Monthly Archives: June 2006

How to make IT staff less angry – Part Two: Environment

This is part two of my series on making IT workers less angry by improving their job satisfaction. Part one (go and read it if you haven’t already) gave an overview of the three major factors in job satisfaction: environment, quality of work and pay/compensation. As I have not yet been silenced by the paid killers hired by the Cabal Of Disaffected and Exploited Information Technology (CODE-IT) workers, I will provide more detailed secret IT workers’ business in this post. Today’s topic is the work environment.

For IT workers, environment includes the physical space you work in, the facilities available, the people you work with and the “vibe” of the workplace. Physical space is one of the most important elements contributing to an IT worker’s productivity and at the same time one of the aspects most ignored by employers. Simply making sure there is enough desk space to spread out the required machines, screens, peripherals, manuals, folders, notebooks and “quirky” knick-knacks can work wonders. Saving a few square metres of floor space at the cost of pissing off CODE-IT workers is a dumb trade-off.

The worst example of screwing up the working environment that I have personally experienced happened, tragically enough, in one of the better workplaces I have enjoyed. This place had many of the components of nerd paradise: a huge converted warehouse for the office, big desks, open relaxation/reading areas festooned with bean bags, a gym, great kitchen facilities and an in-house cafeteria with good quality food. But one bad decision (really a series of smaller bad decisions compounded by lies) poisoned the whole environment.

Expansion of the workforce meant some new desks had to be built. This meant we would lose one of the open areas but we could see this was unavoidable. The plan was explained thusly: new desks would be built right next to the development team (subjecting us to weeks of noise and disruption), we would move into the newly constructed area temporarily while our area was also remodelled and then we would move back. A pain but we could live with it. Things started to come apart almost immediately.

The first time we saw actual plans it was obvious the new desks were way smaller than our existing ones. This would be bad but we could probably put up with it temporarily. Then construction started and the news got worse: these weren’t open desks, they were high-walled cubicles from Dilbert’s worst nightmare. Still, it was only going to be temporary, right? Yeah, right. We were told the new area would be occupied by the marketing group. Our existing area was near the windows, lots of natural light and good views. This was much more desirable than the new section, isolated in the middle of the warehouse. Can you guess where this is going?

I have never been lucky enough to work in a company where the CODE-IT brigade had more power than the marketing division. This place was no exception. Rumours started almost immediately that marketing was refusing to move to the new area and wanted our window seats. We were assured this wasn’t true. Right until the day after we moved to our “temporary” home. Then we were told it would be permanent. But hey, marketing would get the same cubicle environment right? Not so much. They ended up with much larger desks with less oppressive cubicle walls. And all through this process and even afterwards, the facilities manager refused to admit he had done anything wrong.

So we were forced into a smaller space that had a direct negative effect on productivity and performance because it simply made it harder for everyone to work efficiently. And we were lied to every step of the way. The facilities manager was never made to answer for his actions and the CODE-IT team were made to feel totally marginalised. This sort of behaviour sends a very clear message to staff. You. Are. Not. Valued. Even though the other environment aspects were good, the damage done by this misadventure was pretty severe. Within 4 months, 20% of the CODE-IT team had left, myself included. And this was a comparatively good workplace.

For contrast, here’s how my worst-ever workplace handled the working environment. When an opportunity to move to cheaper offices presented itself, they grabbed it with two hands. The actual desks weren’t too bad although they did cram more people into a smaller space. The new desks had some positives and some negatives but overall they weren’t terrible. Lower cubicle walls made the environment less oppressive but did make noise levels worse. And you can probably imagine how some cave-dwelling CODE-IT types reacted to having to interact with actual humans more often.

The real giveaway of what this place thought of staff was in the other facilities provided in the new environment. On a floor containing about 100 staff, the kitchen “facilities” consisted of a bench about 2 metres long adorned with a single microwave. That was pretty bad but what was worse was this was located right next to the toilets. And I mean you didn’t have to stretch out your arms very far to touch both the kitchen bench and toilet door. This has bad connotations relating to hygiene (I wasn’t alone in thinking this) but it got worse than this. The faint of heart and/or easily mortified may not want to read this next part.

