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Monday, September 29, 2014

No Cellphone Zone

Most people are familiar with the phrase “falling on deaf ears.” The term “deaf ears” surfaced around the 15th century. The “falling on deaf ears” became cliche during the 19th century. It is used today as it was then…that those for whom a message is intended never quite get it.

With that in mind, I recommend reading “Why Successful People Never Bring Smartphones into Meetings.” It contains some of the latest research from USC’s Marshall School of Business. Really smart people probably don’t need to read it.

The two authors of the blog on this subject have excellent business credentials. I mention this because any time we are told to curb behavior that impacts us personally, the advice is often reduced to “Well, that’s YOUR opinion.” In this case, it’s not.

Here were some of the findings reported from more than 550 working professionals. All made above 30 thousand dollars and were in companies with 50-plus employees.

• 86% think it’s inappropriate to answer phone calls during meetings
• 84% think it’s inappropriate to write texts or emails during meetings
• 66% think it’s inappropriate to write texts or emails even during lunches offsite
• The more money people make the less they approve of smartphone use

Furthermore, we learned that millennials find the practice okay. Dr. Travis Bradberry, coauthor of Emotional Intelligence 2.0, is the cofounder of TalentSmart. He notes in the article referenced that “Millennials have the lowest self-awareness in the workplace.” His concern? This valuable research will be “falling on deaf ears.”

I see this smartphone problem everywhere. It happens in meetings to be sure. But it also happens at business lunches, employees taking breaks and ignoring others while engaged in smartphone stuff, and walking around buildings while texting or checking email. I see it at family gatherings as well.

Let me repeat the message. Successful people never bring smartphones into meetings. BECAUSE…as the article points out, it shows a lack of respect, attention, listening, power, self-awareness, and social awareness. All pretty powerful reasons to take this to heart.

Since leaders are generally the “success driven people,” it make sense that they should lead the way in helping others develop the discipline of the resting smartphone. Having meetings with clear instructions of limits on electronic devices is step one. Educating team members on this research is another. Then you really can determine what falls on deaf ears and plan another approach.

Apparently deaf-leaning ears have been around for a while. Here is what the writer of Psalm 58 had to say: “From birth, evil people turn away from God; they wander off and tell lies as soon as they are born. They are like poisonous snakes, like deaf cobras that stop up their ears so they cannot hear the music of the snake charmer no matter how well he plays.” (Psalm 58:3-5, NCV)

Jesus himself said on more than one occasion, “Anyone who is willing to hear should listen and understand!” (Matthew 13:9, NLT) In the audience of today, that kind of teaching would be the rage on Twitter. #Earswideopen

That’s The Way WE Work. Click on the link to the right to connect via Facebook.

Listen each weekday, from 4-6 pm Central Time, to Let’s Talk with Mark Elfstrand. AM1160 in Chicagoland, AM1160 app, or online/podcast at

Monday, September 22, 2014

Mad about You

One of the dearest friendships developed during my Pittsburgh tour (1991-1998) was with Sam Deep. During my most recent season “between assignments” my wife and I were taking certification instruction from Sam in his evolving Sam Deep Leadership Academy. Here is a man who has spent a good part of his life coaching people and companies in leadership. Now he is training others to do the same.

Sam has excellent credentials. You can check them out at Just look for the tab about Sam Deep.

Our time together in Pittsburgh had us engaged in numerous endeavors. We started a small group fellowship, a radio show, a prayer breakfast event, and a business advice column. We named the column, “Dear Workplace Counselor.” It ran for a couple of years in a health-related periodical.

I was reminded of that recently while reading a similar kind of approach. ( One of the questions posed had to do with what seems like unreasonable behavior from a boss. The man apparently has anger outbursts when he feels the communication from this employee is failing.

Apparently, the problem was such a concern that the frustrated employee took it to Human Resources. No help. Thus the letter to this advice columnist. The return response suggested documenting the situations as they arose and then discussing them with the boss. Hopefully, in a calm atmosphere, a reasonable solution can be reached—even in small steps.

Maybe. But unlikely. Only because most bosses don’t like being corrected by employees. Unfortunate. Workplace excellence slips when a boss is unapproachable.

Having made that observation, I’m more interested in addressing the anger issue. Anger responses can be overt. Or they can be subtle. I’ve watched coworkers get angry without yelling or being rude. But the hair on their neck gives them away.

