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.

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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?

Blessings

This is the time of year to think about blessings. That has really come into focus for me recently!

I will retire effective December 31, 2013. That event was celebrated recently at my work with a reception/party–and I realized just how blessed I truly am.

I’ll have to admit…I wondered a little bit just how many people would come. The reception was held at the end of the workday–and it is December, after all! Would people be too busy too come?

Surprise! I knew several people would be out of town or had other commitments (i.e., school finals)…but I was surprised and amazed at the number of people who took time at the end of the day to come and celebrate with me.

My co-workers had a ball coming up with ideas about all the different hats I wear at work–and making hats out of materials appropriate to my jobs to symbolize them.

People I had worked with (both current and past) were contacted and asked if they wanted to write memories for a scrapbook to share with me, and as I read them, I found myself saying over and over, “Wow!” Some saw me in ways I have not seen myself; others remembered things I had forgotten. I was also deeply touched by one specific letter from one individual. Because of some work-related issues, our relationship had been severely damaged (if not broken) at one point. Healing has occurred over the years–and that difficult journey was acknowledged in that letter–along with a statement of appreciation that deeply moved me.

We never know how we impact people. Sometimes our families know when thoughts are shared with them at a funeral. I am so grateful to have had the opportunity to realize both how I have been able to minister to others and (maybe even more importantly) to share and celebrate with those who have touched me so deeply these past several years.

So now, as I prepare for Christmas break, I am also looking forward to a new chapter in my life. I’m not slamming the door on this past one–I will still remain connected, although in different ways than as a co-worker…but I am also excited about new possibilities that are opening before me.

May you also come to realize how much each of you are blessed–and how you also bless others.

Labor Day thoughts

I’ve enjoyed the long weekend this year. It’s been a much-needed respite from a hectic summer.

But as the holiday ends, my mind keeps returning to the history of Labor Day. It’s been around for over 100 years–and its original focus was to “exhibit to the public the strength and esprit de corps of the trade and labor organizations of the community, followed by a festival for the recreation and amusement of the workers and their families.” That focus has changed through the years…placing more emphasis on the “economic and civic significance of the holiday.”

It seems, though, that as the years have passed, we have given less and less respect to those who actually do the labor that allows us to eat, wear clothing, have comfortable homes. We have tended to say that those who are the “head honchos” are the ones we ought to look up to, ignoring the fact that many of them have risen to their positions because of the efforts of those who labor.

This year there have been calls and demonstrations in support of raising the minimum wage–which has been at $7.25 since 2009. That means that a full-time, year-round worker makes just over $15,000 a year…just barely above the poverty level for a single-person household ($11,490). And the value of that wage has been falling over the last forty years. In 1968 (when I was finishing college), the federal minimum wage was $1.60 an hour–but if it had kept up with inflation, workers making the minimum wage in 2013 would be earning approximately $10.70 an hour. That extra $3.50 makes a lot of difference!

Another issue that keeps coming to mind during this holiday is the CEO-to-worker pay ratio. I’m not at all opposed to CEOs receiving fair valuations–but somehow we’ve gotten things skewed. When so many workers make somewhere around $20 an hour and the CEO makes $15,000 an hour, something is terribly and obscenely wrong. In the United States, the CEOs of the S&P 500 Index companies made around 354 times the average wages of workers. How do we compare with other countries?

  • United States – 354
  • Canada – 206
  • Germany – 147
  • Spain – 127
  • France – 104
  • Australia – 93
  • Sweden – 89
  • United Kingdom – 84
  • Norway – 58
  • Poland – 28

So I guess the question in many ways comes down to this: If a company CEO-to-worker ratio is lower than the US average and if they pay their workers what many would consider a living wage, will they flourish or fail?

For me, the answer is found in a comparison between Costco and Walmart. Disclaimer – I have a membership at Costco, and our daughter works there. However, having said that, there does appear to be evidence that when workers are paid a living wage and are treated with respect, the company will flourish. According to an article posted in June, here’s some interesting information:

  • Average cashier salary
    • Walmart – $8.53
    • Costco – $15.60
  • Average pay for low-level managerial position
    • Walmart – $44,774
    • Costco – $53,956
  • CEO compensation
    • Walmart – $19.3 million ($1.3 million salary, $4.4 million bonus, $13.6 million in stock grants)
    • Costco – $4.9 million ($650,000 salary, $200,000 bonus, about $4 million in stock options)
  • Recent quarterly year over year earnings
    • Walmart – up 1.1%
    • Costco – up 19%

So…as this Labor Day holiday draws to a close, I want to say “thank you” to all who work to provide my needs and wants…and also to say that I think it’s time for us to make some changes.

Retirement’s coming…

I hadn’t planned on retiring. I thought my job was mine for as long as I wanted it–and I was still enjoying it. But then I found that I had been misinformed–that the position I was in had mandatory retirement, and I was old enough that it was kicking in.

My initial reaction was frustration and–yes–some anger. I could still do my job effectively…still loved what I was doing. I asked for a waiver, something I thought might be possible, based on some of the information I found. But it was denied.

So then I had a choice.

I could either go angrily and grumpily into retirement…or I could embrace it and leave on good terms. I had already been through one very difficult time when I struggled with similar reactions, and I did not want to go down that road again. So the choice really was relatively easy.

And you know something?

The closer it’s getting to retirement, the more I’m looking forward to it!

Yes, I have loved my job…and there are still elements of it I want to be involved with–as a volunteer.

But as the author of Ecclesiastes said (and the Byrds appropriated for one of my favorite songs)…“To everything there is a season…” And I’m discovering that facing retirement–while it closes one door behind–opens up a myriad of choices!

There are so many things I’ve wanted to do in the past but didn’t have time for…and new possibilities, new discoveries.

I’ve heard people say before that they didn’t know how they had time to get everything done when they were working, and I’m beginning to understand that statement. As I look at the options before me…all the doors just waiting to be opened…I’m excited.

Sometimes we make choices…sometimes they’re made for us. But we determine how we react to them–and while there is much I will miss when the new year starts, there is so much to look forward to.