Most male toilets have some sort of vestibule or at least a corner between the exterior door and the urinals. Not this one. A straight line view from the kitchen to the urinals. So the distance from you making coffee to someone standing at a urinal is about 5 metres with only a small wall next to the urinals obstructing your view if someone opens the toilet door while you’re at the kitchen bench. So all it took was for someone to step back before zipping up and, well, you learned more about your cow-orkers than you wanted to know. Penny pinching that leads to such an appalling environment is a ridiculous business decision. The money saved on rent will be blown in the cost of having to continually recruit new staff when existing staff resign because they can’t deal with the environment any more.

The people in the workplace are a significant factor when considering the quality of the environment. If you degrade the physical environment to the point where you can’t retain staff, you can never build up a positive “vibe” between the staff and in the workplace overall. It can be very hard for potential recruits to gauge this quality so if someone is already happy with the vibe of their workplace they are that much more likely to stay where they are. If your goal is to maintain a stable workforce (and if this doesn’t seem important to you – go the hell away) then investing in a quality work environment makes a lot of sense. It is usually far cheaper than endless recruiting.

It seems I have more to say on this topic than I realised when I started. So far I have only covered physical environment and badly implemented environment decisions at that. In the interests of keeping these posts manageable, I will continue evaluating environmental factors in another post. The next part in this series will highlight good environmental decisions that make CODE-IT workers love coming into work and staying at work for long hours. Even more important, make the right decisions and you can boost morale to the point where the majority of your CODE-IT legions will not even think of looking for another job. Including those all-important decisions regarding what software and hardware tools to provide.

READ PART THREE

READ PART FOUR

READ PART FIVE

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I’m going to kill myself

UPDATE: I get hits from search engines almost every day for some variation of “I’m going to kill myself”.  This is pretty scary for someone who’s just messing around and having a good time.  The idea that someone who is looking for some help stumbles upon my drivel is a tad worrying.  So here’s some brief advice for anyone who has ended up here because they were thinking of killing themselves: don’t do it.  There’s no point me saying any more than that.  The millions of variables that could lead someone to think of killing themselves mean I can’t say anything more meaningful without knowing you.  So don’t do it.  You’re here now, there’s enough reading material on my blog to keep you busy for days.  Stay around and read for a while as you think things through.  Maybe you’ll find something to make you smile - I hope so, that’s my aim.  Start your own blog, vent your frustrations, scream out to the universe.  but don’t kill yourself.

UPDATE 2: I decided to include a link to one of the best pieces of writing I’ve seen on the topic of depression. It’s a letter Stephen Fry wrote in response to one he received from someone suffering from depression. Fry himself suffers from depression and his letter is honest, taken from his own dark experiences and yet it is still a powerful message of hope for better times.

As he says “It will be sunny one day“.

- – - – -

I can’t fucking believe this! I just lost an hour’s work on Blogger!  I usually compose posts on Blogger because its biggest advantage over WordPress is its auto-save feature.  But some weird combination of keys hit by me when my fingers slipped a little (I’m a shit typist) closed the window without saving anything.  No auto-save.  Nada.

This happens occasionally and I get heaps of valuable advice every time but I still do what I do.  It fucks up about once a month and I scream and swear but doing anything else seems like too much trouble.  So don’t feel too sorry for me.

This does mean my planned post for today (a follow up to the popular “Making IT workers less angry”) won’t be happening until tomorrow at the earliest.  I’m too fucking angry to re-write it properly now.  I might do a vlog later to get some anger out of my system.  That ought to be fun.

With that in mind, if you can think of your favourite really angry thing I’ve written, drop me a line in comments and I might immortalise it in video.

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Mr Angry Vlog Number 7

While I’m in a flurry of posts relating to work, I thought I’d relate how I’m discriminated against in the workplace, simply for being different.

I’m sick of this prejudice.  Whitey is keeping me down!

