What’s Your Workplace Culture?

I was at yet another mandatory departmental training session a week or so ago. The instructor, though relatively young, had some very old school opinions on what a workplace should be. Unfortunately, I think she was expressing opinions that a lot of management-types still hold. For instance: 

  • She thinks the whole work-from-home thing is just a scam lazy people use to get out of coming to the office so they can sit around at home in their pajamas watching Oprah.
  • She thinks workplaces don’t need break rooms/kitchenettes. That they’re just a waste of valuable office space.
  • She thinks the whole home life-work life balance thing is totally screwing productivity.
  • She thinks people should be made to adhere to specific hours. That everyone should be coming in and going home at the same time every day. That too much flexibility has created chaos in the workplace. 

None of this had anything really to do with the course we were taking – these were just related asides. A lot of people think government is a cushy place to work. Sure, we have fairly good benefits and get a reasonable salary, but that’s all we get. Because we’re funded by tax dollars, we can’t spend money on things like bonuses, conferences in exotic locales, employee incentives. We don’t get a Christmas party unless employees pay for it and organize it themselves. We don’t get a gold watch or farewell party on retirement unless the retirees co-workers pitch in and arrange it.

Our workplaces are basic, no-frills places at best. At worst they’re depressing, old shitholes with hobbled together office furniture from the 1970s and technology to match. 

Next week is National Public Service Week in Canada, which is ostensibly supposed to “celebrate the work and achievements of the Public Service of Canada”. Every department “celebrates” differently, but there’s supposed to be one day of the week set aside for some fun activities, with the department providing a lunch or a BBQ – maybe even some cake. I don’t know what it’s like in other departments, but in ours, management has never really participated nor encouraged participation so that it usually ends up being only the summer students and co-op students who take part in anything — if there even is anything.

It’s sad to drag yourself to work every day just for the paycheque and the pension. Does it have to be like that?

The Great Place to Work Institute , based in the US, does an annual survey of workplaces from various countries around the world to determine what makes a workplace great and which workplaces best live up to that.

They’ve determined that the primary defining characteristic of the best workplaces is trust between management and employees. This is followed by pride in the work being performed and good relationships with fellow employees.

A great workplace, they’ve found, embodies the following 5 elements: 

  1. Credibility – Management says what they mean and means what they say. So, when they say “the door is always open” it’s not just lip service. It means they really want employees to come in regularly and talk
  2. Respect – Management encourages and expects employees to look after themselves and their own interests/needs before the work. They understand that personal lives are more important than jobs.
  3. Fairness – Differences in personalities, methods, ideas, people are valued and decisions are made accordingly – not just “across the board”.
  4. Pride – When employees can say and mean, “Every morning I wake up I am more than excited to get to work and do the best I can for a company that really appreciates it.”
  5. Camaraderie – When management makes a workplace fun and enjoyable people have a more positive and friendly attitude toward coworkers and the workplace in general.

The top companies that get onto the Great Place to Work Institute’s lists foster an innovative “people-focused” rather than “profit-focused” culture. They offer things like on-site daycare; flexible work hours and work locations; on-site fitness facilities; well-appointed, comfortable break rooms that encourage socializing and lingering.

The workspaces themselves also are often unique. No more fluorescent cubicles. Some are wide open loft-type spaces with pool tables, sofas and coffee tables, espresso machines, nap rooms, walk-out areas to green space. Some allow pets. Most encourage comfortable attire.

A lot of people would scoff at workplaces like this; thinking it’s unprofessional and just fosters laziness and goofing off; that a company would go broke allowing stuff like this; that it would never work in their workplace. But here’s the reality of these companies. They: 

  • Receive more qualified job applications for open positions.
  • Experience a lower level of turnover.
  • Experience reductions in health care costs.
  • Enjoy higher levels of customer satisfaction and loyalty.
  • Foster greater innovation, creativity and risk taking.
  • Benefit from higher productivity and profitability.

Numerous independent studies have shown that organizations from Fortune’s “100 Best Companies to Work for in America”® list deliver higher returns than their peers. When you invest in your people, you invest in your organization’s success. 

D’uh! Right?

For Public Service Week my workplace has offered to let us have an extra hour for lunch one day so we can have a potluck in a boardroom or maybe outside if the weather is nice. You’ll be shocked to hear that most people have declined this incredible generosity from management.

I know, I know. We’re spoiled brats and you would be dancing in the streets if your employer ever gave you an extra hour for lunch and a pot-luck, right?

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58 responses to “What’s Your Workplace Culture?

  1. One of the things it took me a while to be grateful for after my heart attack was the fact that I didn’t have to go to work anymore. It took me time to get used to it because it’s drummed into us, almost from birth, that we have to go to work and work until we drop.

  2. That instructor is dangerous, and doesn’t have a clue.

    No word of a lie, had I been in your shoes, I would have told her that, probably in those exact same words, before getting up, walking out of the room and going home for the day.

    Don’t waste my time with fucking bullshit like that, and if you don’t like how I feel about outmoded control-based management theories, fire me – you’ll hear from my lawyer.

    (Yes, I work for a pseudo-government establishment, and I’ll tell you, when they start coming down on people like this, perhaps the management had best point their fingers at themselves first to reflect upon the hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars that they have squandered over the decades on failed pipe-dream projects, because they were either too stupid or too proud to admit that they didn’t have a fucking clue what they were doing.)

