Labor with Love

The hero is one who kindles a great light in the world, who sets up blazing torches in the dark streets of life for men to see by. The saint is the man who walks through the dark paths of the world, himself a “light.”

·         Felix Adler


Last fall I was asked to speak to 3,000 employees of a large supermarket chain in the Midwest on building customer loyalty and regenerating spirit in your workplace.

One of the ideas I stressed was the importance of adding a personal “signature” to your work. With all the downsizing, re-engineering, overwhelming technological changes and stress in the workplace, I think it is essential for each of us to find a way we can really feel good about ourselves and our jobs. One of the most powerful ways to do this is to do something that differentiates you from all the other people that do the same thing you do.

I shared the example of a United Airlines pilot who, after everything is under control in the cockpit, goes to the computer and randomly selects several people on board the fight and handwrites them a thank-you note for their business. A graphic artist I work with always encloses a piece of sugarless gum in everything he sends his customers, so you never throw away mail from him.

A Northwest Airlines baggage attendant decided that his personal signature would be to collect all the luggage tags that fall off customers’ suitcases, which in the past have been simply tossed in the garbage, and in his free time send them back with a note thanking them for flying Northwest. A senior manager with whom I worked decided that his personal signature would be to attach Kleenex to memos that he knows his employees won’t like very much.

After sharing several other examples of how people add their unique spirit to their jobs, I challenged the audience to come up with their own creative personal signature.

About three weeks after I had spoken to the supermarket employees, my phone rang late one afternoon. The person on the line told me that his name was Johnny and that he was a bagger in one of the stores. He also told me that he was a person with Down’s Syndrome. He said, “Barbara, I liked what you said!” Then he went on to tell me that when he’d gone home that night, he asked his dad to teach him to use the computer.

He said they set up a program using three columns and each night now when he goes home, he finds a “thought for the day.” He said when he can’t find one he likes, he “thinks one up!” Then he types it into the computer, prints out multiple copies, cuts them out, and signs his name on the back of each one. The next day, as he bags customers’ groceries – “with flourish” - he puts a thought for the day in each person’s groceries, adding his own personal signature in a heartwarming, fun a creative way.

One month later the manager of the store called me. He said, “Barbara, you won’t believe what happened today. When I went out on the floor this morning, the line at Johnny’s checkout was three times longer than any other line! I went ballistic yelling, ‘Get more lanes open! Get more people out here,’ but the customers said, ‘No, no! We want to be in Johnny’s lane. We want the thought for the day!’”

The manager said one woman approached him and said, “I only used to shop once a week. Now I come here every time I go by because I want the thought for the day!” (Imagine what that does to the bottom line!) He ended by saying, “What do you think is the most important person in our whole store? Johnny, of course!”

Three months later he called me again. “You and Johnny have transformed our store! Now in the floral department, when they have a broken flower or an unused corsage, they go out on the floor and find an elderly woman or a little girl and pin it on them. One of our meat packers loves Snoopy, so he bought 50,000 Snoopy stickers, and each time he packages a piece of meat, he puts a Snoopy sticker on it. We are having so much fun, and so are our customers!”

That is spirit in the workplace!

- Barbara A. Glanz, author of CARE Packages for the Workplace- -Dozens of Little Things You Can Do to Regenerate Spirit at Work (McGraw-Hill, 1996). She is also the author of The Creative Communicator (Irwin, 1993) and Building Customer Loyalty (Irwin, 1994). As an internationally known speaker, trainer, and consultant, Barbara lives and breathes her personal motto: "Spreading Contagious Enthusiasm." For more information, she can reached directly at (708) 246-8594; Fax (708) 246-5123.


People are like stained glass windows: they sparkle and shine when the sun is out, but when darkness sets in, their true beauty is revealed only if there is light within.

