Engelberg Reloaded or: Teambuilding Event Christmas Party

When the advent candle lights are already burning, it is actually much too late to think about the company’s X-mas celebration. But nobody wants to read something like this already in July. So take it as a suggestion for next year.

From Jens Kügler

Once upon a time in the Swiss winter sports paradise of Engelberg. A Munich company had reserved a little hotel for its employees. A bus hired journey—Christmas night in the decorated hotel lobby—first overnight stay—ski day from morning onwards, organized as a team Olympics—followed by après-ski hut evening with mulled wine, live music and party atmosphere—then a torchlight sleigh ride under the starry sky down from the piste to the hotel—”Olympics” medal winner’s ceremony in the lobby—long disco dance night in the lobby—second overnight stay—breakfast—journey home. Almost 20 years ago. But those who were there still talk about it today. The company did something similar every year, so to speak: Engelberg reloaded, and was regarded as a popular employer.

“We can’t afford that,” I hear some SME bosses moan. Let’s make a counter calculation: Can you afford to NOT offer your employees something of comparable quality once a year—or at least once in a while—in times of a shortage of skilled workers and the struggle to acquire and keep the best?

Recently I read an interview with happiness researcher Prof. Dr. Karlheinz Ruckriegel. He said that Christmas parties can make an important contribution to a good corporate culture. Beyond the stressful pre-Christmas time, colleagues can meet to talk about private matters and get to know each other better. And especially at an event like the Christmas party, an entrepreneur can show what his employees are worth to him, the professor continued. Because openly shown appreciation by the company contributes to the fact that one likes to go to work, feels better and is all the more committed to work more and harder.

For Christmas celebrations, the happiness researcher suggests changing the location and offering an interesting place. In addition, more should be offered than the boss’s usual speech and the always same, boring rituals. The employees should be able to look forward to a highlight. They should take a message or a gift home with them. Something that, as he says, stays in their minds and strengthens the bond to the company. In this way, the Christmas party becomes a freestyle instead of a fulfillment of duty. Or as Professor Ruckriegel calls it, an investment in a good working atmosphere.

By the way: an unforgettable celebration doesn’t have to be expensive. Last year, a small publishing house, for which the author works as a freelance editor, invited its team to its traditional Christmas dinner. That annual celebration is the only opportunity in the year where the small team from all over Germany meets. Last year, the location was a newly opened ice cream manufactory that was reserved on a countertrade basis in the publisher’s small hometown. For the introduction and at the end there was the divinely good, handmade ice cream made from creative recipe ideas including a production introduction for do-it-yourself ice making. Then: a fish platter—wonderfully fresh and varied, from the local fishing club, cooked by their best professional. And a poultry platter from one of the town’s local award-winning master butcher. I am already looking forward to this year’s celebration. Wherever it may take place.

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What Would You Like To Have More Time For?

… this question stands above a video on the website of the German Federal Ministry of Labor. Interviewed passers-by give answers. It’s about how they would like to—or even urgently need to shape their lives. The reason: The parliament has just passed the law on the so-called bridge part-time work.

By Jens Kügler

“Working time is life time. You can’t get it transferred to another account,” is the summary of an interviewed woman in the video above. The new regulation on bridge part-time work is obviously intended to give time that many people have lost so far. Lifetime.

Starting in 2019, employees in Germany will be able to temporarily reduce their working hours to part-time work on an individual basis—and then, after a period of up to five years, increase them back to full-time work. This is guaranteed by law. The law is primarily intended for mothers. They often reduce their working hours after birth and have until now ended up in the so-called “part-time trap”. This means that their employers did not offer them the opportunity to switch back to full-time work. Or, as the Minister of Labor himself put it, to adapt work to life again.

Almost 80 percent of all part-time jobs subject to social insurance contributions are performed by women, a large proportion by mothers. They thus reduce their pension entitlement and increase their “chance” of old-age poverty. A “good law”, then, if everything changes from now on.

But not everything changes—and not for everyone. There are restrictions. Firstly, only employees of companies with more than 45 people can take advantage of the bridge part-time work. Secondly, in companies with 46 to 200 employees, the employer only has to grant part-time bridge work to one in 15 employees. In addition, urgent operational reasons can prevent an increase to full-time work.

In other words, the legal entitlement does not apply to the majority of all employees. Some politicians therefore criticize the law as inadequate. And criticism comes from the employer federations, too. They fear that the law would create too much bureaucratic additional burdens. But don’t we always hear complaints like this from employers’ associations?

