If I had written this last night, I might have ranted, might have detailed all the terrible things that my last employer did to me. I might have spoken of panic attacks and anger looking back, and as I write this, I know those things may still come up. Today, though, I want to talk about changing the way we look at things. I want to talk about re-evaluating how we interact with each other, with a specific look at a working environment.
Today, I want to talk about kindness.
Let's start by forming a mental picture of a traditional office setting. It's enough to say that people are busy, at their desks or talking to other coworkers. Meetings buzz with activity as people move in and out, projector screens extending and retracting as the crowds wax and wane. Some are lucky enough to have offices, while others sit in cubicles or open desks, laid out in rows or hexagons by someone with at least as much OCD as the engineers themselves.
In this setting, there are reports to file, emails to respond to, and much work to get done. People run to labs and factory floors, to airports and distant countries, all to keep the machine moving. The one rule is this: the machine must keep moving. If it stops, if there's a kink in the smooth functioning of business, schedules are missed, customers are upset, and the jobs of everyone at the office are in jeopardy. The spice must flow.
But everyone who's worked a day in their life knows that not every day is smooth. There are problems, problems of design or management, of human error or machine malfunction. Solving these problems, and keeping the machine going, is why we have our jobs in the first place, and we can lose them if we solve them to slowly or find ourselves unable to do so at all, even if the problem lies beyond our control.
Some business have fewer bumps, some businesses have more. It depends on the quality of the people, and the processes in place to keep the machine moving, and not all are equal to the task, as much as we wish they were. The key, though, is to keep the machine going *without* burning out your people through frustration or long hours, working them until they can work no more. And that's not just a business calculation, as much as people talk about it in those terms. Employees are real people, with real needs, and real feelings, and those need to be taken into account.
When they're not, people get hurt.
Emotionally, and physically, people can only take so much. And when they start to become overwhelmed, as many of my coworkers currently are, they start to make even more mistakes, creating yet more bumps in the road. If this process is not arrested, if changes are not made, and made *quickly*, this can spiral out of control. Assigning ownership of ongoing problems and hammering them down one step at a time is the only way to move forward, even if it's slow.
I've seen a few different ways of handling these kinds of situations. Some managers dig in with the troops, coming in on weekends when they're required to spruce up morale. Some go further, being flexible schedules and trying to ensure that employees have enough time to rest on off-peak days. Some, though, add to the problems, and that is not okay. If a manager is more intent on assigning blame than taking ownership of the solution to a problem, they're no good. Whether they just sit and do nothing, letting the problem linger, or outright yell and abuse employees under them, it just makes things even worse.
So I have had a thought. What do you do, as a co-worker, when you see another co-worker, under a different manager, stressing out? Right out the gate, let's assume you are busy as well, as is common in a somewhat chaotic environment. You can't take on any of their work, not just because that responsibility isn't yours, and you can't really address overload with their manager, as that's between the two of them. Even if the manager is abusive, you can't necessarily report it without possibly getting your coworker in even more trouble, and if you do it without their knowledge or consent, they may consider it a breach of trust.
I've run into this situation a few times recently, and I'm starting to develop a strategy I recommend. Listen. Be kind. If they're having a bad day, maybe surprise them with something coming back from lunch. Maybe ask that coworker who hasn't gone out in months and pulls his hair out daily *to* lunch. In a million little ways, you can remind them that it's not always as bad as things seem, and that there's more to life than work.
So reach out. You won't believe your eyes. <3