naturally get from cosmic rays — or high energy from outer space — in a day."

So, in analyzing this absurd, but somehow not surprising, incident, I’ve been trying to decide who’s dumber: the incredibly na├»ve woman or the inattentive, incompetent and perpetually irritable TSA staff.

A TSA spokesperson said the agency "…..doesn’t have enough workers to constantly stand at tables in front of the screeners to coach passengers on what should or should not be sent through x-ray machines." That struck me as odd, since they always seem to find the time to take away my ‘oversized’ Crest Toothpaste and poor Edward M. "Teddy" Birkhahn’s hair gel.

Apparently, this is only the second time in nearly 20 years that anyone can recall a traveler mistakenly putting an infant through an airport x-ray machine.

I wonder what’s become of the original x-ray kid? Did she grow up to become Lindsey Lohan perhaps? Or, maybe he’s one of the eight or nine Cincinnati Bengals who’s been arrested and jailed this season? Or using his boxing skills to punch out people at University of Vermont parties?

Regardless of where the original x-ray baby is today, here’s hoping that x-ray baby number two has a happy and healthy life, and ends up a little more intelligent than either his grandmother or your average TSA guard.

Dec 21

There ought to be a ‘lemon law’ for brands

Like a pop song that’s started to get a little stale or a previously undefeated college football team that’s just been upset, mighty Ford Motor Company is about to drop in the polls.

The polls in question are the lists of top global automakers. And, according to published reports,Hh9331   Ford is about to lose the coveted number 2 position to Toyota as soon as January. Amazingly, Ford’s held the ‘two spot’ since the 1920s. But poor quality, workmanship, design, strategy, and god knows what else, has forced Ford to move out of the fast lane and give way to mighty Toyota.

From an image and reputation standpoint, I see no light at the end of the tunnel. Ford is simply not seen as producing a quality product. Americans want value for their money, and no longer see Ford as a viable solution. And, the best advertising, digital, viral and PR campaigns in the world won’t help. Nor will price cutting or ’employee discounts’ for everyone.

Ford’s problems and current predicament took years, if not decades, to cause. And, it will take years, if not decades, to fix.

So, I’d like to suggest that some governing body somewhere enact a lemon law for brands. Just as the government has stepped in to protect unwary consumers from buying a lemon of a car, some marketing group should be created to advise poorly managed organizations like Ford that marketing isn’t a solution.

Ford’s paying a heavy price for having taken its collective eyes off the road. It’s a lemon of a brand that, like a poorly built car, needs to be fixed from the inside out.

And, no one should be surprised if Toyota sees GM in its rearview mirror in the future as well.

Thanks to Deb for this idea.

Dec 20

At long last the Miss America contest becomes relevant

The Miss USA pageant organizers have to be breathing a collective sigh of relief after the all-too-public outing of the reigning queen’s alcohol abuse and all-around naughty behavior.

As might be expected, the mainstream media are having a field day with the story (i.e. showing and re-showing the former Ms. Kentucky’s bikini-clad body strutting around the pageant’s stage. Say what you will, but the girl’s got a serious six pack).

Never one to skip a media opportunity, pageant owner Donald Trump is once again in the spotlight, having deigned not to fire the misbehaving miss.

As counter-intuitive as it may seem, the queen’s meltdown is pure gold for an organization and event perceived to be out-of-step and irrelevant.

Thanks to Tara Conner’s misconduct, the pageant can claim to be as sleazy, tawdry and salacious asGg94722  any other sports or entertainment brand. And, the scandal will do for next year’s show what tens of millions of dollars of advertising could never accomplish: attract viewers.

As for the image besmirched and seemingly contrite Miss USA, her career is set. Just imagine the book, film and TV offers that will come flooding in!

It’s all just another sad commentary on how low our moral and ethical standards have fallen (and, as Chris ‘Repman Jr’ Cody might say, also provides fresh fodder for the Islamic fundamentalists who love to decry the decadence and decay of American society).

Thanks Deb for your POV on this.

Dec 20

Sometimes the message sent is, indeed, the message received

When explaining the importance of stimulus-response in communications, my partner, Ed, likes to use the expression "the message sent is not always the message received." As an example, Ed will cite former President Nixon’s now infamous "I am not a crook" comment when defending his Watergate actions. While Nixon’s intent was to communicate that he’d had nothing to do with the third rate burglary, his words suggested the exact opposite in listeners’ minds.

All of which relates to the image and reputation train wreck that is the New York Knicks.

On Monday night, Chris "Rep Jr." Cody and I had courtside seats to the Knicks stirring, one-pointB95876jg  overtime win against Utah, an interesting rebound in light of the team’s ugly Saturday night brawl against the Denver Nuggets.

