Every year around this time, corporations across the country begin rolling out the red carpet for the social experiment we call “Take Your Children to Work Day”.
For kids, it’s a day off from school, something prized by most children rather than attending classes and ‘learning’. For companies, it’s something to keep the HR wonks occupied in between reviews, performance appraisals, benefits fairs, and implementing/enforcing policy. For the parents, it amounts to a cheap day of childcare while their kids are occupied learning what mom or dad supposedly do to earn a living. For the rest of us who see through the ruse, it’s comically outrageous. So for those who haven’t been through this Kiddie-Day Charade, I’ll outline how this begins, progresses, and ends.
The day begins by dropping the spawn off at a pre-determined location where they’ll be given a variety of activities that are designed to tell the kids about the company, what it does in terms an eight-year-old can understand, and engage in sessions where people will talk about the workplace or involve them in some game where they apply the basic knowledge of the company. “What is insurance?” “How does an insurance policy work?” “How does the pink slime get into our hamburger meat?” “Is high-fructose corn syrup good for you?” Somewhere amidst the frivolity, the kids are fed lunch. The afternoon ensues with more of the same types of activities that marked the morning, usually designed in the form of a game where the kids are encouraged to play together in a fashion that remotely resembles how employees in an ideal setting need to work with each other to achieve a goal.
At the end of the day, the kids are either bored out of their minds, or they’ll come away with the impression that “Mommy and Daddy’s work is a lot of fun!”
Now perhaps I’m the cynic, but showing kids how much fun & games adults have in the work environment isn’t painting a realistic picture. Work is work. It’s usually boring, tedious, contentious, and often aggravating. It would be more useful for the kids to ask questions of an HR professional who will answer them honestly. “Why do mommy and daddy drink a lot?” “Daddy comes home from work complaining about his boss, do you know why?” “What does jackass mean?” “What are office politics? Are they like electing a new President?” “How can something be due yesterday?” That at least might be somewhat more informative and educational about why ‘work is work’ and not playtime.
Perhaps a better use of the time would be to have the kids actually LIVE a ‘day-in-the-life’ of their parents as they muddle through their day. Here’s a good example.
- 7:00AM Leave home for office. Be stuck in traffic for most of an hour. Honk horn several times, express road-rage, watch as parent is cut-off by other driver trying to apply cosmetics while chatting on a mobile phone.
- 8:00AM Arrive at work, head to desk. Watch colleague from other department corner parent before they reach cube, irate about some issue that hasn’t been resolved. Get to desk, begin responding to e-mail, answering phone messages, looking for a report that you misplaced.
- 8:30AM Call from boss asking for that misplaced report for an unexpected meeting at 9AM. Spend next 30 minutes gathering the information manually for the report. Rush it into boss’ office just under the wire at 9 to see a glaring expression. The report will now sit on their desk for the remainder of the day, unviewed.
- 9:00AM Call from colleague from the hallway at 8:00AM, still irate about his issue. You tell him you’ll resolve this in the next hour.
- 9:00AM – 10:00AM Several more calls from other people asking if the issue has as yet been resolved, and demanding a status update for each of their bosses to show that action is taking place…which it isn’t due to all of the interruptions.
- 10:00AM Put phone on Do Not Disturb mode to actually resolve the issue, which takes the next 45 minutes. Publish the resolution to everyone who was pestering for the last two hours or so.
- 11:00AM On way to the rest room, cornered once again by same colleague from 8:00AM who complains that he is still awaiting a status, admitting that he never checks his email for updates. You finally get to restroom, he finally reads his e-mail. He generates several questions using “Reply to All”.
- 11:10AM You return from restroom to find 20 additional e-mails with a series of other questions, each adding more recipients.
- 11:30AM Finally respond to all of the questions in one blanket e-mail to everyone. Someone complains about being on “Reply to All” and berates you.
- 11:35AM In the process of trying to get to the actual work you’d had planned for the day, you’re called to a meeting at Noon. There goes lunch. You purchase a package of peanut-butter crackers dating back to pre-Y2K from the vending machine.
