The Pronoun Problem

We

(Photo credit: Mike Kanert)

What to do about gender neutrality?

It was so easy when I was growing up. We were taught that “he” referred to all humans, of either sex, and we believed it.

In fact it didn’t and, as an excellent analysisI just came across points out, throughout history it hardly ever has. (Carolyn Jacobson, the University of Pennsylvania graduate assistant who wrote the piece I just linked to back in 1995, uses this wonderfully oddball example to prove that we don’t read “he” as referring to both men and women: “The average American needs the small routines of getting ready for work. As he shaves or blow-dries his hair or pulls on his pantyhose, he is easing himself by small stages into the demands of the day.”)

In fact, the use of “man” and male pronouns to refer to human beings reflects a society in which men are the only beings considered fully human. As the second wave of feminism came along to spread this news, we looked for alternatives. It was relatively simple to substitute “human” for “man” and “humanity” (or even “people”) for “men.” But the problem of singular pronouns—what to do about “he” and “his”—was a much greater one. The problem first arose sometime in the 1970s. Forty-plus years later, we still haven’t figured out how to deal with it.

What to do about gender neutrality?

First, some ground rules. Some folks are still on the fence about this. Hold-outs continue to use “he” as a universal pronoun. But every major stylebook advises against it, and I, personally, think it is inexcusable.

“He” and “him” refer to a man, a boy, or a male animal. Period. You can no more use “he” to refer to people of both sexes than you can use “boy” to refer to a grown African-American man. This is not something anyone should have a choice about anymore–it is part of the evolution of our understanding about human rights and the role language plays in creating—or shutting down—change.

Beyond that, however, you have some choices. Sadly, none of them is very good:

1. You can replace he with “he or she” and him with “him or her.” He or she who hesitates is lost.

2. You can skip the “or” and say “he/she,” “him/her,” or opt for a slimmed down look and say “s/he” (which, however, begs the question of what to do about “him” and “her”). S/he who hesitates is lost.

3. You can try to re-write the sentence completely to leave out pronouns: The person who hesitates is lost.

4. You can turn every problematic singular sentence into a plural one: Those who hesitate are lost.

5. In certain contained circumstances, you can alternate the use of “he” and “she:”

A person who isn’t quite sure what to do next has several choices:

  • She can consider her options carefully, and make a thoughtful decision..
  • He can ask others for advice.
  • She can hesitate, and be lost.

The problem is, solutions like these are cumbersome at best, unworkable at worst. “He or she,” which is more clear than alternating the use of “he” and “she,” and just slightly more professional and formal than “s/he,” can result in impossibly convoluted language, especially when it involves other pronoun forms. Consider:

“Every employee should talk to his or her manager about what he or she needs to do in order to complete his or her project.” It’s enough to make the writer gag and the reader jump off his or her ledge.

Option four, re-writing a sentence to turn it from singular to plural, is the one I see recommended most often, but it works better in some cases than in others. “Employees should talk to their managers about what they need to do in order to complete their projects,” is not too bad, except for the possible confusion about whether individual employees each have multiple managers or projects or just one apiece. But compare these alternatives:

Every man must listen to his conscience, following the voice in his head.

All people must listen to their consciences, following the voices in their heads.

Not only does the original sentence lose quite a bit of poetic (if clichéd) punch in the pluralized version, it veers dangerously close to a prescription for mass schizophrenia.

Reader, there is a fifth option. It’s in common use informally, but represents a radical step for formal grammar and is far from universally accepted. Nonetheless, it is out there, being debated and approved by even some among the grammatical establishment. It’s the use of the singular “they.”

The fact is, as grammarians will point out, the singular “they” (if a person hesitates, they are lost) has been around for a long time. As Arnold notes in the link above, it can be found in the works of Shakespeare, Austen and Dickens, among others. The arguments against its use seem to have originated in the same misguided attempts to mold English around Latin that led to the now-abandoned  argument against splitting infinitives.

The singular “they” allows us to put away convoluted attempts to neutralize gender in one swift move, no muss, no fuss. Although it can sound odd, I have gradually come to the conclusion that it is the most elegant solution we English-speakers have to this problem-that-will-not-die.

That doesn’t mean I use it. Most of my work involves writing communications for others and I know usage of the singular “they” in formal writing is still unacceptable to most. Even in my own work, it still often sounds awkward and grating, and I find myself re-writing sentences to avoid it. 

