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Management Buzz 3/04

Insuring international expansion, office socializing breeds productivity, and more

Cover Me

In the excitement of expanding to overseas markets, it's easy to overlook less sexy aspects of international trade-like insurance. It can be hard to figure out what you need to cover, from routine property/casualty to major financial exposure due to extending credit to new trading partners. The SBA is trying to make this chore easier with a Web site introduced in September 2003, www.assessyourinternationalrisk.com.

Cosponsored by insurance giant American International Group Inc. and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the site offers an overview of the kind of coverage you'll need if you go overseas. You can also submit specific questions to the site for expert input.

Credit insurance is one type of coverage that businesses often don't need in the United States, but it's almost a requirement of doing business overseas, says the SBA's Michael Stamler. "If you've got $500,000 tied up in an overseas deal, your bank is going to want that to be covered by credit insurance," he explains. The nuances of that and other insurance esoterica are outlined at the site.

One thing you can't do at this site: buy insurance online. You'll still have to rely on your broker for that.

Social Studies

Employees who take the time to get to know their co-workers aren't just shooting the breeze. They are actually more productive, says Jeffrey Sanchez-Burks, an assistant professor at the University of Michigan Business School in Ann Arbor. His examination of corporate socialization has found that friendly employees are more skilled at communicating with co-workers, which translates to quicker, better collaboration.

"There's a lot going on in interpersonal communications, and when people pay attention to [that], they solve conflict more effectively," he says. This insight is especially meaningful for managers who oversee culturally diverse work forces. People from Asia and Latin America, in particular, count on socializing for productive work decision-making.

Pat Fiore, founder and principal of Fiore Associates Inc., a marketing communications firm in Morristown, New Jersey, encourages effective relationship building by hosting social hours twice a month for her 11 employees.

Younger employees often absorb key information from co-workers that lets them pick up quickly on emerging problems. "They don't tune people out [the way older workers sometimes do]," says Fiore. "I've found them to be more open and fearless in the way they approach the people they work with. That's better for team building."

In Passing

Janis and Tim Ketchmark had been operating their MaidPro house-cleaning franchise for just two months when, in June 2003, one of their best employees was killed in a horrific car accident. Another was badly injured in the same wreck.

The Ketchmarks had to cope not only with the shock and grief felt by their remaining three employees, but also with the tasks of breaking the news to clients, scrambling to fill the holes in the schedule, and quickly hiring new workers. Giving employees time off for the funeral was a must, explains Janis. She also gave them a small bonus to thank them for working overtime to take care of clients.

"They are dedicated workers who couldn't lose time from work," Ketchmark says. "We paid them a little bonus for coming in at such a hard time."

A death doesn't have to be violent or even unexpected to deeply affect a close-knit office, says Jocelyn Libby, president of the Oregon/S.W. Washington State Chapter of the Association for Death Education and Counseling. "The primary thing is to acknowledge the death. You don't just clean out the desk and put someone else in there the next day," says Libby.

In a society that is attuned to the grief of family and friends, the anguish of surviving co-workers is often overlooked. They are thrust into the position of supporting those presumed to be closer to the deceased person.

It can be hard for co-workers who were close to the deceased person to feel that their intense reactions are legitimate, says Libby. Co-workers and bosses need to be attuned to the fact that it will take weeks, even months, to adjust to the loss of someone who was a trusted part of the company.

One thing's for sure: Offering paid time off for everyone in the office to attend the funeral or related events is a standard corporate benefit. The "2003 Benefits Survey," sponsored by the Society for Human Resource Management, found that 91 percent of respondents say their companies offer a paid bereavement leave.

One practical way to channel grief is to support the family as a group, advises Libby. "Get permission from the family to have one person [serve] as the contact person who can get accurate information about what happened and how they can help," she suggests.

Co-workers might find a positive outlet for their sadness by helping the family in practical ways-donating to a charity meaningful to the late co-worker; helping the family sort through the necessary paperwork, such as insurance; or helping the family clean out the person's desk.


U.S. workers put in an average of
1,815
HOURS
per year, while European workers put in an average of about
1,550
HOURS
per year.
SOURCE: International Labor Organization

The flu costs employers
$1
BILLION
per year in missed workdays, treatment and other factors.
SOURCE: American Medical Association

Joanne Cleaver has written for a variety of publications, including the Chicago Tribune and Executive Female.

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This article was originally published in the March 2004 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Management Buzz 3/04.

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