Archive for the ‘Work’ Category

Service of Challenging Jobs

Thursday, December 4th, 2014

Photo: Yahoo

Photo: Yahoo


The story of the window washers dangling from a collapsed scaffolding on the 69th floor of the World Trade Center recently reinforced my admiration for those who do these jobs. Too bad there are no self-wash windows or windows that you could swing inside safely in skyscrapers and not be sucked out by the draft.

I couldn’t do this job nor would I want to learn how. Heights are scary.

Next my thoughts jumped to a list of so many other essential jobs that I’d not do well but wish I could such as statistician; hospice care staffer; electrician; plumber; surgeon; clinician; artist; computer/tech guru; carpenter; furniture maker; handyman; dentist and pharmacist–for starters. I can’t look when I get a shot and if I had to give one as pharmacists do these days, my eyes would have to be open.

Are there jobs you admire, could never do but wish you could and others you wouldn’t want to try?



Service of ASAP

Monday, October 27th, 2014

do it now

I’m careful not to rush a person if my deadline isn’t imminent so that when I say I need something urgently, I hope that they take my request seriously. Some people say they need everything “right away.”  So I was drawn to Rob Walker’s “The Workologist” New York Times column, “What ‘ASAP’ Really Means.”

Walker responded to Eugene who complained that he stayed late to finish a project that came with an ASAP request “only to learn later that the project sat on someone else’s desk, ignored for days or weeks afterwards.”

hurryWalker wrote: “You get a request to fill out a report — or whatever — ‘as soon as possible.’ You consider how soon you might actually be able to do it, given everything else you’re dealing with. Then you add some extra time.

“And so you respond: ‘Sure, no problem. I’m finishing some other deadline work at the moment, but I can have that for you by the end of Friday.’ (Obviously, you shouldn’t get greedy. Saying you can do it by the end of the decade is a nonstarter.) In the age of email, it’s a good idea to close with something that concretely pushes responsibility back to the request-maker: ‘I’ll shoot for that unless I hear otherwise from you today.’”

working lateThe first time I said to my boss’s boss that I couldn’t meet an “I need it now” deadline was a shock to me which is why I remember it so clearly. It was 4 pm when he sauntered into my office [I was the lowest person on the totem pole]. He’d no doubt heard that I was at my desk until at least 8 almost every night. He handed me a folder and said he needed this job done by first thing in the morning.

Trouble was I was expected at a dinner that evening to celebrate a big family occasion. There was no way I could work late or finish the project in three hours. Further I had seen the folder on his desk for weeks. So I stuck to my guns, said I’d get right on it and would finish it when I got in the next day—but it wouldn’t be done first thing. Nothing happened: I wasn’t fired.

Have you worked with people for whom everything’s ASAP? How do you handle it?

stop watch

Service of Envy and Facebook’s Place in It

Monday, May 12th, 2014

Photo: Wikipedia

Photo: Wikipedia

I’ve been asked countless times by my husband and/or friends “Why do you believe so-and-so?” when I share improbable news of an imbecile’s stratospheric salary, bonus or new client with astronomical fee.

Pinnocchio 2That’s why I was surprised that there are so many people like me: They believe what they read and see on Facebook about friends’ magical trips, happy families, awards and tournaments won, four-star meals enjoyed and so forth. According to Jennifer Breheny Wallace, a University of Michigan study last summer found that “the more people used Facebook, the less satisfied they were with their lives.”

This fact was the angle for her Wall Street Journal article “Put that Resentment to Good Use,” where we read that benign envy can be the motivation to earn a better salary, get a fabulous bonus or add a munificent client to your roster. Researchers in the Netherlands found that with students, admiration didn’t rank as high as benign envy when it comes to best test results. Students who felt the latter emotion showed increased creativity and imagination in their responses earning better grades.

Benign envy improved attention and memory according to another study.

Pack of dogs waiting for foodMalicious envy, where a person tries to challenge another’s success, is another story about which Wallace devotes only a few lines so I’ll share an example of my own. I worked for a PR agency where the owner threw clients i.e. work up in the air for the account people to grab as though he was tossing steak to a pack of hungry dogs. This technique to generate rampant competition and envy among employees didn’t work for me. I left after the prerequisite year.

