Boxed Lunch Roulette

Yesterday I went to a professional event over the noon hour where every attendee got a boxed lunch.  At such events, the boxed lunches are grouped and stacked by the kind of sandwich printed on the outside, and you make your choice, take your box back to your seat, and hope for the best.

lunch_boxI say “hope for the best,” because when it comes to boxed lunches there’s a significant element of risk involved.  Sure, you can choose whether you want “roast beef” or “chicken salad” or “Italian” or “a wreck” (whatever that is), but of course the sandwich descriptions barely scratch the surface of the important information you’d like to know in deciding what to have for lunch.  At a restaurant, you’d be able to make choices about the bread to be used, find out what is put on the sandwich and add or subtract as you see fit, and pick your side dish, but in the boxed lunch scenario you’ve got none of those options.  You’ve got a mound of closed boxes in front of you, and it wouldn’t be seemly to start opening them up and pawing through the contents to determine which box is best suited to you.

Yesterday I went for the grilled chicken sandwich box. The grilled chicken came on a sub bun and — inevitably! — had lots of sliced tomato and shredded lettuce and other vegetable matter on top.  In the boxed lunch world, the prevailing assumption is that everyone will want every conceivable vegetable on their sandwich.  Call it the highest, or lowest, common denominator effect.  I despise both tomato and shredded lettuce, so I had to figure out how to remove them.  Since there was no utensil in the box, I removed the offending items by hand, which was a messy operation that created a small mound of unappetizing, limp vegetable matter in the box.  Add to that the fact that once shredded lettuce is added to a boxed sandwich it can never be fully removed because it tends to adhere to the bread and hide in cracks and crevices of the meat, and you’ve captured one aspect of boxed lunch roulette.

There’s more, of course.  With a standard boxed lunch, you get a side and a dessert.  Usually the side is a bag of potato chips or Doritos, but sometimes, if you’re lucky, it’s a small fruit bowl or edible pasta salad.  Yesterday it was barbecue-flavored potato chips, which equates to a losing spin on the wheel.  I’ve not conducted a scientific study, but I have to believe that barbecue potato chips appeal to only a tiny, tastebud-challenged segment of the American population.  Lacking the ability to appreciate delicate and nuanced food flavors and spices, this poor group must opt for chips coated in heavy, dusty, quasi-sugary artificial flavoring that stains your fingers red as you eat them.  I therefore passed on the chips and found myself wondering — if you’re making boxed lunches, why not just opt for regular potato or kettle chips, rather than pushing the envelope with something like barbecue or ranch or vinegar flavoring?  But although the side was a dud, the dessert was a positive — an oatmeal cookie that I saved and brought home to share with Kish.

Ultimately I got a pretty good sandwich after the vegetable removal process was completed, skipped potato chips that I shouldn’t have eaten anyway, and brought home a good cookie.  All told, I’d say I broke even in yesterday’s exercise in lunch box roulette.

Advertisements

Email Tag Lines

Lately I’ve noticed an increase in email “tag lines.”  At least, that’s what I call them.  They are the little quotes that some people have added to their email communications.  They appear at the end of every email, as part of the writer’s signature stamp.  Like “An unexamined life is not worth living. — Socrates” or “All you need is love. — John Lennon and Paul McCartney” or “When the going gets tough, the tough get going. — Knute Rockne.

quote-live-fast-die-young-leave-a-good-looking-corpse-james-dean-47-99-73Email tag lines are kind of strange (not to mention pretentious and presumptuous) when you think about it.  It’s hard to imagine that one quote, no matter what it is, could provide an appropriate coda to every different kind of email that a person might send.  “Live fast, die young, and leave a good-looking corpse. — James Dean” might go well with an email planning a trip to Las Vegas, but it doesn’t really fit with an email expressing concern about a colleague’s illness or sorrow about the death of an aged relative.  Similarly, a tag line like “The truest wisdom is a resolute determination. — Napoleon Bonaparte” seems jarring when it appears at the end of a email passing along some bad jokes.

When I get emails from somebody who uses one of those tag lines, I always wonder about their motivation and how they came to add the quote to their email in the first place.  Did they just stumble across a quote from somebody that they thought was so true to the very core of their being that it just has to be included as a matter of course in every communication they send to people on any subject?  Or, did they first conclude that their email communications needed a little extra kick, and would be empty without some kind of concluding intellectual, political, or social statement from Descartes, John F. Kennedy, or Martin Luther King?

The bottom line, though, is that an email tag line, even when it does fit with the subject of the communication, can’t save you from yourself or mask your true nature.  Intellectual quotes can’t salvage an email filled with typos, poor grammar, and incorrect word use, and tag lines about love and peace won’t change the tone of a message establishing that the writer is an angry, unprincipled jerk.

In the end, content speaks louder than tag lines.

Casual, Chronic Tardiness

Yesterday I had an appointment with a medical professional whom I see regularly.  I always make my appointments with him and other doctors first thing in the morning so that I won’t have to wait in the event that prior appointments ran long.  And I got there early, to make sure that I would not be causing a delay.

time-spiral-680x340-1436399501And yet, when my appointment time came, I wasn’t summoned back.  Five minutes after the time of my appointment, I was still cooling my heels in the waiting room, paging through a magazine I really had no interest in reading because that’s what you do in medical waiting rooms.  Finally, about 10 minutes after the designated time, I was called back, only to learn that the person I was going to see first was still getting set up — which delayed things further.

