Sunday, February 20, 2011

Office Reflection #1 -- extended sick leave, pre-leave rituals

As I write this, I’m anticipating at least a week at home following what I hope will be minor surgery tomorrow morning to repair a droopy lower eyelid resulting from previous surgery to repair some broken bones after I fell, on Labor Day, quite literally, on my face! (Bad experience, still going on, but great material for a blog or book – watch for these.)

After my original accident and surgery in September, I took three weeks of sick leave, which exhausted all the time I had banked for the year. In the months that followed, whenever I needed sick time, I either used vacation time or made up the time, dragging myself into work for extra hours when I still didn’t feel that great, cursing my fate. Then, after I found out I was going to have a second surgery for which I would need a lengthier break, I went to our HR office, where I learned that I should have filed for “extended sick leave” at the time of my accident so that I wouldn’t have to use my regular sick time up the way I had. No one had bothered to tell me this and I hadn’t asked, assuming that “extended sick leave” was only for cancer or open heart surgery or mental breakdowns, not for minor mishaps requiring a few weeks’ recovery time.  Fortunately, I was able to make this change retrospectively and start my current sick leave without the shadow of a docked pay-check looming over me. The moral: Don’t assume that you know more about your organization’s sick and vacation policies than you do – get the facts, all of them!

Before I left the office on Friday, I went through my usual pre-break rituals. These include: (1) finishing everything that will get horribly screwed up if I don’t do it myself; (2) telling colleagues everything they needed to know to cover for me in case of emergency; (3) e-mailing my boss, now out of the country, a reminder of my impending absence even though I’ve already warned him about it several times;  (4) filing all loose papers so I won’t have to come back to a mess; and (5) setting up Out-of-office messages in Outlook and on Voicemail.

What I didn’t do was give anyone my cell phone number so he or she could call me in the OR to ask where I’d filed an expense report. Until further notice, folks, Cindy Glovinsky is OUT!

Sunday, May 30, 2010

How Time was Stolen from American Workers and How We Can Get It Back

At one time, I worked with a lot of survivors of domestic violence. One of the things I learned in training for this work is how gradually abuse can creep up on the victim without her – or him – being aware of it as the abuser gradually conditions the victim to accept it. Consequently, people end up accepting treatment that amounts to attempted murder without questioning it. I believe something comparable has happened in the American workplace over the last few decades, with effects that are hardly less severe than those of chronic abuse.

According to economist and author Juliet Schor, the total number of hours Americans spend working has risen steadily by approximately half a percent per year since the 1980s. In terms of hours, the average American worker added 199 hours to his or her schedule between 1973 and 2000. This translates into 24 more 8-hour days or over 3 more 40-hour weeks per year. This is outrageous, yet hardly anyone seems to question it. In the 1970s, people were predicting that new technologies being developed would shorten the work week, which it very well could have. Between 1969 and 2000, the index of labor productivity per hour went up by 80%. In other words, workers could make 80% more stuff in the same amount of time as they had before. If, as a society, we had been content to maintain the same lifestyles we’d had in the 1960s, we could all have wound up working 20-hour weeks, leaving us more time for our families, communities, volunteer work, hobbies and interests while reducing the rate at which our planet was heating up.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

A Great New York Times article on Inactivity in the Office

Don't miss this great "Room for Debate" article in the NY Times today on the question of "Is All That Sitting Really Killing Us?" with opinions by five experts. The consensus seems to be, as I thought, that just a plain stand-up desk isn't good, as if you only use this, bad things start happening to your legs and feet, but that a desk that raises and lowers is good -- that what's best is what allows you to work in different positions. I was also heartened by a statement by James A. Levine, professor of medicine at Mayo Clinic that "a re-examination of our office culture is under way." Glad to know we're on the mark!

Saturday, March 20, 2010

A couple of wonderful websites

While researching my blog post today, I discovered something fantastic. It's a website entitled The Early Office Museum. It's an online museum, a true work of art, filled with all sorts of wondrous photos and paintings of offices from ancient times to the twentieth century. I wish, wish, wish I had found this before I wrote the history part of my book. More on this later, but in the meantime, give yourself a treat and go take a look at it.

Also, visit the website for Take Back Your Time, a fantastic organization headed by John de Graaf, co-author of the popular book, Affluenza. This organization is working for changes in the laws that will guarantee workers a reasonable amount of paid vacation time and provide other protections to their right to have lives outside of work. Their latest newsletter is now online and talks about how shortening the work week will help to reduce unemployment, something I've been preaching about for a long time.

History of the Office 101: Scientific Management

When I was a kid, one of my favorite books was Cheaper by the Dozen by Frank Gilbreth, Jr. and Ernestine Gilberth Carey. It was about growing up in a family of twelve children and their parents, Frank, Sr. and Lillian Gilbreth, who were two of the original efficiency experts. Needless to say, the children lived highly regimented lives. They were required to fill out “process charts” on which they were supposed to check off boxes for washing their faces, brushing their teeth, etc. I still remember, in the fifth grade, making a chart like this for myself after reading about it, though I don’t think my own parents, who were not efficiency experts and had only two children, not twelve, ever looked at it.

The Gilbreths, along with Frederick Taylor, pioneered what was then a new field, which Taylor eventually called “scientific management.” It was all about figuring out the most efficient way to accomplish tasks so as to maximize production. To do this, they timed tasks with stopwatches and analyzed movies frame by frame. At first the tasks were mainly those done in factories, but eventually scientific management – also now known as “Taylorism” -- invaded offices as well as most other types of workplaces.

Its fundamental principles were as follows:

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Dealing with E-mail Onslaughts

When you arrive in the morning, there are forty of them waiting for you. By the time you’ve answered two or three, six more are waiting, and all the time you’re trying to work, notices of new ones keep popping up on your screen. If there’s anything in the office that can make you feel as though you’re being attacked by armies of malicious elves, it’s e-mail. But it doesn't have to wreck your day. Managing e-mail is all a matter of triaging, the way medical staff in an overloaded ER triage patients. Once you’ve got a logical system of directories, some good SPAM software, and a few habits in place, you’ll be able to calmly contend with whatever passes through your in-box, no matter how excessive the quantity. Here are a few tips:

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Crazymakers in the Office

As a psychotherapist who works part time as an administrative assistant, I’ve come to believe that many employees from CEO on down could have immensely happier workdays if someone taught them just a little bit about what most therapists call “personality disorders.” People with personality disorders have a life history of causing pain and misery to those around them while believing that they themselves are just fine. I call these people “crazymakers” because of the harmful effects they can have on the mental health of others.

What makes dealing with office crazymakers difficult is that most of us want to be good team players. When someone rubs us the wrong way, we assume that this is just because we have differences, and all we need to do is sit down and talk things out. Or we try to be extra nice to the person, telling ourselves that he or she is just having problems at home or under a lot of stress. With most people, these strategies work just fine. But not with crazymakers. The usual rules for building positive relationships will not work with them.