The Happy Office

Posted by jlubans on September 25, 2019

Caption: Performance Appraisal Day at the Samuel Beckett Co.
A “man bites dog” story made the rounds last week.
In New Zealand, an office worker was summoned by his boss “to discuss his role”. That had all the earmarks of a “redundancy meeting”.
Under New Zealand labor law, someone facing redundancy gets to bring along a support person.
(First, let’s get real about this euphemism, redundant: you’re about to get kicked out the door, ejected, discharged, sacked, fired.)
Our creative hero turned the tables by bringing along a clown.
The vast media coverage suggests this story “resonated” for many people. Why?
Take your pick. It could be that the reader:
a. Has had the experience of being ignominiously fired and would have liked to have had a friend along, an advocate.
b. Loves it when the worm turns; chalk one up for the little guy!
c. Enjoys theater of the absurd.
d. Picks up on the notion that absurdity empowers to some extent the person being fired. The joke is as much on the boss, as on the sad sack being told he/she is no longer relevant, useful, wanted, of value, etc.
EB White when asked to define “democracy” offered several views including it’s “the hole in the stuffed shirt through which sawdust slowly trickles” The clown makes the hole.
I’d like to build on the New Zealand story. Let’s alleviate the mutual suffering endured in the annual unhappiness ritual, the performance appraisal (PA).
I need to qualify my claim of mutual suffering. There’s no question of the ratee’s anxiety and fear, even pain. And most rater’s have at least a great discomfort doing the rating. However, there are those petty raters who relish being the superior, being the judge. Sure, the empathy mask is firmly in place, but the unseemly gleem in the eye gives you the idea the person secretly enjoys taking you down a peg or two, pointing out your flaws.
My modest proposal: we add a third party: a clown of the ratee’s choosing.
It’d bring some genuine zippety do-dah to this overly solemnized, high stress ritual.
The clown could reduce the anxiety level, adding an appropriate good humor and slapstick to the dreaded event.
Apart from miming what a rating of 6 out of ten feels like for the employee, or riffing, - with cascading crocodile tears - on the phony "I feel you pain" refrain, something tangible could come out: a balloon giraffe or gazelle or cat. Solid results! A first for PA!
Put this program under the aegis of the Happiness Officer (HO). Surely you have read of the latest management trend, the Happiness program?
In any case, the clown contingent could report to the in-house HO.
While no incumbent HO could pass for a clown – one explained the gravity of the HO job, “first, it’s not about being a clown or a comedian” - the job would need to be out-sourced, giving work to the unemployed in the clown population.
One HO sees his role as: “Treat people as they want to be treated.” You want a clown alongside as we defenestrate you? You got it!
Or, if the HO reneges, the Chief Mindfulness Officer could supervise the Clowns. Shouldn't someone in the organization be mindful of the wasted productivity inherent in PA?

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And, my book on democratic workplaces, Leading from the Middle, is available at Amazon.

© Copyright John Lubans 2019
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