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Not Totally Suspension…APRIL IS STRESS AWARENESS MONTH

Stress WordsIf there is one thing a small business owner knows about its stress.  There never seems to be enough money, enough time to get everything done, enough resources, enough customers.  We worry about everything.  We thrive on it but it can be very stressful.

These days life for everyone seems to be more stressful than for previous generations.  Often we just accept it without even thinking very much about it.  But stress can be dangerous for people and it can be expensive for business owners.

Some of the most common sources of stress are work related.  A company downsize suddenly means an increase in workload; there are office politics, power plays and jockeying for positions and promotions; technology threatens to take away jobs as employers look to automate as many positions as possible; people work longer hours and have longer commutes to get there.

Of course there are stressful situations in our personal lives as well.  Child care issues, possibly caring for aging parents or a failing spouse.  And one of the biggest sources of stress is that elusive work/life balance we hear so much about but never seem to achieve.

As we’ve heard in recent years, stress can have negative health effects.  Many of us are aware of things like heart attacks, stroke, and ulcers or other stomach/digestive issues.  But there are other health issues that may not be as well-known.  There are mental health issues like depression, anxiety and even panic attacks.  It’s possible that stress can be a cause of problems such as overeating or alcoholism.  Increased stress can lead to a suppressed or decreased immune system leading to other and/or more frequent illnesses.  According to some estimates, up to 60% of missed work days can be attributed to stress.  It’s possible that 75% to 90% of medical visits are due to stress related conditions.

I have seen estimates that claim the negative effects of stress cost businesses anywhere from $190 billion to $300 billion annually.  Not possible you say?  If you’re a business owner or manager you know that there is a cost attached to things like high turnover, increased absenteeism and decreased employee engagement.  All these can affect your bottom line through recruitment costs, lower sales, lost production and fixing mistakes made by employees not working at top capacity.  And we all know that increased medical costs lead to increased health insurance premiums.

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It behooves the business owner or manager to, at the very least, be aware of stress levels and, at most, to work with employees to keep stress in check.  There are some things that can be done regularly and pretty easily:  You can keep employees informed about changes in the workplace, whether due to automation, promotions, downsizing or even due to a new technology they might need to master.

Try to increase employee engagement.  It’s no secret that a happy, engaged employee is a more productive employee.  Sometimes simple things, like team building or employee recognition, will do the trick.

Everyone needs time away to recharge so make vacation time a priority.  There are some companies that offer a bonus to employees who plan a trip abroad or that make it a requirement that employees take their full vacation time.  If this is beyond your capability keep it simpler.  Ask your employees what vacation plans they have.  When an employee returns from vacation,  ask them how it went or what they did.  And make it easy to schedule vacation time, not a hassle.

Recognizing stress and making a few changes can go a long way.  You can create a culture that values employees and counteract some of the negative effects stress will have on your business.

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Not Totally Suspension…WINTER DRIVING SAFETY

ice removal I can’t speak for all parts of the country but I can tell you in the northeast we are experiencing a weather roller coaster!  About half way through February it was so warm that I’m sure we broke some records.  Now that it’s March, a time when people are hoping for some true spring weather, the temperatures seem to be headed in the wrong direction!!  The first weekend of March saw the thermometer drop well below normal.  And, though it warmed up a little the following week, right now we are experiencing the Blizzard of 2017.  Let’s face it, March is no stranger to winter weather.

If you’re in an area that gets frozen precipitation, winter can be a tough season and it makes sense for all drivers to be aware of snow removal laws in the states they drive.

Over the past decade or so, several states have enacted “snow removal laws” for the safety of everyone who uses the roads.  Often these laws are introduced by a legislator in response to a constituent who suffered an injury from flying ice chunks.  But the laws make sense for safety.  Now, not all states have a law and the laws vary in the states that do.

In New Jersey, the law calls for motorists to remove snow and ice from vehicles or they can be fined up to $75, even if it does not dislodge from the vehicle.  If snow or ice flies off the vehicle causing injury to a person or causing property damage, the fine can increase to $200 to $1000 per offense.

Other states in our region have their own laws.  In Pennsylvania, for example, drivers must remove snow and ice from vehicles before getting on the roads.  Snow or ice that flies off a car and hits another vehicle or pedestrian can get you a fine up to $1000.

In Connecticut, the law is know as the “Ice Missile Law” and similarly requires motorists to make sure their vehicle is free from snow and ice.  Violators of the law can be fined $75.

Other states that require drivers to clean off their vehicles include Alaska, Georgia, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, Tennessee and Wisconsin.

Generally, these laws cover commercial and non-commercial vehicles alike.  Which means that trailer drivers are required make sure there is no snow or ice on the roof of the truck cab or on the roof of the trailer.  This could prove dangerous for drivers if they are expected to climb up on the trailer to clean it off, which has been pointed out by various trucking associations.  But there are other options available.

