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Monday, June 27, 2016

Martyrs on the Job

Over the weekend, I decided to check my pay and benefits info on the company website. How much vacation time was I sitting on? And when I was I at risk for losing it? It seems like I have more than a couple of weeks waiting for me.

I’m not really saving it up for anything. Except for some in January when my wife is quite sure we’re going to someplace exotic to celebrate our 40th anniversary. I’m going to have to check the mattress to see if there’s money I don’t know about.

The travel industry doesn’t like it when people don’t use their vacation time. They like it even less when they DO take it and stay at home! The termed coined for these non-vacationers is “work martyrs.” I like that. Sort of. It actually sounds like “my work is killing me!” For most of the people I know, it’s not.

The Washington Post has published two stories two years apart with the same headline: Are you a “work martyr”? The 2014 version ( provided some pertinent data. It’s been determined that about 40 per cent of Americans don’t take all the vacation to which they’re entitled. The US Travel Association estimated that to be around 430 million days of unused time off. Now you see why their self interest makes them concerned about this!

Said Roger Dow, president and CEO of that group, “We found that people have this whole busyness as a badge of honor thing. We’re becoming a nation of work martyrs. People really wear it on their sleeves how they don’t take time off. Everyone around the world looks at Americans like we’re crazy.” Maybe we are.

As the second article on this “work martyr complex” explained (, many Europeans view vacations as a right. Countries in the European Union (which became the focus of the renowned Brexit vote this past week) are obligated to provide at least a month. And if the numbers are correct, average French employees in 2014 worked one-fifth fewer hours than we did in the States. 

Is it our work ethic that’s different? Or are there some underlying and perhaps complicated reasons why Americans give up vacation time? That’s where this perceived “complex” comes in.

When asked why they don’t take more vacation, respondents to the Project Time Off study cited the following: fear of returning to a “mountain of work” (37 percent); a belief that “no one else can do the job” (30 percent); a decision that “I cannot financially afford a vacation” (30 percent).

But that still leaves another more deeply personal reason, not often admitted. The true fear is that if someone takes over for you during your vacation, you might be replaced by someone better. Or who will work for less. Or who seems more dedicated. Who is going to admit to that kind of fear in a survey?

We like to think we play very important roles in our organizations. And companies usually tell us that we do. Until they have to say goodbye.

In my lifetime, I’ve met some who really believe they don’t need vacations. Others don’t know what they would do with the time off. A third group always feels the pressure of deadlines and projects that simply require them to be available. I think it’s unhealthy.

The human soul needs a break. Actually several breaks. And it is in the best interest of all parties when employees use their vacation. Shawn Achor, author of the bestselling The Happiness Advantage and founder of consulting firm GoodThink, wrote about this in the Harvard Business Review. He explained how people who take time off excel at work. 

On the employee side, a report from Project Time Off revealed that employees who take all of their vacation time increase their chances of getting promoted and getting a raise by 6.5 percent compared with people who leave 11 or more days of paid vacation unused.(

We’ve all the heard phrase, “all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.” It also makes him less efficient. And may stress him out, which could result in more sick days.

The Bible sets no mandate on vacation time. But two things are abundantly clear. A “sabbath day for rest” is very close to God’s heart. He’s expressed irritation when people minimized this. And He offered blessings when they obeyed!

“But now, take seriously what I tell you. Quit desecrating the Sabbath by busily going about your own work, and keep the Sabbath day holy by not doing business as usual. Then kings from the time of David and their officials will continue to ride through these gates on horses or in chariots. The people of Judah and citizens of Jerusalem will continue to pass through them, too. Jerusalem will always be filled with people.” (Jeremiah 17:24-24, The Message)

The second clear message we get in the Bible is that feasts took place frequently. And everyone stopped what they were doing to participate. Most took several days! And frankly, who doesn’t love a good feast?

Take those days off. Refresh yourself. Enjoy a feast. Invite me over.

Okay. That was pushing it a bit. But don’t be a work martyr.

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

Let’s Talk with Mark Elfstrand can be heard weekdays from 4-6 PM Central. To listen outside the Chicago area, tune to for live streaming or podcasts, or download the AM1160 app. 

Monday, June 20, 2016

Commencement Treasure

‘Tis the season for grads and dads. Most graduations have taken place by now. And those hopefully inspiring commencement speakers have done their job leaving grads with some sense of direction and meaning as they launch into real life. As most of us know, our minds often drift during those minutes of challenge from the invited speaker.

