The ennui of the average worker

Once upon a time people worked in offices like this. Desks lined up in neat and orderly rows. Handbags tucked securely inside drawers. Open concept…well, for some of the employees.

As this picture dates from the 1960’s, my guess is this was where the gals in the secretarial pool sat. The fellas, no doubt, had plush and luxurious offices with windows.

I am worn out just looking at this picture.

Now for all I know these busy employees were doing stimulating and enthralling work. Maybe they were processing multi-million dollar wire transfers to exotic foreign lands or solving complex engineering problems.

Perhaps Beatrice there (2nd desk, cat eye glasses, bouffant hairdo) read The Feminine Mystique and realized she too suffered from ‘the problem that has no name’ so she marched out and got a job a few years ago.

At first it was fun. There was something new to learn every day and she was thrilled, beyond belief, to feel productive and empowered. She learned to operate that fancy multi-line telephone on her desk and initially found the endless repetition of running adding machine tapes hour-after-hour somewhat soothing. Mr. Jones, her boss, was very nice to ‘his girls.’ which is how he referred to Beatrice and her coworkers Enid, Maeve, Wanda Mae and Gladys. He (well, his wife) made sure the girls got a bouquet of flowers on their birthday to place on their desk, and he never (ever!) raised his voice; he didn’t want to upset anyone lest she be having her monthly female visitor.

But then boredom set in. Excruciating, teeth-numbing, soul crushing boredom.

Beatrice, after several years in her job, has moved from satisfaction to the point of contentment. But this is not contentment that resulted, as one might have anticipated, in continued happiness and acceptance. Rather, it resulted in further listlessness. Restlessness.

Ennui.

Beatrice became what we call today, 50 years later, a ‘disengaged employee.’

Disengagement at work is not always due to compounding negative forces; it can just as easily arise due to ennui.

Perhaps that’s a ‘problem that has a name.’

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image of 1960’s workspace via Sacramento Municipal Utility District

this post originally appeared at the HR Schoolhouse

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How a TYPO Reinforced Company Culture

Working in human resources means that one spends an inordinate amount of time writing and sending out “official” missives and documents to employees. Very important things like policies, handbooks, sternly worded admonishments, and memos about cleaning out the refrigerator.  And while an e-mail informing employees they are not to feed donuts to the alligator (yes; I’ve sent that one) can be cranked out in a minute, some of our HR tomes take considerably longer to complete.

Recently, our HR team has been working on a revision of the Employee Handbook; some additions, a few deletions, and a bit of clarification. You know the drill.

We finished writing and let it marinate for a few days. We did a spell check, several read-throughs and a bit of formatting in order to finally release this magnum opus to the in-boxes of our expectant and eager workforce.  Then, task completed, we settled in to await the satisfying “pings” signifying that acknowledging e-signatures were flooding in from our enthusiastic team members.

Hold the accolades though because (ruh-roh!) we got notification there was a typo. A decent typo too; not something that HR people spell wrong every day like FSLA (fat fingered typing), HIPPA (laziness) or Workman’s Comp (stuck in the 1970’s).

It wasn’t the f-word or anything (which would have really been epic!!) and the employee was not upset or offended by any stretch of one’s imagination. But, had this scenario played out at some of my previous organizations, it would have led to oodles of hyper-ventilating HR ladies running around clutching their pearls while TPTB screamed through the phone lines.

However, as none of our HR team members are particularly fond of pearls and we possess an actual sense of humor we had a better idea. Let’s run a contest!!

So below is what we immediately (well, after 30 minutes of non-stop laughter) sent to all employees: 

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Attention all employees!  

As you know, one of our company values is Embrace That Which is Unusual (meaning we like stuff that’s quirky, offbeat and, well, funny). Another value is Ubiquitous Uniqueness (in other words, the company is made up of HUMAN BEINGS).  

