Some thoughts on Thanksgiving

Tomorrow, we celebrate Thanksgiving 2020 and more than any recent years, this year’s celebration will be different. Normally we look forward to family gatherings and the chance to spend time with loved ones and friends; we anticipate the holiday feast; we count the hours until the day after Thanksgiving shopping frenzy; and we “get ready for some football.” This year is anything but normal and we are tasked with trying to figure out the best and safest way to share this holiday with loved ones – even if it is virtual.

Not only are celebrations changing, some “traditions” are changing also. Since 1966, the Detroit Lions and the Dallas Cowboys have played each other on Thanksgiving. Not this year. The Lions play the Texans, and the Cowboys play Washington. The Macy’s Parade became a Thanksgiving fixture for the first time in 1924. More than three million attend the parade each year. Not this year. The event will be virtual. And shopping the day after Thanksgiving will be an experience unto itself.

But as they say, the more things change the more they stay the same. The number one thing we are still most thankful for? It’s a tie between family health and family relationships. No matter how we choose to celebrate this year, the one thing that’s universal about this day is that it is a time to give thanks; be grateful for what we have and for the people in our lives.

In the true spirit of the day, I leave you with this thought, “Feeling gratitude and not expressing it is like wrapping a present and not giving it." Have a safe, healthy and Happy Thanksgiving. 

Posted by MJ Thomas

Make it work!


Anyone who watched Project Runway heard Tim Gunn say those words at least once if not more in every single episode. Sounds simple enough, right? Not always.

Too often when faced with a challenging situation, the tendency is to rattle off all the reasons it won’t work. And when you are working with a team – all it takes is one reason why something can’t be done to make those negatives multiply tenfold. 

It seems now more than ever considering the unusual circumstances of the times, that finding a way to “make it work” takes on an even more significance. Needless to say, “business as usual” is not something associated with 2020. And it doesn’t look like that will change anytime soon. So, we adjust and find new ways to do things. And maybe that’s a good thing.

Here's my approach - don’t tell me why it won’t work or can’t be done, tell me how it CAN.  Don’t talk about why you can’t contact your customers now, figure out how you can. Don’t focus on what your competition is doing wrong; focus on what your company is doing right. Focus on what you CAN do.

Easy? Absolutely not! But it works.

Let me give you an example.  At one time I was an administrative liaison for a group of volunteers who were hosting a big fundraising event.  At noon – the day of the event – the event coordinator quit.  She left a note in my mailbox. No explanation, no notes, no contacts, just the keys to the event room. Perfect.  Guess just how long it took for that information to circulate among the masses?  In a matter of what seemed like only minutes, my office was filled with panicking volunteers all preparing for inevitable doom.

We gathered to regroup. Everyone said something and it was ALL negative. After about ten minutes of that (which I realized was ten minutes too much), I said STOP!  Cancelling the event was NOT an option, so what could we do? Silence; total, utter, deafening silence. Then one brave soul said well we could do this…, and that’s all it took. The ball was rolling. Rolling slowly but in the right direction. Okay, you know where this is going, and you are right. Thanks to a shift in thinking and some dedicated volunteers, the event went off without a hiccup. It was more than a financial success. It was a team success. This team took ownership, overcame the challenges, and made it work.

Maybe during these challenging times it’s up to all of us to “make it work.”

Posted by MJ Thomas


Creative minds are rarely tidy?

It's Friday - in fact the last Friday of the month. As I look around my desk, it hits me hard that my desk is definitely the messiest in the entire office. So big deal, right? What's that have to do with anything? Well, here's the story. To the untrained eye, my desk may look messy and disorganized. To me, it's organized chaos - the operative word being organized. It's how I best function; all my stuff around me in piles, easily accessible when that germ of an idea hits. I know where everything is, what pile it's in, what scrap of paper that note or phone number is written on and pretty much what's on deadline and what's not. And, I save things. For me, it's a healthy and creative work environment. Others may view it as a safety hazard.

One of my colleagues is totally opposite. Rarely are there papers on her desk, a pen out of place or a file not filed. She saves only what is absolutely necessary. It's her style. My style makes her cringe. Her style is beyond me.

It's said that each of us fits into a work style category. There's the Information Junkie, the Home from Homer, the Machine and the Chaos Theory. My co-worker is the Machine; clarity of focus, only necessary items on her desk, regularly cleans up her area getting rid of anything old or irrelevant. If you borrow her desk space for any reason, you better make sure that everything is back in place when you are done. Sometimes, I move things on her desk just to see how long it will take her to move them back. 

Me? I'm a proud student of the Chaos Theory. Notes and scraps of paper everywhere; evidence of being struck by the idea that I need to write down before I forget. There are random notes pinned to the wall, jumping from one idea to the next; stacks of magazines to read, a cup of coffee and numerous pens strewn about. 

My co-worker and I make a great team because our styles complement each other. She doesn't try to convert me to her style and I don't try to convert her to mine. It just works. Working from my desk would drive her crazy and vice versa.

The point being, just as each of us learns differently, each of us has our own working style. It's how we work best. There's no right way to keep your desk and there's no right way to work. Our workstations are comfort zones. They are an extension of our personality. So, if you want to get the best out of your employees, don't mess with their system.

Just saying.

