The Empty Next

August 31, 2011

You will either step forward into growth, or you will step backward into safety.
– Abraham Maslow, 1908 – 1970

It’s been a year since our youngest child (one of two) has moved on to college. They are still dependent upon us both emotionally and financially, but much less so. And our day to day lives are so much simpler – if you don’t know, it’s only because you haven’t been there yet – here’s a big hint – the house stays clean and the  grocery list is shorter. It is a simpler time. It is a time to gather ourselves and ask – What next?

So our empty nest becomes a next – My wife and I are in our fifties. The road is wide open. The business we have has a good foundation with excellent people and a plan to keep us going forward. They don’t need me.

So what do I need?

  • A fitness plan and diet plan
  • A relationship plan for
    1. my wife,
    2. my family and
    3. my friendships

Blah, blah, blah.

Who wants to hear about the plans? Nobody that’s who.

Still, I want to have a rough script for the above so I can do the fun/important stuff with good mental and physical health.

  • I want to travel
  • I want to learn a new language
  • I want to follow in the footsteps of a lot of people I admire
  • I want to see my children grow
  • I want to give through my labor or my talents
  • I want to keep my blog interesting
  • I want to play
  • I want hope in my heart!

So bear with me in my empty nest… my empty next… my empty next quest.

Stay tuned  –

Bryan Dear

Can I hire an intern and not pay them?

July 6, 2010

Anyone who isn’t confused really doesn’t understand the situation. Edward R. Murrow, 1908 – 1965 

There has been some recent press on For-Profit companies and their treatment of interns. It is difficult to meet the standards for a trainee – which the employer does not have to pay. Here are the standards of which all must be met in order for the person to qualify as a trainee. 

Fair Labor Standards Act:  “…If the worker is a trainee as opposed to an employee under the FLSA, then he or she is not covered by the FLSA’s minimum wage and overtime provisions.”

“The specific facts and circumstances of the worker’s activities must be analyzed to determine if the worker is a bona fide “trainee” who is not subject to the FLSA or an “employee” who may be subject to the FLSA.  …The U.S. Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division (WHD) has developed the six factors below to evaluate whether a worker is a trainee or an employee for purposes of the FLSA: ”

1. The training, even though it includes actual operation of the facilities of the employer, is similar to what would be given in a vocational school or academic educational instruction; 

2. The training is for the benefit of the trainees; 

3. The trainees do not displace regular employees, but work under their close observation; 

4. The employer that provides the training derives no immediate advantage from the activities of the trainees, and on occasion the employer’s operations may actually be impeded; 

5. The trainees are not necessarily entitled to a job at the conclusion of the training period; and 

6. The employer and the trainees understand that the trainees are not entitled to wages for the time spent in training. 

If all of the factors listed above are met, then the worker is a “trainee”, an employment relationship does not exist under the FLSA, and the FLSA’s minimum wage and overtime provisions do not apply to the worker. The message is loud and clear. Tread carefully if you choose to hire interns without paying them or are paying them under minimum wage and you’re running a FOR-PROFIT business. 

Bryan Dear 


The empty nest

June 9, 2010

Don’t be afraid to take a big step if one is indicated. You can’t cross a chasm in two small jumps.      David Lloyd George, 1863 – 1945

Freedom – melancholy – delight – sorrow – questioning…

I suppose the empty nest many times means freedom. This seems to be especially true coming from parents with children under the age of fourteen. These parents are generally in the thick of it and a world without children seems like a far away world. 

Without children, including our current senior in high school, we will have a house that stays clean, dishes will not be found all over the house, piles of clothes, backpacks, and shoes will not be tripped over as we enter the house, the amount of food and beverage necessary to keep on site will greatly decrease and the motherly reminders will be silent. So yes, there is much less energy necessary to drive the house.

On the other hand, I played a lot of basketball and ping-pong with my son, listened to his music (a little hard at times, but at other times a lot of fun), met some really neat people through him, got to see him grow and struggle with the high school stuff – girl friends, home work, swimming, and college choices. Of course those are the one I know about. And I enjoyed the general wonderment of watching it all happen. I’ll miss a lot of that.

