Category Archives: Learning Materials

Embracing the Discomfort – The Plan

Expand-yourself-Get-out-of-comfort-zone

The 5th anniversary of my 29th birthday is in a little over 3 weeks and I’ve been thinking about things that I’ve learned about myself over the years.  I’m nosy.  I have an extraordinary memory, which passes for intelligence about 95% of the time.  I will probably never be a morning person no matter how hard I try.  I can be very envious and insecure…and I have an absolutely incredible tolerance for pain.

imagesThat last part is going to sound like bragging when I explain it, but it’s really not.  When I know something is SUPPOSED to hurt, I let it hurt.  Case in point: I had horrible dry socket after my wisdom teeth were extracted because no one remembered to give me a syringe and the instructions to prevent dry socket.  So when I was in pain 2 and then 3 weeks later, I just thought, “Well I just had surgery.  It’s supposed to hurt.”  The oral surgeon was appalled at my final visit.  I’ve had the same thing happen to me in the ER on Christmas Eve with strep throat*, from the neurosurgeon who diagnosed those ruptured discs in my neck, and from a different neurosurgeon after the operation to remove those ruptured discs.  “How are you sitting here without writhing and crying?  Why aren’t you asking for more pain meds?  Why aren’t you taking the ones we gave you?” or something along those lines.  My answer is always the same:  “I’m sick, I’m injured, I just had surgery.  It’s SUPPOSED to hurt, right?!  Complaining doesn’t help.”  I just always assume that the amount of pain I’m in is the amount I’m supposed to be in and deal with it.  Evidently some of you are whiny little drug-seeking bitches, though.

That being said, while I do have an incredible tolerance for pain, I have ZERO tolerance for discomfort.  I hosted a bridal shower for my friend Lea many years ago, the weekend Pope John Paul II died (great memory, right?).  I was outside planting flowers in pots for several hours the day before the shower.  It was early April in Baton Rouge, sunny but not hot, and there was a lovely breeze.  It was a beautiful day.  For a week after, my lips feel like they were constantly covered in cellophane and it was all I could do to get out of bed.  I don’t think I talked about anything else for a week except which lip balms I liked and which I didn’t.  In the case of discomfort, complaining does help because it makes others around me miserable too and, seriously, why should I suffer alone?

Me in a room that's too stuffy.

Me in a room that’s too stuffy.

If the thermostat is too hot or cold, I’m dying.  Bug bites and paper cuts make me want to check myself into a mental ward for a sedative.  People have found me in my office before, rubbing myself on a door jamb trying to scratch my back like a cartoon bear.  I really would rather be stabbed in the gut than sleep in a room that doesn’t have a fan.  I’m the whiny little bitch in this scenario and I’m ok with that.

What does all this nonsense have to do with my plan?  Well…summer 2013 is going to be The Summer of Dominique’s Discomfort.  For starters, I’ve signed myself up for a 7:30 am Zumba class on campus.  This isn’t a fun class that I can drop anytime.  This is for credit and I will be assigned a grade.  I don’t need this class to graduate, but it only cost $60 more and for 2 months of Zumba, I might as well.  Did I mention the part about not being a morning person or liking to sweat?  What have I done?  Did I mention also that I’m a former smoker and since my knee surgery 14 years ago I have become about as limber as a rusty lawn chair?

ive-made-a-huge-mistakeAlso, I signed up for one of those Color Runs at the end of June and roped 2 friends into joining me.  It’s a 5K.  I haven’t started training AT ALL yet, and I haven’t run in…EVER.  My whole life I have been able to swim a mile before I could run one, so that’s gonna suck — and I paid money to do this.  Holy shit.i-exercised-once

Once I lose some weight, I want to start biking again.  For now balancing all this heft on my hoo-ha on a bike hurts my hiney more than is worth it.  That will be later in the summer.

I’m going off sugar.  I’ve done an Atkins-esque plan before.  No, it’s not high protein.  No, it’s not all bacon.  You basically eat your body weight in veggies.  Look it up.  I feel a lot better when I do that and I have a lot more energy but that first week is a bear.  None of you are going to want to give me even the slightest criticism on Facebook, Twitter, over the phone or in person or we might both end up on the news.  What is the opposite of the Twinkie defense?

Or you'll do what I do which is to watch all the good food go bad and order pizza.  And ice cream.

Or you’ll do what I do which is to watch all the good food go bad and order pizza. And ice cream.

I’m going to be in school (the Zumba plus another easy class) and working this summer.  At the same time I have plans to do a lot of HR and finance education to make myself more valuable at work.  That won’t be uncomfortable but will be a bit time-consuming.  My summer reading list is already at about 8 books and that doesn’t include anything for school yet.  I’m very lucky to have a cool boss who is grooming me for bigger things.  ”Learn More Stuff” is actually my number one summer assignment.

There is still the elephant in the room with Dad, and considering my birthday and Father’s Day always go hand-in-hand, at some point some awkwardness will have to be addressed there…I hope.  I’ve reached out.  We’ll see.

What has inspired all of this apart from this blog and all of you?  Two friends that I HATE.  Remember when I said I could be envious?  I really can.  And I don’t hate them in the way I hate Al-Qaeda or Gwyneth Paltrow.  I’m not angry at them.  I hate them in a way that you can only hate someone you really love.  The truth is that I adore them both but they have achieved so much while I have been stagnating that it just makes me sick with happiness, admiration and seething, undying jealousy.  They are AWESOME and I am NOT (yet).  They’ve been through the pain already and I have yet to begin.

Here they are together.  At once the banes of my existence and my reason for getting up in the morning.

Here they are together — at once the banes of my existence and my reason for getting up in the morning.

Look at the guns on this b...est friend of mine!

Look at the guns on this b…est friend of mine!

Julia** lives in Portland and is raising 2 wonderful boys with her husband.  I lived with her for a while in college and she was never ever fat, but she was not the lean machine she is today!  She’s taken up fitness as her life’s purpose pretty much and she looks amazing.  Even more than the changes to her appearance, though, she has achieved so much.  She has run a couple full marathons, I think.  I know at least one was for Team In Training, so she did a good deed there.  She did an Olympic-distance Ironman, I think.  She routinely does half-marathons and smaller triathlons. Some of that may be wrong, I have no idea.  All I know is she has a shitload of medals and I have an assload of cellulite.  She is in incredible shape and really enjoys what she’s doing.  I’m jealous.

This one used to shun photos like the plague and now he's taking them all the time.  And always smiling!  It's like he knows something that I should be learning.  Hmmm.

This one used to shun photos like the plague and now he’s taking them all the time. And always smiling! It’s like he knows something that I should be learning. Hmmm.

My friend John** lives in Houston and he has recently lost something crazy like…200 pounds.  I don’t know the exact number but it’s a lot.  He was depressed and fat (I’m familiar) and something just clicked for him one day.  He went to a medically-supervised weight loss program, began working out, and now he’s lost all this weight, toned up, and has also been bitten with the running and triathlon bug.  His confidence has gone through the roof.  He’s a fitness evangelist now that makes Jimmy Swaggart look like some stuttering wallflower in comparison.  He is so much healthier, so much more vibrant and a real inspiration.  Again, I’m jealous.

And I know I could do something about it and change my life but it’s just so much easier to sleep in, to watch Netflix instead of studying, to order pizza instead of cooking for myself, and make “easy” choices instead of difficult ones.  BUT…since hopping out of my comfort zone accidentally worked so well earlier this year, that’s what I’ve got to do now.  I’m slowly learning that lesson.  The fact is, this summer is probably going to suck.  Maybe even more than the summer of mental illness or neck brace.  It’s going to be sweaty and uncomfortable and painful but hopefully I’ll be better for it at the end…waist a little smaller and brain a little bigger, or more wrinkly or something.

Growth does not happen in the comfort zone.  I have to remember that.

Growth does not happen in the comfort zone. I have to remember that.

My official motto:  Embrace the Discomfort.  It’s Definitely Going to Suck, But It Probably Won’t Kill Me.

Will keep you posted!  Any words of encouragement would be wonderful, but I’m warning you guys…June 1 and all the carbs are gone.  At that point, any criticism will be viewed as an act of war.

Hope everyone had a great long weekend! – HRGF

*Don’t ever go to the ER on Xmas eve.  The morgue will feel sorry for the ER staff and send up a ham.  Apart from the gross irony of getting meat from the morgue, the ER staff will be overjoyed at ham and will forget about you for 2 hours.

**Names and locations changed to protect friends I hate.  With love.  But then I put up their pics so whatever.

Change Doesn’t Take Time – It Takes Change

My life has been through some great changes recently and I think it’s got me hooked on the whole concept of change now.  I’m jonesing for more change.

A Brief Recap

joanIn May 2011, I was in pain.  I had 2 ruptured discs in my neck and ended up having major surgery.  That summer kinda sucked.

In May 2012, I was in a different kind of pain.  I was severely depressed and having panic attacks and afraid to tell anyone about it.  My family, friends and coworkers knew I’d suffered depression for years but it had gotten markedly worse in April/May and I didn’t want anyone to know that part.  I thought they’d be worried that I’d do something awful and irreparable, even though nothing like that EVER crossed my mind.  I was in pain though and suffered largely in silence.  Last summer definitely could’ve been better.

slothNow it’s May 2013 and life is AMAZING.  I’ve made great progress in school and I can see the finish line, somewhere.  I have a new-ish and fantastic job that is a PERFECT fit for me.  I love the people I work with, I get to wear sweatpants/no pants about 80% of the time, and still be bossy and a perfectionist.  My family and friends are doing well.  My $$$ is doing well.  My depression is under control.  I have quit smoking for a while now.  Life is good.  Change is good.

What Happened?

welcomeDid it take a year for all this change to happen?  No, it’s taken 4 months and 13 days.  How do I know that?  Because I started this blog on January 4th.  Unemployed at the time, I wanted something to occupy my time and learning more about HR seemed a good start since that was my field and I was basically faking it…or that’s how I felt.  Since then, this blog has been received warmly among people who clearly AREN’T faking it.  I’ve been invited to do guest posts for other blogs (will change link to my post once it’s published) and awesome people have assisted with mine.  I’ve met lots of new people, become more involved in my local HR and business scene, and “met” thousands more on Facebook and Twitter.  HR Rock Stars.  I have met some in real life, others I know I will one day, and some have become great confidantes, advisers and friends.  Remember when I said HR was a big ol’ clique?  Still true.  But when I said they were friendly and welcoming, I had no idea what an understatement that was.

The Change Process

How did I accomplish this?  Did it happen naturally and without any effort from me?  Absolutely not. I butted in.  I interjected in Twitter conversations I found interesting, I commented on blogs, I asked total strangers for advice and opinions, and totally crashed that party.  Was it always comfy for me?  No.  I am still intimidated by these rock stars since I have no degree (yet) and I’m only informally studying HR.  Why should the talent acquisition chief from Expedia ever talk to me?  Guess what?  He did.  He does.  You’re not reading this, but just in case…hi Jer!  (Honestly, when I reached out to him on LinkedIn, I thought he was someone else, but whatever.  He’s cool.  There’s a pic of him wearing a cape on my FB timeline, so he’s clearly odd, which is EXACTLY the type of people I like to be on my FB.) There were a few moments of awkwardness with some people but for the most part, it wasn’t too bad.  Stepping out of my comfort zone, not into a neutral gray area of I-don’t-give-a-damn-ness, but into active discomfort has achieved great results.

Now What?

