I Refuse to Maintain the Status Quo

I dare say that most humans are creatures of habit and routine. That’s not necessarily a bad thing; in our hurly-burly lives it’s nice to rely on muscle-memory so we can drive the same daily route to the office or know that Friday evening will inevitably be comprised of pizza, pajamas and movies. The usual and ordinary tasks we have are pretty straightforward when we do them the way we’ve always done them.

Naturally this tendency to adhere to the tried-and-true carries over into our work life. Whether we’re cranking out TPS reports or processing journal entries we get into the flow and rhythm. This is also a good thing. People who take comfort in the unremarkable may find a sense of peace cranking through mundane tasks. And for those folks who chafe at “sameness” day-after-day, entering automatron mode allows them to churn through the repetitious soul-crushing chores that exist in every job.

Now envision a department filled with people simultaneously jogging on the procedural treadmill as they push out the same reports, take the same phone calls, and sit in the same meetings week after week. Picture rows upon rows of cubicles. Department after department. Floor upon floor. A humungous organization located in either a suburban office park or on a busy street in a bustling urban city center.

Certainly all those workers are providing some sort of value as they strive to meet organizational goals while, undoubtedly, participating in the latest Corporate (HR) program-of-the-month designed to simultaneously boost engagement, track OKRs, and determine annual compensation increases?

There may be a fancy new name to this program-of-the-month but, let’s be real –  it’s the same old state of affairs.

And when you’re part of an existing entity, whether that be your job/company or your personal life/family, there’s an incentive to maintain the status quo.

It’s easy.

It’s cozy.

It’s safe.

And while human resources professionals are particularly adept at (and quite fond of!) maintaining the status quo, we are not alone amongst our corporate brothers and sisters.  In the corporate setting we’re often more keenly focused on reducing risk rather than setting our sights on maximizing potential.

So we make the “safe” hire. We stick to the same procedures whilst also building additional steps and creating complexity for the most insignificant processes (“let’s have the SENIOR Director sign off for all office supply purchases too!”). We rely on last year’s numbers (and the year before and the year before that). We look backward (only) instead of looking forward. We research other companies’ ‘best practices’ instead of designing our own ‘NEXT practices.’

We stay on the hamster wheel.

I get it. I totally get it.

But as for me? I want to try new things. I don’t want to settle for merely doing what’s easy, comfortable and that-which-has-come-before.

I refuse to maintain the status quo.

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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.

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Ass in Chair, Inc.

Right now, as you’re reading this, people around the world are sitting in their offices. They have a desk, chair, phone and a computer with a monitor. Maybe two monitors if they either work in IT or are sufficiently high enough on the corporate food chain to get the requisition approved that uses valuable budget dollars to appropriate a second monitor.

The lucky ones have a cup of coffee, a can of Diet Coke or a packet of M&Ms within arm’s reach. Not everyone is afforded that luxury however; there are plenty of workplaces that don’t allow the worker bees to have any beverage or food at their desks. I’ve heard tales from one company in the UK that maintains such a policy although they do permit each employee to have a 500ml bottle of water. With an eye towards an aesthetically pleasing uniformity, all the bottles match.

Closer to home I’ve had conversations with numerous folks who are confined to a desk or cubicle with no ability to keep sustenance close at hand. The general corporate blather, usually passed on from HR, is (a) “we want you to relax and take a well-deserved break at lunch!” (wellness blah blah blah) or (b) “we want the facility to look nice when clients come to visit.” (even though no clients ever actually do come to visit).

I also continue to talk with an alarming number of people who, while perfectly content to head to the break room to grab an energy bar during the mid-afternoon slump, are rarely even afforded that opportunity. There are employees (start time 8 AM!) whose log-in at their workstation is immediately viewable by the department manager; they best be logged-in and ready to roll by 7:59 AM or discipline shall ensue!

  • Have to void your bladder? Sorry; you need to wait until break time at 10:15 AM.
  • Need to get to your doctor’s office by 4:30 PM because they close at 5 PM? Sorry; you’re expected to be at your desk until 4:30 PM. Unless you request and are approved for a full day of PTO you’re not going to be able to make that happen.
  • You want to take call from your kids when they get home safely from school in the afternoon? Sorry; no cell phone use is allowed at your desk. We require you to drop your phone off in the morning and you can retrieve it during breaks or at lunch time. (note: I wrote about a company doing this in 2013; 5 years later and I recently heard of a manager who is contemplating instituting this practice)
  • Christmas Eve and all of the customers, partners and 3rd party vendors you work with are off the grid? Sorry; this is not an official Holiday so you’re expected to be at your desk until the office closes at 5 PM. No; we will not be closing early.
  • What’s that you say? You can get your work done at home? You have a phone and an internet connection? Sorry; we don’t allow anyone to work from home and all employees must report to the office by 8 AM.

Welcome to Ass in Chair, Inc.

 

#culture101

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