·         Elizabeth Kubler-Ross

There are very few in the workplace whose job is totally above their heads. Most individuals perform their work in positions for which they are qualified, if not overqualified. Assuming for the moment that qualification and ability to perform tasks are not in question, what is that which makes work enjoyable? People! If I believe I don’t like being around people, others may perceive me as aloof and pessimistic, slow to speak out and suspicious of motives. What I really am is detail oriented, a problem solver, which can be to my advantage. On the other hand, if I am spontaneous and welcome interruption in my work by my co-workers, I will be perceived as poised, charming, emotional and optimistic. Either of these, taken to an extreme, can cause difficulties on the job. The quiet individual can be encouraged at work by depending on them to focus on what they are doing until it is done, and by minimizing traffic, obstacles and interruptions. A more social worker will work best at tasks that require promotion and persuasion, without providing the option of a heart-over-mind decision. Discovering how I work best, and how others do their job, fully utilizing each to the greatest advantage, will get me more than halfway to productive interaction with others on the job.

Vince Lombardi once said that the dictionary was the only place where success comes before work. Just like investing with the expectation of a return, work consists of doing something for which a benefit is expected. But, not all benefits are of the monetary sort with regard to work. The soul’s work here is to learn and to do, and thus to grow. There are many types of labor that provide one’s life with enrichment and benefit. Endeavoring to make someone think better of their neighbors; quieting, instead of aggravating difficulties; bringing together those who are severed or estranged; keeping friends from becoming foes and persuading foes to become friends. While learning to control the temper and reign in the passions, one becomes fit to keep peace and harmony among others, and finds quiet strength and sure purpose within.

Finding another person’s interest lets them feel unique and special, and taking time to do so pays large dividends. Modeling the behavior and attitude that I want my co-workers to exhibit speaks more loudly and produces better results than a look of disappointment or a discouraging comment. Allowing others to talk while I listen gives me more control of the final outcome of the discussion, and allows me time to remove any barriers to my listening skills. Asking questions I already know the answers to leads my fellow workers to believe that I care enough to lead them down the “discovery path.” Respect of others is my most important task at work, always making requests, never giving orders. And a smile is the most important tool I use.

If I fail to plan, I may as well plan to fail. All activity, all work, all productivity must be at the same level as the planning and organization that precedes it. Taking time to plan my task or my day will raise my level of success. Taking the time to do something right the first time ensures that I don’t have to spend time doing it over. There are five concepts which help this process become part of my life: (1) that I recognize the true value and perishable nature of time; (2) that I have a firm idea or plan of how to handle the physicality of the time I am given; (3) that I understand that a single application of this type of thinking will not work, because my entire attitude regarding time must change, my habit of thinking and doing must change; (4) to make this change permanent, I must make a decision and a commitment, not that I will somehow gain more time, but that I will utilize the time I am given to the best of my ability through my attitude and my actions; and (5) I will assume that other’s time is just as valuable as my own.

It comes down to attitude, doesn’t it? The author Allan Cox points out that positive thinking is not manipulating or being manipulated, it is not being grandiose or naïve. It is not being falsely enthusiastic or optimistic. Most important, perhaps, it is not to deny periodic, normal bouts of discouragement. Thinking positively is not legislated experience, either. I cannot practice it simply because someone tells me I must. Nor can I think positively at work and not at home. Life constantly presents me with obstacles, and a positive outlook provides a means of dealing with them in a constructive and effective manner. It is a decision to do so on a case-by-case basis, and a commitment to do so at every opportunity. It is a promise that I make to myself: to think my best, do my best, and assume the best of others.

I hold a firm belief that I am placed upon this earth to fulfill a high destiny, called upon to perform great duties. The school of life is not merely a portal to the next life for me. The present is for action while the future is for speculation and for trust. I am here to live, to love, to enjoy, to study and to make the most of my opportunities. A cold soul and a narrow mind will contribute nothing that will consecrate me to this glorious purpose. To strengthen my spiritual being, I must do my soul’s work in all situations. What better place to find opportunities to let my Light shine than in the workplace, where I spend the majority of my waking hours?



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