I’ll cry if I want to

Weeping in the workplace is getting a lot of attention these days.

As a Forbes.com story pointed out, researchers are finding some interesting things about crying on the job. One study found that when women cry, men’s testosterone levels decrease. Another study, not surprisingly, found that women are much more likely to cry at work than their male co-workers.

“Because most boys are firmly taught not to cry, holding back has become a reflex,” Kim Elsbach, Ph.D, a professor of management at the University of California, Davis said, as quoted in the Forbes article. “And unfortunately for women, tears at work are almost always perceived with disdain, and the consequences can be harsh.”

Maybe the mantra of no crying allowed at work is changing. After all, Rep. John Boehner (R-Ohio) has been shedding many tears. The Speaker of the House cried numerous times when Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D- Calif.) handed over the gavel. “Saturday Night Live” spoofed his tendency to weep. Boehner cried during his interview on “60 Minutes.”

Has Boehner helped make it okay to cry?

Not really, Elsbach’s research finds. In fact, she says: “The worst offenses, are crying in a public meeting or because of work stress, like a looming deadline or coworker disagreement, because it is considered disruptive and weak. Crying in a private performance evaluation is also considered unprofessional and often manipulative.”

In my upcoming Sunday column, I’ll talk about my April’s Color of Money Book selection, which addresses emotions in the workplace.

So let me ask you this: Have you every cried on your job about work related issues, and if so what, if any, were the consequences?

Send your responses to the Color of Money Question of the Week to colorofmoney@washpost.com and put “I’ll Cry If I Want To” in the subject line. Be sure to include your full name, city and state.

Welcoming Wage Cuts

In a weak economy, is it better to fire employees or cut wages to avoid handing out pink slips?

Slate’s Ray Fisman, writing about a number of pay for performance studies, makes a good case that it’s better to keep people around for less money than to have layoffs.

Although cut wages can be bad for productivity,Fisman argues that unemployment can be even more devastating for workers and that many would prefer, say, a 10 percent cut in pay to joining the ranks of the non-working.

“Almost any model of rational behavior would have employers and employees renegotiating labor contracts during tight times to push down wages in order to keep more workers employed,” Fisman writes.

I agree with Fisman that the aversion to pay cuts isn't good for economy overall, He’s right when he says: “The negative impact on a worker's earnings, health, and even the earning prospects of his children lasts decades beyond the pink slip's arrival.”

The State Of Black America

It’s all about jobs, or lack thereof, according to this year’s State of Black America report releasedby the National Urban League.

"Everything that we do in this nation ought to be about job creation,” says Marc H. Morial, president and chief executive of the National Urban League.

In its annual report, the organization found that African Africans continue to lag behind their white counterparts. Black unemployment is at 15.3 percent, which is nearly double the national average of 8.8 percent. Using its scientific "Equality Index" formula, the Urban League determined that economic equality declined a percentage point, down to 56.9 percent from 57.9 percent in 2010, reports The Root.com.

"I think people in Washington are distracted and not paying attention to what people are facing across the nation," Morial told The Root.com.

In its 35th annual edition of The State of Black America, the Urban League addresses a number of topics related to economic recovery. You can buy the book or view it online.

Tax Tips for the 2011 Filing Season

As of March 25, the IRS has received more than 82 million individual income tax returns, which is 58 percent of the 141 million returns expected this year. The IRS says typically 20 percent to 25 percent of taxpayers file in the final two weeks of the tax season. And, usually, about 7 percent of taxpayers seek a six-month extension to file. The deadline for 2011 is Monday April 18, instead of April 15.

With the tax deadline approaching, the IRS provided some last-minute tips to avoid common errors. And here are three very important things to keep in mind:

-- Use IRS Free File. This is a program available exclusively at IRS.gov in English and Spanish that offers brand-name tax software or online fillable forms. Taxpayers who earned $58,000 or less qualify for free software through a private-public partnership with manufacturers. Taxpayers who earned more or who are comfortable preparing their returns can use Free File Fillable Forms, the electronic versions of IRS paper forms.

-- File electronically to get a faster refund. If you file a paper tax return, your refund will usually be issued within six to eight weeks from the date it is received. If you filed electronically, your refund will normally be issued within three weeks.

     -   If you cannot meet the April 18 deadline, file an extension using IRS Form 4868 “Application for Automatic Extension of Time to File U.S. Individual Income Tax Return.” But remember an extension to file your return is not an extension to pay your taxes. You still have to pay your tax bill on April 18. If you are unable to pay your taxes, file a tax return anyway to lessen the penalties and pay all that you can. Then work with the IRS to set up a payment plan or you can go to IRS.gov and use the Online Payment Agreement Application.

Responses to Color of Money Question

Zac Bissonnette, author of “Debt Free U,” advises parents on how a little bribery can help your child avoid years of college debt.

“Offer your child a $1,000 (or whatever) gift card to Neiman Marcus (or Bath & Body Works — which would be easily the most awesome place to spend $1,000) in exchange for avoiding student loan debt and going to a college that’s affordable. Twenty years from now, you will both look back on it as the best $1,000 you ever spent,” says Bissonnette.

For last week's Color of Money questions I wanted to know: Do you think Bissonnette’s idea works, and is it even good parenting?

For a reader from Columbia, Md, bribing her daughter worked quite well.

“I used to bribe my daughter into writing essays to win scholarships. Since I was paying for college anyway, she had little motivation to work on scholarships applications until I told her that she would receive 10 percent of whatever she won in cash. She started applying right away and this semester was fully funded by scholarships!

Pat Infante of Marlton, N.J. says her bribery allowed her sons to start their lives without a mountain of debt.

“Years ago a friend told me that she and her husband offered her son a car if he earned a full scholarship to college.  So I made a similar offer to my two sons and it worked!  They both earned top academic honors in high school and full scholarships to Rutgers, the state university in New Jersey.  Their dad and I have promised them each $25,000 upon graduation to use as they wish. My sons took up the challenge and through a lot of hard work achieved their own success.  It is not lost on my sons what the alternative would have meant, especially when they see many of their friends signing loan notes semester after semester.”

Now if you’re going to offer a bribe, follow through on your word.

 “My mom promised me a car if I went to a school closer to D.C.  I never got the car. Instead I have resentment. I would have loved to stay where I was and out from under mom and family,” said Sharon Gamble of Falls Church, Va.

One young man didn’t need a bribe to do the smart thing.

“My nephew wanted the college experience of living away and went to a college in Philadelphia, rooming with several other young men,” says Jeanette Rodman of Dover, Del.”  He is a level-headed, hardworking kid, and quickly found out that his roomies’ habits—drinking non-stop, staying up all night and being slobs was not what he had in mind.  He worked out the numbers and talked his parents into letting him come home, and go to the local community college for his first two years.  Even though he lost his tuition that semester, they saved money in the long run, and he has done very well in his technical drawing career. He got chosen over many kids from high-priced colleges to land an ace summer fellowship work experience.”

Upcoming Events

Today from 7 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. I’ll be at the East Columbia Branch for Howard County Library located at 6600 Cradlerock Way, Columbia, Md. 21045. I will discuss managing your money in the new, less robust economy. To register for the event, call (410) 313- 7700.  

Tia Lewis contributed to this e-letter.

 You are welcome to e-mail comments and questions to singletarym@washpost.com . Please include your name and hometown; your comments may be used in a future column or newsletter unless otherwise requested.

 

Michelle Singletary writes the nationally syndicated personal finance column, “The Color of Money.”
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