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What's New in Business: September 2001
Particularly recommended by the business librarians are:

KF 3465 .G74 2001
AGE DISCRIMINATION IN THE AMERICAN WORKPLACE: OLD AT A YOUNG AGE by Raymond F. Gregory. Rutgers University Press, 2001.

You are over fifty and you've just lost your job - a frightening but all-too-common occurrence in today's workplace. Were you let go because of your age? Was your former position filled by a younger, less experienced employee? The author, an experienced employment law attorney, is outraged at the many misperceptions still entrenched in corporate America regarding older workers. Employers are quick to assume these employees are no longer capable of performing adequately because of a presumed decline in physical and mental abilities. Older workers are often stereotyped as stubborn, inflexible, and slow to accept new technologies. In addition, employers are reluctant to invest in updating the skills of older workers because it is assumed their remaining length of service will be short.

Older workers are also associated with higher salaries, pension benefits, and health costs and so employers who seek to reduce those costs also favor downsizing and early retirement "incentives". There are many insidious ways to "encourage" older workers to retire. Severance packages may be offered but, in return, the employee must waive all rights to file suit against the employer at a later date. Workers will most likely sign the waiver and releases in order to receive the severance package, knowing that if they refuse to do so, they may be dismissed anyway and receive nothing. Calculated strategies to get older employees to leave on their own are not unusual either. Employees with excellent performance records are passed over for promotions; they are no longer offered challenging or desirable assignments; and often expected to meet impossibly high sales goals.

To alleviate such injustices, Congress passed Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) in 1967, which made it unlawful for employers to permit a worker's age to influence employment decisions. However, Mr. Gregory says the ADEA has failed to fulfill this role "since, to this day, discrimination against older workers remains a national disgrace." He analyzes several pertinent cases; both won and lost, to illustrate his points. He notes that employers make every effort to settle or dismiss age-discrimination cases before they go to jury trial, since juries are likely to be sympathetic to the older dismissed worker who may remain unemployed or underemployed for the rest of his life. However, the author offers a caveat for those considering legal action: the burden of proof is on the worker. Proving an age discrimination case can be complicated. Before rushing off to file a lawsuit, you must make an honest assessment of your work performance. Has it deteriorated? Are you slacking off because retirement is near? Are you fulfilling the expectations of your employer? The ADEA does permit an employer to dismiss a worker, regardless of age, for inadequate or poor job performance.

You don't have to read a Stephen King thriller to feel chills go up and down your spine, because this book, in its way, will serve the same purpose. However, by the time you have finished reading it, you'll know how to identify age-discriminatory actions and more importantly, what steps you can take if you believe you have been the victim of such actions.

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HD 4841 .D66 2001x
BLOOD SWEAT & TEARS: THE EVOLUTION OF WORK by Richard Donkin. Texere, 2001.

Why do we work? What is work? These are the deeply philosophical questions that Richard Donkin wrestles with in a style that is at once erudite and accessible. In BLOOD SWEAT & TEARS he tackles the daunting task of defining work and excels at it; calling this a smart book is like calling Winston Churchill a good public speaker. Donkin illuminates the hallowed institution of the "Protestant work ethic," discussing everything from its 16th century origins to the long shadow it continues to cast over our 21st century lives. He finds that it has created a kind of "social drag" that hinders the evolution of work in our 21st century society. Citing the writings of archaeologists and scholars in his explorations, Donkin notes that the earliest, "stone-age" and "primitive" societies of humans had a very different perspective on the concept of work. Donkin centers his book around the idea "that work itself has a history." His examination of that history through the ages concludes that modern western society's slavish acceptance of the Protestant work ethic may be both misplaced and unnecessary. BLOOD SWEAT & TEARS leaves no stone unturned in its thorough treatment of humanity's labors from the hunting expeditions of our ancient ancestors, to the sweltering sweatshops of the industrial revolution, to the cramped cubicles of modern office buildings.

Mr. Donkin not only explains where the nature of work has been, but also maps out where it is going. No mere catalog of how work has changed our lives and shaped our collective destiny; his book offers a refreshing new perspective on how we might view work outside of the Protestant work ethic box. "Work and the prospect of work," Donkin writes in his conclusion, " must offer hope of something better if it offers nothing else." Both provocative and profound, BLOOD SWEAT & TEARS is fittingly the product of a lot of hard work on the part of its author.

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HD 31 .C514 2001
THE POWER OF SIX SIGMA by Subir Chowdhury. Dearborn Trade, 2001.

The basic concepts of Six Sigma-a seemingly dry statistical measurement that allows only three to four defects per million products-is presented here in a way that makes it accessible and relevant. A concept of error based on the standard deviation from the norm may at first seem somewhat obscure as a business philosophy, but when measured with concrete examples it becomes easy to see its importance. For example, suppose your home thermostat, set at 70 degrees, is supposed to perform in a way that will keep the temperature in a range from 68 to 72 degrees. If it fluctuates between 67 and 73 degrees in reality, it is still acceptable. But if the temperature bounces between 55 and 85 degrees, the product is performing at unacceptable levels. If five or six hundred thermostats out of every million were defective in this way, many customers would not be satisfied and profits could be lost.

This simple concept is behind the transformation of major companies like General Electric and Allied Signal. The ultimate end of Six Sigma is not simply to improve productivity or quality, but in doing so to improve customer service and thereby dramatically increase profits. Written as a dialogue between old friends, THE POWER OF SIX SIGMA reduces some pretty complex business theory to its underpinnings in way that anyone can understand. Companies that have made customers happier will enjoy heftier profits. One way to achieve this is to reduce mistakes. This results in fewer throw outs and refunds, and adds money to the bottom line. In the process the cause of the mistakes should be determined and eliminated. When it comes to the customer, it's not management that usually has the best ideas about what the customer really wants. It's the customer. One happy customer tells three people and one unhappy customer tells twenty people.

Through the conversations his characters have in the book, Chowdhury points out that top management must be the driving force behind this philosophy; executive leadership must support the project managers implementing Six Sigma. These project managers, known as Black Belts, combine excellent management and technical skills with the ability to inspire passion in front-line employees, and should also enjoy the confidence of top management. Black Belts go through an intensive training program that covers the four main points of Six Sigma: how to measure, analyze, improve and control the processes that improve customer satisfaction and produce a healthier bottom line. After each point is learned, the Black Belts go back to the company and apply the concept to a specific problem before they begin studying the next concept. Chowdhury's narrative style effectively delivers the message of how the power of Six Sigma can aid any organization.

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Also recommended are:

KF 1890 .C6 K67 2001

GV 1853.3 .F62 W3417 2001
BE OUR GUEST : PERFECTING THE ART OF CUSTOMER SERVICE by Michael D. Eisner. Disney Enterprises, 2001.

HD 69 .C6 M388 2001

Contact the business librarians, who also answer questions about business, money, and work, at (412) 281-7141 or at

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