Enjoying Your Work
Current examples help stimulate action
What do the following issues have in common? The dangers of smoking and the wisdom of kicking the cigarette habit; preparations in Hawaii for natural disasters that may occur in the future; the proper role of government as it affects people's everyday lives; the reality or the myth of global warming and the power of people affect their environment.
All of these issues are important and should be discussed frequently. However, the issues are rarely discussed unless there is a current, specific example that directs people's attention and stimulates them to converse with others.
In the smoking example, scientists have known for years about the dangers of cigarettes. However, people are much more likely to discuss this topic if there is a celebrity who recently died from a disease related to smoking. The most recent discussions of smoking, together with widespread promises to give up the habit, occurred after the death of ABC news anchor Peter Jennings.
In the case of preparations for natural disasters, people asked what the local government has been doing after coverage of hurricanes Katrina and Rita.
We should not have to be reminded about the importance of proper preparations given Hawaii's own experiences with destructive storms and tsunamis, but people seem to need specific examples to stimulate them to action.
The proper role of government will always be a hot topic for conversations. Should there be more government programs aimed at addressing problems? Or do government programs create bloated bureaucracies whose members are more interested in looking good than in solving problems?
This issue is currently under discussion in light of the perceived effectiveness or ineffectiveness of the gas cap law. Should government become involved, or should market forces be allowed to operate unhampered by imposed price limits?
Global warming will become the topic of conversations as a possible contributor to the number of hurricanes along the Gulf Coast. Other issues will be discussed, such as hurricane cycles that occur every 30 or 40 years.Hopefully, these conversations will also stimulate examination of what people can do to improve their environment through their own actions. Such actions include finding alternatives to fossil fuels, more attention to the recycling of paper to reduce dependence on forests, and the proper disposal of hazardous chemicals to cut pollution.
People need specific examples of complex topics. If they try to discuss issues in the abstract, they begin to sound like groups of individuals who are often chided for being so boring. These groups include academics, armchair philosophers, and (described with a mild sneer) intellectuals.
In addition, examples need to be current. In discussions of governmental decision making, examples such as van cams to catch speeding drivers could be brought up. But this issue, a hot topic several years ago, would make a speaker seem quaint and out of date if it was discussed today. If people in Hawaii start talking about the preparation for evacuations in the event of a hurricane, they may come across as worrywarts and alarmists if there has not been a major storm in the last five years.
When I was growing up in New England, one of the adages that people used was, "Don't lock your barn door after the horse has been stolen." The time to lock the door is before someone might come into a barn to steal a horse. More generally, the adage reminds people to prepare today for problems that may occur in the future. While the advice to prepare for problems in the future is wise, people seem to need the experience of losing a horse before they take actions to prevent future losses.
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The purpose of this column is to increase understanding of human behavior as it has an impact on the workplace. Given the amount of time people spend at work, job satisfaction should ideally be high and it should contribute to general life happiness. Enjoyment can increase as people learn more about workplace psychology, communication, and group influences.
Richard Brislin is a professor in the College of Business Administration, University of Hawaii. He can be reached through the College Relations Office: firstname.lastname@example.org