April 1, 2023

The Workologist: The Clinging Co-Worker

Dear Workologist:

I work in my company’s I.T. area. We are expected to remember a lot of technical information, or know how to find whatever we can’t recall. I have a co-worker who can’t seem to analyze and resolve his own work. He asks the same questions repeatedly, even though 85 percent of our work is documented. By the end of a typical day, I’m exhausted not only from doing my work, but also from helping him with his. How do I encourage this needy co-worker to stand on his own? Pamela, Brooklyn

So often, issues with co-workers are most smartly resolved by channeling your inner diplomat, nudging your adversary into compliance without giving offense. Not this time. You don’t have to be a jerk about it, but you do need to be direct with your needy colleague. Pussyfooting around this problem is not only bad for you and your company — it’s also not doing him any favors.

You can do this by degrees, pushing back on each question with a polite but definitive variation on “I have a lot of work to do right now — you can look that up.”

Or you can use the next incident as an excuse for a serious sit-down: Just as you’ve done here, explain that you can’t do your job and his, and that he needs to get over the hand-holding and do his own work. Don’t make this sound like a threat, because that’s not the idea. You’re just having an honest conversation, peer to peer. The message is not that you won’t help him; it’s that you can’t.

The worst outcome is that if he keeps leaning on you, you’ll have to explain the situation to management. That would be painful, but no one is benefiting from the current situation. And the best outcome — it’s possible! — is that he does shape up.

Dear Workologist:

I work for a large city agency. I am considering applying for a position in a different unit. I have contemplated telling my supervisor about my intention to apply, in the interest of disclosure. But I’m not sure this is the best strategy. If I don’t tell her and I get an offer, then it seems that no harm has been done. If I tell her and I don’t get an offer, don’t I risk my future? She might be less likely to promote me or increase my responsibilities. Jean, Brooklyn

It’s almost never a good idea to tell your boss, in effect, that you’re thinking about quitting. And yet people do it all the time, and for one of two reasons. The first is that it’s a tactic for expressing dissatisfaction — the boss is supposed to panic at the idea of losing such a valuable employee, and respond with a promotion, a raise and access to the executive washroom. That’s often a false hope. Indeed, explicitly raising the notion of your departure can be a disastrous starting point for a negotiation. “I have a job offer” carries some weight; “I might be able to get some sort of job offer” does not.

Sometimes, employees tell the boss they’re thinking of quitting out of a mushy sense of obligation. But by and large, employers eliminate emotion from their thinking when they end their relationship with an employee. When they are considering whether to cut ties with their workers, they tend to keep that possibility to themselves. Layoffs are generally abrupt; any prelude to a dismissal is likely to come in the form of an ultimatum-style warning. Rarely do companies say: We’re kind of thinking of cutting your position, but who knows what’ll come of it?

The reverse should hold true for you. Unless your agency requires you to disclose that you are applying for a job in a different unit, you should keep that information to yourself. Telling your supervisor about your plans carries risk; keeping quiet does not.

Dear Workologist:

I’ve been an Apple fan/user for many years, and have been fortunate that my employers for the past decade-plus have provided me with Macs for my work. However, I recently started a job that requires me to use a PC. The last time I had to use a Windows-based computer was in the 1990s, so there’s been a steep learning curve that has created a greater drag than I anticipated. My efficacy and productivity are not what I would like. How do I explain this to my boss without looking as if I’m making excuses for my less-than-stellar performance?

B.C.A., Washington

Operating systems come and go, but making excuses without looking as if you’re making excuses is a skill that no technology will ever disrupt. This is an interesting iteration of that commonplace challenge, because it’s probably not obvious to your employer that there’s any learning curve at all. We’re not talking about mastery of some obscure, ultramodern software here. This is Windows, one of the most familiar technology tools in the history of technology tools.

Offer your excuses in overlapping layers of good intentions — what you’ve done and what you’re planning (or willing) to do. Try saying something like: “It’s been awhile since I’ve used Windows, and it’s changed just enough to keep me from being as productive as I usually am, so last night I started brushing up with an online tutorial. Are there other resources you’d suggest to help me get up to speed as quickly as possible?”

