Comfort Food and the American Worker

I don’t like to cook. Nor, for that matter, am I all that enamored of baking. It’s quite sad actually because my grandmother was fantastic in the kitchen; she could effortlessly whip up a kugel or get the weekly Sunday roast on the table with ease. My grandpa owned a butcher shop as did his parents before him. (That picture at the top of the post is from a receipt book from my great grandmother’s store on 10th & Hadley in Milwaukee, Wi – circa 1920 or so).  Somehow though the cooking gene didn’t get downloaded into my DNA.

My mother is a passable cook (hi Mom!) and my daughter is a whiz in the kitchen who loves to spend hours experimenting with new things and replicating old family favorites. Thankfully my husband loves to cook and bake; blessings upon my mother-in-law for teaching him. When he’s in the kitchen, which is quite often, he makes things like bobotjie, melktart and koeksisters. Thanksgiving dinner now means instead of my lackluster attempt at making a pumpkin pie, Mr. S. prepares a Malva Pudding.

When I’m the one in charge of dinner…I call Waitr.

Yet, I realized last night as I found myself IN THE KITCHEN AND AT THE STOVE (!!!), I’ve been cooking an awful lot lately. To the point where I paused for a bit, put down my wine glass, and thought it through. I ran through the several meals, per week, I have cooked over the last month. Granted, nothing spectacular, elegant, adventurous or exotic. Nope; I’ve been cooking “comfort foods.”

Tuna casserole (check). Au Gratin potatoes (check). Bacon and eggs (check). Spaghetti (check). Casseroles, in the US Midwest tradition, made with Campbell’s condensed soups (check). Ice cream for dinner. (check).

Comfort foods. All of them.

In 1966, the Palm Beach Post used the phrase “comfort foods” in a story and it’s often credited as one of the first uses of the phrase: “Adults, when under severe emotional stress, turn to what could be called ‘comfort food’—food associated with the security of childhood, like mother’s poached egg or famous chicken soup.”

Am I under severe emotional stress? Maybe. I dunno. I have my days. And things have ratcheted up at the office lately so, to some degree, there’s added stress. But nothing that a big old heaping bowl of cheese and carbs can’t satisfy if you know what I mean!

And then, the more I got to thinking about it, the human need for “comfort food” is why so many of the Wellness Programs launched by well-intentioned HR gals/guys are doomed to failure. Not that long ago I had a chat with a fellow HR lady about “Wellness Programs” and we meandered down the same well-worn path; healthy eating, weight loss, blah blah blah.

“I should just replace the junk food in the vending machine so our employees can’t buy crap!” 

“Everyone in Louisiana eats too much fried food; maybe we shouldn’t allow them to bring it on-site!” 

“That macaroni and cheese is just clogging up everyone’s arteries!’

Hey Pam in HR … listen up! There’s a reason, based on decades of research tradition, why donuts are the thing that everyone brings to the office in the morning to share with their coworkers. Walk into an office and saunter up to the coffee pot and you’ll find Kringle, King Cake and Kolaches……….not Kale.

Heading to the office to slog away at some bullshit thankless job for 40+ hours a week is hard enough; don’t take away our cupcakes and give us quinoa cookies.

We want comfort. Or at least a damn big slab of bread pudding.

Longing to Belong

I’ve recently found myself diving into multiple conversations, online and off, about “belonging” at work. I’ve been reading articles and news stories about the topic, veered off course in a twitter chat about Diversity & Inclusion yesterday, and have spent a bit of time gauging the climate at my own workplace by observing, asking questions and reviewing some of the norms embedded in our workplace DNA.

Here on the home front I’ve been looking at things like (1) do we let employees express their thoughts and opinions? (2) how are we recognizing people for their accomplishments? (3) do individuals feel valued – not just for their job performance but do they feel valued as unique contributors? (4) are we allowing people to use their special skills and talents in ways that make them “come alive” but also bring a positive impact to the business?

Then last night I read this article – Nearly half of LGBTQ Americans haven’t come out at work – and it’s pretty heartbreaking. In the survey cited in the article, 46% of LGBTQ workers say they are closeted at work and 31`% of LGBTQ workers say they have felt unhappy or depressed at work.  Per the survey, the top reason LGBTQ workers don’t report negative comments they hear about LGBTQ people to a supervisor or human resources is the belief that nothing would be done about it and they don’t want to hurt their relationships with coworkers.” (The full report, A Workplace Divided: Understanding the Climate for LGBTQ Workers Nationwide, can be found here.) 

