Eric Wise is a stay-at-home dad with three children, ages 11, 9 and 3. He was formerly a reporter for the now-defunct Hershey Chronicle newspaper, and he has 10 years of experience in public relations with four different statewide associations. His home improvement column, "Around the House," appeared in daily and weekly newspapers around Pennsylvania from 2007 to 2009. He is a graduate of Hershey Senior High School and Elizabethtown College. He enjoys reading, playing guitar and photography.
Somewhere between regimented top productivity and a lackadaisical work day exists a point where employees will perform the best. From what I have seen, there are many managers and business owners who fail to understand the concept.
A few years back, I took a job where, for the first time in my life, I had a specifically defined time for morning break, afternoon break and lunch. I was expected to be at my desk at a certain time in the morning, keep my head down and work until the first break, take 15 minutes and plow ahead through lunch. Same deal after lunch. Even if I used my own time, I was chased out by my manager if I lingered to finish a task 10 minutes after quitting time.
This approach was quite possibly the worst I had worked under in my life. I felt like they should blow a whistle for breaks and lunch. I never adjusted to it.
At other positions I held in the past, I was able to come in, say hello to coworkers, get a cup of coffee and ease into my day. When I last worked at an association, we had a subscription to a digital news clips service. Under the terms of the subscription, we were permitted to gather and read clips related to the industry and email them to members as a service of the association. That was my "coffee task" as I began my day. I browsed the clips and selected ones related to the business of our members. It kept me in touch with their business, which helped me as an editor of the association's publications.
As the day progressed and I worked through my other tasks, I might take a morning break 90 minutes into the day. Or three hours. No one missed me if I did not appear in a break room chair, at the water cooler or in the rest room at a certain time. I did my job, and I did not feel like I was in preschool. Sometimes I traveled to various parts of the state to speak to members, to attend various functions or to interact with our vendors. I knew it was part of the job, and it was not a problem that extra hours were involved. It was not also a problem if I ran down to the block to pick up a prescription once in a blue moon. As coworkers, we gave each other a ride from the nearby repair shop if one of our cars got an oil change during the day.
While these interruptions were not uncommon, they were not something that happened every week, either. Yet it meant a lot to employees to have a certain amount of flexibility available. The flexibility was a way the employer made deposits in the Bank Account of Good Will with employees. In return, the employees made deposits when they worked extra hours for a variety of functions that were also fairly regular.
I don't know if everything balanced on a minute-by-minute basis for each employee. The greatest benefit I saw went to the employer: Workers who felt they were trusted put in extra effort and likely were more productive. When employers show no flexibility and make each day a grind, employees have little motivation to put in that extra effort. I know I felt more comfortable with a job where I was shown respect in this regard.
Yet another previous position was at a workplace that had been quite flexible. However, they had brought in an overeducated expert who trained management on the danger of letting employees steal little bits of time through this type of flexibility. One Friday, I asked to leave 15 to 20 minutes early because I wanted to beat some traffic to get a flat tire fixed so I could get back on the road for a 75-mile drive that evening. I knew leaving before 5 would get me to a repair shop much faster than if I hit the worst of the traffic.
My supervisor would not allow me to leave early because management had been too lenient about things like this in the past. She recommended taking care of my car on Saturday or Sunday. I disagreed; I wanted it addressed because I had a lot of miles to drive that weekend. I left at 5. Traffic was awful, and I barely made it home by 9:30 p.m. The "expert" never seemed to account for minutes employees spent working through lunches, getting started early or staying late to finish a task. After it was made clear to me that there was a new "no tolerance" policy for stolen time, I made certain that no time would be stolen from my lunch breaks or after my official work hours ended. My flexible salaried job was becoming more rigid, and I felt less trusted.
I understand that flexibility is not possible in all jobs, and that some people may abuse their privileges. But I stand by the assertion that giving employees some amount of trust and flexibility will improve your bottom line more than pressuring people with rigid schedules that demotivates them. The Bank Account of Good Will goes a long way toward mutual respect and the ultimate productivity of a business.
Hey, is this thing on?
By the mid-1800s, thousands of orphan kids roamed the streets of New York City, and to a lesser degree, other East Coast cities. Immigrants could not always find suitable work or support a family, and as a result, children had to find ways to get by living in the streets.