  3. I hate those clock people. Off and on I’d have some boss that was all “Youve been a few minutes late a couple of days and I want you here at 8:00.” I’d always ask, “What’s the difference between 8:00 to 5:00 and 8:10 or 15 to 5:10 or 15? It’s the same amount of time.” I never understood the rigid adherence to the clock. If you work a good 8 hours what difference does 15 minutes make? What’s with that?
    Oh, and your instructor? She obviously has low self esteem and has a strong desire to be accepted by “the grown ups.” Poor kid.

  4. @geewits,

    You know what you do with the clock people?

    You make sure you’re exactly on time for a week.

    Stand by your office door, and “shush” anyone who tries to talk with you until *exactly* 8:00 because you’re not on company time.

    Enter your office at exactly 8:00, and turn on your computer.

    Turn off your computer at exactly 12:00 (or whatever time you eat), go have a regulation lunch, come back and wait until *exactly* starting time, turn on your computer again.

    At exactly quitting time, turn off your computer, or walk out of any meetings that are going on because it is “quitting time” and you’re simply adhering to the schedule.

    The message will be quite clear. Career limiting, perhaps… but clear 🙂

  5. I have always been lucky and worked for technology companies and it’s all very fluid and open, with no set work times or things like that. And I’ve worked for myself, from home, doing consulting for a number of years and I’ll be honest, you can get a lot more done at home than you do in an office. No one interrupts you at home, for starters.

    I think sometimes managers like to do the rigid times and no working from home stuff because it is their own little power trip. It’s an ineffective way to get people to be more productive, but managers sometimes just don’t see that. If you treat people better, they are more loyal and hard working. It’s not rocket science, it’s common sense and courtesy. And don’t you wonder, why we can’t all just treat each other like adults?

    And yes, that instructor sounds like a total freaking moron. She’s read too many strange management books (written by the Nazis apparently) and has not had enough work experience, I’d say.

  6. i am looking for a new job right now. last week i was sick, so was edie, i quaked at the thought of asking to leave early to pick edie up when the day care called telling me she was fevered. i felt awful calling in sick the next day, feeling their disaproval from across the river. then i proceeded to sleep for 8 hours straight.
    i have no desire to be here today and was kinda sad when my stomach virus cleared up.

  7. I had a clock-watching Nazi-boss last year. It was an obsession with her.

    She scolded me once because it was 20 minutes before quitting time, and I was chatting with my office mate.

    “I know it’s almost the weekend, guys, but it’s only 20 more mintes. Can you TRY to work until the end of the day? ”

    Yah, Mein Fuhrer. Christ, you’d think we were on an assembly line making widgets, where every minute counts.

    Later that summer, my Mom was in the trauma ward last year for several weeks, with a serious head injury.

    Needless to say, I was not very productive at work during that time, I had other things on my mind, like the fact that my Mom was bleeding into her brain.

    When a co-worker came by and chatted, I was relieved for the distraction, and I talked to him. .

    Soon after, the Clock-Nazi (who KNEW my Mom was in the hospital) gave me shit for “chit-chatting”.

    I was to work my 7.5 hours a day, I was told, I apparently should have told the guy to leave, and continued the converstation during break or lunch.

    I could not believe my freaking ears. At that moment, that boss became dead to me.

    I even went to HR to complain later. They shook their head…but asked me to put myself in HER place… Do you think it’s possible, Friar, that maybe she was having a bad day? Maybe she had personal problems at home…?

    Ahhh…see? It was MY fault. Fuck.

    Bullshit like this has lasting repercussions.

    And even though I have another boss now…I still have deeply resent at how I was treated…it’s not something I’ll forget soon.

    Now…I will work to rule. I will do the BARE MINIMUM of what’s required to do my job, and not get in shit.

    And not one iota more.

    Clock-Nazis, congratulations. You win.

  8. Dr. Monkey – I’ve tried hard not to believe that, but you know what’s weird? Whenever I take a day off and just futz around doing errands and stuff I feel compelled to tell people that I’m taking a day off WORK. Like I don’t want them to think I’m retired or unemployed or something even thought I would love to be retired.

    Brett – I did have a rather heated argument with her, but as I said those opinions had nothing really to do with the course and the course was mandatory so I couldn’t really just leave. Also, I don’t have a lawyer.

    Geewits – Ya, I don’t know what her problem was. The funny thing was the last day the building got evacuated due to some health & safety issue and we all had to leave just after 2:00 pm. She was right freaked out that she didn’t get to finish her spiel.

    Kimberly – You don’t have to sell me on the work-from-home thing. I’d be happy to work from home every day and you’re right – I’d get a hell of a lot more done. In fact, I think you probably spend more time actually working when you’re at home than you do dragging yourself into an office every day. I know I do whenever I have the opportunity. And I did notice that a lot of the top companies in the surveys are always tech places. Probably because they have young people at the helm?

    Meanie – I wonder why people think fostering an environment that makes you feel like that is a good thing? It’s ridiculous. When your staff is taking every sick day they’re alloted, every holiday and doing whatever they can to sign up for off-site courses you have to wonder if maybe they’re not enjoying their workplace, wouldn’t you? I’m sorry to hear that job of yours is so shitty. You should have no problems deploying elsewhere. There are a lot of vacancies.

    Friar – That’s exactly what happens when you treat people like crap. Crap goes in – crap comes out. Treat them like responsible grown-ups and by jiminy they might actually behave like responsible grown-ups. It’s been proven by all the successful companies worldwide that providing an enjoyable workplace for employees makes good business sense. It’s good common sense. Why can’t these power freaks get past their own egos?

  9. Working from home and flexing our hours are all standard where I work. The 40-hour work week definitely isn’t. I suspect most people I work with work over 50 hours per week, some well over that. Many have to take conference calls with India or China at 9:00 pm or 7:00 am in order to do the work they need to do.

    Logging on from home on weekends is almost expected. Logging on while on vacation is relatively normal, too. The more companies give you the freedom to work from home, the more company time infringes upon personal time. On the other hand, I never feel guilty about checking personal emails at work, since I often have to check work emails from home.

    We’ve had lots of layoffs lately, and more likely to come. Experienced workers are often the ones cut, even those that have had high ratings. It’s kind of depressing, really.

  10. We’ve all had that kind of boss that makes the workplace intolerable to one degree of another.
    It’s something else when that asswipe is your father!

  11. Funny how you don’t get bonuses, but the bigshot, top dog public servants do… Interesting how my tax dollars can go to them, but not you.

    I work for one of those good companies (though we don’t have a pool table and the fluorescent lighting is still here). The turnover rate is quite low, about half my colleagues have been there longer than I, and I’ve stuck around 16 years.

    However, on this particular Monday, returning from vacation, with an email in my inbox saying I’ll probably have to work late today on a proposal it feels like I’m back in hell.

  12. working for a crown corp, i have a lot of the same complaints. though i have been pretty lucky to have bosses that have allowed me to work my own hours (7:30-3:30) and aren’t clock watchers. plus being moms themselves, they were always very sympathetic when i needed time off for the kid. though they also knew that i would be checking my emails all day and answering questions that needed immediate response. that’s just me.

    i feel badly for the instructor. she isn’t going to be very popular, and unfortunately she will porbably go far in the government. ugh.

  13. *Knock on wood* Management where I work has always been very understanding and willing to give me time off when I need to. I don’t take a lot of leave, but it’s nice that they are not begrudging me when I do. 🙂

    People need time to relax and unwind, as well as recuperate from illness or stress. We’re not robots, afterall!

  14. I’ve never been a government employee per se, but right now I am working with Natural Resources Canada so I’ve had a chance to see the facilities. And I have to say that I’m really impressed with the physical facilities provided to employees: on-site daycare, on-site gym, beautiful walking paths nearby for breaks, a Tim Hortons on-site with lots of comfortable seating and a large-screen television and free-standing computer terminals, and an on-site cafeteria.

  15. Mary Lynn – You shouldn’t have to deal with work issues on weekends or on your vacations. That’s ridiculous. What’s the point of a vacation? Flex time shouldn’t mean that you blend your personal time with your work time.

    Lebowski – Yes, that could be a big problem. I hope when you’re the boss, your workplace will be more progressive and innovative.

    Jazz – Welcome back!! Will we get lots of photos and stories about your trip? The whole vacation thing where you have to work your ass off the weeks before you go away and are swamped with stuff when you get back needs to be addressed, too. That’s a big problem and almost doesn’t make it worthwhile taking a vacation. A lot of managerial types don’t even bother taking time off any more because of that. I know guys at my workplace who haven’t taken a vacation in decades. They accumulate time for a while until they’re forced to take a pay-out of excess vacation time. Crazy.

    Smothermother – Ya, they’re fairly flexible with work hours here, too, though we do have some clockwatchers who make life difficult for others. I was shocked to hear some of the stuff this instructor was coming out with – especially someone of her age and given the position she’s in.

    Pauline – Are you allotted a certain amount of leave or is it just “as required” and at the discretion of your employer?

    Julie – Well, I’ve obviously never worked for Natural Resources, but I’m putting them on my list right now of places to explore! I’ve been with a few different departments and have never worked in an environment like that. Lucky you.

  16. @XUP

    Oh, I’m responsible.

    I do my job, I put in my alloted 7.5 s a day. And I always get good performance reviews (meaning I “fully meet” my requirements).

    But that’s ALL I’m gonna do. Meet my requirements.

    But “exceeding”? Going that extra mile, above and beyond my job description?

    Stuff that happy satisfied employees might do,without expecting any extra compensation?

    Nahhh…forget THAT.

    (Either way, it pays almost the same, anyway). 🙂

  17. @meanie

    “….and was kinda sad when my stomach virus cleared up.”

    I can relate. A couple of summers ago, I was in the dentist’s chair, getting a needle of novacaine in my gums.

    And the only thing I could think of was that I wanted this thing to last as long as possible.

    Because it was STILL better than being at the office.

  18. I totally agree with you, XUP, but most people round here seem to think it’s acceptable if they want to advance or get raises or at the very least keep their jobs. It has become the norm.

    Myself, I limit the amount I work on my time off…which is why I’ll never advance around here.

  19. @XUP-I have a certain amount of leave based on what I have saved up in Peoplesoft, but if once in awhile, I need to leave a bit early, my boss lets me with no worries. It’s nice. 🙂

  20. Those were some interesting comments your instructor made? How did she get hired? Clearly not for her forward-thinking ideas.

    My first job out of university I had a Nazi office manager. I would be at work 15 – 20 minutes early each day and actually start working (not spend the time chit-chatting.) . Yet, on Friday afternoons (and not every Friday) when I needed to leave 10 minutes early to catch a bus back to Ottawa I needed to ask for permission. Really!?

  21. If the clock watcher is your boss or manager, maybe you could ask them to sit down and discuss what is in your job description, so they realize that your work can be done in ways other than strictly 9 to 5. On the other hand, clock watchers are more concerned about control (power) over others, not the actual job itself, so maybe nothing you could do would sway them. That’s why the elements of a great work place are all about honesty and respect and not about gyms and lunch rooms. I bet there are places out there that don’t have a single physical amenity and people still love their jobs because of the respect.

