Candy or other treats in the office.
According to science, food provides nutritional support to the body. A tasty sugary treat provides short term emotional support to the body - not nutritional. As Kevin's kitty treats provide him with morsels of happiness, our sweet or savory treats give us our dose of instant medicated pleasure.
In trying to resist the colourful and flirtatious advances of the holiday candy at my desk, I think of every reason why their wrapper should not be torn open to reveal their inner treasure. However, at the slightest spike of adrenaline enduced by a one hour deadline, there is no time to think - only to react. My hand lunges for a candy and my fingers furiously paw the crinkly coating unveiling the chocolatey goodness beneath. The satisfaction of the candy is short-lived. My mouth feels soggy and defiled after the sugar infusion diffuses. Only water will dull the aftertaste. 20. min go by and I am cranky that I succumbed to such an impulsive need. 20 min. after that, the candy's twin stares at me with loneliness. "Leave no candy behind!", my tastebuds shout.
A co-worker comes along and observes me and my lone tempter. I gleefully point to the candy dish in the center work pod. I am excited that I can bring someone else on my emotional journey to Candyland. The cycle continues throughout the rest of the day. The dish becomes empty with several different hands reaching for their fix.
Food is social. There must have been great rejoice and celebration when Og and Zog brought the Sabertooth home for dinner. There is comfort in the kitchen with the familiar smells of our favourite dishes. There is excitement of exotic meals that monentairly transport us to another place. We have lunch with co-workers to safely talk about uncomfortable issues, we make business deals over brunch, and network over h'dourves.
Fruit still vanishes from the office lunch room on Fruit Day supporting the theory that it just isn't the candied treats motivating our emotional desires. I haven't seen a Christmas Veggie Cake, or Carrot Brittle, or Banaimo Bars in the staff kitchen yet, but there is evidence that these too would be eaten by some. The excuse to get out from behind our desk and take a tour about the office and go find a snack is great. Sugar or not, it is about food.
Treats or a cup of coffee bought for someone on your team can mean a lot - it is a simple gesture of gratitude and appreciation. Food is a human essential and therefore it is a symbol of life and well being wanting to be shared.
Kevin sits back on his hind quarters with his front paws reaching for me when I offer him a treat. I work efficiently to complete my task and walk to the candy jar for my reward. Is this bad reward behaviour? I don't think so. I will just need to practice not reaching for the second one....or third....or fourth..
Kevin and I drag ourselves to the office party.
Kevin looks for his coat and tails to wear for the office Christmas Party. He doesn't need to look far. His luxurious fluffy coat and bouffant tail makes him good arm candy at any event.
With the holiday season upon us, stores begin to showcase evening wear for that once-a-year party where you can prove that you own clothes in other fabrics than denim or corduroy. It is also the party where you have the opportunity to glimpse into your co-workers personal lives - to see them with their significant other or observe them being unusually candid when speaking with you. At this iconic office affair, there is the anxiousness that for once your teammates can see the "real" you and they will parade about you with fresh eyes. The "real-ity" - most co-workers will sit at dinner tables with their work peeps - or with those they feel most comfortable talking to. Others will have to awkwardly engage in conversation with "that guy" who works on the other side of the office as they are late to the party and all the other tables have been filled. Like playing musical chairs - the last one standing gets booted from game.
After the second glass of free wine, as you drank the first one quickly to avoid looking bored, lips begin to loosen and the room gets louder. Proceeding the speeches and entertainment, the "Yawn, I am soo tired, I think it is time to go" vanish into the night not willing to take a part in the stories whispered in the staff kitchen on Monday morning.
The third, fourth, and fifth glass of free wine are poured. The bar is now serving shots. The party can be heard on the street by passing pedestrians giggling at the knowledge of what kind of day tomorrow will bring for the merrymakers. Closet smokers open the doors of inhibition and light-up for all to see. Lines form at the washrooms and necklines plunge even further - both for the suit shirt and the strapless dress. Pictures from the wee hours of the office party resemble childhood photos where we appear kooky dressed-up in our parents fancy clothes. Our make-up smudged around our face as our small hands struggled with the lipstick tube. Several people are now half-in-the-bag.
