People are everything in life. Our relationships, how we communicate, what we understand (and misunderstand) about each other – people make up the essential fabric of our lives. They have the capacity to cause us the greatest headache or the greatest joy, and such extremes of emotion can often be triggered by the same person. I don’t spend much time in a shared workplace, but having had the occasional foray in and out of the workplace over the last few months I am reminded how much fun and camaraderie and laughter there is to be had in working with others. I’ve also been reminded how much bickering and disagreement and exhaustion there can be. Every workplace seems to have its share of fonts of friendship and springs of squabbles – it’s a microcosm of life.
A couple of weeks ago I branded all Lothian buses drivers unhelpful, cantankerous, grouch-grumps. I labelled them thus all because of one cranky driver whose 14 year-old dog might have died the day before, for all I knew. I had an all day ticket, which he took to examining like a jeweller assessing the cut of a precious diamond – ‘Get your magnifying glass out, why don’t you?’ (who’s cranky now?) I was bound for the Lothian Road, but the bus wasn’t. It was travelling along Princes Street, heading for the west end and onto Shandwick Place. It was a dreadful night: cold wind; blowing sleet; flooded roads forcing you to hug the building side of the pavement so as not to be soaked by dirty spray and walls of water sluiced up by passing cars. I shimmied up to the driver at a stop about half way along Princes Street. I asked which stop was closest to the bottom of the Lothian Road. He didn’t look at me when he answered. “I dunno. There’s two coming up. Pick one.” “Couldn’t you tell me which one is closer?” “No. I’m a bus driver, not a chauffeur.” I can out-surly a surly face – not one of my better qualities – it’s a wonder he didn’t throw me off there and then. And so it was, from a sample size of one, that I pronounced an entire fleet of drivers to be an unfriendly, jobsworth lot.
Three weeks later and the weather (having much improved then much deteriorated) is once again horrendous. I’m on London Load hunkering under a shelter and waiting for the Number 5. It is a very active wait. I grapple to fold up a wet umbrella, prop a bunch of purple tulips tied with a prink ribbon that is coming undone on the bench, try not to drop the bottle of red wine that the man from Cornelius has wrapped in newspaper, which seems to make it more slippery, stick a bag of Tangfastics for little J. under my armpit as they won’t fit into my miniscule handbag (why didn’t I bring a bag big enough for everything?) and panic that I have no change. I can see the Number 5 approaching, just behind the Number 22. Not much time to get my bus fare. I take my gloves off and hold them in one hand as I scramble through my purse looking for 20p to make up my fare. £1.70, got it. The Number 22 stops but no one gets on. He doesn’t move off. By now I’m outside of the bus shelter getting wet. Come on Mr. Bus-driver, move along and let us board the number 5; I’m going to drop this wine, these flowers are going to scatter, and I’m cold. Still, he doesn’t move. He gesticulates to someone. I look around. Is he waiting for a latecomer to get onto the bus? Nope. ‘Me?’ I mouth through a closed door. I shake my head and point to the Number 5 behind. This is getting silly and I’m growing impatient. Ah yes, Lothian bus drivers, they’re all the same. We’re both becoming exasperated. Is it possible he is pointing at the ground and not at me? I look behind, then down, and there on the wet pavement of the bus shelter, in a forlorn state of surrender, is one soft, white kid-leather glove, the match of which is in my hand. My going-out gloves, my favourite M.S. present gloves, my Jackie O. gloves, my I-might-well-live-in-a-house-with-chandeliers gloves. The blessed Lothian bus driver is on a mission to make sure the match will not be forsaken. He looks relieved that the scatty, laden down, one-gloved woman has finally got the message. We exchange thumbs up as he drives off. I want to blow him a kiss.
Have I told you how much I love Lothian bus drivers? Best in the world, they are.
Managing the Common Herd by, Julie O’Callaghan
(two approaches for senior management)
THEORY x: People are naturally lazy.
They come late, leave early, feign illness.
When they sit at their desks
it’s ten to one they’re yakking to colleagues
on the subject of who qualifies as a gorgeous hunk.
They’re coating their lips and nails with slop,
a magazine open to ‘What your nails say about you’
or ‘Ten exercises to keep your bottom in top form’
under this year’s annual report.
These people need punishment;
they require stern warnings
and threats – don’t be a coward,
don’t be intimidated by a batting eyelash.
Stand firm: a few tears, a Mars Bar,
several glasses of cider with her pals tonight
and you’ll be just the same old
rat-bag, mealy-mouthed, small-minded tyrant
you were before you docked her
fifteen minutes pay for insubordination.
Never let these con-artists get the better of you.
THEORY z: Staff need encouragement.
Give them a little responsibility
and watch their eager faces lighting up.
Let them know their input is important.
Be democratic – allow all of them
their two cents worth of gripes.
(Don’t forget this is the Dr Spock generation.)
If eight out of twelve of them
prefer green garbage cans to black ones
under their desks, be generous –
the dividends in productivity
will be reaped with compound interest.
Offer incentives, show them
it’s to their own advantage to meet targets.
Don’t talk down to your employees.
Make staff believe that they
have valid and innovative ideas
and that not only are you interested.
but that you will act upon them.
Remember, they’re human too.