  22. @Julia

    Like you demonstrate, clock Watchers want it both ways.

    I got in shit for “chit-chatting” during work hourse.

    Yet, when we had a work-related dinner to celebrate the end of a project milestone, from 4:00-6:00 PM…and I was “expected” to attend. Because it “would be good for morale”.

  23. Mary Lynn – I’ll take the lack of advancement over personal time any day. After all, in due time when the eager beavers all stroke out or collapse from exhaustion, they’ll need someone fresh and experienced to take over! And there you will be.

    Pauline – That’s nice. We’re usually okay with stuff like that, too, depending on the manager. Some can be real jerks about it, some are okay.

    Stefania – Oh, we don’t want forward thinking ideas in this department. They’re too difficult to implement and get approvals for. It’s best just to keep doing the same old crap over and over even if it doesn’t work. Because that’s how we’ve always done it. (Everyone’s favourite line).

    Julia – Ya, notice of the elements mentioned by the Institute none of them say anything about salary or benefits? Honesty and respect are the cornerstones of any relationship, but someone that’s missed in a lot of workplaces. Government, especially, works on a “need to know” basis where nothing is every really made clear. Some element of respect is forced by the union, but it doesn’t ring sincere most of the time.

    Friar – I put my foot down at attending after hours stuff. Occasionally the try that here with Christmas parties or retirement events, but no one ever shows up. Which I think is a good indication of how people feel about each other and their workplace here.

  24. I have people managing me who have similar thoughts to the woman at your training. They are believe if you butt is not in your chair then you are not working. They also are not very nice. I feel all these ideas make workplace most nerve wracking and disrespectful. I think it makes me spend more time fussing about fitting into their box and takes away time from kicking back and getting work done, feeling trusted and valued.

    I work for giant public University and I just went to a focus group about employee awards and recognition in difficult times. All of the things you mention about public service apply, but people in the group were still throwing out expensive ideas. While people were suggesting iPod give aways, I barreled into thinking, “Just a little freedom in my boundaries and respect for my work/life balance would be great! And a real thank you, maybe!”

    I always keep an eye out for new opportunities at this University, maybe with a more healthy or fair management group.

  25. @XUP

    Exaclty. It’s an indication of how people feel about the work place.

    I’ve seen the other side of the coin.

    In another former career, our Christmas Dinners were at night and well-attended.

    Or the boss would invite us to his house for a BBQ and we’d go. Because it was FUN, and it didnt’ feel like work in the very least.

    Looking back, I only now realize how lucky I was to have experience a work culture like that…at least ONCE.

    Too bad it was in a shitty industry that was dying, and paid lousy. Otherwise I’d still be there.

  26. @coffee with julie & XUP,

    NRCan’s main offices are very nice, as are the head offices of various departments in Ottawa.

    For that matter, the head office’s main building of my company is quite nice and modern.

    My building, as part of another site, has raccoons roaming the hallways at night.

    I’m not kidding.

    I’ve cleaned up the droppings from outside of my office door in the morning.

    And yes, we are a pseudo-government company.

    So I suppose what I’m saying is, just because one office is nice (usually the one where the head honchos work) doesn’t mean they all are…

  27. The best company I ever worked for was a family owned business in highschool. They treated their employees so well. It didn’t matter if you had a little job (like I did) or were an executive…everyone felt appreciated and worked hard. We were given Christmas bonus, gifts and offered free courses to help you along. I had no idea as a kid that that was the most pleasant work environment I would ever experience.

  28. Missy – It’s terrible that you have to work in such an environment every day. It must be very stressful and unpleasant. I don’t know how you manage to stay so pleasant and cheerful all the time. And this is a university yet! Unbelievable. They (and government) should be leading the way in innovative work environments. It seems if you can get into a tech/IT/software type place, they have the best workplaces.

    Friar – I worked at a place once where at the end of the week the boss would come by your office and throw your paycheque on the floor at your feet and say “you don’t deserve this, but I’ll have the labour board after me if I don’t pay you, I suppose” And she wasn’t even trying to be funny. And then she tried to fire me when I refused to attend, at the last minute, a dinner meeting with a guy from head office. The dinner started at 9:00 PM – so she reckoned we’d just work through until then. Good times.

    Brett – AHA! It’s head office that Julie is working at. No wonder. We have ducks and mice in our offices and our carpets are held together with duct tape. They’d leave the frayed chunks, but it’s a health and safety risk. So we have nice smooth, safe duct tape instead. Some of our cubicles have no outlets, so we have two extension cords strung together plugged into something down the hall to make our computers go. We have no kitchens or break rooms; our workstations are, literally from the 1970s and don’t even ask me about the HVAC system. But our head office is gorgeous.

    MM – Man, that’s sad. I keep trying to tell my daughter that the job she has now is pretty damn sweet and she shouldn’t complain so much because she might look back on this as the best job she ever had. I sincerely hope not. I hope the next crop of managers will be more sensible.

  29. Man, I am glad I have not run into that so-called “instructor”…

    My gov gig ain’t so bad. Fairly progressive for a government shop, actually. We have work-out facilities (fee-based), an on-site daycare (albeit with some of the most expensive fees in the City), tele-work happens (I’m doing that for part of the day today while look after my sick daughter), work hours are flex, there are those who work compressed skeds.

