Tag Archives: office

A Formal Look at Dress

By Jason Menard

Looking for a way to attract attention at your workplace? Nowadays, the best way to stand apart from the crowd is to wear a suit!

Save for lawyers and a few other choice professions, formal attire has gone the way of the dinosaur. Business casual is the style of choice and most places will even allow jeans on casual Fridays – or, in some locations, all the time.

Working in a business casual environment, my workday wardrobe largely consists of Dockers pants, button-down Oxfords and shirts, the odd polo, and the even odder sweater (odd in terms of frequency of wear – not the fact that they have little bunnies or kitties knitted on them). And while I like to inject my wardrobe with a little colour – a little pink here, a touch of lavender there, a splash of burgundy to round it out – many other guys in my situation seem to prefer to alternate between shades of drab.

In the end, we’re pretty homogenous in our attire. A dress shirt, unbuttoned at the top, casual slacks, and black shoes (because, as Frank Zappa once said, brown shoes don’t make it…). Today’s business casual can be summed up as functional, more-or-less fashionable (at least nothing that will bite us in the Dockers-clad ass 20 years from now), and comfortable.

However, despite the prevalence of business casual, there are still times when we have to dust off the old suit and put it on for the more formal occasions: awards brunches, business dinners, and the like. And the person then returning to their normal work environment is greeted with, “So, you have a job interview today?” or “Wow, you’re all dressed-up today.”

Maybe I’m feeling nostalgic for a time that never truly existed, but I find it sad that the suit is such an anomaly in the business world. I may be odd, but I like wearing a tie. I enjoy getting dressed up once in a while. Far from being stuffy and rigid, I find that sometimes formality helps you feel more professional and, by extension, more important. There’s really nothing wrong with being dapper.

Now, I’m saying that as a 33-year-old man who has grown up in a world – and worked in corporate environments – where business casual has been the norm. My suits have traditionally been reserved for weddings, funerals, job interviews, and the odd business-related function. And when I’ve traded my corporate hat for the old press cap, sometimes the clothing standards have seemed to get even worse.

But I was never forced to wear a suit and tie every day. While the generations before me may have felt that the liberating advent of business casual was an emancipation from the shackles of formal wear, for me there’s still the excitement of dressing up. I enjoy tying my own tie and ensuring that the knot is correct and the length is just right. I appreciate some of the smaller details, occasionally breaking out an antique tie clip and positioning it just so. To me, due to its relative infrequency, dressing up is an event – not an imposition.

That being said, perhaps the novelty would wear off if I was mandated to wear a suit each and every day. The conversations I have with my peers where we revel in the special joy of playing dress-up, adult style, simply wouldn’t exist. Collars that seem so prim and proper would quickly become stiff, constricting, and suffocating. The liberating feeling that formality provides would rapidly be replaced by an overwhelming sense of claustrophobia.

And even if I wanted to dress more formally, I couldn’t realistically do it in my environment. Even on the odd day where I’ve worn a tie to work – usually due to an after-work, media-related engagement – I’ve attracted comments and stares. But yet I still yearn for the days of yore.

I’d love to wear a fedora each and every day: tipping my hat in respect to women passing me on the street; and brushing snow off the brim as I hang it on the suddenly useful hat rack. Wearing an overcoat, a suit, and a tie – a product of a previous generation being reborn in today’s more casual confines.

But that’s the 33-year-old talking. The one who has never been forced to wear a tie. The one who looks back at old photos and imagines a time that may never have existed. And the one who is able to yearn for a periodic return to formality from the comfortable setting that business casual affords.

The good old days are never as good as we remember them. And maybe they’re not as good as we’d like to imagine them to be. But still, sometimes, I wish formality wasn’t just reserved for formal occasions.

2006© Menard Communications – Jason Menard All Rights Reserved

Corporate Verbal Hamster Bane of Commerce

By Jason Menard

Navigating the murky waters of corporate communications can be an eventful journey – creatures once thought to be extinct in the real world continue to thrive. In fact, there is one creature that does not just ignore Darwinian teaching – it literally defies evolutionary theory by its existence: the Corporate Verbal Hamster.

Those who suffer from Corporate Verbal Hamster Syndrome (heretofore known as CVHS) are amazingly adept at grinding the wheels of commerce to a halt. While the condition is not contagious and – unfortunately – not fatal, it does impact the lives and attitudes of those who are subjected to the corporate denizen infected with this condition.

The Corporate Verbal Hamster is so named because it continuously spews forth a stream of words, regardless of whether or not their opinion has been solicited or is even warranted. In meetings, this is the one person who must insert their commentary – I refrain from saying two cents, because I don’t want to overvalue their input – not just into each and every discussion, but into each and every phrase.

Like a human punctuation mark, one’s sentence apparently isn’t complete without the Corporate Verbal Hamster adding his or her words.

The sad thing about the Corporate Verbal Hamster is that they rarely add anything new or interesting to the conversation. Most often, the recycle or summarize statements that were able to stand up quite nicely on their own, thank you. Due to the fact that their mouths are constantly moving, their brains do not have the opportunity to engage in free and original thought, occupied instead by the need to focus on parroting back what is said.

