Monday, July 10, 2017

Time to take bad behaviour off the menu

I was fascinated to read the buzz last week surrounding the finalists for the Josephine Pignolet Young Australian Chef of the Year. Of course it registered that nine nominees were male and one female but if that's merit-based selection at work and not unconscious bias, then there's nothing more to say except that I believe the gender ratio will shift over time. Of course I took note of the fact that the sole female finalist was Head Chef of my local 3 Michelin star eatery Attica which, apparently for $350 for two (bargain!) serves you up potato in its own dirt.

However what inspired me to put pen to paper was the finalists' depiction of the desired culture in a modern day kitchen where the sorts of behaviours that used to be acceptable (or at the very least condoned/tolerated) just aren't acceptable any more. In my work, as well as being privileged to work with the most amazingly inspiring and effective leaders, I can get to see the dark side of the force. Some leaders, even well-intended, have quite impoverished skills. They learnt what they learnt from poor people managers and can follow in the footsteps of those managers because they either know no other way or decide it's a rite of passage that they shouldn't have to have endured alone. These are some of the clichés they will typically use to justify their unwillingness to change:

"It might have been terrifying but I wouldn't be the chef/manager/engineer/footballer I am today without it."
"What doesn't kill you only makes it stronger!"
"If you can't cope with someone screaming at you, how will you ever cope with the pressure of a busy restaurant/call centre/construction site//footy field?"
"I graduated from the School of Hard Knocks or the University of Life and no-one laid out any red carpet for me! Why should I do it for others?"

But here's the rub. How does that person know they wouldn't have been a good practitioner if they hadn't been treated appallingly? What doesn't kill you only makes you stronger... unless it doesn't.Some players can get a "bake" from the coach at half time and it drives them to lift their game. Others will crumble and be incapable of performing because they've gone from the eustress (positive, energising stress) zone to the distress zone.

And, yes, many jobs have either a high emotional labour aspect to them (e.g. child protection worker) or must be performed under acute pressure (air traffic controller, Special Operations Group member, Olympic gymnast, on-baller in a Grand Final) but pressure is not distress and acute pressure is not trauma.

In an interview with 3AW last week, I was asked about millennials who'd been branded "Generation Hopeless" by an educator in the weekend paper. I pushed back. I do think parents have a moral obligation, even a duty to try to raise resilient kids. I'd like some of them to have more stick-ability - in case they need time to grow to love something they're doing - and perhaps it could be said they might want to be a little more patient as regards their career trajectory. BUT they want the sort of treatment at work we would have wanted if we thought we could get it and if we could have asked for it without someone sending the "Don't Come Monday" message. These younger workers weren't raised in the Great Depression or in a developing country and that's not their fault. It's not fair to say they're selfish even though for many of them charity begins outside the home. Why do I say that? Because some of them (and yes, some may strangely share my home address) may be more likely to want to volunteer in the Sudan than empty the dishwasher. But if they're going to work to knock off at 1am waiting tables to get to Sudan; that's a whole different kind of holiday than lying on the beach in Ibiza.

It's not being "entitled" or "precious" to not want dishes thrown at your head if you work in an industrial kitchen. I'd say deciding that's actually not acceptable means your head or brain is working pretty well.   

Yes we could go to another cliché and say: "If it's too hot in the kitchen, then get out" or we could take a leaf out of the recipe book of our young Josephine Pignolet finalist Chefs and say, how about we turn on the air con, lower the temperature and make it safer and more pleasant for everyone. As a Western Australian Anti-Discrimination commissioner said over two decades ago, everyone has the right to "quiet enjoyment" of their workplace.