In many contract and other legal disputes these days, people are considering having some form of mediation they agree to use. Human Resources would be a natural place for this to occur. In smaller firms, it should be possible for an employee to ask for the assistance of a mediator to help resolve a work related issue.

In the case of the angry boss in the story I mentioned, HR really should have stepped up to help. And employees should be careful about advancing a complaint without due process with the boss. Deal with the offending party first.

Anger is such a powerful human emotion with great potential for harm. The Bible says, “Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger.” (Ephesians 4:26) Opening the window to the soul to confront anger issues will not only help you, but it may make your workplace a lot safer and more productive.

Being mad about you is a whole lot better than being mad at you.

That’s The Way WE Work. To connect via Facebook, click the link to the right.

Mark Elfstrand can be heard weekdays, 4-6 pm on AM 1160 WYLL in Chicago. Check the web for WYLL and the app for AM 1160 to listen live. Or by podcast.

Monday, September 15, 2014

All Work and No Play

The Fast Company article I’ve chosen to link to today is timed badly for me. It’s titled, “Why You Need to Stop Bragging about How Busy You Are.” It is a story telling of journalist Brigid Schulte’s journey to writing a book on being overwhelmed…and learning how to deal with it. (See this for more information:

Frankly, after reading about her life and the myriad of performance challenges she faced, I’m still trying to figure out how she had time to write a book! It seems the busy people get more busy. Until the consequences set in.

I mentioned the timing of this article was bad for me because this week is “one of those weeks.” It starts early today with a meeting at 7:30. It will end this evening when I return home around 7:30 p.m. after the 40 mile commute. It is a week filled with the normal work schedule—plus some—that takes me into Thursday night when I have a monthly church leadership meeting. Friday morning, I have an early flight to Pittsburgh and speak to a men’s group four times before returning home on go back to work on Monday.

My good news is found in this being unusual. For some, this is the norm. And this is the reason Brigid writes about being overwhelmed.

She admits to having bought into a “culture of busy.” A status symbol has emerged from this kind of work environment. With it comes complaining about not having enough hours in the day. The work day hours keep getting longer in this culture.

Ms. Schulte has a case study from a Florida psychologist who researched what it took to be best at something. This pschologist traveled to Berlin where he studied time logs of successful musicians. He discovered the virtuosos practiced the hardest for no more than 90 minutes. They also took more naps than their less successful peers.

An important principle presented is that leisure time is when our brain works to solve important issues. I like leisure time. My brain is generally fond of it as well.

But the bigger point is to answer the question of how to change the culture of busyness. Ms. Schulte reports that Menlo Innovations has a most unusual policy in corporate America. Simply stated, “if you cannot figure out how to do your job in 40 hours, we will fire you.” Works for me!

Will the boss put the brakes on? That’s what creates the pressure for others to stay the long hours. But if leadership leads in giving people balance back in their lives, it can work.

The overwhelmed and overburdened worker has an almost impossible task to regenerate. In part, it’s because sleep does not come easy. The Preacher wrote, “All their days their work is grief and pain; even at night their minds do not rest. This too is meaningless.” Ecclesiastes 2:23 (NIV)

Did you get that? Meaningless. Let’s say it again. Meaningless. All that time, effort, and stress. And in the end…meaningless.

And there’s the classic maxim we learned from James Howell in his 1659 book Proverbs in English, Italian, French and Spanish, “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.” Not only dull, but burned out.

If you find you’re overwhelmed, it’s time to punch something out. Like a time clock.

That’s The Way WE Work. Click on the link to the right to connect via Facebook.

Listen each weekday, from 4-6 pm Central Time, to Let’s Talk with Mark Elfstrand. AM1160 in Chicagoland, AM1160 app, or online/podcast at

Monday, September 8, 2014

Because I’m Happy

I had lunch with a friend last week with whom I used to work. It’s been over a decade since we connected. He’s been in his latest work assignment for three years, long enough to know an answer to this question: Are you content? I received an unequivocal, “Yes.” But we both agreed that for many the answer would be “no.”

A recent blog posting that I liked was written by someone who only identified himself as Edward E. He is in transition, retiring from active duty in the U.S. Army. His blog theme was titled, “Finding Happiness at Work, All by Yourself.”

Edward begins with a story of a bike race gone bad for him. He started well, but could not finish. Even though he trained for this, he fell short. His attitude turned bitter. He summarizes, “My happiness and eagerness from early in the day began to turn to anger and frustration.” In the end, he finished dead last.

