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National Association of Counties * Washington, DC            Vol. 30, No. 23 * December 7, 1998

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Advice from the 'Dog House'

Harry Truman told us that in Washington and, indeed in politics in general, if you want a true friend you’d better buy a dog. In a recent conversation with my dog, Kamala, she offered me advice, which I thought I would share with you. The HR Doctor tries to keep up with the latest techniques to improve an organization’s health. My dog serves as a research assistant providing me with her best advice. Here is some of Kamala’s best …

Most colleagues at work "want to please." Treat them with respect and care about their development and growth and they will reward you by following your instructions, achieving the results you seek and being dependable.

Let employees out every so often. By this, Kamala means that constant demands for overtime and a "sweat shop" approach to work in any public agency will fail. It will breed unrest, claims of unfair treatment and inappropriate behavior.

Kamala points out that by letting people out to play, supporting time off to recognize and reward achievement, and time just to rest or pursue personal interests such as school or vacation helps energize people and make them more productive at work.

The same concept applies to opportunities to relieve stress. The stress associated with major projects or changes in an agency can be reduced by keeping people informed. Tell them the truth. Have periodic retreats or staff meetings in unusual settings to allow people to use their creativity and contribute to the work product. Sharing major change with others helps everybody anticipate what will happen and adjust quicker and more positively.

"Chasing your tail" is not a productive activity, warns Kamala. In other words, working without a sense of purpose, direction or progress is wasteful. Managers would do well to share their "visions" of the work outcomes with employees, and develop milestones or benchmarks to measure progress along the way.

Reward and praise. Kamala is quick to point out that positive reinforcement and recognition make a great difference in attitude. The manager who walks by people without greeting them, who interrupts instead of listening, and who generally projects an uncaring attitude hurts morale and, ironically, hurts his or her own ability to succeed as a manager in the long run.

It is better to spend a few minutes stopping to say hello to an employee, to ask how their work is going and to ask "what can I do to help?"

Recognizing success in achieving work objectives by an office lunch or stopping at a colleague’s desk to say thank you are simple techniques that produce great returns on the "investments."

Kamala often takes me for a walk in the sense that in our daily walks she is often pulling at her leash to move me in a new direction. The analogy here is that standing still is inconsistent with making progress. Exploring new areas can be risky and scary since it involves the unknown. However, it is also exciting and necessary for a happy career and achieving personal and professional objectives.

Many times I wake up early in the morning with a sense that someone is watching me. I then find Kamala at the side of the bed, sitting down, with her tail wagging and her chew toy in her mouth. The message is clear. Make time for exercise and time for fun.

Work objectives will not be achieved without attention to personal fitness, reasonable moderation in eating and drinking, thinking twice about smoking and always wearing a seatbelt in a vehicle. These are prescriptions for personal health and, on a large scale, organizational health.

Finally, Kamala’s enthusiasm and obvious joy at greeting me when I come home from a long day at work is a metaphor for the rewards, which are out there when you finish a hard, but also a productive day.

Pet therapy was a medical folklore for a long time. Now, however, it is well established that having a pet contributes to fun, health and productivity. It won’t be long before even government agencies will occasionally let such friends spend time at work advising and comforting their colleagues. You only have to look at service dogs for the disabled to realize how wonderful such friends can be. As many police agencies can also attest, dogs and horses are often already in the workplace.

HR Doctor

(If you have questions for the "HR Doctor," e-mail him at Rosenberg is the Human Resources director for Broward County, Fla.)

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