Should this inquiry yield a useful answer, great. But the point is that this is a pre-emptive strike: You’re indicating that you know there’s a problem, that you’re working to fix it, and that you would welcome — but don’t require — help.

Whatever you do, don’t wait for a manager to be the first to bring this up — or, perhaps even worse, for one of your colleagues to sit you down and tell you to stop being so needy.

Send your workplace conundrums to workologist@nytimes.com, including your name and contact information (even if you want it withheld for publication). The Workologist is a guy with well-intentioned opinions, not a professional career adviser. Letters may be edited.

Article source: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/09/08/jobs/the-clinging-co-worker.html?partner=rss&emc=rss

Car Sharing Grows With Fewer Strings Attached

Once he gets to his destination, Mr. Clemens parks the car on the street and forgets about it.

He relies exclusively on two car-sharing services, DriveNow and Car2Go. “I use this three to four times a day,” he said, as he dropped off a colleague in front of a wine bar in the German capital’s Mitte district on a recent Sunday evening. “To get to work, for business meetings, going out to a bar. I like it because it’s one-way.”

Car sharing has been around for decades in Europe and has caught on in the United States with Zipcar. These station-based car-sharing services require members to pick up vehicles from a particular place, which may or may not be convenient. Users usually need to reserve cars in advance for prearranged, prepaid blocks of time and, when they are done with the car, they have to return it to the same place — all factors that have limited car sharing’s attractiveness.

Berlin, though, has become the largest one-way, car-sharing city in the world. One-way or free-floating services, which recently started in the United States, use GPS and smartphone apps for far more flexible car sharing. Cars are parked on city streets, and users pick up cars parked nearest to them. Instead of bringing the car back to a lot, users leave it wherever they find parking near their destination. They are charged for the amount of time they spend driving.

These new systems have been making an impression. Since the first commercial one-way car-sharing systems started in Germany two years ago, 183,000 people have signed up, according to Bundesverband CarSharing — a large number, considering that long-established car-sharing systems in Germany have 262,000 members. Car2Go has started service in 11 North American cities including Austin, Tex., Seattle and Washington. DriveNow is in San Francisco, but it uses the older station-based model.

“It’s going to alter what car sharing is,” said Susan Shaheen, co-director of the Transportation Sustainability Research Center at the University of California, Berkeley. “We didn’t have the technology to do this in the ’90s.”

Two of Germany’s biggest automakers are squarely behind the idea. DriveNow is a joint venture of BMW and the car rental company Sixt, and Car2Go is a subsidiary of Daimler. (In the United States, DriveNow is solely BMW’s venture.)

“We grew up having everything; maybe our parents had two cars. And now, with the current generation, there’s a trend toward shared economies,” said Michael Fischer, a spokesman for DriveNow in Germany. “As a car manufacturer, do you want to lose this group? Or offer them something? Because, apparently, you cannot sell to them.”

Car2Go, which uses fleets of Daimler’s Smart cars, pioneered the one-way model with a pilot project in Ulm, Germany, in 2009. “More and more, people in cities don’t want their own cars. But in many ways, car sharing was unattractive,” said Andreas Leo, a spokesman for Car2Go in Europe. “It was hard to reach, you had to book in advance, you had to pay a monthly fee whether you used the car or not. We looked at the technology and decided to develop car sharing without these restrictions.”

Now in 21 cities, Car2Go puts its worldwide membership at 400,000. Berlin, with 1,200 cars, has the company’s largest fleet. DriveNow, whose fleet is made up of Minis and other BMWs, is active in four German cities with 700 cars in Berlin.

It doesn’t cost much to join; the idea is that a short trip should cost less than a taxi. DriveNow costs about $39 to register and 32 to 46 cents a minute to drive. The Car2Go registration fee is about $27 and 39 cents a minute to drive.

One-way car sharers tend to be about 30 years old, male and technophiles. Both Car2Go and DriveNow, however, report that the longer they are in a city, the more women and older people join. “It is a new kind of mobility, a new stage of mobility, especially for young people,” said Christoph Menzel, a professor with the Institute for Traffic Management at the Ostfalia University of Applied Sciences.

