Search This Blog

Monday, December 25, 2017

The Grinch Who Restored Christmas

Today, of course, is Christmas. It is the well established Christian celebration of the birth of Jesus of Nazareth. Many are surprised to learn that the earliest converts to the faith did not have a Christmas celebration. The earliest that we can trace the beginnings of celebrations around the birth of Christ is around 300 AD. A "feast calendar” dated 243 AD indicated that there were some celebrations in the third century and perhaps in the second century.

The actual date of Jesus' birth was certainly not December 25th. With shepherds in their fields watching their flocks by night, it’s more likely that Jesus' earthly arrival was in the fall. We definitely do not have a specific day to which we can point.

While various Protestant groups adapted the Christmas celebrations from their Catholic friends, it certainly wasn’t unanimous. The Puritans, who made their home in Massachusetts, had a law in colonial times against celebrating Christmas. There is another whole set of unusual stories about how various traditions were derived.

Today, the season we call Christmas in America and in other parts of the world has seen the emergence of another figure. He is likely as well known as the Christ child. He’s most often called Santa Claus.

Oddly, the character of Santa has some connection to the Christ child. Again, there are ample resources on the person of St. Nicholas—Sinterklaas as he became known in Dutch lore. We don’t really know much about the real St. Nicholas. It’s believed he was a bishop in Turkey; a generous and kind man who loved God.

The myths surrounding Sinterklaas and St. Nicholas have those figures traveling via a noble, white steed. The early 1800s in America brought a new myth: a Santa that traveled the world on Christmas Eve delivering gifts in a sleigh pulled by flying reindeer. History records author Washington Irving referring to St. Nicholas as "— riding over the tops of the trees, in that self-same wagon wherein he brings his yearly presents to children.” This can be dated to 1812.

Just nine years later, reindeer show up with Santa in a sixteen page booklet titled A New Year's Present, to the Little Ones from Five to Twelve Number III: The Children's Friend, by an anonymous author. And in 1823, the Troy Sentinel published the poem "A Visit From St. Nicholas," commonly known as "The Night Before Christmas." Now the reindeer had names.

But Houston, we have a problem. One recent survey revealed that about 20 percent of Britons do not know that Christmas Day is a celebration of Jesus' birth. Almost one in 20 (5 percent) thought the Savior of the world was born over Easter. This information was revealed in a History Channel and survey.

Pew Research adds more disappointing news. Their recent survey found that while most Americans believe Jesus was born of a virgin, that number seems to steadily decline. And especially among millennials. Furthermore, the number of people who see Christmas as a religious holiday is also weak. Just 55% of those polled see it that way.

Bottom line, what had roots as a holiday given to celebrate the birth of Jesus has given way to a fictional hero named Santa. His storyline has increasing presence. (No pun intended.) And Santa has capitalized! Many mall Santas charge a good fee just to sit on the old man’s lap for a photo! Sheesh!

By and large, people who call themselves Christ followers have bought into this game. We hang stockings. We sign gifts from “Santa.” We take our kids to malls or places where faux Santas hang out. We sing the same inane Santa songs.

It makes me wonder. What if people of faith removed all the Santa related products, stories, and gimmicks from our Christmas celebrations. Would it not feel like a true Christmas? Can we survive without watching Elf during the season?

One thing is sure. Fictional Santa has changed over the years. He’s not the same. And his theology is bad. Keeping track of who is good and who is not for rewards.

I’m sticking with the real Jesus for Christmas. His message true. Timeless. Eternal. And consistent.

As the writer of Hebrews reminds us, “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever.” (Hebrews 13:8, NKJV)

Merry Christmas!

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.

For more information on this topic:

Monday, December 18, 2017

Canning at Christmas

The Urban Dictionary explains that the term “can,” as it relates to a job, means you’ve been fired. When someone says, “I’ve been 'canned',” quite often the employee is claiming that the treatment was unfair or unnecessary. Imagine the reaction when that notice comes at Christmas!

Several articles have been written about whether it’s a wise move to terminate before the holidays. There is no common agreement. Except to advise that it be done as “humanely” as possible.

Last year, Inc Magazine posed the question in the article, "Is It OK to Fire Someone Close to Christmas?" A reader had submitted a real life scenario. An employee who had a record of poor performance issues was on the chopping block several times. Only to be rescued by a soft manager. More recently, that employee made a significant mistake that appeared to result in a lost client. And it happened close to Christmas. Thus the question about when to terminate.