Men come alive with the sound of music. They no longer have two left feet, but the dance moves of Jagger. Their one dance move makes them the Prince of the Ball and women their Cinderella. As energy fades and the liquor runs dry, those left hail cabs or find hotel rooms for the night.
Over 30 office Christmas Parties I have attended, I have been everything from the Yawner to the Cinderella. I don't believe in regrets - just misguided decisions, so I do not deny my actions. However, I have fond memories of meeting people with whom I worked and had never talked to. If I hadn't been seated across the dinner table from them at the Christmas Party I wouldn't have known they preferred Cyndi Lauper to Metallica. Or I wouldn't have met a co-worker's significant other in the washroom line-up. Or wouldn't have met the account manager if I had not dropped my bun on their foot in the buffet line. There should be more times that don't include copious amounts of alcohol or dress code where we are all free to be comfortable with our co-workers. We should have this relaxed environment in our everyday work and we should endeavour to make our teams want to share some morsel of their lives with us. It is how we learn who they are and how they can work better.
Kevin looks handsome as usual. This year I go to the Christmas Party with no expectations and no curfew. We will see where the evening takes us and who we will meet. Hopefully, no one is allergic to cats.
Exercise is good..keeps you from punching a team member.
Like many, I am not a born athlete blessed with naturally chiseled abs and a perky posterior. I have to drag my sorry sass once a week to the gym. There, I begrudgingly lay on a mat and try to make my elbows reach my knees, or try to lunge low enough to hear my ankles crack. Thankfully, I do have someone nagging me to work harder and his name is Mikey. For a dog, he can be a quite the drill sergeant when I am supposed to be getting results. Mikey often has to bark loudly as it is hard to hear anything over my complaining.
Days can be long with multiple meetings, disapproving consultants, and balancing budgets which can make it difficult to do any physical activity other than lifting the latte to your lips. However, even a short walk can help with stress or fatigue. I know that going to the gym only once a week isn't quite enough to maintain good fitness or to see dramatic results, so when I can, I look to other activities to stay active. Cleaning the house may be included, but vacuuming sucks. :)
After polling my co-workers and friends, all confirmed that they do feel better after engaging in physical activity. It is the initial motivation of going to the gym, changing, and starting an activity that creates the biggest barrier between people and their fitness. Picking-up the workout bag and arriving at the gym really is the hardest part of intense exercise. At home, walking down the stairs to the basement and jumping onto the treadmill can be the challenge. There isn't a good answer to overcome the motivational challenge of starting an activity as it is different for everyone. The knowledge that there will be more energy to help you through those meetings and increased patience to calm the consultants is a good motivator to get moving. Also motivating is the awareness that there are things to do outside of work that can help you have new experiences or meet other people who are also trying to stay active. Thirty minutes of walking on a treadmill while watching the glube-tube, or doing a few sit-ups and push-ups at the park with the kids, all count for some activity beyond sitting. Every time you do a small activity, make it harder and it will help.
Mikey sees me complain during my sets, but he is unmoved. His goal is my goal - to complete the next 50 min. Each time I collapse on the mat and fain tears, I know that I am doing this for my own good, and the good of those around me whom I need to help guide and motivate. When the week has been extremely hard, and your patience pushed beyond the threshold of reasonable emotional tolerance, there really is nothing more satisfying than hitting a punching bag. The punching bag can't sue you.
Mikey can be found at - www.britannicafitness.com
The Seniors in the Office
This is Alex and he is old.
Alex is in his 21st cat year which makes him about 100 in human years. He stopped grooming himself about a year ago, and takes pills everyday for his heart and high-blood pressure. He is able to jump-up on his favourite chair, climb stairs, and find the litterbox. The vet says that apart from his minor health issues, he can continue to trudge the corridors of his little life. He isn't going to let himself give up just yet.
Alex is "that guy" (gal) in the office who keeps on working despite the hip replacement and seniors discounts. In the predominately younger offices, these individuals are truly relics. However, like old relics, they can be treasures. If you can be patient through the anecdotal evidence of how things were harder when they entered the corporate world, and the politically incorrect rants on humanity, you find nuggets of golden insight that they have cultivated over 40 years of experience.
The senior, senior staff, contribute to the company in unique and often intangible ways. You need to respect the thousands of meetings they have attended, hundreds of invoices they have processed, numerous failures and accomplishments, and voluminous daily tasks. They appear not as fast or technologically savvy than their younger counterparts, but those years of experience mean that they do not have to think as hard or work long hours to solve a problem.