Is my life perfect right now?  No.  I am still woefully overweight and out of shape…not beating myself up over this, though, cause I did quit smoking, so yea.  I want to add more value to my company, so I’m trying to learn accounting and more HR this summer.  I’m not quite done with school yet so there’s still some work to be done there.  My dad and I are talking, but there’s an elephant in the room we haven’t addressed.  I’m not going to link to it, but regular readers will know what that is.  I haven’t spent enough time with my local friends or talking to my distant ones (my real, non-HR people).  My apartment is a disaster.  I need to floss more.  You know, the usual.  It’s time for some more change.

People say change takes time.  No, it doesn’t.  It takes change.  Real, actionable, quantifiable CHANGE.  I look at my life right now and where I was 4 months and 13 days ago and it could not be more different.  So that’s my new project — the next three and a half-ish months.

project

I have a few weeks now before summer school starts.  Then 2 months of school and another few weeks of freedom.  On Labor Day, I want to look back and say, “I remember that day…sitting on my boss’s sofa at the ass crack of dawn because she accidentally scheduled herself a flight so early not even Superman would put up with that BS, blogging while her daughter slept, about to get her ready for school — and look how much my life has improved since then.”  Rolling over and watching Buffy till I fall asleep right now, though tempting and guaranteed to be awesome, is not going to bring about the change I’m seeking. That’s the old path; I already know where that leads.  I’m on a new path now.

I didn’t have a plan 4 months and 13 days ago and I still accomplished a lot…with some luck, some great friends/family, and some innovative interrupting, if you will, on my part.  This time I do have a plan and I am looking forward to BIG RESULTS and BIG ACCOUNTABILITY from you guys!  So what’s the plan?  What are my goals between now and Labor Day – and how do I intend to achieve them?  Ahh.  Check back on Tuesday and all will be revealed.

tuesday

 

Have a great weekend everyone!!  I’m starting my plan immediately!! – HRGF

ERISA Part 2: The Return – With Guest Andrew Douglass

My wonderful friend Jeremy Bordelon was kind enough to answer some basic ERISA questions for me a while back.  You might say he gave me just enough rope to hang myself.  He really freaked me out about how much of this I don’t know — and don’t understand even when it’s being explained to me.  I feel like, should I ever become some kind of HR bigwig at a huge firm, I’m going to inevitably be led away in handcuffs to ERISA jail.  What’s worse, rather than some evil mastermind, I’m going to come across as one of those idiots on TV who didn’t even realize they were pregnant.  I’ll be screaming, “But I didn’t know!” while they throw me in a cop car.  Ugh.

Probably not the bra, but the rest, I assume, will be remarkably similar to this.

Probably not the bra, but the rest, I assume, will be remarkably similar to this.

That’s where my new friend Andrew Douglass comes in.  He is also an ERISA attorney and offered to answer more questions for me.  Jeremy gave me just enough info in Part 1 to have more questions and now I’ve been somewhat reassured by Andrew in Part 2.  Read on for ERISA Part 2: The Return…if you dare.

My attorney friend, Jeremy Bordelon, answered a few questions in my first post.  I know ERISA started out as a way to benefit employees, but it sounds like a nightmare now.  How did anyone ever think this was a good thing?

The enactment of ERISA was, in large part, a response to tragic events during the 1960s when employer bankruptcies wiped out pension plans, retiree medical coverage, and other benefits without any recourse for the affected employees.   In 1974, Congress responded by creating, for the first time, a comprehensive framework to provide greater protections to employees and more certainty to employers in sponsoring their benefit plans.   Of course, there are still tensions between employers and employees with respect to their benefit plans, but I think ERISA has generally been very successful in its stated aims.

hostess_cupcake_sos

The 5 points he made about denial of health and disability claims – those seem completely punitive and unreasonable.  If my bone cancer treatment is denied and I lose my leg, then find out it wasn’t supposed to be denied, there is NO RECOURSE?!  Has ERISA been hijacked by insurance lobbyists?  How did this come to be this way?

In my view, ERISA has not been hijacked by insurance lobbyists or any other special interest groups.  Instead, I think ERISA has matured significantly since its enactment in 1974.  For example, a recent development in the last few years is the Supreme Court’s seminal decision in Amara v. CIGNA, in which the Court allowed employees to pursue equitable remedies against their employers if they could prove they were provided misleading information about their benefit plans.  The Amara decision will be huge in the coming years in situations similar to the one you posited in your hypothetical  example.  Well that’s a relief!!

da-vinci-robot-surgery-injury-lawsuit

The “ERISA test” about highly compensated employees – can you explain to me how that’s an issue to begin with?  If employees have an opportunity to contribute and be matched up to 6% of their salaries, for example, and everyone does…obviously the CEO is going to have a higher 6% than the receptionist.  I’m obviously misunderstanding something here because that seems too obvious to be a problem.

One of the goals of ERISA is to ensure that broad-based retirement plans do not discriminate in favor of highly-compensated employees.  In tandem with various testing provisions in the tax code, ERISA generally requires a retirement plan to have minimum “coverage” (i.e., the categories of eligible employees cannot be skewed in favor of highly-compensated employees) and to provide non-discriminatory benefits.   In response to your hypothetical, a uniform contribution for all employees (when expressed as a percentage of compensation) is generally non-discriminatory.  This is the case even if, as you noted, a highly-compensated employee ends up with a higher contribution when expressed as a dollar amount.

I asked Jeremy what else I should know to have a reasonable understanding of ERISA and he responded with the truly terrifying (from an HR perspective) tale of Krohn v. Huron Memorial HospitalHow would you answer that question?  What other finer points should I know?

It takes many years to fully understand ERISA’s detailed statutory scheme.  I’ve been working in the employee benefits world for 18 years, and I’m still learning new things.  My recommendation is to talk with as many people in the benefits world as possible.  Make a point to sit down with an actuary, benefit plan auditor, investment advisor, or other benefits professional as often as possible.  You’ll be amazed at how your understanding of ERISA will increase! 

