The modern workplace is a ludicrous thing. That's why I'm sticking around

Steve Harrison has very good reason for remaining in the workplace: to wind up his colleagues! (Picture posed by model)

I was in a meeting at work the other day, when a colleague addressed the chair. Not a chair like the one Clint Eastwood chatted to a while ago, but rather the chairwoman. However, we don’t have chairmen or chairwomen any more, just furniture running meetings, apparently.

I digress.

My colleague, or co-worker, or whatever the people I work with are called these days, asked the chair, “Are you going to cover the safety aspects?” “I will speak to that in a moment,” replied the chair. I note the table stayed silent. Naturally, I became enraged and murdered everyone in the room.

Okay, I didn’t do that. But I wanted to. It was one, “I’ll speak to that” too many.

How on earth do you speak to safety aspects? You can speak to people. You can speak to pets. You can talk to yourself (I do). Yet speaking to safety aspects, even if they were sitting attentively on a chairperson, would be rather pointless. Safety aspects are not sentient beings, something of which the custodians of modern office jargon and terminology appear oblivious.

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Speaking to things has become a thing in itself. People used to speak to or address an audience. They didn’t speak to safety aspects, the housing crisis or the balance of payments. Perhaps these people should speak to therapists instead.

Call me old-fashioned (and you can, because I am), but what happened to simply going to work, doing your job and getting paid? Now I have to meet key performance indicators, ensure every situation is a win-win, maximise the customer experience by delighting each of them, put in 110 per cent and make sure we are always going forward.

Trouble is, I’ve never met a key performance indicator I like. If there is a winner, there’s a loser. All customers are miserable and impossible to delight. I’m worn out at my maximum capacity of 100 per cent. And I’m going backwards.

Oh, and the meetings! Endless meetings. I had a meeting recently to arrange a meeting at a time in the future. The meeting accomplished nothing, so we have agreed to meet again. What is the object of this particular set of meetings? What is it speaking to? You guessed it. We are a committee deciding on how many meetings are required to perform our roles effectively, efficiently and productively. Or, as I call it, do our jobs.

My suggestion to stop holding %#@&-ing meetings has so far failed to sway my colleagues. If I can find the extra 10 per cent to add to my 100 per cent, I will apply it to this cause. Then, hopefully, I will win and they will lose, which is my version of a win-win situation.

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I know I shouldn’t bother trying to stem the tide. Time is moving forward and I am hardly advancing my cause by asking, “What inanimate objects are we speaking to today?” at the start of each meeting.

Fortunately, I do not get into arguments these days, as my outbursts are described as merely a frank exchange of views and no doubt management thinks I am merely tired and emotional, a term which is in itself enough to drive me to drink. Even if I did hit the bottle, I would be assailed by the corporate emotional support procedures and be accosted by annoying colleagues asking me, “R U OK?” and handing me small cards with mental health line phone numbers. Health and safety inspectors would descend unbidden and unwanted and perform an audit (is that a song and dance routine?) on my workspace to ensure my wellbeing and reduce the risk of a trigger situation. In other words, work is now a three-ring-circus.

While all these services are valuable and worthwhile and no doubt beneficial, there is a one-size-fits-all mentality at work and even providing emotional support to colleagues has strict guidelines and procedures. Gone are the days of ducking out with a work mate and letting off steam with a string of foul-mouthed abuse about the boss.

I never thought I would long for the days when I had to stagger through thick clouds of cigarette smoke every morning feeling my way to my desk, listen to the office Romeo recount in detail his latest conquest in a booming voice from the other side of the room and have the boss greet me by throwing a stapler at my head from his office. Actually, on reflection, I don’t miss those days, but it’s borderline.

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You may ask why I put up with all this. Why don’t I retire and forget about all this pointless and meaningless stupidity? I could relax and put my feet up. Travel. Or, that favourite claim when you don’t want people to know you have been sacked, leave to spend more quality time with my family.

It’s simple.

I enjoy being a spanner in the works and calling out all the same things I have seen come and go in 45 years of corporate life. The beauty is that senior management can’t do anything about it. They have made it clear there is no room for bullying, ageism, sexism, racism and all the other ‘isms’ in the modern workplace and that employees should always feel they have a voice and speak out if anything troubles them.

Unfortunately for them, everything troubles me and they just have to put up with my scepticism and counter it with the only weapon they have, that classic passive aggressive and defensive rejoinder to opponents and naysayers: “Some people can’t handle change.”

But I am over 60, so I know that statement can’t possibly apply to me!

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Are you still working in your 60s? How has work changed over the year in your eyes?

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