Because we’re human beings (and spell check doesn’t catch EVERYTHING) there’s a little typo in the just released Employee Handbook. And, because we found it hilarious (!), we’ve decided to run a contest:

THE GREAT WORD SEARCH CONTEST RULES

STEP 1: Search the document for the word that, according to the Urban Dictionary, is described thusly:

Synonyms:

1. Most swear words and obscenities.

2. Thrush, herpes, the clap, syphilis, and venereal diseases in general.

3. Anything worthy of the following descriptions: shit, minging, crap, etc.

Usages: 

1. OH xxxxxxx!

2. Oh dear, I think I caught the xxxxxx off old Bertha.

3. This is a pile of rotten xxxxxxx!

STEP 2: Send an email to HRLady1or HRLady2 (by Wednesday 9/25 at 8 AM CST) telling us:

  • The offending word
  • Page number

All entrants will go into a drawing and the winner will receive an Amazon gift card!

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To quote a member of our sales team: “[this is] the first time ever I’m excited to read an employee handbook. You have accomplished the impossible.”

#WinningHR

p.s. we sound fun don’t we? You want to hang out with us, don’t you? If you’re heading to the #HRTechConf in a few weeks, come meet us in person and enjoy a little “Afternoon Delight”

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People, Culture and Inclusion: #CultureFirst19

I’m spending a few days in San Francisco at Culture Amp’s #CultureFirst19 event. The conversations (which I love!) are centered around building and nurturing company cultures that are competitive advantages.

The attendees at this event are super engaged and “get it” – these are people who are passionate about transforming work. One aspect I find particularly inspiring is the folks I’ve run into who are relatively “new” to the People/HR profession and are here – purposefully! – because they have both a desire and an ability to create (from the ground up in some cases) workplaces that are people-centered from the get-go. Oh sure, there are conversations occurring in every nook-and-cranny in the hall about linking employee insights/feedback and performance data (sounds very HR, I know). But the dynamic of these chats is not “traditional HR” – yeah…I think you know what I mean. There’s energy. There’s positivity. There’s talk about “what’s possible” and the future is viewed not with fright or skepticism but with eagerness.

Culture Amp (the company) is an employee feedback and analytics platform well-known for providing insight (and actionable advise) to its customers using engagement and performance data. I’ve been a fan for a number of years as I’ve watched the company grow and expand while remaining true to their mission and focus. Solidifying this for me, yesterday, was the fact that Didier Elzinga (CEO/Founder) opened the conference with a wonderful (and very human and personal) session.

There are numerous exciting things coming out of this event (stay tuned for what I learned about Foresight Engine!) but there’s one thing I jumped on immediately: Culture Amp’s Diversity and Inclusion Starter Kit.

This is a free (yes) tool available to anyone: small orgs, large orgs, Culture Amp customers and non-customers alike.

Using this starter kit will provide you with access to:

  • a research backed D& I survey
  • advanced analytics
  • clarity and understanding (stuff like heatmap visualization and embedded NLP tech)
  • insights based on your specific org’s survey results
  • recommendations (and inspiration) to start driving change

If diversity, equity and inclusion are top-of-mind for you — check it out. Here’s where you can sign up.

#culturefirst

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Walking Towards Futility: A Wellness Fail

It seems there is nothing that brings HR professionals as much joy as rolling out tortuous physical activities for unwitting employees in the name of “Wellness.” There are companies that, in the quest to promote healthy lifestyles (aka “lower health care premiums”) have mandated everything from Jazzercise to rock climbing to participating in a local 5k run/walk for their employees. And yes…mandated; meaning they’ve tied participation in such activities to performance appraisals and salary reviews.

I once worked for an organization that, to be fair, was very transparent about why it ran and supported a wellness program; to save money. Health insurance costs were forever rising at a seemingly exorbitant rate and, as the company had a self-insured medical plan, this meant each month the checks cut from the company checkbook were growing ever larger. In addition, those expenses that had not sufficiently budgeted for came right out of the end of year calculation for the bonuses paid to leaders. In other words, a few medical catastrophes spread across the employee population (or their covered dependents) might mean that VP Bob wouldn’t be able to buy his vacation home in the mountains.

