Share your Sense of [Work] Place

How can you share the productive atmosphere and emotional good health of a place of Ho‘ohana workfulness (like yours)?

We have a problem and I am asking for your help.

This week’s BusinessWeek feature is one I find affecting me quite deeply. It is called The Lost Generation, and it speaks of a growing, and critical concern: The unemployment scarring of our recent graduates and youth.

Bright, eager—and unwanted. While unemployment is ravaging just about every part of the global workforce, the most enduring harm is being done to young people who can’t grab onto the first rung of the career ladder.

Affected are a range of young people, from high school dropouts, to college grads, to newly minted lawyers and MBAs across the developed world from Britain to Japan. One indication: In the U.S., the unemployment rate for 16- to 24-year-olds has climbed to more than 18%, from 13% a year ago.

For people just starting their careers, the damage may be deep and long-lasting, potentially creating a kind of “lost generation.”

If you are just now hearing of this, preview the 6 minute video for an overview, and think about this statistic: 46% of those aged 16 ”“ 24 in the U.S. population do not have jobs ”“ this is their lowest level of employment since records were kept in 1948.

This is not the generational shift we were expecting

We need not go too far back in our memory to recall some of the things we worried about before the recessionary economy became this black cloud smothering everything, tossing all else aside into the land of the unimportant and forgotten. One of those things was the aging of the Boomer generation, not yet ready to retire, but also growing in their impatience for some second act that would reinvent old notions of retirement and give them the good life they yearned for. We (I’m a Boomer too) were tired, and we wanted to get off the daily treadmill we’d long been on. Back then, we worried that we would not have a younger, fresher workforce numerous enough to replace the experience and talent drain to come.

It is shocking to me that we now ignore the very same youth we had placed our hopes upon just four or five short years ago.

Equally important, employers are likely to suffer from the scarring of a generation. The freshness and vitality young people bring to the workplace is missing. Tomorrow’s would-be star employees are on the sidelines, deprived of experience and losing motivation.

We must do something, and act quickly.

As the days of October tick by, we have recent graduates who have now been unoccupied ”“ no longer in school, and without the jobs they’d hoped for ”“ for anywhere from five to twenty-two months, some longer. What are they doing besides passing time?

In far too many cases, the answer is, “Nothing.”

They are not learning to join the ranks of the “gainfully employed” or “productively occupied” or “newly accomplished” adults who they should be replacing.

Hawai‘i business, large and small, profit and non-profit, struggling and prosperous, I beseech you to get involved in this issue and do something about it.

If you cannot afford to hire (and I know most of you feel you can’t right now) get more creative. Replace “can’t hire” with “can somehow productively engage.” Open your workplaces and give our youth something to do, and a place in which they can feel valued as they continue to learn, and graduate from school into society.

A few quick ideas:

  • Incorporate payment by sales commission into your business model
  • Package your out-sourcing in small task bundles you can offer to college career counselors to pass on to their graduates
  • Design an internship program
  • Create a volunteer army
  • Sponsor a series of community clean-up weekends
  • Offer free “this would be your training if you worked here” classes in the evenings when your normal operations shut down, and propose they adapt lessons learned in class project initiatives
  • Offer a real-life option to enrolling in an MBA program: Illustrate how fledgling entrepreneurs can serve you, by designing challenges enterprising solos can fulfill for you
  • Mentor mastermind groups or provide a place (and ear) for “ready-to-work and still looking” groups to huddle and support each other

I know you can think of more.

A word on Legality; it is not our biggest barrier

“Free-market economists favor removing obstacles to employment of the young, such as high minimum wages. “The government in some ways is contributing to this problem,” says Kristen Lopez Eastlick, senior research analyst for the employer-backed Employment Policies Institute. She points out that the 40% hike in the federal minimum wage over the past two years made it less appealing to hire young workers.”

While the BusinessWeek feature does mention formidable barriers to entry, such as the minimum wage, I am writing this to you today because I truly believe that our stuck thinking is the biggest barrier: We must wake up to this issue, and be willing to get personally involved with more creative solutions. We can affect the changes we need to see happen.

Be generous, be creative, and be brave. If you have any “yeah-but” legal concerns to throw at me, I really don’t want to hear them. Ho‘ohana: Make this happen.

Most of the laws we in business use as “but we can’t” justifications are the excuses of laziness, mental efforts out to lunch, or a shirking of moral responsibility. Many of the laws we worship are way behind the times, having been on the books for years before this recession (and before our “Lost generation” was even born). If we are to survive with a healthier society, we cannot allow archaic laws to stop us.

