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My normal column provides direct advice, tools, and suggestions to those in business, but there are occasions when it is important to stop and take a broader, more personal look at the world of work.

As this is the end of the year, it is appropriate to do so.

2016 started out economically challenged, sort of up and down; and things now appear to be getting back on track. By that I mean, now that the presidential election has been decided, people can get back to work.

Two things still concern me about this economic recovery. First, companies are still reducing payrolls. Second, many people are jobless or underemployed.

It’s one thing to be happily unemployed; it is another to be frustrated, sitting at home waiting for the phone to ring to come in for an interview and being unable to make a contribution to an organization that could use help.

Those with jobs have seen reductions in pay, hours, and benefits. The only thing that hasn’t been reduced is stress levels for both employed and unemployed.

I counsel business owners. Owners see things in black and red, otherwise known as profit and loss. These people work incredibly long hours, far longer and far harder than if they were working for someone else.

Owners are not ruthless, cold-hearted people who secretly delight at reducing jobs, withholding raises and asking employees to contribute more for healthcare benefits.

In these times, owners are best described as captains of ships sailing in rough waters, doing their best to stay afloat and keep crew and passengers safe. The captain must make tough decisions, usually with limited information.

If I could make a single wish and it could be fulfilled, it would be that everyone on the planet find a job, but more important, a fulfilling job that engages their interests and their passions.

Being a business owner is a lonely occupation. Despite the bravado, many owners don’t sleep all that well. In addition to the long hours, the challenges of leading a business enterprise never go away. It’s like having a nagging headache all day long, regardless of the fact that you’ve been taking painkillers since you woke up.

When it comes to people on the payroll, many owners look through a prism of doing their best to reduce nonessential costs. An often glaring example is a person who is not helping to grow revenue or maintain good client relations.

Maybe this is best summed up by saying that every employee is either part of the solution or part of the problem. As an employee, you want to be on the solution side; those jobs last longer.

It is true and sad that many good, hard-working people have been terminated, laid off and furloughed from jobs they loved. This happens in a free-market economy when things take place beyond the control of any one individual. For those unemployed or underemployed reading this, I have been there with you, more than once, and I have empathy for you.

For those working, and working harder than at any other time in their life for less reward than before, I understand. I have been through the same difficult journey. My way out was to work harder, longer and be more focused than those around me; I wanted to be recognized for my attitude, my work ethic and for my focus on results.

I am grateful that I enjoy the work I have chosen. I wake up in the morning happy I have selected a profession that allows me to serve others. From that I receive a great deal of joy.

If I could make a single wish and it could be fulfilled, it would be that everyone on the planet find a job, but more important, a fulfilling job that engages their interests and their passions.

Just consider how much more productive organizations would be, how much better customers could be served and how conflicts at places of employment would decrease if individual passions were engaged and focused on achieving worthwhile results.

This joy would transfer to families and alleviate tension at home because people are not happy with what they do for a living.

If I could have a second wish, it is that owners would be more forthcoming with employees about their companies’ financial health. It is one thing to tell people they won’t be getting raises. It is another thing, something not done often enough, to take the time to educate people to be focused on the key drivers of revenue growth, expense reduction and cash flow improvements so that the company could afford to give raises even when the economy isn’t great.

If more owners stepped up and took this bold action, two things would happen. First, people will focus on earning the financial prize. Second, everyone would be united in their efforts. It’s hard to argue against focus, teamwork and results.

If I could have a third wish, it would be that every business and consumer adapt the understanding of service of the Ritz Carlton hotel chain. It is simple, effective and yet astounding, in eight words: “We are ladies and gentlemen serving ladies and gentlemen.”

What is stopping any organization from striving to achieve this standard? What is stopping any of us to act with intention and grace as we interact with our fellow human beings? Nothing except the knowledge and will to do so.

I am thankful I have the ability to reach so many people each week and provide them with knowledge and tools to improve their businesses and their lives.

These are interesting times; challenging time, but with difficulties come opportunities. I hope 2017 is the best year ever for your life, your family and your business.

Ken Keller is a syndicated business columnist focused on the leadership needs of small and midsize closely held companies. Contact him at KenKeller@SBCglobal.net. Keller’s column reflects his own views and not necessarily those of this media outlet.

 

 

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