In observing the goings-on in the three-ring circus that is a contemporary Knicks game, I noted:

1.) The players incessantly taunt, menace, verbally abuse and stare down one another throughout the game. Their "in your face" machismo is genuinely scary when viewed up close and personal. Based upon Saturday night’s altercation between the Knicks and Nuggets, one can see why such violence occurs. The roughousing, manhandling, near strangulation and, at times, outright mugging is unreal.

2.) The City Dancers are way over the line. They’re a group of about 15 young women who skip onto the hardwood floor during breaks and shimmy, gyrate and cartwheel their way through a song or two. To say their moves are sexually suggestive does the City Dancers a disservice. These women know what they’re doing, a fact not lost on the predominantly male crowd. But, what sort of message does this send to the young kids in attendance, especially the girls? Talk about anti-role models. These ladies could make the Bada-Bing dancers in the Sopranos blush with envy.

3.) Our courtside seats were both a blessing and curse. While we loved being so close to the action, we were continually pushed, shoved and jostled by little kids snapping pics of the action on their cell phone cameras. No matter how many times the seated fans complained, the pint-sized paparazzi would re-surface time and again, pushing and shoving people out of the way so they could grab a pic of Isiah, Malik or Steph.

So I got to thinking about the ladies and the lads.

They’re actually just responding to the stimulus sent by the players who, in turn, are allowed, if not encouraged by management, to strut, swear and swagger their way through game after game.

It’s a vicious cycle. Fans pay big bucks to watch thugs beat up one another on the court, leer at scantily-clad ladies as they strut their stuff during breaks and suffer as street urchins elbow their way closer to courtside to snap players’ photos.

Knicks management has sent the message that all of this boorishness is A-OK, and the fans have received the message loud and clear.

How much longer will it be before one player actually kills another, the dancers go topless and the puny photographers use their cameras as weapons to clear a path for a clean pic? The NBA is sending all the wrong signals, and fans seem only too happy to act upon them. I wonder what the sport’s inventor, Dr. James A. Naismith, would make of all this?

Dec 19

Go Greyhound. But do your ‘going’ somewhere else

An enterprising University of Arizona academic, who studies such neat things as E.coli bacteria, airborne viruses, germs and nasty microscopic bugs of all shapes and sizes, recently went on the road in search of the ‘safest’ forms of public transportation.

The ‘prof’ examined trains, planes, buses and subways. And, not surprisingly, good old Greyhound brought up the rear. In fact, it was the public restrooms on board the buses that activated the Arizona academic’s agita. According to reports, Greyhound bus restrooms are easily the mostGreyhoundbus_1   disease-laden areas to be found on any form of mass public transportation. Fecal matter, E.coli bacteria and God knows what else were discovered alongside the usual assortment of discarded newspapers, pornographic magazines and last week’s batch of "Measuring Up" blog entries.

For Greyhound, which is in the midst of a significant image and reputation overhaul (subscription required), the crappy news had to have been about as welcomed as the death of Dustin Hoffman’s Ratzo Rizzo character on one of their buses in the 1969 classic "Midnight Cowboy."

So, how well did Greyhound handle the crisis? Their first instinct was to throw the sanitation subcontractor under the bus. The company issued a statement saying it was devoted to providing a superior experience, first-class modes of transit, etc. They said their sanitation subcontractor routinely inspected the lavatories of each and every bus on a daily basis. But, based upon the survey results, something’s rotten in Denmark, not to mention Detroit, Denver, Dubuque and wherever else Greyhound buses frequent.

Just once I’d like to see a corporation step up to the plate (or to the toilet in this case) and admit fault.

In the interests of disclosure, I’d never consider riding a Greyhound bus anywhere, but my kids, or their friends, might. Until I hear that Greyhound has solved its fecal faux pas, however, I’ll be advising one and all not to ‘go Greyhound.’ That is, unless they decide to "leave the going" at some safer, much cleaner rest stop along the way.

Dec 15

Not even the New York Post can compete with these headlines

Tucker Greco, a good friend of mine, just launched a pretty cool site called, which is aimed at Gov’t, security, and risk management professionals.

The site, which compiles up-to-the-minute security news from around the globe, also features alerts64820092_2  and security-related facts and figures. A quick glance at the front page shows headlines like "Camel sacrificed at Istanbul Airport," "Brazil air traffic control problems," and "Man beheads woman in St. Vincent." Where do you find provocative headlines and stories like these?

