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Human Resources: They're Human, Too

The dismal economy may be driving your HR manager to drink. That's one finding in a recent survey of 372 human resources professionals by industry publication Workforce Management. Close to a quarter of those polled said they've used alcohol, cigarettes, or recreational drugs to cope with the layoffs, pay cuts, and furloughs they must administer.

Little wonder. At work, HR employees sit at the epicenter of a recession's bad news. Armed with the requisite box of tissues, they're present at tearful layoff meetings. They field angry calls about slashed 401(k) programs and do the dirty work of following through on terminations. And while they often have no part in decisions to slash jobs, they are linked with layoffs in the minds of employees. "If every time someone sees you, they associate you with the angel of unemployment, that can be acutely distressing," says Ben Dattner, a New York organizational psychologist. Then there's the burden of knowing that worse news is looming, says Gabriela Cora, a psychiatrist who runs the Miami-based Executive Health & Wealth Institute. "The company may tell people, 'This is the only layoff we're doing.' But [HR] may know more are coming." While some companies train HR staff to deal with distraught employees, says Alaina Love, a consultant and former HR executive at Merck (MRK), far too many don't. "The average HR person is unprepared."

By now, says Dave Ulrich, an HR specialist and University of Michigan professor, many staffs "are stretched to the risk of burnout." Yet only 9% in the Workforce Management poll say they turn to the very services they promote on the job: employee assistance programs. These can include a 24-7 helpline and counseling for substance abuse. Seems the perfect time for HR pros to take some of their own medicine.

Is Caps Lock the Next Dodo?

Computer makers have been tinkering with the keyboard. This spring, Apple (AAPL) ditched the number pad on its iMac desktop keyboard. Last month, Hewlett-Packard (HPQ) unveiled its 5101 netbook with smaller F1-to-F12 function keys—"relics from DOS-era computing," says Stacy Wolff, HP's director of notebook product design. (HP researchers found just 10% of consumers use the keys.) And Lenovo (LNVGY) doubled the size of the Delete and Escape keys on its just-released T400s ThinkPad. After a year of using key-tracking software to study how its sales and marketing staffers pound their laptops (and after polling 1,000 customers), Lenovo found that people hit "Del" and "Esc" 700 times a week each, more than any other key—often with force. "Hitting these keys represents big, sometimes emotional decisions, like getting rid of a note from your boss," says David Hill, Lenovo's head of design.

Will more keyboard tweaks follow? Don Norman, a design critic who heads a joint MBA and engineering program at Northwestern University, points out that no one has yet addressed the Caps Lock key, a source of widespread frustration when mistakenly hit. "I have been trying to eliminate Caps Lock for over a decade," Norman says. Then there are the Lenovo study's least used keys: Scroll Lock, Num Lock, and SysRq. Says Hill: "I've spoken with high-level executives working at Lenovo for decades who didn't know what SysRq does." (For most users, the Systems Request key doesn't do anything. IBM installed it in early PCs to help debug programs without interfering with other software.)

Picking Winners: A Bias in MBA Admissions

Applying to business school to get a good job in a tight market? Gaining admission may depend on whether you are already employable.

As the recession grinds on, B-schools are taking a closer look at the professional chops of applicants—increasingly seeking out candidates with killer résumés, a workable career plan, and polished interview skills. "Employability has always been an issue," says MBA admissions consultant Stacy Blackman. "But it definitely has come up more recently."

At Michigan State, MBA admissions director Jeff McNish says the program's career office evaluates all résumés. At Vanderbilt University, the career services director is now part of the admissions committee. And at Arizona State, a career center rep sits in on applicant interviews. The trend reflects a desire to keep recruiters happy and boost a school's position in rankings that track post-MBA job placements, says Blackman.

Critics say the increased emphasis on the ability to land a job may block the path to B-school for younger applicants and those without specific career plans.

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