My chief takeaway from all this -- all kidding aside -- hire a lawyer.  Always.

My chief takeaway from all this — all kidding aside — hire a lawyer. Always.

Anything else you’d like to add re: ERISA?

There are tons of free resources available to HR professionals that explain the requirements under ERISA, the tax code, and other laws that apply to employee benefit plans.  For example, the DOL and IRS have both, in recent years, expanded their websites and outreach programs to provide information geared to both employees and employers regarding benefit plans.

andrewW. Andrew Douglass has been practicing law in employee benefits and executive compensation matters for 13 years.  Prior to becoming an attorney, he worked as a pension actuary for a large public accounting firm.  There can be no doubt, now though, that he is an ERISA nerd through and through.  His words, not mine.  His favorite TV show of all time is The Wonder Years. Excellent choice!  “I’ve always related to Kevin Arnold and the ups and downs that came with growing up in the 1960s and 1970s.   That said, there was no way I was cool enough as a kid to have Winnie Cooper as a girlfriend!”  When he goes to a non-buffet Chinese restaurant, he orders off the “secret” menu because he’s cool like that…or actually, spicy, like that.

His official bio can be found at:  http://www.seyfarth.com/W.Douglass, or you can reach him on Twitter: @theERISAguy.  See?  ERISA nerd.  I believe I shall keep him on speed dial for when I need bail money in ERISA jail. :)

Dead Week and Finals – I Will Catch Y’all on the Flipside

HR Gal Friday’s brain can only hold so much info at once without risking that her Social Security Number or mom’s birthday will leak out of her ears and be lost forever.  So, I’m closing up shop till after finals.  Catch you guys on Wednesday!  In the meantime, here’s a photo essay of what I think/hope my upcoming week will be like.

LOTS OF STUDYING AND WORK

occupy tumblr_meh26uhsw31roxju7o1_500 zombie-meme

A LITTLE SLEEP (CLEARLY THIS WOULD ONLY BE A DREAM)

3obknkgosling

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

THE EXAMS THEMSELVES

pharma

Pharmacology

French History

French History

 

hunger

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

RELAXING AFTER (METAPHORICALLY)

Waterfall_Lepena sai yoke waterfall beach

Prevent Mistakes or Let Them Happen? – Also Dogs

Poor A.J. Clemente.  He had the worst first day on the job EVER, recently, when he accidentally said some curse words over his microphone on the local news.  That’s a pretty big mistake in the world of mass communications, so I understand why he was let go.  I feel bad for him because he was probably so nervous, etc. but it was the right decision.

dogs2.jpgAlso in the context of mistakes, I’ve been thinking about my dad’s dogs.  (I swear I have a point here.  Don’t leave me.)  My dad has loved Boston Terriers (or Boston Terribles as they are sometimes affectionately called) since he was very young.  Almost every dog he’s ever had has been a Boston, though we did have 2 poodle/mix strays come into our lives during my childhood.

dogs1Bostons are some of the most awesome dogs in the world.  I have never seen a mean Boston; they are almost annoyingly friendly.  They love attention and affection and will lavish you with kisses and licks till your pants get so stiff from drool they could stand by themselves.  They are small enough to be lapdogs, but too big to be annoying purse dogs.  I have had 3 fully grown Bostons jump into a chair with me once but that balancing act didn’t last long.  They are super fun to aggravate with a laser pointer or play tug of war with a rope.  And if you can get them in the right position in the bed (always a struggle because they are burrowers) they aren’t too bad to curl up and sleep with.

That being said, they are not the brightest creatures on this planet.  They do have moments of cleverness, like when they used to take my dad’s laundry piece by piece out the doggy door and leave it all over the yard.  That was amusing.  But more often than not, I’m left looking at them and thinking “What on earth did you do that for?”

Picture1This is Rocky, one of dad’s 2 current Bostons.  He’s the sweetest dog ever and so pretty with his one blue eye.  No, he’s not deaf, just hard-headed.  He went through a phase (of a year or two) where he was marking (read: peeing) all over the house from time to time.  Not enough that it was a clear house-training issue, more like a deliberate marking.  His fave things to mark?  Dad’s shoes.

When I was staying there for a few days during my recovery from spinal surgery in 2011, I remember being in bed one morning and hearing what sounded like the dogs scratching on the door to get in my bedroom.  I ignored.  It persisted.  I ignored more.  It persisted more.  I rolled carefully out of the bed in my neck brace and opened the door to see “snow” all in the bathroom, down the hall, into the kitchen, the living room and the den.  Almost solid white with paw prints in it.  The dog had found a bag of Epsom salts somewhere and dragged them through the entire house.  The scratching was his paws (and Fanny’s, the innocent one) on the wood floors as they tried to maneuver a field of sharp rock salt granules on their bare feet.  I found him on the sofa, licking his feet and looking so guilty I could have died.  It would’ve been funny if I hadn’t had to clean all that up in a neck brace.

One day dad saw Rocky ‘mark’ the refrigerator and he’d had enough.  He put him on Craigslist.  Nothing came of it; I believe dad was just venting.  Still, that dog seems to have a hard time learning.  Dad recently started taking him outside in the front of the house since they live on a dead end road with very little traffic, and now that Rocky can mark more things out there, he does it much less in the house.  I think that’s maybe what he was doing when this happened:

Picture3

This is the back yard, but I feel like Rocky was investigating and trying to mark the new yard art, as it were.  Dad was trying to trap, and I hope relocate, a fox who had been spotted by the neighbors several times and was becoming bolder.  There are small kids and pets around there, so Foxy had to go.  Dad used a ham bone for bait.  First he caught a possum, and then he caught Rocky.  I haven’t heard the whole story just yet, but I know Rocky couldn’t have been in there for too long because Fanny would have alerted someone.  I even kind of wonder if my dad watched this happen and let it.  I don’t blame him; I love this photo.  And maybe Rocky, the hard-headed dog did learn not to meddle with everything?  I doubt it.  He’s a dog, but I guess it’s possible.

Between poor Rocky in the clink and poor A.J. Clemente’s 15 minutes of infamy, it made me think about the nature of mistakes.  We all make them.  But what do we do when we see someone else about to make them?  I know Clemente’s mistake couldn’t have been prevented.  No one saw that coming.  But my dad probably saw the dog going for the trap.  When is it ok to let a mistake happen (in work or life) in order to teach someone a lesson?  Obviously we prevent small children from running into the street or grabbing things off the stove.  Obviously we check behind the new payroll clerk so we don’t pay everyone a quarter of a million dollars an hour.  But other, lesser mistakes…should they be prevented or allowed to play out?

Ignoring at all costs.

Ignoring at all costs.

I feel like I have people in my life right now who are letting me make mistakes (in a good way) and I try very hard to consciously learn from them so I don’t repeat them.  Sometimes I fear I’m going to be like that damn dog, though, and ignore the lessons.  I hope not.

Thoughts?

(Those of you who follow me on Instagram may have seen some of these pics before.  Sorry for duplicating.  Those of you who don’t are welcome to follow – hrgalfriday there too.)

Fun Friday – I Got an Advice Question!!

You guys!  I got my very first email asking for advice!  I’m a guru!

(I’m totally kidding.  I’m a college student and office manager.  Take everything here as mere suggestions and feel free to tell me I’m wrong in the comments.) 

Hi Dominique:

Thanks for the follow on Twitter. After reading your bio I thought that we might have a similar path.

I have been an Office Manager in the architecture industry for 22 years (20 with the same small business). The past few years I have taken an interest in HR – in wanting to help others succeed in the workplace, etc. Unfortunately, my current employment does not allow me to gain any HR experience as we have a solo HR person who is not really forthcoming. My Masters is in Organization and Management and I am not ready to spend a bundle more money for another degree in HR. Can you give me any advice on how you are organizing your self-study? I just joined SHRM and will start networking with the local chapter but besides that I am overwhelmed with where to start … so many twitter feeds, blogs, articles, etc. Are you focusing on a specific area? Not having HR experience I am not sure what area I would like best.

Thanks,

K

Dear K -

Thank you so much for writing me!  This made my day!

I think we do have a similar path with the office manager/self-study bit, but we differ in that you have a LOT more education than I do.  In fact, with a Masters in Organization & Management, I bet you already know a lot more than you realize.  Do NOT go back to school and spend more money on an HR degree.  (Anyone disagreeing with this opinion, please let me know in the comments, but I really think further spending in that area won’t get you the return on investment that you would hope.)  Plus, you might delve further into this and hate HR.  If you do some self-study and love it and want to become the world’s foremost expert, decide that later.  For now, no.

Also, I know it’s super easy to get overwhelmed with the Twitter, blogs, articles, etc.  Don’t stress too much over this.  You’ll never read or absorb it all.  Just take in what you can reasonably handle without stressing yourself too much.  An article or two a day that you really absorb is better than 12 that you don’t.  Also, the blogs aren’t so much actual lessons as people delivering different ideas and opinions.  They are great, certainly, but you’ll want to start off with a knowledge base that will allow you to get more out of the blogs, the tweets, and endless stream of information on the internet.

I did a review of 2 iPhone apps that I currently have on my phone.  I still use them and quiz myself when I get a moment.  These have helped because they’ve given me insight into areas of HR that I didn’t even know existed, and thus am weak in.  I never had to utilize them before.  If you go that route, keep a pen/notebook handy and jot down some terms or laws that you don’t know.  Even if you get the answer correct, if the term was unfamiliar, jot it down.  They won’t teach you all the principles, but they’ll point out what you don’t know and you can research later.

When you look at the apps, or even just that post to find a list of the various areas of HR, follow the blogs/Twitter accounts of businesses in that area: benefits brokers, insurance companies, HR outsourcing, payroll companies, staffing agencies, recruiters, risk management, employment law firms, etc.  Rather than individual people musing and giving their opinions, the businesses themselves often have blogs about laws, policies, and information that will count more as a lesson.

Some that I highly recommend:  Winston Benefits, Insperity, Infinisource, My Back OfficeMonster Thinking, Workplace Prof Blog, Winston & Strawn, LLP and Presidio Group.  This isn’t an exhaustive list, but it’s a good start.

Also, joining SHRM was a great idea.  I hope you joined your local chapter as well as national.  National SHRM puts out HR Magazine, which has excellent articles and even if you don’t understand 100% of it, it will point you in an area that you can research more.  Also, reach out to your local SHRM officers.  I’m not sure how your chapter works but in Baton Rouge they have a general meeting approximately once a month.  They may not have speakers lined up months in advance, but they generally have some idea of a topic a couple months ahead of time.  It may be as general as “safety”, but you can ask about upcoming topics and study beforehand so you’ll be able to engage more fully in the meetings.  The SHRM website also has good articles and chats where you can ask questions and engage with other people.

Also, I’d encourage you to try again with the HR person at your office or maybe even a little higher up.  Do not approach this as you trying to do their job (or neglect yours), but just say you’re interested and feel that some cross-training would benefit the office.  You’d like to learn enough to be the “emergency backup”.  Not only will it help you learn a little more, it really will benefit your company.  This person could become ill, take another job, get hit by a bus or win the lottery and leave you all in a lurch. This is especially true in a small office which has a smaller talent pool to draw from.  There is no job on Earth that doesn’t need an emergency backup.  They don’t need to know 100% — just enough to keep things from falling apart till everyone adjusts.

