Friday, February 18, 2011

No Case Of The Mondays Here...

Hey!  You in there...  with the coffee...
How 'bout fillin' up this bird feeder!

This past Monday, I pulled into the office parking lot just a few minutes before nine o'clock.  We're actually supposed to arrive around 8:45 and then log into our computers and be ready to go by 8:55, but that doesn't always happen.  On some days, we all arrive at 8:45 and log into our computers by 8:50.  And there are other days when a few of us get in by 8:45, and the rest of us arrive by 8:50.  Then, Emily and I scamper in at 8:55.  We fill up our coffee mugs, log into our computers, and we're ready to go by 8:59.

Emily has a good excuse for being a few minutes late.  She has a twenty year-old horse named Kirby, who needs to be ridden, watered, and fed every morning.  Every other day, she cleans out Kirby's stall, shoveling out the turds, spent hay, and other equine detritus.  She also has a few goats that need to be serviced.  On many mornings, this entire routine can take almost an hour.

While I don't have any high-maintenance horses to bail me out, I do have a few of my own animal friends to feed.  Of course, there are those two pesky but lovable felines that tromp into the bedroom and start whining to be fed, as early as six o'clock.  They each get half a scoop of dry food and fresh water as soon as I get up.  On some mornings when I'm pouring my first cup of coffee, I'll hear the resident pair of cardinals scolding me in disgust from the evergreens by the back window.  Throwing on both slippers, I'll sprint from the garage into the backyard with a large scoop of bird seed and fill up the empty feeder.  Before I even return to the house for my first sip of coffee, the cardinals will be enjoying their free breakfast, along with a gang of chickadees, a few tufted titmice, and a pair of Carolina Wrens.  But keeping our feathered friends nourished only takes about four extra minutes out of my morning.

Rolling in my breakfast sure is fun.  Maybe
next summer we can get that bird bath.
The one advantage that the 'delayed arrivals' in the phone center have is that we don't have any customers lining up just outside our department.  Nobody is loitering about the outside of the building, leering at us through the windows, wondering if we can open the front doors eight minutes early.  The entrance to the phone center is actually around the other side of the building.  While we turn on the phones at nine o'clock sharp, the first customer I speak with at 9:01 won't know whether I've arrived at my cubicle at 8:45 or 8:59.  As long as I answer their call on the first ring and help them out with everything they need, everybody's happy.

We all know that we should be there at 8:45, along with everybody else.  But if any one of us arrives a few minutes late, it's not a big deal.  We don't receive scoldings, spankings with wooden spoons, reprimands, slaps across the face, or warnings.  We don't get money docked from our paychecks.  Instead, we just make up the extra time at some point during that day...  or the next day.  Sometimes I'll shorten my lunch by ten minutes, or maybe I'll arrive ten minutes earlier the following day.

Lately, I've been staying later by ten or fifteen minutes, after everybody else leaves.  There are always a few emails that come trickling in, just after we close at four thirty.  Our customers are well aware that we'll answer their emails within four business hours.  However, it's nice to be able to respond immediately to a message they sent us just after we closed, especially if they're not expecting the response until sometime the next morning.

That's one of the perks of working here.  We're all treated like thoughtful, responsible adults.

Nope, this is not a busy kitchen at
a local diner during the breakfast
rush. It's actually the conference
room at a financial institution.
Another benefit is the occasional five-course breakfast buffet that's sometimes waiting for us in the phone center.  When I arrived at the office this past Monday morning, my co-workers and I were looking forward to freshly-made breakfast paninis.  On the previous Friday afternoon, Lisa had asked Emily how she wanted to celebrate her birthday.  In the past we've ordered egg sandwiches from the grease dive across the street, and sometimes they've been really good.  But recently, they've ended up being soggy and limpid once we've opened them up.  They're obviously crispy and hot off the grill.  But when they sit wrapped up in aluminum foil, they steam themselves into a frumpy state of sogginess.  A few of us brought this to Lisa's attention during Friday's birthday brainstorming session.

     "Why don't we just make breakfast sandwiches here," she suggested.  "I can bring in my panini maker, along with the ingredients."

     "How are you going to cook the eggs?" Abby asked.

     "I'll just fry them up at home and bring them in already cooked."

     "That's a great idea," said Emily.  "Yeah, I like that."

Each of us asked Lisa what we could bring, but she told us not to worry about it.  She said she'd take care of everything.  When we arrived at the office, we were each expecting a simple egg and cheese sandwich.