    ‘Course I’m the Chief of a Section of 13 folks, so I can set the tone to a certain degree. We do things like have a skating lunch on the Canal in the winter and have a Section BBQ one afternoon in the summer. All of these things are good for moral and weld us together as a tight team… which is necessary in these days of dwindling budgets… do more for less.

    But I wouldn’t be able to without the support of senior management – which I have.

    The key is not to abuse the flexibility that I and my colleagues are granted. For example, I won’t claim the whole day today as “working at home” cuz I didn’t work the whole time… maybe a few hours… the rest I will submit as leave. Occasionally someone will stretch the limits a bit, and as a Manager, I have to push back and insist that time is made up or a leave request be submitted. But this has happened only rarely.

    There are worse places than even the place XUP calls home in the daylight workday hours. I’ve heard horror stories like the clock nazis some of you have mentioned. There are also dress-code nazis, punctuality nazis (OK, I might be a bit like that), no-idle-talk nazis…

    And oh, I’m not yet high enough the food chain to earn a bonus 😉

    @Julie – yup.. I know the building of which you speak and yes, they are quite progressive… but other NRCan locales… hmmm… I’ve heard things…

  30. @XUP

    Wow..that IS pretty Toxic. Throwing your pay-checque on the floor.

    Too bad you didn’t have a union. (At least, I hope you didn’t..with that kind of rampant abuse taking place! )

    @Brett

    At least there aren’t racoons in the cafeteria.

    No…wait. There ARE.

    (As the Lunch Lady told me first hand.)

    World Class.

  31. A while back my old work tried out flexi-time as an experiment. This was based on feedback they had received from workers on a series of training courses they had run to get what is called “Investors in People”- a sort of badge that all companies want to put on letterheads to show folk they are good employers. After a period of 3 months they reviewed the situation checking when people had signed in and out and discovered that people although arriving and leaving at different times on the whole were actually working more time than before.

    The MD was amazed- he had been against the idea because he thought it would be abused. Not a bit of it- people weren’t harassed getting to work after chucking their kids in at school- people weren’t battling through rush hour to get there for 9- people could work late knowing they could have a late start the next day. People were being treated like adults. To my knowledge hey still have flexitime. All workplaces should look at ways of being more flexible. They’ll get more back than they give.

  32. Let’s not forget the the civil service used to be the place you went when you couldn’t get a job anywhere else. It sucked but it was a job for life.

    Then they decided they wanted the best and brightest working for the government. Now it’s a fucking mess you all get to complain about.

    Quit and get a real job.

    Gracious

  33. For about 20 years I worked in very flexible environments. Employees were happy, liked their jobs and were trusted to get their work done on deadline. Occasionally, it was necessary to stay late and get stuff done, but dinner would be ordered in or comp time offered to make up for it. We were usually given notice the day before so we could make arrangements, change plans, etc. I could work from home when I was overloaded (I got more done when I had fewer interruptions).

    So when I started the job I have now I was shocked to learn that I had to clock in and out every morning and evening and for lunch. I was shocked to be micromanaged to the point of Why am *I* here? Do you really need me? Working from home? Forget it.

    It’s difficult to work in an environment that sends the message loud and clear: We just don’t trust you to get your stuff done. It stinks because, depending on our workload, I spend anywhere from 40 to 70 hours a week here.

    Employers need to learn flexibility. They need to learn to manage differently if they want to hire the best people for the job—and keep them there.

    Employers need to learn to encourage employees to take responsibility for their work, employers need to trust employees (and if they don’t get rid of them and find people you do trust).

  34. Oops. I was editing myself and left that last random paragraph there. Maybe I really am NOT trustworthy to get my stuff done correctly!

  35. I have a clock-watcher story from a previous assignment: See, I’m a government contractor. I charge the customer for hours that I work. If I’m at a meeting or away from my desk, it’s charged to overhead or I make up my time later. I was working on-site with a gov’t civilian manager who made a point to tell me one day that he was tracking how long I was away from my desk during the day, i.e. lunch, bathroom breaks, meetings, trips to the gym, etc. I tried to explain that he wasn’t getting charged for that time, but he would hear none of it. He insisted that I was hired to be at my desk for 8 full hours every day and he wasn’t getting that from me and didn’t care about this “charging” nonsense. I needed to check in and out with him if I went anywhere and let him know when I would return. I was a 35-year-old professional and not interested in this prison-guard treatment. Believe me, I requested a transfer immediately!!

  36. Friar – No. No union. And what’s wrong with raccoons? I thought you liked wildlife? AS long as all the employees get their rabies shots, everything should be fine.

    MisssyM – Well, blow me down! Adults get an awful lot of stuff done every day with no one hanging over their shoulder – buying and selling houses, cars, cottages; organizing vacations; having kids –raising them; coaching sports teams; playing sports; volunteering; maintaining a budget; saving for retirement & kids’ educations; investing money; having all manner of avocations in which they invest time, talent, money; the list goes on and on. And yet they can’t be trusted to do the work they’ve spent who knows how long and how much money training to do without a minder? Crazy eh?

    Gracious – Oh goody. You’re back. And as gracious as ever. The brightest and the best do NOT work for the government. I don’t know where you heard that. Maybe on the recruitment ads. Don’t believe it. And, if I weren’t as close to retirement as I am, I WOULD go and look for a real job.

    Mo – Nothing wrong with that last paragraph? Anyhow, ya, I don’t know how you stick to that job you have now. From the sounds of it, it’s sucking the soul right out of you. I hope you are receiving some sort of compensation to make up for all the misery and stress. I’ll bet it’s extra fun to get back after a vacation when you have that to look forward, to, eh?