Almost to the day 100 years ago, in mid-November 1918, the so-called Stinnes Legien Agreement was signed. For the first time in German history, employers’ associations and trade unions had agreed on wage agreements and employee representatives. Why? Because revolution prevailed, power was held for a short time by workers’ councils, and large companies feared for their existence. Did the agreement harm the economy? Not really, on the contrary. Social security is an important locational advantage.

The new law will certainly not overburden the bureaucracy and seriously burden the economy. But at least some mothers will be able to avoid the part-time trap in the future. Good for each individual and their family.

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The Need of Today is Freedom

Force people to work longer and harder? That was yesterday. If you want to retain your employees and win new ones today, you have to show them appreciation and offer them more flexibility.

Written by Jens Kügler

It’s nice when employees are indispensable. When they’re so infinitely indispensable that they must work immeasurably. My friend B., a woman aged 50, got sick because she was completely exhausted. Exhausted after two weeks of almost uninterrupted early morning and night shifts in non-stop alternation—and after that her shift supervisor gave her another eleven days without a break. B. also because sick from the arguments with the shift leader which did not leave her psyche untouched.

The consequences? The shift supervisor loses B’s (wo)manpower. Not only now, because of the illness, but basically because B. has long since quit her job mentally. In view of the shortage of skilled workers in her social profession, she will not find it difficult to immediately get a new job. However, her shift leader’s problems in recruiting and training replacements for R. will surely be immense. That’s the result of her “job planning”.

B. had just told me her story when a press release from a catering association landed in my mailbox. The association of employers demands from the legislator more flexible working hours for its employees! Well, in the past, German companies in the catering sector were not regarded as working class men’s paradises. But this association has obviously developed sensitivity for how to secure the loyalty of its employees in the “working world 4.0”, as it literally calls it in its communication.

The association considers the statutory maximum working time of eight or up to ten hours a day to be rigid and no longer up to date. The modern reality of life sets new standards. The industry representatives demand that the Working Hours Act should set a weekly maximum working time instead of a daily one. And they are not explicitly concerned about more and longer, but more flexible times. This already exists for other sectors. And the European Working Time Directive provides for it, as the press release further explains.

There is also talk of minimum rest periods, health protection and the protection of minors. Every employee should be able to decide for himself how many days he works and how much hours a day. In this way, everyone can adapt his or her life to his or her leisure time requirements and individual wishes.

That’s the way it goes, dear Mrs. shift leader: A little more life reality in work planning, please!

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Never Give Up!

Those who set themselves goals can sometimes lose, but mostly get ahead further—especially those who don’t let themselves be discouraged by setbacks. I have experienced this myself.

Written by Jens Kügler

What a summer last year!–Sunshine almost every day. I always put my netbook into my backpack at noon, took my racing bike (I love the speed buzz!) and rode with up to 40 km/h to the lakes around the city, the wind in my ears, my head “washed free”—and after about an hour of riding with new, fresh ideas I continued my work with my notebook there. At the lake, under the sunny sky, with the Alp’s massifs in the distance. You can’t work a better way.

Now, in the cold season of the year, I go jogging for an hour at noon and then take a shower and start working again in my home office or for a creative change of scenery in the cosy Wifi-café next door. In autumn and winter, the nearby historic baroque palace park of Nymphenburg offers an enchanting setting for jogging. As the colourful leaves fall, the ideas grow in all their bright colors.

Why do I love my racing bike and jogging so much? It divides my working day into two clear halves. It gives me the opportunity to physically feel myself—important as a “fresh breeze”. Important as an urgent need of change in path. And for new, fresh and free thoughts. Last but not least: good for body awareness and self-confidence.

Everyone who loves his job has such a “racing bike”. In other words, something that gives him motivation boosts and loosens up his daily work, whether it’s something sporting or virtual. I’m convinced of that. But that also brings me to the subject of setbacks. They can also be directly linked to the individual motivator.

Exactly one year ago, a slipped disc forced me into hospital and under the surgical knife. Lumbar vertebrae: no strength and no feeling in my right leg anymore! The operation was successful—but until Christmas I walked on crutches. After that: rehabilitation, slow strengthening of the leg, gradual “back to training”, far away, far away from my usual performances.

Now one could have thought: I was frustrated because at first there was so little going on and I needed a feeling of insanity patience with my weakness and crutches. But the opposite was the case. I had a clear goal. In summer I wanted to cycle again as usual. Every little step forward motivated me immensely! Eventually, I spent again such a dream summer with racing bike, notebook, sunny skies, lake and mountain views!

In short: Setbacks must not force us to give up. As the saying goes: If you give up, you surrender. If you don’t give up, you’ll never be beaten. Recently I read an interview with a former top athlete who is now very successful in his new profession. He was asked if he saw a parallel between power of endurance at work and in sport. His answer: Yes, because if you set yourself big goals, you have to be prepared to go the “extra mile”, as he said. And you shall not to be held back by challenges or setbacks. Only in this way will he win in the end.

