How to Make the Workplace A Better Place (Idea #1)

Chaos in Print

I’m sure most of the people reading this have spent their time in minimum wage hell. If not, then I’m sure you’ve had to work some other job that you equally hate. My time in minimum wage hell, as I’m sure you all know, was spent at Extra Foods, and while there, I started thinking of ways that things could be made better for the employees. One of my brilliant ideas had to do with reprimands.

Now, I’m sure that most of you know what a reprimand is. In the modern workplace, it’s the term for when you do something nasty and the boss brings down the boom. If you’re consistently late, out of uniform, or having sexual relations with a co-worker in the boss’s office on the boss’s desk while customers are wondering where all the employees have gone, you’ll probably get a reprimand. In extreme occurrences, a reprimand could mean getting docked pay or even getting fired. But, if it’s a little thing, the boss will just put a formal reprimand on your record, which is usually little more than a note that says, “The employee was caught doing a bad thing, so future employers, keep an eye on him/her.” When I made supervisor, I was given the authority to dish out reprimands, but never felt the need to do so.

But, I did watch a lot of Star Trek growing up, and in military terms, the reprimand did have a logical opposite: the commendation. Reprimands are given out if you’re really, really bad. Commendations are given out if you’re really, really good. In extreme occurrences, a commendation could mean medals, or promotions! But, if it’s a little thing, the commander will just put a commendation on your record, which is usually little more than a note that says, “The person was doing a good thing, so people, keep an eye on him/her!” As I mulled things over in my supervisor’s office, I started thinking, “Well, if we can give out reprimands, why can’t we give out commendations?”

“Now, Mark,” you’re probably thinking, “Minimum wage hells do give out commendations. It’s the employee of the month thing!” True, but is that really an effective way to go about it? Let’s face it, employees of the month are usually branded dorks, losers, boss’s pets, sell-outs, etc. My company in Japan had an employee of the month program, and shortly after I arrived, I learned that Yves had been made an employee of the month. And how did I congratulate her, this special creature, this person who is one of my best friends in the whole wide world, who knows most of my deepest, darkest secrets and somehow still tolerates me? I branded her a dork, loser, boss’s pet, sell-out, etc. But, Mr. Anderson, my best friend and quasi-husband to Yves, did do a good job of defending his woman’s honour and generally beating the crap out of me. “She doesn’t like her boss!” said Mr. Anderson, as the right hook connected. “She was complaining to head office too much!” POW! “They did it to buy her off!” BAM! “Now apologize to the lady.”

Once again, Yves, I’m sorry I called you…that list of bad things. And, as I’ve said before, hang on to Mr. Anderson. He’s one of the good ones. I hate to resurrect the past like this, but you have to admit, it’s a great example of the flaws in the system. Employers abuse the employee of the month program to bribe troublesome employees, and employees abuse it to abuse other employees. So the employee of the month system has got to go. But what should replace it?

Two words: commendation pay. It works like this. Say you toil endlessly in your minimum wage hell. You work a double shift or two. You mop up the toddler vomit in the play place with nary a complaint. When the toilet gets clogged, you roll up your sleeves and do what needs to be done. Customers ask to speak to the manager so they can gush about you. Your supervisor looks at this service record and says, “Hey! He/she’s doing a great job! That person deserves a commendation!” He fills out the appropriate paperwork, passes it along to the boss, and on your next paycheque, there it is: “Commendation pay: $50.” Naturally, some form of scale would have to be worked out. Working a double shift once in the pay period gets you $10 of commendation pay (and requisite overtime pay). Working three double shifts gets you $50 of commendation pay (and requisite overtime pay). A gushing customer gets you $25. This would all be handled discretely, so as not to spark any rude comments from those other employees. You know, the ones who didn’t show up, thus making you work a double shift. The ones who let that toddler vomit fester on a warm summer’s day. Hell, they are probably the ones who clogged that toilet in the first place. What will it say on their paycheques? “Commendation pay: $0.”

Maybe, though, we should keep something similar to the employee of the month program in place, because face it, everyone likes getting awards. But, instead of something half-heartedly given out by the management because they have to, let’s make it something that has to be genuinely earned. Instead of “employee of the month,” give it a military commendation name: The Bronze Star, or the Founder of the Company Citation for Service Above and Beyond the Call of Duty. And it can only be given out in those situations where something incredibly good was done, like your place of employment was held up at gunpoint and you lived.

Of course, this is just a proposal right now. Something tells me that most of the big companies out there won’t be too keen to adopt this right away. This just stems out of the way I was raised, I guess. You do something bad, you get a smack on the bum. You do something good, you get a pat on the head. So how come most companies today are big on smacking, but not on patting? When I was at Extra Foods, I actually did have a couple of customers gush over how good I was. After one such incident, I was feeling proud and grinning like an idiot. The manager looked over at me and sarcastically said, “What, do you want a medal or something?” If that ever happens to you, look at your manager and say, “Actually, yes. Yes, I do.”

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