But having decided it is, ultimately, the best solution, I have vowed to start using it more. It’s a matter of conscience for me, because ultimately, it’s about removing the language’s built-in bigotry. As for you, you’ll have to decide for yourself.  Everyone must listen to their conscience, and do what they think is right.

Have you seen my new website? It’s still a work-in-progress (and probably always will be), but stop by to learn more about what I can do to help you tell your story. 

“Email Communication” Doesn’t Have to Be an Oxymoron

We agonize over our web content and print pieces, but many of us don’t give a second thought to the emails we compose all the time, often to convey important information. Meanwhile, messages pour into the inboxes of those we’re trying to reach. What are the chances of survival for our besieged bit of communication?

When I google “email tips” I find dozens of articles and blogs expounding on the fine points of email etiquette—very important of course, but what about email as communication? How do you get employees and others to open and read that critical bit of information you need them to have? How do you ensure they’re going to hear what you have to say,  do what they have to do, get back to you with what you need?

That’s why I was pleased to find Bryan Garner’s post in the Harvard Business Review, focusing not on email etiquette but on email communication. I agree with Garner on the importance of an informative subject line, of providing background, of trying to walk the line between brief and non-communicative, etc. But, naturally, I couldn’t resist coming up with some additional pointers of my own.

So here, forthwith, are the Robin Hardman Communications (additional) keys to getting your email read:

  • Give readers a heads-up about what’s coming. While it’s true, as Garner says, that emails shouldn’t be too long, sometimes you can’t help it—you just have a lot of ground to cover. Make sure your reader doesn’t take any shortcuts by laying it out from the start: “I’ve got four points to make about the Benzene letter” or even “Be sure to scroll all the way down, as there are important next steps at the end of this message.”
  • Keep it short(er) by remembering your audience. As a loyal follower of this blog, I’m sure you’ll know this thread pops up a lot—including in my very last post. But once again, apropos of today’s topic: include all the stuff your readers will want and need—and none of the stuff they won’t.
  • Make judicious use of bold. Nobody wants to open an email that’s shouting at them, which is why everyone hopefully knows by now not to type in all caps; use bold sparingly for the same reason. However, if you have some nugget of vital information to get across, or something you need your reader to do when they finish reading, don’t let them scroll by it, unnoticed. Go for the bold.
  • Summarize links and attachments. Links and attachments can be incredibly useful, but don’t depend on them to convey your message. Summarize the salient points and use your attachments as back-up. It’s a busy world!

 And, on a note that may be more about etiquette than communication, minimize “oops” moments with these two tricks:

  • Always attach documents FIRST. How many times have you sent (or received!) an email saying “I’ve attached xyz”—with no attachment? It’s so easy for this to happen—you get your document ready to send, then, while you’re crafting your email, you forget all about it. Make a habit of attaching it first, and it’ll never happen again.
  • Always address your email LAST. This is a really helpful way to avoid that moment when you lean over for a pencil and accidentally hit “send” mid-sentence—or mid-word. It also is a nice little electronic speed bump that might slow you down just enough that you don’t send something you’ll regret. (It doesn’t work, of course, if you’re replying to someone else—unless you take the time, as I sometimes have, to remove the return email address and only type it back in when I’m good and ready.)

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And if you’re looking for someone to help you with any of your communications projects, from email to tome, give me a call!

Just Call Me The Woman With the Hammer

You know the saying, “To the man with a hammer, everything looks like a nail?” It came to mind last week when I was at the Working Mother Work Life Congress, an annual conference built around the release of the magazine’s  famous “100 Best Companies” list. Sure, people were there to talk about work-life, but as a communications professional, everything I heard seemed to be about communication.

It’s not surprising, really, because ultimately a lot of what makes work engaging and do-able for people who have lives outside of it comes down to good communication. Since it’s National Work and Family Month, let me show you what I mean:

When keynote speaker Beverly Kaye, Founder and Co-CEO of Career Systems International, spoke about employee development, a lot of what she had to say was a case for more communication.  Kaye was referring to spoken communication between managers and those they manage, but many of her comments could also apply to the ways companies communicate to employees, in general (or don’t).

