The week@work: terror on the way to work, a factory fire anniversary, values-based leadership@Starbucks, a millennial workplace, & a new job benefit


How do you share work thoughts when so many were killed and injured on their way to work on Tuesday morning? Apparently, we go on. I have to agree with the sentiment expressed by writer Pamela Druckerman in today’s New York Times ‘Je Suis Sick of This’.

“To Europeans, Brussels was supposed to be a dull place that you didn’t have to think much about until you had to change planes there. There’s a parlor game in which you stump people by asking them to name 10 famous Belgians. “Brussels, the anti-fanatic attacked by the fanatics,” French journalist Laurent Joffrin wrote in Wednesday’s Libération. “Brussels, a cousin whom one is content to know is there.”

Right after an attack it’s easy to say that everything feels different. People are horrified. Parents keep their kids home from school. Newspapers run headlines like “Europe at War.” There is the sad, familiar search for a slogan: This time, I prefer the Belgian frites arranged to make a rude gesture resembling a finger, and the banner reading, “Je suis sick of this” followed by an expletive.”

We don’t stop working. Maybe we are a bit more vigilant, the slogan ‘If you see something, say something’, temporarily gets more attention.

Journalist Druckerman continued, “Despite the inevitable false positives, it’s hard not to be on guard. I’m constantly making a series of mundane existential calculations: Is it worth it to risk going to a movie? Should I let my kids ride the metro to soccer practice? Daily life has a chiaroscuro quality: One minute you’re riding a bus and enjoying a view of the river; the next you’re wondering about the fellow with an unusually large backpack.”

There were other stories this week@work.

Friday was the 105th anniversary of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire. It resonates with workers today because it was a story of immigrant workers, and led to changes in U.S. factory regulations and safety.

triangle fire.jpeg

Joseph Berger summarized the events in a 2011 article.

“A block east of Washington Square, not far from the neighborhood’s boutiques and chic restaurants, was the site of one of the nation’s worst industrial disasters. Many New Yorkers might be unaware of this.

Some labor advocates are trying hard to change that. They have organized an effort to build a memorial to the infamous Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire of 1911, in which 146 workers died. Most of them were young immigrant women from Eastern Europe and Italy, and more than 50 jumped to their deaths from the factory’s ninth floor.

Two years ago, Tom Marshall posed the question, “Can disasters make life better for future generations?”  He went on to draw a parallel between the Triangle Shirtwaist factory fire and the 2013 garment factory collapse in Dhaka, Bangladesh.

“In both cases, inspectors visited and filed critical safety reports, but scores of people still died while making clothes for others. The American disaster is now hailed as a turning point that led to safer workplaces and broad support for a minimum standard of workers’ rights, while the Bangladeshi disaster’s impact is less certain.”

This week@work Starbucks chairman and CEO, Howard Schultz spoke at the annual shareholders meeting, and expanded on a conversation begun two years ago on the role and responsibility of a for-profit corporation. “What is the role and responsibility of all of us, as citizens?”


“Viewing the American Dream as a “reservoir” that is replenished with the values, work ethic and integrity of the American people, Schultz said, “Sadly, our reservoir is running dry, depleted by cynicism, despair, division, exclusion, fear and indifference.”

He suggested citizens fill the reservoir of the American Dream back up, “not with cynicism, but with optimism. Not with despair, but with possibility. Not with division, but with unity. Not with exclusion, but with inclusion. Not with fear, but with compassion. Not with indifference, but with love.”

“It’s not about the choice we make every four years,” Schultz said. “This is about the choices we make every day.”

One of the ‘most read’ articles last week, ‘What Happens When Millennials Run the Workplace?’, provided one more illustration that work issues are people issues, and it really doesn’t matter how you generationally identify.

“Joel Pavelski, 27, isn’t the first person who has lied to his boss to scam some time off work.

But inventing a friend’s funeral, when in fact he was building a treehouse — then blogging and tweeting about it to be sure everyone at the office noticed? That feels new.

Such was a recent management challenge at Mic, a five-year-old website in New York that is vying to become a leading news source created by and for millennials.”

