Advice, humor and more!

Avoid Overtime Burnout

Are your overtime hogs burning out? Unionized hourly employees work an average 6.63 hours of overtime each week, according to a study by Cornell University. While many employees worked only a few extra hours, just over one-fifth — called “overtime hogs” by some co-workers — work at least 11 and sometimes more than 20 hours of OT. Many of the nearly 4,300 workers asked for the overtime and said they would like even more hours. The study cites “job insecurity and financial strain.” But there are hidden costs to large amounts of overtime, according to the study: Workers who put in more than 50 hours a week report a much greater incidence of “severe” work-family conflicts. And workers pressed into overtime by supervisors show significantly higher levels of stress.

Record Construction Levels

Addressing attendees of CMD Group’s Annual CEO Breakfast in Atlanta, economist Bill Toal predicted continued high volume in most construction market segments despite signs that a slowdown is beginning. He explained that with construction levels reaching new highs, even a slowing still indicates a high volume of activity.

“The Fed is paranoid of inflation and looks constantly at economic indicators,” Toal explains. These key indicators now reflect a slowing in economic activity and a slight increase in inflation. The producer price index is up, unemployment is the lowest it has been in 30 years at 4 percent, and we’ve got the labor situation. Short-term and long-term federal fund rates now are close together, yet another sign that the economy is slowing, says Toal, who forecasts an inflation rate of 3.5 percent for the near future.

Overall, Toal’s forecast for the remainder of the year is positive: “On an annual basis for this year, we see the economy growing at almost 5 percent. Even if there was no growth for the rest of the year, we would still be growing 3 percent over last year,” he says.

What could go wrong? A number of things. In year 10 of economic expansion — the longest in 200 years — there is no precedent to follow. Consumer spending may end. The household savings rate is 2.5 percent — the lowest it has been in 40 years. Consumer debt is at the highest level it has ever been. Toal also expressed concern about ballooning trade deficits and unrealistic price earnings ratios in the stock market. And a statistic relevant in this election year — of the 11 recessions in this country since 1930, nine began in the first year of a new presidential term.

On the positive side, the corporate debt equity ratio is the lowest it has been in 30 years, which bodes well for future commercial construction. Other markets won’t fare as well, according to Toal. “I see declines ahead in residential construction, particularly single-family,” he predicts.

For non-residential construction, steady activity is expected. While industrial and hotel segments will drop slightly, the education market will continue to be hot. The school age population is rising, and most schools were built before 1970. The office market also continues to be strong. Metropolitan vacancy rates were 25 percent in the late 1980s; they’re at 9 percent today.

Public construction has been increasing steadily since the early 1980s, and Toal cites a number of reasons for this: state and local government budgets are posting surpluses of nearly $50 billion, meaning that, among other building programs, municipalities can now participate in more federal fund matching projects.

Selling Mistakes to Avoid

Oftentimes, a person can’t see the forest through the trees, and needs a fresh perspective to get out of a rut. The national research bureau says to be alert to some of the mistakes commonly made by salespeople. These things can happen to the best; watch for them — isolated incidents are one thing but don’t let them become bad habits:

1. Focusing on products, services and presentations instead of focusing on customers and their needs.

2. Talking too much. By not listening enough, salespeople sell to the wrong customer objectives.

3. Not getting the necessary information. Selling is about getting information, not giving information.

4. Selling features and technologies instead of selling benefits and results.

5. Not establishing clear differences between their products and services and those of the competition.

Contractors’ NFL Predictions

We surveyed roofing and insulation contractors from all 31 NFL cities to find out what they thought was going to transpire this season en route to Super Bowl XXXV. Following is how they see things ending up, along with consensus observations:

AFC East

Jets — Expectations are high despite a very difficult schedule

Colts — Extremely dangerous team; should make the playoffs

Bills — Lots of changes, but most importantly, who’s the QB?

Patriots — Shallow depth in tough division means .500 again

Dolphins — Teams with quarterback controversies usually fail

AFC Central,

Jaguars — Odds-on favorite to represent AFC in the big game

Titans — A better team than last year’s. But can luck hold out?

Ravens — If the off-season moves work, playoffs are possible

Steelers — Counting on an improved offense to stay in games

Browns — Five or six wins should keep the Dawg Pound happy

Bengals — Things could get even worse before they get better

AFC West

Broncos — The defense is bolstered and Terrell Davis is back

Seahawks — Teams in temporary homes usually have trouble

Raiders — If kicking game and D improve, that means playoffs

Chiefs — Making it to postseason would be a reasonable goal

Chargers — Too many guys would have to have career years

NFC East

Redskins — ’99 playoff team improved greatly in the offseason

Cowboys — New coach takes over aging, mediocre personnel

Giants — Vastly improved running game and speedy defense

Cardinals — QB Plummer needs to revert to 1998 performance

Eagles — Offense coming around, but the defense still a mess

NFC Central

Buccaneers — Improved O could mean Super Bowl home game

Vikings — Free agency hit Minnesota hard during the offseason

Packers — Brett Favre’s thumb will determine Green Bay’s fate

Bears — Defensive improvements might bring a wild card berth

Lions — They found a running back but still need a quarterback

NFC West

Rams — The champs are real; element of surprise is long gone

Falcons — Jamal Anderson’s return and 4th place schedule help

Panthers — Coach Siefert’s team on the rise, wild-card worthy

49ers — The rebuilding begins in earnest, lots of kids will play

Saints — Many new names and faces but they’re still the ‘Aints

The consensus among contractors: Far and away, the popular expectation is that St. Louis will defend its Super Bowl crown against Jacksonville Jan. 28, 2001, in Tampa, Fla. The second most popular choice gets the vote of the “Portfolio” staff; a lot of contractors say they want to see a rematch of last year’s exciting (for once) tilt between the Rams and Titans.

Boost Your Aussie Acumen

The Summer Olympics begin this month in Australia. Impress friends and strangers alike with these factoids about the land down under:

  • The country is roughly the same size as the continental United States (3 million square miles), and is the world’s only island continent.

  • Like the U.S., Australia is a federation of states. It has six states (New South Wales, Victoria, Queensland, South Australia, West Australia and Tasmania) and two territories (Northern Territory and Australian Capital Territory). There also is the Kingdom of Hut, a self-declared autonomous kingdom out west. This kingdom issues its own passports, money and stamps.

  • Australia is one of only four nations (with Greece, Switzerland and Great Britain) to appear in every Olympic Games.

  • The first pacemaker was invented and used there in 1926, and Australian scientists invented the first ultrasound in the 1950s.

  • Koalas are not bears; they’re marsupials (meaning they have that pouch to carry their kiddies). Nearly half of Australia’s native animals are marsupials. Besides the koalas and the well-known kangaroo, other marsupials include bandicoots, wallabies, bilbies, numbats, possums, wombats and quokkas.

  • There really are Tasmanian Devils — they perhaps are best described as badgers with amphetamine addictions.