And folks, if you look to your left,
you'll see the Colon-Blo station.
What we actually got was a buffet that would put the average diner's breakfast offerings to shame.  As I entered the building, the delightful aroma of eggs and hash browns smacked me in the face.  A few of my co-workers were sitting at their desks, but I heard laughing, talking, and lively commotion streaming in from the break room.  When I poked my head through the door, my jaw hit the floor.  A full collection of breakfast fare was spread out on two long tables that had been pushed together.  At the end of the first table was a crock pot full of piping hot oatmeal, along with several toppings, like brown sugar, blueberries, walnuts, and dried fruit, which were set out in individual bowls.  A platter of oranges and bananas sat next to both milk and orange juice.

Lisa was preparing paninis at the second table.  She'd split open a fresh sandwich roll, add a fried egg, and pile it up with whatever toppings we wanted... including cheese, bacon, roasted red peppers, and spinach.  Then, she'd load it onto the panini maker and close the top, grilling it for about five minutes.  A full batch of hash browns was also sizzling in an electric skillet nearby.

     "Um, Lisa...  I thought we were just making the egg sandwiches today."

     "Dave, I'm Italian.  You know that we can't just have egg sandwiches."

I shook my head as I returned to my desk to log onto my computer.  At that moment, I actually felt pretty guilty for not bringing in any of my pancake batter or a large thermos full of home-roasted coffee.

For the next several hours, Lisa continued to cooking at the panini maker, while Ashley wandered up and down between the three rows of cubicles, taking our orders two at a time.  After relaying our orders to Lisa, Ashley would return with two hot paninis.  Once all ten of us had been fed, Lisa made paninis for people from the teller line and the IT Department.  About an hour after wolfing down my egg 'n cheese panini with baby spinach and roasted red peppers, I returned to the mess hall and loaded up a bowl with oatmeal, dried cranberries, walnuts, and maple syrup.

Monday mornings at work are lotsa fun.

When it comes to celebrating an employee's birthday, I'm fairly certain that a five-course breakfast buffet is the exception, and not the norm.  At any other phone center, one would be lucky to be treated to a dozen bagels or donuts, once every few months.  In the five years that I've worked in this department, not one us has left...  not one.  Lisa goes out of her way to make sure that all of us are happy, and that we all have a good time.

I've heard horror stories from some of my co-workers about the companies where they were previously employed.

     "We weren't allowed to have any food at our desks."

     "The pressure to make unneccesary sales was overwhelming.  We were told to push every one of our products to the customer, even if it was something they obviously didn't want or even need."

     "One time I was reprimanded when I left my cubicle to get a snack."

     "We weren't allowed to include the words 'love' and 'whine' in our emails."

     "Even when I exceeded my sales goals by 150%, I was still told I wasn't doing enough."

     "We were all limited to six personal items each, in our cubicles."

I actually have over eighty-seven personal items at my cubicle.

I've got all the basics that I need to get my work done...  a computer, keyboard, mouse, printer, along with a collection of window envelopes, receipt paper, and blank TPS Reports.

And then, there's the banana tree on the shelf above my computer monitor.  Last summer, I bought it at the market across the way because it looked lonely, and I wanted to see if I could grow a banana tree.  So far, I'm happy to report that it's thriving.  I also keep sugar, Tabasco sauce, honey, and my collection of coffee mugs on that shelf, along with a few writing and grammar references, and my Spotted Dick.

It's the 'fetus picture'.
I have quite a few pictures pinned or taped up on both sides of my cubicle walls.  There's a photo of my wife and I at the annual winter party.  There's the Justin Bieber picture, showing a side-by-side comparison of our mugshots, with BieberHair Photoshopped onto my head.  There's the fetus picture.  Well, it's not really a fetus, but that's what my co-workers call it.  It's actually a fully-labeled, cross-sectional diagram of a coffee cherry.  From a distance, I suppose that one could easily mistake it for a fetus, but I'm not the one who brought it up.

I also have a picture of myself dressed as Sarah Palin for Halloween.  This year, a whole bunch of us dressed up in cool costumes.  My co-workers agreed that mine was the scariest, most disturbing costume that they'd ever seen.  At one point during the morning, Caroline brought in her three-year old daughter to see all the costumes.  When she saw everybody else dressed up as pirates, vampires, demons, and witches she pointed and laughed, clapping her hands in delight.  But she took one look at me and burst into tears.

     "Dave, you're gonna have to take off your Sarah Palin mask.  Maddie is so scared."

I immediately removed my mask and apologized to Maddie, letting her know that everything was going to be OK.  I felt really terrible for scaring her so badly.

