Friday, May 25, 2012

Setting Priorities

You may have noticed that my schedule here at When Fridays Were Fridays has changed. For nearly three years I have been publishing once a week, on Fridays. But just like a business that has to take a look at it’s market segments and make tough decisions about what to invest in and how much, I have taken a hard look at everything on my plate and decided that some changes are in order.

For the record, it’s much harder making a decision to change anything when it’s just me and my own projects, but maybe that’s because I feel like I have so much invested. Two things are driving this change:

First, I have a book coming out in June. Surely I have mentioned it here, but just in case you missed it – Learning to Bake Allergen-Free: A Crash Course for Busy Parents on Baking without Wheat, Gluten, Dairy, Eggs, Soy or Nuts
is being released in June. My days are now filled with recipe development, food writing, food photography, and book promotion. I have also joined the board of directors of the Kids with Food Allergies Foundation, a terrific non-profit that helps families struggling with food allergies.

And, because of where I spend my time, I am feeling more and more distant from the corporate world that this blog was focused on.

That’s not to say that there aren’t things to talk about. Surely with the election coming up, businesses making bad investments, and technology continuing to evolve at a more-than-exponential rate, there will be things to write about and talk about. And I will. But not always on a Friday, and not necessarily every week.

I am giving myself a pass on the self-imposed schedule I have had for myself, and I hope you’re okay with that. This audience has been very loyal, positive, and engaging. So, please stick with me here, and I’ll continue to visit you too!

In case you’re wondering, yes! I’m having fun with my new projects. And yes, I can’t wait to hold the finished book in my hands, go to my first book signing, and yes – write another book proposal. If you had asked me three years ago, I would have never guessed that this is the direction my path would take me. Once again, there is life after Corporate America.

If you or anyone you know is concerned about food allergies, celiac disease, or food intolerances, please check out my hangouts:

Blog: Learning to Eat Allergy-Free
You Tube: Allergen-Free Baker

Thanks for your support!

Monday, May 14, 2012

Food Allergies in the Workplace – Not Always What They Seem

52 Weeks - Week 5 - Food Allergy and Intoloren...
Does your employee refuse to sit at the conference table, passing up the doughnuts at the morning status meeting?

Does the new intern always have an excuse not to go out for Friday night beers at the local hangout?

Does your office mate leave the office every time you come back to your desk with a snack?

Did you employee turn down a piece of birthday cake, even though it was his birthday?

If your teammate always declines lunch out with the team, choosing instead to eat a brown bag lunch from home, does that mean she can’t keep up with the work?

Before you label these employees as difficult, unsociable, or “not a team player,” look again. It could be food allergies.

Recent studies show that as many as 15 million Americans have food allergies. Another 2 million suffer from celiac disease, and many more suffer from food intolerances. As food allergies continue to rise, more young adults with food allergies are entering the workforce, and employers should take notice.

According to the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology, the principals involved in the management of food allergies are very similar to the principals of food allergy management in schools. But while most schools have been dealing with the issue of food allergies for some time with parents actively advocating for their children, the workplace represents a new challenge. Young adults now need to advocate for themselves, and work environments can vary dramatically depending on the type of work being done.

A typical office environment may have a common area where employees snack, share refrigerators and microwaves, and even share food; a location where a little bit of spilled milk could be of concern to an employee with a milk allergy. That morning status meeting where doughnuts are being passed around the conference table could cause the start of the workday to be very stressful for an employee with allergies to wheat and eggs, or another who suffers from celiac disease.

Food allergy challenges in the workplace aren’t restricted to social events and celebrations. Plane travel, business lunches and dinners with clients, and conferences all require special planning for an employee with food allergies. Even a seemingly simple business-networking event, such as a baseball game where peanuts are thrown around the stadium, can be a challenge for an employee with food allergies.

Food Allergy Awareness Week (May 13-19, 2012) is a great time to assess your own workplace for food safety.

If you are the employee with food allergies:
  • It’s up to you to make sure your boss and colleagues understand.
  • Let your boss and co-workers know what you are allergic to, how to recognize an allergic reaction, and what they should do in a medical emergency. Make sure they know where you keep your medications, including epinephrine, if appropriate.
  • Offer to help plan events that include food, or work with those on the planning committee to make sure they include foods that are safe for you.
If you’re the boss:
  • Be an advocate for your employee. Make an effort to reach out to employees with food allergies and understand their needs. Find out what foods need to be avoided.
  • If food will be served in the workplace, engage the employee to help identify what foods are safe for them, and how they need to be handled. 
  • Accommodate food allergies the same as you would accommodate any other disability. Accommodations may include banning certain foods (such as nuts) from the office, or allowing the employee a dedicated refrigerator or microwave in their own workspace. In extreme cases it may be necessary to assign an employee their own office, rather than a desk in a shared space.
  • Work with the employee to develop an action plan for emergencies.
Most importantly, colleagues and bosses alike need to recognize that food allergies are not a choice. All employees should make an effort to ensure that no employee feels left out or isolated due to their food restrictions.

Friday, May 4, 2012

From Machine to Man (or Woman)

Automated Postal Center and new Priority Mail ...
Automated Postal Center and new Priority Mail box display (Photo credit: Aranami)
“It was a pleasure to serve you.”

That’s what the final screen read as I completed mailing a package using the self-serve postal machine at the post office.

Serve me? I didn’t feel like the machine had served me in any way. Sure, the machine used a bit of processing power and ink, but serving? Hardly.

And pleasure? Really? Was the machine actually claiming to feel that emotion?

A more appropriate closing message might have been, “Thank you for your business,” or even, “Have a nice day.”

I’m not opposed to automation. I prefer it. Even if the service window had been open, I would have bee-lined to the self-serve machine. I like technology, and use it. At the grocery store I always choose the scan-it-yourself and self-checkout options. I find it faster and more efficient.

I prefer not to have to politely decline the upgrade to priority mail from parcel post; I’ll just push the buttons. But I do so knowing that I am interacting with a machine, and there is no part of that transaction that feels human to me. I am simply not expecting a machine to be “pleased.”

But then there’s Watson, who wowed us all with his Jeopardy performance last year. We laughed at his colloquialisms and his attempts at sounding as “human” possible. Yet, as I watched, I was acutely aware that Watson was indeed a machine.

What about you? Do you expect feelings from a machine? Do you think we will ever interact emotionally with machines the same way we do with humans?