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Not Totally Suspension…A YEAR OF SUCCESS

Public domain image, royalty free stock photo from www.public-domain-image.com

As the last few days of the year tick by, many of us will take stock of the things we accomplished in these past twelve months.  Sometimes when I look back it feels as though nothing I had hoped for was accomplished.  But then I remember it was an accomplishment just to keep a thriving business in New Jersey, as New Jersey is one of the most unfriendly business states in the U.S.

This post, however, is not about complaints or about failures.  At this time of the year I like to take a look back and thank all the people and businesses who helped make our success possible.

Our customers come first.  Without them there would be no Total Suspension.  Our customers place their faith in us that we’ll be able to fix any problem with their trailers and get them back on the road.  We thank them for their confidence and appreciate the opportunity to serve them.

Our suppliers are key to our success.  It seems they can deliver whatever we need, whenever we need it.  We’re proud to call them partners in our success and we thank them for all their efforts.

And we have the best trailer mechanics in the business.  Dedicated employees who work in the heat and in the cold. Who work in the rain and in the snow. Who work in the blazing sun and even in the dark. Who work in tight spaces and on top of trailers; in drop yards and sometimes on the side of a road.  They do whatever it takes to keep our customers on the road.  I hope they know how much we appreciate everything they do.

I’m sure if you take a few minutes and look back at 2016 you too can find some successes and you’ll be able to think of people who have helped you realize them.

Lastly, I would like to wish our customers, suppliers and employees a HAPPY, HEALTHY, and PROSPEROUS New Year!

Not Totally Suspension…HELP SMALL BUSINESS THRIVE

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As you’ve undoubtedly heard, small business is the backbone of the American economy.  That’s not just a line people hand you;  small businesses contribute to our economy in a big way.

Here are a few facts from the US Small Business Association:

  • There are 28 million small businesses and they account for 54% of U.S. sales.
  • There are over 600,000 franchised small businesses and they account for 40% of all retail sales.  They also provide 8 million jobs.
  • Small businesses provide 55% of all jobs and 66% of all net new jobs since the 1970’s.

And would it surprise you to know that small businesses are leaders in tech and new product innovation?  Well it’s true.

Here’s another interesting fact, small business owners continue to reflect the diversity of our American culture as the number of minority owned businesses (including Hispanic-American, African-American, Asian-American) and female owned businesses grows.

So let’s take a quick look at the ways in which small businesses contribute.  Clearly they add to the economy by paying employees who further contribute to the economy with their purchasing power.  They purchase goods and services generating a need for other businesses.  They generate tax revenue needed by towns, which may reduce the tax burden on residents.   But these companies do more than contribute economically; they support and help grow their communities.  It’s often the local shop or business that supports local causes, sponsors  youth sports teams, and contributes to community charitable causes.

In 2010 Small Business Saturday was created to highlight and support small businesses throughout America. Soon after it was officially recognized by the US Senate and was being supported by state and local officials in all 50 states.  Today, whole neighborhoods continue to sign up to rally and promote their small businesses and their Main Streets.

I, too, am the proud owner of a small business.  I own a trailer repair company with my husband.  We not only employ ourselves but two other mechanics and a helper.  And we’ve been able to give some much needed experience to a few young family members looking to break into the workforce.  I speak from experience when I say that we need Main St. as much as we need Wall St.

So on November 26, and on every Small Business Saturday, I urge you to patronize the shops in your community.   But don’t stop there.   Throughout the year remember other business like the small, specialty manufacturer, the micro brewer, or the independent trailer repair company, like mine,  and give these economic workhorses your business.

Not Totally Suspension…ARE YOU ADVERTISING YOUR OLD AGE TO YOUR BOSS?

technologyOr how about to a perspective employer?  Do you give the impression that you’re old?  Do you give the impression that you are unwilling to learn new ways of doing your job?

Normally my posts are from the perspective of a small employer.  But this time I’m doing something slightly different.  This post involves how the employee is sometimes seen by the employer.

Not long ago I read a brief article with quick tips from experts in a few different fields.  The fields ranged from investing in stocks to car care to downsizing for empty-nesters.  But there were two tips that interested me the most; one was from a recruiter and one was from a career coach.  They both agreed that since age discrimination is real, why advertise your age based on comments you make.