Aside from all my pictures, I have three separate calendars hanging up.  The first one was a freebie from my car insurance company, which they sent to thank me for forking over hundreds of dollars every year.  I usually don't save these calendars, but the theme of this year's edition was 'scenes of nature', and August's picture was a breathtaking shot of Mt. Katahdin, up in Maine.  After I'm done with the calendar, I'll probably tear out the photo carefully, and hang it back up by itself.  I also have a calendar, which my wife got for me, that has a bunch of cute kittens doing yoga poses.  And finally, there's the 'Men of the Phone Center' calendar, which my eight female co-workers put together for Evan and I, for being outnumbered four to one.  For each month, there's a different collection of pictures of the two of us goofing off, having a good time, and behaving like damn fools.

Absolutely horrifying.  For the entire day, the walls
of the phone center refudiated with baffling lunacy,
blood-curdling horror, and lexical tomfoolery.

To the left of my desk are three file drawers.  The top drawer is filled with about eight different boxes of tea, along with a spare toothbrush, a tube of toothpaste, and a bottle of contact lense solution.  The middle drawer has some random office supplies and a few Scooby Doo stickers.  And the bottom drawer is where I keep my blue balls, a spare box of oatmeal, and some mixed nuts.

I've also started hanging up all of the medals that I've won at my races.  So far, there are seven pinned up there, including the three from the last three editions of the Mount Desert Island Marathon.  This year's is especially meaningful to me, as I cut over ten minutes off my time from the past two years.  I'm really proud of these medals.  Not only do they serve as a reminder to me of what I can accomplish with hours of dedication and hard work, they've also inspired many of my co-workers to start exercising more and eating healthier foods.

Only allowed six personal items at your desk...


I must have missed all of those studies showing that worker productivity can be increased by downplaying individual accomplishment, suppressing individuality, and beating the soul into submission?  For whatever reason, so many companies today believe that the best way to increase productivity and add to the bottom line is to run each of their departments like a day care, hover over their employees, and take the fun out of the job.

Work wouldn't be as much fun
without the Spotted Dick. 
Lisa knows that this isn't the best way to get the most out us.  Instead, she gives us all the resources that we need to be successful and then takes a step back, letting us do our thing.  Now and then, she'll direct or nudge us towards projects that take advantage of our skills, our talents, and our gifts.  Once we complete these projects, we're always recognized for all of our efforts and hard work.  More importantly, she encourages us to be ourselves and to have fun.  This philosophy has helped each of us to get to know and appreciate each other even more.  As a result, we all feel comfortable working together and trusting each other, when taking care of our customers.

That's the bottom line.  It's not about how much money we make.  It's about how happy we make our customers.

What about you?  Do you work for a great company?  Do your supervisors care about you enough to celebrate your birthday with a Monday morning breakfast buffet?

Yeah, I know...  it's probably not realistic to expect this at every company.  But what about the basics?  Are you encouraged to be yourself and to have fun at work?  Are you given all the tools you need to succeed?  Are all of your efforts and hard work recognized by your peers?  Can you trust your co-workers to help you out, and can you be trusted to do the same?

If the answer to any of the above questions is 'No', then maybe it's time for you to make a few changes.  A few years ago, I would have suggested that it was time for you to find a new job, but that's not a reasonable option in today's crippled economy.  Those of us who are lucky enough to have any sort of a job right now are very fortunate, and we should be really be extremely grateful.  But you can still make changes at your current job to make it more fun.

What changes, you ask?

I haven't the slightest idea.  You certainly know your workplace better than I do.

Here's a suggestion.  Why not find a small banana tree at a greenhouse somewhere, bring it into the office, and start caring for it.  Give it some water, some fertilizer, and some love.  See what happens.  And pay attention to the reaction you get from your co-workers and supervisor.  Show them that your new banana tree is a good thing.

Also, keep up the good work.  Hopefully, the rest of your co-workers, and maybe even your supervisor, will be inspired to jump on board.  That's a start.

Last July, the phone center banana tree had only
three leaves.  Now it's got ten.  At this rate, we
may have some actual bananas by 2112.


  1. I have to agree with Maddie - that costume looks more like Ed Gein wearing Sarah Palin's face after he has skinned it from her skull. *Shudder*

    And nice 2112 ref. :-)

  2. I'd never heard of Ed Gein before, so I Wikipedia'd him. A.K.A. 'The Plainfield Ghoul'??? And yeah, the photo they showed is creepy.

    In the inspiration for fictional characters, Norman Bates is listed. One of my co-workers commented that the wig I was wearing made the costume creepy because it reminded her of Bates' creepy mom wig.

    I think the creepiest part is my real nose poking out of the mask. I poked a hole in the mask just so it would stay on my face.

  3. And thankfully, Maddie cheered up immediately when I removed the mask. :-)