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Quit In A Most Amicable Spirit.

Is that possible: to dismiss an employee—and he says thank you? Of course not. That would be a scene for a satire program. But what works is that he leaves and says goodbye with a handshake and a reasonably well feeling—according to the circumstances.

Written by Jens Kügler

For an employee with my abilities and my quality there is currently no vacancy in this company, said the boss to me. He explained the current tasks to me in a credible way, based on the actual customer structure and order situation. As soon as this changed, he would immediately call me again. He did indeed—but by that time I had long since found a job in another company which he had predicted and recommended to me.

I left the executive office with my head held high. A colleague of mine was even referred to his new company by his former boss. Sure it can’t always work that way. But how do you sign someone off without humiliating him? How, so that the dismissed person doesn’t hold a grudge against the company, start bad word-of-mouth propaganda and dispraise the employer on social networks?

The basic rule is: the (euphemistically) so-called golden handshake must take place in a dignified environment and in a respectful manner. Everything else causes humiliation. It reaps frustration and possibly a storm of indignation among colleagues, in the industry or on the Internet. Any manager is a wrong choice in his position who does not master the respectful treatment and crisis management, even in the interpersonal area.

But let’s immediately put ourselves in the most difficult position that a dismisser can take on: the role of one who acts on the instructions of another. For example, that of a head of department who, instead of his boss, announces the dismissals. He acts only on behalf of the company. Any private opinion like “I’m on your side, my friend. You know the way they deal with us here” is absolutely not appropriate here.

The person concerned must know why the decision against him was made. Are there any operational reasons? It needs to be explained as in the example above. Is it because of dissatisfaction with the performance? Then it’s time to tell what improvement potential the dismissed employee has—maybe to give him a second chance after all. Or as an improvement hint for his future career. It is also clear that, in case of dissatisfaction, at least one warning must have preceded the notice of termination.

Very important: never let it leak or wait until “it’s all over town”! Means: The boss or department leader must ensure that the employee has not learned about his dismissal in advance from others. A bad, but frequently occurring example from professional soccer are coaches who learn about their dismissal from the newspapers. Everyone can imagine how someone feels when this happens.

The manager should prepare himself in detail for the dismissal interview. He must be able to answer all conceivable questions right off the bat. For example, how many days of holiday the dismissed person has still to take. Or whether he receives a severance pay. And if so, how much.

Despite to all preparation and all friendliness: it can happen that the dismissed person responds to the manager with anger, or even yells at him. A second person in the dismissal interview, such as a team leader or executive assistant, can calm down, support and mediate. Experience has shown that these soft skills are more mastered by women than by men.

Last but not least: observe the notice periods! Sounds banal, but must be mentioned. If you do not take this into account, you risk legal dispute. By the way: It is already perceived as humiliating when the notice of termination is given on the last possible day before the end of the notice period. According to the motto: you shall not receive another month’s salary! Unfortunately, I have experienced this, too. You can imagine what emotions this leaves behind. You won’t forget that for the rest of your life. So don’t let your employees feel like those of Mr. Trump who’ve simply heard “you are fired”!

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The Top 10 Of “Endangered Jobs”

There are professions that are practically extinct. And there are discussions about those who are acutely threatened with extinction – supposedly. But is that really true every time?

By Jens Kügler

I recently took part in a market research study conducted by a US company here in Munich. A translator was present—for interviewees who did not speak enough English and to clarify possible misunderstandings. In a short interview break I got into conversation with her. She expressed the fear that her job would soon become obsolete due to translation machines on the internet. Her future was uncertain, as she believed.

I said to her that no matter how good the machines might become (and they’re getting better all the time), there need to be humans still. Only a human writer can create and transform to the reader the meanings of content between the lines , the “color” of a text, the emotional aspects in and between the words. That is my conviction. If you would like to have this confirmed, simply copy this text into “Google Translate”, click “go” and read the result.

On the same day I read an article on the English job portal “The Undercover Recruiter” about which ten jobs would soon become extinct. The top 10 future losers, so to speak. Among them are taxi drivers, barista, parcel messengers, department store salesmen, customer service call center employees and supermarket cashiers. Okay, the latter are already “relieved” here and there by express cash registers. But let’s be honest, do you want to be advised or driven through the city by a robot?—to then be served and entertained at the bar by R2-D2 or C-3PO?

There will be upheavals. They have already been there—and will continue. 150 years ago, the textile factory “replaced” most tailors. However, man survived in the niche. Would there otherwise be tailors and fashion designers? The so-called dead craft is still also identified with having “golden ground”, as a German proverb says. The thinking human being will continue to be needed. Not to mention the artist.

A good translator reflects the emotional of the spoken and written. And if one day these blog articles no longer start with “Written by Jens Kügler”, but “by R2-D2”, will there still be readers? Or is the whole content then only relevant as input for the Google crawlers?

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Job Change: If Not Now, Then … When?

What do career opportunities have in common with opinion research, the rent price stabilization and start-up figures? There are some interesting connections in Germany in 2018.

By Jens Kügler

There is good and bad news for the German economy in 2018. The bad news first: The trend that start-ups have been declining for years is continuing. According to the annual survey KfW-Gründungsmonitor (“founding monitor” of KfW development bank group), the number of self-employed fell by 17% in 2017 compared to the previous year. According to the development bankers, the descent will continue in 2018.

One reason for this decline is—on the other hand—the good news. The German economy is booming. Never before in our history have there been so many employees as in 2018, the Employment Agency happily announces. 44.8 million—this figure was published by the Munich Ifo Institute of opinion research. It is expected to reach 45.2 million in 2019. At the same time, the unemployment rate is falling to an equally historic low.

A shortage of skilled workers—this is another matter with a good and a bad side. There is a shortage of skilled workers who are in great demand. What is bad for Germany’s economy and competitiveness is good for the individual employee, the “skilled worker”. But those who now believe that they can automatically get a higher salary and better working conditions are mistaken.

The situation is similar to that with rented apartments. The keyword here is rent cap or rent price stabilization. A landlord or hirer can only demand significantly more rent with a change of tenant. That’s required by the law. In the working world, too, more salary can only be expected by a change of job. Employers who are desperately looking for new employees pay more and respond more likely to the wishes of their applicants. More flexible working hours, more work-life balance, more personal responsibility in the job—all this is usually only offered first and foremost to job changers.

In short, those who want to change, enhance themselves and find a new employer have never had such advantages as today, 2018. The pollsters at the Forsa Institute have found out that 35% of all employees plan to do exactly this in the next twelve months. In the end, the fewest will have done it, as always. Daily grind and routine prove to be stronger—and courage is the exception. I only say: dare! If not now, then when?

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How to give Your Business a Personal Touch by Storytelling

The term storytelling actually found its way into German—as one of those many anglicisms from the modern marketing language. People tell their personal stories. All well and good …. but is there really nothing more behind it than a buzzword?

By Jens Kügler

A staff member was sitting in the office with her boss. She told him that she was about to have surgery and she was afraid of it. A few days later: She wakes up from the anaesthetic. Her boss stands around her hospital bed, congratulating her with some colleagues, flowers and presents. Not a sign of a happy end, but of company culture. This company advertises that there is a particularly familiar atmosphere in its team and that one would be there for each other—which was proved by this scene.

The employee and her experience can be seen as a podcast on the homepage under a heading like “Why work for us”. Stories like these make a company and a team seem real and lively to outsiders. It doesn’t have to be emotional moments like this in the hospital. It can, of course, also have to do directly with the product or the job. It is obvious that someone is proud to be chief designer at BMW and to have helped develop the i8. But doesn’t every company produce something that it can do better than the competition—or maybe even the whole world? I know a trade fair construction company from China whose employees are proud to be booked by the most demanding European exhibitors because they supply quality according to highest European standards.

The author himself, by the way, likes to tell the anecdote again and again how he came to writing and texting and finally to journalism as a young commercial employee when stylistically improving the extremely lengthily dictated business correspondence of his boss. The boss admitted to him: “You can simply write better than I (by the way: bosses who admit things like that to their employees are perceived as collegial—but by no means as weak leaders!).

Why don’t you interview your employees? What was your most successful day in the company? What was her favorite moment? What was their heroic deed—in customer service, in team building or in a particularly time-critical project execution? How did they feel the day they may have left their “comfort zone” and decided on something new—here in the company? What have they experienced that could only happen here or in a few other places?

One tip is to film these little stories as podcasts. Maybe with five or ten sets until it is “perfect” and the filmed person feels comfortable with it. Of course, not everyone is ready to film and tell stories. It needs incentives. If you go ahead as a boss and offer your own personal stories, the spell can be broken for one or the other. According to the motto: Tell a story to get a story. That’s give and take. And once two or three colleagues have contributed their personal stories, more will certainly follow. Because everyone has a story to tell. All the stories around the company provide enough material for discussions during lunch break, in the hall or in the coffee kitchen.