As for me, my plans for self-study have changed/evolved a bit.  When I first started this blog in January, I had recently been unemployed and did this as a way to reach out, get more knowledge and not drive myself crazy at home with nothing to do.  I’ve since taken a job with a content marketing firm that assigns me articles and blog posts to write for our clients, many of whom are in HR-related businesses.  These require research and just doing that has taught me a lot.  I know that’s a bummer to say since not everyone has the ability to do this on the job and it’s one of the reasons I’m suggesting you try again, as nicely as possible, with your HR person at work.

In the meantime though, I’m reading blogs, I’m researching for work, I’ve occasionally got guests on this blog teaching me things (and I need to do more of that).  A delightful friend from Twitter, Liz Rominger, has agreed to loan me a SHRM PHR Learning System for the summer.  They are very expensive and I cannot afford one on my own, however, they are much less than a degree in HR, so perhaps you can.  Or maybe someone in your local SHRM chapter can loan you one.  Maybe even your local library…I never thought to check there.  You can even find older ones on eBay for a few hundred bucks less because they’re somewhat out of date.  We all know healthcare has changed since 2009, but the general principles in the rest of the materials are still the same and you can (and should) study the PPACA from multiple resources elsewhere anyway.  I wouldn’t go any older than 2009 – 2010, but that’s an idea.  Anyway, I’ll be borrowing Liz’s learning system once I finish finals on May 7, through about Labor Day.  I plan to go through the system in the order SHRM presents it and will post blogs on my progress. 

I hope you’ll keep me informed of your progress as well!  Hopefully we can learn from each other over the summer, but believe me, this is much more than a summer endeavor!  HR Pros are required to get continuing education for a reason.  Things change and the learning is constant.  This will definitely not be an overnight process for either of us, but we’ll get there!

Take care and good luck with your studies!

-HRGF

Did I miss anything guys?  Any additional advice you’d offer to K or advice of mine that was awful?  Let me know!

Sometimes Life Has Other Plans…

One of these days I am going to learn to not get too excited about things I think will be fun, and not get too down about things I think are going to royally suck.  I often end up wrong about both.

s-DUKAKIS-large

Saturday I got my hair done, got a brow wax, got a manicure and a last minute bug up my butt to whiten my teeth, so I got some fancy 2-hour strips…all in preparation to take tons of pics with all my fave HR celebrities and network the hell out of people.  It was not an inexpensive day but frankly the hair and the brows needed to be done anyway and were unavoidable.  I was looking a little Dukakis there.

Saturday night was not what I had planned, but it was awesome.  The few minutes I spent with some HR celebs in the restaurant while shoving food in my face were really fun, and tasty.  Picking up the fellas at the airport was an adventure and they were fabulous.  If I could only spend a little quality time with a few people there, Mike Haberman, Doug Shaw and Bill Boorman were good choices.

amigos

Then came the cut.  What I thought was not that bad before I went to bed (at 5 am) was not that great in the morning (at 9 am).  It eventually required superglue and a couple stitches.  Nothing life-threatening but super inconvenient and painful.  The tetanus shot was not fun either and the pain meds made me super queasy.  Sunday through Tuesday was largely me sleeping like the dead, sitting around with my foot propped up, and occasionally experiencing some very unpleasant things…with the ball of my foot all taped up and me walking awkwardly on the outer side of my foot, as little as possible.  The cut is kind of in a crease, so it shouldn’t even scar (which is good for future blisters, I’m told) and could have been way worse.  I’ve had way worse happen to me (ACL injury, 2 ruptured cervical discs) and I can still see poor Kevin Ware’s injury in my head, so this was NOTHING, really, and I have no right to complain.

Still, less than ideal timing.  I had a chance to hang out with Laurie Ruettimann and totally missed my chance to fangirl on her like I planned, I missed Janine and Doug from my Zombie Apocalypse team, William Tincup (and I remember we talked about it in the car but I don’t remember what the answer was…was he BORN with that last name?) plus British people!  I’ve been watching Doctor Who and I was in love with all things British up until a certain character had to leave and now I’m just pissed.  But I didn’t know that till last night!  I would’ve been FINE over the weekend with the Brits!

tardis-david-tennant-doctor-who-tenth-doctor-HD-Wallpapers

I got excellent coverage of SHRM from all the tweets and blogs coming from there.  I learned a lot and was entertained quite a bit, and wasn’t even there.  If you haven’t done so yet, take a look through all the #lashrm13 tweets and Google it to read some great blogs.

dentist

In celebration of me possibly finally learning this life lesson, rather than aim for any “fun” activities next week, I’m going to try and see the dentist, the gyno and start training for my first 5k as soon as these stitches come out.  If I get really crazy I might try and get a colonoscopy.   I’m anticipating mild to moderate fun.

Keep ya posted!

-HRGF

PS – I believe the foot is doing well.  Walking on it is less painful and it itches like a mofo.  That’s a good sign, yes?  Healing?  Let’s hope so.

A Skirmish at SHRM-ish. Evening One.

Ok, so I ran around doing a million things today.  Drove across the river to feed a friend’s cats cause she’s out of town.  Got my hair done.  Finished the greatest piece of art the world has ever seen, washed clothes, unpacked my trunk cause I realized the Brits would need room for their luggage, watched some Walking Dead cause I need to catch up to discuss with Janine Truett and other stuff I can’t even remember.  Today has been a blur.

I arrived at Lucy’s Retired Surfer’s Bar & Restaurant around 8:15 pm.  I was supposed to go pick up the Brits, Doug Shaw and Bill Boorman, at the airport at 8, but their flight was delayed.  I had someone order me food before I arrived, ran in, met Lizzie Maldonado, Teela Jackson, Dwane Lay, Matt Charney, Robin Schooling, Bryan Wempen, Cat Carlos, Courtney Young, Jen McClure and all kinds of people.  It was great.  I scarfed my food like my life depended on it, despite that being the best shrimp and grits I have ever had EVER, right Lizzie?!  Then I ran to pick up the Brits at the airport.

