The Artful Skiver

Posted by jlubans on March 31, 2020  •  Leave comment (0)

Caption: How to be at work when not there./b>

Skive, in British slang, began as a term for skipping school, playing hooky.
A noun and a verb, it now applies to filching time, from family or the boss at work, for personal use.
It’s a form of theft justified by the claim that it is earned and deserved.
Skiving ranges from taking sick leave for a home improvement project to holding down an esoteric full time job. We all know skivers (slackers) but few of us can make a full time job of it.
But, I had a few workers like that. One was in charge of keeping track of numbers for reporting out to other agencies, probably at most a few hours a week job. Somehow he’d managed to make it into a full time job!
While this worker was not a direct report, I still feel foolish about letting that happen!
At least one skiving study shows it is “borrowing” paid time for personal use ranging from online shopping to viewing salacious web sites.
The study">psychologist Tessa West, writing in the WSJ,
explains: “The average person spends 1.5 to three hours a day at work on “private activities” (70% of U.S. internet traffic passing through porn sites is done during working hours, and 60% of all online purchases are made during working hours.)”
While some of us may “tsk, tsk” about this and notch it up to the untrustworthiness of mankind, there may far more unsettling reasons for this behavior.
One is that organizations (and families) expect too much of its workers: the company may profess a desire for balance between life and work, but all the signals point to work comes first, personal time is second and best not taken.
Another reason is that many organizations claim to be democratic but in practice are hierarchies with top down decision making.
Theory X thinking rules the roost: if the worker is unsupervised he will take advantage of the organization; coercion is what makes people work.
You can sugar coat it, but many workplace bosses do not trust workers and give them little latitude for thinking, scheduling and working. Our workplaces are largely systems of masters and servants.
So, just like in ancient times, the clever slave tricks the slave owner. Indeed, there’s a literary genre around the cunning slave (e.g. Aesop) or servant (e.g. Jeeves) getting the upper hand on the feckless master.
And so it can be with the supervisor and the skiver.
One HR representative offered clues for spotting skivers at work – this is HR as truant officer.
There are several clues: one is the jacket on the chair (illustrated). The skiver leaves it to suggest he or she is at work but has stepped away for a moment and will be back soon. Well it may be two or three hours.
Another, looking-busy technique is to walk around with a piece of paper in hand.
That suggests a mission to clarify a memo, or to answer some important question.
In reality, the skiver is headed out the door for a latte and a bit of a rest on a park bench.
So, is it always going to be this way at work?
It needn’t be. We know from a simple experiment with boys clubs back in the 50s, that people work best under a democratic style of leadership.
That means the boss trusting and collaborating with workers. This results in high production and acceptance of responsibility by workers. Most importantly, when the boss leaves, the workers continue to work and produce.
Under the traditional HR autocratic model (close supervision and little trust in the worker) production can be goosed into high gear but once the boss leaves the goofing off begins, including bullying.
There are two options:
Leave things as they are and assume that skiving is a “cost” to the modern organization and trying to stop it will result in even lower morale and a further drop in production.
Or, we recognize that the workplace needs improvement:
Democratize the workplace (what this Leading from the Middle blog and book
Leading from the Middle.
are about).
Make work meaningful.
Give people freedom to make work related decisions.
Give people reason to believe their job has a future.
Work towards mutual support and respect.
And, leaders should model and encourage achieving a balance between the personal and the professional, not the latter ever ascendant.
My daughter is an Oregon State Trooper – a dangerous, stressful profession with a reputation for burn out.
She told me how impressed she was by the agency leadership’s repeated emphasis on work-life balance at the training academy. At the graduation ceremony, the commander spoke of the crucial need for family time at length in front of the many proud families in attendance.
Not only was it stressed in theory, once she got to her assigned station at the State Capitol, it is practiced.

© Copyright John Lubans 2020

Encore Friday Fable. Aesop’s “ZEUS AND THE DONKEYS”*

Posted by jlubans on March 27, 2020  •  Leave comment (0)

Caption. Patti Smith. Album: Radio Ethiopia. 1976

“The donkeys were tired of being burdened with burdens and labouring all the days of their lives, so they sent ambassadors to Zeus, asking him to release them from their toil. Zeus, wanting to show them that they had asked for something impossible, said that their suffering would come to an end on the day when they pissed a river. The donkeys took him seriously and to this day whenever donkeys see where another donkey has pissed, they come to a halt and piss in the same place.”

“The fable shows that a person cannot escape his allotted fate.”

