Another Reason Why the Health Care Industry Needs Reform

As many of you know who have been reading my blog or know me personally, my wife has been fighting cancer for a little over three years now.  Back in December she was admitted to the hospital due to a severe blockage of her colon by a tumor pressing against it from outside the colon but within the abdomen.  Since she had been getting severe abdominal pains for the last several months, first rather infrequent and not too severe, but increasing in frequency.  We had been scheduled to see her colon doctor the Monday before Thanksgiving, but had to cancel when her father in Pennsylvania collapsed at a restaurant and was taken to the hospital.  He actually was turning blue at the restaurant and would probably have been declared dead right then if not for the help of a good Samaritan named Jim who together with a group of friends ate breakfast there almost every morning.  Jim did not know Sue’s dad, but he jumped up and came over to give him CPR keeping him alive until the paramedics arrived to take him to the hospital.  I wish there were more people like Jim in this world.  Oh, and by the way, if you saw Jim on the street you would think he was just a construction worker or contractor, but that morning, Jim was an angel.

Sue immediately booked a flight to Pennsylvania to be by her Dad’s side.  The prognosis was not good and on Saturday before Thanksgiving, she called me and our daughter Natasha to come up because the hospital would try to keep him alive until we got there.  So we both flew up the Sunday before Thanksgiving and arrived in Allentown about 2 in the afternoon.  Although I grew up in Pennsylvania, I had not been back since 1995.  Everything seemed so strange and new yet with a bit of familiarity.  We got to the hospital a little after 3 and the doctors came by to tell us that his systems were shutting down.  He had a living will that for those of you who do not know what that is means that he made the decision not to be kept alive only on machines.  Resuscitation is one thing, but his wife, Sue’s Mom lived her last 6 months in a hospital with machines keeping her body alive.  That was 24 years ago.  He did not want that for himself and had signed a legal document to that effect.  While they did use machine to keep his body alive until we all got there, it was clear to the doctors that all of his internal systems were shutting down.

At 4:30 they turned off the machines, His breath and pulse, weak on their own started to fail immediately.  Every update on the monitors showed his blood pressure dropping and his breaths coming further apart.  Within a half hour, he passed relatively peacefully.

As sad as the loss of a close relative is, we were grateful for the time he spent with us.  Natasha had always loved her grandfather and had some very nice words to say for his eulogy.  Even though it was Thanksgiving and you might think that we did not have a lot to be thankful for, we were thankful that he did not suffer in the end.  We were thankful that he lived as long as he did to be part of our lives and Natasha’s life.  We are thankful that he was not driving when he collapsed which could have caused an accident injuring someone else.  We are thankful for people like Jim who are ready to help others when they need help, not just with words, but with actions.

Sue managed to get around to for the first several days without any real problems as we made funeral preparations and because cleaning out the house as much as we could.  But by the day of the funeral, we could tell she was not herself because she barely ate anything whenever we stopped for a meal.  By the time we flew back home that Saturday, she asked for assistance at the Charlotte airport to get from one gate to the next as we had to change planes on our trip home to Orlando.  Once back in Orlando, we tried to get her appointment set up as quick as possible with her colon doctor, but because we missed the previously one, they could not squeeze her in until December 7.  During those two week, she ate less and less and even stopped drinking water because of the pain in her abdomen.  We actually lost almost three weeks from her first appointment until the colon doctor could see her.  When she did see her, she immediately signed orders to admit Sue to the hospital.

Sue is still with us, although she is still in the hospital.  She is not able to keep any food or drink down.  They are trying a last ditch shot at chemo to see if they can shrink the tumor that is blocking her colon since they say it is not operable.  We know there are other compatible co-treatments that may help.  One of them is something called hyperthermia.  The localized version of hyperthermia  uses an MRI-like electromagnetic field to heat cancer cells to 107 degrees F causing the cells to produce excess lactic acid and effectively killing the cancer cells.  This treatment has been pioneered by Dr Robert Gorter and is commonly used in Germany, but few places in the United States have begun using it yet.  We did find that Cancer Centers of America do offer this treatment, but our insurance does not allow us to get treatment outside of our state (even if they treatment might save the patient).

