Friday, January 23, 2009

Q: What’s more painful than putting your head in a bucket of ice water?

A: Paying attention to the news.

OK, I’ll admit it. The transnational, worldwide message queue is more messed up than usual. Normally you’d turn on the television and get your standard assortment of rapes, murders, fires, lost dogs and celebrity DUIs. No big deal. Our cultural metabolism has developed over the years to accommodate the day to day anxiety and fear produced by bad news, sort of like accommodating the fact that most of us are going to have skin damage due to too much sunshine. Melanoma has become more an annoyance than a terminal possibility.

But that was then and this is now.

Now you turn on the tube and you get a fire hose dousing of tragedy: Microsoft lays off 5000, 1 in 10 mortgages are in trouble, Iceland’s gone bust, Bernie Madoff has stuck it to Kevin Bacon and Steve Jobs is just a bit too skinny for a hormone imbalance. It’s been like this for months now, over and over, on and on, with no end in sight.

I’ll let you in on a secret. It was getting to me. I’d wake up at 7 and have a wrenching stomach by 9.

So I took at look at my morning routine: get up, make the coffee, slice up the banana, mix it with yoghurt, pour in the walnuts, sit down, read Google News, The NY Times, Huffington Post and then do a fast check on iGoogle to check out Market activity.

I got to thinking, “jeepers, is my information queue messing with my head?” I abandoned network news and CNN years ago. I knew that stuff was poison in a flat screen panel. I thought that I was safe. Maybe I wanted to have my cake and eat it too. I pride myself on being well informed. But the information was killing me.

So I stopped reading the news until noon. It helped a bit. Yet I still had that gnawing feeling of impending doom.

I decided to be proactive. I thought, “ya know, instead of polluting my head with bad news, maybe I should take in good news only.”

I found a web site, Good News Things were looking up. Turns out the site cost $24 to $97 dollars a year, based on income. I can live with this. I mean, some people need to pay a lot more than a hundred bucks a year to keep the smiley face going. So, in the scheme of things, it’s a good deal and the site’s good too.

You might want to check it out.

But, if you don’t have the bucks to subscribe, send me a note. I’ll help you out. I've made it a practice to find some good news around me on an hour by hour basis. I’ll be happy to share my finding with you.

Operators are standing by.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Q: What’s the easiest way to be a good employer in bad times?

A: Work with your employees

Somebody I know was laid off on Friday. After two half years of giving it all to a gig as a Web Master for an online publication, he was shown the door. Putting the sadness and stress of the situation aside, it was probably a short sighted move on the part of the employer. Maybe the former employer has a plan in place to mitigate the risk incurred. But, a web site without a web master is like a truck without a truck driver. You really can’t let the machine run uncontrolled.

Way back in 1998 when I worked for the Big Ass Computer Manufacturer, it was layoff time. The company had its first losing quarter ever. So, they did the usual: setup HR counseling, setup a re-employment office with desktops and fax machines, and start the layoffs.

I was friendly with a Big Ass VP. He told me that he had just gotten an email from an employee of 10 years that had been laid off. The laid off worker asked one question: “How could you do this to me?” The VP was shaken. The laid off worker was a friend of his.

When business goes south, changes need to be made, no doubt. Businesses cannot run at a loss forever. But there are typical ways to address bad times, and there are extraordinary ways to address bad times.

I wonder what would have happened at my web master friend’s employer or at the Big Ass Computer Company if the supervisor gathered all the troops together and said, “Business is such that we don’t have enough resources to support our current payroll. Our business is based on treating our customers and our employees as partners. We want to work with you. So I’ve been instructed to ask you, what can we do to solve this problem?”

Maybe somebody will say, “Gee, I can work part time for a few months.”

Maybe somebody else will come up with an idea to increase sales or trim expenses.

Maybe somebody will say, “Hey, Jane doesn’t do jack shit around here. Get rid of her!”

Who knows what other ideas will transpire? Maybe none. But at least all parties will have made the effort to look out for one another.

There is a big difference between having something done to you and having something done with you. It's the difference between a shove and a dance. Shoving creates resentment and retaliation. Dancing makes friends, even after the dance is over.