How short-staffed companies are saving vacation this summer

With thin staffs and a slowly improving job market, employers can't just let employees take vacation whenever they want, but they also can't risk damaging morale. This summer, a few firms are getting creative.

This article was originally published by on Thursday, July 21, 2011.

By Katherine Reynolds Lewis, contributor

FORTUNE -- This summer, most of the outdoorsy employees at ski manufacturer Epic Planks will be getting their hands dirty in the shop, where they compress fiberglass and plastic into custom-made skis, with nary a vacation day.

But rather than cursing the Grand Rapids, Mich.-based company for their dearth of long-weekend camping trips, they're gleefully anticipating taking extra time off in the winter.

That's because founder Bill Wanrooy and his partner will double up to two weeks of vacation time that workers decide not to take in the summer, which is Epic Planks' busy time for building skis and snowboards to be sold in the fall.

Those who accepted the offer will instead enjoy up to four weeks of vacation in the winter. The idea stemmed from last summer's experience, when last-minute vacation requests left the small business so short-staffed that Wanrooy and his co-founder had to work 12-hour days, 6 or 7 days a week, to keep up with production demand.

"For all of our employees, skiing and snowboarding is their passion, so that allows them to maybe sacrifice a little bit now, but the rewards pay off later," says Wanrooy. "This is our first summer of doing it, but the reception has been great. Everybody loves it."

Epic Planks isn't the only company getting creative with summer staffing. Companies are asking employees to plan their own vacation coverage, requesting that vacationers send out memos to avoid any unwanted surprises, says Michael Erwin, senior career adviser for They're also cross-training employees to cover for their colleagues during time off, and bringing in temporary staff when needed.

Financial regulation lags after Dodd-Frank

It's been a year since Congress passed and President Barack Obama signed into law the most sweeping financial reform since the Great Depression. But as of the Dodd-Frank Act's July 21 anniversary, regulators had completed only 49 of the hundreds of rules mandated by the 2,000-plus page law.

This article was originally published by on Thursday, July 21, 2011.

By Katherine Reynolds Lewis •

Are you any better off now than before new financial regulations became law? When it was signed into law, Dodd-Frank drew a line in the sand on mortgage abuses, predatory lending, credit information and other vital issues for consumers. But since then, the dozen-plus regulators writing the rules under the new FinReg law have struggled to work out most of the specifics. The law sets more than 240 deadlines for 22 different regulators to write rules, issue recommendations and write reports in the implementation of Dodd-Frank. Most deadlines must be met by only 10 regulators.

"In one sense, everything's different because financial institutions know what's coming, so they're already anticipating and making business changes," says Margaret Tahyar, a partner at Davis Polk & Wardwell, a New York law firm tracking Dodd-Frank for its clients. "In another sense, there's still a great deal of uncertainty."

As for the handful of rules that have been written, here is a closer look at the financial regulations that have been implemented and how they affect you.
A new consumer watchdog
The Dodd-Frank Act created a new federal agency to protect consumers who use a range of financial products. The agency is financed out of the federal budget. FinReg advocates hail that as an important development because the regulator won't be as beholden to the private sector as other agencies that rely on institutions they regulate for their budget.

On July 21, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau received responsibility for enforcing laws meant to regulate consumer finance in the following areas:

The 5 Best and 5 Worst Regulations in Dodd-Frank

This article was originally published by the Fiscal Times on Tuesday, July 19, 2011.

By Katherine Reynolds Lewis, The Fiscal Times

Next to health care reform, no other recent legislation has caught as much heat as financial regulation. Born of the subprime housing mortgage scandal and financial meltdown three years ago, the Dodd-Frank legislation provokes either glowing praise from consumers and reformists or angry diatribes from industry officials and Republican lawmakers.

In the year since President Obama signed the financial regulatory overhaul into law, the debate has largely shifted from the halls of Congress to the offices of the regulators who are writing some 250 new rules and delivering reports and guidance ordered by the law.

But Republicans and their industry allies are still pressing for changes to dilute the impact of the legislation. Their opposition forced Obama over the weekend to abandon plans to nominate former Harvard professor Elizabeth Warren, a harsh critic of the financial industry and darling of liberal groups, to head a new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, and instead choose former Ohio attorney general Richard Cordray.

As the new financial regulatory landscape begins to take shape, supporters of the legislation crafted by former Sen. Christopher Dodd, D-Conn, and Rep. Barney Frank D-Mass., say the government and industry are better positioned to withstand a new crisis. "The reforms put in place in Dodd-Frank will help to provide for a more resilient and strong financial system that can help to grow the economy and create jobs," said Michael S. Barr, law professor at the University of Michigan.

Detractors claim the measure actually hurts the already troubled economy and job growth, leaving the financial system less stable than it was in 2008. "While it may have increased transparency, it has increased the amount of uncertainty. We've created a new cost of capital, called regulatory risk," said Rep. Randy Neugebauer, R-Tex., chairman of the House Financial Services Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations.

With Dodd-Frank's one-year anniversary this Thursday, The Fiscal Times assessed the best and worst effects of the landmark law, for consumers and business .

The 5 Best According to Consumer and Reform Advocates

7 Myths That Could Wreck Your Retirement Savings

This article was originally published by the Fiscal Times on Tuesday, July 19, 2011.

By Katherine Reynolds Lewis, The Fiscal Times

Despite the sluggish recovery, Americans are starting to feel a little better about their prospects. But that may not be good news for retirement savings. While the recession shocked us into boosting our near-zero savings levels, we’re already being less frugal.

After climbing to 7.2 percent in the second quarter of 2009, the U.S. savings rate dipped to 5.1 percent in the first quarter of this year, the lowest level since the financial meltdown, according to the Bureau of Economic Analysis. Meanwhile, the average 401(k) balance hit $74,900, according to Fidelity Investments. That’s only enough to cover about three years of retirement expenses.

Are you ready for retirement? Investment advisers like to trot out handy rules for savings plan. But some of this conventional wisdom makes it easy to slide off the thrifty path. Here are seven myths about retirement that can trip you up.

Myth No. 1: Max out your 401(k) contribution and you’re set.

Group job interview or cattle call?

Employers who use group job interviews say they're great for spotting team-oriented employees without wasting time. But some job-seekers say the whole process is nerve-wracking and even demeaning.

This article was originally published by on Wednesday, July 6, 2011.

By Katherine Reynolds Lewis, contributor, Fortune

When ActionCOACH tells job candidates they'll be evaluated in a group when they come in for an interview, most react with surprise. Some even ask if the business coaching company is going to try to sell them something, says Jodie Shaw, CEO of the firm's operations in the U.S. and Canada.

"For the majority of the people, it is their first group interview," she says. "They're a little bit bewildered still, giving sideways glances at the next candidate."

Despite job-seekers' initial anxiety, ActionCOACH and other companies that use group interviews believe they're the most efficient way to honestly compare qualified candidates for a job opening, because they give hiring managers unique insights into how potential employees would work on a team and function under stress. But critics of group interviews find them demeaning and say they add unnecessary stress and competition in an already-difficult job-hunting process.

Saving time, being fair
Shaw finds department heads much more willing to spend one hour in a group interview of 12 candidates than to set aside 12 hours for one-on-one conversations. Moreover, by comparing applicants side-by-side, she says managers eliminate bias from their mood of the day or trouble from comparing a long-ago interview with one that occurred yesterday.

"The reason group interviews are so effective is you get to see the entire group at one time and are able to rank those candidates," Shaw explains. "If they're in the room, they've met minimum expectations for what we're looking for in the role ... I'm really looking for cultural fit."

Read the full story at Fortune's Web site.