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I wrote on the hallway white board "Suck it up!” We had a new computer system and my co-workers were grumbling. They were adamant that they were not going to expend the effort to learn this new way of doing business. The old system was just fine in their way of thinking. Frustrated with their attitude, I had written the non-empathetic slogan on the board.

The way I saw it, we needed to progress with the times and that meant the latest and greatest software.

What I lacked was compassion for the others. I simply could not understand their attitudes, nor did I try.

We were in the medical business and the government had certain mandates that our old software was unable to support. It was cut and dry! Feelings just did not matter.

As I rose up in the ranks, I would often times receive pushback from employees. “That’s not fair!” or “We think this person is a slacker”, and the one that stung the most, “You don’t care about us!”

That last one got a rise out of me. I did care: very much. I always had my staff on my mind, thought I was very lenient when it came to family first, and I turned a blind eye to personal phone calls, employees catching up over a cup of coffee, and the a.m. migraine headaches.

Since the accusation felt unjust, I gave myself up to contemplation. What had I done or not done to elicit this type of response?

I began to observe my employees more closely and eavesdrop on their water cooler conversations; understand what was important to them. What I learned was that they liked to share about their personal lives. Work was not the end all and be all of their existence. I heard them discussing their children’s accomplishments and woes, anger at their significant others, parents, and neighbors. They liked to exchange pictures of their pets, and talk about their struggle with weight, love, meal planning; just about anything to do with life outside the office walls.

Being a self-professed workaholic, I naively thought that everyone cared about work the minute they walked in those sanctified doors. The curtain rose and the performance began. Not!!!!!

Slowly, I made changes. It was difficult for me, because as a boss I had tried to maintain a sense of decorum, a separation from being one of the gang who might not have objectivity, to more of a big sister or mother figure; ready to care about their lives. I asked about their children and important family members. I made it a point to inquire how their weekend was and did they do anything fun? I had one guy who was part of a group where they became medieval characters, producing items by hand, having jousting contests, and weekend festivals. He took it very seriously, so I tried to listen with genuine interest when he passionately discussed their events.

We began to have contests such as bring in your baby picture so we could make a collage. Whoever guessed the most identities correctly would win dinner and a movie.

For fitness, we began counting how many times we traversed up and down the hall, up and down the stairs, or walked around the complex on break. We would write our results on a white board: one which unexpectedly became the employee’s territory.

That white board, which had been so obnoxious to begin with, now had daily inspirational sayings written on it by various employees. They communicated with each other and wrote who was out sick, whose birthday it was, and made funny pictures about inside jokes. Morale was up!

The most important thing I did was to make office meetings fun. I gave the staff ownership of these meetings, asking them monthly to bring a “Did you know” to the table about what they were working on and a tidbit about it that might help us in our respective jobs. When I trained and got active participation, I would toss a lottery ticket to the person with the correct response. It didn’t take long for everyone to start yelling out their answers.

I love to cook, so I began to surprise them with comfort foods, such as crockpots filled with gooey mac-n-cheese, or their favorite spiced beef. Fruit platters were provided for the health conscious. We got filtered water built into the wall, created a snack fund that was pay “on your honor”, and shared all the profits with them, letting the staff decide how to spend it. Almost always, they chose an office barbecue with everyone jumping in to bring a grill, do the shopping, and plan the menu.

Five years into this plan, we have never had a single person leave.

I felt I had arrived when my burly biker staff member complete with shaved head, long beard, and a skull collection on his desk graced by an American flag in the background gave me my new name.

There were new words on our white board; “Momma Mack!”

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