Calling all bosses - I bet you know plenty of ways to stop people working, but have you tried hot-desking, downsizing, copier codes, clean desk policies and clocking on? Morale will soar...
Wednesday 20 August 1997
Getting a photocopier code is like getting someone's PIN number: no-one wants to tell you. The person you are replacing will have forgotten to tell you in the mad rush to spend two weeks drinking themselves stupid and sitting on blokes from Rotherham. Your boss will have a code, but only his or her secretary knows what it is. You can waste half an hour finding out a copier code.
Bosses know loads of ways to stop employees working. All have plenty of their own, but as the essence of business is communication, you might like to consider these, all of which I've come across in other businesses. They fall into two basic categories; ergonomic and economic.
Ergonomic efforts include hot-desking. This means having fewer desks than you have employees and letting no-one put dibs on a seat. It works a treat: people can spend hours each day going: "Is anyone anyone sitting here?" and arguing about which software applications they need, answering each other's phone calls and trying to locate each other. Clients will get so tired of waiting on hold that they will stop calling altogether. This will give the company an ideal opportunity to:
Downsize. Regular sackings ensure that survivors spend their time discussing who will be next. A spin-off is that employee workloads increase to such a level that they get ill and make mistakes. Corporations can also seize the opportunity to sell off vacated desks, chairs and equipment for two quid each, thereby prolonging hot-desking.
If none of these works, institute a Clean Desk policy. This is one of those anal ideas popular with people who do nothing: that all desks should be spotless at the end of each day. Those who have work that takes more than five minutes find themselves scooping stuff into bottom drawers and spending the first half-hour of the morning sorting them out again. It's brilliant.
Economic work-stoppers - the coded photocopier school of thought - can be taken to much greater extremes. First, lock the stationery cupboard. Assign the key to one person, preferably someone who likes to cut breakfast cereal coupons out of colour supplements at weekends. Give them the following script: "Two biros? Why do you need two? The book shows that you got through two last month as well. More Post-it notes? What do you think, they grow on trees?" Your employees will half-inch each other's stationery, and no-one will ever have a pen to take phone messages with.
Monitor phone extensions and produce printouts of each one on a monthly basis in case anyone rings their bank manager, dying sister in Toronto, or home. Of course, it will never occur to anyone to use another desk for personal calls. This combines well with hot-desking, as you can shout at whoever happens to be sitting at a high-bill desk on the day the printouts come through. Morale will rocket.
You can also try the following: clocking in and out (making no allowances for hours worked the week before), refusing to take your tax-deductible allowance for Christmas parties, having one fax machine per 100 staff (long queues), having men in uniform to check handbags at going-home time, and having stamps in administrators' drawers rather than franking machines. Your employees will feel loved, trusted and ready to die for you.
If all else fails, though, try this one, which I came across in one of the privatised utilities. Each floor held about 200 people, and each desk had a piece of string dangling from the ceiling above it. Every hour, on the hour, all the lights would go out: 200 people would stand up, fumble for their piece of string, switch on their own section of strip-light, sit down again and wait for the next time it happened. I don't know if the saving on electricity ever equalled the cost in burnt-out lights, but at least we all had an hourly reminder of the sands of time trickling inexorably through our findersn
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