Creating a place where people want to work…

There’s a weekly column in our area Sunday paper that I’ve read with interest for a number of years. Its focus is on job-related issues, but much of what is discussed there can relate to any situation / organization in which two or more people are involved.

Sometimes the topic has been in an area of interest to me; sometimes it’s not.

But I’ve sometimes thought about what I would write–if I were ever asked to write a guest column. The chances of that happening are pretty slim, so I decided I’d do it myself!

From the perspective of a couple of different work-related experiences I’ve had, here’s what I think I would say:

Have you ever looked at those articles that list “the best places to work”? and wondered what it would take for yours to be listed there? It doesn’t necessarily take a lot of money. Money is nice, but it doesn’t solve the issues I’ve experienced.

Here’s a few suggestions:

  • Treat everyone with respect. That means everyone, from the person who is highest on the totem pole to the lowest.
  • Listen to your employees. You may not be able to do what they would like to see done, but they often have good ideas. Don’t dismiss them out of hand because you (as a supervisor) “know better.” Your employees are often the first line of contact with your customers, and they often have a really good grasp of issues and concerns that need to be taken care of.
  • Share with your employees. Yes, I know, there is sometimes information that cannot be shared; I don’t know of any employee who doesn’t understand that. But sharing as much as possible helps employees buy-in to what you are wanting (and / or needing) to do.
  • Acknowledge the work that your employees do. Yes, a monetary bonus is always nice. But when that’s not possible, there are other ways of acknowledging how important your employees are. Perhaps an extra day off…a public acknowledgement in the company newsletter…a personal letter (not a template with the name filled in)…a certificate of appreciation…
  • Work to create an environment where all are seen as essential. Too often there’s an “us / them” attitude. It can be described as “bosses / peons”, “that end of the hall / everyone else”, “us / them”…or any one of a number of ways. If that’s the feeling in your workplace, you’re missing out on relationships that can enhance your company.

There’s a lot more that could be said. But it’s not really important. It’s really kind of like what happened when someone came to Jesus and asked him what the most important religious law was. There were a lot of them that Jesus could have picked from. But he only chose two: (1) to love God with all one’s being, and (2) to love your neighbor as you love yourself. Two of the Gospels says that he continued by saying that all the rest of the law and prophets hung on those two.

My feeling is that if you look at my suggestions and work to create them in your company, you don’t need a thick employee handbook full of rules and regulations. They’ll pretty much take care of themselves.

Decision made

In my last post I indicated that I had been struggling with making a decision about a potential job. Well, I’ve made it…and I’ve decided not to apply.

This was a situation where there was’t a “right or wrong” decision. Either one would have been fine.

But I had found myself really struggling–and unable to figure out why. As I said, one day my answer was an unequivocal “yes” but the next day it was “maybe” or sometimes, even “no.” I had several people encouraging me to apply…and lots of support. So why couldn’t I just jump in and say “yes”?

Last night I read the job description to my husband (who had been leaving the decision up to me). As we talked about it, I was finally able to articulate the reason for my ambivalence. It wasn’t fear, which was one of the things I’d been wondering about. Yes, there would have been some new responsibilities that I hadn’t had before–but he reminded me that I’d taken on new responsibilities in other situations and had been able to learn and do them well.

But what I realized was that I need to do things that I have a passion for–and the primary responsibilities in this position were not things I’m passionate about. The mission of the organization is something I’m passionate about…but being an administrator is not.

Could I have done it? Yes, I’m sure I could have. But would it have been fulfilling? I don’t think so.

So I’ve made my decision…and I’m comfortable with it.

Life is so often like that. There are so many situations where there are multiple options, any of which would be acceptable. The trick is to focus on the things one is passionate about.

“Nothing is as important as passion. No matter what you want to do with your life, be passionate.” – Jon Bon Jovi

“You have to be burning with an idea, or a problem, or a wrong that you want to right. If you’re not passionate enough from the start, you’ll never stick it out.” – Steve Jobs

Making the “right” decision

Sometimes I think it would be wonderful if life could be lived with only “right” or “wrong” decisions…if there were only two choices. But life isn’t like that–most of the time.

Sometimes there isn’t a “right” choice. There may instead be several right choices–and you have to decide which one is more appealing or works best for you.

That’s where I am right now.

I am retired from a job I held for 15 years. I hadn’t planned on retiring when I did, but because of the way my job was defined, I was faced with mandatory retirement.