Other versions of hyperthermia include regional and full-body.  The full-body version heats the body using infrared radiation to about 101-102 degrees F to induce a mild-fever.  This fever activates the immune system doubling its effectiveness.  It is the immune system that identifies foreign bodies like bacteria and viruses in our bodies to keep us healthy.  It also normally keeps the cancer cells that all of our bodies produce each and every day from growing out of control.  The theory being that by kick-starting the immune system, it might help to fight the existing tumors.

Other treatments include the use of dendritic cells, intravenous vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and glandular extracts.

But the problems is while Anderson is using some of these treatments such as hyperthermia in the Houston location (again out of state for us), they do not offer it locally. Why?  At this point, we would be willing to sign a legal document stating that we would not sue Anderson if the treatment fails as long as they would be willing to try it.  But even more to the point, together with chemo, hyperthermia treatment offers less risk to the patient that the chemo itself.  It is not a replacement for chemo (at least not at this time), but is used in conjunction with it.  At most, hyperthermia is mildly uncomfortable and could result in a few hours of flu-like symptoms, but no real toxicity.  We are at a point where not doing anything is essentially a guaranteed death sentence especially because of the blocked colon.  It has seemed over the last several weeks as we have explored the possibility of different options and each time we find something that may give us hope, our hopes have been dashed against the rocks.


That’s What Christmas is all About

“And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them, ‘Fear not: for behold, I bring unto you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the City of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.’ And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God, and saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.'”

That’s What Christmas is all About.

A Balanced Approach

There is no doubt that everyone in America has been thinking about the people and especially the children killed in Newtown Connecticut last week.  Over the next days, weeks, and months, I’m sure we are going to hear calls for gun control, maybe even making gun ownership by anyone in the public illegal.  Unfortunately, I truly do not believe that will solve anything.  If there is one thing that mankind has excelled in over the centuries is finding new and unique ways to kill his fell man.

It was only a little over a decade ago the country was rocked by the terrorist attack on America resulting in  two planes crashing into the Twin Towers in New York, the Pentagon in Washington, and a field in Pennsylvania.  The government immediately intervened to add extra inspections of people and luggage going on planes around the country.  How successful have these measures been?  It is impossible for us average citizens to know, but we do know that no additional planes have been flown into buildings, at least on purpose.  Does that mean that the terrorists have given up?  Or perhaps they are just planning a different approach?  Have our intelligence groups prevented some of these other methods?  I would like to think so.  However, I still worry that a determined terrorist group may eventually find another way to strike terror into our nation.

The same is true of these people who commit mass-murder.  Even if we were to eliminate all guns for private citizens in America (something I think will be difficult considering the number of legitimate hunters), they will just find another method to achieve their goals (and no, I’m not going to list all of the other options here.  Use your own imagination or watch TV or the movies.)

So what is the solution?  Dr. Oz  thinks that we need to focus more on mental health through better screening and testing.  I don’t know about you, but screening people for any propensity to commit mass-murder or any other crime is starting to sound a lot like the move Minority Report.  Just because someone is depressed, upset, or feels someone wronged them does not mean that they will turn to mass murder as their solution.

Stress.  I am sitting here thinking about what factors cause people to do evil things.  Honestly, I cannot think of just a single reason.  Rather, I suspect there are many factors.  One of those factors is stress.  No one will argue that stress has not increased over the last century for most people in the developed world if not all countries.  There is stress to get more done with less.  There is stress as families get smaller and the responsibility to care for sick family members or elderly family members have to be  shouldered by fewer and fewer family members.  There is stress from all the bad news on TV and the radio.  In fact many people report anxiety after watching hour after hour of disasters such as the school attack last week or the terrorists attacks of 9/11.

Greed.  Somebody said to find out who committed a crime, you often only have to follow the money.  Some people will do almost anything to get more money.  They would sell out their best friend, neighbor, or even a family member if they could get money for it.  Several months ago there was a story on a Freakanomics podcast where as an experiment, a person offered to buy someone else’s soul for $50.  He were not expecting anyone to really agree to such a contract.  But one person did.  The person who agreed to sell their soul argued that since they did not believe the soul actually existed, that getting $50 in exchange for something that did not exist in the first place just made economic sense.   They would have held out for more than $50, but no one else was willing to pay more.