Ask yourself the following question:  Do I often complain about new technology?

As I’ve posted in the past, I’m the recruiter and office administrator for our family business and I can tell you that nothing screams “I’M TOO OLD TO KEEP UP” as much as constant complaints about new technology or complaints about having to learn new ways of doing a job.  It can advertise your age to an employer or a recruiter, indicating that you’re unable or unwilling to learn or that you are unwilling to take on new tasks.

Instead, try to embrace change and different ways of approaching your job.  It might make your job easier or it might give you a fresh perspective on doing the same old thing.  It can give you something more in common with your fellow employees. And, who knows, you might find that you enjoy technology.  After all, it can open up a whole new world to you.

And while you’re at it, ask yourself another question:  Do I often complain about the attitudes or work ethic of the younger generations?

Here’s another tip:  try to curb these types of comments.  Each generation thinks that the upcoming generation is lazy and not as smart.  I often hear people say how fearful they are of what will happen when the younger generation is actually “running the world”.  This sentiment is so common that  I remember hearing people say it about my generation when we were young adults.

The fact is younger workers aren’t any worse than you when you were starting out.  Sure there are things they can learn from us but they also have plenty to contribute to the workplace.  And while it’s true that things are different today than years ago, constant negative comments will be noticed by everyone, including your employer.

My final tip:  don’t give the boss (or potential boss) any reason to think you can’t keep up.   Be that old dog who can learn new tricks!

Not Totally Suspension…MOST DANGEROUS JOBS

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When you think of the most dangerous jobs what comes to mind?

Once again the list of most dangerous jobs has been released and it includes some of the jobs we usually find on it:  construction worker, firefighter, police officer and corrections officer.  These are, indeed, dangerous jobs so it’s pretty self explanatory why they appear on the list year after year.

But it also included a few surprises such as EMT due to hazardous situations and environments in which they work; farm worker because of the heavy equipment they routinely work with and because of the physical nature of the job; nursing assistant because they work with ill/contagious people and sometimes have to lift or move heavy patients; and veterinarian because they may work with dangerous animals or with large animals including horses, cows, etc.  I don’t know about anyone else but I’m glad my job doesn’t require me to stick my hands into a horse’s mouth!

But here is a job I bet you’ll never see on the list of most dangerous:  TRAILER MECHANIC.

For starters, many people don’t even know there is such a thing.  We routinely see trailers on the road moving all manner of consumer goods from point A to point B.  But most of us never think about how they’re repaired or maintained.

My mechanics are the people who repair and maintain trailers for the transportation industry, such as trailer leasing companies, and for private industry, companies that own their fleet or who lease the fleet but are responsible for damage repair.

We do plenty of the standard things like annual inspections, periodic preventive maintenance, and replacing burned out lights.  But we also do many much more difficult things like brake jobs, replacing an entire roof, or replacing a nose rail.  And here are some reasons that Trailer Mechanic is a dangerous job:

1. It’s all outdoor work and it’s done in all weather conditions.  My mechanics work in the cold, on icy and/or snowy conditions, and in extreme heat.  In some cases, they have to weld in the heat wearing full protective gear, as required by law.

2. They work with all types of tools and equipment:  welder, compressor, power tools, to name a few.

3. Heavy lifting is a standard part of the job.

4. We do emergency breakdown service which means my mechanics might have to repair a trailer on the side of a road, or even after dark.

5. And they have to work in dangerous places like on top of the trailer, underneath the trailer or in other “tight spots” around the equipment.

6. Lastly, because we’re a mobile company my mechanics spend plenty of time driving from location to location so they are at an increased risk of roadway accidents.

So I’ll be looking for Trailer Mechanic to make the most dangerous jobs list one of these days.

 

 

NOT TOTALLY SUSPENSION…#Firstsevenjobs

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The first 7 jobs I’ve had are:

  1.  Babysitter
  2.  Ice cream scooper
  3.  Office clerk
  4. Store clerk/cashier
  5. Department manager in store
  6. Human Resources Assistant
  7. Recruiter

Recently #FIRSTSEVENJOBS was trending on twitter so I tweeted the first 7 jobs I had.  It was fun and a little nostalgic thinking back to old friends and fun times.  But then I thought about the purpose of our early jobs.  The greatest value our first jobs provide are lessons to help us build our careers.