Some New Yorkers found a solution for this: They would put the kids on trains and allow families to adopt them in America's heartland. Teen boys were seen as laborers for midwestern farms, but the trains ran from 1853 until 1929, sending kids ranging in age from 4 to 18 from New York and Boston to various points in the west.
Their arrival was advertised in advance in newspapers, and the children were cleaned up and displayed in public on a stage before potential parents. Some stories of the trains reported that the children sang and danced to attract parents; others were poked and prodded to judge their general health. To make it convenient for the new parents, the organizers allowed splitting up siblings, which along with the public display prior to adoption, led to some negative comparisons to the horrors of the American slave trade.
The movement started with the work of the Children's Aid Society, which was joined by other agencies. Catholic orphanages were overrun with more children than they could handle, so the Catholic-backed New York Foundling Hospital also organized trains so nothing ghastly -- like an orphan being placed with a Protestant family -- happened to the children.
The initial shock of being loaded on a train -- not much better than a livestock car in the early days -- must have been hard on the children. In some accounts, adult veterans of the orphan trains would describe riding "the orphan train" as if there was only one. Over time, as many as 250,000 children rode the orphan trains to their new homes, putting estimates at 2 million descendants of orphan train children living in America today.
The movement provided thousands of children a year with a fresh start, a chance to improve their lives. Two riders grew up to be elected governor of two states. While it didn't survive the Great Depression, the movement laid the foundation for foster parents and adoption that replaced it in the 20th Century.
Although I generally ignore it, the Super Bowl is coming up. Over the years, I realized that the Super Bowl is simply a popular TV show. The coaches and players (especially one cornerback), realize this. I think most people who attend in person do, too.
It's set up and packaged for you like a WWE event, and the wrestling folks got it right when they picked "Entertainment" for the sporting organization's name. When it comes to Richard Sherman or any other players posturing before the game, it's clear just how similar WWE personalities and the NFL's participants are.
The TV program of the Super Bowl offers more than going to the game. People enjoy the commercials they avoid any other day. The NFL and its broadcasters are heading toward a point where the Pre Game Show will start on Saturday and run up until kickoff. When you finish watching the game, there are no shortage of analysts available for those who have not heard enough prattling about the game yet. It's a TV show, and it's a marathon of a TV show.
I don't mean calling the Super Bowl a TV show as a complaint. The NFL has succeeded where MLB and the NBA lagged. The Super Bowl outshines college bowl games. The only other sport that comes close is the NCAA's basketball tournament, specifically Division I men's. For the Super Bowl and March Madness, the event transcends the sports normal fans, drawing in casual fans who scarcely watch a game and others who don't follow the game except for the Big Event. But taking the two head-to-head, the Super Bowl has created traditions based around a single day that nothing else has.
Motorsports, hockey, baseball and the Olympics can't compete. Regardless of its appeal everywhere else, soccer never attracted the masses or the money like American football. Considering the popularity and moneymaking growth since the first Super Bowl, it's astounding.
As a matter of fact, the Super Bowl should easily be enough to prove that the NFL is undeserving of its status as a nonprofit and it should start paying more taxes. But that's a separate argument.
If the Super Bowl is your thing, I hope you enjoy the matchup this year!
Earlier this year, I wrote about my attempt to get myself back in shape, improving my health and fitness. After 10 months, I have a lot to report.
According to my recent visit to my doctor, I have lost 23 pounds. I realized early in the process that making changes I could live with would yield better long-term results than a quick crash diet. I made some changes, and I have seen results. My exercise program has been focused on weight training, with some high-intensity interval training thrown in, and that has added some muscle while cutting fat.
Just over halfway into the year, I participated in a Spartan Race to gauge my progress. I did a three-mile Spartan obstacle course/mud run in the Poconos in July. I knew going in that running isn't my strength, so I approached the event as a challenge, not a race. It was held on a ski resort, so the course began with a mile and a quarter of scaling the mountain before you hit the obstacles. Doing the event without a team or a companion, I had to push myself to keep going in the summer heat and get through it. This took me nearly 4 hours, but I felt good afterwards because I knew I could not have done it in 12 hours the prior summer.