However…there have definitely been upsides to it. For the last two years I’ve been privileged to be the primary caregiver for our granddaughter. Not the only one, because her other grandparents also take care of her when they are able to. But because they are both working, she’s been at our house much of the time…and we’ve developed a close and special relationship.

But now…

A job opportunity has become available that really intrigues me. It ties in with much of what I did prior to my retirement, and it deals with music, one of my passions. There are some aspects of it that aren’t quite as appealing, but that’s true of any situation.

At the moment it’s a part-time job…and that’s appealing…although it’s expected to grow. The timing of it seems to work well, too. My granddaughter’s parents are looking at putting her into half-day preschool this fall so that she can have more socialization with children, something she is wanting.

But do I really want to apply? One day my answer is “absolutely!” The next day I’m more ambivalent. I would be okay with either getting it or not; it’s just deciding whether or not I want to apply.

I find myself wondering if it’s my fears holding me back. The other day I wrote this as I was mulling over this possibility:

What if our fears
are merely a ploy
to keep us from doing
what we’re capable of?
What if we really are stronger
than the world has allowed us to know?
What if we have a voice
with words that need to be shared
but a voice that we’ve given others
the power to silence?

What if…what if?

The world then dies
slowly–and softly,
one unheard voice at a time.

I don’t know yet what my decision is going to be. I have to decide by the end of this month. But what I do know is that I don’t want my decision to be made out of fear…and I want to be willing to realize that sometimes there isn’t one right decision. There may be several–and the choice is mine.

Brain drain?

There was an article in our local paper this morning that saddens me. I understand that our immigration policy is broken…that we need desperately to make some changes to fix it. But I would like to see us try to find ways of doing that with as little damage as possible to our society, our schools, and all the individuals involved. I’m not sure the bill that our legislature is considering does that.

According to the article, children whose parents brought them to this country illegally would be denied the option of federal financial aid, state aid, or in-state tuition. For many that would make it even more difficult than it already is to gain further education–since the legislature has already blocked funding to any public college or university that gives these children in-state tuition.

I understand that these parents brought the law…but I also am aware that sometimes that situation is not as black-and-white as we would like it to be. There are many factors that go into causing individuals to leave their own countries in order to try to find a better life for themselves and their children–and without having walked in their shoes, I’m not at all certain that I can make a righteous judgment.

Beyond that, these children had no choice. They were brought here–many of them–before they were aware at all that they were born in a different country. They have called this country home for their entire lives…have dreamed about the ways they can contribute…about possibilities that might be open to them.

Often the first knowledge they have of their illegal status comes when they are beginning to make real plans for their future…and suddenly life is turned upside down.

Do we really want to do this? Do we really want to visit the sins of the parents on the heads of the children? Do we really want to force them out of the country they have considered their home for their entire lives…and give them no assurance that they would be able to return?

Many of these children have gifts and talents they want to sure with their country…and that we need.

Can’t we work together to find ways that would be beneficial to us all?

Discernment…looking into the future…

I’m at a point in my life where the title of this post has some pretty significant meaning. I retire from the job I’ve had since 1999 at the end of this year, and I’m not sure what the future is bringing. One thing I do know, and that is that I’m not ready to sit in a rocking chair

grandma rocking chair (1)Granted, I am going to do some rocking…there are perks to being retired when a new grandbaby is on the way! But that’s not going to be my whole life…twiddling my thumbs!

So right now I’m trying to figure it out. What do I want to be when I grow up?

Sometimes I wish I could simply look into the future and see what’s coming…not have to worry about making any decisions on my own, but simply let life happen. Unfortunately–or maybe fortunately–that’s not how it works!

So that brings me back to the first part of the title of this post–discernment.

Discernment isn’t just waiting for God to reveal the future. Yes, it is one way we connect with God (the Divine…however you describe the Ultimate Being), but it requires something from us as well.

It takes work. It takes listening…and that’s hard.

I have several opportunities / possibilities that are coming my direction, but discernment requires me to be patient…to let God work within me…to sometimes think beyond my own desires and expectations, even if that seems uncomfortable.

It’s not simply sitting back passively and waiting for life to happen, although sometimes I think that might be easier. At least then I could have reason to complain if things don’t turn out the way I think they should!

But I’m realizing that God wants me to grow up…not to remain a child my entire life, taking orders and direction from someone else without any input from me. That’s being a puppet, and that’s not what I (or any of us) was created to be.

So while I can look ahead and see possibilities, my job right now is to spend some time listening…waiting…thinking…discerning–letting God move in my life, with a commitment to seek the presence, wisdom, and compassion of the Holy Spirit in all aspects of that life.


Becoming like a Child

You may very well have heard this story–it happened in 2007 as an experiment by the Washington Post newspaper. At a DC Metro stop during rush hour, a violinist positioned himself by the entrance door and played for about an hour. He didn’t look like anyone special–he wore jeans, a long-sleeved t-shirt and a baseball cap.

I don’t know how many people passed him by–but a lot. Most didn’t even seem aware that he was there, much less that he was playing. A few stopped…some dropped in a few cents, some a dollar or two, one person dropped in a twenty. His take for the hour? $32.17

One person who stopped–or at least, wanted to–was a 3-year old boy. His mother was in a rush and didn’t have time to stop. But as she pulled her son past, the boy kept turning around to look at the violin player. According to the story of the experiment in the Post, “…the behavior of one demographic remained absolutely consistent. Every single time a child walked past, he or she tried to stop and watch. And every single time, a parent scooted the kid away.”

Why the kids? What did they see or understand that almost all the adults didn’t? Again, the story says “The poet Billy Collins once laughingly observed that all babies are born with a knowledge of poetry, because the lub-dub of the mother’s heart is in iambic meter. Then, Collins said, life slowly starts to choke the poetry out of us. It may be true with music, too.”

Joshua Bell was the violinist…a world-famous violinist who plays on an incredibe violin…and–if you’re fortunate enough to hear him in concert, you’ll pay big bucks for the privilege. Yet here he was, right in the middle of a part of the city that many people pass through…playing for free…and almost no one–no one but the kids–“got it.”

At one point in the Gospels, Jesus tells his disciples that unless people become like little children, they won’t enter the Kingdom of God. What exactly did he mean by that?

I don’t think he was talking about the selfishness that children sometimes show…or their temper tantrums. I think he was talking about what this experiment showed–that we have to become open to seeing/hearing/finding beauty all around us…to opening our eyes and ears–and our souls. Yes, there is a lot of ugliness in our world, but if that’s all we focus on, that’s really all we’ll see. Yes, we’re all busy–but are we really busy with things that count?

Next time you see a street musician playing, take time to stop and listen. When you walk by a beautiful garden, take time to stop and look–and smell.

Don’t let life choke the poetry and music out…but let’s follow the example of the kids.

For the Last Time…

When I return to work on January 2, 2013, I will be doing many things for the last time.

I spent much of my life as a stay-at-home mother and unpaid assistant to my teacher/principal husband. But since 1999–when my husband retired(!)–I have been working at my denominational headquarters. It has not always been easy. There have been times when reorganizations made it very difficult and–sometimes–made me wonder if I was even in the right place.

But there have been many good times as well. I have made many, many new friends. I have been privileged to do some traveling–mostly in the United States, but still to some places I had not been in a very long time. I have been challenged (and yes, pushed sometimes) to learn new technologies, and this has allowed me to do things I could not have imagined ten years ago. I have had opportunities to play a couple of magnificent organs on a regular basis. I have had opportunity to go back to school to study theology. There are undoubtedly more positive things that I will think about as time goes on.

As in all of life, however, there comes a time for another change…and 2013 brings one for me. I face mandatory retirement–and will have to retire by the end of 2013. When I first became aware of that, I’ll admit I kind of freaked out. That had not been in my plans! The more I have thought about it, though, the more excited I become about other new possibilities. I’ve fulfilled some dreams…but there are others that have been put aside for various reasons through the years. So now…maybe the chance to fulfill them?

will miss the various challenges and responsibilities I have had. I don’t know how (or even if) my position will be replaced–but I know that this next year I will be creating a notebook full of all the things I do so that if/when someone steps in to fill my shoes, they will at least have some ideas of how to start. I’m not going to create the notebook with the expectation that my current job responsibilities will be covered in exactly the same way I do them–but there are so many things that I do that I want to make sure that someone has an idea both of what I do and how those responsibilities need to be filled (or reassigned…or whatever…).

I will also miss the friends and comradeship. There are some individuals I will be continuing to remember in thoughts and prayers because of our close connections–and my concerns about them perhaps having to take on additional responsibilities when they are already swamped.

But I confess…the closer I come to retirement, the more exciting it becomes. And so…as I go back to work, I will look at the things that I am doing for the last time as the blessings they have been…but I will also look forward to another exciting future.