It was back in 2016 when I first wrote about this fable. Here it is again with a new illustration and a few revisions:
Like the bare-arse’d Ape in this same collection of fables for children**, imagine the giggles emanating from the nurseries of the early 1900s as the little ones read of the pissing donkeys.
But, this fable claims man’s lot is forecast; there’s no questioning one’s place or destiny. To do so is the “uttermost degree of Madness and Folly, to Appeal from Providence and Nature” as Sir Roger L'Estrange put it in 1692. A century later came the American Revolution which posited a different fate for humans: We are equal and we have "unalienable rights" to "Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness".
If a peasant wants to be a landowner, the opportunity is there. It is not given, but it can be earned.
If the dealt hand is not what you want, well, shuffle the cards again. And, it is your business – government butt out - in how you keep or not your Faith.
Imperfect? Yes. A superior alternative? Show me.
Since Aesop’s telling of the fable of the Pissing Donkeys (a garage rock band?) he may have inspired a few more writers. There’s Wretched Willie Nelson’s, “Whiskey River” (don’t run dry), Patti Smith’s hard rock “Pissing in the River” and not to be outdone, Julie London’s smoky “Cry Me a River”.

*Source: Aesop's Fables. A new translation by Laura Gibbs. Oxford University Press (World's Classics): Oxford, 2002.

**Everyman’s Library Children’s Classics.

© Copyright John Lubans 2016 & 2020


Posted by jlubans on March 25, 2020  •  Leave comment (0)


A BBC report, “How to leave a family business
brought to mind a story I’ve long thought about writing.
Before we go there, a little bit of personal perspective.
My father ran a small construction company; it was very much his company - his reputation for quality work and absolute honesty were integral to the success of the company.
I worked for him several summers and we mutually, if tacitly, concluded this was not the business for me.
While I could swing a hammer with the best and I could shovel more dirt and gravel than most, when it came to the finer points, like measuring angles and running a straight line of shingles or bricks, I lacked the aptitude.
Also, I did like my sleep and just could not emulate my dad’s 5AM rising, at least – interestingly - not for this calling.
I valued the opportunity to work with him especially since it finally sank into my hard head that this was not what I wanted to do for the rest of my life.
I would need to go to college.
My point is that I never had to leave a family business!
That said, I have studied numerous organizations from orchestras to restaurants, several of which are written about in my book, Leading from the Middle.
The BBC report suggests leaving a family business is a fraught step.
I saw this up close and personal at a business I often visited as a customer and eventually as a researcher.
Over time, I befriended the boss, Fritz by name and he gave me carte blanche to study his organization. (Note: I have changed names since I do not wish in any way to sensationalize what I observed. I remain fond of this business and of the many people I met, including Fritz.)
The BBC report identifies common problems and sources of failure in family businesses: communication style, future vision and strategy, and balancing the needs of the family versus the needs of the business.
And, per the BBC, if you are the heir-apparent, 21.8% said communication style was the leading cause of conflict. As for the family boss, just 13.3% listed communication as the leading cause of dissent.
Now, Fritz’s is a very successful retail operation in a large city. Fritz, the owner, works very long hours and pretty much micromanages the business.
He runs it like a big family with him as the idiosyncratic patriarch with a large flock of children, some of whom he regards as “primitives” (his term).
An example of Fritz’s leadership style: An employee pushed another employee down some rickety stairs. Instead of dismissal for assault, Fritz told the two to shake hands and make up.
Another example: When a floor manager got fed up with Fritz’s butting in, he told Fritz to back off and to let him do his job. Fritz fired him on the spot.
An hour later, Fritz was on the phone with the employee apologizing and asking him to return to the business. He did, only to have this repeated every year or so.
Indeed, some department heads soon learned not to take any bluster from Fritz. Instead, they’d walk out. Invariably, he’d plead with them to return.
At Fritz’s there was one genuine heir-apparent, a daughter. Let’s call her Diane.
When I interviewed her – a calm, intelligent and confident young woman - she thought her dad could share more information with her – she worried that he knew so much that would be lost were he unable to work.
The implication was that he was holding back the real inside scoop on the business and was essentially unwilling to trust her fully.
Treated like a junior partner, she had little decision-making authority, if any.
Still, she was expected to work long hours (this is retail, remember).
She had recently married a wealthy man and they were expecting a first child.
And, there was a mother (Fritz’s wife) behind the scenes. A soap-opera-ish personality from whom – I concluded - Diane would be desperate for some separation, in space and time.
While I never interviewed the mother I did have several social visits with her and Fritz, some of which gave me insights into her mercurial personality.
I spoke to Fritz about what Diane had told me, about her wanting a real role in the business. He may have heard what I said but, as far as I could tell, he did little to improve Diane's role.
About a year or two later, I was back in town and went by to see Fritz in his office.
Heart broken and literally in tears, he told me that Diane had resigned and was moving into the suburbs.
Not long after Fritz stopped taking my calls. It’s now been years since I last saw him.
I suspect he – possibly encouraged by his wife - thought I was somehow responsible for the estrangement between him and his daughter; that I had helped, by asking questions, Diane articulate her discontent.
In any case, I imagine Diane had a hard time making the decision to let go.
Could this separation have been avoided? Would Diane (and her new family) stay on had Fritz been willing to treat her as a full and responsible partner?
Probably yes, but hard to know.