Occasionally, golden individuals do need to be escorted to the exit door, but only if their distaste and resentment has reached the corporate tolerance saturation point. At this time they become disruptive and unruly - not caring how loud they are talking about the idiots they work with or eating any lunch they want out of the staff fridge.
These individuals can also be the most relaxed and unwavering on a project team. I watch them navigate the intense and chaotic deadlines with calm and ease. On my first large project, a golden consultant told me to chill - the project would get done with or without me. It really is about the project process - the journey, not the destination. Although, if you aren't good at your job, you will not like the destination. Years later I am still trying to explore this word "chill", but looking to those golden individuals, I have hope that I will enjoy a better project temperature. When you are on a team with them or in the staff kitchen, remember that they are as scared of you as you are of them.
Kevin walks over to Alex and gives him a bat on the ears indicating that he wants to play. Alex stares at Kevin in silence - Kevin disarms himself as Alex clearly isn't taking his bait. Then, with a steady paw, Alex thumps the unsuspecting Kevin to the ground. That is the elegance of age and experience. Even with technology on our side, we too shall get old.
Body Language in the Boardroom
Kevin can't speak English.
I am convinced he tries to speak to me with his pathetic meows and his tail flicks - he really does have a tiny meow for such a big cat... I also believe he listens for the intonations in my voice when I talk to him and watches my movements which indicate when he is going to get fed and when it is time to go out. (let's get this over with now - yes, Kevin gets to go out during the day for 1-2 hours. I am fully aware that this is not good for him in the long-run, but he loves being outside and his precious time he gets to chase birds keeps him fit. He is not allowed out at night as this is when the cat gangs appear in the alley and he would get his furry butt handed to him by some inner-city kitties who know how to handle themselves. Alex, the old cat who you will meet later, is strictly indoors)
Although some of us like to just use words to convey information with people as the current state of technology demands instant answers via email or phone, we don't realize that we miss what is being said with our body language and subtle nuances. Subtle nuances like how Kevin licks his paws or how your co-worker always walks to the right of their chair to sit down. When Og and Zog were hunting sabretooth, I don't think they were yelling grammatically correct full sentences with each other as they were moments away from the "coolest-in-the-cave" kill. I suspect that they were using some form of non-verbal signal to give directions in "operation-kill-sabretooth".
There are great links online to blogs and forums about how to read body language. This isn't a perfected science and there still seems to be discussion about how many emotions humans can convey non-verbally and what can be detected by watching body movements, however, there are some simple basic gestures that can help to understand what peoples body language is trying to say.
Understanding your teammate or opponent, whichever the relationship may be, can help your project success. Are their arms crossed in defence or indifference? Are they covering their mouth when they speak? Are they playing with pens? Are they eating their pen? Are they turned away from you? Are they looking at their phone when you are speaking? All these and many others gestures can reveal much about how people are feeling towards a topic, you, or a situation. Not everyone has the ability to naturally watch and read body language, and some people really don't care. However, a little time spent looking at someone to see what emotion they have can determine if your idea or direction is being received correctly. It was described to me once this way - "you can say one thing but your body is something else. This is why we don't like bad actors. They don't act with their whole body."
For us HSP's (highly sensitive persons), we can get so passionate about what we believe or think is right that we ignore all body language. This is where we need to stop and regain poker-face composure. The poker-face. Those experienced in business and corporate management are excellent at the poker-face. It is difficult to read the poker-face, but if you can get the poker players to feel comfortable, maybe share a laugh or good story, then slowly the body language starts to reveal emotion. Like hosting your own house party, making people feel comfortable in a meeting helps to relax individuals enough to want to look at each other. When we know we are being watched as we are talking, we feel that we are connecting to our audience. A large part of disappointment in meetings is when no one feels like they have been heard or that anyone was listening.
Kevin doesn't have a cat door. He also doesn't have opposable thumbs, and he can't successfully scratch at the metal door, so he is left finding another way to ask to come inside. He steps onto the patio furniture outside and looks anxiously into the window. If I didn't take the time to look-up from my work, then Kevin would become a catsicle in the cold or be left for those bad-sass cat gangs. If a cat can find a way to use body language, I am sure we can.