Take her “five myths” that prevent managers from talking with employees about their careers. At least three of these (paraphrased below) are widely used by senior leaders in companies as an excuse for not sharing crucial information with employees:

  • If I open the discussion, it will be a Pandora’s Box. (The truth is, your employees are talking about it already. You’re not releasing anything into the world that isn’t already there. You’re just bringing it out into the open and providing yourself with a chance for input.)
  • Employees own their own careers—it’s not my job to give them the answers. (The truth is, employees don’t generally expect definitive answers—they just want support and information.)
  • I can’t deliver on their desire to move up the career ladder, so talking about it will just lead to disappointment. (The truth is, not everybody aspires to move up. Employees want jobs they care about—“meaning is the new money,” as Kaye says. Translated to more general employee communications: don’t second guess what your audience wants to hear. Be open in what you say and be open to hearing what they say, too—what they want and need might surprise you.)

In a break-out session, Suzanne Vickberg, Senior Manager for Inclusion at Deloitte, spoke about data forensics—specifically, how to use data about your workforce to tell a story that demonstrates the value of work-life programs to leadership. Here (again paraphrased) are some of the points she made:

  • Most companies already collect data about their employees. By connecting these data in thoughtful ways, you can tell a strong story. For example, connect data from last year’s talent survey to current attrition rates—how do what employees said about their work-life balance correlate with whether they’re still with the company a year later? Through an analysis like this, Vickberg’s team was able to show leadership at Deloitte that addressing employee concerns about work-life fit had six times the impact on retention as addressing concerns about pay.
  • Numbers don’t mean much in isolation. Find ways to bring them to life. By way of example, Vickberg  showed a chart that used proportionately-sized dots to illustrate the dramatic difference in effect on turnover among a variety of factors. A small thing—but a big effect on communication.
  • Speak the language of your audience. For example, if you’re reporting to leadership in finance, talk about the relative cost to the business of providing work-life policies and programs and losing employees.
  • Understand what will and will not be heard. If you are addressing the problem of workload, recommendations that workload simply be reduced are unlikely to go very far. But you can probably use the same data to show how much better employees are able to manage their workload when they have control over where and when that work gets done.
  • Respect your data—it might not always tell the story you expect it to tell, but chances are it does have something to say.

Finally, keynote speaker Patrick O’Neill, President of Extraordinary Conversations, introduced the “Rule of 13.” Describing the vital role clear communications play in strong leadership, O’Neill said leaders should be able to state the vision behind any initiative in 13 words or less—and the statement should be “understandable to your teenager.”

For example? There’s the head of an entertainment company whose 12 words–“One of every five CDs sold will be sold in our stores”—helped take his company from $28 million to $200 million in three years.

There’s the Princess Margaret Hospital Foundation, which laid it on the line in 5: “Conquering cancer in our lifetime.” (Admittedly, this begs the question: “whose lifetime?)

And then there’s another guy you might have heard about, who said, “We choose to go to the moon in this decade.”

Hmmm.. wonder how that one turned out?

Thinking about trying for next year’s “Best Companies” list? You can’t get on the list if you can’t tell your story.  Download my free tip sheet and put your best foot forward.

 

Killing the Monsters

On the whole, I don’t believe in synonyms. Such is the magnificent complexity of the English language that only rarely do two words mean exactly the same thing. Even if the dictionary gives two words the same definition, they almost never carry the same connotation, which is what makes using the thesaurus such a treacherous game.

But sometimes, in some contexts, one word can be used as easily as another. That’s when some corporate communicators can always be counted on to reach for–the longer word. After all, why say something in one syllable, when the same thing can be said in two or three?

Hence we substitute “difficult” for “hard,” “utilize” for “use,” “assist” for good old “help.”

If we’re lucky, we land the big one: a whole phrase that can be substituted for a simpler word. Hence the steady creep of phrases like “at this point in time” and “in this day and age.” (“Now,” anyone?)

I assume this tendency stems from a misguided concept of how “formal” or “professional” language should sound. But it’s absurd. The fact is, professional language should (generally) be free of slang. It should steer clear of taboo or derogatory words. Spelling and punctuation should be correct. Grammatical rules should generally be followed. But there is absolutely no reason to use a cumbersome word or phrase when a simpler one will do. And there’s a major benefit to using simpler language: your communication will sound more natural–closer to the spoken word.

Think about it. When’s the last time you used “attend” rather than “go” in spoken conversation?

Even if you’re talking to your boss, do you say, “I need to make a determination about whether this project goes forward?” or do you say, “I need to decide whether to continue this project?” Most written communications benefit from being as close as possible to casual speech. You want your audience to be able to take in and understand your words as easily as if you were explaining something to them in person.  More easily, in fact, because on paper you’ve had time to organize your thoughts. You’ve left out the “ums” and “uhs” and “I means.” You’ve checked your facts and explained your terminology.

