Together and Alone in the Office

cubicles“Having a cubicle is weird. I’m surrounded by people yet no one talks. I can go all day without speaking to a single coworker.”

A friend recently posted that on Facebook after starting a new job.

Most assuredly that’s the opposite of some of the other well known reasons people hate working in cubicle-land; dealing with the unexpected ‘pop-ins’ from colleagues, hearing every utterance from the loud talker, or finding that your office mates leave papers, mail and other items in your chair as if it’s the post office depository.

I’ve worked with those people.

And I’ve been in office environments where industrious workers, sitting in row upon row of beige cubicles, go through the day speaking in the sort of hushed reverential tones that one uses in a church or cathedral. No music (however muted), no laughter, and only whispered conversations allowed.

Not that long ago I visited a local business with hundreds upon hundreds of suited-up employees stacked in cubicles on every floor. While a few people resided in offices (the higher the title, naturally, the closer one sat to a window) the vast majority of staff members were lined up in soul-sucking cubes. There was minimal color, aside from a few patches of greenery from a plant or two, and I saw nary a human interaction happening in any of the departments through which I wandered.

I didn’t see coworkers huddle with a few chairs pulled together in a shared workspace. Those on phone calls were murmuring in low tones. And while a few people were gathered at the communal coffee pot it was all business; fill ‘er up, make no eye contact, and scurry back to the busy and demanding work that was, apparently, piling up during this 2-minute break.


All I know if I had to drag myself to the office every day only to be “alone” while surrounded by fellow team members, peers, and colleagues I would lose my shit sanity.

Environment, and culture, can energize. It can also causes one’s soul to atrophy.


Running the Foot Race

foot raceI spent some time with a client this morning and the organization’s leader used an analogy during his comments at an all employee meeting that resonated quite strongly with the group.

He compared living our lives to running a foot race.

Certainly this sounds familiar; “it’s a marathon, not a sprint” has, of course, become another business cliche. Yet this morning’s topic veered into some territory that spoke to more than just a personal approach to getting stuff done. Among the things he pointed out:

  • When you’re running life’s foot race you’ll encounter obstacles (hills, pebbles, holes or any number of things) that may cause you to trip or fall
  • Don’t let the foot race get you weary; this takes training and building up your stamina
  • If you notice a fellow runner falter or stumble, your role is to provide assistance and pick him/her up
  • If you successfully run the foot race you can then learn to “run with the horses”

This was not a rah-rah “let’s all get to work and hit the next big target” pep session. Rather it was a reminder to everyone in attendance that the challenges encountered in life’s foot race are not insurmountable. Employees bring their personal lives to work with them every day; they don’t stop running the race just because they’ve walked through the office door.  And that’s…. OK. That’s human.

“Don’t sweat the small stuff” he reminded everyone. “Support each other in your individual foot races and then together we can run with the horses.”






Perfecting the Nanny State: HR and Ethics

Prince_John_with_nannyThere are numerous assignments that human resources professionals either assume for themselves or have thrust upon them: driver of employee engagement, culture cheerleader, diversity leader, and wellness champion come to mind. Well intentioned perhaps but not necessarily well thought out.

Another undertaking that often resides in the HR Department is oversight of corporate ethics. “HR is the conscience of the organization” the thinking often goes. “They’ll make sure we hire people with integrity, and, through continual communication of our values and ideals, ensure operating with integrity stays at the forefront.”

Naturally the SHRM Competency Model includes “Drives the corporate ethical environment” as a behavior within Competency 7: Ethical Practice. At the executive level, per SHRM, this means every competent HR professional “Aligns all HR practices with ethics, laws, and standards” and “Sets the standard for being a role model of ethical behavior by consistently conforming to the highest ethical standards and practices.”

An HR professional recently shared a story with me; in the midst of a pressure-filled situation with a huge operational need (aka revenue generating) to get-some-stuff-done-RIGHT-NOW, an organizational leader suggested that HR cut some corners. Make some concessions. Downright lie. And encourage employees to lie.

The fearless HR professional calmly looked the leader squarely in the eye and said ”no.”
Easy? Not at all. But necessary.

Modeling behavior and operating with integrity as an individual practitioner or as a collective HR function is an absolute must-do. But this is not a one-person or one-department show.

HR professionals are not, as some might say, THE moral conscience of the company. But we are, most assuredly, the custodians and caretakers of ethics and integrity. We’re responsible for promoting ethical behavior from the leadership team and the C-Suite and reminding them they set the standards that trickle down throughout the company. When something’s rotten in the state of Denmark we must have the courage to challenge the behaviors and activities that erode and corrupt everything that is good.

Keep fighting the good fight my friends.


image: wikimedia commons


It’s not the “Brand” – it’s the “Experience”

pinocchioWe can talk all day about employer branding – and we often do.

My friend Lars Schmidt has a definition that I like (and shamelessly use): “Your employer brand, at its core, is the shared values and employee experiences of your organization.”

The important part of that definition, in my estimation, is “employee experiences;” the most critical and often over-looked part of the equation.

Branding is often the sparkly part of HR; there are keynote speakers talking about it, talent acquisition experts are put in charge of Employer Branding departments, and loyal devotees act like evangelical preachers as they roll out EB initiatives in company-after-company. Pretty fun, I imagine, when one’s organization exists to sell technology or entertainment or trendy hipster-friendly fashion. Not as exciting when one is manufacturing cancer-causing chemicals or running a for-profit prison because the department of corrections has been outsourced by the local government.

Of course it’s easier to promote the brand at the beginning stages of the employee life cycle – Join us! Here are our values! See how we fly every employee to Cancun for onboarding!

But the depth and breadth of the employee experience includes environment and supervisors and coworkers. It includes the fact that passive-aggressive employees have been allowed to create internal fiefdoms and exert ridiculous control. It means there’s a historical practice of managers chastising staff members in public forums in the name of transparency. It means that the C-suite folks are out of the office 24/7 while the average employee, who has been wooed with flexible work programs, is expected to sit in a grey cubicle between the hours of 8 and 6 and needs that abundant PTO balance (promoted by Joe the Recruiter!) because she must use PTO every time she leaves the office for an hour-long dentist appointment.

The employee experience includes handbooks and policies. It includes an over-reliance on PIPs because “treating employees fairly and justly” is merely code for giving people a heads-up notice that they’re on their way out the door.

It’s the reality of “we promote from within” meaning “we’ll never pay you as much as an external candidate because employees are capped at a 15% increase even for promotions.”

 So, I wonder… where are the companies truthfully talking about the entire – and real – employer brand?


Surprise Me Rob Lowe! #WorkHuman

workhumanThere are many things I’m looking forward to at the Globoforce WorkHuman 2015 conference including hearing from Tania Luna who is a trainer, consultant and “surprisologist.” She’s a founder, along with her sister, of Surprise Industries where, according to their website, they provide “a collection of non-routine experiences for non-routine people” as they focus on surprising and delighting individuals, couple and companies. Working with SI, a friend, partner, or employer can provide personalized and unique gifts, customize events to create memories, or schedule events ranging from a private yoyo workshop to a Michael Jackson class where one can learn the dance moves to MJ’s Thriller, Beat It or Smooth Criminal.

Imagine giving Karl in Purchasing (who loves loves LOVES MJ!) a never-to be-forgotten memory? That’s just one example but it’s illustrative of how organizations are refining their understanding of how human relationships at work can energize, excite, and transform the business. HR and business leaders are starting to “get it;” appreciation and recognition is much more effective when we bring the personal-and-human element back into the workplace. Karl probably doesn’t want another lapel pin to toss in his dresser drawer…but Karl will never forget learning how to moon walk.

And that’s what we’re going to talk about at WorkHuman. We’re going to explore engagement, recognition, psychology, and technology. We’re going to discuss the business impact of the human-centered workplace. We’re going to hear from keynote speakers including:

  • Arianna Huffington (Co-founder and editor-in-chief of The Huffington Post)
  • Rob Lowe (Best-selling author, activist, and award-winning actor)
  • Adam Grant (Wharton School professor of psychology and best-selling author)
  • Shawn Achor (Harvard-trained researcher and NY Times best-selling author)

This is going to be good. I don’t even care which Rob Lowe shows up; I’m just looking forward to his stories about teamwork, risk-taking, work, and life. (Oh…and please please please let him talk about the Snow White at the Oscars thing…)

According to Globoforce CEO Eric Mosley “WorkHuman is designed to empower organizations to harness the transformative power of emotional connections among colleagues, and supercharge efforts to build a humanity-focused workplace culture.”

Interested in joining us? Use code RSWH15100 and you’ll receive $100 off the registration price.

I hope to see you there!


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