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Worry is a universal language in the workplace

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Wednesday, Jan. 9, 2013, 12:01 a.m.

Last week, I was in a place where they speak Papiamentu, a lilting Creole amalgamation of Spanish, Dutch and sometimes Portuguese, sprinkled with dabs of English that makes you want to grab a stool and listen, even though you have no idea what they're saying.

I especially like the adjective “dushi,” which means pleasing, sweet or delightful.

Most also speak fluent English and Spanish.

But at my hotel, another language was palpable: worry.

Just days before and apparently out of the blue, new management had taken over. Despite assurances that everything will be fine, employees are uneasy. Can you blame them?

For many of them, the hotel has been their home since it opened in 2010.

No one knows the daily routine like these workers. No one knows better the nooks and crannies where washed up ocean debris hides, where sidewalks lead and stairwells end. No one can better anticipate and soothe upset guests.

And yet, they worry that new management will take away their livelihood. It is their personal fiscal cliff.

In America, 74 percent of workers say they are concerned that our fiscal cliff will lead to layoffs, according to a survey conducted in December by Lee Hecht Harrison.

Workers around the globe fear for their jobs for various reasons ­— from new management to new technology, trends that make their work obsolete and a government that can't work out a deal to help stabilize the economy.

This is a good time to remind you of the precautions you've heard me write about the past 25 years but hold particular meaning these days. They include the following:

• Don't assume that everything will go along as it is.

• Always observe how technological trends and social changes can affect your career. Be focused on the new skills and knowledge you need to add to support those changes.

• Assume you don't know everything you need to know. Always be thinking about what to research to enrich your skills.

• Don't be afraid to offer your two cents and make sure others in your company and industry know your good reputation. Speak up when you have something to contribute.

And for the hotel workers in particular, hope that Arthur Ochs Sulzberger was right.

Washington Post Chairman Donald E. Graham, in eulogizing Sulzberger, said the former New York Times publisher once said that the playing field for family-owned newspaper companies would change at some point. Sulzberger added: “I just hope the new managers will be a little bit broader than just looking at the numbers.”

You never know what will happen. As you enter another year of uncertainty, take a cue from the people I met recently at our hotel, the ones who worry about their future but nevertheless treated us with a generous spirit and deep care for our well-being.

Even though their work there may be uncertain, they took great satisfaction in the job they were doing at that moment — the only thing they could control.

They seemed to forget about what they are afraid of ­— the future that isn't yet here. They seemed to be paying full attention so that they and we could have a dushi day.


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