The lesson from this is about comparisons. Obviously, in a race or any competitive effort, we are forced to deal with competitive strengths and weaknesses. But another kind of comparison is dangerous to the soul. It involves making inner judgments about ourselves in comparison to how others are doing.

As Edward suggests, this becomes unhealthy when we look at peers and coworkers' successes or accomplishments. We compare where we are in the mix. If others have received what we perceive as undue promotions or recognition, it gets worse. I like the way Edward draws this conclusion: “Whenever I have staked my happiness to the successes or failures of other people, I have found that I am always disappointed. What’s worse is that I gave away freely my own determination to control my mood and happiness.”

I think God fearing people should have a totally different approach to their work. We should appreciate our giftedness first. Gaining an honest assessment of what you do best enables us to pursue endeavors that do not feel like work.

Once engaged, we ought to consistently pursue excellence. Taking pride in a job well done adds another level of pleasure in our work. It does not require comparison or even approval if we know what excellence requires.

An added blessing comes when we are recognized for our work. While I agree this is often fuel for more inspired production, I don’t believe we should rely on awards or outside praise for inner joy in our work. Contentment comes from knowing my giftedness is being used, excellence is being pursued, and outcomes are of value in our society.

The Bible offers a good view of this in Psalm 16, verse 11: “You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.”

You are a blessed person if you can find contentment in your work. You are more blessed if you avoid useless comparisons that rob you of joy. But it is a discipline of the soul to be cultivated.

Aristotle once said, “Pleasure in the job puts perfection in the work.” I believe he was on a coffee break when he said that.

That’s The Way WE Work. Click on the link to the right to connect via Facebook.

Listen each weekday, from 4-6 pm Central Time, to Let’s Talk with Mark Elfstrand. AM1160 in Chicagoland, AM1160 app, or online/podcast at

Monday, September 1, 2014

It’s Labor Day. Take the Day Off. [An Encore Blog]

The Way WE Work is a Monday morning audio blog from yours truly that offers an encouraging look at the world of work. On this particular Monday, I’m taking a day off.

Another Monday holiday. Oddly, this one we call Labor Day. Need a history lesson to remember why we’re off today?

Time Magazine for kids gives us a good summary. And I quote: “More than a century ago, workers were forced to deal with harsh conditions. They were paid very little and they often worked 10- to 12-hour days. Men, women, and even small children were forced to work even when they were sick. Tired of long hours and dangerous conditions, workers began organizing themselves into labor unions. On top of fighting for higher pay and shorter workdays, they also fought for the rights of children. The workers wanted employers to place limits on the age of their workers so that small children were not overworked or hurt in factories.”

Peter McGuire is often called the “father” of Labor Day, coming up with the idea for the holiday in 1882. Thanks, Pete.

Some of my favorite quotes on work include this one from Edgar Bergen: Hard work never killed anybody, but why take a chance?

Jerome K. Jerome, who needs help on that name, once said, “I like work; it fascinates me. I can sit and look at it for hours.”

And someone who wished to remain anonymous creatively admitted, “Getting paid to sleep ... that's my dream job.” I think a lot of people are there.

Truth be told…people should take more time off.

God loves the idea of a labor-free day. In fact, He would have us take one every week! God is a big fan of time off. In His thinking, you work six, you rest one. God was so convinced of this plan, He made it one of the Big Ten. Not the football conference, the Ten Commandments.

Now here’s the weird part. Many people don’t take His “work 6, goof-off-one” plan! They keep right on working that seventh day.

Despite the natural love of commerce that keeps doors open on Sunday, there are some great American companies that honor God’s thinking on this matter. You may have heard of them. 

Companies like Chick Fil A and Hobby Lobby.

Other firms such as Interstate Batteries, Herman Miller, and Forever 21 think strategically on putting labor into perspective. God’s perspective. They make an effort to treat people the way they should be treated. Now THAT is something you can take to the bank.

Today, on Labor Day, keep in mind that our work is important for society. It’s vital to our well being in so many ways. Just keep it in balance.

King Solomon wrote in Ecclesiastes this statement: People come into this world with nothing, and when they die they leave with nothing.

In spite of all their hard work, they leave just as they came. (Ecclesiastes 5:15 New Century Version)

Yep. That about says it. Now, back to my lounge chair.

Mark will be back on AM1160 tomorrow, from 4-6 PM Central time. You can listen live on radio in Chicagoland, or online via, or on the AM1160 app. If you miss a program, you can download the podcast on the following day.

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