A good part of my working week is spent in other people’s offices where I've noticed that there are little signs telling people how to use a microwave, what the fridge policy (a fridge policy!) is, reminders not to steal and that in the event of a fire they must leave the building to avoid being burned to death. In one office there were 14 full colour, laminated notices telling people to come to work on time, not to pour boiling water on toddlers, to avoid spreading infectious diseases, the sink policy – yes, really - that time in the kitchen was being monitored, and that staff attendance was under review.
This in an organisation that "doesn't have the money" for a box of tissues.
I'm a big fan of Health and Safety legislation, it really is necessary to tell people that hot water is hot, but Health and Safety is not the issue in an organisation that feels it necessary to watch how long individuals are spending in a kitchen.
The private sector doesn’t seem to have the same issues. People there somehow know how to use a fridge without needing a policy. It's not that people who work in the private sector are any brighter than people who serve the public, far from it. It’s more that initiative is more likely to be nurtured rather than treated with suspicion and organisational vision tends to be wider than what’s happening in a microwave.
Work in the public and voluntary sectors is too often reduced to a Kafkaesque model of not-work where flair and imagination are perceived as suspect and personally threatening. In the private sector innovation, ideas and positive critique are more likely to be welcomed.
I've worked in places where little children bellow and cry too much while stressed workers scream nursery rhymes at them. The staff have obviously gone through training and got appropriate qualifications. The staff ratios are legal and the toilet-cleaning rota is managed very well, everything is fine on paper and that's all that matters. Sickness rates and staff turnover are costing an arm and a leg but the funders are content with the reports sent to them. Funders tell organisations what they expect to hear and then organisations repeat it back to them including, incredibly, sending them ‘case studies’ instead of saying, “No, we will not send you a case study because that would be entirely inappropriate.” Instead, organisations make case studies up.
It's true that many people are put into positions of responsibility that they are not worthy of and they can have a profound effect on the people working under them. It's an irony that those people who don't feel anxious about being competent at their job, who believe they're indispensable to the organisation, are more likely to be so comfortable at work that they feel no need for personal development. Similar problems arise when a leader isn't confident enough to lead but just keeps doing what they're told rather than saying, "Why do we need to be told not to scald children? What's going on here?"
Writing a fridge policy is not a good use of anyone's time. Any organisation that needs a fridge policy has far, far greater problems than manky yoghurt.
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