I got back to my cubicle after lunch one day and found this smack dab in the middle of my computer screen:
M was my manager at the time. I was an accident benefits adjuster for a major Canadian insurance company. What does that mean? I dealt with the claims resulting from injuries from car accidents. It was the kind of job where you were dealing with people at their worst and handling tens of thousands of dollars of claim money. Translation? It was a fair amount of responsibility, helping people with putting their lives back together after a traumatic incident. You would hope that in having a job with those responsibilities, you would be treated as a responsible adult/employee yourself.
I went to see M. As I walked in to her office (read: larger cubicle), she looked up at me with her usual unpleasant grimace and said: “You were late coming back from lunch.” I paused, wondering how serious she was about this. “Really?” I replied. I knew I had been late. By 5 minutes, to be precise. “Well, I stopped to get a coffee downstairs on my way back up and there was a line. I can’t have been over by more than a few minutes.” She sat back in her squeaky chair, folded her arms across her ample chest: “Are you arguing with me?” I pointed at myself in exaggerated surprise: “Me? No. I’m… explaining. I didn’t figure it was a big deal, since I was here on a call 40 minutes past my quitting time yesterday.”
She looked at me, clearly trying to decide if I was mocking her or not. “You need to organize your time better. I will put a note in your file every time you are late and when there are five, I will mark it in your permanent record.” I shook my head: “But what about the extra time I spent here last night, to say nothing of last week when I stayed late to help Sandra organize her files a bit… at your request. Doesn’t that count?” She smiled her snaky ‘don’t test me or you’ll see what I really mean’ smile and said: “One has nothing to do with the other. The rules state that you have 60 minutes for lunch. You need to figure out your time so that you are back within 60 minutes, irregardless of any extra time you spend here, which is entirely your choice.” That whole sentence was galling, not the least for her use of air quotes to emphasize the words ‘extra time’, but because some of my staying late had been, as I said, at her request.
But the snaky smile worked and I didn’t argue. Instead, I nodded (something that to this day, makes me shudder with self-disgust). I understood where I stood with her. From that day on, I was never late back from lunch and I never worked one minute past the end of my shift. Ever again.
I re-lived this moment today when I read this article: “Why Treating Adults Like Children Gets You Irresponsible Adults (Surprise!)”
“The typical 9-5 workplace environment comes as a bit of a slap in the face to anyone who’s made it to their 20s. Suddenly, we find that all our shiny new “adult” abilities are totally useless, because for some reason no one seems to trust that we actually have them.
We’re no longer trusted to handle our own projects at our own pace. We’re no longer allowed to exercise our autonomy or flex those prioritization skills to juggle our job like we juggle every other aspect of our lives. Instead, it’s time cards and attendance policies and reprimands if we take too long of a lunch break.
This treatment has a curious effect on people who are, by all exterior appearances, adults: It makes them regress.
People will live up to the expectations you set for them. They will also sink down to the expectations you set for them. I still give my best at my job, because I’m a perfectionist and doing anything less would annoy me. But when I’m running 10 minutes behind in the morning because my dog got sick and I have to contemplate speeding down the expressway to avoid a disdainful glance from my coworkers? That’s when I feel most like calling the entire day off in protest.”
My new favourite hashtag as I try to decide how I want to move forward in this world? #ROWE (Results Oriented Work Environment). LOVE IT.