I also, recently, had the chance to do an episode of WorkHuman Radio with my friends at Globoforce (you can find the link to the show and my related musings here). During the radio chat we talked about operating from a core belief that all people (employees) are entering your company with an innate desire to do their best work. Yet, in our organizational zeal to “win,” I find that we often set up so many roadblocks and obstacles that we demoralize and un-empower those same folks we say we want to “include.” I think there can be a shift though if we (1) Promote values of confidence, freedom, and trust in order to provide a safe environment for employees to learn, create, and collaborate (2) create a workplace that recognizes each employee’s unique contribution, even when their personalities or styles may be a bit quirky.

Yes; “belonging” at work has been consuming my mind. This post is pretty much just me thinking aloud because I’m continuously planning the next steps of the journey. It’s a trip we need to take.

People are longing to belong.

 

The Not-So Magical Place Where HR Policies are Born

Most everyone, I imagine, is somewhat familiar with the Cabbage Patch Dolls, and perhaps, to a lesser degree, the origin story that accompanied them (as explained on Wikipedia):

Xavier Roberts was a ten-year-old boy who discovered the Cabbage Patch Kids by following a BunnyBee behind a waterfall into a magical Cabbage Patch, where he found the Cabbage Patch babies being born. To help them find good homes he built BabyLand General in Cleveland, Georgia where the Cabbage Patch Kids could live and play until they were adopted.

BunnyBees are bee-like creatures with rabbit ears they use as wings. They pollinate cabbages with their magic crystals to make Cabbage Patch babies.

Colonel Casey is a large stork who oversees Babyland General Hospital. He’s the narrator of the Cabbage Patch Kids’ story.

Otis Lee is the leader of the gang of Cabbage Patch Kids that befriended Xavier.

(This discovery legend would be reproduced on every Cabbage Patch Kids product from 1983 onward.)

Aw; cute! The whole mythology with the stork, the cabbage leaves and the pollinating bees (no birds?) is full of saccharine sweetness and innocent enough to appeal to both the targeted tots and their great grandmas who buy the dolls,

Not everything in this world though has such a pure and virtuous evolution story. Take, for instance, the origins of company policies; HR or otherwise.

Certainly most companies have multitudinous policies; there are Company Policies written and disseminated by the fine folks in Accounting (A/P and A/R), Purchasing, Safety, IT, Security and even Marketing (“don’t talk to the media unless you are an authorized representative!”).

There is, however, a special place of honor (or a special place in hell) reserved for human resources policies. These are the directives everyone is referring to when they say “it’s against company policy.”  Oh sure, your Director of Accounting may have issued a 12 page Sarbanes-Oxley Compliance Policy but who, other than the rest of the accounting nerds, really knows what’s in it?

But the HR Dress Code Policy? Policy #G1-325.17? Section C, paragraph (1), subsection (a)? You can be damn sure everyone can quote it section, line and verse.

Why, I sometimes get to wondering, are human resources professionals so in love with writing, revising and adding more and more pages to the already lengthy manuals that grace our corporate offices?  (“This shall be my magnum opus,” Pam whispered breathlessly as she put the finishing touches on the 2018 revision of Acme Corporation’s Handbook for Associates).

Yes of course there are legitimate and necessary reasons to issue policies:

  • Provide guidance
  • Outline expectations
  • Ensure consistent practices
  • Maintain legal compliance (truth is, there are some items you just must issue in written or electronic form and gather acknowledgment signatures verifying dissemination) and/or CYA

There are also really dreadful and unnecessary reasons to issue (or create new) HR policies:

  • One employee did something bad, stupid or inexcusable and so an entire policy is crafted
  • A weird once-in-a-millenium event occurs (the work week ends on Leap Day which also coincides with Mardi Gras Day and time/payroll processing will be adjusted) so a “when this occurs” bullet point/sub paragraph is added to an existing policy
  • There is an overwhelming desire to create a laundry list of every possible unforeseen employee transgression that “might” lead to termination
  • An HR practitioner/leader feels the need to prove how necessary her job is by writing policy after policy after policy so she enters job-preservation mode and cranks them out by the bucketful
  • An HR practitioner/leader secretly enjoys the moniker “HR police” even though he regularly complains to everybody how bad he feels when everyone considers him the “HR Police”

Yes; you need policies. Good HR policies provide a foundation for you to outline behavior and expectations as well as communicate rights and responsibilities for your staff. Well written policies educate and clarify.

Not every policy of yours has originated in a tranquil cabbage patch filled with bees and butterflies.  Those bad policies, whether they be poorly written or just plain superfluous, need to go.