Often what we learn are “soft skills”; things that are hard to quantify but are critical in our work lives.

Usually we learn things like punctuality and having a good attitude, even when we don’t feel like it.  We learn the responsibility of performing a task and the pride of a job well done; to dress appropriately and that, sometimes, we’ll have to work with people we don’t like; how to manage our time and how to break down and manage a task.  Sometimes our first jobs teach us what we DON’T want to do for a living.

Between the jobs I listed above and being the owner of a business today, I made my career in Human Resources. Recruitment was a large part of that career and it is an important function I perform for our family business.

When interviewing, instead of just letting the applicant dazzle me with their professional and/or technical skills, I like to ask about their early jobs and what they learned from having them.  I find I can learn more than “can this person perform the job”.  I can learn about their personality, their work ethic, how they relate to other employees and how the applicant will fit in with our corporate culture.  Then I can make a better decision as to whether I want that applicant working for me.

 

 

Not Totally Suspension… Vacations are good for employers

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I’m a very hard worker.  In fact, I find it a little hard to take time off from work and I have to remind myself that everyone does or should, take a break from the job.  Vacation time, sick time, personal time are critical to a balanced work and personal life.

Some people think I’m uncomfortable taking time off because I’m the owner of the business.  But that’s not the reason.  Even before I owned and operated a business, when I worked for other companies, I didn’t usually take all my available time off.  I was young and ambitious and, for most of that time, I didn’t have a family.  And guess what…I wasn’t any different than most American workers.

We Americans work more hours each year than most other industrialized nations.  Yet we take fewer days off per year.  In fact, a recent study estimated that in 2015, 658 million vacation days were not used.  In other words, employees were entitled to take those vacation days but didn’t.  The previous estimate of unused vacation days was significantly lower than this.  Previously the estimate was 429 million days.

So why don’t people use all their vacation time?  The reasons for this are pretty basic.  Many people feel their workload is too heavy or that their workload will pile up while they’re away.  Some are concerned their absence will be a hardship to their boss and/or coworkers.  Others worry that they’ll be seen as a slacker or, worse yet, that they are not really needed at all.  And the economic downturn know as the Great Recession is still fresh in the minds of many; a time when job security was tenuous and most of us were happy just to have a job to go to.  Whatever the reasons, allowing employees not to take all available vacation time may not be the best practice for your company.

There have been quite a few studies to show that vacations are important and I could quote many facts and figures to support that theory.  But as a business owner or a manager here is what you really need to know:

  1.  Vacations lead to higher employee moral.  Not sure why this matters?  Well consider this, happiness is contagious;  employees with higher moral tend to spread it around.
  2. Higher morale leads to better employee engagement and happiness which can help cut down on employee turnover; for employers, turnover is costly in terms of both dollars, time, and lost productivity.
  3. Employees who take vacation are more productive, exhibit greater creativity and have measurably higher sales.  All of which are a direct benefit to your bottom line.
  4. It’s no secret that vacations can reduce employee stress which may help control or improve common ailments including sleep disorders, mood disorders such as depression, cardiovascular disease and musculoskeletal complaints.  A recent estimate claims that stress and its resulting health issues may cost American businesses up to $300 billion due to things such as higher absenteesim and reduced productivity.
  5. And speaking of cost to employers, if your company carries over vacation time from one year to the next, you could pay for this year’s vacation at next years salary; a pay rate that might be higher.
  6. Finally, vacations add to the economy in general.  Remember those 658 million unused vacation days from 2015 I mentioned before?  The study estimates that if all those vacation days were used it could have added $223 billion in spending to the economy.  Let’s take that a step further, that additional spending could have created 1.6 million jobs resulting in an additional $65 billion in income for Americans.  Let’s face it, everyone benefits when the economy grows.