My wife, Deb, also ran a mud run in the summer, and we decided to enter one together in September. It was the Biggest Loser Walk Run at Citizens Bank Park in Philadelphia, which is essentially the Spartan Run without the pressure of being timed. I made it through in about 90 minutes (unofficial), a vast improvement from my performance in the Poconos. This time, I was able to get through more obstacles and run more of the course. My recovery also came faster.
The winners of the Spartan Run (male and female) finished in a little over half an hour. We saw them posing with their plaques as we ate bananas and drank Powerade recovering from our race. Deb said, "I think it's more impressive that someone your age got yourself in good enough shape to finish in 90 minutes than the winners finishing in under 40 minutes."
From the struggle to make it to the gym, to make it through the high-intensity interval training classes and to make it through two obstacle races, I know I put in a lot of work this year that has improved my health. It's made me feel better overall, and I feel better about myself.
As I blogged about previously, I have spent a lot of time this year trying to improve my health and fitness. I started working out in January, and I have also been trying to eat healthier (although I love food too much to be extreme about it).
In July, I saw my doctor for the first time since I started this adventure. He said my test results were all good and I looked better than I had for some time. He was also quite pleased that I had lost 15 pounds. I was shocked when I heard 15 pounds. My home scale had lied to me! I knew that I was adding muscle while cutting fat, but I thought I had lost quite a bit more than that.
It was difficult to step back for a second, take a deep breath and focus on what I had achieved. Since January, I had been working out regularly. I was lifting weights equal to or more than what I lifted in college. I participated in exercises classes -- high-intensity interval training -- at the gym (usually twice a week, depending on our family schedule). I had even started using my bike on a regular basis, introducing it to trips outside the block where I live for the first time.
In July, I also finished the Spartan Race in the Poconos. For me, it should be the Spartan "Race." This event is a 5K mud run with 15 obstacles. It started with going a mile and a quarter straight up the mountain. At that point, we got to pick up a 45-pound sandbag and carry it up a steep incline -- either on slippery grass or loose rock. Ugh. I knew from the start that I would be walking the "race," thanks to the state of my fitness and a lifetime of exercise induced asthma. I had no idea that would mean finishing in a hair under 4 hours. It was a slow go, mostly because the hike up the mountain followed by the sandbag carry exhausted me before I really got into the other obstacles. In the future, I think I will chose events not held in the mountains or at ski resorts.
I had met some goals I set in my lifting routine in the first 6 months. These were basic benchmarks, goals that were in sight that I felt I could do in about 6 to 8 weeks. After I met a few in various exercises, I decided I wanted to be able to pull my weight. "Pulling" is the jargon for deadlifting, where the lifter grabs a loaded barbell from the floor and pulls it up until standing upright with the arms straight down in front. My trip to the doctor threw a wrench into this goal, as I was not quite as close as I thought I was.
Although going heavy for just a couple of repetitions is generally not my focus, I decided to attempt my weight, and I was able to get it twice earlier in August.
All of these things are important for me to keep in mind when I disappoint myself in other ways. There have been a few days within the last week where I fell into bad habits with heavy late-night snacking. I attempted to make it through a HIIT class when I was hungry, sore and lacking a proper night's rest, and it went badly. My inner voice beat me up during that workout and for hours afterwards. I know I could achieve more if I overcame these issues and started forcing myself to eat the right types of meals and got myself on a good schedule of a solid night's cleep. There's only so much your workouts can do without the diet and rest components.
"Aye, there's the rub." Find a way to stay positive while forgiving yourself for your stumbles along the way -- and yet push yourself to improve on that in the future. It's a work in progress.
If any of you are working on self improvement through fitness or anything else, please share your ideas for staying positive in the comments.
Gilberton Police Chief Mark Kessler has drawn plenty of attention in Pennsylvania and elsewhere with his videos posted to YouTube. In the videos, Kessler rants about Second Amendment rights, fires a few weapons and voices an obscenity-laced attack against Secretary of State John Kerry and other "liberals."
This is the same Kessler who was wounded when his gun discharged during a bar scuffle in 2011. Oops. So much for reasonable arguments and responsible gun ownership.
