They have no lot in our labour.

Image result for english remembrance service

Each year on remembrance Sunday all over England, and throughout the former British Colonies, services are held for the fallen.  People sport the poppy they bought to support military families in times of need.  They recite the words of a dirge written in 1914 by Laurence Binyon, who was born on this day in 1869.

The words people always remember are the line “They shall not grow old as we that are left grow old”.  You can understand the power of this line for those who saw their colleagues die on the field of battle.  Each year they return for the service and each year another one of their old mates has passed away, and they lurch towards the grave under the weight of age and infirmity.

It is a sentiment captured in “The Green Fields of France” lyrics:

And did you leave a wife or a sweetheart behind,
In some loyal heart is your memory enshrined,
And though you died back in 1916,
To that loyal heart you’re forever nineteen

Today though I am moved by another line in this poem : they have no lot in our labour of the day-time.  Some people might read this line as meaning “Lucky them to have escaped the drudgery of the working round – they got off.”

Not me.

I read this line through the Marxist lens that we are what we do.

If we have chosen the position in life in which we can most of all work for mankind, no burdens can bow us down, because they are sacrifices for the benefit of all; then we shall experience no petty, limited, selfish joy, but our happiness will belong to millions, our deeds will live on quietly but perpetually at work, and over our ashes will be shed the hot tears of noble people.”  Marx, Reflections of a Young Man (1835)

At the core of Marxism is the tenet that we should own our labour.  Capitalism is a system designed to wrest resources from the weak and accumulate them for the strong.  Capitalists appropriate your productivity for their enrichment.

Nowhere is this more evident than on the field of battle.  The rich men of the world use their power to bend politics to their will.  When this results in war it is the small, the weak, the uneducated who are sent to the front lines.  The small man has nothing to gain from war and everything to lose.  By risking his life in battle he risks all the coming years of his working life, all the output of that work, all the benefit for his spouse, his children, his grandchildren.  They have no lot in our labour of the day-time.  War is the sharp end of the capitalist system.

 

For the Fallen; by Laurence Binyon

With proud thanksgiving, a mother for her children,
England mourns for her dead across the sea.
Flesh of her flesh they were, spirit of her spirit,
fallen in the cause of the free.

Solemn the drums thrill; Death august and royal
sings sorrow up into immortal spheres,
there is music in the midst of desolation
and a glory that shines upon our tears.

They went with songs to the battle, they were young,
straight of limb, true of eye, steady and aglow.
They were staunch to the end against odds uncounted;
they fell with their faces to the foe.

They shall grow not old as we that are left grow old:
age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
we will remember them.

They mingle not with their laughing comrades again;
they sit no more at familiar tables of home;
they have no lot in our labour of the day-time;
they sleep beyond England’s foam.

But where our desires are and our hopes profound,
felt as a well-spring that is hidden from sight,
to the innermost heart of their own land they are known
as the stars are known to the Night;

as the stars that shall be bright when we are dust,
moving in marches upon the heavenly plain;
as the stars that are starry in the time of our darkness,
to the end, to the end, they remain.

The unbearable lightness of peeing.

cell-phone-toilet-nasty

3 reasons to block wi-fi and phone signals to workplace bathrooms.

Many workplaces recognize the drag on work time if staff are checking in on their mobile phone to catch up on their Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, What’s App etc.  HR departments have introduced guidelines on use of mobile phones.  Many have restricted access to wi-fi networks to business approved usage only.  But with cheap data usage plans plenty of staff are still “always on” as long as they have a phone signal.  Maybe it is time to monitor bathroom behavior in your business.

Productivity

It is a no-brainer that staff members who are accessing their social media feeds are taking time away from their work.  In certain types of business this impact can be significant.  For people working on complex data tasks an interruption to analysis can result in a 20 minute “recalibration” penalty as the staff member picks up from where they previously left off.

If you are engaged in a complex task, or something that needs a lot of concentration (think about sitting exams) a bathroom break can be a moment when you order your thoughts on how to approach the task at hand.  How often have you worked out the solution to a problem by going for a walk, or eating lunch, while mulling over the problem?  But if that time is spent checking social media feed the brain is distracted.  Instead of working out the problem at hand the brain is leaping from photos of friends lunches to the latest on Royal Weddings.

By making the bathroom in the office a data black hole you help staff members to avoid the lure of the device in their pocket.

Health

If people are in the habit of checking their phone in the bathroom there will be implications for the spread of germs.  This is not rocket science.  When have you last seen someone wash their iPhone in the sink?

Think about that next time you borrow someones phone!  Yuck.

Congestion

The hidden cost of phone usage in bathrooms is congestion.  Staff members are taking longer to use the bathroom because they are checking the phone.  Male staff members are more likely to use a stall instead of a urinal because they can scan their feed.  This causes lost time, but hides a more insidious issue.

