At WACOSA, we daily commit ourselves to helping those we serve overcome employment barriers. WACOSA’s name actually includes the tagline, “Works”, below it. Our mission “to provide individuals with disabilities the opportunity to work and live in their community” places work first, signifying the importance of pursuing work that is meaningful, fulfilling and pays a wage in proportion to ability and productivity.
The focus on hard work and perseverance is taught to many of us from an early age and is often passed down from generation to generation. The recent initiatives by our state and federal governments – including Employment First, the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA), and changes in Home and Community Based Services (HCBS) spending and discussions of elimination of the special (sub) minimum wage – all have, at their heart, a focus on competitive, integrated employment as the first, best option for those we serve. This philosophy is developed in the American “work ethic” that emphasizes work satisfaction and the value of all citizens participating in their communities to express their unique abilities for the betterment of all.
This intense focus on work is often viewed as a priority for all Americans and strongly influences where we live and spend the majority of our lives. Former baseball player, Sam Ewing, once remarked, “Hard work spotlights the character of people; some turn up their sleeves, some turn up their noses, some don’t turn up at all”.
While it may not be politically correct to say these days, I sometimes wonder if our focus on work isn’t too out of proportion. When helping individuals prepare for and/or locate work, we emphasize work outcomes, pay, benefits, hours, essential functions, status and maintaining appropriate work relationships. Rarely, either locally or in my travels nationally, have I seen any significant focus placed on constructing a balanced work life that considers the importance of having fun where we work. It is important to remember that, for many Americans, a work environment where having fun is important may be a deciding factor in whether or not a job placement is an appropriate fit.
While I recognize that many of us derive satisfaction and enjoyment from our jobs, having fun in our day-to-day duties likely means more than just feeling good about the outcomes we produce. A light-hearted, fun environment that is focused on comradery and free from micro management and intense scrutiny can make the day pass faster and keep our attitudes and morale stronger. Such an environment fosters genuine staff and client team building, encourages natural supports and improves productivity and efficiency.
One question I am almost always asked when I interview for a new leadership position is about my style of leadership. In my early years as a leader, I could not have imagined emphasizing the critical role “fun” plays in the ultimate success of any operation and the durable bond it creates as a platform to attack future challenges. Having observed team dynamics at WACOSA and other organizations over the past 32 years, I am convinced more than ever of the indispensable nature of having fun to promote a balanced work life. Fortunately, the staff and clients throughout my career have tended to agree with my views.
In the past 3 decades, staff and clients of organizations in which I have worked have shown their love in many ways. They have wrapped my entire office in tin foil, flipped my office upside down, left dummies in my chair on Halloween and are never at a loss to give me a good ribbing when I’m out on the work floor.
A few years ago, I dressed as a pirate at the request of the WACOSA staff and clients, to promote United Way giving. When I stepped onto the work floor to greet WACOSA clients and staff, I shouted out, “Hello WACOSA”, in my best pirate voice. One client yelled back, “Screw you”, followed by a chorus of laughing by both WACOSA staff and clients for the now famous client who had the guts to say to WACOSA’s Executive Director what everyone else often wished they could say. I chuckled to myself and walked away thinking, “Now that was really funny”.