Although perhaps that statement is not exactly fair. To the parrot.

You see, the average parrot has a little more common courtesy and social grace than the Corporate Verbal Hamster. To parrot is to repeat what someone else has said – thereby inferring that the parrot has at least allowed the original speaker (with the original thought) to finish the statement. The Corporate Verbal Hamster begins the repetition often in the middle of the original speaker’s sentence, preferring to complete it for him or her – and usually getting the idea or concept wrong, due to the fact that CVHS does not include premonitions or psychic ability as a side effect.

So frustrations mount, those who are easily dominated in speech sit back preferring not to engage in a war of uttering words with the Hamster, and nothing gets done. Because the Hamster has no original ideas and continues to utter the same things, pausing only briefly for half-breaths (taking a full one is too long), nothing new gets discussed and hours of potentially lucrative and innovative work time gets sacrificed at the feet of the Hamster’s affliction.

Unfortunately, management is often blind to CVHS, or unwilling to get involved. Putting it out of its – or more likely our own – misery is not an option either. Not for any moral or legal reasons, but rather simply physiological ones. Nay, one cannot starve this vile creature into submission as it feeds upon its own ego. Much as a flower uses photosynthesis to convert light energy into life-sustaining chemical energy like glucose, the Corporate Verbal Hamster is able to appropriate other people’s ideas and words and rehash them, making them their own and sustaining their very livelihood at the expense of others.

Like the Colgate Flip-Top Kids, this nefarious corporate beast suffers from a jaw seemingly on a hinge, unable to stay closed of its own volition. As such, it continues to open and shut, uttering inanities and filling the air with unwanted air pollution.

Yet, instead of simply filtering into the background like ambient noise, the Corporate Verbal Hamster’s words hang heavily around the meeting table, like the Sword of Damocles, weighing people down into submission.

So is there a solution? Should not the Hamster’s aura of intelligence be pierced by those realizing that the ideas and thoughts spewed forth are appropriated and not originated? Sadly, no. That’s not the way corporations work. The work gets done, often in spite of these people. They become isolated from the group, which only serves to feed the beast as the resentment of being ostracized only causes the Hamster to increase its sense of superiority.

Thankfully, with e-mail and new technologies, the Corporate Verbal Hamster is often restricted in its environment – its reach stunted by turn-based communications devices. And in today’s increasingly global and technologically based economy, that’s all we can hope for.

Corporations will survive in spite of themselves. And like groundhogs on a golf course, the Corporate Verbal Hamster is just one rodent that we’ve grown to work around. Until there’s a cure for CVHS, that’s the best we can do.

2006© Menard Communications – Jason Menard All Rights Reserved

Oh the Humanity!

By Jason Menard

Three hours – 40 e-mails. And that’s a quiet day. Anyone else think that’s excessive? Anyone else feel that cubicle-dwellers are just putting up more walls around themselves by trading expediency for human contact?

It’s not a new concept, it’s not a new idea, but our compartmentalized lives are negating the delicate art of human interaction. In fact, in the office environment I work, I can go days without knowing whether or not co-workers that share the same immediate office space as I are even here!

But whose fault is that? Is it a product of some faceless, omnipotent bureaucratic force – or is it the fact that I get so self-absorbed in myself and my work that I don’t make an effort to walk the 20 feet to see who’s there?

We’re only human, so it’s normal that we look to blame someone, or something, else for our trials and tribulations. However, this loss of human contact can’t be blamed on e-mails, Instant Messaging, or the telephone – the blame lies squarely at our own two feet. And it’s time for us to deal with it.

E-mail conversations are increasingly replacing simple chats as the preferred method of doing business. As opposed to actually GOING to someone’s desk and addressing an issue face to face, we e-mail a conversation. But, like long-distance chess, the end result may be the same, but the time between commencement and conclusion can be interminable.

I’ve had e-mail discussions that have lasted all day, when in reality the simple act of picking up the phone and calling someone – or, perish the thought, actually getting up and talking to them face-to-face – would have rendered the entire discussion complete within a couple of minutes.

But today’s employee measures efficiency not in the time it takes to complete a task, but in the number of tasks that they’re able to juggle at any one time. Multi-tasking is simply a fact of life in today’s hectic business environment, so the idea of dedicating a block of time to one topic – and only one! – is anathema to many people. By keeping their butts firmly ensconced in their chair, they’re able to have access to a wide range of activities. However, by walking away from the desk – cutting the electronic umbilical cord, if you will – we find ourselves lost and alone, disconnected from the so-called lifelines that have become so much a part of us.

Remaining sedentary, in the business world, can often be perceived as being productive. And getting up, walking around, and talking face-to-face with people can be perceived by others as a lack of commitment, wasting time, or – to put it bluntly in biz-speak – having too-familiar relations with a member of the canis familiaris species.

Let’s not vilify e-mail completely. Let’s acknowledge that e-mail has the power to bring people closer together and has completely revitalized the lost art of letter-writing (however, it appears to have not brought back a commensurate resurrection of grammar and spelling proficiency). I keep in touch with friends and family living in far-off places much easier than before the advent of electronic communications. Firing off an e-mail, and even attaching a few pictures, is a cheap, easy, and almost-immediate way for people to keep in touch.

