Wednesday, February 10, 2016

The Twenty Minute Shit

I received an email from a friend which related that he was leaving his government job so that I would be aware and not attempt to reach him through his work email.  This message took me by surprise on two fronts.  I was surprised to receive the message because we had not corresponded in quite some time, but I was more surprised to hear that he was leaving his government job.  According to my quick mental calculations, I estimated that he was about 3 years away from reaching the minimum retirement age at which time he would be eligible for a reduced pension.  This piqued my curiosity and in a quick follow up inquiry, he expressed that the straw that broke the proverbial camel’s back was a recent incident where his boss had asked him where he was for the past 20 minutes, to which he responded, “the bathroom.”  The boss continued with the interrogation and asked, “The whole time?”  My friend relates that he responded, “Yes.”  The boss then concluded with the question, “Is that going to be your break.”  In the true character that I know my friend, he responded, “If it has to be.”

There was a time in my “under 30” life where I would have likely thought a twenty minute bathroom break was a bit much, but I’ve since joined the “over 50” club and with it many a life experience.  I can state for myself that my over 50 body yearns for the bathroom much more frequently than my under 30 body did.  As far as the life experiences, I have found many environments where the issue isn’t just the time spent “in the bathroom.”  In my most recent office job, there were many times where a bathroom run easily added up to over 20 minutes because I had to first find a bathroom that I could use.  I’d head to the closest bathroom, a “one seater” and it would be occupied, then hustle down the hall to the next bathroom (also a “one seater”) to find that locked and from there my option was to try a different floor or head to the locked unit where there were larger bathrooms.  With all that running around, there were times that I found I needed to go to the bathroom again by the time I returned to my office.

One of the ironies that I’ve experienced in my roles that have touched both technology and human resources is that sporadically there would be a push to better understand the differences between generations (Baby Boomer, X, Y, etc) with a particular emphasis to better understand and accommodate the younger generations.  Despite these episodic interests in accommodating the special needs of differing generations, there seemed to be scant discussion as to the bathroom needs of the gently aging.  In contrast, my experience has been that there continues to be an “old guard” management style that is most comfortable with “ass in the chair management.”  As an illustration, during one of my many “re-orgs” (aka re-alignments), upper management had identified that all staff would have both a “site” supervisor (to monitor your ass in the chair) and a “work” supervisor who would assign the work.  (A brief note of explanation here, this was a largely virtual workforce so often the supervisor who assigned work was at a different geographical location).  As a professional, I was highly offended by the suggestion of this scheme.  I have often said flexibility is a two way street.  When I encounter employers who want to make sure I am in my chair at the precise moment my reaction is that when quitting time comes, it is the precise time to be out of my chair and leave.  If quitting time is 5:00pm, then when that “emergency” rolls in at 4:55pm it is hard to ask your employees to be flexible for the organization’s needs if the organization has not been flexible for the individual.  While there are some jobs where you must be at the appointed place at the appointed time, there are many jobs where this isn’t essential.  In many of these jobs what is more important is the quality and efficiency of the work.  In discussing this “site” supervisor scheme with a colleague, I expressed that there are times where I would work on a problem such coding or manipulating an application and encounter a wall and I would go for a walk and would run logic scenarios and alter variables through my mind to try to arrive at ideas that would solve the particular problem.  I wonder if these “site” supervisors would consider that a break?

In a past post reveling about jobs I was lucky enough not to get, I remarked about an interview where the organization was hiring a large number of analysts for a project.  The interviewer inquired about willingness to work long hours and weekends; I inquired about flexibility for a longer lunch on the weekend that I could spend with my family.  The short outcome was that this was not the opportunity for me.

I have no idea if my friend was in the bathroom for 20 minutes and if so what he was what he was doing in the bathroom.  Frankly, I don’t care.  I can say that my friend has a strong work ethic and have no doubt that he was highly offended by the interrogation.  I would not be surprised if the employer may be vulnerable to an age related complaint or a complaint of general workplace harassment.  The wiser course for employers is to express concerns in terms of work performance.  If something isn’t getting done or being accomplished to standards, let the employee know; it is only fair that they be aware.  Unfortunately, ideals don’t necessarily parallel real life and if you find yourself in an employment relationship that isn’t a match it may be time to explore your other options.

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