Sad.

So, with lowering costs as the primary reason, the company launched a Wellness Program a number of years ago. It’s important to note that when a company labels such an initiative a “program,” you have your first clue it has nothing to do with truly caring about people’s health, financial stability or mental and emotional wellness. And this program, like many before and since, had all the hallmarks of failure including making participation a chore (“track your meals and turn in this checklist!”) and running multiple “Biggest Loser” contests which are just about the worst activity to run from both a legal and health standpoint.

There was also, as you may imagine, quite a bit of employee shaming that ran rampant. One of the HR zealots told me, with quite a bit of pride, that he saw it as his DUTY to promote healthy eating. He would wander through the employee lunchroom, on a regular basis, and stop and have discussions with employees about their meal choices: “Sandy! Do you really want to eat that leftover friend chicken? A better choice would be a healthy salad with some lentils and a vinaigrette dressing!”  (inner monologue from Sandy in Accounting: ‘get out of my life crazy HR dude.’)

At one stage, amongst this backdrop of ill-informed and ill-placed intentions, it was dictated from those-on-high that additional physical activities were needed in order to ‘get everyone healthy.’  The answer, determined by an avid runner sitting up high on the org chart, was to institute walking activities! This was to include:

  • Setting up an obstacle course in the company parking lot so employees could head outside during their 10-minute breaks and 30-minute meal time to ‘get in a few steps’
  • Running a Couch-to-5k challenge
  • Awarding points, on the employee’s annual performance evaluation, if they participated in one of several chosen Run/Walks on a Saturday morning

OK, you may think, those aren’t so bad (well, other than the tie-in to a job performance review). But here’s the deal:

This was not a 9-to-5 organization; people weren’t cooped up in an office and sitting at desks all day and thus eager to ‘stretch their legs’ at lunch time.

  • The majority of employees worked evening shifts or overnight so talking a walk in the parking lot would have meant strolling around, in the dark, at 11 PM or 2 AM.
  • The nature of the work meant that most everyone’s job included STANDING ON THEIR FEET and/or WALKING for the duration of their shift; by the time meal time came all they wanted to do was sink into a chair for a few blessed minutes.
  • This was in south Louisiana. In the summer. With heat, humidity and mosquitos as big as your fist.

But running a couch-to-5k challenge? What’s wrong with that? Well, when the average hourly wage is just over $12 per hour it’s a bit much to expect someone to purchase appropriate footwear ($150? $200?) and pay the entrance fees for a 5k.

As for those somewhat-mandated Run/Walks and 5ks, well, all of them (I mean all of them) occur on Saturday mornings; usually kicking off between 7 AM and 9 AM. On a day, and a time, when the vast majority of employees were either just getting off shift after working all night, or, sleeping because they had worked until 3 AM.

Oh yes…there were many wellness fails at this organization:

There was no consideration of the fact that in a multi-gendered workforce that spanned ages 18 to 80, individuals would have not only varying physical abilities but also differing metabolisms.

Activities and plans were formulated by leaders with lots of disposable income and disposable time. Their prism of privilege meant they never gave any thought to the fact that employees had multiple jobs to make ends meet or ate white bread and processed-lunch-meat sandwiches because they couldn’t afford to purchase fresh fruit with granola when their take home pay for the week was $300.

This stuff drives me crazy.

Pass me the quinoa please.

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For a recent conversation “Calling BS on Wellness Programs” – check out this episode of New Yawk HR where we also offer some helpful (hopefully) tips.

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Company Values: Not the Same as It Ever Was

I have, over the course of time, participated in and/or facilitated numerous activities designed to create, define and encapsulate company “Mission, Vision & Values.” 