What’s your experience and or observation about envy as a motivator?

You can do it

Service of Caring too Much

Thursday, May 8th, 2014

love work

Can a person care too much about the place they work?

Sue Shellenbarger attempted to answer the question in her Wall Street Journal article, “When it Comes to Work, Can You Care Too Much?

She divided employees into “organization lovers” and “free agents.”

Frustrated at workLike any lover, the former can get hurt and become disillusioned. She describes the type in a sidebar as “caring, committed, attached and involved” as well as driven to contribute, to inspire others and play extremely well with team members. Simultaneously Shellenbarger’s summary also portrays them as potential malcontents, prone to get frustrated over things they can’t change and they react “emotionally to employer missteps.”

When BP blundered, wrote Shellenbarger, one of its employees, Christine Bader, quit. “‘The hurt ran much deeper when BP’s problems came to pass, because I was so in love with that company,’ says Ms. Bader, author of ‘The Evolution of a Corporate Idealist,’ a book about how people advocate inside companies for social and environmental causes. ‘My sense of identity was really shaken,’ says Ms. Bader.”

Shellenbarger continued: “Nearly 1 in 3 employees are strongly attached to their jobs and organizations, and their numbers are edging higher, based on a biannual Gallup survey that tracks attitudes common among organization-lovers. Some 30% of employees are ‘engaged,’ or involved, enthusiastic and committed to their jobs, up from 28% in 2010, the survey shows. Women have an edge, with 33% of them falling into this category, compared with 28% of men.”

wtf faceReading Shellenbarger’s description of free agents, I’m not so sure such passionate commitment is an edge. Free agents are, she writes, “detached, calm and self-directed. They leave problems at work, feel more in control and take missteps in stride.” She lists as “cons” that they also change jobs frequently and “can be seen as cynical.” Shellenbarger doesn’t share examples of such employees.

I know where I fit and in typical grass-is-greener-on-the-other-side-of-the-street mode I wish I were more like the other. And you?

 grass is greener

Service of Charity IV

Monday, March 17th, 2014


collecting money at church

I turned on the radio on a recent Sunday just as Monsignor Kieran Harrington said that he’s criticized by some for making repairs to the Cathedral of Saint Joseph in Prospect Heights, Brooklyn. Explained the host of “In the Arena” on WOR Radio, who is also the cathedral’s rector, naysayers suggested he should use the money to cover Catholic school tuitions or give the restoration money to charity. [The program also airs on NET, a faith-centered, Brooklyn-based TV network on Time Warner Cable channel 97 and channel 30 on Cablevision.]

Monsignor Harrington, [photo right], has his hands full and is a person who thrives on keeping busy. In addition to his rector duties and the program, he is associate publisher of The Tablet; the Diocese of Brooklyn’s vicar for communications and Monsignor Kieran Harringtonpresident/chairman of Desales Media Group. He explained that by hiring painters and plasterers, contractors and others, he’s paying them so they, in turn, can cover their expenses—tuition, food and shelter–which he thought had merit.

I agree.

About the same time the “Greater New York” section of The Wall Street Journal featured a photo of a workman leaning from a scaffold up high in St. Patrick’s Cathedral. He was adjusting something in a stained glass window. According to the caption, the estimate of this three year project is $175 million. Worker salaries will pay for plenty of food, shelter and education. Meanwhile, a NYC landmark will stand tall.

Christ Episcopal Church

Christ Episcopal Church


Apart from the service of maintaining a place of worship so that it’s a pleasant place to visit and shows appropriate respect, don’t we also owe it to future generations to preserve landmark buildings whether or not they have a religious history? I’ve visited US cities where downtown looks like Europe after World War II. They have destroyed all but a few paltry buildings from the late 19th and early 20th centuries: Not a pretty sight.

Do you think those responsible for the budgets of places of worship should direct all funds to charity? Are they accountable to preserve the buildings in their charge?

