Tag Archives: values

All aboard the mood elevator!

As a homeworker, I’m normally able to maintain a certain distance from the patronising initiatives that our bosses periodically roll out (their phrase, not mine), so it can be a shock when I’m confronted by the bunkum that my colleagues have to endure. On a recent visit to the office, I was bemused to find myself sitting at a hotdesk opposite a wall of motivational posters, the management equivalent of ‘You don’t have to be mad to work here but it helps.’ One of them instructed me to ‘Be here now’, an injunction that, far from achieving its purpose of focusing my mind on the task in hand, created an earworm that led me to waste a good half-hour tracking down old Oasis songs on YouTube. ‘Things turn out best for people who make the best of the way things turn out,’ burbled another. Well, duh, as my nine-year-old would say.

Alongside these pearls of management wisdom was a poster illustrating a vertical scale. The top half was labelled with upbeat words such as ‘resourceful’, ‘creative’ and ‘flexible’. ‘Sense of humor’ had been lobbed in there among the adjectives, demonstrating a cavalier disregard for UK spelling conventions and grammatical consistency, and contributing to the impression that the diagram had been scribbled out on the back of a beer mat five minutes before closing time. The lower half of the scale was reserved for a range of negative emotions towards which I felt myself rapidly gravitating – among them, ‘irritated’, ‘angry’ and ‘depressed’.

This is the mood elevator, an essential tool (so I’m told) for creating a healthy and fast-paced working environment and managing our corporate culture. The premise is that negative thought-patterns generate low moods, which impede our effectiveness in the workplace. It’s a neat solution, absolving employers of responsibility for their workers’ well-being. Never mind that you’re bored shitless on a minimum-wage, zero-hours contract, working for a boss who passionately believes in this kind of crap: just change your way of thinking and – ta da! – problem solved.

Initiatives like this are beloved of senior executives, whose bonuses and sense of self-worth depend on forcing underlings like me to waste our working hours attending culture workshops and goal-setting meetings. I wish I could just do my job, instead of filling out endless self-appraisal questionnaires and 360-degree feedback forms. What’s the appropriate response? To sink into an even deeper depression, or just shrug and go along with it?

One option is to be quietly subversive, playing the system while privately acknowledging its inherent absurdity. In her bestselling critique of French corporate culture, ‘Bonjour paresse’, Corinne Maier advocates various ways of subtly undermining our bosses. One of my favourite tips is: ‘You’re not judged on merit, but on whether you look and sound the part. Speak lots of leaden jargon: people will suspect you have an inside track.’

In the end, though, my ‘sense of humor’ fails me. Perhaps I would be able to laugh if it weren’t all so insidious. Taken seriously, many of these corporate mind-control games strip us of authenticity, turning us into cynics and manipulators. Once I was sent on a networking course, where I was taught various techniques for working a room. So now I know that the person who is rather creepily mirroring my body language has been on a similar course and is trying to establish a rapport, while ‘Can I get you a drink?’ is code for ‘Thanks, I’ve got what I wanted from you and it’s time to move on.’

My company trumpets innovation as a core value, and yet the one piece of blue-sky thinking that it’s not prepared to countenance is the suggestion that these initiatives are a massive waste of time. Another oft-cited value is diversity. Odd, then, that our bosses seem intent on making corporate clones of us all, drumming out the mavericks and weirdos who refuse to modify their ‘behaviors’ and simply want to get on with their work.

There’s no sign of any let-up. Today we received an e-mail encouraging us to create a special break-out zone in the office where individuals can contemplate their emotional well-being and mark their current level on a blown-up, laminated copy of the mood elevator. I think you can guess which adjectives I’ll be circling. Here’s a plea to management: let us be ourselves. We sell you our labour, not our identities; what we do for a living isn’t the sum total of who we are. Who knows, our productivity levels may even benefit from this refreshingly hands-off approach. Perhaps I should present it to our gullible executives as a ground-breaking new management theory.

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Respect

When it comes to education, the free-market mantra of choice often proves to be illusory. In many UK cities, the shortage of school places is such that the closest school is the only realistic option – and if it happens to be a good school, you’re either very lucky or sufficiently well-off to pay over the odds for your house. But in a consumerist world where state schools are run like small businesses, we have to pretend that families are able to pick and choose. That’s why it’s no longer enough for a school to provide a good education: it must also have a mission statement and a set of values.

At my sons’ school, one of those values is ‘respect’. The other day, the school sent out a form asking parents for examples of when their children had been respectful at home. I attempted to complete mine against the backdrop of a charming breakfast tableau in which my elder son (let’s call him Thing 1) claimed that the younger one (Thing 2) had farted in his porridge. Thing 2 promptly dropped his pyjama bottoms to demonstrate that there wasn’t any porridge on his bum-cheeks, whereupon Thing 1 performed a slide tackle and sat on Thing 2’s head. Curiously, I couldn’t come up with a single example of respectful behaviour that morning.

The problem runs deeper than my slack parenting and out-of-control offspring: I don’t really understand what’s meant by ‘respect’. In the past it signified a feeling of deep admiration. My sons have boundless admiration for Neymar and Ronaldo but I suspect that’s not quite what the school was getting at. In its modern incarnation, ‘respect’ is often used as shorthand for discouraging yobbish or racist behaviour on the football pitch, or, more generally, as a streetwise and often-parodied way of referring to inclusion and equality. To me, on the other hand, it encompasses lots of things – being open, accepting, engaged and interested, while maintaining (and this is the crucial part) a polite distance and an observance of personal boundaries.

People are increasingly bad at this last bit. Take the charity fundraiser on our local high street, who wiggles his hips at me as he hollers, ‘Hey, lovely,’ or, ‘Give us a smile, sweetheart’. He doesn’t know anything about me. I could be a surgeon or a High Court judge. Perhaps I’ve just been made redundant, or maybe I’m on my way to my best friend’s funeral. In any case, it feels uncomfortable to be flirted at by a stranger who’s young enough to be my son. It’s just as well for him that – unlike certain middle-aged men of my acquaintance when approached by an attractive younger woman – I’m not so self-deluded that I imagine he’s interested in anything more than the contents of my purse.

Another example is the waitress who hunkers down by the side of our restaurant table and asks, ‘Okay, guys, what do we fancy tonight?’ She’s probably just following management instructions, and I do understand that it can be a tough job. The pay is appalling; the customers are sometimes ignorant, rude and sexist. As a nineteen-year-old waitress working in a Manchester hotel, I was once asked by a diner – a well-known trade unionist attending a weekend conference – to sit on his lap. I told him it wasn’t in my job description. The point is that it would never have occurred to me to display chummy over-familiarity with any of my customers, even the nice ones. It would have felt wrong.

I accept that my advancing years signal a slow descent into obscurity, so on the rare occasions when hip young types deign to address me, I feel they should at least have the decency to be polite. I’m aware that this makes me sound rather old-fashioned. The problem is that, for my generation, ‘respect’ calls to mind the dreaded injunction to ‘respect your elders’. You can attempt to re-brand it all you like, but for us, it’s up there with other parental pearls of wisdom such as ‘because I say so’ and ‘eat your greens’. How can one little word carry so many nuances of meaning? According to Ali G, ‘There is so little respek left in the world that if you look up the word in the dictionary, you’ll find that it’s been taken out.’ As far as I’m concerned, deleting it from the dictionary would clear up an awful lot of confusion.