Importance of Taking a Break
The thought of putting Kevin in his cat carrier and having a non-allergic barista come and take a photo with us was seriously considered. Knowing Kevin hates the carrier affirmed that I couldn't put my wants in front of his needs, even though he has been scratching the arm of my favourite chair. What we did do was have some time to relax by the back window and chat about our lives - chasing mice, chasing kids - washing tail, using a new shampoo - taste of the new cat food, new restaurant in the neighbourhood. It is good to take a break to think about something else for a few minutes other than the task(s) waiting for you at your desk.
The different generations in the present workplace have brought other social and emotional requirements for employees that had not been commonplace until only a few years ago. As technology changes exponentially, it affects how society communicates and navigates day-to-day. The "Old Guard" or "Silverbacks" 55+ Boomers club, want to know why is everyone going for a coffee break at 10am. That is what a lunch break is for. The "Gen X'ers" 35+ are torn between not having the time to go for a 10am coffee break, and not wanting to look like they aren't keeping-up with the new "hip" kids. Then there are the "Gen Y'ers" 20+ or the Millennials. Now, there is commentary circulating that the Millennials have entitlement issues - the need to instantaneously have what their parents have or what their mentors have as soon as they graduate from post secondary school - not recognizing the 20 years plus required to achieve some of these titles and assets. This observation is not completely unfounded, however, there are many Millennials who bring a host of skills to the workplace; hard-working, tech savvy, eager to learn, and very adaptable. In addition, the way in which they prefer to work and how they view their workplace rights, is not quite conventional. Coming into the office later in the day and working until late seems to fit some Millennial profiles, as well as working more during the week and not on weekends. For some offices and projects, this revised work schedule can be completely appropriate. This alternate timing can work to a teams advantage if there are also individuals that prefer to arrive early and leave early - then there are always people in the office working from early until late and this can help productivity.
Many Millennials also like titles. Titles are not quite what they once were. In the current customization atmosphere of companies, creating a new title or giving a title to a less-than-attractive position is quite common. This doesn't necessarily have the integrity and accountability of a grand title. Multiple letters after a name is also deemed an asset with your title. In many cases, the letters can be bought - because you took the course and received the letters doesn't mean you actually have the experience. Giving a title is fine - once the client has yelled at you on the phone or in a meeting, the need to flaunt your title begins to weaken.
With our technological society, texting, checking social media, and connecting to our world, it is important for us. It is also important to take breaks and keep our mental selves healthy. There should be times in the day where we see what the Bad Cardigans are wearing and what clever cat blogs are online. As long as time isn't been taken from the overall projects schedule, and affecting others work, minutes here-and-there are acceptable. In the overall project work plan and schedules, there should be buffer times for vacations, team functions, overtime requirements, and gaps of slower periods of work, if any. This info should be shared with the team so they know when and where their skills are required and for how long.
It shouldn't always matter how an employee gets their role accomplished. If they are capable and can do the work of 2 individuals, then inquire if they are comfortable taking on more responsibilities. Even though they are highly efficient, it doesn't mean that they still will not burn-out, or enjoy the increased workload. Once they leave the project, you still need to get the work done and re-train someone else, so it is easier to adjust a few hours of tasks and keep everyone content.
Kevin wanders over to where I am typing and yawns as he looks up at me. This is his way of suggesting "it is time for you to take a break, scratch my behind, let me outside, and make yourself a tea." I welcome the break.
When There is Nothing More to Say
For festive purposes, Kevin and I have decided to give a nod to the pagan celebration of All Hallow's Eve and explore when to know the conversation that you are having with someone is dead.
We have all had conversations where the recipient of the other end just has no evolutionary language skills past, "okay", "fine", or "not really". You can try to coax these individuals into a more dynamic discussion by trying to determine what their interests are, if any. However, sometimes you just need to accept that maybe this is how they are or maybe they don't like really like you, so best not to try too hard. Accept the conversation is dead.