Article source: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/06/26/business/global/one-way-car-sharing-gains-momentum.html?partner=rss&emc=rss

Economix Blog: Staying Ahead of the Tax Man



Dollars to doughnuts.

The one bright spot in Wednesday’s dim gross domestic product report was a large jump in household income, welcome news given that incomes have been relatively flat in recent months after falling sharply in the previous few years.

As was confirmed Thursday in a release on December personal income, though, the boost to consumers’ pocketbooks is likely to be short-lived.

Most of the 2.6 percent increase in incomes last month involved companies that accelerated dividends, bonuses and other payments into 2012 before higher tax rates kicked in for 2013. Personal dividend income, for example, rose at a seasonally adjusted monthly rate of 34.3 percent in December versus 4.5 percent in November.

That’s the second-fastest monthly personal dividend income growth on record, after a huge spike of 54.8 percent in December 2004 (when Microsoft threw the whole trend out of whack by offering a one-time special dividend totaling $32 billion):

The Bureau of Economic Analysis estimated that in the quarter companies paid special or accelerated dividends of $39.5 billion, of which $26.4 billion was paid to individuals and so is included in personal income. The bureau also estimated that accelerated bonuses and “other types of irregular pay” probably gave a one-time boost to wages and salaries in the quarter totaling about $3.75 billion (or $15 billion at an annual rate).

We’ll almost certainly see a payback for that accelerated income last month in the form of lower dividend and bonus payments early this year. Additionally, households will be receiving less in their employee paychecks this month than they did last year because payroll taxes rose at the start of 2013.

None of this is good for consumer spending.

On the bright side, though, the sell-off of various kinds of assets in December will probably be good for the government’s coffers.

As my colleague Floyd Norris has written, the increase in tax rates in 2013 will likely result in higher tax receipts (and a lower budget deficit) for the current fiscal year than would have otherwise been expected.

Article source: http://economix.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/01/31/staying-ahead-of-the-tax-man/?partner=rss&emc=rss

High & Low Finance: Sorting Out a Chinese Puzzle in Auditing

To the Canadian affiliate of Ernst Young, the answer to both questions appears to be no.

How, asked one Ernst staff member involved in the audit in an e-mail to a colleague, “do we know that the trees” the auditors were being shown “are actually trees owned by the company? E.g. could they show us trees anywhere and we would not know the difference?” The answer was yes: “I believe they could show us trees anywhere and we would not know the difference,” replied the colleague.

That did not lead Ernst to change its procedures. Nor did it bother to look at documents that it knew were crucial to answering the questions about the Sino-Forest Corporation, which was based in Canada but had its operations in China.

Until the summer of 2011, Sino-Forest appeared to be a real success story, backed by underwriters like Credit Suisse and Toronto Dominion and with shares worth billions of dollars. Its bonds were rated as just under investment grade by Standard Poor’s and Moody’s. Then a short-selling operation known as Muddy Waters said it thought the assets were greatly exaggerated. Sino-Forest appointed a group of its independent directors to investigate, and in due course they concluded they could not even be sure just what trees the company claimed to own, let alone whether it owned them.

This week brought the Sino-Forest case close to a conclusion. Ernst agreed to settle a shareholders’ suit for 117 million Canadian dollars, or about $116 million, while denying it was liable. The company agreed to come out of bankruptcy with its assets, whatever they might be, owned by the creditors. The company had tried to find buyers, and a number looked at the documents, but nobody bid. There still seems to be no certainty about how much, if any, timber the company owns.

While Ernst settled the shareholder suit, it said it would fight new charges by the Ontario Securities Commission that the audit firm failed to follow proper audit procedures. It was the commission suit, filed this week, that disclosed the e-mails exchanged by the auditors.

“We are confident that Ernst Young Canada’s work was conducted in accordance with Generally Accepted Auditing Standards (GAAS) and met all professional standards,” the firm said in a statement. “The evidence we will present to the O.S.C. will show that Ernst Young Canada did extensive audit work to verify ownership and existence of Sino-Forest’s timber assets.”

However extensive the work, the audit failed to uncover the essential truth: the assets were fake.

Frauds, and audit failures, can happen in many countries. But China is a special case because the authorities there seem to be completely uninterested in getting to the bottom of scandals whose victims are American or Canadian investors. Even regulators in Hong Kong have voiced frustration with their mainland colleagues.