The New York Times shared a few of the insights from several well known commencement speakers to the Class of 2016. Will there be any real takeaways to be recalled decades later? Who knows. (

But here are some of the wisdom bites shared:

“When life tells you no, find a way to keep things in perspective. That doesn’t make the painful moments any less painful.” ~ RUSSELL WILSON, Quarterback, Seattle Seahawks, University of Wisconsin-Madison

“And I want to be clear that your intuition is different from your conscience. They work in tandem, but here’s the distinction: Your conscience shouts, ‘Here’s what you should do,’ while your intuition whispers, ‘Here’s what you could do.’ Listen to that voice that tells you what you could do. Nothing will define your character more than that.” ~ STEVEN SPIELBERG, Filmmaker,  Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts

“As you prepare to leave here today, I urge you to draw strength from your inheritance. Never doubt that the smallest step can create the most sweeping change. Go forth into the world and explore the sciences that expand our world, the economies that keep it running, and the laws that set us free. But never lose sight of our comrades in humanity on whose behalf we are called to work or the faith that will sustain us through it all. This is my call to you: to find your change and live it.” ~ LORETTA LYNCH, US Attorney General,  Spelman College, Atlanta

I’ve spoken at a commencement before. It was several years ago. But I decided to consider what my list of “ten life guides for grads” might look like. So, here they are.

Life Guides for Grads
  • Your diploma is not a ticket to success. Seems like it should be. You worked for it. You’ve achieved something. You’ve paid a good part of your life to this point as a price. And the reward? More work. More learning. More commitment and dedication to excellence. And hopefully, more opportunity to prove yourself.
  • Expect to change career paths several times. There are exceptions, no doubt. But the vast majority of high school and college graduates start in one place and the board game of life moves them to another. Seek out your “sweet spot” and find the kind of work that makes you come alive.
  • Determine where you most want to live and, if possible, work there. The axioms live on: “There’s no place like home.” “Home is where the heart is.” Each of us discovers a location that to us seems most like home. The sooner you can determine where that is, try to satisfy your soul and live there.
  • Prepare yourself for life in the ordinary. Dreaming big is fun. You might be rewarded accordingly. More often than not, mid-life delivers a reality check. Know that great contentment can be found in the ordinary. And it’s where most people live.
  • Purpose to find a few, authentic lifetime friends. Walking alone in life leaves great gaps in our soul. Aside from the wisdom and companionship these friends provide, you have allies for strength in your weakest times.
  • If you decide to marry, get much advance counsel. We marry believing our simple love will last forever. We quickly learn love requires much from us and many refuse to give it. Learning from both the failures and the success stories, and good premarital counseling, increases your potential for a lasting relationship.
  • Seek out a mentor, with whom you will communicate often. The best person to help you down the road of life is someone who has been there, and learned the right steps to take.
  • Live below your means as best as you can. Learn to invest early for later in life. As the Dave Ramsey saying goes, “We buy things we don’t need, with money we don’t have, to impress people we don’t like.” (my add…or who don’t care)
  • Know life will bring crises. Establish a foundation of strength to help you handle these. I would be remiss if I did not coach your thinking to a spiritual foundation. When you are told in crisis to “dig deep,” exactly where does that take you? It requires that you search your spirit for hope driven inertia to move you forward. If your spirit is weak, where can you go? Thus, be strong in spirit by recognizing and turning to the Creator who made you and sustains you.
  • Family (parents, your children, grandchildren) will be forever a part of your legacy. Time spent with them brings no regrets — if you have a heart of love. Simply putting in time can be a labor of futility. 

Engaging these most important relationships with authentic interest and caring will yield deep satisfaction for you and fruit of goodness for many years to come.

Life is lived best when we are learners. Get wisdom; develop good judgment. As King Solomon passed along to his son…

“Don’t forget my words or turn away from them. Don’t turn your back on wisdom, for she will protect you. Love her, and she will guard you. Getting wisdom is the wisest thing you can do! And whatever else you do, develop good judgment. If you prize wisdom, she will make you great. Embrace her, and she will honor you. She will place a lovely wreath on your head; she will present you with a beautiful crown.” (Proverbs 4:5-9, NLT)

Wisdom. Understanding. Discernment. There are no degrees for these.

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

Let’s Talk with Mark Elfstrand can be heard weekdays from 4-6 PM Central. To listen outside the Chicago area, tune to for live streaming or podcasts, or download the AM1160 app. 

Monday, June 13, 2016

Under Review

It’s been a while since I wrote on the topic of employee reviews. My interest was sparked last week by reading the Chicago Tribune article, “As companies revamp performance reviews, some changes are falling flat.”

