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Monday, August 28, 2017

Work-Life Balance

Once again this past week streets in front of car dealers were lined with auto mechanics who want to cut themselves a better deal. They received an offer from the group representing area auto dealerships early last week which the mechanics union rejected. So the pickets remained in place. Uncompensated work time remained an issue yet to be brokered.

Strikes of any kind ring familiar with an upcoming American holiday.
Labor Day falls on Monday, September 4th. From the first event held in 1882, it was the desire of the Central Labor Union to get a holiday for workers. Parades would be held for the public to turn out in appreciation of the work of trade and labor organizations.

Workplace abuse has certainly been documented in our history and in other countries as well. Last week I shared a Chicago Tribune piece that claimed nearly one in five workers face incidents that include sexual harassment and bullying. The labor union issues are generally not about such stuff. They tend to focus more on wages and general working conditions.

I also made mention of a Japanese phenomenon known as karoshi. This is when the work demands become so intense that they claim the life of a worker. Many lawsuits have resulted.

Much has been written in recent years about the work-life balance. This problem is not a labor union negotiable. This is a personal choice issue. One that must be solved individually.

As you might expect, there is even a website on this: There are courses you can take to figure out how to get there. The site “experts” narrow their solution to focus on two key concepts: achievement and enjoyment. As they note, “Enjoyment does not just mean 'ha-ha' happiness. It means pride, satisfaction, happiness, celebration, love, a sense of well being…all the Joys of Living.” Sounds beautiful.

Since my last blog, two stories emerged worth noting. One is about farmers in France. This group of people is experiencing an “epidemic” of suicides. Some claim the work is too often isolating, financially precarious, and physically demanding. Narrowed down, it seems like the financial piece is the biggest threat with failing health concerns right behind.

A second story involved a federal public health employee in California. Her day starts at 2:15 AM in Stockton, California. Later she begins her commute to San Francisco, which involves two trains and a bus that leaves at 4 AM. After work, her three hour commute returns her home close to 8 PM. She goes through this routine for $81,000 a year. And she’s 62 years old!

I’m not an expert in work-life balance but I can tell you now, I wouldn’t do what this woman is doing. I wouldn’t do it for $250,000 a year! That life is crazy!

In the course of my life, I have met many in the business world who lead these kinds of crazy lives. Virtually all are in the pursuit of status and money. Some of them actually believe they must keep this pace because of their value to the corporation.

Elliot Hubbard once wrote, “The graveyards are full of people the world could not do without.”

I’ve also known several of these types who’ve walked away from this out-of-balance life to regain their sanity. Their families. Their souls. Their happiness.

Work-life balance should lead us to contentment. As the Apostle Paul discovered, “I know what it is to be poor or to have plenty, and I have lived under all kinds of conditions. I know what it means to be full or to be hungry, to have too much or too little.” (Philippians 4:12, CEV)

Maybe there’s something to be said for the old adage, “Get a life!”

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, August 21, 2017

Surprise! Work is Hard!

Is the American worker becoming soft? Has work become more difficult in more recent times? Would you describe your job as “tough” or “very demanding?”

Last week, the Chicago Tribune gave us insight into the modern worker with story titled, “One-fifth of Americans Find Workplace Hostile or Threatening.” The headline was the more sensational aspect of a report by the Rand Corp., Harvard Medical School, and UCLA.

It is disturbing to read that nearly one in five workers face incidents that include sexual harassment and bullying. Misery on the job can also occur because of rude or unpleasant customers. Almost 55% of respondents felt they had to deal with “unpleasant and potentially dangerous” conditions.

The lead author on the study claimed surprise at the physical demands that many jobs entailed. Included here was work that was described as “intense or repetitive physical labor.” Others were frustrated by a seeming lack of advancement opportunity. Or having to work outside the office to meet the demands of their job.

Less-educated people faced tougher working conditions. It was better for college educated men. As reported, “Nearly 68% of men without college degrees spend at least a fourth of their time moving heavy loads.”

It took to the end of this article to find the silver lining and learn that American workers have a lot of autonomy. Nearly 60% have supportive bosses. Well over 50% claim they have good friends at work.

Here’s the thing. Americans as a rule are NOT overworking. At least not dying from it. Contrast this with the Japanese who actually use the term”karoshi”: death by overwork!

In 2001, a report revealed a typical Japanese office worker can leave home at 7AM and return after 11PM, including two hours of commute time. Annually, hundreds of civil lawsuits have been filed by relatives who believe their loved one has died of karoshi. Some estimates claimed as many as 10,000 karoshi deaths a year.

Or consider this. In Britain, junior doctors frequently work more than 100 hours a week according to British Medical Association estimates. That works out to an average of 16 hours and 40 minutes a day for six days out of seven.

When is work TOO hard or TOO demanding? That is difficult to measure. Working your own farm takes incredible time and physical effort. Maybe it’s gotten somewhat easier, but an uncle of mine owned a farm in Minnesota for years. He was up before dawn most days to care for his crops and animals and put in very long days. Like most farmers, he enjoyed this work! Go figure.

A healthy view of work should come from a solid theology—a study of God. We are made in His image. We are gifted by God for work. God worked six days and rested. (Genesis 1:26-2:25)

From this we can also derive some lessons on what it means to work in God’s image. I recommend an excellent article from the Theology of Work Project, titled God Creates and Equips People to Work. One important aspect of working in God’s image is to work in relationship with others. As the author correctly states, “Many people form their closest relationships when some kind of work—whether paid or not—provides a common purpose and goal.”

The Bible encourages us to work hard. But working smart tells us not to burn out or lose the joy of our work. And…value relationships in your work!

For this Monday, here’s some work wisdom from Oscar Wilde: “The best way to appreciate your job is to imagine yourself without one.” Amen.

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.