He’s on to his next adventure – we’re on to our next adventure. I’m ready to watch him grow and stretch some more, but from a distance. I’m ready for the next step – whatever that may be – and I do have ideas.

Empty nest – it’s a departure for us. It’s an adventure too.

Here’s to wings.

Bryan Dear

How do you measure your savings?

May 20, 2010

Nobody spends somebody else’s money as carefully as he spends his own. Nobody uses somebody else’s resources as carefully as he uses his own. So if you want efficiency and effectiveness, if you want knowledge to be properly utilized, you have to do it through the means of private property. Milton Friedman, 1912 – 2006

Do you count your savings when you spend your money -“Wow, look how much money I’m saving?” – or do you count the money you spent?

Do you count your winnings without deducting the amount you invested whether it’s poker, horseracing, or playing the lottery, or do you deduct what you have put in the pot before you announce your winnings?

Do you make investments because the tax savings look so attractive or because the return on your investment is attractive?

Are you familiar with the expression, “If it’s too good to be true, then most likely it is.”?

The  HIRE Act recently passed by our federal government encourages employers to hire people who have been unemployed for the previous sixty days. By doing so, the employer saves 6.2% on the wage amount for the remainder of the year.  There’s an additional tax credit if the employee stays with the employer for 52 weeks.

Would you hire an employee just because of this savings?

I doubt it. It’s nice to have. I’m not going to turn it down (although the government gives you the option to turn it down).  I sure wouldn’t start looking for new employees who fit the profile just because there’s a slight discount for the remainder of the year.

The world is constantly telling us the time is now to buy and save. I think I’ll save my money until I’m ready to spend. If I can negotiate a deal – great. If there’s a sale at that time – great. But I’m not going to do something until I’m ready – at least that’s my goal.

Keep working. Keep thinking. Save – by not spending.


Bryan Dear

Growth – the good, the bad and the measured

May 4, 2010

There is nothing more notable in Socrates than that he found time, when he was an old man, to learn music and dancing, and thought it time well spent. Michel de Montaigne, 1533 – 1592

Within our culture, growth is usually considered a good thing – more jobs, more taxes are collected for governments, people buy more and businesses enjoy higher profits. There are also the unpleasant side effects such as busier roads, higher impacts on schools, higher impacts on our environment and through growth, our community may become unrecognizable over time.

That’s one way to look at growth when it comes to an organization. But gee whiz. Growth refers to quite a bit more than that. As an individual, my growth, as measured by me, refers to my bodily health and my mental health. Do I have deeper friendships? Am I working on acquiring another skill (cooking, language, quilting)? Am I giving more of myself to whatever task I am doing? Am I exercising? In short, am I a better person, again as measured by me, than I was before?

Why can’t an organization’s growth follow a similar definition? Is a flat revenue and a flat production cycle bad? Is declining revenue and declining production bad? Maybe – our culuture would ususally answer yes and our stock market would put a big exclamation point behind that yes. But there are different measurements.

Did we spend more time with our customers? Did we figure how to add services without increasing costs? Did our employees think more highly of us? Did our clients think more highly of us? Did we forge stronger vendor relationships? Is the business a more enjoyable place to walk into? 

You get the drift. What measurements of growth besides the traditional one of dollar and volume  can be used?

There’s a strong correlation between the organization growing through a different set of initiatives than a focus on sales and production. Profit that sustains the business is necessary to long-term health. However, many times the growth of other aspects of the business have more to do with that profit than the traditional measurements.

Grow inwardly and prosper,

Bryan Dear

Ways to keep good employees during slow times

April 13, 2010

 I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feelMaya Angelou

Focus on the intangibles – sure pay is important, but it’s the ambiance, the hours there and the hours away, the area they work in, the air temperature and many other variables that provide either a “good or great place to work” or an “I can’t wait to get out of here” place to work. If your employee is in the first category, they will cut you quite a bit of slack before they leave your place of employment. If pay is a dicey issue, work on the other areas that may have little or no cost to you.

