Transforming Cold, Wet and Dreary: A Formula

Not only has daylight savings time brought more darkness into our waking hours, waking up to a cold, wet, dreary Monday morning can intensify the mood of wanting to stay under the covers and read a good novel. Its days and times like these that challenge us… staying engaged is the answer.

A day like this makes us question if we really need to keep that appointment or run the errand we planned.  That was my dilemma yesterday.  I was scheduled to meet an old friend for coffee at 11 AM.  We’d attended graduate school together at CUSSW and although we live within 10 blocks of one another, we rarely see each other.  Recently Columbia had a social work alumnae theater trip and we reconnected there.  (By the way we saw Women On the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown, which was fabulous, but got a lousy review last week in the NY Times.  Please go to see it as it is fresh and funny and performances are wonderful.)

My friend and I went to this little place in the neighborhood called Penelope, which I’d never been to, thinking it would be quiet.  We assumed by 11AM on a workday breakfast would be over and it was too early for lunch.  Well the place was hoping-we had to wait for a table.  You would have thought it was Sunday brunch.  Speak about engagement.  We took time to reconnect, caught up on what’s been happening in each of our lives and where we are going.  Amazing how not seeing or communicating with one another for at least 5 years, we could sit down as if we’d been together last week.

What makes that happen?  Working together as part of a team or work group on something you value and or have passion about is the long lasting adhesive.  Honie and I were at Columbia when students protesting the Viet Nam War were killed at Kent State University in Ohio and at Jackson State College in Mississippi. It was a very volatile time and we were part of a student group that closed down the School of Social Work.  We called ourselves the Power Through Unity Collective and wrote a series of newsletters we “mimeographed” and distributed on campus.  I can close my eyes and return to those meetings.  Focused, determined, appalled at the deaths of students protesting peacefully.  We were totally engaged.

I returned to my office and began a conversation with the building managers. I had stopped in to complain about the new Concierge Service we have in the building.  The company made a great pitch, which resulted in their being awarded the contract.  Unfortunately the gap between what they said they would do and what they have done to date is very wide. They haven’t delivered.

This led us into a conversation about the need for management and employee involvement.  Employees need direction setting and structure.  They want to do their best.  As our conversation evolved one of the buildings’ own employees who’d been out on sick leave came in.  He’s been out battling a serious illness. When he left the building manager said “he wants to come back”.  This is the norm in our building.  We have an engaged workforce.  Employee’s whether door people, handymen, porters etc. feel valued and acknowledged by management and residents.  People have worked in this complex for 45 years.

As I reflect upon my day I realize it’s been about engagement.  My friend and I could pick up where we left off years ago because of the trust we built over 30 years ago.  Workers as nice as they may be in the concierge office flounder without management providing direction setting, a sense of common purpose, and training.  Long-standing employees who feel valued and appreciated, even when confronted with serious illness choose to come back to work to be part of something bigger than themselves.

Engagement is key to transforming cold, wet and dreary.  My office is filled with the warmth and sunshine engagement brings.