Mary Lou Hannon, mayor of Gilberton, made a statement to the New York Daily News that Kessler will not be disciplined because he did not break any laws and he recorded and posted the videos on his own time.
Some things employees engage in during their off time may displease their employers: chewing tobacco, visiting seedy establishments or being an Atlanta Braves fan. Regardless of what an employer or supervisor thinks about these habits, they are simply the employee's own business.
Posting obscenity-filled, hateful videos to YouTube is quite different. When you work in a position that deals directly with the public, your off-duty actions reflect on your official role. This effect is intensified if you are employed in a position of public trust. Kessler could be dismissed for his actions without any problems.
The government does not have a right to restrict someone from expressing his opinions, however, as an employer, it may choose to take action following a person's public statements. Hate speech and obscenity are not protected forms of speech. When a person demonstrates a lack of judgment and responsibility with public statements like Kessler's postings on YouTube, any employer, especially one involving public trust, has a responsibility to remove him.
Kessler has attracted enough attention that he has already damaged the reputation of Gilberton. Unfortunately, Kessler has also tainted the North Schuylkill School District, where he also serves as a school director. Damage to an organization's reputation is the clearest reason a person may be removed for what is described as lawful behavior during one's own personal time.
Kessler's views about the Bill of Rights and gun rights are not an issue that's a problem with his actions; it's his hate-filled speech. His performance undermines the public trust that is awarded to law enforcement. Worse yet, when Kessler and people like Ted Nugent engage in such shrill and basically unhinged performances, they detract from the valid arguments that favor Second Amendment rights.
This past week, Gettysburg marked the passage of 150 years since the nearly unmatched American-on-American brutality scarred its fields. In the midstate, the commemoration of the Civil War overshadowed the Declaration of Independence on July 4.
Today, the crowds have thinned in Gettysburg, and a reenactment of a different sort broke out in Pennsylvania. A National Park Service Ranger, dressed in period garb, read the Declaration of Independence aloud in a ceremony that is repeated every July 8. Each year, the ranger will perform the Declaration to a lively crowd who cheer the passages about freedom and loudly decry mention of England's King George III. It's a celebration of a different type than those at Gettysburg, when someone like John Wayne* gets up to read the Declaration of Independence at Independence Hall, just like Nixon* once did.
The Declaration, a proclamation of war, was written with a particular cadence and a certain unquestionable flair -- crafted for reading aloud by men in three-cornered hats. A trip to Philadelphia has its own benefits, as the sites of the Old City have far fewer ticks, mosquitoes and other pests than the path of Gen. Robert E. Lee's men during The Charge on Gettysburg's third day (call it Pickett's Charge if you must, Longstreet's Charge if you choose -- both have unneeded baggage). Since the annual reading kicks off at high noon, you will still have plenty of time to enjoy your time in the city.
Plan now for your trip next July!
* Lt. Col. John Nixon first read the Declaration of Independence in Philadelphia July 8, 1776.
** John Wayne is a park ranger who has dressed up and performed the reading of the Declaration in recent years.
Civil War enthusiasts and others commemorated the June 28, 1863 burning of the Wrightsville Bridge with 25 fires along the remains of the bridge 150 years later. Some 12,000 people turned out this year for fireworks and other festivities to remember how the Union soldiers burned the bridge to prevent the Southerners from using it. I doubt many in the weekend crowds realized free Blacks had used the bridge to transport fugitive slaves east across the Susquehanna and into Lancaster County in their journey for freedom, but that's part of the story, too.
As the weekend continued, a Civil Wargasm began in Gettysburg as people journeyed from all over the country -- and probably from overseas as well -- to remember the fierce battle July 1, 2 and 3, 1863. The crowds in Gettysburg will subside in another week, making the trek home at a faster pace than Gen. Robert E. Lee and his Army of Northern Virginia, who pulled out in the midst of storms and left piles of corpses, animal carrion, a lingering stench and a scarred town, farmland and landscape behind in southern Pennsylvania.
Confederates led by Major Gen. Jubal Early made another stop during the Gettysburg Campaign, in what is today Caledonia State Park. Early's troops went out of their way to burn an iron furnace in Franklin County, Pa. They had a specific reason for torching this particular business: It represented the abolitionist attitudes they hated.