    Lanna – I’ve noticed a lot of managers get all bizarro with contractors. Presumably they’ve hired you to do a specific job in a certain amount of time and at a certain price. And presumably you’re going to do your best to do that job to those specification so that next time you bid for a contract with that department, they’ll hire you again. Some people just immediately assume that everyone is out to screw them and take advantage of them. I wonder why?

  37. Close Enough for Government Work
    June 6, 2010 by ocdriver2010

    I knew some Government of Canada employees before I became an OC Transpo bus operator. Many ride the bus to work in Ottawa. One thing I have noticed, not many of them are happy working for the Government of Canada. In a way it reminds me of how many OC Transpo drivers feel about their work.

    Within OC Transpo there are a fairly large number of drivers patiently waiting for something better to come along. I count myself among them. They will take the first job offer with similar or better pay, better hours of work and better work environment. The same attitude exists within many employees of the Government of Canada, but they have larger “golden handcuffs”, so they tend to remain a Government Employee until they die, or retire.

    At this point, anyone reading this blog, who is not a federal employee, is playing the world’s smallest violin for the government workers. Those who don’t work for the federal government tend not to have much sympathy for federal employees. Federal government jobs are generally considered the best of all possible options by anyone standing on the outside looking in. Everyone knows government workers are under worked and over paid, right? They have benefits largely unattainable anywhere else and their jobs are almost completely secure for eternity. Maybe the last two sentences are enough to have many people make spontaneous unkind remarks about government workers. Who is disliked more, lawyers or government workers ? How about a lawyer employed by the federal government ? 🙂

    Anyone listening closely to the lament of federal employees might be aware of a general feeling of creative inhibition. Personal initiative seems to be frowned upon, a work process is difficult to change as there is a very strong tendency to do things the way they have always been done. One memorable federal employee story included an idea which would have saved the taxpayers a great deal of money. Upper level management vetoed the initiative. Implementing the plan would have saved taxpayers money, but it would also eliminate the need to increase head count. The executive adopted another plan of action which required more employees and thus cost more money. The increase in employee head count resulted in the executive’s promotion due to increased responsibilities.

    I’m certain most of us are familiar with incidents of federal government financial waste. From the various stories I have heard there are plenty of people in a position to identify expensive inefficient processes and develop a corrective plan, but somehow the initiatives never reach implementation.

    I am amazed no political party has attempted to leverage the fact there is a great deal of room for improvement within the government. I expect the non government employed tax payers would quickly warm to the idea. Imagine a group of politicians who actually set about to run the various departments within the Government of Canada as a business, meaning spending money for no good reason would not be tolerated. Imagine levels of accountability where a complaint from a taxpayer had serious consequences. Imagine a government department where everyone was encouraged to innovate and streamline and were rewarded for doing so. Imagine a work environment where employees were encouraged to make inefficiencies known to the taxpayers. How long would it take to clean up government departments if whistle blowing came with a pay bonus?

    What would it take to transform our government departments into finely tuned engines of efficiency?

  38. Oh XUP I am the WORST person to work for especially due to the high levels of sexual harassment in the workplace.
    I’m tired of young hotties grabbing my ass.

  39. I’ve been spoiled for all future potential workplaces. I’ve only ever had one relatively short-lived job–hello, recession, thanks for dropping by–and yes, it was with a tech company (Dell, to be specific). Ottawa/Kanata residents have probably at least been past the building I worked at. The site itself didn’t have a *whole* lot–no on-site gym or daycare, but I hear we had some pretty decent discounts at a couple local chains–but they had a decent break room, a sort of lounge area, a games room, and all the nifty pieces of computer equipment you could ever find a use for. Nobody in the building, nevermind the rest of the corporation–or so I’m told, anyway–had an office. You wanna talk to your manager? He’s got the cube on the end of the third row. You wanna talk to his boss? His cube’s probably 2 sections over. And they weren’t those overly isolating/crowding out cubes, either. Yeah, they had walls–but mostly I swear they were just there to minimise the white noise from other people doing the exact same thing you were. If the place was dead, like say early Friday morning, you actually had conversations with management and coworkers alike about, well, whatever.

    Work life balance were our boss’s three favourite words. And actually, they ended up giving us more vacation time because it was decided there wasn’t enough of a balance there. Mostly, they didn’t give two craps what you did, or if you came in 15 minutes late–I’ve been known to come strolling in upwards of an hour late on what I like to call an OC day, long as the time’s made up for during the week. Which, considering the nature of the job, is almost guaranteed to happen. I could check my personal email from work, pay bills–hell, during a busy week I even aranged grocery deliveries, and they didn’t even blink. You could sit on Facebook all day if that’s what you planned to do, but soon as that phone rang, you’d better have forgotten whatever it was you were doing even existed. Managers there were also known for doing random things for/with the team. If it’s supremely dead, one of us was usually nominated for coffee run duty, and there’d almost always be something going on either after shift or at the end of a work week for the team. And I haven’t even gotten into the shananigans of the night crew, where I spent a majority of my time there.