Quite often, because some training facilitator settled on a way to approach this exercise in 1987, this process has involved a cross-section of employees and other stakeholders settling themselves into a room armed with flip charts, markers, and cartons of post-it notes. There may have been focus groups, assessments, surveys and iterative discussions prior to this day but THIS one-day event (with catered lunch!) has been the culmination of hours upon hours of work. I’ve seen some raw emotions too; at one organization a senior leader, not accustomed to a collaborative process, stormed out of the room flinging papers and markers in her wake.

Good times.

Certainly there are some people who think this is a colossal waste of time; fluff dreamed up by management consultants and HR folks. After all, thinks Mr./Ms. MoneyBags CEO, “our missionis to make money, our visionis to make MORE money, and our valuesare to make that money in whatever way we need to make it.”

I, however, have always believed that clarity around M/V/Vs not only aligns people across an organization but provides a guiding point – a lodestar if you will, for everyone to follow. 

We recently went through this exercise at my company and, let me say, it was GREAT! No conference rooms with post-it notes for us though; we’re 100% virtual so we worked through the process via Zoom calls and whiteboarding things out on Google Docs. There may or may not have been adult beverages involved.  

What I have determined, over the years, is that the mission and vision part is relatively easy; why we’re here and we’re going. Most every company can easily articulate this with just a modicum of prodding.

It’s the values part that leaves people flummoxed, confused and exasperated. It can be an arduous task for leaders to allow employees to not partake of some serious self-reflection but also to have the discussions around the “not so good things” about a company’s deeply-held beliefs. (Inverting the question and asking “what is our company NOT” or “what do similar organizations do that we would NEVER do?” can lead to some interesting discussions).

So because it’s hard, and then because it’s safe, these M/V/V teams end up just tossing word-salad up on the wall and calling it a day. This, my friends is why 99.9% of organizations have the same values: teamwork! communication! service! integrity! (blech). Watered down pabulum. 

But in our recent foray into encapsulating and defining our company values we didn’t settle for the mundane.  I’m telling you, not only was the process great but I so love what we came up with that I feel the need to share. Let me present, the Strio Consultingvalues:

  • No Doors and Open Windows Lots of companies talk about an “open door” culture but we embrace a culture with no doors and wide-open windows. We’re transparent and accessible to our clients and to each other. Got a question? Ask it. Need access to someone? You got it. Think something sucks? Bring it up.
  • Doing Things Right Means Doing the Right Thing We’re honorable and trustworthy in all our interactions; integrity is non-negotiable. We play it straight from the get-go and, if we screw up, we own it. The needs and interests of our clients are top of mind. Always. 
  • Embrace That Which is UnusualWe’re OK with being weird. Really. We consider it a badge of honor to be of strange or extraordinary character. Got humor? We like that too.
  • Unburdened by Tradition We’re not bound by the traditional walls of an office nor are we stuck in the typical nine-to-five grind. With a reverential nod to workplace customs that have served us well, we take great delight in consigning the soul-sucking, outdated ways of doing things to the trash heap of business practices as we focus on the future of work. We pride ourselves in the way we work; we’re creative, adaptable and fast-moving – and we help our clients work this way too.
  • Bold and Brainy We surround ourselves with people who exhibit insatiable curiosity; people who read, learn, explore and debate. We like people who ask “why?” and we love nothing more than answering that question.
  • Ubiquitous Uniqueness Our community – our company – is made up of human beings and we celebrate the individual. Be yourself. Be unique. Be special. Live your best life.

What we believe, how we operate and what’s important. These are ours and no one else’s; and most definitely NOT the same as it ever was. 

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Heading to WorkHuman? Join me for the panel Beyond Buzzwords: Real Talk on What it Takes to Create an Amazing Culture”with Michelle Prince, SVP, Global HR, Global Head Learning & Development, Randstad; John Baldino, President, Humareso; and Niamh Graham, VP of Global HR, WorkHuman.

Haven’t registered yet? Use code WH19INFRSC for a discount! 

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