Picture this. It's
Monday morning and you can't wait to get to work! You love your job,
what's more, you feel valued and appreciated. Your ideas and contributions
to your workplace are encouraged and you know you're an important team
player. Sure, you work long hours, but that's okay because you enjoy
what you do and feel energized at the end of each day.
Does this sound
like you? Would you like it to? I sure would, because I spend a lot
of time listening to people talking about how unhappy they are at work.
When customizing a presentation, I listen to CEO's, middle management
and front line people talk about increased demands, longer hours, poor
communication, low morale, a sense of isolation and no time for just
plain living. Sure, there are job perks. Many organizations hold quarterly
get-togethers, packed with information updates, a motivational speaker
and a sweatshirt! Perhaps "dinner and a blow-out" are included. Then
its back to the conference table, the computer or the cubicle with the
same lingering mis-understandings, unresolved issues and resentments.
That there is a problem no one can deny. What can be done about it becomes
the critical question.
Let me transport
you back to my first job, with the Bet Your Life Insurance Company
in Montreal. I was just eighteen and a proud graduate of Sir George
William's Secretarial School. I'd been hired after one interview and
was excited at the prospect of earning money and being self-sufficient.
I remember the sensations
that Monday morning as I walked across the grassy park towards my new
place of employment. The darting birds were chirping, the golden sun
was shining, and all around me people were setting up booths for an
outdoor art exhibit. I was early, so I browsed a bit, enjoying the brightly
colored paintings, the easy conversation and sense of excitement in
the air. Life was bountiful and I felt part of it.
Smiling, I opened
the heavy doors of the Bet Your Life Insurance Company and made
my way to the claims department where I would start work. I remember
the hard expression of the woman who greeted me. There was no response
to my smile, just a cold hello. Forms were pressed in my hand, I was
quickly told about business policies and introduced to the office manager,
and while she was speaking, a bell resounded followed by an almost deafening
crescendo of typewriter clacking. I remember looking at the steno pool,
where I would work, seeing row upon row of women lined up at their desks,
faces tilted towards the papers beside them, some with dictaphones in
their ears, the only sign of life being their fingers, rapidly tapping
on those typewriters as if their very lives depended on it.
I stood there, mouth
agape, feeling defeated before I began. Fearful that I wasn't fast enough,
that I wouldn't fit in. Even my new outfit seemed all wrong. Worse,
I felt that somehow I was all wrong too. My confidence and sense of
expectancy evaporated. I wanted to run outside to the sunlight and happy
voices in the park. It didn't matter that I'd graduated first in my
class or that I'd left home and needed a job to survive. That noise,
those bells, the dead air, the blank stares, the impersonality of the
office felt like a prison. How would I cope?
Thirty years later
I show up for my first day of work with the Government. I have a six
month contract as the new client service rep. I've taken this job because
for the past twelve years I've been speaking, training, and consulting
with people about anger, stress and life balance and now I think its
time to get back in the trenches again, to walk a mile in those office
shoes. There I stand, surveying rows of cubicles. Behind the partitions,
men and women sit, eyes fixed upon their computer screens, fingers tapping
away. Some wear headsets and speak on the telephone while their fingers
keep tapping. What's changed? I feel claustrophobic as I look at the
windowless walls. Fluorescent lights dry my eyeballs and bad air rests
heavily in my lungs.
We've come a long
way with technology in those thirty years, yet the experience of isolation,
of being overwhelmed with work, of being anxious, afraid, and undervalued,
these feelings come rushing back to me. Steno pools and typewriters
have been replaced by cubicles and computers, yet I sense a deadening
of spirit emanating throughout the building, an unwritten code of commandments,
called the "THOU SHALT NOT's" being followed. "THOU SHALT NOT"
enter the doors of this workplace with a spirit of adventure, ready
to create another exciting day. "THOU SHALL NOT" bring your whole
being to work. "THOU SHALT NOT" notice the daily toll of stress
and hurry sickness in our lives. Wait a minute. Who says we have
to work like this? Echoes of Samuel Ullman's "Lines may wrinkle the
skin but loss of enthusiasm wrinkles the soul." Reverberate through
me. What would it take to infuse our workplace with enthusiasm and spirit?
To be the contributing member of an organization which encourages people
to bring their whole selves, body mind and spirit to work? To plan regular
meetings that is spiced with spirited dialogue and innovative ideas?
What would it take to create a workplace program to deal with anger,
prevent illness and maintain healthy life balance? To institute weekly
on-site yoga classes? To make sure the cafeteria has fresh, nourishing
food? How could we foster a climate where risk taking and making mis-takes
are considered valuable learning experiences? Where people are encouraged
to be imaginative and fallible, and everyone is invited to contribute
and listen to untested ideas. Where people are encouraged to take time
to share their concerns with others. What would it take to create a
workplace with heart?
We know it's not
outer decor that makes the difference. Or mission statements on display.
We've tried that along with quality circles, lean and mean, self-directed
teams and coming to the party. What we've not done is bring ourselves,
our whole selves, our vibrant, yearning, running over the edges, unbridled,
expressive selves to the workplace.
Do you think we
could commit to a real policy of doing more with less - more fun, more
spontaneity, more exploration, more genuine caring and compassion, less
bureaucracy, less intimidation, less fear and tension, less greed and
I think we could.
We could start by looking at the definition of work - "effort exerted
to do or make something, toil, labor, employment, occupation, task."
Does this sound
inspiring to you? The very definition of what we spend most of our lives
doing seems life-less, flat, dull. Lets get another definition, like
the definition of "wonder" found on the previous page in Webster's which
reads "A person, thing or event causing astonishment and admiration,
marvel, ...to have curiosity, to be filled with wonder".
What would it be
like if we set off with this attitude in the morning? If our mission
was to feel.........wonder! Would this bring zest to our days? Curiosity?
Joy? Would this attitude open our eyes to limitless possibilities? Could
we create "wonder palaces" instead of "work places?"
I think we could
do it! Each one of us, wherever we are, can start by doing just one
thing to make it happen. Doing the thing in front of us to do. Leland
Val Van de Wall said, "do the thing and then you'll get the energy to
do the thing." So what's in front of you that is crying for change?
That nagging task you've put off for months? Is it in recognizing that
you're part of the solution instead of affirming the problem? Who do
you know at work that needs a helping hand but won't ask? How can you
make life better for someone else? Could you be the one who makes the
phone call to check out the quality of air? To book that yoga class?
We are as powerful as the thoughts we imagine and how we follow them
through into action, so if it's going to be it's up to?