When you get ready to write, write down what you’d say to someone standing in front of you. Then clean up the grammar, spelling and organization, check your accuracy, root out clichés and jargon. You’ll be writing professionally, without hardening your language with an artificial veneer of “professionalism.” To see how well you’ve done, read your copy out loud. If you find stuffy, unnatural, “professional” language, kill it.

No need to feel conflicted about this act of violence. Consider it self-defense. If you don’t kill your monster words and phrases first, they will kill your communication.

This is a short post, coming to you from Florence, where I’m basking in the sounds of another gorgeous language. But I’m still available to talk to you via email. How about sharing some of your examples of misguided professional language?

Are you applying for the Best Companies for Multicultural Women List? Or entering a local “Best Place to Work” competition? You can’t win if you can’t tell your story. The essays I write for companies  are routinely cited by clients and judges as among the best they’ve ever read. Use the Contact me page to let me know what you’re working on, and let’s make some time to talk. 

Rule Number One: Throw Out the Rules

 

Rules are important in writing. Punctuation, spelling, grammar: these things do matter. But (to mangle the proverb) one person’s rule is another person’s straitjacket.

Some of the rules we learned in school (if we were lucky enough to be taught any) aren’t rules of grammar, they’re rules of style. As such, they’re subject to debate. Others were once considered rules of grammar but, in the opinion of most grammarians, no longer apply. Like the language itself, proper English grammar changes over time. If you haven’t spent time lurking on online grammar forums, you might be amazed at how many “rules” are open to interpretation. With grammar, as with style, some of the truisms you thought you knew may turn out to have been written in sand.

In any case, I’m a firm believer that all rules play second trumpet to rule number one: the purpose of writing is to communicate. In other words, if what you’re trying to communicate can be better said by breaking a rule, it is your solemn duty to break it.

Here are some examples of “rules,” either real or imagined, that beg to be broken:

“Don’t split infinitives.” I seem to casually break this rule twenty times a day—in fact, I just did. The so-called “correct” wording would have been, “I seem to break this rule casually twenty times a day.” I don’t think there’s a true linguist or grammarian alive today that believes this a rule to be followed. Most agree it was imposed upon the language by fussy scholars a few centuries ago, who were trying to tighten up the structure of English and make it adhere more closely to Latin. It isn’t a natural part of English as it evolved, and it has no inherent value. To boldly go where few dare to tread, drop it from your rules list.

“Don’t begin a sentence with a conjunction.” But what if it’s the only way to get across your message? Or just sounds better? This isn’t even a rule of grammar, it’s a (pointless) rule of style.  Feel free to ignore it. And move on.

“Don’t end a sentence with a preposition.” I used to think it was Winston Churchill who said, “This is a rule up with which I will not put.”  Apparently, it was actually someone else who said this, possibly scribbling it in the margins of a document by Churchill, in response to the scribbles of an over-zealous editor. But the fact is, this is another piece of so-called “grammar” nonsense that was invented by some fussy Latin scholars centuries ago. It’s almost an urban legend, in that people have been solemnly correcting each other on the subject for centuries, but it apparently doesn’t even appear in old grammar books. The fact is, you shouldn’t end a sentence with a preposition when you’ll have the same meaning by leaving it off. You shouldn’t, in other words, say “Where are you at?” because “Where are you?” conveys exactly the same meaning. But by all means say, “What is this thing for?” and “That’s the table I left the book on” and “this is a rule I won’t put up with.”

“Never use passive voice.” This style “rule” was beaten into my head by my otherwise wonderful ninth grade English teacher. He was a Viet Nam vet, and he’d get quite passionate in his condemnation of war-mongers who would sidestep responsibility for their actions with sentences like “Bombs were dropped,” instead of “We dropped bombs.” He had an excellent point. Passive voice can be evasive. It can be cold and bureaucratic.  It can wring all personality and humanity from a sentence.

But that doesn’t mean it doesn’t have its uses.  Look at the start of my last paragraph. “This rule was beaten into my head by…” In this case, I purposely chose passive voice to emphasize the most important parts of the sentence—beatings, and my head. (I guess I’d better clarify that the beatings were metaphorical…don’t want to get poor Mr. Cohen in trouble.) I could have written the sentence in active voice, but it would have been at least a notch less interesting: “My high school English teacher beat this rule into my head.”

“Don’t write sentence fragments.” A good rule. Except when it isn’t. Actually, this is an example of a solid rule of grammar that sometimes conflicts with the rules of style. Sometimes, in the flow of communication, a sentence fragment is exactly what you need to make your point. Just like passive voice. Just like it’s been throughout this paragraph. I’ve just discovered that these useful kinds of sentence fragments (as opposed to the ones that are simply grammatical mistakes) are sometimes called “verbless sentences.”

“The verbless sentence is a device for enlivening the written word by approximating it to the spoken. There is nothing new about it. Tacitus, for one, was much given to it. What is new is its vogue with English journalists and other writers . . .. (H.W. Fowler and Ernest Gowers, A Dictionary of Modern English Usage, 2nd ed. Oxford Univ. Press, 1965)

The tricks to using sentence fragments successfully are to do so intentionally, don’t over use them (like I did in the paragraph above), and listen carefully to make sure your meaning will be understood.

Tossing some of these rules in the trash and treating the others with a proper skepticism can make your communications more fresh, forceful and clear. But let me add one caveat, so I don’t get socked with a malpractice suit: There are still people out there who are true believers, however misguided their beliefs. If you’re writing something that you will personally be judged by—like a cover letter for a job—you’d probably be wise to stick to language that doesn’t make you sound like an English language scofflaw. Other than that—go ahead, throw out the rules!

What are the rules you love to ignore? Step up and share your thoughts in the comment section below!

And remember, if you have questions about something you’re working on, or just want to get it of  your hands, contact me anytime! 

What’s on First

It’s happened. You’ve been abducted by space aliens. They march you to their leader, who looks at you menacingly—at least you think that’s what she’s doing, but you’re not sure those are her eyes. Somewhere, a mouth opens and it says,

“I’ve heard earthlings have something called a chair. What is a chair, exactly?”

Do you say, “Chairs save us earthlings from having to stand up all the time?”

I don’t know about you, but I’d be careful about giving such an answer. The last thing you want to do is annoy the alien-queen, and if I were her, I’d be mighty ticked off by that answer. Why? Because it doesn’t answer the question.

A more correct answer to “What is a chair?” might go something like this:

“A chair is a kind of furniture, used for sitting on. It’s distinguished from other kinds of furniture we use for sitting on by having room for just one person, often having a back, and sometimes having a place to rest our arms.” (I just made that up. Then I checked Webster’s New World Dictionary and found that I was pretty close: “a piece of furniture for one person to sit on, having a back and, usually, four legs.”)

The reason the first answer only succeeded in annoying the alien queen is that it answered the wrong question.

The question it answered, which I admit would be an odd one to ask, is “Why is a chair?” Why do you use a chair? To save you from standing up all the time—or sitting on the floor.

So when it’s time to introduce their company’s latest offering, “Convergence Tremors,”  why do so many communicators end up saying something like this?

Convergence Tremors will bring our company into the 21st century, allowing us to devote more time and attention to meeting our goals and leveraging our ability to share strategies across platforms in ways we never thought possible.

If I’m an employee (or a customer, or the judge of a “best company” award) and I’m in a generous mood, my reaction might be “Sounds great! But what is Convergence Tremors?” (If I’m not in a generous mood, my reaction might be to hit “delete.”)

To make things worse, the answer to “but what is Convergence Tremors?” often runs something like this:

Convergence Tremors streamlines systems and processes and promotes innovative solutions…

Arrggghhh.

Let’s give our hypothetical employee a pop quiz.

Based on the information you’ve been given so far, complete the following sentence. Convergence Tremors is:

a)      a training program

b)      some kind of software

c)       a policy or set of policies for addressing operations

d)      a performance management system

e)      the new Tarentino movie

f)       none of the above

g)      I haven’t the faintest idea

Unless the employee has access to some inside information, the only possible answer is “g,” of course. That’s because the communicator in question made the same mistake you made when you spoke to the alien-queen. He answered “why,” not “what.”

So, the hapless communicator realizes his mistake and sends out an announcement explaining that Convergence Tremors is the name for an exciting new approach to working with customers. Great. Now employees and anyone else who might be interested have the what and the why. But there’s still one more bridge to cross: the how.

Specifically, what is it that Convergence Tremors does that will make it possible for us to “devote more time and attention to meeting our goals?” What is it that will help us “share strategies across platforms” (whatever that means)? In what way will Convergence Tremors “streamline processes and promote innovative solutions?”