There is a device, used by some trucking companies, that resembles a football goal post with a scraper across the top.  When the driver drives through the “goal posts”, snow/ice is scraped off.  In fact, since states have been enacting snow removal laws, trucking associations have argued that all weigh stations, truck stops and rest areas should have one of these devices.

But until these “goal post” devices are more common place, drivers can use a snow rake that has a telescopic handle to reach to the top of the trailer and cab.  Or they can hire someone else to do the job.  Total Suspension offers snow removal services to its customers.

In this post I’ve given most attention to cleaning off the top of your vehicle but be advised that these laws require motorists to fully clean off their windshield, back window and front and back side windows.

Drivers should also be aware of the laws pertaining to headlights.  All 50 states and the District of Columbia have some law regulating when headlights are to be used; most involve three things: time before and after sunrise/sunset, distance of visibilty, use of wipers (wipers on lights on, as we say in New Jersey) or some combination of these.

The important thing is to famlarize yourself with the laws in the states that you drive.  With minimal effort, winter driving can be safer for motorists and pedestrians alike.

Not Totally Suspension…LOVE IS IN THE AIR

For most of my professional life companies have frowned upon couples working together.  In fact, it was common practice for companies to have a policy against it.  But could it be that the conventional wisdom is wrong?  February is the month of love, cupid and Valentine’s Day.  Maybe it’s a good month to reconsider how a couple working together can benefit a company.

Some recent studies suggest that married couples who work for the same company may experience greater happiness in their personal lives and better work/life balance.  This could be due to the additional time they’re able to spend together or because couples who work together are uniquely able to understand the stress level of each other.  Whatever the reason, it seems to make for a happier couple and happier people tend to be more productive at work.

Some people also believe that married couples who work together exhibit a greater loyalty to the company.  Knowing that their spouse works for the same employer can make employees more willing to work through work problems/issues, work harder, and make a better effort to get along in the workplace.

And it may be good for the company’s bottom line if the employer can save on benefit costs for employees.

To recap, employees may be happier, have higher morale, be more productive and may save the employer in benefit costs.  So far it sounds pretty good.

But there can also be some pitfalls such as jealousy if one partner gets promoted faster than the other; additional tension in the office if partners disagree at work; other employees feeling excluded if a working couple seems “too close” or exhibits unprofessional behavior; the perception by others of favoritism if one person in the couple is a supervisor or even in a higher ranking position; in the case of an unmarried couple working together, the prospect of sexual harassment claims if a relationship ends badly in a supervisor-subordinate romance.

So, is it best to prohibit romances in your workplace?

It’s best to proceed with caution.  When considering a policy on romance in your workplace consider whether it will be beneficial to your company or not.  If you determine relationships are beneficial, craft your policy to minimize damaging aspects by specifying when and between whom relationships will be allowed.  At the very least it should probably be prohibited between employees of “significantly different ranks” and between employees in the same department.  As with all policies, make sure it is clearly communicated to employees and then stick to the policy.

One final thought, be prepared to make changes in the future.  Some studies suggest that employee attitudes may be changing about this issue, especially among younger workers.  One study discovered that 84% of millennials would be open to an inter-office relationship.  This was quite a bit higher than GenXers (36%) or Boomers (29%).

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Not Totally Suspension…WINTER TRAILER MAINTENANCE

snowThis has been a relatively mild winter  in our section of the country, but it’s still winter and the weather could take a turn for the worse at any time.  It’s a smart idea to practice good cold weather maintenance of your trailer so that you’re always prepared.  Here are some tips from front to rear:

Check that all trailer lights are working properly so they can be seen in adverse weather conditions and in the dark (which falls earlier in the winter months).  The light check should include marker lights, brake lights and turn signals.

The ABS (anti-lock brake system) controls braking so that all wheels don’t lock up simultaneously.  Sensors measure the speed of all wheels and send a signal to the computer, which, in turn, will make any necessary adjustments.  Make sure the ABS is working properly so you don’t have uneven braking which could be catastrophic on slippery road surfaces and could cause jack knifing.  Sensors should be replaced if necessary.

To maintain the air systems, make sure air tanks are properly drained of air and water; freezing could cause bad valve functioning.  Do not add any oil based substance to air tanks which could get into air valves and combine with dust and dirt particles.  If an air line freezes always use an antifreeze designed specifically for air lines.

As a side note, if soot or oily contaminants are found in the air tanks it could be from a bad dryer on the tractor.  Remember that the tractor supplies air to the trailer air tanks.  If the air dryer is faulty on the tractor, it can cause contaminants to enter the trailer air tanks.

Tires are critical in all seasons and winter is no exception.  They should always be filled to the correct PSI.  Check for good, or even, tire wear.  If it’s uneven, have the alignment checked.  Lastly, make sure there is proper tire tread for good traction.

And brakes should be checked for sufficient brake lining.  Make sure that drums are in good condition for optimal braking.

With proper maintenance and a little pre-planning the winter driving season can be a safe one for the trailer driver and everyone else on the road.

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!