Thursday, June 8, 2017

A Little Bit About Me….

Some people get inspiration to make a change in their lives from poets, philosophers, the loss of a loved one, TED talks, and many other reasons. My epiphany actually came from a fortune cookie. I read my fortune while in the middle of 2017 budget planning. It said, “The greatest risk is not taking one”. I was missing passion for what I was doing and decided I needed something more fulfilling. So I eliminated my job in my budget, gained acceptance on the idea and left my role in January.

I’ve spent the last few months skiing, traveling, tackling a few house projects, and becoming more proficient at cooking dinner (thanks Blue Apron!). Now that I am reenergized and clear on my next career move, I have decided it’s time to focus on my job search….and have a little fun with this blog.

Update: I decided to take the summer off also so finally began my job search in earnest in the Fall once my daughter started school.

The Employee Playground

For my HR professional colleagues, I’m sure we’ve all experienced workplace matters that make us chuckle, roll our eyes, cringe, question the maturity of our employees, or maybe even wonder about the future of humanity. I recently began thinking about the many situations I’ve observed during my career and wanted to share a few. I’ll also try and help you justify why you’re reading this at work by adding some of the practical implications these matters create and how we can best address them. I call this blog The Employee Playground.

Passing Thoughts on Passing Gas

It’s not uncommon for someone to pass gas at work. According to Wikipedia, the average person farts 8-20 times per day. If we spend at least a third of our day at work, it’s highly likely that everyone has tooted at the office.

However, that same wiki claims over 99% of flatulence volume is comprised of non-smelly gases. That would make us assume it’s a small number of individuals who actually will offend a coworker when passing gas.

Work Stinks

A colleague once called me to her office and, upon my arrival, put a graph in front of me. It showed time intervals on one axis and time worked on the other. An engineer had provided it to her to illustrate an issue he was having with a fellow engineer he shared a cubicle with. As the engineer explained it, his cube partner had a serious gas problem and, every time he broke wind, it caused this engineer to leave his desk for a few minutes (keep in mind that this was a time before employees were as mobile as they are today).

The engineer created the graph to show the impact the gaseous colleague was having on his productivity. He explained that the dips in time worked each hour represented flatulence and his need to leave the cubicle - productive time that was lost like dust in the (foul) wind. He had obviously spent a lot of time illustrating the impact and used it as his justification for HR to speak with the offending employee. The graph became known as the “Fart Chart”.

Have a Conversation by Breaking Bread (but not cutting the cheese)

What the engineer hadn’t done was speak with his gassy cube mate about the issue and, instead, expected others to address the situation. Granted, speaking with his teammate was probably at the bottom of his list but imagine the time he could have saved by having this talk instead. We all know of employees who will avoid having a tough conversation at any cost. It happens at every level of an organization from the CEO on down.

In the matter of the Fart Chart (FC), the HR partner sat down with the FC creator and explained that he needed to speak with his peer first. She suggested various ways he could broach the subject and explain how he was being impacted. She also spent time talking through the types of reactions that may come from the person: acknowledgement, denial, embarrassment, anger, etc. and ways in which he could respond. Finally, the HR partner notified the manager of the situation, shared methods that could be used to assist with it, and what to do if matters escalated.

In the end, the engineer was very nervous about approaching his peer so the manager facilitated a discussion between the two of them. The gas man was extremely embarrassed and had been unaware he was having such an impact on his coworker. He committed to try and figure out what was causing the raging inferno in his digestive tract. As an interim step, he said he would leave the cube for more open environments whenever he felt the urge.

Breaking Wind Down Some Potential Actions

Perhaps the question to ask is how HR can help create a culture where the outcome would be different if a similar instance occurred. This would include cultivating an environment of mutual respect where concerns are addressed in an open and constructive manner. Where feedback and transparency are valued and employees have the skills to have even the toughest of conversations.

It’s not easy to achieve and may require training for managers and employees to learn how to have difficult conversations (there’s a reason Crucial Conversations® is an extremely popular book and training after all this time).

An emphasis on core values can also help. Some organizations include ones like Teamwork/Collaboration, Honesty, and Respect and have an expectation that all employees will demonstrate them on a daily basis. Zappos has a core value of “Build Open and Honest Relationships with Communication” and that seems to get to the heart of what we’re talking about here.

Leaders could also be coached on how to build trusting relationships with their teams – to be visible and engaged so employees share their concerns. In essence, they should be living the core values every day.

End Up Smelling Like a Rose

It’s all about approaching the matter with sensitivity and respect. The worse thing that could have happened with the offending employee was him becoming the butt of jokes within his team.

By taking appropriate actions we can avoid having our employees tell us that our culture and work environment stinks.


  1. Based on the facts you described, I feel the engineer's "Fart Chart" was a totally appropriate way to ask someone else to address this problem. 1. An engineer is a highly trained professional, s/he does not have time to go and talk to someone else about their personal problems. 2. Your facts state that the "offender" was deeply embarrassed, and surely the engineer knew this would be the case-- why impose on engineering talent the obligation to cause such imposition to another employee whom s/he does not oversee?

    This is a perfect example of why so many company's cultures stink, because leadership teams often create the framework (high density workspaces) that inerringly, inevitably cause problems that their underling people cannot solve. Then when they do try to solve it, silly, unworkable platitudes about "teamwork," "respect," "conversation" get foisted on highly-trained professionals who have no interest in solving someone else's digestive problems. I think "HR" should focus on helping solve the ROOT problem rather than shoving it back on the professional staff who cannot solve it, only cause embarrassment. The fartchart is excellent to help begin addressing the root problem because it showed how much time s/he was losing to a problem s/he cannot solve without causing bigger problems.

    You thoughtlessly criticize the "FC creator" by assuming s/he used an undue amount of time to create the chart-- How do you know how much time s/he spent creating it? And what if s/he created it in 30 seconds? What if s/he had created it in, say, 4 hours' time, but on her own time-- you have no right to say anything about it in that case. And why is it HR's job to criticize any professional about their time management? Can you not appreciate that s/he thinks and works in data, and that this is how s/he expresses her/his thoughts? Again, it is not a professional's job to fix someone else's health problems. Why not let the professional keep working rather than take time away from their work? You criticize him/her for "wasting time" making a chart, but you want them to waste their very valuable professional time to address another employee's health problems? Preposterous.

    This is the problem with so many corporate cultures-- those who are supposed to be trained to appreciate the contributions of their "most valuable resource" actually mindlessly devalue their resources grossly. And this is a perfect example. The engineer should be respected enough to have their own, sufficient workspace; and s/he should NOT have to approach another staffperson about their personal problems. Are not "HR professionals" more appropriately-positioned and -trained to do that? Perhaps not, but if not, the executives of a particular company should define and provide leadership to determining that.

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