Another example of accepting conversational completion is when your manager, client, or consultant has clearly indicated in the discussion or body language (crossing arms in defence, checking their watch, or physically turning away) that the topic is done. At this point, if you want your opinion to be heard, it may be best to move on or wait to resume the topic at a later date when the everyone has had a chance to cool down. If you receive the same response when you challenge the topic again, then the conversation is Zombie-dead. Zombie conversations are topics that will not die. The discussions can be killed, but the weapons to kill them vary from Zombie-to-Zombie. If nothing seems to vanquish the Zombie conversation, then it is best to lay down and play dead. Zombie conversations can only stay alive if the object of the conversations appear to have a heart beat.
When conversation topics are spinning in circles around the meeting table, let them spin for a bit. After a few spins, and just before tensions rise, insert the "let's take a moment to see what we know and how to move forward" or "let's take a moment to take a breath". Assigning specific tasks, or re-evaluating the discussion facts can help get to resolution and clarity.
A meeting can be difficult if there is a topic that has not been fully disclosed. Sometimes silence can be your best defence, or your best give-away to your true feelings to others. Silence around to topic can indicate that no one wants to be accountable.
As this is a festive discussion, we could review the idea of dressing-up at work in costumes. This depends on office or team personalities, personal beliefs, and interest. It is amusing to see others express themselves or watch them enjoy the idea of doing something in the office that is non-conventional. Personally, I will have my costume at hand for this year, but Kevin is a purist and will stick to his cat suit.
There is nothing more to say today. This post is now dead.
Always Have Back-up
Kevin is my Wing-man or Wing-cat who flies beside me.
During the day, Kevin comes and goes by my side when he likes. However, he always seems to know what I am doing or where I am in the house. Perhaps as the keeper of the kitty treats, he views me as a feline goddess, but I truly think he is interested in what is happening in his little world. He is often a more attentive roommate than my kids in observing who is in the house and who is at the door. Kevin and I will walk from room-to-room together doing daily chores or we will just sit in the living room and hang-out. He is my wing-cat.
There can be times on projects where we feel that if we were to be struck by a bus, no one would have a clue what we are working on or what our deadlines are. Although heavy responsibility is part of any management role, the feeling that you personally hold the glue to everything on the project is unrealistic and somewhat narcissistic. Unfortunately, we may have put these constraints on ourselves due to fear of no control and ego, or we may have inadvertently acquired the responsibility of a glue stick due to client/consultant/contractor preference in working with us. For whichever reasons turn us into goopy glue, someone needs to be your "second" or someone who is your "back-up". Even if this someone is only aware of your overall responsibilities, ie, who are your team players, any major issues you are tackling, or significant deadlines, etc. You can still be the "all seeing eye" - the overseer of the entire project and its objectives - but others need to be aware of your project actions and intentions as well.
Your project or office Wing-folk* (maybe you have more than one person) should know where you are physically and mentally. They know generally where you are and what your overall well-being looks like. It doesn't mean you need to share all your intimate personal details with them, but they are aware if there are life or work issues that could impact your performance and judgement. If you are managing large or small projects, your Wing-folk know what your role requires and what you do day-to-day - they just may be assigned different tasks. Your Wing-folk is also your support. There are days that can be overwhelming and your Wing-folk are there to take you for coffee or to the grocery store to get you some ice cream. When you start behaving distracted and unresponsive to office banter, it is your Wing-folk who will pull you aside and make sure everything is fine. Your Wing-folk may also approach other senior staff to see what they can do to help.
When I am getting ready to leave the house to run errands, Kevin will watch me put on my shoes and jacket. Then as I close the door behind me, he will go upstairs to one of his favorite sleeping spots. When I return, I will hear the jingle of his collar as he rushes to the door to give me a household update and to see if I have any bags he can play in. He is an excellent Wing-cat.
* Wing-folk may be similar to the work-spouse, work-sibling, or as HR often terms the relationship to be non-offensive "buddy".
Kevin and I are now co-workers.
After many years of working on large high-profile projects, coordinating, managing, deadlines, meetings, workshops, workplans, herding cats and dogs, I finally decided to take time and reflect on what worked and what didn't for projects and people.