Power.  Another common phrase is: ‘Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely’.  I suppose this statement could be applied to many of the ‘great’ dictators, kings, and other leaders throughout history, although in many cases, I’m not so sure that greed did not also play a part in that obsession with gathering more power since the two seem to often go hand-in-hand.

While these factors may all play a role in much of the evil in this world, there probably is also a component of just psychological imbalance because of some physical brain issue, but I don’t think I would recommend everyone going through some type of psychological test just to try to find those that might be included to violence.  After all, where would you draw the line?  Extremes are seldom the right answer.  Banning all guns from private citizens (they will still find a way to obtain guns). Submitting everyone to psychological testing (sounds like ‘Guilty until proven innocent’).  Elimining money to eliminate greed (without money, incentive to excell could also be eliminated).  Eliminate all power (without some type of power or government, there could be chaos and no planning for the common needs).  Eliminate all stress (without some stress, people might just sit around and do nothing since the stress related to providing for basic neesd is what makes things happen).

Perhaps, the answer is as it has always been a balanced approach.  Sometimes mankind swings too far in one direction or the other, but human forces tend to eventually brings things back to center.  So I guess for now I’m hoping that we can just get through the rest of this Christmas/Hanukkah/Holiday (you pick the one you want) season without any more incidents. Pray for the families of those who were murdered in Connecticut.  Pray also for our soldiers in foreign lands, our fire fighters, police, healthcare professionals and all the other service people that we depend on to keep us safe and well.  Finally, I wish you all Peace on Earth, Goodwill Toward All Mankind.

C’ya next time.

The Power of the President

Now that everyone has had time to think about the results of the election in this country, maybe it is time to ask will it matter?  Maybe just as important, where do we go from here?

Many people think the President of United States can just step in and make whatever changes he or she may think.  However, we got rid of kings almost two hundred years ago and most people would not want to return to that form of government.  Therefore, we must remember that whomever is elected president is not a miracle worker nor are they given unlimited powers to do anything they want.  Well, that is true at least as long as the other two branches of our government, the legislature and the judicial, exercise their constitutional authority to provide a check and balance to the executive branch.  It is that balance of power that forms the foundation of our government and one that we need to maintain.

Speaking of power, what power does the president actually have if they just cannot go out and do whatever they want?  Possibly the best known is the president’s power as Commander-in-Chief to order military action or to stop military action.  Since the Congress still controls the budget for the military, it is not as unilateral as you might think.  After all, you cannot fight a military action without funding.  However, the President, not Congress or the military can decide which conflicts to become involved in.

The President can also decide whom to appoint to many high level positions.  Although these appointments may need to be approved by Congress, the President, not Congress gets the ball rolling by deciding whom to appoint.

The President can also decide which laws to enforce and which to ignore.  However, doing so without some good reason can result in substantial and negative backlash from the public.

The President has the power to persuade Congress to do or not do any action.  We have seen many examples of this over the years, but most recently concerning passing new health care laws and some of the recent decisions over taxes.

The president also has power over foreign affairs including negotiating with foreign governments.  In the past, the United States has used this power to accomplish things like the opening of trade with China or helping to tear down communism in Eastern Europe such as the tearing down of the Berlin Wall.

We would like to think that every president wields their powers in the best interests of the Constitution, the United States, and its people.  Of course, we get the opportunity every four years to get rid of any president we don’t agree with through the peaceful process of voting.

That process works only as long as the American people are awake and that they study the issues that are important and the views of the candidates on those issues.  Unfortunately, many people do not really know the issues.  Rather, they merely vote along party lines without any idea about who the candidate really is or what they stand for.  In fact, many people simply vote on name recognition which is one of the reasons why candidates spend such huge amounts of money on their campaigns.  Of course, there are many people who vote based on what their other family members or friends say without any real investigation about the candidates or issues on their own.  Finally, there are many people who just do not vote out of apathy, their conviction that their vote simply does not count.

In our recent election here in the United States, several states declared a ‘winner’ before all write-in votes were counted.  What does that say about how the states and even the country feels whether your vote is important or not?  Even if the final count could not possibly change the decision as to who the ‘winner’ is, should such announcements be delayed to ‘show’ that everyone’s vote counts?

That is all I have to say today.  I am sitting in a hospital waiting room as my wife undergoes some exploratory surgery related to her cancer.  The news I got just a few moments ago is bad.  While we will continue to fight until the end, the light at the end of the tunnel has receded.  I only hope that the future of our country which has also been troubled for almost as long as my wife’s cancer diagnosis (some might say longer) stands a better chance of recovery.

