“Can’t you see I’m eating?”

Here’s a reportedly true story that both asserts the state of the work ethic in Trinidad and demonstrates the deft use of a sense of humor in a maddening situation.

A woman – let’s call her Rachel – went into a public service office on her lunch hour to take care of a pressing matter. She walked up to to information desk to find the station unmanned but a few feet beyond was a woman sitting at a desk, eating her lunch and reading the paper.

In the window was a sign that said “Next Counter Please” with an arrow pointing to the adjacent – also empty – window which also had the identical sign pointing back to the window she was standing in front of.

Rachel looked at the empty window directly in front of her, then over at the empty window to the side, and then at the woman, who now clearly aware of Rachel’s presence, rolled her eyes up to just over her glasses without changing the angle of her head or missing a chew. She said nothing, but was now gazing squarely into the eyes of my friend. Another forkful into her mouth … more chewing.

The awkward absurdity of it all made Rachel smile broadly just when a young man walked through a side door and proceeded to walk right past the information desk. He seemed to work there.

“Excuse me,” said Rachel, ” Could you read this to me?”

He looked confused as he stopped to confirm her request, “You want me to read something to you?”

Rachel proceeded to hand him what she had quickly scribbled on the back of one of the forms on the desk, saying “Yes. Could you please read this to me?”

The man accepted it and proceeded to read,

“May I help you?” he read.

I got a chuckle out of this and the rest of the story is not important. What is important is that it illustrates what a complete lack of professionalism and work ethic looks like.

It is amazing to hear the number of business people and managers that complain about the bad attitude of staff, the unwillingness to do one iota more than what ever is in their job description, the extreme sensitivity to perceived slights, and the sense of entitlement that is characteristic of a very large percentage of the work force in Trinidad and Tobago.

And not to be one-sided (thanks for the reminder Gerard) it is also amazing to me to hear the complaints of staff and mid-level mangers about the arrogance, disrespect, incompetence, insensitivity, and complete lack of emotional intelligence of many bosses.

If any of what I describe is true for you, “Oh, woe is you.” 😉 Just kidding.

Seriously, what can you do?

There are of course no easy answers and certainly no quick fix. All that there is to do is cope as best you can with your current situation while devising your plan to improve it; whether your plan is to affect change or even transform your current work environment, or to leave it for where the grass “looks” greener. And then of course act on your plan.

This issue is important to me, not only because I want more for the country of my birth, but because the fundamental causes of the lack of work ethic and professionalism that I describe above exists all over the world, wherever the basic education of young people fails to teach them the meaning, relevance and value to them of failure, responsibility, and integrity; where young people are taught to practice finding answers and not formulating questions; that they should seek THE truth and there is only one version of it; that success comes from innate talent or luck and not from diligently practicing the skills necessary for success; that education is something that you have – as in a degree – and not an ongoing never ending practice of learning to better take care of your concerns and those of your communities.

I don’t believe in bad people, just bad situations that produce people who behave badly, and I see my work to be about changing situations. Changing the situations that produce bad behavior is a more effective strategy than trying to change or fix people.

I’ll be sharing my perspective on professionalism, bad bosses, and career in coming posts. Please let me know of any questions, topics or perspective you would like me to address.

Any thoughts? Contributions/acknowledgments welcome.