Summary notes from this article tell us firms such as Accenture and Microsoft stopped using “forced rankings” which use a bell curve for employee performance. Good. Bell curve ratings make no sense to me. Also, as noted, “Others, such as Adobe and General Electric, have either dumped the rating scale that labels employees’ performance with, say, a ‘3’ or ‘meets expectations.’” Big banks are making modifications as well.

So a lot of these folks went to using “employee conversations” instead. You’d think this would be ideal. But supposedly the criteria used for those talks resulted in 14% lower overall ratings. Even managers felt that without a clear rating system, it was harder for them to deliver a message.

McKinsey & Co. had their own views on doing employee evals. Their conclusion was that outside of top performers, these evaluations had little impact on motivating workers. And giving marginal raises did little to improve employee performance or their enthusiasm for improvement.

My thinking is that better performance in the workplace requires a good team and a good manager. Right now, the Chicago Cubs have the best record in major league baseball. While it is true they have talented players, they also have a smart and gifted coaching staff. One without the other would leave a different place in the standings.

If I were using an employee evaluation system in management today, I would have a very simple review process that could be done at any given frequency. Once the job description has been developed with key indicators for performance, my manager interaction with team staff would involve four discussion areas:

  1. You are either meeting or exceeding (most) (all) expectations on your job description. 
  2. Ones we should discuss are….
  3. Here’s what I most value about your contribution to our organization…
  4. Here’s where I’d like to see you take steps forward in the weeks/months/year ahead…(itemize as needed)

Next, would be management evaluations. I doubt there is a standardized evaluation method that is effective for both managers and the proverbial “rank and file.” Management level people are expected to bring leadership into focus on a higher level. Job performance for leaders is not measured well by number rankings.

Bea Fields does leadership coaching, team coaching, and assessments. She is one of many who use the 360 Degree Feedback Process for leaders. Bea set up her questions this way: “If I were to come into your life and talk to 8-10 people who know you best, on a scale of 1-5, with 5 being the highest, how would they rank you in the following areas?”

• Takes reasonable risks in order to improve the company;
• Looks at situations from multiple viewpoints in order to gain perspective;
• Offers employees challenging learning situations, specifically to build skills and produce bottom line results;
• Develops trust with employees;
• Communicates openly and honestly;
• Displays confidence when presenting ideas or expressing opinions to others;
• Makes decisions that might be unpopular if it is in the best interest of the customer;
• Thinks about company growth and explores new ideas for organizational development;
• Looks for new ways to achieve a competitive advantage in current business practices;
• Demonstrates competence and credibility in his or her area of expertise;
• Attracts and retains top talent; and
• Leads with an authentic leadership style


These are truly useful and more challenging ways to determine if a management level employee is truly being a leader.

Now here’s a surprise evaluation tool for managers who really want to improve their team relationships and test their own effectiveness. I’ll call it the “Employee Manager Review.” In this scenario, a manager asks his or her reports in small circles to give feedback on manager-team interaction.

The discussion/evaluation points would include…

  • Giving adequate praise on things you are doing well
  • Showing appreciation for extra efforts made in behalf of our organization
  • Making myself available to you when needed
  • Adequately providing the resources you need to do your job well
  • Communicating clearly all policies, procedures, memos, etc.
  • Celebrating successes of your team
  • Demonstrating how your contribution impacts our success
  • Showing an interest in you personally
  • Checking in on where you would like to grow
  • Giving value to your suggestions on ways to improve

Okay. I admit it might be quite difficult for an employee to be open and honest with answers to those questions without fearing reprisal or an argument. But if done in a setting with two or three present, it might well build vulnerability. Especially if the team members know and respect each other. I believe a lot of workplace improvement would result.

Better managers. Better teams. Better results.

What is most critical in generating useful information for growth is to create a safe environment for everyone. When people feel safe, in an evaluative or feedback setting, truth sharing is the most likely byproduct.

King David referred to his God as The Lord. As king, David reported to Him. Notice his security with The Boss:

“The Lord is my shepherd; I have all that I need. He lets me rest in green meadows; he leads me beside peaceful streams. He renews my strength. He guides me along right paths, bringing honor to his name. Even when I walk through the darkest valley, I will not be afraid, for you are close beside me. Your rod and your staff protect and comfort me.” Psalm 23:1-4 (NLT)

Make relationships safe and trust will abound. That’s top down thinking.