I’m still hoping for a real leader who can inspire our nation to turn around the cancer that has been eating at our country’s greatness and returns it to the leadership role in the world it once had, a world where we can all help raise the lifestyle of all people around the world, a world in peace.

C’ya next time.

Travelling Again … Unfortunately

For the second time in less than a month, I found myself flying to a different corner of the United States, this time the Northeast.  Ok, while Pennsylvania may not be in the far northeast corner of the country, it is still over 1000 miles away.  This time it was not for pleasure.  Rather it was for a death in the family.

Unfortunately, there no longer is a direct flight from Orlando, FL to Allentown, PA (Yes, the Allentown from the Billy Joel song).  So we had to make a stop in Charlotte, NC.   Actually, we felt quite lucky to grab tickets on Saturday for a flight the next morning.  It was sort of a coincidence that Charlotte is also the host city for next year’s PASS Summit.  Having just come back from this year’s PASS Summit in Seattle, WA, I suppose the coincidence only means something to me.

The flight to Allentown was uneventful.  We arrived in time to witness my wife’s father take his last breath at the hospital.  He had a massive coronary a few days before.  There was nothing the doctors could do.   It was a little surreal watching the monitors drop to zero understanding that every line on the monitor represented a different body function that was shutting down.  It was the first time I ever witnessed someone actually die.  I suppose that it is of some comfort that at an age of 83, he led a good and full life and died rather peacefully.  Still it is hard to get my head around the fact that he will no longer be there.  Perhaps our daughter, Natasha, said it best when she wrote and gave the following eulogy at the burial.

Say not in grief ‘He is no more.” But in thankfulness that he was.

Grandpa, on this day before Thanksgiving, I am thankful for the days I spent at your house before I was old enough to go to school, eating tomato soup and watching The Price Is Right.

I am thankful for every birthday that you flew down to Florida to celebrate with me bringing what seemed like an entire suitcase full of presents for us because you missed us so much.

You were a man of humble beginnings, but you always strived to better yourself.

You graduated from high school at a time when most people dropped out or were forced to go to work to support their families.

You inspired and supported your daughter and granddaughter to go to college.

We learned from you that you have to work hard to succeed in this world.

You will be with me in all the big events in my life, and even the small ones.  I will always remember going to the ATM with you as you wondered why English and Spanish were the only options and not Pennsylvania Dutch, and I will remember when I use a microwave your amazement of how that tiny box can cook food so fast.

So today, I say not in grief,  that he is no more, but in thankfulness that he was a part of my life and will always be in my heart.

We got back from Pennsylvania late Saturday night after repeated delays in our flight out of Allentown.  I wish the delays were something exciting like snow, but rather it was just some mechanical malfunctions that needed to be checked out.  On the other hand, we did get to see snow flurries on Saturday, something we had not seen in years due to living in Orlando, FL.  Maybe that was his final gift to us as we prepared to leave for home.

We will miss you Dad.

At a Loss

There is so much going on that probably deserves a rant tonight.  Everything from the weather to the lies coming from politicians on both sides making it difficult for people to decide what is best for not only this country but for the well being of the entire world.  But I just could not decide on what to focus on tonight.  Perhaps because I really cannot focus tonight.  In fact, I wasn’t going to post anything at all, but some of you who read what I post on a regular basis deserve at least something.

You see, my wife was diagnosed with colon cancer 3 years ago and it has been a real rollercoaster ride of emotions.  There have been times when she has been bad and times when she has felt rather good.  Tonight it is rather bad.  I don’t know what to do.  She had gone through chemo and had part of her colon removed two years ago, but they said that it had metastasized. They wanted to put her on chemo for the rest of her life which they could not promise much.  She refused to go back to chemo which has its own nasty side effects.  We’ve tried some other things and some indications have been that her condition was improving, but recently, within the last month, she has been getting severe stomach pains.  They want to do a colonoscopy today (Tuesday).  I’m afraid.  I’m afraid of losing my best friend of over 35 years.

So I’m going to end this post now with a simple request.  I ask that any readers who have been reading my blogs on a regular basis to pray to whatever God or Supreme Being you believe in for her health, to ease her pain and to help her live.  Pass this on to your friends so that they might pray for her too.  Her name is Susan.  Thank you.