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Bill Gates is still going to hell

The recent news that the world’s 2nd richest man, Warren Buffet, it giving most of his cash to the charitable trust set up by the world’s richest man, Bill Gates, is interesting to say the least. The seventy squillion or so bucks they have to throw around could really change things in ways we probably can’t forsee right now. From suggestions the Gates Foundation could make the UN’s World Health Organisation irrelevant to fears the foundation might just be a backdoor way to make the rich and powerful more rich and powerful, the guesses of what will happen are coming in every colour of fanciful.

Maybe they’ll make the rich more generous because they don’t want to look bad by comparison. Maybe it will make the greedy more greedy because they’ll argue they don’t need to share now as Gates is covering for them. Or perhaps they’ll promise to give it away once they’re as rich as Gates. And it’s extremely likely this will be used as an argument for lower taxes – the argument being that rich private individuals can look after things better than big governments.

Whatever. Bill Gates is still going to hell because I have to use MS Office. There isn’t a day goes by that I don’t come up with an addition to my list of “Reasons to punch Bill Gates”. This list actually exists. It is slightly shorter than my other list: “People who are going to pay when I take over the world.” But only slightly.

If I was being fair, I’d acknowledge that Microsoft products have done more good than bad (this is without even considering Bill G’s philanthropy as a mitigating factor). Work is undoubtedly better because of these tools. But fuck being fair, I’m being angry. I swear to fucking God, there are days when I almost put my fist through the screen. Most of the time I’m using Word for writing documents and the number of things it does to piss me off never ceases to amaze. Just in case anyone is jumping to the conclusion that I simply don’t know what I’m doing, by most standards I’m an advanced user. Done the training and all. But no amount of training can help you when the simple act of hitting the backspace key reformats your entire document.

What the fuck is that about? I actually know what causes it – MS use this bastardised HTML to format documents BUT THE FUCKING HTML IS INVISIBLE so you can’t see it so what looks like a blank line to you has some hidden code on it. When you delete that line (blank to all intent and purposes) you delete some code you don’t fucking know about and didn’t fucking ask for and Word is all “Ohhhh, you want to fuck up your whole document? OK, you’re the boss.”

And the way MS redefine “bugs” so that nothing qualifies as a bug really pisses me off too. When you perform a simple action that creates a catastrophic effect that could not possibly be what you wanted – that’s a fucking bug goddammit! If anyone ever develops a voice command interface for PCs they’d better not give one to me. The computer would have a nervous breakdown. Each time one of these insane things happened, I’d scream at it:

“No! Why did you do that? How the fuck could you possibly think I’d want to reformat the whole document to be in bold? All I did was backspace on a blank space between lines! Fix it right fucking now or I’ll put a screwdriver through your hard drive!”

Within days it would be suffering from Kicked Puppy Syndrome. It would be good if the computer has a working AI with voice response because I’m sure it would end up whimpering whenever I came near it. There would be this agonised pause before the computer executed any commands because it would be paranoid about my response. Essentially the relationship between me and the computer would be the same as the relationship between my worst boss and me. So here’s a note to AI researchers: don’t come up with a true computer AI unless you also come up with computer psychiatrists,

I’m sure Gates thinks he’s bought his way into history and the afterlife with his foundation (cynical, moi?) but it won’t work. It will probably work with history but he’ll be screwed when he reaches the pearly gates. I’m using Catholic imagery here because that’s what I know but feel free to substitute your belief system’s version of the afterlife. So Bill rocks up to the pearly gates and St Peter checks the big book.

“Hmmmm, Bill Gates III is it? Let’s see here… Distributed fifty bazillion dollars through your charity, cured cancer, cured aids, fed and educated the world’s teeming masses, ended poverty, oppression and war. That’s quite a list achievements. But guess what? Just before you got here I was giving a quarterly report to God and the PowerPoint presentation I spent 12 hours on fucked up and made me look like a complete tool! Now everybody’s laughing at me and I’ll be lucky to get more than the minimum pay raise this year. AND IT’S ALL YOUR FUCKING FAULT!”

And that is why Bill Gates is going to hell.

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Filed under General Angriness, Work

How to make IT staff less angry – Part One: Overview

This post contains secret IT workers’ business. This could be dangerous to me for two reasons. First, it contains honesty which could be abused by dishonest and unscrupulous managers. Second, it is secret knowledge which the Cabal Of Disaffected and Exploited Information Technology workers (CODE-IT workers) don’t like outsiders to know. Even now, the CODE-IT equivalent of Opus Dei assassin-monks may be on their way to silence me.

