Going to Work During A War

The word “war” has been used quite a bit over the last week, as well it should be. It may well become as common an expression in our lives as cycle, bandwidth, and cyber-whatever. We are under attack and are the target of an organized effort to disrupt or destroy our culture, political system, business and economy. In essence it is a diabolical effort to degrade us as a people and destroy our way of life, to deny future generations the birthright of a peaceful and prosperous life with the freedoms the last four generations had come to expect. (“If that ain’t war, it’s close enough.”) The “Cold War” not withstanding, it has been over 50 years since an external threat to this country has carried this grave and dangerous a threat and brought with it this much potential to become part of our lives. This is not the sort of news event that consumes us until the next “Powerball Millionaire Story.” Suddenly we are wondering, what was so important last week? This will, to varying degrees, be part of our lives for some time to come. In the recent analogies to Pearl Harbor alluded to in the news, there was a missing reminder: the war lasted four years after Pearl Harbor. But during those four years people met and got married, raised families, went to work, did the shopping, went to movies, bought birthday presents, went to college, went out to diner, planned vacations, dug swimming pools, had drinks after work, got jobs, built businesses, developed new industries, and occasionally got “goofy” for no reason in particular. Life pretty much went on. Even in a war. It is a shame, for many reasons, that so few of our veterans of World War II are still among us. Maybe it would be worthwhile to listen to their stories again about life in a world where an ongoing conflict was always present. But as we steel ourselves for what is to come, let’s not get carried away with ourselves either.

  • You will go to work.
  • There is relevance in calling clients and candidates and hiring managers.
  • You still need training in the new Resume Acquisition Tools, HRIS System, Pre-Screening Tools, Applicant Control Systems, and all the other components of business.
  • A new fiscal quarter is about to start, and we are preparing to close the books on the one that will be ending soon.
  • That new ad campaign looks great, but maybe it needs to be lighter?
  • The corporate website needs to be updated.
  • You need to remember to put five bucks into the office pool for an employee’s bridal shower.
  • Not to mention five bucks for an employee’s bachelor party.
  • There is no disgrace in looking forward to the company holiday party.
  • Employees need to have their reviews.
  • Those contracts regarding new resume resources need to be reviewed.
  • Terminations must proceed to keep the corporate culture healthy.
  • You should go to that HR Awards dinner.
  • Yes, it might be a good time to review your employee emergency contact files.
  • New hires need training, a place to work and an IS/IT account.
  • You can contribute to the September 11th fund and still have the planned office party.

And finally…

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  • The boss still expects his or her jokes to be laughed at, war or no war.

All the other details that made up a “day at the office” before September 11th, continue to do so. In an earlier piece, I wrote of heroes and that not all of them were to be found in parks made of marble, with 17 pigeons perched on their cocked hats (It’s okay to tell jokes and laugh during a war. Probably more important than ever!) Well, sometimes just getting on with what has to be done can be pretty heroic as well. If we are going to defend our way of life, that also means we have to keep maintaining and building it. As I have said, over and over again, in the human resources and staffing profession, we are the architects and the builders of the companies we work for or support as vendors. We locate the bricks and mortar. (No, no, now that I think about it, I don’t think I actually ever said that before. Too bad, it makes me sound sage.) If our heads are not in the game, it is a game that will not be played as well as it could. In the areas of employee relations, employee moral, counseling, training, and mentoring we are supposed to be the champions, the instigators and the motivators. Napoleon tells us that, “Moral is to the physical as ten is to one!” A team that has it spirits held high and its energy focused can accomplish far greater tasks and achieve far greater goals than a team lost in preoccupation and constant stress. During periods of fear and distraction there is not only a tendency to do less and slacken our efforts at work and home (productivity) due to these fears, but there is also a tendency to allow these fears to be our permission not to react. (“I really did not want to discipline him for being consistently late. You see, he is really going through a tough time. It seems his brother’s roommate’s cousin’s barber’s neighbor’s sister-in-law’s son is thinking about joining the Air Force next year. Imagine that, especially in these troubled times!”) I remember a story my mother told me about a “nice old gentleman” who ran a newsstand in Boston during the 1940s. A week after Pearl Harbor he repainted the stand so it looked nicer, cleaner and brighter. When asked why he bothered, he said, “I could not think of anything else I could do to contribute to the war. So, I figured if I could at least brighten everybody’s day, just a little, well…it couldn’t hurt.” You know what, it didn’t hurt. It also helped sell newspapers, which is how this gentleman made a living. Years ago I read the life of Frederick Douglass, the freed slave who educated himself and, in the late 1850s and early 1860s, became a leader in the fight to end slavery in the United States. I have always found one of his speeches especially inspiring and this passage especially relevant: “The limits of tyrants are imposed by those whom they oppress.” (I will gladly e-mail a copy of the speech to anyone who wants it. It is truly inspirational.) We can sometimes be the “tyrants” within our own lives. At no time is this truer than during times of trial and challenge such as we face today, and in the days to come. It will be easy to blame everything on “the war” rather than to find the real problem or deal with the real issues that we have always been confronted with and confounded by every day at work. If we are the frontline in maintaining sanity in the workplace, we cannot allow ourselves to become a “casualty” of preoccupation. The long-term goal in war is victory; the secondary goal is to keep living your life while achieving the long-term goal. Life always returns to normal. It is just that sometimes normal changes a little bit. We have a long and sometimes hard road ahead of us in our efforts to truly contribute something worthwhile to the world. Something special and important, an end to state-sponsored terrorism and world apathy to its existence. It is a noble cause and at times, the price may seem high, but name me something worthwhile in your life that came without effort and without cost. We survived the limited violence but daily uncertainty of the “Cold War,” and our predecessors survived a horrible, violent, worldwide war that preoccupied their daily lives. Our challenge will lie somewhere in the middle. Some of us will find ourselves in the frontline of this struggle; most of us will contribute to this struggle indirectly:

  • We will go to our jobs.
  • We will live our lives as well as we possibly can.
  • We will remain steadfast and resolute in our convictions of today and our unwavering support for those we empowered to act on our convictions.

We may not travel as often and we might never hear the sound of airplanes engines in the same way we used to. But planes will fly and sometimes we will be on them. We will work to prosper, live for the joy of living, and pray for a day when “terrorism” can only be found on history quizzes. By the next article it will be back to the grindstone for all of us as I “enlighten” with my “clever insights” on the human resources abomination we all call “exit interviews.” (See, another joke. OK, a weak one. Just trying to get a smile.) Until then… Have a great day recruiting!

Ken Gaffey (kengaffey@comcast.net) is currently an employee of CPS Personal Services (www.cps.ca.gov) and has been involved in the Department of Homeland Security, Transportation Security Administration project since its inception. Prior to this National Security project Ken was an independent human resources and staffing consultant with an extensive career of diversified human resources and staffing experience in the high-tech, financial services, manufacturing, and pharmaceutical industries. His past clients include Hewlett Packard, First Data Corporation, Fidelity Investments, Fleet Bank, Rational Software, Ericsson, Astra Pharmaceutical, G&D Engineering, and other national and international industry leaders. In addition to contributing articles and book reviews to publications like ERE, Monster.com, AIRS, HR Today, and the International Recruiters Newsletter, Ken is a speaker at national and international conferences, training seminars, and other staffing industry events. Ken is a Boston native and has lived in the greater Boston area most of his life. Ken attended the University of South Carolina and was an officer in the United States Marine Corps.


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