Busy or Productive?

Whether at work or at home, just because you are busy does not mean that you are productive.  You can work a whole day on a task, but at the end of day feel like you did not accomplish anything.  You may even dread the thought of going back the next day to do more of the same thing.  Or perhaps you came home at the end of the day feeling like you are on top of the world and could accomplish anything.  Furthermore, you cannot wait to go back tomorrow and do it all over again.  Does that define the difference between busy and productive?  If so, what does that mean if you never feel productive, just busy?

There may be some truth to the statement that one person’s busy is another person’s productive day.  Some people just seem to like certain tasks and hate others.  Does that mean the difference is all in your head?  Perhaps to some extent that is true, but that is not the whole picture.  Let us look at some examples of tasks that may get classified as either busy work or productive work.

Suppose you are the manager at ACME Software Inc. and you have two forms that you need immediately.  You have one team of traditional web programmers who build pages with HTML, CSS and ASP.NET so you give one form to them.  You have a second team that has been responsible for building your internal employee intranet and collaboration sites using SharePoint.  You heard that they can use a tool called InfoPath to create forms so you give the second form to them.  Both groups start on their respective forms on the same day.

The SharePoint team builds their form, tests it, and deploys it to production by the end of the week.  The web programmers appear to be working just as hard but they do not deploy their finished and tested form until the middle of the next week.

Both teams were busy as far as you can tell, but you might think that the SharePoint team was more productive.  Were they really more productive because their skills were better or that they were better programmers, or were they more productive because the tools they used, InfoPath to design the form, SharePoint Designer to create the workflow, and SharePoint to deploy the finished form to the production intranet site, allowed them to appear to be more productive?  Experience is always a factor.  An experienced .NET development team could outperform a novice SharePoint team.  On the other hand, good productivity tools can go a long way toward improving the productivity of a developer at any level.  However, no productivity tool will improve productivity unless people receive training and have the time to learn how to use the tool, but that is another story.

So is productivity about the tools you use to get the job done?  Does getting the job done faster define productivity while other people without those teams are merely busy?

Let us look at two teams where each team over the past year has worked on 3 special ‘emergency’ projects for management.  In the case of the first team, while they completed all three projects, none of the three projects went into production.  In one case, the project kept changing every few days because there was no well define set of requirements when the project begin.  Management just assumed that making changes in the middle of the project could be easily managed by the team without affecting the delivery date which kept getting pushed back.  Another project did not go into production because even after it was completed, there was no executive sponsor to see that others in the organization actually used the new program instead of the old manual way of processing their data.  Finally, the third project died a slow lingering death when no one in management would take responsibility for the design and sign-off on the specifications.

The second team had projects in which all of the specifications for the project were clearly defined at the start of the project, management quickly signed off on the design, and when the project was complete, management required all company users to switch to the new programs to guarantee consistent and timely processing of the data.

Both teams were busy, but it might be argued that only the second team was productive.  In fact, at the end of the year, the first team was on the verge of falling apart.  Some of the team members had already transferred to other groups.  Others had left the company entirely.  They had been busy, but they did not feel that they had accomplished anything.  On the other hand, the second team is ‘pumped’ by being part of the successful implementation of their projects.  Some have even turned down job offers from other departments and other companies because they felt like they were really making a difference.  In fact, the second team looked forward to new requests for challenges from management while the first team viewed new requests as merely another task to keep them busy, but nothing to get excited about because probably no one will ever use it anyway.

Are you busy or are you productive?  If you do not go home at night feeling that you were productive today, what can you do to feel productive tomorrow?  If you are in management, how can you work better with your teams to insure that they feel like their work is a productive addition to the organization?  Remember the statement, “We work to live.  We do not live to work.”  If you do not feel productive at the end of the day or if your team does not feel productive, change something and keep changing things until you do.  Being busy is better than not being busy.  However, the satisfaction of feeling productive is much better than just feeling busy.  In the end, life is too short to be just busy.  Go out tomorrow and make a difference for your team and for yourself experiencing the satisfaction of being productive.

C’ya next time.