The reason I want to share the following information is it disturbs me greatly that things taken as common sense in so many circles seem to be so far out of the understanding of so many managers. It sometimes seems wise to keep this knowledge from managers because if they truly understood what motivates their IT workers they would exploit them even more. But that’s too negative an outlook, even for me. Evil is evil and there’s not much that can be done about truly evil managers. Dumb, on the other hand, can more often be remedied with appropriate education.

Here’s hoping.

The short version is you make IT workers less angry by making their lives better. Many people don’t need more information than that. But IT workers can be a quirky bunch and many employers truly do not understand IT well enough to work out what will improve the lot of the CODE-IT brigade. Here’s the first bit of brutal honesty: in my experience, on average, IT workers complain more than other workers. The best possible spin I can put on this trend to whininess is that, at its best, IT is a dynamic environment that presents many challenges and the only constant is change. In a good way. When the folks in the CODE-IT trenches feel like they’re being held back, when the corporate environment is resistant to change or flat out unable to change, that’s when the surliness starts. Most IT workers will work extremely hard (even excessively hard) in the right environment but won’t do well in a repressive environment.

Other times, IT people are just whiners. When I’ve worked in organisations that conduct staff satisfaction surveys, IT workers are invariably the least satisfied as a group. In many cases this has been well justified but the pattern is hard to miss: the CODE-IT legions are more likely to complain than anyone else. They are (generally) highly trained and a lot is expected of them so they in turn have high expectations of their employers.

All the clever people who study such things tend to tell you there are three aspects to job satisfaction. These can be sliced and diced in various ways and given different titles and descriptions but broadly, the three things people look for in a job are a good environment, interesting and/or fulfilling work, and good compensation. The purists/optimists will tell you each is equally important and you can’t compensate for shortcomings in one area by boosting another. Here’s the second bit of brutal honesty: this isn’t true. The best jobs will rank highly in all three areas but it is quite easy to compensate for a shortfall in one area by boosting another.

Here’s the thing to bear in mind: it’s pretty much impossible to provide a job with good pay, good environment and interesting/rewarding work without sincerely wanting people to feel good about working for you. If there is some reason you can’t or don’t want to provide all three you need to be sincere about why boosting the other two makes it worthwhile. People will smell bullshit in this area a mile off – don’t fool yourself into thinking you can fool all of the people all of the time. If you’re telling staff it’s worth working for less than average because you throw a really good Christmas party when that clearly isn’t enough compensation, well, you’re screwed. Saying it over and over won’t make it true. It simply makes it more obviously what a lying, manipulative, scheming, exploitative bastard you are.

Another thing is that if you decide to (or are forced to) boost one or two aspects because of a lack in another area, you need to consider the sort of behaviour you are rewarding when you make this choice. The perception of what behaviour is apparently valued by a company may not always be overt but eventually your CODE-IT warriors are going to look up from their screens and evaluate what is happening around them. And I’d hate to break it to you, but the manager who is convinced their foolish underlings are completely unaware of their machinations is not only a prick, they’re also delusional. Trust me, if you’re a manipulative sociopath, your staff are probably more aware of it than you are.

The easiest aspect to boost (unless you are under significant budget or corporate restraints) is pay. Everyone likes more money. That’s the good news. Here’s the bad news: if money is the only thing keeping people working for you it also becomes the easiest way for other companies to steal your most valuable workers. It take a 5 second internet search to work out what other people are being paid; you can’t rely ignorance of better opportunities keeping staff where you want them. Especially not CODE-IT staff.

But if money’s out of the question, you could always consider improving the work environment. Improving the working environment can seem harder because it’s a bit more ephemeral but even small changes can have a marked effect. Give your CODE-IT workers enough room to work. Most will need a significant amount of desk space to spread out their crap – it seems like crap to you but it’s usually important to them. Cubicle farms are poison. And give your CODE-IT crew as much control as possible over their environment. Not letting them put up personal photos and fill their workspace with Star Wars memorabilia will offend them deeply. Enforced conformity is the close cousin of a disaffected workforce.