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

Let’s Talk with Mark Elfstrand can be heard weekdays from 4-6 PM Central. To listen outside the Chicago area, tune to for live streaming or podcasts, or download the AM1160 app. 

Monday, June 6, 2016

That Elusive Success Metric

Most of us are inspired by stories of those we deem successful. We like to hear how they did it. What obstacles did they overcome? And what can they teach us about how to become more “successful”?

The power of story to inspire us is what makes movies, documentaries, biographies, and autobiographies potential bestsellers. In the business world, success stories are championed. We are looking for the secrets of winners to help us win, too.

In sales, for example, the well known book by Frank Bettger stands out. How I Raised Myself from Failure To Success in Selling. Or Dale Carnegie’s classic, How to Win Friends and Influence People. How about The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, which millions have read. I’m not sure how many practice these habits.

Leaders wants success and find hope in such classics as The Effective Executive by Peter Drucker, On Becoming a Leader by Warren Bennis or Max Depree’s outstanding book, Leadership is an Art.

Biographies motivate us, too. There’s Titan: The Life of John D. Rockefeller. Or Sam Walton: Made in America. And Personal History by Katherine Graham.

Three articles on success caught my attention recently. Here are the titles:

*I’ve Worked for Two Billionaires. Here's What I Learned from Them
*There’s No "I" in Team. No "I" in Success, Either
*I Thought I Was Short on Time; Now I'm Long on Meaning

All three were published in a Linked In forum to which I belong. All three offer distinctly different approaches. All three were shared with us believing we can make great strides on the often elusive nature of that word…success.

The first article has ten of twenty lessons from two billionaires. The second ten are found in a followup post. The author, Paul Cameron Brunson, describes himself as an entrepreneur and TV host. He’s worked for Oprah Winfrey and Enver Yucel, the Turkish billionaire focused on education.

On this list are things you might readily find elsewhere…invest in yourself, surround yourself with better people, understand the power of leverage and so forth. The one I liked best was “never eat alone.” The one I liked least was “take no days off (completely)." Bottom line, good insights from very driven, hard working people. (Read them all at

The second article was written by Bob Nardelli. Bob is now 68. His bio tells us that “during his 45 years in the business world, Bob Nardelli has grown the sales and profits of a number of multi-national corporations including the General Electric Co. and The Home Depot, and Chrysler.”

Bob says success for him has never been about money. Or climbing the corporate ladder. He offers his four “life standards,” which have become the ways he measures success.

• Have I lived my life with dignity and respect for others and myself?
• Have I asked others to do something I wouldn’t do myself?
• Will my community be better for my having been there?
• Have I given back and helped others?

These values are important, to be sure. But I doubt the success dreamer is finding a path to greatness from them. (Full article at

The third article provided some true insight on the evolving nature of success. Titled, “I Thought I was Short on Time; Now I'm Long on Meaning” by Maynard Webb. Maynard is Chairman at Yahoo!, Former COO at eBay. He also wrote, Rebooting Work: Transform How You Work in the Age of Entrepreneurship.

Maynard opens by saying, “Having a metric to help you measure success is imperative.” He determined that his “success metrics” changed over time. First, success meant adequately providing for his family. Then, his reset was to succeed as an executive. He made many sacrifices to do it.

Maynard then determined that success involved recapturing his time. That new metric meant more time with family, more time on what he really wanted to do, and time to give back. He got on course by leaving a CEO role.

Only later did he see that his revised schedule had more to do with filling it with things he found meaningful. So his new metric for success is to act on ways he can make a positive impact. Specifically, things that give him energy. Nice work…if you can get it. (

Here’s the thing. A great number of the people with whom I come in contact daily are on a different treadmill. Some are stay-at-home moms. Others are laborers or people who simply have jobs and families. They don’t run out and buy the next success book. They don’t read the latest and greatest tips on management or leadership. They are trying to do their best at what they do and support the teams of people that need them most.

Those of us who find inspiration and motivation err when we believe that others should share our passions and metrics for success. We may well overestimate the importance of our activity. And the question becomes, are we really bearing any fruit of value?

At one point, Jesus of Nazareth told His followers, “Yes, I am the vine; you are the branches. Those who remain in me, and I in them, will produce much fruit. For apart from me you can do nothing…When you produce much fruit, you are my true disciples. This brings great glory to my Father.” (John 15:5-8 NLT)

Try that metric on for size. And success won’t be so elusive.

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

Let’s Talk with Mark Elfstrand can be heard weekdays from 4-6 PM Central. To listen outside the Chicago area, tune to for live streaming or podcasts, or download the AM1160 app.