  40. I would so love to be able to work at home. I wouldn’t have to worry about transportation, I could start when I want and finish when I want, and it would be a much more relaxed environment for me. But unfortunately, I work for a nonproffet organization, and we have to show up.
    The good thing is that we don’t have any clock nazis, and they’re pretty flexible about hours; sometimes too flexible. They tend to let people get away with too much, because they don’t want to fire anyone, and sometimes it ends up biting some of us in the ass. For example, I have a coworker who has either called in sick, or gone home early at least once a week. She says she’s sick, but it’s almost always after something bad has happened in her love life.
    We don’t have pool tables or anything, but we do have computers, and I find that windows media player is my friend between calls. I enjoy reading audio books, so to me, this is a very good thing. I can’t complain.

  41. HAHAHAHAH! Work place culture
    My job just went overseas ( April)
    and I am about to be employed again BUT call centre – at least the one I experienced , is a close to a Candian 1960’s elementry school as I’d ever like to get again.

    Log in,
    do as your are told (by the computer),
    don’t leave your seat, if you have to pee log out -this WILL affect your productivity!
    Say what we tell you to say-we ARE listening,
    “let’s have a little meeting,” we don’t like HOW you said what you said;you aren’t expressing empathy;You’re not doing too bad, better than almost anyone else in fact BUT there is always room for improvement!
    Cover your shoulders,
    put your feet down,
    no food in the call centre,
    NO flip flops,
    You can’t have an ipod in here – get rid of that thing now!
    if I see that phone one more time you WILL go home-without pay.
    Don’t access your personal email!
    WARNING! Access Restricted! IF you have a vlaid business reason to access this site have your manager request admittance
    Why can’t you come to work today? That will affect your productivity.
    Did you bring a doctors note?

    Arrrrrrgh! Bring on the Fools

  42. Lebowski – That certainly must be difficult for you. You should probably have a staff meeting and explain that you will no longer be tolerating any grabbing of your ass.

    James – Sounds like a fun place to work. Too bad about that whole recession thing. I’ll bet it was mostly young people, too, eh? Young bosses? I wonder how some of us older workers would fit into an organization like that.

    Jessica – It’s good to hear that some people are enjoying their jobs. I’d love to work at home, too. I’d get so much more done – both at home and work-wise. Plus I would feel a lot more sociable on my time off than I do now. Running around all week, I usually just feel like staying home and vegging at least one day of the weekend.

    Jay – Good lord. Sounds like a 19th century sweatshop. I thought those had been outlawed? It makes me so angry that people think this is a good way to treat employees. It’s horrible. Losing this job might be the best thing to ever happen to you. I hope you find something more humane and quickly!

  43. Thanks, I have and will start soon.
    Those conditions rob you of your initiative or perhaps it was my own depression, hard to know.

  44. I’m very lucky with my employer. In our department, we have a stash of wine. Yes we do. Every few months, I’m asked to get the corkscrew and plastic wine glasses out. Bottles are lined up at my desk and everyone helps themselves to a few glasses of wine. We can surf the net, we can do personal emails (however, YouTube is blocked). We’re not clocked, our dress code is reasonable. All in all, a fairly relaxed company to work for. Our Winter Party (they don’t call it Christmas because it’s primarily a Jewish firm) is paid for. We have activities too. However, they expect hard work from us and they get it. Because we’re treated like adults. Sure we don’t get bonuses and/or big pay raises. We don’t have a union that says such and such job pays such and such amount. Our turnover can be high sometimes as it usually is in a consulting firm.

    In the 7 years I’ve worked here, there was only a handful of days that I didn’t look forward to coming in. A friend of the managing director had obtained a job at our company and eventually he was added to my roster (I guess they felt that if there was someone strong that could handle him it was me!). This dufus had, in the short 2 months of being with us, managed to aleniate everyone. After complaining, I received a wonderful email from the person in charge of all assistants and my voice was heard. The person was asked to leave. Of course, I am fully aware that the dude was not proving himself to be what he had claimed to be but even if he had remained with us, he was gone off my roster. I felt protected because my concerns were justified.

    I love where I work. I have a good relationship with my co-workers and my boss. We can joke around but we also know that when we have to put in the work and we get frustrated when there are too many cooks or the workload gets too much that there will be good times.

    I’m lucky, very lucky indeed.

  45. Jay – Ah! Good news. I hope it works out great this time.

    Sylvie – You are indeed lucky. I know there are places out there that treat their employees well and really government isn’t all that horrible. They don’t abuse us and we do have a certain amount of freedom and some nice benefits. I think what’s missing here is feeling valued. It’s such a huge and multi-faceted business that the employees are just tiny little cogs in a giant wheel. We come in, do stuff. Most of the stuff we do is for nothing. We pass it up the line and by the time it’s made to where it’s supposed to be going they change their minds. The rest of the stuff we do we never see or hear anything about again. And we’re so far removed from the people who make the decisions it isn’t even funny. So we have absolutely no voice. Things are constantly in transition so we never know from one day to the next if the people we were working with are going to be gone or the project we’re working on is suddenly cancelled. Ah well, only a few more years to go until freedom!

  46. I’m sure the previous 40+ comments are gold, but too much for me to read at the moment.

    Things I like about my job:
    – part-time, paid hourly (so if I don’t work all my hours, I don’t have to worry about making the hours up next week, I just get paid less)
    – decent enough wage, with benefits
    – flexible hours, and I can hop off to a meeting here and there
    – I can stay after hours to do personal stuff on the work computer (e.g. Adobe CS)
    – good rapport with boss, and we talk frequently about work and non-work stuff
    – located near lots of places to eat
    – biking distance from home
    – can bring my bike into the office
    – no internet restrictions, so I don’t get Google-blocked
    – no homework; I leave my work at the office
    – small group, so no dealing with unions

    The p/t hours and flexibility allow me to do all my volunteery and extracurricular stuff, which is where I really find my satisfaction in life.