Last week China sent another delegation to the United States to talk about these issues with American regulators, and a Chinese official was quoted by The Financial Times as telling a Hong Kong audience that audit working papers should be shared with other regulators — something the Chinese supposedly agreed to a decade ago but had never actually done. “I think we’ll shortly be able to work out a way to deliver those papers,” he said.

The American regulators have heard those stories before. In July, the chairman of the China Securities Regulatory Commission, Guo Shuqing, told Mary L. Schapiro, then the chairwoman of the United States Securities and Exchange Commission, that he thought an agreement could be reached. It turned out that the Chinese insisted they would provide documents only if the S.E.C. promised not to use them in an enforcement proceeding without Chinese permission.

The week the S.E.C. filed court papers, in connection with its pending case against a Chinese affiliate of Deloitte, laying out case after case in which American regulators asked for assistance through obtaining audit work papers or even something as simple as verifying that a Chinese company existed. Repeatedly, the Chinese said something could be worked out, but somehow nothing ever was.

Floyd Norris comments on finance and the economy at nytimes.com/economix.

Article source: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/12/07/business/sorting-out-a-chinese-puzzle-in-auditing.html?partner=rss&emc=rss

Economix Blog: The Slide in Wages



Dollars to doughnuts.

Job growth has been modest but steady in the last few months. Wages, on the other hand, have been falling since August, after adjusting for both seasonality and price increases.

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, via Haver Analytics. Hourly earnings are shown in September 2012 dollars, inflation-adjusted using the Consumer Price Index. Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, via Haver Analytics. Hourly earnings are shown in September 2012 dollars, inflation-adjusted using the Consumer Price Index.

Assuming this is not just statistical noise, it’s possible that lower wages are enabling or encouraging employers to hire more workers, said John Ryding, the chief economist at RDQ Economics. When the price of something falls, buyers can afford more of it.

Another possible explanation relates to the types of jobs being created. If a sizable share of the jobs being created were low-wage jobs — which was the case from the first quarter of 2010 through the first quarter of 2012, anyway — the average wage could get dragged down.

For broader context on income stagnation over the last decade and its potential causes, check out this recent article by my colleague David Leonhardt.

Article source: http://economix.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/11/02/the-slide-in-wages/?partner=rss&emc=rss

Bucks Blog: Hurricane Sandy and the Need for More Paperwork for Mortgages

Homes on the New Jersey coast damaged by Hurricane Sandy.ReutersHomes on the New Jersey coast damaged by Hurricane Sandy.

A colleague whose home is located in an area affected by Hurricane Sandy thought he had signed the final papers last week for a refinance of his mortgage. But on Wednesday, his lender said that because his home was in a declared disaster area, he’d have to provide additional documents.

That might not be the easiest thing to do, since getting documents may be a challenge for those in areas without power.

A Bank of America spokesman, Kris Yamamoto, said that due to “G.S.E. guidelines and our policy, and depending on the category of the disaster area,” there may be additional requirements to process a loan, like an inspection or certification on the property. (The term G.S.E. refers to government-sponsored enterprises like Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac, which are major buyers of home loans.)

He also said that if the processing of a loan is delayed because of a bank site’s being temporarily closed, and the interest rate lock expires during that time, the customer would continue to qualify for their previous interest rate.

A Chase spokeswoman said she was looking into my inquiry. Meantime, she said, Chase is automatically giving many borrowers affected by the storm a seven-day extension on an interest rate lock if they were scheduled to close on a mortgage this week. (She said the extension applied to Connecticut, Delaware, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Virginia and the District of Columbia.)

Wells Fargo didn’t immediately respond to an e-mail request for information about how the storm was affecting loan applications.

Do you have a home loan or refinance pending? Has the storm affected your application?

Article source: http://bucks.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/10/31/sandy-and-the-need-for-more-time-paperwork-for-mortgages/?partner=rss&emc=rss

Wealth Matters: How to Handle Force-Placed Insurance

I was one of those homeowners, and I wrote a column last year about how difficult it was to get this type of insurance removed. I was reminded of that column when I read a colleague’s article about New York State investigating banks for making homeowners buy this overpriced insurance.