Thaddeus Stevens, an abolitionist member of Congress from Lancaster, owned this iron furnace in what later became the state park. The iron furnace, in operation since 1837, provided jobs to fugitive slaves. Stevens dedicated a great deal of his life to the Civil Rights of the Africans enslaved by plantations in the South, even before the struggle was known as "Civil Rights." Up until his death, Stevens worked for the rights of former slaves with the same devotion he had worked to free them before the war. Unlike some other whites of the time who opposed slavery, Stevens helped to see that former slaves were educated and he wanted them to be able to settle and earn a living like contemporary whites, shown in his ownership of the iron furnace.
That's why Early and the Confederates took a detour just to destroy an iron furnace.
Early was an educated man of his time, a lawyer and convincing writer. He knew the seriousness of the crimes leaders of the Confederacy had committed, and this led him to scurry for the exit as soon as the war ended. He immediately hopped a boat to Cuba and spent five years outside the U.S. In his postwar years, he was an "unreconstructed" rebel, to put it mildly. A staunch white supremacist, he did what he could to keep the former slaves from rising above the social status they held as slaves.
In his writing, Early produced voluminous works to establish The Lost Cause mythology, which tried to hide the pro-slavery motivations that caused the war. Early defended Robert E. Lee vehemently, placing blame on former Confederates like James Longstreet who favored reconciliation after the war ended. Early's efforts helped many Southerners justify the war and ease the burden the resulting cultural and social changes that followed. Unfortunately, they obscured the arguments about slavery behind the Trojan Horse of "states' rights." Sadly, the Lost Cause mythology continues to molest Americans' understanding of the war because it took root so well, and dozens of former Confederates wrote memoirs after the war that spouted the same ideas. Southern historians took up the Lost Cause, sourcing many Confederate-penned accounts, some written years after the war when Reconstruction and Lost Cause ideas tinged memories.
Although movies like "Lincoln," help continue to improve Stevens' legacy, the societal memory of his work on behalf of the enslaved and formerly enslaved painted him in a negative light for decades. The same "scholars" who bemoaned Stevens and the "Radical Republicans" of the 19th Century also took aim at General and President Ulysses Grant. Instead of remembering the general who helped save the Union by relentless pursuit of his enemy, detractors labeled Grant a butcher with far superior resources. As president, Grant made strides for civil rights that should have defined his legacy, and yet we only seem to remember that he was more flawed as a politician than a general, having chosen some corrupt cronies for government appointments.
If you are taking time to remember the three days of unquestionable butchery in Gettysburg as we mark the passage of 150 years, consider how the actions of Confederates who burned an iron furnace shed light on their character and the true character of Thaddeus Stevens. Jubal Early's decision to burn the iron furnace tells us far more than the writings that he intended to cement his legacy. Stevens' decision to employ former slaves adds a lot to historical papers that document his feelings about slavery.
Other things happened on the Gettysburg Campaign. It wasn't simply two armies who bumped into each other because one was looking for shoes. Look for the nuances of history, and you will understand a lot more.
None of us wants to be the groom who splits his pants during the wedding or the woman with a dryer sheet stuck to her rear when she walks up to receive a lifetime achievement award. We try to do what we can to avoid putting ourselves in situations where we look silly in front of others.
Over the years, I have seen a few people take a metaphorical pie to the face in public. I know a few who had a great laugh about it -- two or maybe 10 years later. At the time it's mortifying. Most of us don't want to see others flustered and panicked by the unexpected and undesired happening in public. It's painful to watch anyone, especially a friend or relative, embarrass himself or herself in public.
While many such incidents put a single person on the spot, poor planning or preparation can make an organization look bad. I spent years working for associations that hosted dozens of events for their members, associates and honored guests. I attended events held by national organizations, local clubs and groups that fall somewhere in the middle. Unfortunately, any group has a chance of looking ridiculous, farcical or undignified at an event.
Larger groups often have professional meetings or events planners while volunteers plan them for smaller organizations. At some point, you might be a part of a group responsible for making arrangements for a banquet, meeting or some other event, so I am sharing some examples of gaffes that I have seen so you might avoid making a similar mistake.