Oof.  Couch to 5K starts next weekend, for SURE.  In the meantime, it was a blast meeting all these people and reconnecting with the ones I already knew!  So much fun!

Oof. Couch to 5K starts next weekend, for SURE. In the meantime, it was a blast meeting all these people and reconnecting with the ones I already knew! So much fun!

When most of my friends fly into Louisiana, they go to New Orleans.  I am much more familiar with the New Orleans airport than the Baton Rouge one.  Also, it was nighttime and I don’t know where all the parking entrances and exits are, so I lapped the airport about 17 times.  I saw the terminal with people just parked there in front of the doors but there were no spaces and cops everywhere and I didn’t know if that was allowed or what, so I just kept driving and driving and went the wrong way up some ramps a few times and I don’t even know.  No, I have not had a single drop of alcohol tonight.  I just hate this airport.

I finally figured it out and parked a grillion miles away.  Walked into the airport carrying my amazing artwork, and trying to keep it from catching air.  Then I get there and there are ZERO flights from Houston on the board.  There are about 19 from Dallas but NONE from Houston.  Now, the Baton Rouge airport only has 4 gates and 1 escalator anyway, so I wasn’t super worried about missing them within the airport, but I was briefly worried their flight had been diverted to NOLA.  That has happened to me twice, for various reasons.

A lovely gay couple became enraptured with my sign and they took my pic for me.  Then I went and sat near the escalator with my huge sign and just hoped that eventually I’d see someone.  Doug came down the escalator waving his arms gleefully like a child.  It was hilarious.  Immediate hugs and cheek kisses all around.  No, never met him, just know him from Twitter but it’s like we’re best buds already.  I love Twitter.  Then Bill came down waving also and we also hugged.  I handed out Mardi Gras beads instead of leis.  We walked to the front door and ran into Mike Haberman who had just landed and was attempting to get a ride to his hotel, so we scooped him up too.

The greatest piece of art the world has ever known.  Move aside, Guernica.

The greatest piece of art the world has ever known. Move aside, Guernica.

I left the fellas there with the sign and ran to get the car.  On the way to the car I realized that I had left my phone in my seat when I got up to hug Doug.  My superawesome iPhone with its superawesome iPhone case WAS NOW GONE.

I flipped out which did not help me find the exit from the parking lot any faster.  I actually attempted to drive out the entrance because it’s marked like 2 lanes go in and 2 go out, but no.  I’m sure I’m on security footage now with people either laughing at me or tagging my plates to put me on some kind of list.  Anyway.  I finally got out of the parking lot, headed up to the terminal, parked way at the end and did not give a damn that a cop was standing right there.  In fact, I asked him to guard my running car with my purse still in it by telling him I was picking people up but had left my phone.  Luckily he was very nice and agreed.

Greatest phone case in the world, ammirite?  You'd sprint into a state of asthma and angina for this too, don't lie.

Greatest phone case in the world, ammirite? You’d sprint into a state of asthma and angina for this too, don’t lie.

Sprinted inside, ran by the boys, told them to go find the car with the cop guarding it, and dashed for the escalator.  Phone was still there.  It was a SHRM miracle!  I caught my breath while we waited for Doug’s bag to get off the conveyor, dropped Haberman at his hotel, drove the Brits to their hotel (an adventure in itself because almost all of downtown is one way and I was using Google maps with audio.  That GPS bitch is an overachiever.  Hello, I’m at a red light!  You’re going 97 steps ahead of me and I can’t move!), they checked in, we took a pic with the sign (THAT WE ARE TOTALLY GOING TO REDO BECAUSE THAT VALET WAS AN IDIOT), walked to the bar I had recently left from and chilled with the gang some more.

All that ugly side of the hotel and you couldn't get the bottom of my awesome sign with the 2 guys it mentions?!  Come on!

All that ugly side of the hotel and you couldn’t get the bottom of my awesome sign with the 2 guys it mentions?! Come on!

They took off for another bar to hear some blues but I want to be semi-alert tomorrow, so I came on home.  I am exhausted now.  The conference doesn’t even officially start till tomorrow at 1.  My night was only from 8:15 – 11:15 and it was awesome, aggravating and terrifying when I thought I lost the phone.  I have no idea how I’d replace all that info.  I have to look into that.  Anyway.  I’m exhausted and I have to tweet golf in the morning.

You kids enjoy your breakfast tomorrow.  Look for #hrgolf tweets from the 1st 9 holes before I go to Jen McClure’s workshop!  Goodnight!

-HRGF

Update – And I just heard a ruckus outside like someone maybe breaking into cars, so I went to see…cause I’m a nosy dumbass like that, who enjoys her car.  Like what was I going to do?  Stop the criminals with my Buffy-esque fighting skills?  Why did I go out there?!  No, not breaking into cars…idiots littering beer bottles.  Part got between foot and flip flop and I stepped on it.  This better not be some kind of SHRM beginner’s curse.  The bleeding has stopped, but it’s painful and the peroxide was esp unpleasant.  Hope I don’t need a stitch.  Cross your fingers.

My First SHRM Conference – #lashrm13

Hey Gang!

The Louisiana Society for HR Management is having their conference in Baton Rouge this year and it goes from Sunday afternoon to Tuesday evening.  Some early birds are flying in on Saturday even, so there will be pre-conference fun as well.  I am attending the event as “press” because I will be live-tweeting most of my sessions and blogging to wrap up the day’s events.

Look for my Twitter to blow up with amazing info that I’m learning and some juicy behind the scenes scoop on some of my fave HR celebs too.