It’s a very cool site for professional risk managers, frequent business travelers and just plain news   junkies like me. There’s a really neat world map that features color-coded icons you can click on to read the latest marine, airline, military and corporate security news in each country. I naturally gravitated to the camel sacrifice and Caribbean beheading, but there’s tons of other useful information, all intended to help amateurs and professionals alike make wise choices and stay abreast of global security and anti-terrorism news. should be a daily, must-read for anyone in the government or anyone responsible for his or her organization’s security and risk management. And, for those of us who can’t fathom why anyone would sacrifice a camel on an active runway at Istanbul Airport, it’s also pretty good stuff. I’ve bookmarked the site and will be checking it out the next time I have to hop on a plane and go somewhere. As Sister Maria Eucharia used to say, "forewarned is forearmed."

Dec 14

Would unsolicited family newsletters be considered spam?

One of the nice things about most digital services is the opt-in feature. If I want to subscribe to a certain newsfeed, newsletter or service of some sort, I can simply sign up and, bingo, the content is pushed to my e-mail address.

Sadly, though, the ‘opt-in’ rule apparently doesn’t apply to family newsletters, which seem to 5492855 proliferate around the holiday season. Do you get these things? Typically, they’re written (very poorly, I might add) by a distant cousin, niece or great aunt twice removed. And, they contain all sorts of personal information about the sender’s family: Little Eddie’s soccer team went undefeated. Ann is an honor roll student at the local junior high. Peggy Sue’s impacted molar has to be extracted. And, thank goodness, the newsletter’s author just adores those Friday night bridge matches with the neighbors.

Excuse me, but did I opt-in for this family news? And, do I really need to know that Cousin Fran’s little boy is suffering from a ruthless toe fungus that simply won’t go away?

So, here’s the first of a few wishes for the New Year: those of you who painstakingly write and distribute newsletter updates to friends and family alike, think about an opt-in direct response card with the next one. Give me the opportunity to decide whether I am indeed interested in learning the latest news about Madison’s throat and ear infection. The distant family relationship you save may be your own.

Dec 13

Who’s the predator and who’s the prey?

I’ve been meaning to weigh in on the NBC Dateline Predator series for some time now. Like many others, I’ve been captivated by the show, whose premise is to lure Internet predators to a sexual rendezvous with an underage boy or girl.

Instead, when they arrive at the ‘victim’s’ house, the men (and they’re always men) encounter anTt9321  NBC Dateline film crew and correspondent. They’re immediately interrogated, usually reduced to a tearful confession and then told they’re free to leave. Instead, a group of burly, local cops, skulking right outside the home, toss the bad guys down on the ground and arrest them.

Now, this obviously makes for great television. And Dateline and its partner in the show, Perverted Justice, which helps identify and invite these guys to the "teen’s" home are providing a genuine public service.

But, the more I see the show, the more I see the lines being blurred. The Perverted Justice actors are so good at portraying young and willing sexual partners that, in my mind, they come mighty close to entrapment. Most of the predators are sleazy guys who’ve had a history of scrapes with the law, etc. Others, though, are seemingly upstanding citizens. There have been Iraqi War veterans, smart and seemingly sophisticated white collar workers and loads of guys who seem to be your normal, well adjusted family man caught in the Predator trap. And, now, courtesy of Dateline and Perverted Justice, their lives have been turned upside down. One public official actually committed suicide just as his house was being surrounded by local law enforcement officers and Dateline.

So, who’s the predator and who’s the prey? Is Dateline going too far in doing good? They’re clearly helping to put bad guys away and, hopefully, deterring others from entering chat rooms and trying to hook-up with kids. But, are the methods they use kosher? Is it cool to ruin people’s reputations and, in at least one case, a person’s life?

It’s an interesting image and reputation question since, in my mind, there is at least a suggestion/possibility of entrapment going on here. I’d be interested in knowing what others think.

Dec 12

It’s just another day

Baghdad blast kills 57! Bodies of missing couple found! Murder-suicide on Long Island! Where would the news media be without their daily dose of death and destruction?

If there’s any one cause-and-effect for the overall malaise affecting the average American, it has to be the mainstream press, especially broadcast television. These newsreaders (and, most are just that, newsreaders, not journalists) sit in front of the camera day after bleeding day (pun intended) and pass along one horrific tale of woe and misery after another.

I’ve certainly heard the old bromide, ‘If it bleeds, it leads,’ but c’mon, newscasts are starting to give horror movies a run for their money. It seems like each story is more horrendous than the one before.

Sadly, bad news attracts viewers who, in turn, attract advertisers. And, advertisers pay the networks that feed us the dismal facts and figures. And so on and so forth, with no end in sight.

So, who’s really to blame? Advertisers? The media? The bad people who perpetrate the crimes and start the wars? Society in general? You and me for watching this trash every night?

When the Beatles sang, "It’s just another day," they were bemoaning the drab, dreary existence that many of us lead. Compared to the mayhem, murder and mischief being beamed to us 24×7 every day by the Charlies, Katies, Brians, Soledads and their ilk, however, a little drabness doesn’t look too shabby right about now.