Monsignor Harrington in Cathedral of Saint Joseph. Photo: The Tablet

Monsignor Harrington in the Cathedral of Saint Joseph. Photo: The Tablet


Service of Stress II

Monday, January 27th, 2014


office elevator with people

In just one elevator ride from the 11th to the ground floor in my office building last Thursday I witnessed two examples of extreme stress. I fear these scenes are replicated around the country.

When I entered the elevator a young woman was on her phone saying, “I thought you were children waiting for pickuppicking up the children. I’m too far away to get them. I told you. What? What? Oh no,” and she snapped off the connection. I first noticed her because she was immaculately dressed and coiffed.

After I left the building I again heard her as she spoke, this time fighting tears. She was behind me. “We’d discussed this,” she said. “I, at least, am trying to look for a job. You are busy doing other things. Why did you call me back?”

I’ll never know the outcome—whether someone picked up the children on time; whether she’ll get the job she hoped for; whether the person she was speaking with would act more responsibly in future so as to lighten her load and reduce her sress.

The other instance began a few floors down from 11 when a man entered wearing nothing but a sweater. It was 20 degrees up from 9 in the morning but still not sweater weather. I said, “Guess you’re running out for a snack,” and he replied, “No, for a smoke.” 

being yelled at workI told him I’m nobody to warn him about smoking, as I’m an ex-smoker, but….He said in a low voice, “I gave up smoking for 10 years. I just started again.” My response, “I could start again—by the second one I’d be hooked. But it’s so expensive.” He said, “It’s the office—those lawyers. They yell at me all day, ‘Do this; Get that—now!’” I said “You can’t let them kill you.”

We were on the ground floor.

The economy is doing well for some–I know plenty of people who are thriving–but obviously the news still isn’t as bright for others. These two people looked earnest and serious. I wish I could help them. Have you noticed such palpable, dignified stress around you?



Service of Happiness–for Some

Thursday, January 2nd, 2014

happy 2

Happiness seemed like a good topic for the first post of 2014 although the picture isn’t rosy for everyone.

In Arthur C. Brooks’ “Formula for Happiness” in The New York Times‘ “Sunday Review” section he wrote that social scientists have attributed happiness to “genes, events and values.” We inherit 48 percent; events such as a great job or acceptance to an Ivy League college account for up to 40 percent—though the glow doesn’t last long, “which leaves just about 12 percent.

“That might not sound like much, but the good news is that we can bring that 12 percent under our control. It turns out that choosing to pursue four basic values of faith, family, community and work is the surest path to happiness, given that a certain percentage is genetic and not under our control in any way.”

gold standardHe identified the 42 year old General Social Survey of Americans by the University of Chicago as the “gold standard for understanding social phenomena” and noted that when it comes to happiness, responses have been consistent all this time: A third of us are “very happy;” half are “pretty happy” and 10-15 percent “not too happy.”

For the 12 percent some of us can control, Brooks focused largely on the importance of work. According to the Chicago survey almost 75 percent of respondents wouldn’t quit their jobs even if a financial windfall meant they could live in luxury for the duration. Those with humdrum jobs were least likely to quit while the privileged were more likely to run with the windfall and luxuriate.

His next point didn’t quite mesh with the previous one. “Work can bring happiness by marrying our passions to our skills, empowering us to create value in our lives and in the lives of others.” He continued, “The secret to happiness through work is earned success.”

This may apply to car mechanics, plumbers, carpenters, builders, contractors and chefs, writers, marketers, bankers, doctors, dentists as examples but what about a person with a monotonous or physically uncomfortable, poorly paid job such as dishwasher in a hot kitchen at a hash house, short order cook in a takeout joint or data entry person. Where would they find their passion in work?

opportunityBrooks addresses this—they won’t without opportunity which he observed is in peril. “Evidence is mounting that people at the bottom are increasingly stuck without skills or pathways to rise” and he cited research that showed opportunity was moving in the opposite direction here while mobility is “more than twice as high in Canada and most of Scandinavia.”

His turnaround solution is free enterprise. He suggests “leveling the playing field so competition trumps cronyism” and notes, regarding big business that seems to win a pass, that “it certainly doesn’t imply that unfettered greed is laudable or even acceptable.”