Here’s my list – in no order – and one that can certainly be added to.

Ask the employee what they like and don’t like about their job surroundings – and be prepared. You may hear it’s too hot, it’s too cold, it’s messy, the computer is loud, the phone is uncomfortable, the desk is too high or too low, the chair is broken, the office supplies are constantly being borrowed, etc. You get the message – it’s very possible that a relatively minor thing from your perspective is a major issue in their work life. If you can adjust the situation, you’ve done two things – made their work environment a little more comfortable and you’ve shown you cared. WOW – that’s big in almost anybody’s book.

Offer direct deposit if you don’t already – a very low cost with a major convenience to the employee.

If you already have a SIMPLE retirement plan and you’re thinking about eliminating it because of the 3% match, consider dropping the match below that number. The government says you can offer a match of not less than 1% two years out of five years. This could be one of those years.

Don’t drop the health insurance – increase the employee portion or tell them what you’re willing to pay for insurance and ask them to find a plan that works for them.

Make incentive pools that if made are helping the business – for this to really work,  you need to find the area where the employee feels this is an appropriate stretch or the system you have developed makes it easy for them to help you.

Some employees may be fine with fewer hours and see this as a benefit – if so take advantage of this offer if the business can still function well.

Tell the employees you need their help – you need to cut costs by a dollar amount. What ways do they come up with to make this happen? Assuming you have credibility with them, they’ll have good ideas and better yet, they may be able to implement their ideas with enthusiasm.

The same goes with revenue – what ways can you and your staff identify that will better serve your current customer base (by far the easiest revenue to generate) or elicit ideas on how to generate a larger customer base?

Your employees can help generate testimonials, references and additional business just by asking your customers.

Recognize your employees – within the company, with their peers, and if appropriate, within the community. This may not be your best tactic for your shy person, but it may be huge for other employees – you need to know what makes them tick .

Finally, how long does all this last – forever if it’s working. Even in the good times, give your employees more reasons to show up at work.

Our work world is not just a job, but an adventure and it’s a huge portion of our lives.


Bryan Dear

Hard of hearing or hard of listening?

March 25, 2010

 Let thy speech be short, comprehending much in a few words.    Ecclesiasticus

I’m not the only one.

Someone has just spoken to me and one of two things has happened:

1) I ask them to repeat the entire thought.

2) I say “OK” and then have no idea what I just said ok to.

Yikes. It’s called not paying attention. Or it’s called multi-tasking and doing a pitiful job. Or it’s called disrespect.

How much more efficient would I be if I paid attention the first time? How much time would I save and the speaker save if they only have to say it once?

 How can I change?

By turning and facing the person when I’m ready to listen.

By letting the person know that either I’m ready or I’m not ready to listen.

By repeating back to the speaker a summary of what I heard.

We can only improve by giving it another try. Here I go, again…


So I tested the above theory by turning to the person and facing them before they began to speak. It didn’t work…very well. I still ended up asking for their thought to be repeated.

It’s still better to ask for repetition than it is to acknowledge without really hearing (at least for me).

Hard of hearing or hard of listening – I’m probably both.

Bryan Dear

How much am I really paying my employee?

March 15, 2010

If a cluttered desk is a sign of a cluttered mind, then what are we to think of an empty desk? Albert Einstein, 1879 – 1955

Let’s say I’m paying an employee $15 an hour. What is their actual cost to the company?

It depends.

The employer pays taxes on top of the employee wages. For example there is Medicare on all wages, Social Security on the first $113,700), the Federal Unemployment rate of .6% on the first $7,000 of the employee wages and the state unemployment rate which is capped on the first $11,300 (for Colorado) and higher or lower for other states. A rule of thumb we use, without going into detail, is about 12% of the employee’s rate of pay. So, if the employee is paid $15 an hour, it costs the employer $16.80 an hour. However, if you have a high unemployment rate (5% or higher or your state unemployment wages are not capped), this will change this equation.