    Not bad, eh?

    – RG>

  47. Only hitch is the annual and very real “we’re not sure where the money is coming from for your salary in next fiscal year’s budget” scare.

    – RG>

  48. Grouchy – Meh — keeps you on your toes. Also, you’re still a young guy and I understand Ottawa is experiencing (or is about to experience) a huge shortage of employees. The paper said “if you’re breathing and having a resume, you’ll get a job”

  49. Our workplace is having a full day picnic for NPSW. The employees are expected to pay for it themselves at the cost of $10 for a hamburger, salad and a pop. Come celebrate pride in the PS, by buying your own lunch at a more expensive cost than you do every other day!

  50. @XUP,

    That seems to be the problem with some of these organizations (bear in mind, I’ve only worked for this pseudo-government organization, not a real government organization)…

    “If you’re breathing and having a resume” translates into, “we think the best person for the position of Director, Chemical Engineering is Billy-Bob, not this guy with a Ph.D. in Chem Eng – after all, Billy-Bob is related to Joe-Bob and he plays on the local hockey team”.

    We have a whole army of really qualified, really smart people being run by a bunch of socially-inept sub-average intelligence fucktards.

    Seriously.

    I could give the example of the Director who as her “magnum opus” last year issued a document dictating to us what kind of shoes we’re allowed to wear at work.

    Six figures a year, you’ve got to be shitting me. She doesn’t even have a college diploma – *but*, she’s married to the right guy who got her the job.

    Yep, that’s a good use of taxpayer money.

    A perfect example of just how fucked the government stands to become if we just hire anyone who is breathing and having a resume.

    (You also forgot to add, “speaking fluent French even if the job is never going to require it”. Being fluent in both official languages automatically trumps education, pertinent skill or experience, of course…)

    And the toilet just down the hallway from me, that sat broken for 8 weeks because the work request was stuck in the system?

    I fixed it, unions be damned.

    Chemical Engineer / plumber, at your (public) service.

  51. April – Hurrah! Would they notice if you’re not there? Just take the day off and enjoy a good lunch somewhere else. I’d be interested to know what department you work for. You can email it to me. I know not all departments are this lame. Some of them get a whole day AND a free BBQ lunch AND prizes for the games they play. At least you get a whole day! We only get an extended lunch and we have to buy and bring all the food ourselves. Don’t we sound like whiney pre-schoolers? Ha ha. But seriously, it’s supposed to be a celebration of our jobs. Sheesh.

    Brett – That quote wasn’t coming just from government – that was Ottawa job market in general. Your workplace sounds like a complete nightmare though from what you and the Friar have said. At least nobody’s telling us what kind of shoes we should wear. Although, come to think of it one manager once said at a staff meeting that he didn’t think sandals were appropriate for men to wear to work. But he couldn’t really do anything about it except frown.

  52. Well, XUP government is good if you can suck it up for eight hours a day. Good pay, great benefits, the rest sounds like every other place I’ve worked. (And there was a lot of training available, which is a really good thing in my book.) But it will suck the life force right of you.

    That being said clearly kid/consultant did have a clue. Clock watchers are the worst. The former evil overlord wanted to make sure I was at my desk my 9-sharp… but then wanted some flexibility for time if a meeting ran late. She was mortified when I told her that if she was going to watch the clock so was I.

    We all know how that ended.

    I really wish employers were more flexible. I’ve been raked over the coals because my son was sick… worried about school calling… worked from home… you know. They could get some much more out of you if they care… they don’t.

    All to say, most of this sort of thing was central to my decision to consult. It’s not going to be easy but at least I’ll have more control.

  53. I work for the feds and understand a lot of what people are experiencing, but I have to say that my own division is not that bad. We let people be flexible within “core hours” i.e. you have to start somewhere between 7am and 10am and finish sometime between 330pm and 630pm. If you need a longer lunch or later start we accommodate that as long as you get your work for the day done. We don’t require people to be at their desks every minute although they are supposed to tell one of our assistants where they are going and roughly when we can expect to see them again. We have Blackberries and as long as we are reachable nobody has a problem. Our internet is mostly unrestricted except for things like gambling sites or other “bad” stuff.

    That said, the overall atmosphere of the department is pretty horrible. Senior management has basically run the place into the ground and now they have launched a big change initiative that doesn’t make sense to anybody. The current minority government is extremely paranoid and has slapped huge restrictions on anyone who tries to say or do anything in their area of expertise, which, as a knowledge department, means that we can’t really do our work. There’s no money for any initiatives. Experienced people are leaving in droves (early retirement, mostly) and being replaced with know-nothing butt-kissers.

    I know I am in a little oasis but I can’t guarantee the situation would last. If I could find anything comparable elsewhere, I’d be outta there in a shot.

  54. Nat – Ya, you had the quintessential evil workplace/boss-demon. I really think the way workplaces are designed that the future is in independent contracting. It makes more sense for a lot of companies and makes sense for a lot of people who are tired of the daily bullshit. Don’t forget to let us know when your website is up and running.

    LesterBee- Hey, do we work for the same department? Yes, there are little pockets of people trying to make the best of things and we have pretty much the same flexibility as you, and exactly the same issues and frustrations, too.

  55. @Xup: Actually pretty sure age ranges varied a fair bit. Think my boss had kids at or near my age. And you can probably guess at how old the CEO is–or just check Wikipedia. 🙂

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