I have a really hard time dealing with some of the things a “big girl” job comes with. I hate that in order to get a good job, you have to “network.” That is, of course, the professional word for schmoozing or ass-kissing. It’s never solely about what your qualifications are or how well your interview went. It’s about who you know. When you get that job, there is no question that you will be subjected to a bunch of ridiculous team-building, morale-improving, childish nonsense by the people in charge. It’s important to play nice with the people you work with, but in reality, the only thing you NEED me to do for you is my job. I will do that, and I will do it well. I’ll probably even like and become friends with some of people I work with. On a really good day, I may even go above and beyond in my job duties because I have a really awesome work ethic. So suck it, millennial bashers.
You can keep doing some of these things if you want, but you should know that none of it improves the morale in the workplace. These are just distractions. They are not going to create happy employees. They are so superficial and surface level. It’s not what people need, and the implementation of these kinds of things without change in organizational policies is a waste.
1) Free snacks consisting of almost exclusively junk food
Do not buy me snacks, please. My job already succeeds in making me fat and unhealthy. I sit on my ass all day, in a cubicle poorly lit by fluorescent lights. If you haven’t heard by now, prolonged sitting is really really bad for you and may lead to health problems up to and including premature death. Fluorescent lights are awful for people, too, especially for people who suffer from migraines. So much about the office setting is mentally and physically harmful. It seems irresponsible to have a counter full of chips, Slim Jims, cookies, and candy on top of everything else. How about some fruit or something? A bowl full of apples and oranges? It seems especially contradictory considering many companies have some sort of campaign to get employees to be more proactive about their health. How about you help me by not doing things that are basically killing me slowly? Having a freaking table full of junk food is not helping my morale or my waistline.
2) Themed days or office “Spirit week”
Am I 12? Have I not finished my K-12 education and graduated into adulthood? Hat day, Pajama Day, Football Jersey Day, Hawaiian shirt day, fucking Flannel day, wear your underwear on your god damn head day, or any other day that involves me putting thought into my wardrobe beyond what is clean and work appropriate should not happen after high school graduation. My employer allows us to wear jeans to work, and we have occasional dress down days. That’s all I need, thank you. Anything past that is just trying too hard, and what am I even supposed to have spirit for? The signature on my paycheck? In talking to people about things like this that happen in offices, most say that they’ll take you up on the opportunity to wear comfy clothes, but it doesn’t change how they feel about their job or employer overall.
3) Potlucks and other group “team-buidling” activities
I have to call out the work potluck on it’s own because it is a particularly awful form of “team-building.” From a financial perspective, it costs me more money to buy a bunch of crap to make something for people than it would to go buy myself a sandwich. I also get paid by the hour. In my mind, if I have to spend time outside of physically being at work to prepare a dish to be consumed by the people I work with, I should get paid for that time. It’s work. Part of the benefit of having an hourly paying job is that I shouldn’t have to take it home. Potlucks are extra work AND groceries I have to bring home with me that I’m not getting paid for. If cooking for other people is something you enjoy, go nuts. You can cook whatever you want to. I should not have to feel obligated. If you want to have a group lunch, I’ll chip in a few bucks, and we can order pizza. I understand that breaking up the workday to do something enjoyable is important sometimes, but it shouldn’t have to be so much work. If you want to inject some fun in our day, I appreciate it, but there are easier ways to do it.
Because I am generally opposed to offering problems without some solutions, here are some things that can be done to really improve morale, and they are really pretty simple. The bullshit listed above is noise.
1) Treat me like an adult.
Seriously. That’s it. I am a responsible, reliable, intelligent, and hardworking individual. Treat me like it. Having autonomy wherever possible is important. Being able to own my work and my time, makes me want to do a better job. Furthermore, people have lives outside of work. Sometimes that means a sick kid or a family emergency. Sometimes you can’t plan for things. Stop laying on the guilt trips when employees need time away from work. What really improves morale is to have an employer that supports employees with their policies and benefits. Stop it with these use it or lose it sick and vacation time policies, and if you do have such policies, reward the people who don’t use all of it. There are companies that are starting to offer unlimited sick time to their employees. Maybe this sounds like something people would abuse, but I firmly believe that when people are treated like you trust them, they will take that responsibility very seriously. If they do abuse it, address that on an individual level. We need coaches, mentors, and people care about our personal and professional development. We do not need babysitters.
2) Make sure my work means something and give me enough to do.
I need to feel like the things I do every serve a purpose and benefit someone, and I need to be challenged. I hate feeling like a zombie. I thrive on being trusted with additional responsibility, within work hours, of course. Employees that give a crap, and that are efficient and reliable are hard to come by. Companies have to meet their employees where they are, which might be more challenging when dealing with tenured and experienced employees. We need to be valued, and if we don’t feel like we are valued or that our work has value in it, we’ll check out as much as we can and eventually find a better fit. By the way, I’ve written 99% of this at my job, so I clearly need more to do.
3) Help me be healthy.
A weird thing happened when I went from a job that kept me moving all day to a desk job. I am more tired at the end of the day now than when I was on my feet all day. The fact that I have to bring a note from a medical professional to get anything ergonomically beneficial is ridiculous. I doubt my employer is alone in that practice. I get that those things can be expensive, but walk your talk. As I get older, my mental and physical well-being is more and more important to me. I’m not perfect by any means. I occasionally enjoy a good cupcake or whatever, and I have more lazy days than active ones. I would at least like to enjoy proper curvature of my spine and not be shackled to my desk all day. And if you want to do anything involving a free meal, please just have something catered from an establishment that is not disgusting and uses quality ingredients in their food. I want some snacks that do not include things like “mechanically separated chicken” on the list of ingredients. That’s a real ingredient of a Slim Jim. Sorry if I ruined it for you.
4) Be Transparent.
Tell me what the hell is going on. If there’s something causing a stir, and no one explains it, there will be rumors a-plenty. I guess this is part of treating people like adults. Seriously though… rumors are distracting, childish, and they certainly aren’t helping productivity. Just keep your employees informed. That isn’t really that hard, and should usually involve sending one mass e-mail.
And just in case you think I’m full of shit, here are a few articles that address some of the physical harm being caused by our office jobs: