Publish or Perish: Macworld Magazine
by Shelly Ginenthal
When I first met Wynton* it was hard for me to imagine him doing any of our company’s clerical tasks. He had almost no work experience. More disconcerting to me, however, was that he had no discernable speech, although later he used a communication board. I didn’t know how we would be able to communicate with him. His mobility was also difficult as he used a wheelchair, and he had trouble controlling his arm movements. I was not sure how those issues would affect his work.
Whenever we brought young workers into our workplace, they were expected to meet several key criteria regardless of their circumstances. First, they had to meet productivity standards—the same as any other employee. Next, they had to perform tasks that added value to the operation. That is, by virtue of their work, other more experienced workers were freed up to perform more demanding and critical tasks. At the very least, they had to be youth who were going to make our work life easier, not harder. Youth with poor social and interpersonal skills, work habits, or attendance were not likely to last long with us.
However, in our fast-paced office where our main business required meeting strict publication deadlines for our San Francisco-based magazine, Macworld, we needed more data entry help. So when I was approached about Wynton by a local transition program called WorkLink, I was leery but open to listening to what the program and Wynton might have to offer.
Why the Pitch Worked
I was aware of programs that served people with disabilities, but had no direct experience with them before I was contacted by WorkLink. If WorkLink had approached me by appealing to my sense of charity or by petitioning me to give people with disabilities a chance, I doubt that I would have listened. However, the WorkLink representative, Sara Murphy, clearly expressed interest in the issues of our business. The initial contact was characterized by questions about our magazine and the human resources needs that it had. It was evident that WorkLink wanted the relationship to work for our operation. In fact, they guaranteed that they would be with us every step of the way if we agreed to employ a young person represented by WorkLink.
Ms. Murphy came to our office and observed how we operated, how we got our work done, and what areas of the operation really needed help. She proposed Wynton, who was interested in information technology, as someone who could help us in our circulation and human resources departments. She was clearly interested in making sure that we obtained “real” work output as a result of our involvement in the program. She was not looking to “make work” for Wynton. In the end, it was Ms. Murphy’s sincerity and genuine interest in our enterprise that convinced us to give it a try, in spite of my initial reservations about Wynton’s circumstances.
Making it Work for Everyone
There were two areas of our operation where we needed considerable assistance. One was our circulation department, where there was a pressing need to update our database on newsstand locations around the country that sold our magazine. An updated database would make marketing and billing more current, productive, and accurate. One of Wynton’s main tasks was to enter the necessary data into the database. Eventually, he helped us update the entire database.
The second area of need existed across departments. We needed someone to put obsolete documents through a shredder. At the time, editors and highly paid support staff often performed this task when their time could be more productively and profitably spent doing higher priority tasks. Wynton was soon performing this task whenever he caught up with data entry. Later, a third area of responsibility was added to Wynton’s position in the human resources department: delivering faxes and other communiqués throughout the building and sending out routine responses to job applicants. Each of these activities made a positive, measurable difference in the work completed within the departments.
WorkLink was key to the success all along the way: key to getting started with the arrangement; key to organizing and helping with Wynton’s training; key to making sure the work got done; key to ensuring the necessary quality was achieved; and, of course, key to helping us learn to communicate and interact with Wynton. Ms. Murphy held a brown-bag lunch training for all department staff on general disability awareness as well as on specific tips about effectively interacting with Wynton.
There was another unpredictable and somewhat intangible benefit to our involvement with WorkLink. After Wynton had been with us for a while, he became a part of our office’s cultural fabric. In addition to his contributions to our operations, we came to understand and value the diversity he brought to our office. He had a distinct positive effect on office morale, just like any other young, energetic, and likeable employee who might join our team.
Problems Identified, Problems Solved
Wynton’s contributions to Macworld’s operation did not come without some early challenges in terms of meeting productivity requirements, communication, interpersonal behavior, and personal hygiene. He had to learn data entry input procedures. Ms. Murphy spent a great deal of time with us and with Wynton as he learned how to correctly enter the data. It was Sara’s persistence and presence that enabled Wynton to eventually learn his duties thoroughly.
When personal hygiene problems initially occurred, WorkLink helped us solve the problem by working with Wynton. When we had trouble with Wynton’s speech, we were taught how to understand and communicate with him. Eventually many of us became quite capable of communicating with Wynton. And finally, when mistakes occurred in data entry, WorkLink made sure the work task was set up to accommodate Wynton’s disability and that training was better targeted to his skill level. With that intensive assistance, Wynton was soon more than pulling his weight.
Employers like Macworld occasionally hire someone who initially has trouble on the job. Often such circumstances result in termination for the employee and a lot of effort on our part making up for lost time. Unlike these kinds of circumstances, our experience with WorkLink made it possible to not only correct early performance errors, but also to continually identify how our work flow and work load could be improved.
Lessons for Other Programs
The success of our experience with Wynton and WorkLink taught us several lessons that other companies might learn from. Among these are the benefits from working with a competent partner like WorkLink to find new sources of labor. Also, there are lessons that I can pass on to organizations that provide similar services to WorkLink. My chief recommendations to other programs that represent youth with disabilities are:
Like any other service or business partner, we are more apt to work with people who take the time and interest to learn what we do and how we do it. Approach us by saying, “Here’s what we can do for you.” Nothing works better than someone telling me how they are going to help me, promising a commitment, and then following through on that promise. Knowing that we have helped send someone on the way to being a productive worker is a good feeling. But the feeling only lasts as long as that worker is performing satisfactorily.
* "Winton" is a pseudonym for a young man who worked at our company for several years.
Shelly Ginenthal, the former Vice President for Human Resources with Macworld magazine, was integrally involved in organizing a work-based internship for a youth with a disability who required significant supports and accommodation at that company.
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Citation: Luecking, R., Ed. (2004). Essential tools: In their own words: Employer perspectives on youth with disabilities in the workplace. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota, Institute on Community Integration, National Center on Secondary Education and Transition.
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