Article on God Creates and Equips People to Work:

Monday, August 14, 2017

Always Stay Humble and Kind

I’m not really sure why I signed up for LinkedIn. It’s been a while and I continue to get requests to connect. Some people I know. Many I don’t. But we have mutual connections. Once in a while I get personal messages sent via LinkedIn, so that’s useful.

One unexpected benefit is the frequent list of articles people post that show up in a weekly LinkedIn email. Some are written by people with superb credentials on a given topic. Others raise my curiosity.

This one caught my eye. "The Hierarchy of Nonverbals and Conversing." I was expecting this from a communications-meister seasoned with years of experience. Nope. This was posted by a business world novice named Brenden Moran. A mere youth whose success identity for the piece is set at “searching for an opportunity.” Nine of his articles are available. I predict we’ll see more.

For example, Brenden must have just graduated from college as a communications major. In describing where he hopes to grow next, he writes, “My current interests are in coaching, leadership, training, and changing company culture for the better...I want to walk in on a board meeting and hear people talking about revenue, branding, and policies and stop them all to say, ‘You got this all wrong. Our focus needs to be on the people first.’”

Smart Alec, eh? Maybe. But I think this guy has a lot on the ball. His article on the “nonverbals and conversing” expresses his frustration in failing to get decent response from coworkers when he asks them questions. He thinks it’s because he’s low man on the corporate totem pole. Which he is.

Brenden blames a “hierarchical system that is designed to privilege people in high positions with good communication and disadvantage people in low positions with poor communication.” He challenges his readers to remember that their body language, tone of speech, etc. deliver a message well beyond their words.

He offers solutions! “Simply take the time to engage with other people in a meaningful way. Give them your attention and your respect. Forget the hierarchy of the organization…Your customers and your peers will greatly appreciate the compliment you pay them when you relay through your entire body that they mean something to you.”

Somebody should grab this guy! And the sharp, on-the-lookout, corporate talent scout will! I’ve seen this movie before.

Two people for whom I have previously worked were the talent seeking types. One, in particular, would watch the way restaurant servers or hotel front desk people treated him. He saw sales talent waiting to be groomed! And he was usually spot on.

I confess. Both of these men sought me out for jobs earlier in my life. They heard or saw something they liked and believed in me. I’m in their debt because my life advanced well beyond the basics due to them.

The lesson here for management and business owners is simply to be on the lookout for talent. Grab it and develop it. You’ll advance your game in potentially big ways.

If you’re an employee, start taking notes on how your company can improve. Offer suggestions. Solutions. Make the effort to stand out.

Young talent is worth mentoring. The legendary Apostle Paul did exactly this with his protege, Timothy. He even challenged him by saying, “Let no one look down on your youthfulness, but rather in speech, conduct, love, faith and purity, show yourself an example of those who believe.” (1  Timothy 4:12, NASB)

I’m cheering for Brenden Moran. Hope he hits it big. Then has the smarts to be looking for a protege.

And as country singer Tim McGraw tells it, “Always stay humble and kind.”

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, August 7, 2017

No More Woe-botics

There is a major change approaching in the workplace. Get ready for job displacement in the age of robots. My blog last week offered the worrisome prospect that when serious unemployment results from advancing technology, people can get aggressively reactive. Witness the rise of The Luddites in the 19th century. I cited a recent Christianity Today article as evidence.

More robotic news has surfaced. Fast Company reports that a therapy robot lives in Facebook Messenger ready to deal with your anxiety. Seriously. The digital therapist has a name. Woebot. He’s a chatbox who is able to offer the wisdom of cognitive behavior therapy. Better yet, Woebot is available for counsel 24/7.

To get the help you need, simply start a Messenger conversation with Woebot. "He" will then reach out to you on a daily basis. Most of your conversation will check on your feelings and your life perspective. You will then have a pseudo conversation that may well include humor. All good therapists use humor.

Be not deceived. Woebot needs to make a living. The team behind Woebot charges $12 per week or $39 per month. That is about 5% the cost of regular therapy sessions. See? You feel better already.

My blog ended last week with assurance that I would pass along words of hope for the future this week. And I shall. Malcolm Frank, Paul Roehrig, and Ben Pring have combined to author, What to Do when Machines Do Everything: How to Get Ahead in a World of AI, Algorithms, Bots, and Big Data. They offer some of the encouragement we need.

Paul Roering is Chief Strategy Officer for Cognizant's Digital Business. He observed, “People skills are more and more important in an era where we have powerful and pervasive technology. It sounds counterintuitive, but to beat the bot, you need to be more human.” Maybe Woebot can counsel you on how to do that. has a good interview with two of the authors of What to Do when Machines Do Everything: Malcolm Frank and Paul Roehrig. Frank gives us a critical piece of hope news. He refused the commonly promoted idea that 47% of jobs are going to go away. His response, “But when you look at what the actual research said, it doesn’t say that. What it says is that a lot of jobs at the task level will be changed and impacted by technology, and that's what we call enhancement. So, some aspects of work will be automated away…So yes, some jobs.”

For people of the Christian faith, we have an important hope mission ahead. And it’s spelled out well in the second of the two articles I previously referenced. This one is titled, “How to Find Hope in the Humanless Economy.”

I think this is a must read for those who have a heart for people who become unemployed and are paralyzed by fear and/or depression. There is real ministry opportunity here. And the solution is centered around one of God’s very best gifts to us as humans: creativity! As is noted, “…if we accept the creation narrative as our overarching story, humans will never lack for value, for relationship, and for opportunities to work and serve.”

The article ends with this important reminder from the Gospel of Matthew: “Therefore, don’t worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself.” (Matthew 6:34)

I hope Woebot knows his Bible really well. Every wise counselor should read the Good Book. In fact, I recommend it for everybody.

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.