© Copyright John Lubans 2020

Friday Fable. Phaedrus’ THE EVILS OF WEALTH*

Posted by jlubans on March 20, 2020  •  Leave comment (0)

Caption: Plutus (with cornucopia) and his mother Demeter, C4th B.C..

Riches are deservedly despised by a man of worth because a well-stored chest intercepts praise from its true objects.

When Hercules was received into heaven as the reward of his virtues, and saluted in turn the Gods who were congratulating him, on Plutus approaching, who is the child of Fortune, he turned away his eyes.
His father, Jupiter, enquired the reason:
“I hate him,” says he, “because he is the friend of the wicked, and at the same time corrupts all by presenting the temptation of gain.
Hercules, a
lways more brawn than brains, has made a faulty assumption.
He claims poor Plutus (the blind god of Fortune) intentionally lets good things (fortune) happen to bad people and bad things (misfortune) to happen to good people.
The truth according to Plutus, spoken through the playwright Aristophanes is: “Zeus (or Jupiter) inflicted (blindness) on me, because of his jealousy of-mankind. When I was young, I threatened him that I would only go to the just, the wise, the men of ordered life; to prevent my distinguishing these, he struck me with blindness' so much does he envy the good!”
Zeus comes off as petty and jealous. Especially of the good follower who does good and thinks for himself/herself.
Do you know any Jovian leaders like that?
Given his druthers, Plutus would prefer to shun the wicked and to visit the good.
Likewise, the Herculean certainty on Facebook is probably more akin to Zeus’ envy of good than to giving a guy a break.


© Copyright John Lubans 2020

Toddlers will, chimps won’t.

Posted by jlubans on March 16, 2020  •  Leave comment (0)

Caption: A toddler returns a blueberry to researcher Barragan.

Susan Pinker writes in the WSJ – “Babies Can Be More Altruistic Than Adults” - about a study showing our human tendencies to help, to cooperate, and to come to the aid of others.
When beseeched to retrieve and return a stranger’s dropped fruit 60% of the 96 toddlers did so. When hungry, 38% gave back the fruit.
In the control group with the stranger behaving indifferently to the dropped fruit, only 4% retrieved and returned the fruit.
In the greater animal kingdom, altruism sets human beings apart. The study’s authors say, “the knack for reading others’ needs and being motivated to help fulfill them is a distinctly human trait. Chimpanzees don’t give up food to a stranger.”
So, what has altruism to do with the workplace?
Well, consider the 40% of the toddlers who did not share. Is this an early indicator of jerkitude?
Jerks, as one definition has it, are “ignorant of the value of others, ignorant of the merit of their ideas and plans, dismissive of their desires and beliefs, (and) unforgiving of their perceived inferiority.”
Perhaps jerkiness in adulthood is too much to derive from a child’s gobbling down a stranger’s dropped piece of fruit. The 40% might have simply been hungry and opportunistic.
What chance is there that this “me, first!” attitude will change over time?
Indeed, how does one become more of a “social” being? That’s one of the study’s conclusions: “If we can discover how to promote altruism in our kids, this could move us toward a more caring society.”
In a way, this research offers something for both sides of the "nature or nurture" debate. Generally, people have some measure of an innate tendency to help others; this tendency can be either diminished or enhanced depending on one's life experience.
Caption: Canadian shoppers stock up - and then some! - for the epidemic.

“The Mover” (2018) is a film depicting the heroic and complex actions of Žanis Lipke, a blue-collar worker. Lipke is famous for saving some 50 or more Jews from Nazi persecution/murder in Riga, Latvia.
In an early scene, shortly after the German military has re-occupied Latvia, a Latvian butcher refuses to sell meat to a Jew.
Lipke’s wife observes this and admonishes the butcher to sell the man the meat – he is a human being providing for his family’s needs. The butcher still refuses – he does not want to be seen as a Jew-sympathizer.
She then thrusts her package of meat into the Jew’s hands, a noble act done at great risk.
How many of us would do the same?
OK. Reduce the risk level to a mere inconvenience, how many of us would help a stranger?
In the workplace, it is not much different. When we see someone being vilified in an organization do we offer a helping hand or turn away, further ostracizing a former colleague?
The researchers in this study found that an infant’s siblings and cultural background “could account for some of the variance in the infants’ tendency to help strangers.”
If children’s altruistic behavior is indeed malleable then perhaps the actions of leaders and followers can influence an organization toward altruism and awareness of interdependence and away from overly selfish behaviors.

© Copyright John Lubans 2020