That’s just the beginning. The employer also needs to factor in workers’ compensation insurance which is required in most states. Depending on the industry, this can add anywhere from 2% to 33% on top of the 12% factored in above. An employee in the roofing business may be costing the company 45% more in taxes and workers’ compensation over the rate paid to the employee because of high workers’ compensation insurance.

If there is a match retirement program such as a SIMPLE plan or a 401K plan, the employer match will need to be factored into the equation.

Then there are soft costs: Vacation, Sick, Personal and other paid time off. There may be health insurance and other fringe benefits. There is the administration cost just to handle these aspects. If you as the the employer link employee paid hours directly to what you are able to bill, there is the unbillable time in which you are paying the employee, but cannot capture billing from your customer.

Truly, employees are an investment for your company. The additional costs are sometimes hidden and can be a surprise. However, I think the additional benefits are sometimes hidden as well.

Know your costs – minimize the surprises.


Bryan Dear

Why give at the office…

March 1, 2010

 When it comes to life the critical thing is whether you take things for granted or take them with gratitude.   – Gilbert Keith Chesterton, 1874 – 1936

Presumably we all give all the time. You may give time to your children, your friends, your church or to a host of multiple causes. Whatever you choose to give to, give to something that gets you fired up.

This comes from personal experience. Long ago, I thought I should join a well know organization that has a wonderful cause to support – as long as you believe in it. I didn’t really care that much. I was there for the wrong reason – to make contacts and to help in a capacity I thought they might need. But I was so wrong for that position.

Whatever cause I choose to support in a major way now, I have to believe in it and at least be able to get fired up about its purpose. That makes donating my time and my money a lot easier.

I do believe that giving wholeheartedly to a purpose will feed back rewards that were not contemplated with the gift. The more the gift is released without strings, the stronger the give back will be.

Yes, that can be a bit tough. I would like my name in lights (on occasion), I bask in appaluse as being the “generous guy,” but the more I can distance myself from these frivolities, the better I will be served in my life. And the more I can give.

Give – give it your all. Why not? This is your life, your candle to hold and share a light into the darkness and your blessing of who you are. Give at the office, give at home, dare to throw it out there and while you’re not paying attention, I believe your gifts will come soaring back to you.

Bryan Dear

How many exemptions should I claim on that W4?

March 1, 2010

The way of the world is to make laws, but follow custom. Michel de Montaigne, 1533 – 1592

We hear this question all the time. How many exemptions (or dependents) should I claim?

The W-4 form asks for name, address, social security number, married or single status, and how many exemptions you wish to claim. Most people can get through all but the exemption piece with very little assistance. It’s the number of exemptions that’s the stumper question.

Most people realize that the more exemptions they claim, the higher the paycheck they’ll receive. Of course the counter to that is you’ll receive a lower refund (really not so bad) or you will owe (perhaps really bad) come tax return time. It’s a little bit of a dance choosing the appropriate number of exemptions.The W4 worksheet can be helpful which is the upper part of the W4. A more helpful worksheet is the IRS W4 calculator.

You can use the IRS worksheet calculator by going to this address:,,id=96196,00.html

And then there’s the state. Many states actually have higher taxes at the lower tax brackets. That’s because the federal government doesn’t tax you until you have met a minimum amount. Some states have their own W4 and some states use the federal w4. Regardless, you may always specify that you want more or less exemptions for your state income tax withholding.

Everybody’s income tax return varies and what’s right for your buddy who looks like they make the same as you may not be the case. Use the calculator or at least the worksheet. Review each year after you have filed your tax return. You may want a lower refund so claim more exemptions. Of course you may still be stinging from that unplanned check you had to write to the IRS or your state – claim fewer in that case.

You may also specify that you want additional amounts of tax to be withheld in addition to whatever the tax tables are calculating. Perhaps you are married and you know you need more money or the stimulus bill may have given you back too much money through your paycheck. You may have extra income from investments. Review your paycheck halfway through the year and ask yourself – does my withholding equal about half of what I withheld last year? Am I pretty close to the same income as last year? If either answer is no, make adjustments.

Happy claiming,

Bryan Dear


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