Leo D'Angelo Fisher Columnist

Leo covers management and leadership issues, business trends and corporate strategy. He is a former senior business writer at The Bulletin and a former host of The Business Hour on 3AW.

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Grown-ups behaving badly

Published 27 April 2012 15:02, Updated 01 May 2012 14:01

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Last week I pondered whether unruly, ill-behaved children, deprived of discipline and guidance, grow up to become the kind of inconsiderate louts who make travelling on trains unbearable and who behave with a complete lack of consideration in workplaces.

I dubbed it the Little Buddha syndrome: spoilt little brats who become selfish co-workers who eat breakfast cereal or lunch-time take-away, or perhaps a noisy packet of Smiths crisps, at their desks or who insist on conducting loud personal conversations on their mobile phones or across the floor. It is the very behaviour we must endure on public transport – although to those sins we can add the frustration of having to listen to the “music” of other passengers and the offence of seats made filthy by their habit of resting their slime-filled shoes and/or discarded food containers and empty bottles on them.

And there is so much more that makes travelling on public transport so hellish: the constant guttural sniffing, the modern fetish for cracking one’s knuckles, passengers on crowded trains who feel they must express their undying love with stomach-churning physical affection, and the rudeness of the backpack brigade (the “office turtles”, as I have previously dubbed them) who occupy twice the space as other passengers and swing their tortoise shells on and off with lethal abandon.

Last week I posed these questions: can we reasonably expect that these inconsiderate slobs will be fully productive and engaged employees? Can you have one attitude when it comes to personal decorum and another when it comes to performance at work? The answer is probably “no”.

So have we become a ruder, cruder society? Has civility given way to wanton piggery? Do adults in the workplace and public places, such as public transport, behave no differently from naughty, unrestrained children who are not taught right from wrong? Judging by readers’ correspondence: yes.

An executive recalls attending an invitation-only demonstration by an internationally renowned chef. She was one of 50 women at the exclusive dinner function.

“I am guessing they were middle to executive level management. For the first time in my life I was embarrassed to be a female,” she writes.

“The chef, from one of the world’s leading restaurants, was there to talk about food and provide a light dinner. You would have thought that these women were refugees and these were UN rations after months of starvation. The night would have been better if a simple cattle trough was provided and just letting these ‘ladies’ feed directly from that.

“I was afraid that the waiters’ arms were going to be gnawed off at one point. The mobiles rang incessantly throughout the function with little regard for the chef standing at the podium trying to explain the preparation of fresh salmon.”

She concluded with a sobering question: “If you consider that these are today’s parents, what do you expect from their children?”

It’s the same point made in this reflection about behaviour in the workplace: “Do not get me started on courtesy at the office. I can not even remember when somebody last said thank you or please. So what are we teaching the young coming into the workforce?”

A reader shared my frustration at being bombarded by the “music” emanating from the earplugs and slimline devices of fellow train passengers. His concern was not only for his amenity, but as a music lover.

“Those tinny speakers drive me insane. Quite apart from the highly questionable ‘talent’ squawking out of them, the fidelity is so awful as to be painful. It saddens me that many people spend many hours and hundreds of thousands of dollars producing the best quality music possible just to have it reproduced via a small tin can and some string,” he despairs.

A former ASX100 manager says many big companies seek to weed out “problem employees” before they become entrenched in their organisations. They do this by starting employees on three-month contracts before offering them full-time work.

“This way, if the employee is deemed as not being a good fit there is a nice, conflict-free out for the HR department, or People and Culture Department as they are often called these days. Basically they just say ‘Thanks for your work, the contract is up and we no longer need your services’. Neat and easy, although apparently it is a no-no to tell someone the truth of the matter in these things.”

Three-month probationary periods for new employees are also becoming more common. Even so, the manager says most large companies he has worked with over the years are stuck with freeloaders who make it through such precautions.

“There are employees who actually do the work and there are those who generally just show up. My guess is that around 30 per cent [in any workplace] are freeloaders. Most folks in the organisation can point out who is who, but due to current laws and PC [politically correct] ideology there is bugger all you can do about the slacker squad,” he writes.

“Sadly, the most common solution is to move the slackers to anywhere else in the organisation, frequently as a promotion as an added incentive to move them on. Bloody madness if you ask me, but I have seen this time and time again.”

Employees who are “useful, polite, productive and add real value” are rarely offered the promotions they deserve, my correspondent explains, as their managers don’t want to lose them. In effect, the non-performers are rewarded over the performers.

“I have seen it a lot,” he writes. “Ironically much of the just-show-up crowd also seem to spend large amounts of time vocally complaining about their work – usually how busy and stressed they are as they finish off their third smoko break for the morning.”

Do you agree? Write and tell me your views.

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