Tuesday, September 28, 2004

Outside Looking In

Queretaro, Mexico
Jurica Shelter
September, 2004

I stay outside.

I always stay outside.

Well, not always. I stay outside when, like today, more than a dozen will lose their lives.

I can hear them, still playing, not knowing what is going to happen next. I am saddened even though I know what is happening is best. I know that for every human baby born there are fifteen puppies and forty-five kittens born. None of them had a voice in their existence and none of them can change the course of their lives. I know that without euthanasia, these animals would face abandonment, suffering and starvation. Kelly has seen countless lives worse than death for too many animals. Compared to the pain of that sort of existence, euthanasia by loving hands is a blessing.

But I am still sick to my stomach.

I notice a young Mexican man standing beside me, leash in one hand connected to a beautiful Golden Retriever. We nodded but said nothing.

I can still hear the dogs, the puppies, the kittens. I try not to think about what was happening – all humane, all silent, but death is death no matter how you label it. Maybe I should go sit in the car.

He broke the silence. “What are you doing here?” he asked.

“My wife helps on these days. And, you?”

“I love animals,” he said softly. “I come here every week. My company sponsors me here.”

“Really, what does that mean?” I asked.

“It means that those of us who are interested in helping others can apply to have 2 hours off each week, paid by the company, to help. I chose here. But, like you,” he smiled gently, “I can’t go in there right now.”

“You mean they just give you 2 hours off each week?”

“Not exactly,” he replied. “There is a bargain. They give me off 2 hours a week, if and only if, I will match the 2 hours a week with 2 hours of my own time. So, I’m here 4 hours a week. And, every month, I provide a report on how my work is making a positive difference.”

“And, is your work making a positive difference?”

“I believe so,” he said, not boasting. “I am an accountant. I have set up a new accounting system for the shelter and worked on fund-raising. My company is matching $1 for every $5 I raise.
That means better care, more staff . . .” he hesitated.

That moment the silence struck us like a bat in the belly. It was quiet. It was over.

He looked up. “But, it is never enough, is it?” he plead.

“No. It is never enough. But, thanks to you and companies like yours, there will be fewer voices that go silent next week.”

He nodded, tears forming in his eyes. I shook his hand and walked to the car and waited.

Moral of The Story: Employers who understand, value, and support their employees’ connections with community and charity and both participate and help fund those efforts create a bond that cannot be bought with the next raise or bonus. These companies deserve a sincere thanks and soon learn that the expression of care and compassion for employees on a personal level and appeasing Wall Street are not mutually exclusive. If every company heeded this aphorism, employee morale and satisfaction would increase dramatically and along with it, productivity and profitability.

P.S. S.A.M.M. (Save a Mexican Mutt) is bulging at the seams. We have two wonderful dogs – a mother and her pup (Bull Terrier mixes) –who desperately need homes. Have Dogs, Will Travel. Pictures are available by request.

Thursday, September 23, 2004

Boring Children, Good Parents, Bad Employees, and Full-Boring Lying

“The more boring a child is, the more the parents, when showing off the child,
receive adulation for being ‘good parents’ - because they have a ‘tame
child-creature’ in their house.” - Frank Zappa

Like "good children," some employers seem intent on having "good employees," that is, “tame creatures” who never speak up except to say "yes, sir," nod their heads in company meetings, and support the party line, all while gritting their teeth and counting the days to retirement.
It should be no surprise. There have been a plethora of reports recently in which employees and managers alike have lost their jobs because they spoke up for something they believed in.
In one well-publicized case, an Alabama plant owner fired an employee who taped a Kerry bumper sticker into her rear window -- the audacity of that employee after the boss had distributed Bush campaign literature to every employee in the plant.

In another case, a manager suffered the industrial death penalty because he had the gall to agree with an employee manifesto in which they objected to reduced wages, the absence of a retirement plan, and company-sponsored health care. How dare he not agree with the proposition that “less is more.”

In still another situation, a manager was terminated because he made a bad political alliance and to get to his manager, they went through him -- a human sacrifice as it were. Rather than just say, “Hey, dude, you guessed wrong. You’re out,” the company made up a story in which the manager was painted the bad guy.

In these days when “preemptive strikes” are all the rage, some employers believe it easier to quash speech than to listen, easier to eliminate dissent than welcome alternative views. Or, perhaps it is simpler. Maybe it is just easier to lie than tell the truth. For sure, it is easier to go to sleep at night having fired someone for a trumped-up reason than it is to accept employment-at-will for what it really means – good reason, bad reason, and no reason at all. That requires the assumption of moral responsibility.

Indeed, it is easier these days to look like a "good employer" than to be one. It is easier to have "good employees" -- those who like "good children" are too afraid to say what they think and then, one day, stop thinking altogether.

All this is not to say an employer should not have loyal employees, but only that they have to earn loyalty, not demand it with the power of a pink slip. It is OK to disagree. It is OK to tell the truth. Indeed, it is necessary if corporate America intends to regain even a sliver of the credibility it has lost in recent years.