Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Dress Code

I remember the days when formal dress codes had such sexists requirements as women having to wear pantyhose. I always thought that those dress codes that were enforced went a bit overboard.  But as a consultant, you respect and adhere to the dress code at the client site.

I was so pleased when I first worked at Lands' End.  Their informal motto was: If we sell it you can wear it.  Well that changed a bit after they started selling swimwear and lingerie, but you get the idea.  Khaki was fine.  Denim was fine.  Shorts were fine.  For the most part everyone looked great, because their clothes were great I suppose.  But it was a casual dress environment and I realized that it didn't impact job productivity or performance at all. The employees at Lands End were smart and capable, professional and casually dressed.

I found the same atmosphere at AMD and other companies I've worked for.  It became the new norm.

Since then, I've visited game studios where dress codes are basically non-existent.  I asked about the pair of flip-flops (shoes) hanging on a hook near the front entrance and was told that meant shoes were not optional tomorrow (a client was probably visiting).  Yep, seriously.  These game studios also have some of the most intelligent and dedicated programmers too.  Casual dress doesn't adversely impact job performance there.  In fact I think it is expected, as a means of attracting top talent, that backward ideas of pretentious old-school dress codes are rejected.  And I bet if studies are done, it is found that allowing employees to dress in a manner in which they are most comfortable (okay nudists and exhibitionists excluded) may actually find that it improves productivity. Just a guess.

I can understand that those with roles that are customer facing are viewed as company stewards and should dress in a manner compatible with the brand and marketing and customer expectations of the company.  But what about those of us that never ever deal with external people?  What does the dress code have to do with my doing the job that I am hired to do?  Nothing in my opinion.

Since then I've had to work in more conservative offices again.  I don't mind.  It's a bit expensive having to go buy new business clothes that fit me (I've gained some weight since I last had to wear formal business attire).  But as I receive yet another blanket email tersely scolding their employees for dress code violations, I have to wonder if those people complaining about such things have enough "real" work to keep them busy.  Probably not, I suspect.

I will always chose a consulting opportunity with a more casual dress code over another, all else being equal.  I'll even drive farther, pay for parking, travel more, work longer hours and take less pay to work in a casual environment as long as the job they've got for me rocks. Well, the job would have to really really rock to take all those hits, but you get the picture.

One of the best companies where I've worked, Homeaway.com, had a super casual dress code and had some of the most brilliant and dedicated people I've ever had the pleasure to work with. Dress code had nothing to do with the caliber of the employee, or perhaps it was an inverse relationship?  At some of these more conservative shops with restrictive dress codes, the people are not even close to the high caliber of dot-com employees.  It isn't hard to shine in those old-school environments, while at Homeaway.com I simply blended in.

My point?  It isn't about how you look or dress, but about what you know and are able to do.  I wish more companies could embrace that concept.

Body Odor

I'm all about equal opportunity in the workplace.  I don't care what your age, gender, race, religion, sexual orientation, country of origin, marriage status, or other categories are, as long as you can do your job and do it well.  You don't even have to be a particularly pleasant individual.

There are a couple things I don't tolerate well though. One is abusive behavior. This goes without saying.  But the other is body odor.  I'm not just talking about good hygiene here, although that is part of it. It amazes me that this is something that is legally protected.  If my coworker chooses not to use deodorant, or indeed chooses to not bath entirely, they don't have to and there is nothing their employer or co-workers can do about it regardless of how many complaints are received.  If my coworker chooses to swim in a sea of cologne or perfume, same thing applies. The best that my employer can do is move me to an area where I'm not sitting next to that person.

But what if that person is my boss?  What if the stench of their perspiration is so strong in their office that it makes me nauseous to attend one-on-one meeting with them there?  I often left at the end of the day with a migraine after dealing with the odor all day.  I scoured the Internet and found that I don't have any recourse. In fact, it was even worse than that.  It could have been deemed as discrimination on my part.  It amazed me.

As a consultant for many years, when I noticed new consultants with body odor, one comment to the account rep of the consulting firm resolved the problem. Well, you can't very well bring in prospective consultants to a client site when they reek of BO.  It will impact sales!  But come to find out, whatever they did to resolve these problems with those consultants, it was likely illegal.

The problem isn't so much about hygiene issues, but other factors such as the indirect link to cultural differences as they relate to body odor.  Apparently in other cultures, strong body odor is considered pleasant and attractive.  So by not being tolerant of the malodor of others, I am being culturally bias.

Additionally there can be links between body odor and medical conditions. Since privacy related to medical status is protected, the same issue applies in terms of medical intolerance. I don't think those odors smell like BO though.  I've smelled such things and have never felt the desire to complain about them as it was obvious to me that these people were doing everything in their power to try to stem the odor.  But still it plays a factor in the issue of tolerance in the workplace as it relates to body odor.

What it comes down to for me is that I don't care how you want to smell in the privacy of your own home, but not in the workplace where others have to be in close contact with you for many hours a day, if you have any control over the matter, such as bathing regularly and applying deodorant and limiting perfumes/scents. So here I am, realizing I'm a scent bigot.  How sad is that?

Friday, July 15, 2011

Mr. Rowe

Yesterday, on a whim, while thinking of my passion for writing, I googled my high school creative writing teacher, Mr. Rowe at Sun Prairie High.  I honestly didn't expect to find anything.  I'd done it a few time over the past 20 years, but hope springs eternal in my case.  To my surprise, I found a blog entry posted by another of his students.  Apparently Mr. Rowe passed away earlier this year.  I posted a comment to his blog, and wanted to include it here as well:  Joey, Thank you for the tribute you've made to Mr. Rowe here in your blog. I hadn't realized he'd passed. You are so correct.  He made a difference, and he is remembered and loved by his students. 