It’s Not My Assignment

How many times have you heard someone say, “It’s not my job!” and then walk away to do something else.  Maybe you were at work and asked someone for help to solve an issue and they shot back at you, “It’s not my job!”  Maybe you asked the secretary to pick up a package that was just delivered to the mail room and you heard, “It’s not my job!”.  Perhaps you have been in a restaurant and accidentally dropped your fork and asked a passing waiter or waitress (not your original one) for a new fork and you got the response, “It’s not my job (table)!” as they continued to walk past you.

A recent article by Lyle Feisel in The Bent discussed this topic in which he maintains that your job includes everything that affects your customer, client, or whomever you are working for.  On the other hand, your assignments are the specific tasks that have been written down for you to perform.  He maintains that you get evaluated by your boss based on how well you do your assignments, but only you can evaluate how well you perform your job.  Job satisfaction is not based merely on assignments completed.  The problem with assignments is that no one can anticipate everything that you may ever need to do in your job.  There will always be additional tasks or perhaps new tasks that no one thought of before that should or must get done for your organization to be successful.  If you sit around and wait for someone to assign those tasks to you or to someone else, they may never get done before the organization loses sales, clients, or perhaps even goes out of business.

So your job might very well be to do whatever it takes for your organization to be successful.  However, there is a downside to this train of thought.  (Of course there would be or I would not be talking about it.)  Suppose there is a task that no one else in your company is willing to do, but it is a task that is important to the future success of the organization as a whole.  You could easily do the task even though it has not been assigned to you.  Maybe it only takes a few minutes each day.  Perhaps you think that by showing others that you are willing to pitch in to do these tasks, that others may offer to help out perhaps doing the task on alternate days.  Perhaps you think that management will reward you for your initiative to assume these tasks by giving you a bigger raise, bonus, or other perk to recognize your efforts.

But here is where things can and often do go wrong.  When management just assumes that you now own that task along with everything else you do, it can lead to a deadly spiral.  Other employees see this and stop doing other tasks hoping that you will pick up their slack as well so they can play solitaire, talk by the water cooler or take two hour lunches.  Meanwhile you burn the midnight oil getting your work done along with their work.  Management often does not care who does the work as long as it gets done so they don’t see this as a problem.  At least they don’t see it until something happens.  Suppose someone in your immediate family gets sick.  Perhaps it is your spouse, child, parent, sibling or some other close relative and you need to cut back on all of the extra work you have been putting in nights and weekends to care for that family member.  All management sees is that the tasks that you now ‘own’ by performing them when no one else will belong to you and they are not being done and therefore you are to blame.  You have become a ‘slacker’ in their eyes.  You are no longer a team player.  Forget the fact that Bill leaves a hour early each day.  Forget the fact that Doris plays solitaire for hours or shops on the web.  Forget the fact that Dan spends half a day each week working on his fantasy baseball|football|basketball team.  Management has come to expect you to do these tasks and you are not doing them.

This does not happen you say.  Management would never let others get away with playing games at work while you slave 10 to 12 hours each day.  Perhaps you are right.  Perhaps instead your company has been going through downsizing over the past several years during this recession.  As people leave the company, management has expected the remaining staff to pick up all the extra work that the other people did.  Now as the economy improves, they may be thinking that they can make bigger profits as sales improve if they don’t hire back those laid off employees because the existing employees have shown that they can ‘get by’.  In fact, they reward those employees who work the hardest and save the most money with more work and more demands to save additional money.  Soon those employees face a choice of either burnout or move-out.

Does this mean that you should never go the extra mile, or help others who may be going through some tough times?  No.  However, you may need to make it clear that performing these extra tasks does not imply that you now own those tasks.  Make sure everyone understands that you are just providing temporary help until someone else can take over those assignments.  Your job is to help make the organization survive and satisfy the needs of the customers/clients.  However, your life is not just about your job either.  Striking a balance between these two is the only way to enjoy life and your job.  Unfortunately, there is no one right answer other than to say that either extreme seems to be a poor choice.  So next time you see some small way you can help someone else out or perform a task that no one is doing, make a difference and pitch in, but don’t let others think that your willingness to help implies that you want to own every task either.

C’ya next time.

The Commute to Work Is Killing Me and You.

A recent article in the American Journal of Preventative Medicine points to a relationship between the amount of time spent driving to and from work and cardiovascular mortality. They did this study using over 4000 commuters in Dallas and Austin Texas.