Yesterday wasn’t the first time this has happened, in that medical office or others.  It drives me bonkers and really put me in a foul mood as my appointment began.  In my experience casual, chronic tardiness seems to be endemic among health care professionals.  You’d think that they would be concerned about internal health of their patients, and would recognize that making busy people wait is just going to add to their stress levels, as it did to me.  You’d think that health care professionals would make sure that they do whatever possible to be on time, so as not to suggest that they think their patients’ time isn’t valuable.  But that doesn’t seem to be the case.

As I sat there, stewing, I pondered the appropriate response.  Tell the receptionist that I’m too busy to wait and just leave?  Complain to the young woman who saw me first?  Complain to the ultimate medical practitioner?  There really aren’t any good options.  Leaving in a huff seems like the act of an egomaniac, and bitching about lateness to health care professionals who are going to be working on you seems unwise.  So, I sat there and took it, as I suspect most people do.  And I realized that these people do a good job — when they finally get around to it — and I guess that if I want to continue to use their services I’m just going to have to take the bitter with the sweet.

Still, it irritates the hell out of me.  Is it really too much to ask that the first appointment of the day occur on time, and the person seeing the patient be ready to go?

A Mutually Beneficial Arrangement

Many health care facilities employ “therapy dogs” to help treat people with conditions ranging from cancer to mental illness to post traumatic stress disorder.  The proponents of therapy dogs swear that the presence of the pooches has measurable therapeutic benefits for the patients, and the sheer number of therapy dogs — by some estimates, there are more than 50,000 therapy dogs working in the United States alone — suggests that a lot of people agree with that conclusion.

dog_5_head_injuryBut, how do the dogs feel about their job?  Is working with sick people a stressor?  A recent study tried to find out.

The study looked at 26 therapy dogs that worked in five different pediatric cancer wards and interacted with more than 100 patients.  It focused on generation of cortisol, a hormone that is associated with stress in canines, which can be measured by taking swabs of canine saliva.  (If you’ve ever had a dog, you know they produce plenty of that.)  And, because cortisol occurs when dogs experience both good stress and bad stress, researchers matched the cortisol levels with canine behaviors associated with “bad” stress, such as shaking and whimpering, to determine whether therapy dogs found their work to be stressful.

I’m happy to report that the study concluded that therapy dogs are not stressed by their work, and instead seem to really like it.  Moreover, the study was able to rank the activities that are more enjoyable for the dogs.  Activities in which the patient and dog directly interact, such as a patient talking to the dog or playing with the dog and its toy, are more enjoyable for the pooch than activities in which the dog is more passive, such as when a patient brushes the dog’s coat or draws it.  The findings will allow facilities to shape their programs to make them more enjoyable for the hard-working dogs.

These results won’t come as a surprise to dog lovers, who know that their four-legged pals love to be around the friendly human members of the pack.  I’m confident that therapy dogs really like to interact with patients and that they sense, intuitively, that the patients reciprocate those feelings.  I’m also confident that therapy dogs provide real benefits to the patients, although there are skeptics out there.  The bond between dogs and human beings is real, and runs deep.  If you’re sick, being around a dog may not be a cure, but it is bound to make you feel better.

 

Workplace Revenge

USA Today is reporting that nearly half of 1,000 Americans sampled in a survey — 44 percent, to be precise — have admitted to seeking “workplace revenge” against a fellow employee.

57ced8b263393bfcc559fc398afcf4a7-office-space-meme-office-humorThe definition of “workplace revenge” used by the survey is pretty broad, and the results suggest that people who participate in such antics aren’t exactly deep thinkers, either.  For example, the most popular form of “workplace revenge” found by the survey is workers “causing a purposeful decline in the quality or quantity” of their own work — apparently in an effort to get back at a supervisor.   Even if you were a vengeful type, this seems like a poorly considered strategy if you want to actually keep your job.  Another popular form of workplace revenge is “quitting in an unconventional way” — and all of the survey respondents who followed this course probably did so convinced that their loud, “unconventional,” no doubt public departure from their job would teach their mean bosses a lesson that they would remember forever.  Of course, anyone who’s got much workplace experience would realize that temper tantrums by departing employees are pretty common and that many co-workers who witness the “unconventional” resignation will be inwardly thrilled that the vengeful co-worker is hitting the road.

Hey, do employees who want to inflict “workplace revenge” grasp the concept of a self-inflicted wound?

According to the survey, other popular forms of revenge are “spreading unflattering rumors” and “hiding a co-worker’s possessions” (starting, perhaps, with staplers?), as well as eating a co-worker’s lunch, sabotaging a co-worker’s work, and getting a co-worker fired.  And, interestingly, the likelihood that an employee will try to take “workplace revenge” increases with rank, with “senior managers” and “general managers” more likely to engage in these tactics than entry-level employees.

The survey really makes you wonder how many toxic workplaces exist, and makes me grateful that I’ve never been the target — at least, not to my knowledge — of a “workplace revenge” scenario.  Is it really that bad out there?  And if supervisors are regularly taking part in the vengeance, then we’re definitely into truly dysfunctional territory.

Jobs are hard enough without worrying that your fellow employees might be trying to stab you in the back or get you fired because of some perceived slight.  No wonder so many Americans want to retire early!

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.”

636594703395517817-ap-starbucks-black-men-arrested-1

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?

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.