The decision maker raised a valid concern for anyone in this situation. What impact does a pre-Christmas termination (or series of them) have on company morale? And how much of a factor is this? Looming above that question is what possible further damage could result in waiting?

The response offered was wise. If the risk of keeping that employee on past Christmas is too great, be generous with severance. It’s a necessary tradeoff.

The better solution was to wait. Perception matters. Companies can hardly expect to be considered a “great place to work” while showing no compassion. And that morale issue with other team members could impact performance.

An interesting legal concern was presented in delaying the decision. “Imagine if you'd put it off and then he happened to file a claim for medical leave or a disability accommodation (unrelated to the performance issues) just as you were about to act. You could still proceed, of course, but now you'd have a sticky legal minefield to navigate, and your risk factor would go way up.”

Another article on this topic surfaced in recently. This one dealt with "How to Make Firing Someone During the Holidays Less Horrible." I like it when someone offers “best practices” for firing at Christmas. Okay, I don’t.

There was good thinking presented, however. Here are some of the pointers. First, avoid surprises when possible. Often layoffs around Christmas happen for tax reasons. Alert employees well in advance that layoffs are likely by the end of the year if that’s going to be necessary.

Preparing for a meeting with the soon-to-be-terminated person is important. Think of what they will feel, what next steps they must take, and what you can do to offset the pain. Have options available.

A couple of other suggestions include that since bad news is still bad news, keep the meeting short. And don’t say things like, “This isn’t about you. We all love you.” Again, future potential legal problems could result.

One vital piece of advice was to be compassionate. People can respond to such a hurtful notice with anger and say or do things out of that frustration. Show grace in the way you respond.

Finally, remember that the remaining team members need attention. They will talk. An environment of fear leads to an unhealthy workplace. Reinforce their value and the importance of pulling together in a difficult time. It won’t solve the issue completely, but it reveals your leadership skill in helping people move forward.

Here is a proverb to remember in handling a termination: “A kind answer soothes angry feelings, but harsh words stir them up.” (Proverbs 15:1, CEV)

My personal conclusion on whether or not to fire during the holidays is this: in the long run, it probably doesn’t matter. What ALWAYS matters, is how you treat people who are hurting. Help them as best as you can.

It’s God who has His eye on managers who are naughty…or nice.

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.

For more information on this topic:

Monday, December 11, 2017

It’s a Blue Christmas Without Hope

When you hear those words “blue Christmas,” what comes to mind? Let me guess: Elvis. His classic recording of the song by that title continues to make the holiday season playlists.

What might not be so familiar, is that the term "blue Christmas" has some history in the western Christian tradition. It is worth noting that Blue Christmas is also referred to as the Longest Night. Of course, this usually would fall on or about December 21st, the winter solstice. On that day, churches may decide to hold a service to pay tribute to their loved ones who have passed on earlier in the year. Others hold a service of worship on the longest night of the year. (In my Christian life experience, I’ve not participated in either of these kinds of events.)

I am aware that when anyone is experiencing a loss during the “most wonderful time of the year,” life gets complicated. A recent news story is worth mentioning in this regard.

It involves the tragic suicide of the CEO of a company named Golden Krust Caribbean Bakery and Grill on December 2nd. Lowell Hawthorne, a Jamaican immigrant, fatally shot himself after a meeting with two employees. He had run a successful enterprise that began in 1989. Lowell had even been featured in an episode of “Undercover Boss.”

What surprised many in his drastic action was that Hawthorne was a man of faith. In fact, he had recently made a public statement thanking God for his success. His book, The Baker’s Son: My Life in Business, which was published in 2012, made a number of reference about his faith in God. So what drove Lowell Hawthorne to the point of final desperation? A looming tax probe. The feds had been investigating him for evading millions in taxes. He apparently owed city and state taxes as well and was being sued by a former employee.

The story of Hawthorne’s passing was reported by the Christian Post. (see link below) This paragraph pierced a bit of my soul:

“"Being a spiritual man, I have always wanted to have my children in church with me. I believe wholeheartedly in the principles and philosophies that my father shared, and so was determined to pass the same values on to my kids in turn. Words from my father like, 'Follow after me as I follow after Christ' and 'Be of good courage and walk as men' have been close to my heart since I was a boy. I truly believe that creating the same environment for my children that my father did for my siblings and me would lead them to Christ, ultimately transforming their lives and placing Him at the center of their joy,' he added.”

