To help get our children through college without debt, my wife, Gaynor, and I took on part-time jobs to help pay for college.
I teach college on a Monday in Los Angeles and my wife works a couple of hours everyday with adults with learning disabilities — she oversees their work, rolling silverware at a local restaurant before it opens for business.
They get paid just 9 cents per roll but their contribution is priceless.
Gaynor has shared countless stories about these very “special” people. In turn, their stories have profoundly taught me lessons that we can all learn for the workplace. Out of respect for their privacy, I’ll just use the first letter of their names.
“K” always arrives before they open the doors.
He walks to work, come rain or shine. He is very focused. “K” has never been absent from work. He doesn’t like idle chatter. Everyday he tries to do more than he did yesterday. The world says he has autism. My wife says he’s incredibly gifted. Can you imagine if every employee thought and behaved like him?
“A” is so caring — he loves to love, and loves being loved.
If my wife has to correct him for anything, he apologizes profusely and keeps repeating how much his parents love him. Can you imagine if every employee apologized when they messed up? I wonder how many of the problems we see in the workplace are because people didn’t feel as loved by their parents as “A” does? As parents, we have a noble and honorable responsibility to love on our children. Hurt people often hurt others.
It’s not surprising to me to see an increase in workplace violence with the decline in effective marriages and so many broken homes.
“D” is a big ball of fun.
He is always joyful — always optimistic and a real encourager of others. “D” can sense if the early morning kitchen staff are uptight or angry. He always wants to calm them down and cheer them up. Gosh, could our broken working world need more “D’s”? He has Down syndrome but my wife insists he has “Up syndrome” as he lifts everyone up.
“N” is by far the quietest of the group.
She doesn’t say much. “N” inspects her work very, very carefully. She is fixated on quality over quantity and doesn’t care if she makes less money for rolling fewer napkins. “N” believes the most important thing is spotless silverware, not her paycheck. Imagine if we had more employees like “N” — whose work standard we can rely upon and whose focus, is on the quality of their work rather than their paycheck.
“G” has been blessed with the talent of leadership — he rallies the group along.
He is very solution-minded. He sees possibilities, not barriers. The average workplace could significantly benefit from leaders of such high character and high competence as “G”. He thinks about others much more than himself — what a radical idea for a leader, to think of others more than self.
I’d like to boast on my wife, Gaynor, for a few sentences.
When she first started overseeing this group, they were nowhere near as much of a team as they are now. They didn’t speak to each other. They had to be reminded of each other’s names everyday. They weren’t interested in each other. I’d like to humbly suggest my wife has been the glue that’s bonded them together. She works alongside them and helps them where necessary. She doesn’t talk down to them but rather, she looks up to them.
When Gaynor speaks about these people, her face shines and her eyes get watery. Imagine if all supervisors cared as much about their direct reports as Gaynor does.
Our “normal” working world could learn so much from a field trip out to this local restaurant where a group of five individuals, labeled as “disabled” in the eyes of this fallen world, work together for about two hours every day for six days a week before most people are even awake.
So next time you unwrap your silverware, think about them— chances are here in “Awesometown” your napkin was rolled by “special” people just like them.
They inspire me to be a better employee, leader and business owner; even a better human being generally — how about you?