Ascent to the Prince Albert Refuge, Mont Blanc, Le Tour Chamonix France

So as a business owner or manager what should you do about this?  Most experts agree that as “the boss” you should strongly encourage your employees to take their vacation time and to feel comfortable about it.  After all, it’s not much of a vacation if you feel guilty about being away, right?

Here are some tips to help you achieve full vacation:

  1.  Set a clear policy on the amount of vacation time to which employees are entitled.  In recent years it has become somewhat popular for companies to have an unlimited or “open” vacation policy, leaving it up to each employee to decide how much vacation they will take.  This may sound generous but it could backfire; trying to decide on the appropriate amount of time off can be stressful for employees.
  2. Business owners and managers should lead by example and take a vacation every year.  If employees see the boss get away,they will be more inclined to get away too.
  3. Openly discuss vacations and the importance of taking time off from work to relax and recharge.  Some managers are so proactive that they will question their employees  who don’t take a vacation.  In some companies the employees are offered a cash bonus as an incentive to take time off.  And some companies give a stipend to help employees afford to “go on a vacation”.
  4. Be supportive when employees request/take a vacation.  Make the scheduling as easy as possible, ask about their vacation plans, and ask how the vacation was when he/she returns to work.

To recap, we all need time to relax and “recharge our batteries”.  Though encouraging employees to take vacation may seem counter intuitive, as a business owner or manager you will reap benefits from a fair and firm vacation policy.

 

Some Basics About Trailer Repair…The Heat Is On

 

BLAZING SUNSHINE

One year ago today I published the following blog post because summer had officially started the previous day and it offered some valuable tips for working in the heat.  Well one of the nice things about summer is that it comes again every year along with the heat, humidity and blazing sunshine.  I think this advice bears repeating so I’ve decided to re-post it with a few additional comments. 

Yesterday was the first day full day of summer and the heat is on again.  Several areas across the country are forecast to be in the upper 80’s and the 90’s, with a few unfortunate areas to go well over 100 degrees.

We’re a trailer repair company and for us work doesn’t slow down during the lazy, hazy, crazy days of summer.  And our clients need their trailers in good working condition.  For my mechanics that may mean climbing up to repair a roof or pulling off wheels to check the brakes or even laying under the trailer to make repairs.  It’s hard physical work and can get dangerous in the extreme heat.

According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), working in the heat, humidity and in the sun can lead to heat stroke, heat exhaustion, heat cramps and heat rashes.  Additionally, the heat can cause secondary safety problems such as sweaty palms, fogging up of safety glasses and dizziness or lightheadedness.

Additional symptoms of these heat related illnesses include weakness, nausea, blurry vision, confusion or loss of consciousness.

One thing I do, when possible, is schedule the work day around the heat.  If I start my mechanics at 6 a.m. instead of 8 a.m. they can work nearly a full day before the hottest time of the day.  This obviously won’t work for all companies but it’s helpful when possible.

What else can be done to keep your employees as cool and safe as possible?  Here are a few more tips:

  1.  Light colored, loose fitting, lightweight clothing should be worn when possible.  Obviously this won’t work if loose clothing can cause a different safety hazard such as with machine operators, so use good judgement when allowing this.  Cotton is a great choice but avoid synthetic clothing that doesn’t “breathe”.  If possible, shield your face and head with a hat when working in direct sunlight.
  2. Employees should drink frequently to stay well hydrated.  While water is probably best, it is smart to avoid drinks with caffeine, alcohol, and high amounts of sugar.  Some people prefer sports drinks, such as Gatorade or Powerade, that will help replenish the body’s supply of electrolytes.  Several years ago I was the Human Resources Manager at a manufacturing company.  During the hot and humid days of summer I kept a barrel of fresh fruit on ice for the line employees to eat as they needed to stay cool and help stay hydrated.   Just be aware of any safety hazards or other restrictions of having food in a manufacturing area that would prohibit this choice.
  3. Allow employees to take extra breaks and to take breaks in the coolest possible environment, such as in a shaded or air conditioned area.
  4. When possible, schedule heaviest work for the coolest part of the day.
  5. Encourage or appoint employees to check on co-workers, especially those who are older — use a buddy system.
  6. If you suspect an employee has a heat related illness get immediate medical attention for him/her.

It will be a long hot summer… be careful and stay cool…