At one point, I was paired with another employee to help plan a small conference for a group of professionals. Each of us planned speakers for one day of the conference. I gathered our organization's shirts and other items with its logo for speaker gifts. My coworker said she would get some other gifts appropriate for all the speakers. The speakers I arranged were members of the organization, so my coworker and I knew most of them for a few years. One in particular had spoken at other events within the past two or three years. When the event day arrived, my coworker gave me the gifts to provide to my speakers, including the speaker who was most familiar with our organization, for whom she had gotten a box of chocolate candy. I reacted in shock at the inappropriateness of candy for our speaker, an insulin-dependent diabetic. It would be easy to laugh off such an error with a first-time speaker, or if we had asked another organization to provide a speaker from its panel of experts, but this was someone with a long history and respected reputation within the organization.
While the speaker was gracious, such an uncaring oversight shows poor planning and coordination. If you are choosing a gift for a member, run it by a few people, just to make sure there is no reason the gift would be a bad choice. You never know what you might learn that could avoid an awkward situation.
When another group was preparing for its annual banquet, someone had printed out cards for certain tables so they would be reserved for leaders or distinguished guests. I am sure that for many years, printing cards with "Reserved: Smith" or "Reserved: Reynolds" had worked just fine. However, there was one year when this didn't work out so well. I don't want to identify the group or person in question, but to understand what happened, imagine that 15 or 20 years ago, your organization had managed to score legendary musical guests Barry White and Clint Black. In this case, using the Reserved: Last Name format could raise eyebrows for two tables. I know families with last names like Good, Fake and Flowers. How much time would it take to look at the cards prior to the event and print new ones with first and last names, or even Mr. Hank Good and Guests?
Fortunately, only a few people noticed the table sign, but that's not the point. It takes only one person to see it and cause a scene, and that just makes the whole organization look bad. Pay attention to this type of detail, and you will avoid the appearance of having an organization of ham-fisted amateurs.
When some events are organized, the planners (or someone else) provide speakers with the program. This may appear in several forms: a copy of the agenda, a list of important points, or a list of names of those to be recognized or a script. People work differently from scripts, based on their familiarity or comfort level with public speaking. Some take a script and read 95 percent of it verbatim, and yet they are so natural that they got up and spoke off the cuff. In contrast, there are speakers who use the script as a guide or a crutch.
Many things might go wrong when your speaker opens his or her mouth. I have heard plenty of names butchered. Sometimes, the master of ceremonies has stumbled around because the outline provided nowhere near enough detail to meet the speaker's needs. At one event, an organizational leader read every word of the script. That doesn't sound bad until you realize he read every word. At one point, he said, "And now join me in welcoming tonight's honoree, ("John Smith") to the stage. Pause here for applause... whatever the heck that is supposed to mean." Take some time to discuss the script with the speaker, verify that it meets his or her needs. Double-check to make sure stage directions like "pause here for applause" are not read aloud.
At one event, a member welcomed a well-known speaker by reading an extensive, detailed biography. She took the stage and deadpanned, "It's always nice to hear someone read your obituary." At another event, an organizational leader took the stage to welcome a guest speaker at a banquet. Her introduction to this speaker went on for at least 10 minutes, comparing the speaker to Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King Jr. and Jesus. No one could live up to her deluge of flattery. I am sure most of the audience thought it was absurd.
To introduce a speaker, tell the audience the speaker's name and a few words about his or her background. You may add the topic, and the reason this speaker is qualified to discuss it. The handoff should be brief and unremarkable; it should take one minute. The audience should remember the speaker, not your introduction.
Finally, you should try to avoid a problem because of the stage setting and your speakers' appearance. I have heard about, but never seen, this happen. A woman gets up to speak wearing a dress the exact color of the backdrop. The audience sees a head and hands "floating" on their own in front of the curtain and starts laughing hysterically. This situation can get out of hand quickly, so if there is a way to let your speakers know ahead of time, it's worth doing. It seems like a million-to-one shot, but it has happened.
Take a few minutes to consider some issues involved if you are ever called upon to help plan an event. I hope it goes smoothly for you!