Posted on

Franklin Roosevelt Was Right

 

Franklin Roosevelt famously said, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” He was trying to calm the nation by pointing out that fear was making things worse as people struggled to find a way out of the Great Depression. His words are certainly applicable today. We need to calm down!

Yesterday, our university announced plans to move all classes online for the remainder of the semester and all meetings and events were cancelled due to fear of the coronavirus. Parents were jamming parking lots to gather up their (adult) children to move them home, and in the events office, we spent the afternoon cancelling arrangements for the many spring ceremonies, symposia, meetings, conferences, and donor gatherings that would normally take place between now and semester’s end.  The consolation for students who will now miss the final weeks of their college careers including awards recognitions, opportunities to compete in once-in-a-lifetime sporting competitions, and possibly even commencement, is knowing that one day their children will be able to earn master’s degrees by studying the panic of 2020.

On Monday we will report to work in an abandoned campus, but are being told to stay in our offices and not interact with others in person. As events planners, preparing for the unexpected is a routine part of what we do. We make and practice contingency plans for a wide variety of situations so implementing these measures is not a stretch. This problem will pass.

While prudent preparations to prevent disease are essential, what disappoints me is the hysterical response of many Americans to the situation. I thought we were made of sterner stuff. People aren’t really to blame, however, because irrational behavior is being fueled by fear-mongering out-of-control cable TV broadcasters and the non-stop distribution of social media disinformation. Print media is no better. In Thursday’s edition of “USA Today” it is not until 16 column inches into a front-page story with the terrifying headline, “We Have Rung the Alarm Bell” that we learn, “The new coronavirus, or COVID-19, causes only mild or moderate symptoms for most people, such as fever and cough, but can progress to serious illness including pneumonia, especially in older adults and people with existing health problems. WHO says mild cases last about two weeks, while most patients with serious illness recover in about three to six weeks.” The same description applies to seasonal flu from which the Centers for Disease Control tells us that so far during the 2019-2020 flu season, 16,000 people have died and 280,000 have been hospitalized. There is a vaccine for flu, yet if you asked most of the sky-is-falling types whether or not they bothered to get a flu shot this year, the answer would be no. Statistics say only 43.5 percent of Americans did so.

This morning I went on my usual Saturday grocery run for sushi and cat litter and was surprised to find jammed parking lots, masses of frantic people and bare shelves. Someone started the rumor that “they” want “us” to stock pile 45 days of groceries! People are rushing to do so. Why?  A sign limited purchases of giant bricks of toilet paper to no more than five per person. Each brick contains 30 rolls, if you purchased the five-brick limit, that’s 150 rolls of toilet paper. Astonishingly, they were disappearing faster than Tickle Me Elmo the week before Christmas. This is perplexing since there is no shortage of toilet paper in the U.S. In fact, Green Bay, Wisconsin is the toilet paper production capital of the world.  What’s more, the U.S. imports only 10 percent of the annual TP consumed, mostly from Canada and Mexico. Psychologists say this hoarding behavior is similar to squirrels stashing nuts for the winter. It pays to play it safe.

Shoppers were smearing handles, carts, hands, and anything else they might touch with sanitizing wipes. I overhead one man on the phone trying to ascertain if white vinegar would kill the bug. Mounds of used wipes were piled on the floor and there were signs on the doors saying the store would close at 8 p.m. to give workers a chance to restock shelves. I live in a community that has the highest percentage of Ph.Ds. per capita of any city in the southeastern United States. Obviously, advanced education does not correlate with common sense.

Now we are all hunkered down in our houses, confined with our pets and relatives, surrounded by boxes and cans of shelf-stable food that no one really likes, and what’s worse, has to be cooked.  There’s nothing to do but perhaps build a fort with all those rolls of toilet paper. Since I wasn’t one of the lucky ones who arrived in time to purchase TP, I’ll take comfort in knowing that I can rip up my hard copy editions of “USA Today” to serve the purpose in case of emergency. I’m not sure what happens next. I guess we wait until Glenda the Good Witch appears to tell us munchkins it’s safe to come out from our hiding places. In the meantime, I’m going to pour a cup of tea and re-read Edgar Allen Poe’s “Mask of the Red Death.”

 

Posted on

Experience A Better Employee Awards Ceremony

Spring semester often includes employee recognition events honoring years of service which means people are given thank-you gifts of ad specialty products ranging from coffee mugs to key rings to cheap watches. This year, supplies may be disrupted because coronavirus has idled factories in China, the place where many logoed tchotchkes originate.  The cut-off of these goods gives us the opportunity to hit the reset button and find more environmentally friendly, creative, and useful ways to show loyal employees appreciation. While service award ceremonies often get short shrift from events planners because they fall into the category of routine annual events, these occasions may be the only recognition a person receives for his or her efforts. We need to make the day truly special. Here are some gift ideas that are far better than a plaque, certificate, another tee shirt, plastic water bottle, or portable cell phone charger, and that will actually be used and appreciated.

Shop on campus. Research shows that Millennials, the generation that will comprise the majority of your 1-5 year honorees, don’t want more stuff. Instead, they want to experience new things. Ditch the car coffee mugs and look no further than your own campus for goodies this group will enjoy. Collect a selection of things like tickets to campus theatre, music, and athletic events, concerts, vouchers for food courts and dining halls, coffee shops, and the bookstore. Let people pick from the selection to enjoy a gift that will give them a campus experience that interests them.   

Some people do want stuff, so supplement from inventory on hand. Not everyone wants an experience so do plan to provide options. Select items from your bookstore, or visit the events office gift closet. Often we have odds and ends of high-end gift items that were purchased for specific occasions. Currently our gift closet includes logoed cutting boards, pad folios, good quality pens, etched stemless wine glasses, umbrellas, and autographed books by faculty authors. There is insufficient quantity of any of these things to use at a future event, but because they are high-quality and aren’t labeled with a specific event name or date, they would make nice additions to the recognition gift table. As a bonus, you’re recycling instead of throwing items away or warehousing them indefinitely.

More service? Bigger prize. Beginning with 10 years of service, employees are often given more expensive items. Sadly these frequently include versions of outmoded prizes no one really wants like framed photos of campus buildings, key rings, logoed paperweights, cheap acrylic trophies, business card holders, and fancy pad folios.  All too often, these gifts become bookcase clutter or junk-drawer dandruff. (Not to mention that many categories of employees have no use for office sit-arounds because their work stations are not desks.)  Instead, reward employees who have more years of service with things like a certificate for professional development or a continuing education class, a fitness center membership, an upgrade to a stand-up desk, a uniform voucher, or a generous bookstore gift certificate. How about a personal day off (or two) that doesn’t need to be charged to vacation time?

Give long-time employees what they really want. At our school, employees with more than 25 years used to receive a logoed wooden rocking chair. While this was a pricey prize, it pleased some but offended many and the concept is definitely passé in 2020! Of course, the longest serving employees deserve the best gifts. How about giving something that everyone on campus covets–an annual parking pass or a reserved parking place for a year? Perhaps season tickets to his or her favorite sport or VIP passes to your school’s premier concert or special occasion.  Now those are gifts worth receiving!

Employee recognition is important. Research shows that employees who feel appreciated, recognized, and valued are more loyal, work harder, and have less turnover so it is important to personalize the occasion for each honoree. An effective way to give individuals a moment in the spotlight is to stage your ceremony like a commencement. Call each individual’s name as he or she walks onstage, shakes hands with the president, and has a photo taken. Distribute the photos digitally with a personalized note of appreciation. Serve refreshments while honorees browse the gift tables and make their selections. Your honorees will thank you and you’ll never go back to ball caps and cell phone grips again!

For more tips about planning a meaningful ceremony, click on the special events tab on my web site,  http://correctoncampus.com.