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Thursday, October 9, 2008

Trying to Norm Office Behavior

My office, like everyone else's, is made up of incredibly strange, frustrating, talented and fun people. We are an intercultural and multi-generational melting pot. We put the fun in dysfunctional. (Doesn't everyone?)

During my first job post-graduate school, I kept a mental scorecard on everyone I worked with. It looked pretty much like this:
  • Person A - easy to get along with, laid-back, weird
  • Person B - short temper but nice, weird
  • Person C - funny, lazy, weird
  • Person D - great boss, weird
It didn't take long for me to notice that everyone on my list was weird. From there, it was just a small step ( giant leap for Shannah) to a realization that if everyone else was weird, I was likely weird as well! There's not a one of us that's normal.

Well, that's all fine and good, but we still have to find a way to work together as a productive, albeit not always happy, family. So we struggle to norm office behavior.

Our firm believes in the mama approach: I told you once, I told you twice, now I'm going to post it everywhere and send frequent emails. It seems like every other week a furious email chain is zipping around the office complaining about glasses sitting out, paper towel rolls not being replaced and folks not learning how to replace paper in the printers. (I must confess to a biannual rant about putting away the binding supplies.)

However, I didn't post this:

Nor did I label every cabinet door in the kitchen and supply room. I think somebody must have been tired of hearing doors open and shut in yet another manic search for pens, kleenex, etc.

But I am responsible for the monthly Refrigerator Reminder email. After years of opening the refrigerator and shoving my lunch into an over-full compartment, or gagging from over-ripe leftovers, I declared war. My first strategy was little more than non-stop complaining. It was ineffective. My second strategy was to post photocopied newspaper articles about civility and guides to sharing common resources. It was also ineffective. Kelly suggested I start cleaning the refrigerator on a monthly basis, and to give everyone plenty of notice with clear instructions. Our refrigerator is now clean and, based on behavioral responses, my monthly email has been revised to be extremely specific. It says:
Just a friendly reminder that today is the last day of the month.

All leftovers will be removed from the refrigerator tomorrow morning at 7 am and thrown away. Only items clearly marked with a current note stating your name, the date, and a request to keep said item will be kept.

Condiments and hermetically sealed containers (yogurt, tuna packs, etc) will not be thrown away unless they are past expiration date, the container is almost empty or the contents are obviously spoiled. Frozen foods will not be thrown away.

Items in unmarked plastic containers of any sort (dishes and beverage holders) will be tossed. Open drink bottles and cans that are unmarked will be tossed. Items wrapped tightly in unmarked plastic bags will be tossed.

A little pedantic, I know. Believe it or not, it's necessary. And, as I mentioned, it's been effective. 

However, the absurdity of these attempts at norming office behavior struck me today when I walked into the kitchen at lunch and found that, per instructions, someone had dutifully replaced the paper towel roll after using up the last sheet.

1 comment:

  1. So awesome. First, the "Fair Warning: I'm cleaning the fridge" story makes me LAUGH out loud. Long story short - I and a co-worker were nearly fired by our boss for tossing her unmarked goods on the highly publicized Fridge Clean Out Day. Second, the photo of the unwrapped paper towels is seriously a classic.