If you make improvements in the work environment you are sending an important message: we want you to be happy here. It’s a mistake to think you can artificially make co-workers get on with each other but if the general atmosphere is positive, this has a tendency to rub off and make even surly CODE-IT workers less resentful of those around them. And leaving a positive environment is a big risk for most people. It’s usually impossible to tell from a job interview if you’ll like the new environment so improving your workers’ existing environment is a valuable investment.

Then there is how much people actually like their work. Providing interesting/ challenging/ rewarding work is frequently undervalued by managers. Sure, there are bumps on logs whose aspirations reach as far as knowing they have a desk to come back to tomorrow and regular paychecks coming down the line but they are a much smaller minority than average in IT. “Knowledge worker” isn’t simply a buzzword – these people use their brains as a matter of course and they want more challenges, not less. Unless you have complete losers working for you. If that’s what you have and/or that’s what you want stop reading. Employ the lowest common denominator and they’ll never leave. And your workplace will never be better than a crap-hole. A third bit of brutal honesty (and I think I can see an albino face staring menacingly at me from the server rack as I type this) is that it’s amazing how much less money a CODE-IT worker will accept if they really love their work.

Each of these three elements deserves much more detailed analysis and I will be doing just that over the coming days. But seriously, if you don’t want your IT workers to be as angry as me, put some thought into how to improve all three of these elements from a CODE-IT perspective. It doesn’t matter if management think they make the rules and everyone else should simply go along with it. If maintaining productive, high-quality CODE-IT workers is important to you, management has to deliver what workers want, not what management think workers deserve. And if this doesn’t matter to you, you’re going to get exactly what you deserve.

READ PART TWO

READ PART THREE

READ PART FOUR

READ PART FIVE

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Mr Angry Vlog Number 6

For this vlog I decided to revisit the nightmare of my worst ever boss.  Dare you rate your boss on the croc meter?

 

And all I can say is that if my neighbours don't think I'm insane, there's something wrong with them. 

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Back at work and completely unable to function

Well, I'm back at work after a week off and fucked if I know what I'm meant to be doing. Which is to say, I know in theory what I'm meant to be doing but my brain is doing a piss-poor job of helping me get anywhere today.

This is the problem with holidays: they end. Then you have to go back to work. I not only have to get into gear at work but I have to re-sort my life this week. I have to put away a week's worth of clothes for me and my kids, re-organise my apartment and pay some bills that arrived. Then there's getting back up to speed with blogging.

No vlog for over a week! I feel like I'm neglecting you. I'll try and do one tonight. I also used up my whole lunch hour working on a post that's turning into War and Peace. I don't think I'm even half way through yet. The theme is "how to make people less angry at work" – basically tallying up all the fucked things bosses do, how to avoid them and why bosses should avoid doing them. So you can see why it's a long post.

I'm not even sure it belongs on Mr Angry's blog although the shit involved certainly makes me angry. I'll do a bit more work on it tonight – maybe post it in multiple parts. I also have to get back to promoting this blog and visiting everyone else's blogs – something I've neglected for the last week or so. Actually, on the shameless self-promotion front, I've achieved my short term goal and cracked the Technorati top 100,000. This feels weirdly anti-climactic. Nevertheless, endless thanks to everyone who heeded my desperate plea for attention and linked to me. And if you did and I am yet to return the favour, please let me know and I'll add you to my blogroll.

So now I go back to trying to make sense of my work. Oddly enough, my Project Manager was happy to let me take a week off because she thought we were entering a quiet period for a month or so. I didn't really agree but wanted the week off. Now I'm back she agrees we have a shitload to do right now. Sometimes I really fucking hate being right all the time. All my ex-girlfriends hate that about me too.

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Marriage? That’s so Gay!

It must be fun being an arch-conservative. When everything you are doing fucks up you can trot out the spectre of the fags coming to take over the world. I mean, what do the left have to scare people with? Global warming (it's a fucking fact dammit!), rapacious corporations, lying politicians, thousands dead in Iraq with no end in sight (and the terrifying possibility of W doing worse to justify his already fucked actions). It doesn't seem to scare the voters as much as the poofs and dykes do.