Tomorrow, October 24 is Make a Difference Day – one of the largest national days of community service. For more than twenty years on this day, volunteers and communities have united in a common mission to improve the lives of others.

It’s a day where individuals, corporations, community organizations and others participate in projects and events across the country; events that make an impact for the good. Whether it’s a community clean-up, building and repairing housing facilities, donating goods and services to the less fortunate, staging marathons or other fundraisers for a worthy cause or just buying lunch or a cup of coffee for someone just trying to get through another day, we can all find a way to make a difference. Make a Difference Day draws attention to that and puts it “up close and personal” on our radar. And that’s a great thing.

I would challenge that for each of us Make a Difference Day should be every day. A kind word, a helping hand, a note of encouragement, a moment to listen, a nod of understanding or even just a smile can make all the difference in the world for someone in need. That means it’s not all about “us”, it’s about “them”. It means we need to look outside ourselves, past our own circumstances, our own world and reach out. Pay it forward and make it happen.

There's a quote that says, "Never doubt that one person can make a difference.” Be that person.

Safety training need a tune-up?

Okay, I admit it. When it comes to "wear and tear" my car experience its share. I try to be diligent with maintenance, but there are times when a scheduled tune-up takes a back burner to other things. Actually, it's pretty easy to put off. As long as the car is running okay and getting me where I need to go, who needs maintenance? Wrong. If I want my car to continue performing at a top rate, it needs a regular tune-up.

Same thing holds true for workplace safety training. It's not a "one and done" program; but a process that needs to evolve and change with the environment. That requires frequent and regular tune-ups. 

What does that mean? For example, how many times a year do you conduct safety training? Is that enough to cover all employees? What about the new hires, part-timers and outside contractors? How are they trained? Regardless of time spent in your facility, proper training is critical. Without it you could be placing employees and your facility at great risk.

When there are changes in procedures, new rules or regulations how do you communicate them? Is it a memo, a notice on the bulletin board, an email, a meeting? Are you sure that the communication method you use is the best for everyone? Are people missing the message? How do you know?

How do they learn about new technologies, new equipment, and new products? Have there been any changes in accident rates? If so, can you pinpoint why? What’s working and what could be better?

Lots to consider but the answers to these questions will give you a good diagnostic of your program and tell you which areas need a tune-up. That way you can keep your safety training program running on all cylinders at the highest performance level.

Posted by MJ Thomas

How many hats do you wear?

It’s Mad Hatter Day – a day based on the Mad Hatter found in Lewis Caroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. It’s a day to generally be silly, put seriousness aside for a day and maybe even wear a hat. So why is this important?

Well, it made me think about just how many hats most of us wear. Not in the true sense of the word, but in the number of roles and responsibilities we take on each day. For most of us, wearing many hats is pretty much the norm.

Employer, employee, supervisor, problem solver, parent, teacher, friend, care giver, and the list goes on. Trying to balance all those “hats” can be overwhelming. What happens when that pile of hats gets too tall? It falls leaving hats everywhere.

So, now what? Take control. Establish priorities and determine which of your tasks are the most important. What needs to get done first, what can wait, what’s negotiable? Put things in perspective and remember – priorities do not run horizontal and nobody said it would be easy.

Break things down to parts that are manageable; one step at a time and be realistic about expectations of time. Then do it! Take action. Why? When we let ourselves get overwhelmed, we get stuck. We spend so much time stressing about all we have to do that we can’t do anything and that makes us more stressed and farther behind.

Laughter is a great stress reliever and it’s healthy. Sure, what you are doing is serious business, but allow yourself to take a breather, clear your head, walk away from it for a little while, listen to music, sing, whatever. When you come back to it, you’ll be surprised at how much more productive you are.

Ask for help. Really? How many times did you need help but didn’t ask for it because you didn’t want people to think you couldn’t handle things; didn’t want them to think less of you? We all need help from time to time. That’s just the way it is.

So next time you feel the tower of hats on your head starting to tilt, take control. In the words of the Mad Hatter, you don’t want to lose your “muchness.”

As a side note, ever wonder how the term “Mad as a hatter” came about? In 18th and 19th century England mercury was used in the production of felt used to make hats. People working in this industry were exposed to the mercury and often exhibited symptoms associated with mercury poisoning, including behavior that led to others viewing them as “mad”.

And there you have it.




Safety for all seasons

We’re just about a week into fall and things will start changing.  Days will get shorter; the leaves on the trees will change colors; the temperatures will cool down, the air will be crisper; fall sports are in the spotlight; comfort foods will replace summer fare and it will soon be sweater weather.  These things are seasonal; happening or needed during a certain time of year.  Each season has its own characteristics: things that are “normal” for that certain time of year and that includes safety risks.

While some safety issues are only applicable at certain times during the year, safety –  being safe, following safety procedures and always being aware of potential safety issues – should be a year-round, daily top-of-the-mind subject; especially in the workplace.

Safety in the workplace is not something that just happens; it is planned, implemented and practiced every day. It has to be for it to work. Every employee needs to take responsibility for it and that starts at the top. It is a priority, not something that can be placed on the back burner, not something that there’s no budget for or even an area where you can cut corners. Safety is more than a slogan on a wall poster. Set your safety standards high and make safe practices part of your company’s daily routine. People’s lives and livelihoods depend on it.

Posted by MJ Thomas