Buildings are designed around the flow of people.  A building is designed with an optimal number of bathrooms for staff, based on research into usage parameters.  There have to be enough toilets to handle the maximum demand periods.  If each staff member is spending just a few extra seconds using the bathroom, checking their phone, this has knock on consequences for office design and consequently the cost of office space.

Summary

Bathrooms are designed for going to the lavatory.  If they are designed to block phone and wi-fi signals they will operate more effectively for their intended purpose.

Challenge those “Corporate Values”

It is very fashionable for Companies to talk about their “Values”.  I think it is time to challenge companies back on their values and here is why.

Companies don’t have values.  People have values.  The values of a company are the values of the people.  That generally means the values of the people at the top.

Values are not something you aspire to.  They are not a shopping list of what you want to be.  Values are what you do.  Values are the reflection of your daily behaviour, how you treat people around you, how you approach work and how you treat your family and friends.  Values are who you are now, today, not what you would like to be some time in the future.

Recruiting people on company values is a great idea, if the values are true to the company.  That way you get more people who genuinely share a philosophy of how to do business in the same way.

Consultants are coming into companies and helping them “define” what their values are.  They then use these ‘values’ to underpin the recruitment process.

Talk to some customers or business clients of the company.  Do they spontaneously come up with any of these values?

If there is a disjoint between the actual behaviour of senior management and the aspirational values of incoming staff then you are going to have problems.  Essentially, if your “company” values are not the values of your senior managers then the company is telling little white lies in the recruitment process.

As an applicant for a job it is entirely fair that you should ask testing questions about the values on which you are being recruited.  The recruiting company will ask you for examples in your career of how you displayed these values.  You should ask for concrete examples of how senior managers have lived the values.  If your interviewers begin to struggle this could be a cause for concern.

I have seen people interviewed and recruited on values such as Openness, Flexibility, Loyalty, Trust and Willingness to Speak Out.  Then they join a company where information is hoarded in silos, work practices are embedded, staff are routinely blamed by managers when things go wrong, there is a culture of suspicion that staff are avoiding work.  When you submit timesheets, expenses claims and sick notes they are scrutinized as though they are dud cheques.  Places where anyone who expresses an opinion that does not sycophantically support the management dogma is immediately shot down.

The classic discontinuity is where a company recruits on “passion, enthusiasm and ambition” and then seeks to rule by fear.  Fear kills off all passion and enthusiasm.  It fosters a ‘watch your back’ culture.  You will recognise this kind of workplace by email tennis.  Every email is actioned to prove it is ‘not my problem anymore’ and is copied to a long list of managers.  Woe betide the unfortunate staff member who fails to action the email at the root of the next big problem!

I have seen workplaces seek flexibility in staff.  They want people who work late, attend out of hours events, cancel holidays if needed, travel abroad at the drop of a hat and put the job before family commitments.  When they are asked for reciprocal flexibility they refuse it.  Flexibility does not extend to funerals, child minding, job sharing, working from home etc etc.  Flexibility only works if the bending goes both ways.  Flexibility in only one direction is simply exploitation.

Here are some old fashioned values that seem to be forgotten in this cool, modern world where you can play basketball in the office and get free food at 2am in the morning.

Promises:  A contract is a promise.  It asks for a fixed commitment of work for a fixed commitment of pay.  The worker should honour the work commitment.  The employer should honour the pay commitment.  If the employer offers a 40 hours per week contract, but the “expectation” is really 50 hours or more, you have just taken a 25% pay cut.  Who is the fool?

Punctuality:  If you start work at 9am it is not good enough to clock in at 9am at the front door, put away your coat, stow your lunch in the fridge, chat to your colleagues, make a coffee, switch on your computer, check Facebook, and then start actually working sometime around 10am.

If you finish work at 5pm it is not acceptable for a colleague to set up meetings that start at 4:45 with agendas that run to an hour and a half.  Punctuality works both ways, start time AND finish time.

Productivity: There is a very good reason why we work an eight hour day.  Pioneers of Scientific Management such as Frederick Winslow Taylor, Frank and Lilian Gilbreth measured every aspect of the workplace and the worker.  Companies such as Westinghouse, General Electric and Ford measured worker productivity in a variety of settings and over different time dimensions.

What became very clear is that productivity declines sharply after eight hours of work.  When you pay staff by the hour you get bad value for money in hour nine and beyond.  So the working day became standardised at eight hours.

If you have enthusiastic and ambitious staff burning the midnight oil on a regular basis they may seem impressive, but what are they actually achieving?  Yes, there are times when we need to put in a late night to make a deadline.  But if it becomes a weekly or even a daily event then something is wrong.  Is it bad goal setting?  Is the business understaffed, undertrained, under resourced?  Are opportunities being missed?  Are mistakes being made?

Presenteeism:  It is a bad idea to turn your office into a hospital ward.  Sick staff make other staff sick.  Genuinely sick people belong in bed.  Send them home!