The advantage? The inner cohesion, the sense of togetherness in the team, is guaranteed to grow. Stories make a company and a team tangible for outsiders as well. Applicants, for example. The candidates so hotly sought after in times of shortage of skilled workers get a clearer picture of what awaits them and what the work in the company means. For example, when employees describe their very personal motives for joining the company, these reasons may sometimes seem banal. But others are guaranteed to identify with it. It would be a waste to let these stories linger in the hall and canteen.

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Digital Natives in a World of Digital Immigrants

Young employees no longer want to work like their mothers and fathers. And even if it’s hard for us “oldies”: it’s good that way.

By Jens Kügler

Bye bye nine to five job: The so-called millennials no longer have anything in mind with restrictive regulations of days which they see as days gone by. And we do have to fulfill their demands as, demographically, they are indispensable as workers. Whoever wants to win them, the best minds among them, must meet their wishes.

How does this young generation see our world? Very simple. They grew up aware that modern technology revolutionizes and facilitates our everyday life at home. This no longer refers to the washing machine that replaced grand-granny’s washboard. But for example the fact that a virtual female voice called “Alexa” switches on both the light and the music, raises the blinds and regulates the heating temperature on acclamation. Why, the “Digital Natives” ask themselves, shouldn’t such smart technologies also improve the working world?

Even more blatantly expressed, these digitally natives feel as living in a world of digital immigrants who are alienated by the latest technology. This includes us, their older colleagues––and of course their employers. Still the question must be clarified: Who has to assimilate themselves, they or we? We do because we need these young ones. And because we know that satisfied employees are more productive.

What do young generation people want? Above all, more flexible working. In the age of mobile communication via cloud, they can do their jobs at any time and from anywhere. On this point, they have the full agreement of the author, who writes lots of his articles at sunny Bavarian lake beaches or in a wifi café when it rains. Why? Because these places simply inspire. The millennials, for example, can work from home and enjoy work-life balance. Working life no longer clashes with family life. Both complement each others.

Thanks to cloud technologies and mobile portals, employers can also see who is working when and for how long and who can be reached at any given time by logging on and off and exchanging data. In short: You even have better access to your employees than in the classic office. In addition to the technology, only framework agreements have to be made. And most importantly, employers must learn to trust their sometimes remote working employees and to give them responsible tasks. This not only enables them to carry out their jobs to a certain degree on the move. It also motivates them and makes them feel their work is meaningful.

In short: if you as employer want to win the best minds, you have to break through encrusted thought structures and surpass yourself. And to speak with JFK: Not because it’s easy. But it’s necessary.

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Motivation Instead Of Marketing

Which instruments make a company more efficient and successful? Controlling? The process optimizations? The new marketing strategy? Possibly. But leadership training on employee motivation can be most effective.

Written by Jens Kügler

Fully motivated: around one third of all employees work in this way. Fully motivated sounds good, one third quite sobering. That means: Two thirds of all employees work little motivated or with no motivation at all. That’s the result of a study by Dale Carnegie. Many employees have long since resigned in their minds. They and their employers don’t tap their full potential. These uninspired people will leave the company sooner or later, taking their knowledge and experience with them. The fluctuation rises, the company has to invest again and again in the recruitment process.

Dale Carnegie found out that certain emotions influence motivation. 28 positive and negative emotions could be “isolated” and identified. Five of them motivate, twelve demotivate, the influence of the remaining was marginal. The five motivators? Translated into the world of work, they are: feeling valued, being self-confident in the workplace, being inspired, enthusiastic (means feeling to be part of the company) and being encouraged to act independently.

Negative feelings include fear, vulnerability, contempt, apathy, boredom and being at the mercy of others. They are connected with disinterest, discomfort and annoyance. The test persons felt the latter above all in their superiors’ dealings with them. Negative emotions tend to embed themselves much more strongly than positive emotions. They are also perceived more strongly by the environment and are transferred more quickly to other employees. In any case, according to the study’s whitebook publication, the direct superior is the main person responsible for feelings in the workplace.

In short: motivating bosses inspire and enthuse. They give their employees the feeling of being a part of something bigger. Their employees are proud of their company and their meaningful work. They show more commitment. They are prepared to work more for the same salary and to take on additional tasks. Demotivating managers, on the other hand, are responsible for the poor profitability and inefficiency of their teams.

Dale Carnegie publishes its whitebooks as advertisements for its management and leadership training courses. The message between the lines is that it costs less to invest in such courses than to continue working inefficiently. But you don’t need a whitebook to understand it. Pure common sense is enough. Management training in dealing with employees is certainly one of the most economically sensible measures. Perhaps more than strategy, business development, controlling or marketing.

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