In “The Merchant of Just Be Happy” Taffy Brodesser-Akner wrote about a life coach well-known since Oprah discovered her. The New York Times article made some points which the coach, Martha Beck, admits are so obvious she’s baffled as to why people pay her $hundreds to $thousands to hear. “If something is really good for you, you might want to do it. And if it feels really horrible, you might want to consider not doing it.”

The following was a curious point that may be true for some, but not all men and women: “‘When I tell a woman you really need to quit your soul-sucking job, she goes home, and she can tell her husband, ‘I need to quit,’ and he’s like, ‘O.K., let’s do it.’ she said. ‘If I tell a man he needs to quit his soul-sucking job, he has to go home and fight with his wife or fight with his parents and fight with his in-laws and fight with everybody, because men aren’t supposed to be happy; they’re supposed to do well.’”

Beck also said, “You will have all the happiness and money you need if you can just find what you’re supposed to be doing and do it.” Brodesser-Akner noted that Beck’s clients weren’t “trapped in poverty or impossible circumstance.”

Do you accept the findings of the University of Chicago, Arthur Brooks and coach Beck? What about those who are trapped—is Brooks’ answer, free enterprise, their passport to mobility? And do you think women are free to take off from what they are doing to work at something they enjoy and that men are stuck trying to “do well?”

Blue ribbon

Service of Work Rooms: Where Authors such as Peter Ackroyd, Jhumpa Lahiri or Richard Dawkins Write

Monday, September 16th, 2013


The Writer’s Room” in the Sunday New York Times Magazine a while ago got me to thinking of spaces in which people are comfortable doing their jobs and where, within them, they are most productive. I previously touched on the subject in “Service of Telecommuting.”

In the article author Julian Barnes noted that he handwrites first drafts and moves to a typewriter for second ones. He wrote that his office has been the same Chinese yellow for 30 years and that he types on his IBM 196c of the same vintage. However his desk has changed from the original placed at right angles to a table to “almost a horseshoe” shape since he had one built and added on to over the decades. He concluded: “The room is usually very untidy: like many writers, I aspire to be a clean-desk person, but admit the daily reality is very dirty. So I have to walk carefully as I enter my study; but am always happy to be here.”

The Lowland Jhumpa LahiriJhumpa Lahiri’s desk was previously owned by a pope’s cardiologist—a healthy pedigree. She doesn’t always work there, where she types. “Otherwise I sit on the sofa to write by hand or read.” She admits that when she first saw the apartment—in Rome—she knew which room she’d like to work in, the previous tenant’s dining room. She reads copy on the terrace on occasion but never writes there.

Richard Dawkins is driven to change where he works by the messes he makes, starting on a clean table moving to others, even if they are outdoors. Jonathan Lethem doesn’t say how long he’s written in the home and office in which Esther Wood once lived and wrote, but he still feels it’s hers, not his. Wood died at 97 in this house built by her grandfather.

Faces in paintings and photographs inspire Edwidge Danticat. She wrote: “I keep a pile of pictures, intriguing faces torn from newspaper or magazine pages, from which I might borrow distinctive features and gestures for my characters.” She continued, “Sometimes when I’m stuck and can’t write, I just sit there and stare at [a photograph of Jean-Michel] Basquiat. Or I sit under my desk and stare into space.”

Peter Ackroyd LondonJust this weekend The New York Times Style Magazine ran a piece about author Peter Ackroyd, “Man of Many Words,” by Jody Rosen. The introductory photo shows Ackroyd at his cluttered desk. Rosen wrote: “Ackroyd writes nearly all day, nearly every day. Each morning he takes a taxi from his London home, in tony Knightsbridge, to the office he maintains in Bloomsbury, where he typically divides his workday between three books. He begins by writing and doing research for a history book, turns to a biography sometime in the afternoon and finishes the day reclining on a bed in a room adjacent to his book-lined office, writing a novel, in longhand.”

Ackroyd’s, like some of the others, is an example of disorderly desk, clear mind–which I relate to.

I admire friends who work in the living rooms of their one bedroom apartments. I don’t even notice their computers and papers when invited for a visit. They are organized and neat and either single or their significant other works outside their home.

