The Lot Of The Working Stiff

Starbucks is embroiled in protests in Philadelphia due to an incident in one of its stores.  As CNN reports it, two African-American men initially initially asked to use the restroom inside the store “but were told the cafe’s bathrooms were for customers only. They then occupied a table without making a purchase, which many observers have noted is a common occurrence at the franchise’s locations.  A manager called police after the men declined to leave the premises because, they said, they were waiting for an acquaintance.”  Police then took the men out of the building, and the men were detained.

The incident has provoked outrage and resulted in a sit-in, other protests, and lots of criticism of Starbucks, and the manager who called the police is no longer working at the location in question.  Starbucks CEO has apologized, and Starbucks has announced that every one of its 8,000 stores in the U.S. will close the afternoon of May 29 to “conduct racial-bias education geared toward preventing discrimination in our stores.”

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But this post isn’t about the unfortunate incident, the protests, or Starbucks’ response to the incident.  Instead, it’s about one picture taken during the protests, which appears at left — a photo of a Starbucks employee behind the counter at the store, wearing bright green Starbucks garb with “Zack” written on his apron, staring stolidly ahead while facing a protester with a bullhorn who is standing about three feet away.  That one picture, to me, aptly illustrates the lot of the working stiff.  Zack, the order-taking counter guy, isn’t the CEO of Starbucks, or the manager who made the decision to call the police, and we don’t know whether he was even in the store when the incident occurred.  But when things go south and the corporate crap hits the fan, it’s the little guys like Zack who show up for work and get sent out to face the music — and in this case, the bullhorn.

I’ve never had jobs where I had to deal with sit-ins and protesters using bullhorns, but I expect many of us have had jobs where we were the minimum-wage workers who had to deal with the red-faced customers who were angry about a decision we didn’t make.  And if you’ve had such a job, you suspect you know exactly what Zack was thinking at the moment the above photo was taken:  he’s thinking that the pay he’s getting just isn’t worth it, he’s wondering how long it is until his shift ends, and he’s trying to get to his mental happy place.  We’ve all been there.

And it also makes you wonder:  wouldn’t it be interesting to see how CEOs and high-level executives would deal with the bullhorn scenario?

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The Peak Productivity Period

When, during the standard work day, work week, and work year, are employees at their most productive?  One company took a look at the issue and tried to come to some conclusions based on quantifiable data.

59d679b82b6f9ad9b10ee36a24b6e1e8The study looked at Redbooth, a project management software company, and examined an anonymized data set of 1.8 million projects and 28 million discrete tasks.  It concluded that the peak productive time on any given day is 11 a.m., the most productive day is Monday, and the most productive month is October.  At the other end of the spectrum, workers completed the least tasks after 4 p.m., the least productive day is Friday, and the lowest percentage of tasks were completed in January.

You can’t draw really meaningful conclusions from one study of one company in one industry, of course, and it would be interesting to know how those 28 million separate “tasks” were defined.  (Is logging on to your computer a “task”?  How about submitting your time records to your boss, or sending a quick status update email versus a full-blown report?)  Nevertheless, the study seems to confirm what should be obvious — productivity ebbs and flows during the work day, work week, and work year.

I’m also convinced based on my own work history that productivity is uniquely individualized, and varies a lot based on the circadian rhythms, personality types, and social mores of individual workers and individual workplaces.  I feel like I am at my most productive first thing in the morning, when I can get in early and immediately knuckle down to work and there are fewer phone calls and work flow interruptions and distractions; I’m not a big late-night worker except in emergencies.  Other people get to the office later, like to do some visiting to start their day, and seem to pick up steam as the day goes on and the night hours arrive.  Averages tend to smooth out the real, material differences between people’s work habits and practices.

The one conclusion from the study that most surprised me was the productivity variance between seasons and months.  I would have bet that winter was the most productive month — in the Midwest, at least.  When your alternative is raw, cold weather, a bustling day at the office looks pretty good by comparison.

Threading A Needle

Is anything more frustrating and time-consuming than trying to thread a needle?  You squint, and try and miss, and feel like a clumsy idiot because your fine motor skills just aren’t capable of doing such detail work without enduring dozens of failures before you achieve success.  It’s such a pain in the ass that people use the phrase “trying to thread the needle” to convey something that is especially challenging and difficult.

But what if there is a better way to thread a needle — like the simple method shown in this Chinese language YouTube video?  We’ve been let in on an ancient Chinese secret!  This is the kind of thing that just might make me do more sewing!

Temptation Station

Yesterday, when I went back for my second office cup of coffee in the morning , I saw that a large ziplock bag of Easter candy had appeared by the brewing machine. It had been left there by someone who wanted to spread a little chocolate cheer, or by someone who couldn’t resist the bag’s contents and just had to get the temptation out of the house and onto more neutral ground — or perhaps both.

The bag appeared to have an impressive amount of high-quality Easter goodies, like those coated malted milk eggs, foil-wrapped chocolate eggs, peanut butter-filled eggs, small chocolate bunnies, and chocolate bars — but no Peeps. Sherlock Holmes would presumably conclude that, with such an array of Easter candy, the absence of a traditional Easter basket element like Peeps meant either that the Candy Leaver hated Peeps, and didn’t include them in their Easter candy purchases in the first place, or gobbled down every last Peep in a mad frenzy, perhaps during their drive into work that morning, before the bag appeared at the coffee station on our floor.

The big drawback of being a coffee drinker at our office is the fact that the coffee machine is the goodie deposit area. Occasionally cookies or leftover birthday cake will appear unexpectedly, but the days after Christmas, Valentine’s Day, and Easter, when everyone seems to just want to get leftover candy out of the house, are the worst from a temptation standpoint. Yesterday I resisted, and saw the contents of the bag steadily decline until it had been thoroughly pawed over and only a few orphan pieces remained. Once more, the helpful and ever-hungry workers on the fifth floor had done their duty and helped a colleague through a time of crisis.

A Lobsterman’s Work Is Never Done

All over coastal Maine, the lobstermen are hard at work. Even though it’s the de facto off-season, when lobsters are inactive and the fishing is at a lull, there are boats to be examined and rekitted, motors to be tuned, and traps to be cleaned and tested. The smell of paint is in the air.

Our lobsterman neighbor worked all day yesterday on his gear, getting ready for the day when the boat goes back into the water and the traps and their identification buoys are placed in the old, familiar spots. The life of a lobsterman is not an easy one.

Hanging With The B-Dubbers

Our hotel venue for my meetings this week also was used by franchisees of Buffalo Wild Wings — also known as B-Dubs. They had a rockin’ good time and turned the hotel into a celebration of all things B-Dubs, including creatively converting the stairs into a billboard of franchisee accomplishments and putting a B-Dub sign up as a photo op.

Alas, no free wings for the rest of us.

Preventing Post-Lunch PowerPoint Paralysis

You’ve had a reasonably good lunch, as meeting lunches go, and now the afternoon is here and it’s time for the first meeting. Uh oh! There’s a PowerPoint! And it’s going to be addressing a topic that isn’t intrinsically thrilling, if you know what I mean.

Already, you can feel your eyelids growing heavy. What to do to prevent a trip to the Land of Nod during the next 60 minutes — which right about now seems like an impossibly long time to hold on? How to avoid the humiliation of a telltale head jerk and doze-off snort? Pinch yourself repeatedly? Stab your hand with a pen?

Any activity seems to help — even taking constant sips from a bottle of water. And when you reach the end of the bottle, on top of what you quaffed at lunch, you may find that other concerns have outstripped the fear of falling asleep. You’ll fidget, to be sure, but at least your head won’t hit the table.