Earlier this year, a man I had known in California ended his life by jumping off a bridge. I have a CD from years back displaying his musical talent. He was an origami artist as well. Very bright. Very talented. And apparently, very depressed.

Bringing comfort to the many lives impacted by a suicide is quite challenging. You simply cannot supply answers. Nor should you try.

The most profound resource for dealing with dark and difficult situations is hope. The Apostle Paul wrote, “I pray that God, the source of hope, will fill you completely with joy and peace because you trust in him. Then you will overflow with confident hope through the power of the Holy Spirit.” (Romans 15:13, NLT)

Many in the workplace, who we see every day, have problems unseen. As it is within your ability, try to offer encouragement…and hope. Pray as you can for those who may be hurting in this season. Christmas delivers a message of hope to the world.

It’s much preferred to singing the blues.

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.

For more information on this topic:

Monday, December 4, 2017

Tastes Like. . .Chicken

It’s been a few months since the 2017 report on restaurant preferences was released by the American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI). According to the report, customers found full-service restaurants less satisfying based on 5,557 customer surveys collected between June 8, 2016, and May 12, 2017. Their satisfaction was down 3.7 percent to a score of 78 out of 100 possible points. This is the lowest score in more than 10 years.

It also marked another first. That being the first time that full-service restaurants scored lower than the fast food category! Not good. As we all know, it’s a whole lot cheaper to buy fast food.

For sit-down fans, Cracker Barrel was tops for the second year in a row, with a score of 84. Texas Roadhouse came in second at 82. In third place, Olive Garden was rated at 81 and tied with Red Lobster. One of my favorites, Red Robin, dropped several points to a 73. That was disappointing.

Now to the fast food leaders. The reigning champion scored another victory! Chick-Fil-A took the honors with 87. (By comparison, KFC had a 78). Panera Bread tied with Papa John’s at 82 for second place. A bit of a shock, Dunkin’ Donuts scored a 79 compared to coffee rival Starbucks at 77. What’s the deal with that?

In the burger wars it was Burger King that became, well, king! The chain scored a 77 compared to Wendy’s 76. McDonald's had an embarrassing score of 69.

Now let me move to another survey. This was reported recently in Christianity Today. (link below) The results are from a group called Morning Consult and it’s their 2017 Community Impact Ratings.
And who is dominator in this category? Once again…Chick-Fil-A! This must really fry a lot of the competition, so to speak. Especially after all the negative press the company has received in recent years over their pro family attitude. Plus the fact they even close their restaurants on Sundays! How dare they!?

The chicken champ remains a family owned business. At last count, Chick-Fil-A had operations in 43 states and Washington, DC. Revenues exceeded $6 billion annually.

According to the results shared by CT, the most positive view of the Atlanta-based company came from evangelicals and fellow Christians. This likely comes as no surprise to many within the fold. I WAS surprised, however, to read of the chain’s popularity among millennials!

Despite the rejection by colleges to even allow Chick-Fil-A to exist on their campuses, students see past it. “More than half of adults ages 18-34 and 35-44 rated Chick-Fil-A as having a positive impact.” Oddly, the older age brackets seem less enthusiastic.

More good news. When stacked up against their similar competitors, Chick-Fil-A customers believe the stores offer higher-quality food, better customer service, and happier employees. This has been their winning formula.

There is a seeming contradiction of values with evangelical preferences, however. As the CT story points out, a majority of evangelicals have Target almost matching Chick-Fil-A for positive impact. Target scored 60 percent favorable rating; Chick-Fil-A, 62 percent. This seems odd in light of the ongoing boycott of Target by some groups.

Truett Cathy, who founded Chick-Fil-A, had a clear set of core values. His mission statement, dating back to 1967, reads “To glorify God by being a faithful steward of all that is entrusted to us. To have a positive influence on all who come in contact with Chick-Fil-A.”

Such a mission statement certainly does not guarantee financial success in business. It does, however, reflect a bold commitment. Ask a workplace leader to use that same standard for their company. Many will simply…chicken out.

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.

For more information on this topic: