FUNNY BUSINESS: Spare me from the dreaded brown-bag lunch

Mike Redmond
April 17, 2006
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All right, boys and girls, what are we to make of the survey that says worker morale in America is tanking?

Harris Interactive conducted the survey for staffing agency Randstad and came up with figures showing only 40 percent of employees said morale at their workplace was good or excellent, down from 44 percent a year ago. This, of course, raises the question: How did it get so high to begin with? I see little good coming from this survey. You know what's going to happen? Bosses are going to see it and decide Somebody Needs To Do Something About This So-Called Morale Problem Around Here (As Long As It's OK With Corporate). A memo will go out. It will land on the desk of the person most recently hired into the HR department. That person will decide the company should try something "different" and "fun" to let the employees know it "cares." And that will result in ... Brown-bag lunches. Please, God, spare me from another lunchtime where we sit around the conference room eating our choice of chicken salad or tuna salad sandwiches, with a bag of chips and a brownie, listening to some middle-management gasbag go on about how We're All On The Same Team.

Save me from the pizza with the pools of grease congealing on top, served on flimsy paper plates with brown paper towels from the men's room doubling as napkins, while the Vice President In Charge Of Whatever recites Official Company Platitude No. 12: We Really Want To Know What You Think.

Protect me from poking around a picked-over tray of cold cuts while The Big Guy assures us His Door Is Always Open, Except For When It Isn't.

In other words, God, please do something about these boobs who think you can distract people from the issues at hand-reduced benefits, increased work loads, martinet managers-with bad food and banalities.

And speaking of boobs, they're not all in management. Please, PLEASE aim a few lightning bolts at the numbskulls who stand up at these things and say, "You know, we should do this on a regular basis." You don't have to kill them. Just get close enough to shut 'em up.

While we're looking at this from the boss point of view, God, maybe you could do something about all the people who whine about how they never get any feedback-and then go to pieces when they get it. Turns out they didn't want feedback at all. They wanted praise, whether or not they deserved it. Big difference.


Of course, a brown-bag lunch isn't the only way to deal with a morale problem. There's also the dreaded pitch-in lunch.

The pitch-in is designed to "open lines of communication" across departments so people can "dialogue" about "workplace issues" while eating "food." The very idea usually convinces at least half the employees to "make other plans."

While a brown-bag lunch can be inflicted on employees at the direction of one or two people, a pitch-in requires a committee. This means employees who could actually be working will instead spend their days huddled in meetings, ensuring the folks in This Department will bring enough macaroni salad and baked beans while convincing those in That Department to take a little more seriously their commitment to the pies and cookies.

The idea is to cut down on the complaining by getting people to communicate across departmental lines. Right. You go to one of these things and what do you find? This Department at one table and That Department at another. Complaining. About each other.

Now, there was an interesting element in the survey concerning employer perception of morale. A year ago, 70 percent of employers thought morale was good. Now it's down to 55 percent.

This might indicate that bosses have been, as a friend of mine puts it, taking a hit off the clue bong. Perhaps they've had a sudden realization, a eureka moment, what the Gestalters call an "Aha!" experience. The rest of us know it as, "Well, DUH."

Or it could indicate a 15-percent drop in Boss Morale, based on this formula: Corporate Directives times Slashed Budget divided by Realignment plus Prospects of Looking For A Job At Your Age.

At any rate, I'm wondering what the outcome might be.

Something tells me it bodes well for caterers and pizza parlors.

Mike Redmond is an author, columnist, speaker, and consultant on business writing and workplace issues. He can be reached by e-mail at mike@mikeredmondonline.com.

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