Saturday, January 06, 2007

Office Politics

Civil servants are to receive instruction on how to tidy their desks. This will not, as you might imagine, materialise in the form of a short written memo along the lines of :-
  • Remove all food scraps and coffee dregs that are more than a week old.
  • Upend keyboard into wastepaper basket to clear biscuit crumbs.
  • Pile all remaining items i.e. your work into top left hand drawer of your desk,(it is understood that the top right hand drawer is where you keep your stash of cereal bars, Rooibos tea, pot noodles, slim soups and personal mobile phone charger).
  • Spend rest of day choosing nice new pink plastic caddy from laughably expensive office supply catalogue in which to store your vast collection of dayglo post-it notes and jellybean hued pens.
That would be too simple.

The Times (and frankly every other media outlet with a sense of humour), today reveals that a massive overhaul of desktop performance is underway. This government sure knows how to nail its priorities to the mast doesn’t it? What better place to begin this long overdue clerical audit than the National Insurance Office. Destitute immigrants who are waiting for that magic combination of eight letters and digits which unlocks access to lifesaving services such as health, housing, employment and education must understand that they will receive better services if the officer dealing with their case is doing so from the optimum working environment and must therefore be prepared to sacrifice a kidney or child under five for the greater good.

I was a bit disappointed to find that the tool for establishing the most appropriate locations for pens, phones and computers was not a Dr Who type sonic tape measure, but grotty old black tape, quite possibly left over electrical tape from when the Government used to own the utilities. The Times explains,

'Office workers have been given the tape to mark out where they should put their pens and pencils, their computer keyboards and to indicate where to place their phones.
National Insurance staff have been chosen as guinea-pigs for the latest phase of the “Lean” programme brought in by the logistics consultants Unipart. The programme prohibits workers from keeping personal items on their desks. '

The Lean Programme? Is it an acronym? Let’s think

  • Living Embodies All and Nothing?
  • Love Every Able Nonentity?
  • Learn Excess Allowed Not (based on Chinese proverb)?

OR… hey… I’m really thinking… wheeze… is it like a diet?

Right. Let’s think this through. You’re not allowed personal items. OK. So that’s the same, in diet methodology, of not being allowed carbs. Photos of Patrick Swayze, your bucktoothed twins or the Turkish fiancĂ© you met in an internet chat room are the office equivalent of free radicals and should be purged. Am I close? Seems perfectly sensible - they do know that electrical tape perishes after a few years and could damage the surface of those desks, right? Oh they’re Formica – not really relevant then.

Then there is just the small matter of the £7.4 million price tag. Oh yes. There had to be a big consultancy firm involved here and that lucky public asset vacuum cleaner is called Unipart. Isn’t this so crazy that civil service unions could swat this rubbish with a feather duster? Well, their response has been perhaps a little two conciliatory under the circumstances. According to The Times,

‘The Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS) criticised the efficiency drive as ‘demeaning and demoralising’, saying that it reduced staff to little more than machines, on the whim of consultants.’

If stating the bleeding obvious is now the big negotiation weapon of union leaders, jolly well done. The spokesperson went on to say,

‘We had a situation in some offices in Scotland where staff were asked, ‘Is that banana on your desk active or inactive?’ meaning were they going to eat it? If not, it had to be cleared away.’

Sounds like a Glasgow kiss was in order to me, or the very least, an offer to donate that banana to the consultant’s early retirement fund. But you’ve got government departments embracing this plan as if it were the civic equivalent of Inch Loss Island. The Times continues,

'A spokeswoman for Revenue & Customs said, ‘Lean is all about how we can work more efficiently to deliver an even better service to our customers, providing support and appropriate levels of management to busy staff while providing real value for money to the taxpayer.'

So a workspace that strips you of your individuality and dignity enables you to respond to vulnerable fellow humans with greater understanding and compassion? I once worked for a public sector organisation and suffered the ignominy of having our offices Feng Shuied for no good reason so I am aware of the personal pain that some of our civil servants may be enduring. Listen, if your granny has a spare hour or two, I know the perfect place for her to learn how to suck eggs. Tell her to bring along the deeds to her house. It will be worth every penny…

Ideal Barbie Bulimic Office from eBay, if you're quick


Ms Melancholy said...

I feel a bout of Tourette's coming on. Who the f*** are *logistics consultants unipart*? How much are these tossers being paid? Is this really coming out of the public purse? I think I am slowly losing the will to live...

Reading the Signs said...

Yes! The Ministry of Truth is alive. It's all about things like "harmonisation" (when all are made equally miserable). Gives us all reasons to be cheerful - that we are here rather than there.