Management’s problem with Birthdays

We’re a small company that relies on a mix of older managers and younger workers.  One of the many generational differences that we see is that many of our younger employees consider their birthdays as holidays, something like July 4 or Memorial Day.  In one case an employee took two days off to celebrate their “holiday.”

As a small company we try to be as generous as possible with ‘vacation time.’  At the same time, as a small company, when one person is missing it’s a hole that is greatly felt.  On the one hand we want to be as generous and as flexible as possible, on the other time we want to have confidence in the reliability of our employees for scheduling production.

What happens is that these same employees end up with having no vacation time left by the middle of the year.  So when we tell them they don’t have any time left for that family vacation at the end of August they get upset.  Or if they ‘suddenly’ want to take days off between Christmas and New Year’s and we say “no” they call us Scrooge.

Is there a happy medium?  Is there a right and a wrong?  I do know that it’s a source of conflict.  I do know that their appreciation for having a job is not as great as their demand for time off.  I also know that their concept of communication is reduced to a random text, as opposed to actually talking with a supervisor and confirming that their message got to the right person.

We’re looking for an answer, or even a partial solution.  Any ideas out there?  Thanks in advance!


How much is YOUR holiday worth?

Do you have a day of rest and religious observance?  How about an important holiday?  No, Valentines and Halloween don’t count.  I’m referring to the big old holidays, like Easter, Christmas, Yom Kippur, Ramadan, things like that.  The stuff that is observed by billions of people.  Holidays that were around BEFORE there was a greeting card industry.  Wait a minute, WAS there a BEFORE time for greeting cards?

Anyway, your holiday.  Your day of rest.  How much is it worth to you?  How much to give it up?  Would you take credit?

We all have a price for everything.  Some of us hold ideals that we’re willing to give our lives for.  But even our lives have a price tag associated with them.  And if you’re willing to average out these values across society, it becomes even easier to figure out.  Let’s take Easter and Pesach (Passover), since we just observed them a few weeks ago.

We know families get together, but how far are they willing to travel?  On average, if a family member is too far away they won’t come to dinner.  If they are close, they come.  That distance costs something to travel, and that’s part of the value.

Some people have jobs that don’t let them follow a normal schedule.  So they have to forgo the pleasure of family and observance in order to keep their job, serve the company and society, and ultimately secure the future of their own family.  The extra amount they get paid is part of that value.

People spend time getting ready for the holiday.  They fix up their homes.  They buy the nice and traditional foods.  They may spend extra time getting clean and making themselves beautiful.  They probably also take extra pains to make sure they don’t say anything nasty to Aunt Sadie who was so terribly insulting last time she was over that …

Excuse me, I’m getting carried away.  At any rate, there is a cost to all that work.  All that pain.  If we were aliens paying a visit to our backward Earth cousins, we could infer the value of the holiday by all these things.  We could make it easy and choose only one thing, like spending money.  But in that case something like Christmas would be the all out winner.  What if eating candy was the one measure?  In which case Halloween would come in first, with Valentine’s day a close second.

So, here’s to your holidays – past and future.  I certainly hope they’re worth it!


Happy Valentines Day, to you!

Happy Valentine’s Day to everyone.

I know it’s probably a made-up “holiday” designed to make us buy cards and chocolate.

But underlying that is the message, I like you.  Doesn’t matter who you are, I like you.

And for those who are extra special, I like you – a lot!

I can’t see anything wrong with the sentiment or the results.

So, I like you.  And for those I like a lot, expect a kiss!


Doctor King is dead … Long live the King

Yes, today, the 15th of January, is his birthday, and Doctor King is still dead.

Because we’re a nation of convenience, and not slaves to detail, we’ll “celebrate” his birth on the 20th.  Because that’s a Monday.  Because it’s more convenient to have a 3 day weekend than to take a break in the middle of the week.

And that’s the exact opposite of what Doctor Martin Luther King Junior was all about.  He wasn’t about taking anything easy.  He didn’t believe in taking short cuts, or doing something because it felt better that way.

Everything I’ve learned about the man says that he was a fighter; he fought against injustice every step, every day, in every way that he could.  His weapons were the most formidable: Christianity, non-violence, his mind, and the ultimate weapon, love.

I was still a child when he died, too young to see him as great.  His stature has only grown, but his words weren’t so easily accessible during my youth.  Recently, as I researched a book on hate, I came across a collection of his sermons entitled “strength to love.”

Perhaps you have read it already.  In which case you already know how stirring his words remain, how thoughtful his ideas, and how penetrating his passion.

If you haven’t, please rush out and find a copy.  I’ll quote a couple of short passage to give an idea as to what you’re missing. [1]

Let us consider, first, the need for a tough mind, characterized by incisive thinking, realistic appraisal, and decisive judgement.  The tough mind is sharp and penetrating, breaking through the crust of legends and myths and sifting the true from the false.  The tough-minded individual is astute and discerning.  He has a strong, austere quality that makes for firmness of purpose and solidness of commitment.”

But we must not stop with the cultivation of a tough mind.  The gospel also demands a tender heart.  Tough mindedness without tenderheartedness is cold and detached, leaving one’s life in a perpetual winter devoid of the warmth of spring and the gentle heat of summer.  What is more tragic than to see a person who has risen to the heights of tough mindedness but has at the same time sunk to the passionless depths of hardheartedness?

