Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Meat in a Seat Management

Kids, our topic today is “Meat in a Seat.” 

I came to Kuwait way back in the mid-90’s (when some of you weren't even born).  The US was just coming out of the IBM-style management approach (blue suit, white shirt, red tie to work every day).  Walk so as to appear that you had a pole stuck up your butt.  Hair was tight.  Uniform; very little originality.

I worked as a temp for a while, bopping around to various types of companies including many IT and defense related organizations.  I noticed a trend; most of the people I was working with didn’t know each other.  I could have been sitting in a cubicle, seated 5 feet (ok, let’s talk metric – my very least favorite subject – maybe 1.5 M) away from other employees; people who had been working side-by-side with their colleagues for not months, but years.  I regularly asked names.  “I don’t know.”  Why not?  How long have you been here?  “5 years, but we don’t socialize...”    I saw a lot of fat, unhappy and unhealthy people.  Some even had heart attacks.  A few colleagues that I liked very much died.   An overall approach for an  unhealthy work environment/methodology.

In comes Google and Yahoo and Apple  work cultures.  Companies started and run by young, creative people who didn’t fit into a box mould.  The work environments went from cubicles to play rooms; encouraging people to think “out of the box”.  Laughter, pranks, happiness, corporate responsibility were all encouraged.  Teamwork and working together towards something great was encouraged.

Guess which companies have thrived?  How many of you use IBM anything in your daily routine?  What about an iPhone or Google/Yahoo app?  Hmmm....

So what the phuck happened to Kuwait?  Just when the rest of the world was trading in cubicles for squishy couches and iPads, Kuwait decides to recycle 50’s-style office architecture.  Kuwait is where the cubicle has come to die.  Yes, there has been a change in technology:  finger print machines and employee-monitoring camera systems complete with microphones so if you sneeze or pass wind, it will be documented for all humanity.  We’re all just meat in a seat.  Are we happy?  Healthy?  Does it matter to anyone? 

Are we creative or loyal employees?  What do you think the answer to that might be?  Well, it depends on your work ethic and what type of person you are.  Regardless of that, however, eventually being treated as a monitored prisoner (Guantanamo!)  day-after-day is going to wear on your psyche and  eventually break your spirit.

Job Satisfaction and Recruitment 101:  What motivates a candidate?  Time and again, I have heard one single word from HR managers and recruiters:  Money.  Here’s my response:  Bullshit.  If you are depressed or have started having health problems, money is not your main job requirement.    There are other motivational factors which would lead a person to take another job:  Advancement, training, motivation, appreciation, creativity, incentives, QUALITY OF LIFE... oh... the HAPPY factor... yeah, I almost forgot that one.  Are you satisfied in your job right now?

Human Resources Departments:  I was looking down the hall  at a HR manager who hadn’t left his office in the past 2 weeks except to visit another manager’s office.  If you are going to call yourself “Human Resources,” stop acting like a pencil-pushing personnel department that doesn’t care (and this goes for “managers” also).  How many kids does that guy have?  Why was that woman just out on vacation?  Where did she go?  Someone was sick?  What happened?  Did you show any compassion?  Do you have any out-of-work social activities that encourage team-building? Treat people like human beings, not just people there to serve you.  Walk around the office and ask  a simple question, “Are you happy today?”  Employee well-being is overlooked and guess what – so will be employee productivity.   

Do your own case work:   (This is just a “what if” –  it could be reversed and the woman could be the provider. ).   Go home and stop asking your wife how her day was.  Stop showing her affection, compassion or appreciation.    Tell her that she should be happy because you are giving her money.  Stop asking about her parents (and even your kids).   Guess what’s going to happen:  She’s going to be a WHOLE LOT less “productive” in the areas that count.  I would be willing to bet there would be a complete work stopage.

You are in a RELATIONSHIP with your employees. You chose to bring them into your life (through a job interview and hopefully, due diligence).  And on that note - did you choose the relationship wisely?  You, as an employer or manager need to nurture that relationship.  Acknowledge employees for what they do for you!  You can’t just take any relationship for granted and expect it to flourish.

Look at your personal relationships and then translate them to your relationships with your employees.  Where is the spontaneity?  Where is the break from routine?  Where are the kind words, smiles and laughter?  People matter!  Little insight for you:  If you look around your office and your employees are all quiet with their heads down, something is wrong.  Again, think about your personal relationships at home:  If your spouse or your children were quiet with their heads down – you KNOW something is up!

Yeah yeah, I hear what you’re saying:  This is all warm and fluffy stuff.  I challenge you:  Go ahead, though – try it for a while and see the difference in your work environment; AND to your bottom line.  Ask employees what they THINK; what changes they would make; what they would do to make the business better.   

My sister's company just won yet another "Best Places to Work" award in the DC Area.  During a social event for her employees, one of her team members walked up to me and said, "I would do anything for your sister.  She has been so good to me."  Wouldn't that kind of spontaneous remark be good to hear? Wouldn't that add to a manager's/business owner's job satisfaction?


AG said...

Bravo! I wish I could scream this from the rooftops all over Kuwait.

From an HR standpoint, you are right on target with everything you've said! Working for local companies in the UAE and Kuwait was painful as an HR professional educated and trained in America.

I was EXPECTED to sit in my office with the door CLOSED (as recommended by the GM) or employees would 'bother' me with 'ridiculous complaints'. I was almost always tasked with ways to take away from the employees (benefits, perks, birthday cakes, company parties, etc) rather than implement things which would boost morale. It was often said 'their paycheck is their reward for working here'. Whaaaat?!? Morale was horrible and people were knocking one another down to get out the door at the end of the day... me included.

When I would attempt to implement things to boost morale (performance appraisals, performance awards, surveys, employee recognition, etc) I was told I was 'opening a door for complaints' and 'creating an avenue for trouble makers'. I later discovered those were the exact reasons the previous HR Director had resigned.

And now, I still miss my team from both Kuwait and the UAE, but I sure don't miss that mindset and mentality.

Desert Girl said...

I keep saying, "This is a service industry. Your employees ARE your assets; not computers or desks. At the end of the day, you will watch when 99% of your assets walk out the door. Are they happy? How will they treat your customers if they're not happy? It is transparent!"

Anonymous said...

The very first amercian I met here way back in 1884 i mean 1984. Was a woman who came here earlier to visit her parents. The father worked at some oil company for years and actually had her meet one of his good friends (syrian who dressed and acted like kuwaiti to pass) who had worked with him for YEARS. So they ended up getting married and a few years later everyone found out he was already married with several kids for YEARS. So yes you can work here for years and have a best buddy for years and never know they are married.

Desert Girl said...

Gail -

There are a lot of things you never know about people. I'm REALLY reluctant to put my marital status on any company paperwork - even insurance forms. It is nobody's business if I'm married or not and I would like to keep it that way.

I wonder what your Syrian character said in front of the judge at the time of their wedding. did you know that if, when the judge asked, "Are you married?" (to someone else now), and he responds with, "No." then he is automatically divorced? Fasssscinating.