It's a really simple argument that a lot of people go out of their way to obscure. Point one: do you think marriage is important? If not, the conversation's over (unless you just like arguing – if so, good for you. Fuck off and bother someone who cares.) If yes, point two: do you have a problem with homosexuals? If not, the conversation's over. If yes, admit it and I'm fine with that. You don't want same-sex marriage because you don't like gays or gay sex creeps you out or it's against God or nature or something. That's fine. You admitted it. We know what we're arguing about.

If you think you don't have a problem with gays but you don't want them to get married because marriage is only between men and women, I have some advice for you:

Stop. Fucking. Lying.

I don't know if you're lying to yourself but you're sure as shit lying to me. It's pathetic. You're homophobic – live with it. You don't like the fags. Hey, a lot of them probably don't like you. Spend all their time making fun of "breeders". So cheer up – some gays are heterophobic.

If we take the religion element out (and any religion should be able to ban gay marriage within the religion – religions are all about rules and restrictions) then we are left with the legal status of relationships. In my (not very humble) opinion, telling someone their partner has no legal status with regards to property, benefits, inheritance etc. solely because of their gender, is just fucked up. Can I be really negative and fatalistic for a minute? People talking about the "sanctity of marriage" needing to be protected from homosexuals are either delusional or lying (see homophobic, above). With a 50% divorce rate and fuck knows how many affairs going on, marriage has no sanctity – deal with it.

And then there's the "slippery slope" argument. If we let the goddam fags get married, then there's the polygamists probably closely followed by pedophiles and then the beastiality crowd. We'd be opening the flood gates I tells ya. My answer to that is as follows: my brain works in this funny way where I'm able to assess individual propositions on their own merits. I'm not limited to coming up with one conclusion to cover all eventualities. It's this crazy thing where I don't stop thinking. Weird, I know.

If gay marriage becomes legal and polygamists want to use it as a precedent to further their agenda, good luck to them. To me, they're two different propositions but if they can find someone dumb enough to agree that they should be allowed to have extended marriages solely because gay unions have been recognised then they must be pretty damn good debaters. Or they're debating with some pretty damn stupid opposition.

Oh and by the by, if you want some interesting and intelligent discourse on the topic of polygamy from a Muslim perspective, look here and here and follow some of their links. I like to end on a positive note.

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Filed under Politics

McDonalds Toilet Humour

Well, there's a lot that made me angry on the drive back home but most off all I was angry at the conspiracy I uncovered at a roadside McDonalds. It isn't enough that they're clogging colons with "food" deep fried in lard, they're clogging minds now with their filthy toilet humor in kids' Happy Meals. The suggestively named "Wet and Wild" word find puzzle contains some not very well hidden depth charges to blow the kiddies' minds.

McDonalds helpfully highlights one word "RAIN" (in blue) to get you started. I have highlighted in red the first two words my kids found:

 mcdonalds toilet humour

Now, my kids were in a forgiving mood and said you cant spell "POOL" without "POO" but how they hell can they explain throwing in "WEE" (in the pool perhaps?") Particularly when they given the puzzle the suss name of "Wet and Wild". I am determined that heads will roll for this – I won't be satisfied until the head of McDonalds accepts responsibility and resigns.

And I am not immature. Shut up and leave me alone. 

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Filed under General Angriness

Deep Fried Spam Sandwich

I thought I'd evoke some Elvis style culinary delights today. It seems my WordPress blog has attracted enough attention to earn around 50 comment spam a day. And the automatic spam protection blocks every one of them. Ha! Fuck you in the neck with Akismet anti-spam you evil, anti-social fucks!

Which of course leads me to wonder if Akismet can be so effective, why cant everyone else?

Anyway, another 12 hour drive with the kids tomorrow, after which I should be able to dedicate my full attention to the blogosphere once more. I will just say to the people finding me via "Russell Crowe Jack Marx" searches: I am indeed Russell Crowe's new stooge. Me and Rusty are best mates because I respect him as the greatest actor of his generation and he appreciates my honesty and insight. The money is secondary.

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