I loved his writing classes and I'm sure my passion for writing is in part due to what was cultivated in his classroom.  I thought of him today out of the blue at the age of 43 and I was his student when I was 16.  That's a long time but I still remember the last time I saw Mr. Rowe like it was yesterday.  It's made an indelible imprint on me...the message he left with me that day. The passion with which he delivered that message was lost on me at the time, but years later how I wish I'd had the good sense to heed his plea.

You see, I didn't chose a career in writing, instead focusing on computer programming. For certain, I have made a successful and lucrative career of it. And I do enjoy a certain pleasure in my chosen profession. Yet I have regrets all these years later, that I abandoned my true passion, writing, for comfort and financial security. So now I dabble with the idea of writing, a novel perhaps, and wish I were back in Mr. Rowe's classroom learning and relearning the lessons which he taught with such passion.

The last time I saw Mr. Rowe was the first week of my Junior year. He walked up to me in the hall, while I waited for my next class to start.  He always had such a masterful presence, a show of authority, dignified, and somehow above the trivialities so rampant in high school life.  He wore that lovely tweed jacket of his with the leather patchwork elbows and held his portfolio in front of him as he confronted me. "Miss Edge, I'm looking at my class enrollment list and I don't see your name.  Why aren't you taking my advanced creative writing class?" 

I looked at him confused, not understanding why he was there and what it mattered that I wasn't taking his class. "I'm taking all the computer programming classes offered, so I didn't have any electives left to take your class," I explained with a look of utter confusion on my face, I'm sure.

Now I could see that he was mad and also, perhaps, frustrated.  This emotional display was so atypical of him with his rather stoic demeanor. He took a few seconds to regroup and then chastised me in an elevated tone, "As far as I'm concerned, you're flushing a perfectly good talent down the tubes."  He slapped his portfolio shut forcefully as he said this to elaborate his point.  Then he turned and stalked off down the hall.  I never talked to Mr. Rowe again. 

At the time, I didn't understand the significance of that interaction. But all these years later, I find myself thinking of that pivotal moment, when I could have stopped him and told him I didn't need to take that Pascal class or that Basic class so badly as all that. Could I be writing today professionally, had I listened to him, had I followed my true passion and not "sold out" for the money and security of a technology job? I'll never know the answer to that question; although, I will always remember Mr. Rowe coming to bat for me, an impassioned appeal to the good sense I did not yet possess. He recognized and valued that passion in me before I did myself. For that I am forever grateful.  Thank you, Mr. Rowe. You will always remain in my heart. May your hereafter be as fulfilling as your presence was to us, your students.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Why the romance genre? It's the happy ending guarantee.

I don't just read romance, but do primarily read romance. Until today, I wasn't sure why. Maybe it was just being that typical woman in midlife with unmet desires?  I hoped not. We've all read the derogatory talk that makes women want to shy away from admitting we crave the stuff of romance novels. The talk that makes us out to be such incredibly superficial and wanton women with inattentive partners and lives that lack personal fulfillment. Okay, some of that may be true, in part, for at least some of us romance novel readers.  But I can't believe that it's just that.

In previous blog entries, I've already talked about my views on a female biological imperative that puts us in a catch-22 and how the fantasy romance sub-genre allows a loose reconciliation of those conflicting desires. But why romance at all?  It can't just be the primal biological drive that has me running off for fantasyland, can it?

Just having finished The Pact: A Love Story by Jodi Picoult, I found my answer.  A friend recommended Jodi and the title sounded like, well, a love story, so I went into the book with a particular expectation.  Coming away from the book, which is an incredibly good read by the way, I was disappointed because my expectation wasn't met.  This was a romantic tragedy and I expected a romance novel. The key difference is that in a romance the ending is happy, the heroine finds love, her needs (and his) fulfilled.  I came away from this book feeling hopeless. The love was there, the romance was there, the feelings of desperation and conflict were there.  But the story was a tragedy, without hope.  Closure, yes.  Hope, nope.  I felt alone, with regret, a mere shell of the person I had once been or had the potential to become. That's tragedy for you.

My life has been tough.  I'm not whining.  But it's true. There are regrets for certain.  But more importantly, there is a feeling of having missed something somewhere along the road called Life.  Was it the meaning of life? My purpose here? The connection to a soul-mate?  Some significant contribution to humankind? Or a lasting difference in the life of just one person?  There is a lot of sacrifice made.  A lot of effort expended.  Tears shed. Choices made or made for us. And what has kept me going through all of it was hope that there was a meaning, a reason, a person, a life, or difference to be realized. As I age, I still have hope of filling that elusive empty space within me. The desire to fill it remains strong.  In my fantasyland romance novels, those strong desires are fulfilled, the girl gets what she needs, finds the answers, makes the difference, fulfills some hope or dream or unmet desire or even something she didn't even know was missing.  It is satisifying to read because the good guy (and equally important girl) wins, I'm filled with hope, fulfillment is possible, answers attainable, complete.

Can I get that from other genres?  Yes.  Is it a guarantee with other genres?  No.  So when I write my novels, they will probably have a romantic thread, regardless if the stage is in an enchanted forest, on another planet, in a high school classroom, in the fires of hell, or on a spaceship.  My message will likely always be one of the deeper values of love, hope, and fulfillment.