Their study shows a high correlation between long commuter times and higher blood pressure. Really? Are they trying to imply that shouting at the other idiot drivers (it is always the other driver 🙂 ) might raise your blood pressure or that sitting in stop-and-go (okay mostly stop) traffic when you need to get somewhere is something less than relaxing. I’m hoping they did not spend a lot of money on that revelation and I certainly hope it wasn’t paid for with tax dollars.

They also say that there is a relation, but not as strong between longer commutes and increased waist size and BMI (body mass index). Again I must control my shock. After all, who would think that longer commutes which steal time during those precious few hours between work days might cause some people to prefer extravagances such as eating, sleeping and just relaxing a bit after a grueling day over boring exercise.

On the other hand, look around your neighborhood and count the number of people who hire lawn services to maintain their lawn just so they have time to go to the gym. Or how about those who hop into their car to go a couple blocks down the road to a convenience store to pick up something they forgot rather than walking or riding a bike. Okay, walking and riding a bike may not keep you safe from those idiot drivers you just yelled at on the way home, but that’s not the real point.

Here is my real point, actually several real points:

  • If you work in a job where you sit all day, get up occasionally and walk around the floor. If you are a manager, this might be a good way to keep in touch with what your staff really does during the day.
  • Take a break at lunch to walk around the block. Lunch is not just ‘the simple joy of lunch’ as in the McDonald’s commercial. It is also a chance to get some fresh air and let your mind regroup and process what you’ve been doing. You might even discover that a walk stimulates thinking of solutions to problems or breaking through that mental block on the report you are trying to write.
  • Walks also allow you to decompress from the work pressures you’ve been dealing with. Think about the ‘forced’ exercise programs that are part of the Japanese and Chinese corporate cultures.

Maybe they know something that we forgot. Is it possible that longer commutes could affects what people eat for supper? With less personal time, perhaps some people rely too much on fast food stops or frozen dinners that can be quickly nuked in your microwave. Between the salt and preservatives in both of these, they could also directly correlate to blood pressure and BMI issues.

The study did not compare the effect of long commutes where the commuter relied mostly on bus or train transportation. When commute times can be used to finish some last minute work, catch up on news, or just relax and decompress while someone else ‘drives’ is the effect on blood pressure reduced?

Could more companies offer the ability to work from home one or two days a week to their best performers. How much would this reduce blood pressure and encourage more healthy activity to keep employees fit and productive? (BTW, it would also reduce traffic congestion and need for more and bigger office complexes and reduce the cost of heating and air conditioning.)

Here’s to thinking (dreaming) outside of the box. C’ya next time.

The Revolving IT Door Starts to Spin

Recently our IT department lost two of its top leaders.  One was the head of IT who left for a position at a university in Texas.  The other was essentially the second in command who left for a different position within the organization, but not in IT.  In the past few months, we also had a lot of other people change position, more so than in any other period that I remember over the last eight years.  Most of the moves have been to get more money, not because they really wanted the new position or were unhappy in their old position.  I’ve had the opportunity (so to speak) to sit back and watch objectively while I wait in doctor’s offices while my wife investigates alternatives that might help her live with her cancer (there may not be a cure, but there may be a way for extended managing of this disease).  While I have an MBA and thus some background in looking at business issues and not just technical issues (which is why I alternate between a business blog and a technical blog), not many of my co-workers recognize that I just might have some insights to business issues.  But just in case they are reading, here is what I think is going on.

Over the last three years, salaries at our organization have been essentially frozen.  I know some of you might be thinking at least salaries were not cut, and I get that.  However, salaries at local public institutes like school districts have never been on par with business in general. Now the gap still exists, but is not quite as wide.   At one time people came here to work because of the greater benefits and the almost guarantee of a job.  Well, some dents have been put in those arguments lately as well although they are still better than at most businesses.  At one time, there was very little job stress in these positions.  Again, not true anymore.  Long days and extended workweeks are not uncommon.  In fact, using the terminology of the ‘Carrot a Day’ people (Adrian Gostick and Chester Elton) there are not a lot of carrots going around.  Some might say there is a famine.  Some of this is because there is little to no discretionary spending especially in the public sector where local newspapers are ready to pounce on the hint of any money spent to reward individual employees.  Some of this is because there is a fear of being taken to Human Resources because of treating some employees unfairly compared to others.  Some of it may even be because management just doesn’t recognize who their best performers are because they really don’t understand the work they do and effort expended to do it.  It doesn’t matter what the reason is, just that good performance often goes unrecognized and unrewarded.

