Tag Archive for office

Yours, Mine and Ours

don-and-blankenshipI think we can all agree that language matters in the workplace. Often this is a culture indicator; the leadership team at the silk-stocking law firm may (in public at least) be formal and circumspect – “Miss Blankenship, will you please come in here and bring your steno pad?” The dudes running the tech start up down the street however embrace my favorite four-letter word and freely interject this vivid descriptor into any and all conversations – “What the f’ing hell is going on with this f’ing beta test?”

Language also reflects how we view and treat our employees – sometimes in subtle ways.  This struck me the other day after separate conversations with two different leaders from two wildly divergent industries. Fellow A spoke of his team in the context of “we” while Fellow B referred to his staff members as if they were his possessions.

Ours vs. Mine

It struck me that Fellow A came across as inclusive; exhibiting a spirit of “we’re all in this together.”  Fellow B, on the other hand, came across as a total dick. Everyone in his glorified solar system orbited around him; he could scarcely speak of others without relying on his own title and elevated function to describe their jobs.

Do your leaders or managers say:

  • my administrative assistant” or “the department’s administrative assistant”
  • my A/P clerk” or “our A/P clerk”
  • my HR Rep” or “the company’s HR Rep”

Does it sometimes make sense for a bona-fide denizen of the C-suite to say “contact my assistant to schedule that?” Sure. Although saying “contact my assistant Ida to schedule that” (use her name!) recognizes Ida as a self-sustaining and productive member of the team and not merely an entity that exists solely for the continuation of Mr. C-Suite’s exaltation.

Know what I mean?

This isn’t Mad Men anymore – “My girl will take your coat.” “My girl can get some coffee for you.”

Oh well, it’s 2 pm. Freshen up my drink won’t you Miss Blankenship?

Death to the Executive Washroom

outhouseHave you taken a trip to a school lately – grammar school, high school, university?  If so you’ve probably noticed the continuing tradition of labeling parking spots for a select few employees (Principal, Assistant Principal, 2nd Assistant Principal, etc).

This is true at a number of corporate organizations as well; the C-Suite folks get reserved parking spots right by the door while Joe and Sally lunch-bucket must park several blocks away between a 10’ x 10’ dumpster and an alley where shady transactions occur between un-showered people of indeterminate genders. Meanwhile, Bill the CFO doesn’t have to get a splash of rainwater on his shiny oxfords as he meanders into the building from his parking spot 10 feet from the door.

There’s collective indignation when we read about the lavish executive perks that have long been a mainstay of gilded boardrooms – chauffeured cars, private jets, a suite at the local ballpark.  For decades corporate boards have reminded us that many of these things are necessary to attract and retain senior executives although nowadays it does appear as if some compensation committees are taking a tighter look at pay/perk packages being offered.  And so we applaud and say “well at least they understand the moral outrage from those of us here in the 99%.”

In reality though many of us come face-to-face with social stratification perks that exist in our own organizations everyday.  Our egalitarian, flattened hierarchy, “we’re all in this together” companies continue to subtly differentiate between classes of employees and thus send signals that are quite often in conflict with their stated feel-good values about teamwork, openness and a belief that “every employee is as valuable as the next.”  Executives rule from the top floor with its mahogany lined halls and plush carpeting, VPs get offices, and everyone else finds themselves relegated to a cubicle.  Managers and directors have slightly larger cubicles with higher walls although, naturally, directors have a few more feet of cubicle space as befits their loftier title.

The mailroom and purchasing department staffers, down on the lowest floor near the loading docks, have access to one dimly lit unisex bathroom. The gals in HR have bowls of potpourri on their bathroom counters and a private quiet room with a couch.  The senior executives have separate facilities safely behind the glass doors that seal off mahogany row from the rest of the company; surely you can’t expect the SVP of Marketing to stand at a urinal next to Phil from IT.

Expense accounts.  Golf outings during the day.  The ability to slip out and attend professional association lunch meetings or evening networking receptions that start at 5 PM.  An office with a window, a nameplate on the door and an ergonomic chair personally fitted to alleviate lower back pain.  The ability to park, for free, close to the office building as opposed to 4 blocks away accompanied by the necessity to pay a hefty monthly parking fee. The freedom to enjoy some work-life integration and flexible hours with no need to worry about getting scolded disciplined chastised for being 15 minutes late to work because your daughter’s school bus was late.

Many of these things are viewed as being part of the rite of professional passage.  If you strive to do well, get promoted and become a senior staffer or manager then you too can be treated a little better.  “It’s the American way” we say while reminding ourselves of Horatio Alger (even though many people in 2014 wouldn’t know Horatio Alger if he fell out of a tree in front of them).

‘With grit and determination come rewards’ could be the collective mantra of the workplace; this is not just true in ‘corporate’ entities but in government, non-profits and, well, any business.

And I concur; hard work will garner benefits and should be rewarded.

But sometimes organizations, without even thinking about it, continue to promote a culture of the haves vs. the have nots; the royals vs. the unwashed masses; the chosen vs. the worker bees.  It brings to mind what the pigs had to say in George Orwell’s Animal Farm:

“All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others

Happy Holidays! To Some of You…

Christmas LightsEarlier this week we gathered in the glow of the twinkling lights at SHRMs #nextchat (hosted by @weknownext) to chat about HR’s Holiday Headaches; you can read a recap here.

One of the topics we discussed was whether it’s better to be all inclusive or all exclusive at the office during the holidays.  In other words – parties/gifts for some or parties/gifts for all?