When you gave the alien-queen the definition of a chair, the how was so much a part of the what that there wasn’t much more to say about it. But saying something is a new approach to working with customers (for example) still leaves a lot of questions unanswered. Answering how in this case means describing what it is about the approach that allows it to convey the benefits you’ve described.

What is Convergence Tremors?

It’s an exciting new approach to working with customers. By broadening the responsibilities of some team members and moving many paper systems online, it frees us all up to focus more on planning and product development. At the same time, it provides customers with access to more expertise at every stage of the sales process. And it  provides more opportunities for career advancement all around.

That’s what Convergence Tremors is.

Contact me if you’d like some help with the whats and whys of your communication. And be sure to click “follow this blog via email” in the upper right column to keep those communications tips coming!

 

illustration courtesy of Steve Snodgrass

 

What’s the Story?

Everyone loves a good story. Not coincidentally, stories are one of the best ways to communicate, because our brains are wired for them. Not only do we pay more attention to stories, we remember them better. (There’s research out there demonstrating this, but it will be no surprise to anyone who can recite entire scenes from The Godfather or episodes of Seinfeld, but can’t remember her own cell phone number.)

So it stands to reason that if you’re trying to get employees to remember and use your benefits, work-life and wellness programs, you’ll have more success if you reel them in with a good story.

First, a word about what I mean by “story.” The concept has become a bit of a buzz word in the business world lately and though this is mostly a good sign, it’s also led to some dilution in meaning. It sometimes seems like any few bits of information, strung together in logical order, are called a story. Data can tell a story, but mostly to those who already have more than a passing interest in the data. If you’re running a corporate child care service, the number of people using that service, and perhaps what jobs within the company they have, tell you a story–you’re happy just to look at the numbers. If you’re considering whether to continue offering a wellness program, the decrease in health care costs associated with that program tell you a story.

But if you have some other job altogether, the fact that 20% of employees with young children are enrolled in child care is not a compelling story. What might be compelling, is that someone who initially shared some of the same misgivings you have about the center is now happily using it. Or that someone who thought they couldn’t afford the center discovered how generous the sliding fee scale was. Or, frankly, simply that someone with a name and a face is using the center. Because research also indicates that people respond much better to stories of individuals than they do to stories about large numbers of people.

So, how to go about telling stories? Here are a few options:

  • Depending on the circumstance and what you’re trying to promote (and thus how much privacy concerns come into play), you can simply provide profiles of employees using a program or policy. I once worked with a company that was trying to promote a culture of flexibility. It already had a number of employees working in some pretty flexible ways, and for some pretty interesting reasons. (In other words, not just people leaving at 3 to pick up the kids.) Leadership wanted others—including management—to get the message that these kinds of arrangements were not only possible but encouraged. So they gave me a list of employees working flexibly and I interviewed them one at a time. Then I wrote a brief, lively profile about each one. The profiles were no longer than a handful of paragraphs, but they described a typical day of work and personal pursuits, explained how and why this particular way of working had come about, and summarized how the arrangement was going for all involved. Now, flexibility was no longer an abstract list of potential work arrangements. It had a face—many faces, in fact.
  • Another, less formal option is to let your employees do the talking. Take advantage of social media! More and more organizations are introducing corporate social networking sites like Yammer or Pulse. Take advantage of these to invite employees to tell their stories. Try posting a different question every few weeks. Have you used the R&R service? Tell us how it went. Did you join a Weight Watchers group? How hard has it been to stick to the plan—and how near are you to reaching your goal? Even without official social networking sites, you can invite employees to post their comments on a dedicated Intranet page. Or have a video competition—show us your favorite work-life program and why.
  • Finally, you can take the creative way out (and avoid all privacy worries): make your stories up! I’ve always admired the company that ran an ongoing narrative soap opera, with a cast of characters that got into all kinds of catastrophic situations—only to be saved by one of the company’s work-life programs or policies. The HR department released a new story each week; they were avidly followed by employees. I could imagine doing this as a comic strip, as well, if you’ve got somebody on the team with the talent to pull that off. Perhaps a “Perils of Pauline” -type series featuring a feisty young hero or heroine. Perhaps a contest again, to help decide the fate of the characters. Just think of the possibilities!

Here’s a secret shared by storytellers: telling a story can be just as fun as reading one. (Ok, the writing, itself, can have its agonizing moments, but there’s still something deeply satisfying about a good story, which the writer experiences every bit as much as the reader.) So give yourself and your programs a break: let your storytelling instincts—or those of your employees—take over for a change.

Need help telling your story? Let’s talk!

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