As a result, good employees are faced with two options if they want to grow their career.  One option is to find someone within the organization to help them move to another position.  The other option is to look for a job in some other organization.  Both options are viable even in today’s economy, but both options result in a loss of knowledge and capability in their old department that could take months or years to replace.

A quick example of this is that during the eight years I’ve been with our organization, I seen 4 different heads of our IT department.  That is like one every two years.  However, between each one there has been a gap of between 6 months to a year to fill the position.  How beneficial is that for our organization’s strategic effectiveness?  Did some of them leave because similar positions in other organizations paid more for the same level of commitment?  Did some leave because there were not enough funds to ‘make a difference’ in our organization?  Or were there other reasons such as less stress or not being on call 24/7 for the same pay?

In any organization today that artificially limits salaries of anyone in IT below the average level in the industry for any given position and regardless of performance, especially when there have been few or no raises over the last several years and no year-end bonuses, cannot be surprised when they see their best employees start to leave?  I know the arguments.  They tell you the times are tough and there are few jobs out there.  But honestly, that is just not as true for IT as it may be for other areas in business.  IT always rallies first as businesses try to leverage their data to gain an advantage as the economy improves.  ‘Ride the wave’ so to speak.  For example, anyone with some experience looking for a job in BI (Business Intelligence) can probably get a new job fairly quickly.  So perhaps an indicator that times are improving is to look at how many of your top performers are leaving.

Top performers also look for new challenges, and if your organization has cut back on new exciting projects and have relegated the best people in the organization to maintenance tasks while giving the few fun new projects to consultants, is it really any surprise that they will leave as soon as the economy appears to pick up?  Do you have consultants come in to write applications and then turn the maintenance over to your internal staff?  Money is still tight.  But investment in the future as the economy begins to dig out of the doldrums it has been in for the last three years can separate the winners from the losers.  It is sort of like playing Monopoly.  One strategy is to buy as many of the ‘better’ properties as possible early in the game even if you don’t have a lot of money because holding those properties will give you an edge later.  Yes, that means buying certain blocks of properties, utilities, and or railroads depending on your personal strategy.  Employees want to be on a winning team, not just a team that ‘gets by’.

I’ve also heard both within our organization and from other organizations that there just isn’t money for training, or the alternative is that training employees just makes them more attractive to other organizations.  While money spent on training is a tricky subject, it is important to employees, especially in IT, to feel that they are not being left behind in their skills.  I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve upgraded my skill set over the years and almost every time I’ve paid to learn those skills with my own time and money.  If I hadn’t, I would still be looking for a job writing FORTRAN applications on large mainframe computers and there are not many of those.  The point is that employees will just as easily leave your organization if you don’t provide training than if you do.  Maybe even more likely to leave.  Think of training as a benefit.  Yes, you might have some employees leave after the training, but then probably your best performers would have left anyway if you did not provide the training.  At least by training employees, you might reap the benefits from those who do stay because they feel at least some loyalty to an organization who at least tries to help them to be happy in their jobs.  And being happy to a technical person is using the newest tools, languages and hardware to get their job done more efficiently, faster and with fewer problems so they can have a life outside of work too.  Yeah, even IT people sometimes want to have a life outside of work.  That is really best for their health and wellness, or as some may say, sanity.

It is too easy for management to hide behind the opinion that technical people like to work 24/7.  Most really don’t.  At the same time, they can and will put in extra time for interesting challenges or in exchange for some promised reward such as bonus, time off, more training, etc.  But don’t promise without delivery on those promises because that is a sure way to guarantee they will leave or take an ‘I don’t care’ attitude the next time you need something special.

One last point, if your technical people are constantly on call 24/7 so that they begin to feel that they are really working two jobs and getting paid for one just because management uses the phrase, ‘other tasks as assigned’ don’t expect loyalty.  Occasional overtime is one thing, even extended overtime with a promised reward can be tolerated.  However when overtime becomes the norm and daily expectation, you can also expect to see an exodus when the economy starts to improve.

So what are your plans?