In the time since the chat I’ve paid attention to various company holiday festivities happening across my social network.  While the vast majority of people attending company functions tend to be gathering with their teams (“it’s the Marketing Department Christmas Lunch!”) or their entire company (“the CFO is on the dance floor again!”), I’ve also noticed that some folks are heading off to company-sponsored holiday parties for “the management team” or “the salaried staff.”

I’m not saying people who have a close work kinship should forego small gatherings; sometimes you just want to swap gifts and pass the wassail cup with a few close work friends.  I think we can all agree it’s more enjoyable to party with your pals than to trade stilted small talk with some random co-worker’s spouse while waiting to swap your drink ticket for a gin and tonic at the Company Gala.

But when these shindigs occur during the work day you can’t tell me that all the peons “hourly workers” aren’t wondering why they’re left to run the place while the folks who pull down a hefty paycheck get to head off for a steak and seafood luncheon on the company dime.  With their faces pressed plaintively against the cafeteria window the gals from Accounting watch as the chosen few bundle themselves into their late-model coupes, sedans and gleaming SUVs before they go roaring off with holiday spirits high.  And then the gals from Accounting, being careful to clock back-in, head back to their desks to tackle some more debits, credits and reconciliations.

And as the leadership team spends a leisurely afternoon diving into the fresh bread basket, sharing childhood Christmas memories, and exchanging favorite New Year’s cocktail recipes, Glenn the Production Supervisor is back at the office fuming.  Just last week Glenn got the stink eye – and a refusal – when he asked to head out early in order to get to Game Stop in time for their 5 PM inventory re-stocking. “We need you here until 5 PM and that’s what we pay you for” he was told. “The end of year run is our busiest time after all.”   (Glenn also discovers that a December afternoon, when all the managers are enjoying a 3 hour Christmas lunch off-site, is the perfect time to update his resume…)

So Happy Holidays! To some of you…

The Day HR Got Real! – #BRHRcarnival

box of kleenexYou know what is so damn cool?  We have a fantastic group of HR bloggers right here in little ole Baton Rouge, Louisiana.  I’ve told y’all about this before. So today, a few of us decided to run our own little blog carnival, and dedicate it to the awesomeness that is our city – Jimmy Swaggart, Governor Kenneth Bobby Jindal, LSU Tiger stuff, crawfish, Buddy Guy, “Me and Bobby McGee” getting ‘busted flat in Baton Rouge’….yada yada yada.  We will disregard the awfulness that was the sit-ins at the lunch counters, the fact that we have a crappy public transportation system, and the reality of our totally shite interstate system. 

Cuz we still rock.  And the Baton Rouge HR Ladies (well, the 3 of us anyway) will tell you so. 

To celebrate the carnival, go check out Christine Assaf’s words of wisdom at HR Tact, and the witty musings of Dominique Rodgers over at HR Gal Friday. 

It’s on.

******************

One of the problems experienced by human resource professionals is that we’re viewed as, well, not quite “human.”  I’ve always likened it to the scenario when you’re in middle school and you happen (the horror!!) to run into your teacher at the grocery store or in the gas station parking lot.  Until that moment you never quite saw your teacher as having a personal life did you? God knows I never in a million years imagined Ms. Turdzinski buying tampons but there she was one day, in the grocery store line in front of my mother and I, pushing a cart piled high with cat litter, skim milk and cans of tuna.  I. Was. Mortified.

Sometimes when we work in human resources our employees don’t think we have a personal life.  Oh sure, they see the silver-framed pictures of our kids lined up on fancy credenzas and they get to meet our spouse at the annual company holiday party, but they forget that we’re people.  That we, just like them, have ups and downs; good days and bad days; highs and lows.    They expect us to be neutral – steady – impersonal.

Many years ago, in a distant job, I was having an awful day.  Stress levels related to completing a project had ratcheted to an all-time high.  The principal of my daughter’s school had called to discuss an ‘issue.’  My car needed new brakes – again. I was on the tail end of a cold. I was in a foul, foul mood.

And then an employee walked in to my office – with issues of her own.

So I put on my HR Lady face, invited her to have a seat, and let her pour out her story.  It seems she wanted something that, per some pretty specific IRS regulations and related benefit plan documents, she couldn’t have.

She didn’t believe me when I explained it to her.

She didn’t believe me when I pulled out documents, made her a copy, and highlighted the details.

She didn’t believe me when I placed a phone call so that she could hear a 3rd party explain everything to her yet again.

My head hurt.  And I was starting to get pissed.  Wait, correction – I was pissed.

“You have to let me do this.  You’re wrong.  I know you’re wrong!” she shouted at me in desperation.

And then, from behind the shiny, empathetic HR façade and within reach of the ever present Kleenex box on my desk, all the shit from my day and my life – came rushing out:  the brakes, the call from the principal, the g-damn deadline for my boss I wasn’t going to meet.

“Don’t you ever tell me how to do my freakin’ job!!!” I screamed.  Except I didn’t say freakin’.

She was stunned into silence.  Tears sprang to her eyes.  She turned on her heels and walked out of my office.

Worked up, as a description of my temperament, was an understatement. I grabbed my coat, walked out of the building and walked around the block.  Three times.  I think I said freakin’ a couple more times.  Except, once again, I didn’t say freakin’.

**********

When I returned I walked to her work area and asked to speak to her in a private room. I apologized, but this time I was the one with tears in my eyes.

As I told her about my awful, terrible, horrible day and wailed and whined about car troubles and the school principal drama, she listened and nodded sympathetically.

We connected as two human beings.  We were suddenly no longer the HR Lady and an employee, but rather two gals kvetching about life’s setbacks.  Real communication with no BS, no plastic persona, and no “I’m in HR and must be neutral and impersonal.”

That was a day that HR got real.