- Noon to 2:00PM You’ve sat through a tedious meeting where other people are arguing at each other, you haven’t gotten a word in edgewise, and you still haven’t gotten to your own work for the day.
- 2:00PM Your boss wants a different update of the data you provided to him this morning, but needs it before a 2:30PM meeting.
- 2:28PM You supply a half-hearted update because you know he won’t read this or the first report you gave him.
- 2:30PM Your child has been through more than 6 hours of a day, and complains that they’d be going home from school right about now, and that this really sucks. You look at your kid. You smile. They get it. They’re hungry.
- 2:35PM You go to the employee cafeteria. It closed 5 minutes ago. You rummage the vending machine. Your kid gets a diet soda and trail mix. They complain. You tell them that this is your normal lunch. “That sucks.” Yes, they really get it now.
- 2:45PM You have a 3:00PM Project Meeting, they’re going to ask about your deliverable. You rush to finish off as much as possible before 3. It’s half-hearted, but then you’ve only had 15 minutes even though you’ll charge 6 hours of your day to the effort.
- 3:00PM You turn-over your deliverable at the meeting. The project manager tells the team that they’re over budget and they’ll need to book their time elsewhere because they didn’t expect this much time to be charged. The next hour is tedious as one team member spends over 45 minutes explaining their updates in excruciating detail. Your kid falls asleep and lets out a snore. Stares are directed at you. People still think the kid is cute. You get blamed for the length of the team member’s update somehow.
- 4:15PM (since the project meeting ran over) You still need to work on another deliverable that is past due. You return to your cube and your voice mail light is flashing and you have another 100 e-mails that are unanswered.
- 4:20PM Your boss comes past your cube and asks where you’ve been all day. Before you can begin to answer, he gives you another deliverable from someone else who couldn’t complete it for a rather weak reason, and can only give you until the end of the day. “Oh, I forgot to give this to you last week,” are the words he mentions as he hands you the information.
- 4:25PM After your kid has heard a number of new expletives, you proceed to do a half-hearted job for the deliverable and wonder why you can never get away with brushing off work.
- 5:30PM You’ve hastily thrown together a series of documents and provided a rough-draft of the deliverable (thanks to “Cut & Paste”). Rather than drop it on your boss’ desk where you believe it will languish, you send it to his e-mail where you’re certain it will never be checked. When asked, you’ll say that you e-mailed it to be “environmentally considerate”. Your boss will want 3 copies printed anyway.
- 6:05PM Your kid is hungry, whining, and has puked his diet soda. You’ve answered the last voice mail — the one someone sent to remind you about the e-mail they’d already sent, twice — and there is no one left in the office. Your boss left right after giving you the assignment, they’d never see it until tomorrow.
- 6:07PM As payback, you pop-into your boss’ office and loosen the connection to the computer’s monitor so that it’s sure to flicker on and off, and pull out the network cable, mouse and keyboard from the back — it’ll take most of tomorrow and several technical support calls for him/her to figure out why it doesn’t work. Then you set your voice mail to forward to the slacker whose assignment you just completed, and set the e-mail auto-reply to redirect all of your messages to your colleague from this morning. You figure that should give you a few moments’ peace to actually do your own work. You call your spouse to her them know you’ll be late — again — and your child is fine but really tired. You take your kid to the bar, you both need a drink that isn’t diet soda.
- 6:15PM Your child says, “This really sucks, why do you do this?” You’re about ready to give an answer that explains how it pays for the house, car, band instruments, sporting equipment, orthodontics, vacations, mountains of debt, taxes… then realize that you’ll just get a glazed-over response. You change the topic quickly to ask whether they’re looking forward to school tomorrow. “Yep. I am!” your kid replies enthusiastically, the first time you’ve witnessed such a positive response to going to class.
This, my friends, is what a real “Take Your Children to Work Day” should be: Seeing what work truly is.