But in the business world we have to prioritize networking, communications, and social interaction. Getting up to talk about an issue with a co-worker isn’t just socially rewarding – it’s expedient, productive, and effective. Importantly, it positively impacts the bottom line.

Tone, subtlety, sarcasm, humour, innuendo – all can get lost in the process of e-mailing someone. Real feelings can be hurt by virtual world, and often these are caused by a misrepresentation of the written word reflecting off a cold, emotionless screen. You don’t get that ambiguity to the same extent in face-to-face communications.

In the end, no matter what business you’re in, your end product’s target is human. So why don’t we involve more humanity in the process? E-mail is a tool, that’s it – it shouldn’t be the whole tool box. And I’d rather have a face-to-face with a repairman than a hammer any day – it’s a whole lot less painful.

The next time you go to send an e-mail, consider whether a more personal approach may serve you better. After all, we’re only human, right?

2006© Menard Communications – Jason Menard All Rights Reserved

Turning Down the Volume on Musak

By Jason Menard

If silence is golden, then why can’t we turn down the volume on that most insidious corporate invention – Musak?

It’s as if we have to have some sort of background noise to drown out the empty spaces of our day. Perish the thought that we could actually talk, think, or enjoy a moment of quiet reflection without some not-so-golden oldie wafting out of the omnipresent speaker system.

Oddly enough, it is considered rude to walk around with a set of headphones so that you can enjoy your own musical selections. And it’s not like people want you to share – considering the looks we throw people who are cranking the tunes in their cars with the windows rolled down, or carrying a ghetto blaster (am I dating myself?) around with them blaring their tunes to the world.

Yet, some corporate entity can choose to drown out your thoughts with their pre-selected, mood-setting song stylings. Pacify the masses with Celine Dion’s back catalogue, because we don’t want someone getting riled up by Led Zeppelin in the freezer aisle and going postal with a package of pre-chopped spinach!

The problem with this mentality is that Musak is offensive by its very attempts to be inoffensive. In an attempt to be as broad-reaching and appealing to the widest demographic, Musak prides itself on its commonality. It caters to the lowest common denominator of easy listening. Instead of trying to spice up our lives, the question we are given to ponder is what particular flavour of bland we prefer! Yes, I understand that Richard Marx is a person too – but one would think that being regulated to the Musak rotation would symbolize the nadir of your musical career.

Normally, I’m a proponent of the concept of voting with your wallet and staying away from places that use Musak as the soundtrack of their shopping experience, but it’s impossible when every corporate entity is drinking the same Kool-Aid – just in different flavours.

Whether it’s at work, at any grocery store, in malls, or even in elevators, Musak follows us like a wandering minstrel of mediocrity. Variety only comes in the style of Musak, not the content. Do I want to listen to an instrumental version of Air Supply’s “All out of Love” or would I rather listen to the live version? Do I take the orchestral version, the synthesizer interpretation, or the pan flute rendering from Zamphir’s Greatest Hits?

And instead of pacifying the masses, Musak can actually backfire. In one particular working environment that I’m familiar with, we’re blessed to have musical accompaniment in our workday. However, the service that provides the music seems to be stuck on a permanent loop. For any given one-month period, you’re treated to the same selection of songs – repeated each and every day. I try, as a general rule, to avoid Cher’s “Believe,” yet, short of taking a sick day, I know I’ll be subjected to it on a daily basis.

I may, one day, have to have a root canal that’s unavoidable, but don’t expect me to enjoy each and every day knowing that this particular musical procedure is on its way.

To top it off, our own brains work against us when it comes to filtering out Musak. Instead of filtering out the sludge and letting the cream rise to our consciousness, our brains seem to get a perverse pleasure out of subjugating the songs we may actually enjoy and only alerting us when the tunes we hate are polluting the air waves.

And I know I’m not alone in having one of these infernal songs insidiously worm its way into your consciousness – sticking in your head on an endless loop, unable to be willed out of your thoughts.

When it comes to music, variety is the spice of life. When I cook, I enjoy using a little bit of that and a little bit of this, depending upon the meal I’m creating and the mood that I’m in. I don’t choose to season each meal with the same amount of vanilla each and every time! So why do we expect the same of our music?

Musak distributors around the world, lend me your ears! If you’re going to infest our airwaves with this noise pollution, at least make an attempt to engage our consciousness. Though I may detest it, I’m willing to put up with a little modern country if that means that some ’70s funk may worm its way onto the playlist. Lay off the Phil Collins drum solos and infuse some steel drums, bouzouki, or even a djeridoo!

What’s the worst that can happen? You may wake us up from the stupor brought about by this non-offensive, vanilla-flavoured, which-shade-of-taupe-do-you-like-better, Musak for the masses. You may, in fact, engage our attention, broaden our minds, and make us more energetic and enthusiastic shoppers and workers. That sounds good to me!

2005 © Menard Communications – Jason Menard All Rights Reserved