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I’ll be tweeting from my usual handle, @HRGalFriday.  My boss will be tweeting her sessions from the company account.  She’s attending some of the same things as me, so you’ll get to see two perspectives on the keynote speeches, for example, if you follow that Twitter also.  It is @RepCapital.

In addition to seeing some old HR buddies from around town that I don’t see very often like Robin Schooling and Christine Assaf, I am interested in meeting most of my Twitter buddies for the first time!  The list includes: Bill Boorman, Doug Shaw, Crystal Miller, Laurie Ruettimann, William Tincup, Bryan Wempen, Nisha Raghavan, Teela Jackson, Janine Truett, Lizzie Maldonado, Matt Charney, Dwane Lay, Jennifer McClure, Brad Galin, Broc Edwards, Mike Haberman, Sarah Williams, Michael VanDervort and probably tons more that I’m forgetting.  I am so excited.  If you aren’t following them all on Twitter by now, you should remedy that IMMEDIATELY.  They are all great and they’ll be tweeting about #lashrm13 too, I imagine.  (I am going to go so fangirl on Laurie Ruettimann, you don’t even know.  Check out her YouTube clips of her speeches. She is hilarious!)  And no, I did not link to all those Twitter accounts because I’m very lazy busy.  Just jot them down, the people are easy to find.

So far I am set to see keynotes from Dwane, Jennifer and Bill, a session about PPACA, one about FLSA, one about best practices in hiring veterans, one about social HR leadership from Doug Shaw, one about retirement and something from Brad Galen entitled “Who do YOU want to Hire?  A Monkey, Ninja, or Pirate?”  I’m getting WAY in the front for that one so I can tweet some pics, for sure.

crawfish21

I know one or two other little details that no one else is privy to just yet because I’m awesome and special.  Look for some fun updates and photos on my Twitter and here too, time permitting.  Also, the blogging…some might be here, some might be at http://repcapitalmedia.com/blog/ also.  Be sure to check both accounts and both blogs for all the scoop.  It’s going to be BIG FUN!

This post originally left off what I’m almost looking forward to the most.  At the ass crack of dawn on Sunday morning, after having been drinking and partying Saturday night and arriving from their various countries/locales, a few of the guys have decided on a round of golf.  Robin Schooling’s husband Douglas will be taking Dwane and Matt to play 18 holes.  Christine, Doug Shaw and I plan to watch the inevitable tears and recriminations.  I’ll be live tweeting the first 9 holes on Sunday morning with the hashtag #hrgolf before heading back for the official workshop to kick off the conference.  I expect it will be entertaining.

- HRGF

Also, before I forget, I am currently working on a blog post about a very cool internship program I’ve discovered being held by MasterCard.  They are holding contests for these internships in 6 countries around the world and the US deadline is April 7.  My post won’t be finished by then but if you or someone you know is registered full time at an accredited university in the US and looking for a cool internship, check out the MasterCard site for more details.  The webisodes are really funny.  Or, you can check out the #internswanted hashtag on Twitter, or check out @MasterCardNews.

Teaching Tuesday – A Review of 2 PHR Exam Prep Apps for iPhone

Hello All  -

For today’s lesson, rather than a guest instructor, I’m going to show you 2 of the tools I’m using to look at some PHR type questions and find the areas in which I’m particularly weak.

The first app is from the HR Certification Institute.  It’s called HRCI PHR Exam Prep for Human Resources Professionals by Upward Mobility and costs $3.99 in the iTunes app store.  In my opinion, this app is not worth that price.  There are 4 features in this app: Study mode, Test Mode, Review Test Performance and Resume Last Test.

features

In Test Mode, you can choose how many questions you want to answer up to 140 and how much time you want, up to 280 minutes.  Those 140 questions, though, never change.  Assuming you need to take a break, that’s when you’d use the Resume Last Test function.  You take the test, multiple choice or True/False, and get your score.  Pretty basic.

test modequestiontest results

When you use the Review Test Performance mode, it will show you all the questions and confirm which were correct and which were not.  You can then click on each for a brief explanation.

Study mode is basically the same as the Review Test, only you don’t get a correct or incorrect designation beforehand.  You click on a question, look at the answer, read the explanation and then mark it as reviewed and understood (if you want).

study modebefore takeawaytakeaway

This app is pretty basic and overall I’m glad I got it.  I do think it’s a little expensive considering it only has 140 questions and with my great memory, going through this a few times, I almost have them all memorized.  I question if I learned anything though, or just knew what to anticipate.

The second app I’ve been using is called PHR Exam Review from Flashcard Brain Apps Education.  It was $2.99 in the iTunes app store.  It lacks the fancy graphs and charts of the first app, but it is so much more useful!  For starters, it breaks up the studying into categories:  Strategic Management, Planning, HR Development, Compensation & Benefits, Risk Management, Practice and Vocabulary.  The little dot for comments is so you can create and save your own flash cards.

categories

I like this because it breaks it up into specific areas of practice and isn’t just scattershot like the previous app.  There is no test mode, no timed element, and no scoring.  It’s just flashcards, but there are so many more of them that this app is just not even comparable to the other.

questions answer

See?  Just index cards.  No keeping score, no timed element.  Just questions and answers.

The great thing, though, is that this has so many more questions and answers.  Each category has between 75 and 120 questions.  The vocabulary section has 800+ definitions!

practice benefitsvocab

This app has about 10x the information that the first one has, and it’s cheaper.  I think that’s a benefit.  I also feel like with this one, I’m learning more and not memorizing.  But if you like to measure things and keep score to track your improvement…that’d be tough with this particular app.  They are both good and I’m glad to have them both.  But if you can only get one and can’t decide if keeping score vs. more info is better…go with the 2nd one.

Stay tuned for Fun Friday later this week.  Next Tuesday, a lesson on ERISA from an attorney buddy!

Everyone have a great week! – HRGF