His words still resonate strongly, perhaps more strongly than ever.  For Doctor King, the struggles of the Cold War and skin-based segregation were the greatest evils imaginable.  Yet today, we have the creeping cancers of inequality of wealth, education, and desire for knowledge.  Dogma and diversion have replaced Ideals and Morality.  We have become complacent, drugged on our music and webby friends.

How would Doctor King fight the evils of today?  How would his tough mind and tender heart lead us through this latest tussle with evil?  I don’t know.  I am attempting to continue his work through writing like this, without measurable success.  He does warn against the evils that we see today, saying “A nation or a civilization that continues to produce soft-minded men purchases its own spiritual death on an installment plan.” [2]  And it appears that we have softer minds than ever before.

So please, celebrate Doctor King’s birthday by honoring his memory; not only today, but as often as possible.  Yes, the King is dead; but Long Live the King!



[1]  These passages are from “strength to love” by Martin Luther King, Jr., published by Fortress Press in 2010.  The paragraphs quoted here are from pages 2 and 5, with each being the first paragraph leading sections 1 and 2 of his sermon.  The title of the sermon is “A tough mind and a tender heart” and not only serves to show what a wonderful writing this is, but could also be considered autobiographical.

[2]  Same book, same sermon, at the end of section 1.


Halloween Boos

As a fan of the dark side of life, I’ve always found Halloween an opportunity to reveal our hidden psyche. Not only Halloween, but all forms of celebration related to Death. These include All Hallow’s Eve, Day of the Dead, and even the wide variety of funeral and internment rites from around the world. All of them bring us face to face with the fact that our personal reality, everything we know and love, will someday become meaningless.

Our religions do their best to restore that meaning, telling us that death is a door leading to another chapter. Perhaps. That’s a discussion for another day. For today, it’s our visit with Death that reveals the most about our behavior, and not only you and me as individuals, but as a society.

Halloween has gone global, and people from all cultures have embraced the role-playing party-going festivities Halloween provides. In the US, we culture children to beg for candy. There was a time when mischief was expected, in the form of toilet paper in trees, soap on windows, and perhaps an errant egg or two. But the fun-loving Death-themed festivities have caught our imagination.

For you and me, Halloween mean different things. There’s a good chance you will use it as a chance to have fun, dressing up as something silly, scary, sexy, or a combination of these. You’ll have fun, act out in some way, preferably with friends watching, and eventually call it a night.

But what does Halloween tell us about behavior? What can the great picture of how our world deals with Dia de los Muertos reveal about our inner soul? A great deal, as we shall soon reveal.

A few decades ago, Halloween was a way to have fun by confronting Death. Blood, corpses, and ghosts were the norm, and a tinge of fear creating thrilling chills was enough to keep young children at bay, and teenagers occupied. The smallest children were kept away as the night’s events were considered too horrific. And the adult population – starting at 18 back then – found the entire episode too childish to care.

Childish? Halloween? To adults back in the 1930s and 40s, Death was real enough. There was a good chance your family knew of someone who had died in war, or of poverty, or in an accident. Our world didn’t have the same safety regulations, medicines, or even the same amount of world peace we enjoy today. To those adults, death was already a neighbor, they didn’t need any reminders.

Skip ahead to today. Death is no longer a neighbor, but seems to be a distant cousin who will visit someday. Someday, but not for a very long time. Not only that, but we will see him coming. Hardly anyone today, relatively speaking, dies unexpectedly any more. When it does happen, we’re surprised, and lament their passing all the more.

With Death so far away, what does an adult do? Forget the Grim Reaper exists. Find another excuse to party. Include the baby, dressed up like a pumpkin. The teenager can be a vampire, and the wife and I will go to a party as superheros, animals, or whatever suits our fancy.

And that, Gentle Reader, is our revelation. We as adults, and as a society, have forgotten that Death still lives nearby. We may treat him as a distant cousin, but he always sits at our elbow. Pretending he’s not there doesn’t make him go away. And the best evidence for this is our changing attitudes towards Halloween.

Is this so bad?” you say. “So what?” you wonder. Why does it matter how we consider Death? It means little to how we live, doesn’t it?

Our attitude towards Death lies at the very root of our culture, and is exactly the center of how we live each day. Our American ancestors came from established countries to a New World, not knowing what to expect. The first frontiersmen pushed West without knowing what lay beyond. Their means were meager, their only incentives were a better life for their family, and they had Death at their heels the whole time. They weren’t afraid to take risks.

Today it’s exactly the opposite. We’ll get arrested for not using seat belts or smoking the wrong kind of leaf. we have to carry identifications almost all the time and tacitly accept surveillance of almost everything we do. Finally, and perhaps most personally, we can’t eat something unless it’s in a cold package with a valid expiration date. And we certainly can’t touch anything without continuously dousing our hands in alcohol.

Halloween was a time when we had a little fun acknowledging and confronting our true fear of Death. We’ve lost that. Death is something we ignore, using this precious day as an excuse to dress up and drink.

We have become a culture, a country, a world of frightened children. Taking risks is what building a better world is all about, and who among us does not want a better world? All those things we do to reduce fear, from seat belts to smoking, are not bad in themselves. This essay should not be seen as arguing against their use in any way. That’s not the point.

What I’m arguing for is that our society has become risk-averse. though we appear to embrace Halloween, we are in fact, more afraid of Death than ever before. That fear translates into less innovation and more resources diverted to our peace of mind. And less innovation and fewer resources for risk means that there’s less to spend on our future.

What do you think?

Happy Halloween! Boo!