This is not a legal problem, but a moral and human problem. I am not saying to break the law, but damn right, I am saying get smart and work around perceived legal hurdles instead of simply shrugging your shoulders and saying you can’t. And I daresay that the good people within our legal system have far better battles to fight that against an employer who is doing what he or she can to better engage with the generation representing society’s hope for the future.

One more thing:
Be pono. I am not proposing sneaky loopholes taken by recessionary opportunists either. Keep your ethics in check, and if you can afford to compensate people you better do so ”“ it’s the right thing to do.

October 19th: An update and point of clarity:
I have been asked via an email response to this posting how I personally feel about the minimum wage issue brought up in the BusinessWeek feature, and I think I should clarify this section with my response being posted here as well.

My feeling, within my State of Hawai‘i frame of reference, and in light of the cost of living here, is that the minimum wage should not be dropped and is still too low. While I appreciate (and personally deal with) the fact that we struggle with operating in a State infamous for its entrepreneurial expense and difficulty (both legal and governmental), business people have to get smarter about creating cash flow and looking at costs other than wages. If your compensation levels do not give people a good standard of living, your business model is broken, flawed in a very basic way. That said, we do people no favors if we hand out money: I believe in the wisdom of the parable which says, “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach him how to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.” (Ref: Values, Principles, and now, Virtue)

What I ask in this posting, is that you think about the largesse within the word compensation IF you feel that affecting equitable wage levels is presently outside your circle of influence. I use the word compensation and not wages similar to how I feel Ho‘ohana is much, much larger than job and career.

Sense of [Work] Place

I started by asking, How can you share the productive atmosphere and emotional good health of a place of Ho‘ohana workfulness?

Remember: Ho‘ohana [our Hawaiian value of work] is not just about ‘job.’ Ho‘ohana is about worthwhile work being done, whether you are compensated for your work monetarily or in another way.

If you are now employed, focus for a moment on everything you might enjoy about your situation: What good surrounds you in your place of work? Who are you able to meet, talk story with, and otherwise engage with? What are you able to learn, just by merit of being there, soaking up the atmosphere that a workplace is so vibrantly and dynamically charged with?

These are the seemingly intangible things that we who now are blessed with work enjoy in our Sense of Workplace. We take these things for granted, not realizing just how much they add to our well-being. Ask anyone who has lost their job recently, and they will describe what they miss to you in very vivid terms. These workplace benefits are the spirit-boosters, motivators, and sense of belonging fortifiers that our unemployed Lost Generation is missing out on, and they do not need a full-time, fully compensated job in the traditional or conventional sense to feel some of it.

I know, that you know how to share this if you give it more thought.

Why is this a management post?

Regular readers know that I post on management issues each Thursday. I feel this as a perfect fit and not an exception. This is both a leadership and management issue (we have said that leadership creates energy, and management channels it), but it is something that great management needs to make a breakthrough with, particularly in larger organizations where there is a titular distinction between the managers and the leaders.

Preferring to look at them as action verbs (as you know I do): Management makes room in existing systems and processes within a business for leadership ideas to find fertile ground in which they can seed, take root, and flourish.

This is an issue in which great managing must open doors to possibility, and be willing to toss out the old way in favor of the new. Many times, leaders hesitate to rock the hold management has on the boat, and that is especially true today, when many businesses have become more streamlined than they ever imagined they could be.

Come on Alaka‘i managers: Let’s do this, and rock our own boat. If there was ever a time for Hawai‘i to lead the way as we often say we can, it is right now.


  1. says

    Lead on, Hawaii! I mean that.

    I am an Aussie Gen Xer who experienced the early and mid-80s as deserts devoid of career possibilities and potentials, so I can feel a smidgen of what these Gen Ys are facing. It took until the late 90s for me to find my feet. That should not happen to them.

    • Rosa Say says

      Aloha Pete! So good to see you my friend.
      You know me Pete; I brought this over from another copy written for The Honolulu Advertiser, thus the Hawai‘i specificity, but having this on Talking Story means I fully intend to go global with our attentions on this!

      Others have reminded me of those desolate times you refer to, and we have to share those lessons learned, preventing a repeat performance. And here, on OUR Ho‘ohana Community, we lead together well! It brought such light and joy to my evening to see you here again.

    • Rosa Say says

      David, I am fond of saying that management and leadership is a cakewalk next to parenting, and I have found the past year to be one of the most challenging of all (my daughter is 25 and my son is 22, both graduated this past May), even with all my very intimate connections to business! I am feeling deeply for parents right now, wanting to have conversations about this with their children, with both sides finding it exceptionally difficult no matter the strength of their relationship: It’s uncharted territory.

  2. says

    Rosa, This is a wonderful idea, one I can relate to as a parent and, similarly to Pete, as a young man who entered the workforce in the late 1970’s when the economy was perhaps in even worse shape than it is now. Young people add energy and creativity to any workplace; I’m glad to report that three of my clients recognize this and are actively engaged in bringing recent grads into their companies.

    • Rosa Say says

      Those 70’s memories are a reason I am so vehement in my insistence that there are answers to this issue Brad, and my feelings we just have to be more aware of it and more proactive. I entered the workforce at the same time, and I did not have any difficulty because of a college internship that deliberately put a solid foundation in place and easy to cross bridge between me and my prospective employer. I do not believe I was lucky: It was a planned strategy within an exceptional partnership between my university and the business community in place at the time – and what alarms me is that I no longer see this happening in Hawai‘i even though we have had a history of past successes.

      Bravo about your clients: One of the things I have committed myself to doing is publishing more success stories that we can learn from – and flagrantly steal ideas from. Let me know if I can give any of your clients a voice on any of our Ho‘ohana Community platforms.

  3. says

    Rosa, as serious as this is a problem for this age group, there is another age group (those 40 plus) with an equally serious problem. The group of 40+ are the ones recently targeted for reductions in force because they are “older” (i.e. purportedly less flexible) and more expensive workers, despite the fact that they have the experience and know how to navigate better in tough times.

    Let’s make a difference but not by picking one group over another, or pitting one against the other. We are all in this situation, directly or indirectly and we need to help each other.

    One analogy I use frequently in discussing Franklin Matters is that our priority should not be which size of pie each should get, when what we really need is a larger pie.

    In times of tough business, and this is a world wide problem, we all need to be creative in our solutions. We need to be mindfull of the return on investment. We need to ensure that we make a difference for the company so that the companies can grow and expand to hire more.

    By way of disclosure, I was affected by a reduction in force in Nov 2008 and have just recently (Oct 2009) returned to the workplace with a short term project. One action I have underway for those in the Attleboro, MA and Providence, RI area is to hold a “Laid Off Camp”. The LaidOff Camp will take the unconference model of peer-to-peer learnign to the unemployed. The event will be held November 7th and more can be found on the LaidOff Camp web site.
    .-= Steve Sherlock ´s last blog ..Logo transition =-.

    • Rosa Say says

      Your point about other generational demographics is well taken Steve; it was also brought up in earlier comments here by the #FridayFlash community conversing about my Hibernation 2009 posting (if you’d like to take a look). Another group: Those who have had their retirement plans decimated by the recession, with their increasing age an unrelenting reminder that they must continue to prove their health will not deteriorate and add to employer health cost concerns.

      Believe me, I have no intention of “picking one group over another, or pitting one against the other.” We Ho‘ohana Kākou; tackling this together, with Aloha, and with Lōkahi, the value of collaboration and harmony to guide us. I have an abundance mentality about this!

      What I am personally doing, is choosing two audiences where I know my own circle of influence is more effective than not (business ”“ the employer and entrepreneurial side of it, and education, particularly the administrators within academia) rather than taking a scatter-shot approach and being less effective. I see that you are doing the same thing with your level of involvement, and Steve, you are one of those people I often use an example, because you don’t just write and talk about this stuff, you get out there to effect action in a very hands on way — thank you for sharing that link with us.

      I thoroughly agree with you that this is also about creativity: It is time for “yes we can” thinking versus “yeah, but” thinking.

  4. says

    Rosa, This is so important and timely, and I thank you for highlighting this issue. Just yesterday I sat with one of my former students–a young man in his mid 20s who has been battered and bruised by a demeaning and unproductive job search, and as he said, “I just needed to talk to someone who believes in me.” Let’s lead the way in trying to find ways to bring talented young men and women into our worklives in any way we can!

    • Rosa Say says

      Exactly Kirsten, exactly. I had written this in my Teaching with Aloha counterpart to this article: From Schoolyard to Workplace ”“ Successfully

      I ask you to get involved in whatever way you can within your own circle of influence, even if that ‘circle’ is as small and tight as the realistic coaching conversation between you as teacher and one of your students. I’ve been talking to many of them, and they are feeling very alone. Many are not turning to their parents for help, for they are watching them struggle in battles of their own.

      We vastly underestimate the positive effect of more frequent conversations – talking story can achieve wonders!

      Over the years, I have refused to give in to the push-back I get from managers about the Daily 5 Minutes for a similar reason. They will say, “But Rosa, I talk to my people all the time ”“ we talk every day!” and it may be true, but what is the quality of the conversation? Talking at people and preaching to them is dramatically different from listening to them and being willing to let conversations be emotionally revealing versus keeping them “professional.” This is an emotionally charged issue, and we need to be willing to have more conversations so we can better at them, enabling them to reveal solutions.

      I loved the conversation we had about this at JJL: Learning to Listen with The Daily Five Minutes

  5. Karl Nitsch says

    Hi Rosa –
    My kids are
    25 – now in a 1 year teachers’ college program
    22 – apprentice electrician after dropping out of a college music program
    19 – on a double extended ‘summer student’ job with a government department

    So, I’m in the middle of this. Plus, my wife is looking for ‘a job’ and I’m expanding my business and looking for a second ’employee’.

    I’ve done some thinking lately and I’d like to throw some conclusions and opportunities out for discussion.

    This system of ‘capitalism’ sucks.

    So does the opposite ‘communism’, and all the other isms that I can think of, because they are all monstrous parasites on the individual. They are like the Greek Procrustes, stretching or chopping their hapless victims to fit arbitrary roles.

    Can ‘the system’ be patched? I don’t think so. Every generation is scarred in some way, and most of us end up like Winston, the protagonist in Orwell’s 1984 – we love our oppressor.

    Unfortunately, my high school history classes taught me that revolutions only occur when there are rising expectations, so a depressing’ climate like the present leaves us all wringing our hands in helplessness.

    Bless you Rosa for taking up the fight.

    What we can do first of all is recognize that no organization – governmental, business, religious, or other is going to act in our best interest. The organization acts to preserve itself – to maintain its own integrity. When crunch time comes, the individuals inside and outside of it are expendable, replaceable and invisible.

    We are responsible for our own fate.

    What we can do next is to step away from those organizations and systems that are oppressing us as far and as fast as possible. Money, laws, customs, who do they serve? Step back, analyse and choose.

    The enemy of man is civilization. It’s time to step past it. I think the best way forward is a step back.

    We can deal best with people as individuals. As members of a clan. The internet allows us to be members of any number of clans. Within the clan, people can care for each other, support each other and work with each other.

    We will do things because we choose to. Because we love to. Because we love each other. Not to purchase goods that never quite meet our needs. Not to pay taxes for services that never quite serve. Not to pay interest on loans that amounts to indentured servitude.

    You are not your job. You are a human being with innate dignity. You are a unique, free, fully empowered individual, not a beggar.

    • Rosa Say says

      My goodness Karl, you give me much to think about, for essentially, my MWA mission is about the value by value reinvention of organizational dynamics: My everyday work is about shaping work culture so it will be healthier.

      You gave me a memory of my dad with this:

      “What we can do first of all is recognize that no organization ”“ governmental, business, religious, or other is going to act in our best interest.”

      He phrased it this way: “No job will ever love you back” and I began to agree by merit of my own work experience until I arrived at the aha! moment that, “your Ho‘ohana can love you back, and love everyone, and everything else too.”

      Hana ~ work
      Ho‘o ~ make something happen
      Ho‘ohana ~ make work happen as a Hawaiian value of living well
      within our sense of place
      Labor Day Aloha

      I think you and I are reaching the same conclusions (the ending half of your comment), and what I want people to know is that what we propose is very realistic, very possible, and not just some woo-woo dreaming.

      Bottom line: If we work on strengthening the individual (much in the spirit of your comment) we can’t go wrong. Healthy organizations are collections of healthy people.

  6. Karl Nitsch says

    Rosa, you are beautiful.
    Organizations have to be reenvisioned on a human level. On a level where they can love us back. Ho’ohana indeed. Ho’ohana has to be taught and spread. How about a viral video on youtube?

    As a species, I think we are on the cusp of something new – a point where our brains and accumulated wisdom can pull us out of mere ‘survival mode’.

    When I read your posts I marvel at the technologies that you have developed for creating a nurturing loving empowering work environment.

    What we don’t need any longer is the incredible amount of energy that goes into organizational overhead and keeping people in line.

    And above all, there has to be fun in our lives, and the sparkle of mischief in our eyes.

    • Rosa Say says

      Good thoughts Karl, and thank you ”“ it is a beautiful blessing for me being on your team too.

      Viral video” While I adore giving presentations (one of my favorite things!) I do have to get much better in the video department. It’s been a suggestion my follow-up is long overdue on (If Phil Gerbyshak reads this you can bet he’ll be rolling his eyes at me). Meanwhile, I do think Ho‘ohana has had some traction, thanks to those who’ve enthusiastically jumped into the conversations of our Ho‘ohana Community; the encouragement keeps me going like that Energizer Bunny, so thank you for adding your voice to the music.

      I concur with your insight, that “As a species, I think we are on the cusp of something new”” thus my optimism though this posting presents an issue of crisis proportions, and “the incredible amount of energy that goes into organizational overhead and keeping people in line” IS energy, and thus we can redirect it! Your last line, was one I tweeted earlier this morning before running off to an appointment so more people could be sure to read it (Twitter is my viral-tipping until I finally do video”)

  7. says

    Our previous head of Human Resources was often said to be talking about type 1 people and type 2 people. I don’t know where the types came from, but we knew that by type 1 people he meant people motivated only by money. They’d work for money and if they got a job for ten cents more somewhere else they’d be gone like this morning’s coffee. The type 2 people were those who worked for job satisfaction, feeling appreciated, and feeling like they made a difference. Obviously they wanted money too, but it wasn’t their prima mobilia. We all valued type 2 people because WE were mostly type 2 people. We were in retail and still are. In retail there’s always somewhere within two blocks that pays marginally better. It’s easy to lose the type 1 people to someone else.

    The telling part though was how many people would lose their job with us either by leaving or being shown the door, who wanted to come back. One of the best things about working under the previous head of HR was that he recognized that there was much more to a job than the benefits package and paycheck and he tried to make people feel valued. He didn’t pretend he cared about us, he really DID care about us, and it showed in how he talked with us and treated us. It showed in how he stayed in touch after he went on to another job… not for more money, he wasn’t a type 1 person.

    There are so many ways to pay people without touching the check book. I credit him with having taught me a lot of them. We worked really well together and the two of us spent a lot of years working hard to decrease turn-over and increase employee satisfaction within the confines of the payroll budget. I think he’d have loved to join into the conversation here, and had we not lost track of each other early last year I”d send him the link. I’d be eager to see his input.
    .-= Rich G. ´s last blog ..Fireside chats =-.

    • Rosa Say says

      Such a meaty comment Rich! So much here” “Obviously they wanted money too” is worth remembering for a future post’s discussion separately I think” a follow-up to this oldie but goodie: Money isn’t evil; we can learn from our mistakes. Money as motivator versus basic civil currency is always a good talk story to have with keeping our assumptions from clouding our better judgment.

      For now, this is the part of your comment which I feel we can learn immediately from: “We all valued type 2 people because WE were mostly type 2 people.” To me that is wise and not at all elitist, for no organizational culture can be all things to all people, and you need to choose your core values and stand up for them unapologetically. Of course there is balance, with valuing diversity and embracing “fresh blood” but there is a core grounding which is so essential.

      How does that connect to the subject at hand? This economic shift and generational adjustment means that we have to reevaluate our core values and recommit to them with a newly articulated language of intention. Going back to what Karl and I were talking about, what is the Ho‘ohana we now value, and how will it help us grow in these challenging times?

      I too would love to here from your previous head of HR on the topic; however I am also thrilled that his teaching lives on and is shared through your voice Rich ”“ and I bet he would be too.

      By the way – I took your last blog link to Fireside chats and the reading made me do my little hula dance of joy :-)

  8. says

    Looking back on my move into the workforce, what I missed most in my education was this sense of workplace. The effort to find a job (and act like it is a career-track placement) is so great, the opportunity to experiment and discover what would be a good match is reduced–and now graduates are likely to have loan repayment burdens my crowd did not. If there was more room for part-time starting positions, or “tours” of an industry, or paid internships, I’ll bet in the long run it would mean reduced turnover. And the kids would have a broader view of the workplace.
    .-= Ann Marie ´s last blog ..The Trouble with Thrillers =-.

    • Rosa Say says

      It’s a win-win Ann Marie, for employers/businesses can benefit from more voices as well. When I do my culture coaching, I love to focus on that question, “What’s in it for me?” giving people explicit permission to do so, because I want them to focus on the benefits they can reap from making these additional efforts ”“ for they are extra effort (at least for now, and until we inculcate them into work cultures as new processes) and so the incentive must be seen before it can be touched.

      I too am getting more and more enamored of this “sense of workplace” phrase as we continue to use it, for it attaches to so much sensory perception about what we can effect. Thank you so much for being part of the conversation Ann Marie; your experience is valuable sharing.


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