The workplace is changing and the 80 million millennials @work will make a significant impact on work/life and the global economy. As a group, the 40 million with college degrees enter the workforce taxed with student loans that are the equivalent of a mortgage. Fidelity Investments announced a new employee benefit last week to address student loan repayment.  Tara Siegel Bernard provided the details.

“Fidelity will apply up to $2,000 annually to the principal of its employees’ student debts.

Fidelity is one of the more prominent employers to announce the student loan repayment benefit in recent months, a policy that seems likely to gain traction. The benefit helps address what some employers describe as a challenge attracting and retaining younger workers, many of whom can’t see beyond the burden of their student debt. Most employers that are offering the new perk also cap their costs at, say, $10,000 total per employee.”

At the end of a difficult week, spring wishes and Happy Easter!









First Lady Michelle Obama @ Oberlin College & Tuskegee University – “Rise above the noise”

First Lady Michelle Obama delivered two commencement addresses this spring. The first, in early May at Tuskegee University and the second over the weekend at Oberlin College. Respect and civility were on her mind and the narrative of her experience gave credence to the challenge she posed to graduates at both institutions: “stay true to who you are and where you come from” and “rise above the noise and shape the revolutions of your time”.

The position of First Lady of the United States is a career choice. The interview process is tangential to the candidate for president, but the spouse’s background is equally examined under the microscope of the 24×7 news cycle. In her speech to the Tuskegee graduating class, Mrs. Obama was candid in her reflections on the impact of the campaign and shared a leadership lesson in her resolve to not let others define her.

“Back when my husband first started campaigning for President, folks had all sorts of questions of me: What kind of First Lady would I be? What kinds of issues would I take on? Would I be more like Laura Bush, or Hillary Clinton, or Nancy Reagan? And the truth is, those same questions would have been posed to any candidate’s spouse. That’s just the way the process works. But, as potentially the first African American First Lady, I was also the focus of another set of questions and speculations; conversations sometimes rooted in the fears and misperceptions of others. Was I too loud, or too angry, or too emasculating?  Or was I too soft, too much of a mom, not enough of a career woman?

But eventually, I realized that if I wanted to keep my sanity and not let others define me, there was only one thing I could do, and that was to have faith in God’s plan for me. I had to ignore all of the noise and be true to myself — and the rest would work itself out. 

So throughout this journey, I have learned to block everything out and focus on my truth. I had to answer some basic questions for myself: Who am I? No, really, who am I? What do I care about?”

The most respected of the management gurus are adamant that before you can lead, you have to know who you are, your values and what you care about. This is your anchor throughout your career.

“And at the end of the day, by staying true to the me I’ve always known, I found that this journey has been incredibly freeing. Because no matter what happened, I had the peace of mind of knowing that all of the chatter, the name calling, the doubting — all of it was just noise. It did not define me. It didn’t change who I was. And most importantly, it couldn’t hold me back. I have learned that as long as I hold fast to my beliefs and values — and follow my own moral compass — then the only expectations I need to live up to are my own.”

At Oberlin College, Mrs. Obama acknowledged the campus culture of service and social justice and encouraged graduates to take a leadership role “to actively seek out the most contentious, polarized, gridlocked places you can find. Because so often, throughout our history, those have been the places where progress really happens –- the places where minds are changed, lives transformed, where our great American story unfolds.”  

“And the truth is, graduates, after four years of thoughtful, respectful discussion and debate here at Oberlin -– those seminars where you explored new ideas together, those late-night conversations where you challenged each other and learned from each other — after all of that, you might find yourself a little dismayed by the clamor outside these walls — the name-calling, the negative ads, the folks yelling at each other on TV. After being surrounded by people who are so dedicated to serving others and making the world a better place, you might feel a little discouraged by the polarization and gridlock that too often characterize our politics and civic life.

Her address continued with a call to citizenship. Recognizing the temptation to “run the other way as fast as you can…you need to run to, and not away from, the noise.” 

So get out there and volunteer on campaigns, and then hold the folks you elect accountable. Follow what’s happening in your city hall, your statehouse, Washington, D.C. Better yet, run for office yourself. Get in there. Shake things up. Don’t be afraid.  And get out and vote in every election -– not just the big national ones that get all the attention, but every single election. Make sure the folks who represent you share your values and aspirations.

See, that is how you will rise above the noise and shape the revolutions of your time.”