There are hundreds of blogs, websites, forums, etc. on Project Management and Corporate Culture. However, all seem to have organizational lists for steps and tips or snazzy charts and spreadsheets. Although these are very important, there is also a great human factor, or feline factor coming from the feminine, that make projects successful. Now, Kevin is obviously a guy, but he is a cat. Oddly enough, as I began to hang with my new co-worker, I realized what we had in common. Kevin only likes attention when he wants it. Check. Kevin likes to be clean. Check. Kevin is picky about what he eats. Check. Kevin is independent and calculated. Check. Kevin looks for opportunities that no one has looked for. Check. Kevin likes his routine, but can change it-up when he needs to. Check. Kevin's litterbox looks like a pretty sandbox with all kinds of potential after it has been cleaned. However, after a few short hours, crap starts to build-up underneath and makes the pretty sandbox stink. Then it becomes a litterbox. Definitely, check. As I continued down the list, it seems Kevin and I could probably get some serious work done.
It is a bold, unscientific statement to say that women are like cats and men are like dogs, but there really could be some merit in the generalization. It would be one way to explore the masculine and feminine personalities of people which contribute to how the project team functions. There are other factors about people, the main ones, ego, trust, fear, anger, and failure that can compromise our happiness and thus the project. Time. As projects are possibly four or fifth dimensional, the element of time is a factor in the work-life balance or imbalance. Time could actually be the governing ethereal master we all serve.
This work that Kevin and I will be doing, although if he starts to sleep most of day and this could end-up a one-woman-show, another excellent topic on the imbalance of project teams, is to present different ways of looking at Project Management and the people who make-up the corporate workforce. We may also delve into a more direct connection between the overall office community and the litterbox although project teams often operate like a mini ecooffice.
We may introduce pictures and quotes, (note the almighty "we" - he and I have to function as a team until a situational change informs us otherwise) and we may have little videos or invite our dog friends to comment.
There are some of us in the workforce who can't sit in the office managers office and tell you how we do things exactly, or why we can get things done, or why we seem to be so emotional. Perhaps Kevin and I will be able to help others understand us.
This is Mikey.
When I actually make it to the gym, Mikey has been there and he has become my therapy dog. Mikey, unlike Kevin, loves attention anywhere, anytime, and he is eager to offer his soft fur for a vigorous scratch around the ears. His enthusiastic tail wag during scratching affirms that I have finally pleased someone this week. The rest of the week is about trying to please others; clients, co-workers, family, and even some friends. It is ridiculous to believe that I can please everyone - impossible. There are too many egos and personal agendas that do not make it a reality to fulfill everyone's whim. What I try to achieve is mutual respect and understanding.
A key element to success in a sandbox (or litterbox) is to have unspoken or spoken personal parameters. These could be things like not questioning a co-workers authority in front of a client or contractor; the exchange of small pleasantries before meetings, or in some instances, no acknowledgement to save time, but all understand that is acceptable and no offense is taken; the quick nod of the head in agreement with positive action. The sandbox should be fun, productive, and innovative if required. It is also a place to learn, build strength, and create memories. Respecting a person or having a mutual understanding of personalities, doesn't always mean you need to please them. It just means you need to try and do the best that you can. When we don't feel like we are being tested or trying to please people we can relax and begin to enjoy challenging the typical ideals or mediocrity, or feel inspired to do our work, not repressed.
There is the theory that respect has to be earned. Yes, deep respect has to be earned, but as a part of being a good human, we need to start at some level of respect for another person. The exception is when you may not respect a person based-on knowledge of previous actions or behaviour. Or you may lose a level of respect during a project because of actions or behaviour. If you were Kevin the Cat, you could ignore them. If you were Mikey, you could growl at them. However, as bipedal creatures, we either need to find something we could respect about them even if it is just their taste in shoes, or dig deep and fain respect for the greater good of the project team.
Returning to fun, sometimes we don't get the project exactly right. The outcome isn't achieving expectations or intent. Building in the sandbox has the same issues as things don't always work. Although there is the appearance of failure, perception of the outcome can change if the process of creating has been fun. Fun seems to be associated with kids at play or not sophisticated in our corporate culture of rules and regulations. Fun is timeless. If you have a smile on your face as you are working on some complex problem or excited about the prospect of an idea, you are having fun. If the end of the day you feel 80% content, then you had fun. If a co-worker told a good joke and you laughed out loud, you are having fun. It may be crazy, but projects can be fun.
As I collapse on the floor after my workout, Mikey comes over wagging his tail for a scratch. After all my hard work lunging and push-uping, he doesn't have to say anything to me. His actions say it all.