While lenders have every right to make sure that the homes on which they hold mortgages are adequately insured, borrowers have complained about the exponentially higher rates and how difficult it is to have the charges removed. When homeowners do not pay the charges or show proof of their own insurance, the penalties mount quickly. While there are no numbers on how many force-placed insurance policies have been put into effect, experts say they believe that the practice has become more common in the last couple of years.

One of the practices that has gotten regulators’ attention has been the mortgage lenders’ use of insurance subsidiaries to buy the force-placed coverage. But even when the lenders’ subsidiaries are not used, the way this insurance is applied has still irritated homeowners.

The mortgage industry argues that the insurance is more costly because it is being bought by the insurance companies that underwrite these policies, and that those companies have no knowledge of the homeowner’s credit score, which affects the cost. The lenders also say the practice is necessary to protect their shareholders’ interests.

“The objective here is to protect the interest of the lender,” said Vik Jain, managing director of Wingspan Insurance Services, which alerts banks when insurance lapses on the mortgages it monitors. “The only way to do that is to force-place that coverage. The lender cannot just call State Farm and renew the policy.”

That is certainly true. But banks often outsource this work to vendors that don’t always communicate with each other. While his company tracks loans and alerts the banks, Mr. Jain said, other servicing companies notify the customers that they do not have insurance and actually buy the insurance for the property. Since these servicing companies profit from the sale of the insurance, they are the ones that lose money if homeowners succeed in having the force-placed insurance removed from their accounts.

While there are at least a half-dozen pending class-action suits against banks over force-placed insurance practices, relief for consumers is slow in coming and is unlikely to cover all the charges homeowners have incurred.

Kai Richter, a lawyer at Nichols Kaster, an employment and consumer rights law firm in Minneapolis, said his firm recently won a $9.65 million class-action suit, Hofstetter v. Chase Home Finance. In that case, Chase had to stop both taking commissions from selling force-placed insurance and requiring insurance above the loan balances. But the only customers who won relief were the 40,000 who were part of the suit, and even then, Mr. Richter said, the award was only enough to refund about two-thirds of their money.

Suits like this may prevail and states like New York may succeed in wringing more concessions from banks. But such resolutions take time. What are homeowners doing today as they battle banks’ force-placed insurance, and what should you do if you find yourself in a similar situation?

PAY UP The sad truth is that most homeowners will give up before they win a battle against a bank, particularly one that holds the mortgage on their home. Homeowners are at a disadvantage, even if they believe they are right.

“When you fight the mortgage company, the mortgage company is going to hold all the cards,” said Keith Crocker, professor of insurance and risk management at Pennsylvania State University who won his own battle over force-placed insurance against Wells Fargo. “If they say you need it, you’ve got to go get it so they don’t force-place with even more expensive coverage. Then you fight them on it.”

If this seems to be capitulating, it is. But doing so saves time and may prevent you from falling into the labyrinth of unanswered messages, lost paperwork and mounting fees.

DON’T IGNORE IT The initial letters from many banks about the need for insurance are computer-generated and easy to ignore. Homeowners may think they already have the coverage or do not need what is suggested. That may be true, but not making that clear to the bank has serious ramifications.

Article source: http://feeds.nytimes.com/click.phdo?i=ef4def43cd1bc333e9163db9d5853f9a

Bucks Blog: Will Low Rates Influence Your Behavior?

In an article for Monday’s paper, my colleague Motoko Rich and I discussed how the Federal Reserve’s decision to keep interest rates low for the foreseeable future might not be enough to entice consumers to take on more debt.

After all, the threat of another downturn is keeping people with jobs on their best financial behavior. And the unemployed (and underemployed) are worried about staying current on their existing debts, and probably would not qualify for new loans anyway.

At the same time, consumers have been shedding their existing debts over the past few years, yet household debt levels remain historically high.

But since consumer spending is one of the large engines that drive the nation’s economy, this presents a conundrum. As the article states, many economists argue that the economy cannot get back to true health until the debt level comes down. But credit, made attractive by low rates, is a time-tested way to kick-start consumer spending.

Are you planning on changing your spending and borrowing behavior? Are you confident enough with your financial position to take on new debt? And if you recently applied for a new loan or mortgage, was it difficult to qualify?

Please drop your thoughts in the comment section below.

Article source: http://feeds.nytimes.com/click.phdo?i=7d1f6c48fbd054751e7f79fcbe2b139a

Bucks: Getting a Refund for Taxes Paid on Airfares

Earlier this week our colleague Joe Sharkey reported on a lapse in federal airfare taxes. Congress failed last week to authorize airlines to continue to collect taxes on domestic and international flights. In theory, that would mean lower fares. But most airlines decided instead to raise their ticket prices by about the amount of the taxes.

Some airline passengers are being asked to wait -- for a tax refund.Richard Drew/Associated PressSome airline passengers are being asked to wait — for a tax refund.

The expiration of the tax, though, leaves some fliers in an unusual situation: they paid taxes on tickets bought before the tax lapsed on Saturday at 12:01 a.m. for travel during the tax expiration period. Are they entitled to a refund?

Yes, says the Internal Revenue Service.

In a statement released Wednesday, the agency said it “has asked the airlines to provide refunds to eligible passengers when requested.” It said the airlines would already have payment information on file for these fliers.

On the other hand, the statement tacitly acknowledged that getting your money back might not be as straightforward as just asking for it. So the I.R.S. said it would have a claims procedure for requesting refunds that would require passengers to provide documentation to prove they paid the tax. But the procedure has not yet been developed.

If you paid taxes to an airline for a flight during the tax lapse, and you need to file a claim for a refund, your best bet is to keep your eye on this I.R.S. page.

Are you flying during the tax lapse? Has your airline been cooperative in issuing a refund? And is this the best way for the I.R.S. to handle a sudden policy change due to an act — or non-act — of Congress?

Article source: http://feeds.nytimes.com/click.phdo?i=b8bdf1b73f05c2a0a4be12dc0b7b7c25

Economix: Are Jobless Benefits Keeping the Unemployed Complacent (and Invisible)?

In an article on Sunday, I wrote about why our unemployment crisis has been largely ignored by Washington. Among the major factors I cited were that unemployed workers are less likely to vote than their employed counterparts. Additionally, the jobless are not as politically organized as they once were because they are more geographically dispersed and because the institutions that organized them have become weaker.CATHERINE RAMPELL


Dollars to doughnuts.

Several readers wrote to me emphasizing another factor that I had nodded to only briefly in the article: that many unemployed people are still receiving benefits nearly two years into their unemployment spell, whereas in the past benefits typically lasted a few months. While jobless workers today may not be living comfortably, they are at least able to get by, meaning that they have less need to resort to more radical organizing.

Some of the community organizers I spoke with for the article agreed with this argument.

“I’ve been involved with the unemployed since the mid-’70s, and this is the least amount of organization we’ve seen,” said John Dodds, director of the Philadelphia Unemployment Project. “In every other recession it was a major struggle to extend unemployment benefits. This recession came on as we went into the 2008 elections, and everybody was bending over backwards to help the unemployed and offer benefits.”

That sentiment has obviously changed, of course. Today much of the conversation about unemployment benefits is focused on whether they discourage workers from getting jobs. In some states politicians have decided not to receive additional federal money for benefits because they believe benefits are turning the unemployed into complacent, lazy couch potatoes, thereby delaying job growth. (See my colleague Motoko Rich’s article today on how the exhaustion of jobless benefits may actually hurt, rather than help, hiring growth.)

There has been so much skepticism about the utility of jobless benefits that last year Senator Orrin Hatch, the Utah Republican, even suggested drug-testing people before giving them benefits.

Over the coming months, millions more unemployed Americans will start losing benefits, partly because states are cutting back the number of weeks people can receive checks, and partly because many people have been unemployed so long that they’re no longer eligible for even the maximum duration of benefits.

If people like Mr. Dodds are right, this mass benefit exhaustion may become a tipping point into greater political organization and radicalization of the unemployed, along the lines of what was seen during the Great Depression. As the bread and circuses run out, workers become more desperate, and desperation may lead to more political instability.

Article source: http://feeds.nytimes.com/click.phdo?i=e73dbc4ee9320022c05cc67038da9849