I remember the woodshop a retired family friend kept in the basement of his home in Forest Hills, Queens. He’d make a collage of photos of annual gatherings, paste it on wood and make memorable jigsaw puzzle gifts for us. He’d been a businessman but I’d wager that his shop was his favorite workspace.

You’d think a traveling salesperson’s car or a photographer’s studio would be best for them but not always.

Have you worked in a dream space or can you envision what it would be? Are you most effective in what some might call an unexpected place?



Service of Telecommuting

Thursday, March 28th, 2013


Since I read about Yahoo’s HR director, Jackie Reses’ memo to all staff telling them that if they work at home they have until June to report to a desk at a Yahoo office fulltime, it’s been in the back of my mind.

Kara Swisher quoted Reses’ entire memo in her coverage on All Things D, “‘Physically Together’: Here’s the Internal Yahoo No-Work-From-Home Memo for Remote Workers and Maybe More.” An excerpt of that memo:

meeting“To become the absolute best place to work, communication and collaboration will be important, so we need to be working side-by-side. That is why it is critical that we are all present in our offices. Some of the best decisions and insights come from hallway and cafeteria discussions, meeting new people, and impromptu team meetings. Speed and quality are often sacrificed when we work from home. We need to be one Yahoo!, and that starts with physically being together.”

Moving back to the office affects several hundred who currently work at home fulltime and Swisher reported that many others work remotely one or two days a week.

Playing SolitaireI try to attend board and committee meetings in person because I often discover helpful tidbits and back stories. When we all call in, or when I am forced to, I am distracted especially if someone drones on so I play solitaire; read emails or make “to do” lists.

There are exceptions such as weekly or monthly telephone conference calls with clients headquartered across town or country, a convenient way to update them, pose questions, propose solutions to challenges and most important to a consultant, hear about changes and plans—information some clients don’t otherwise have time to share.

During one of these calls the client casually referred to a product launch we were about to release to the press. He used an unfamiliar name for the line. None of us on the call knew that he’d changed its name and all of the approved press releases and photo captions with the original one were ready to go.

Some friends and colleagues who love working from home pass on job opportunities in which they must appear at an office. Others get to stay home with their babies one day a week—though they must have someone else to watch the child according to many employment agreements.

Telecommuting was once the Holy Grail, a paean to flexibility and squeezing the best out of staff and at the same time saving on the cost of office space. So why is the bloom off the rose–especially when you consider the numbers of easy and inexpensive ways there are of communicating and even seeing staff on screen in their at-home outposts?

Do you think people work better face-to-face and under one roof or doesn’t it matter?

Face to face

Service of Luck

Monday, February 6th, 2012


A quote by New York Yankee Lefty Gomez, that he’d rather be lucky than good, appeared in Lisa Sanders, MD’s diagnosis section of her analysis in a New York Times Magazine article, “A Head Full of Pain.” Sanders wrote that she heard that quote a lot when she was a TV journalist.

She noted that the same holds true for medicine. “It was lucky I was studying. It was lucky I ran across this mention of this half-remembered disorder. It’s humbling to know how easily I could have missed this diagnosis. But does it have to be lucky or good? We all aspire to be both.”

lucky-pennyDiscussing football players during a radio interview on the Friday before the Super Bowl, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg observed that if someone consistently plays well that it’s due to skill, not luck.

The old saw about being in the right place at the right time may be luck, but is it? What did you give up to attend an event, join a committee or sign up for a class where you met your next client or boss: Nights and weekends to catch up on work deadlines? Wasn’t this equal parts luck and motivation?

wishboneMonique Sanchez is a talented young actress who produced and starred in an off-Broadway play while juggling a job and other obligations. During this busy period the only thing she missed was sleep. The risks and tasks involved with producing a play are no joke but she took them. She didn’t wait for a showcase role to come to her, she created [a great] one. Nor did she hope the right people came to see her: She saw that they did. Is it timing, talent, luck, perseverance, energy–or all of these things–that account for her being cast in increasing numbers of television shows?

What part does luck play in success? In the outcome of many of life’s twists and turns?


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