The Australian Tax Office is urging staff to report colleagues who are taking long lunches, or wasting time by eating breakfast, or reading the newspapers at work.The ATO management has warned staff that falsifying their working hours, or slacking off could, be considered fraudulent.
I do not think that is so extraordinary. I was, in a brief, fleeting moment of madness, an employee of the Commonwealth Bank in Perth. It was a perfectly agreeable job, but the unhappiest time of my life. I was not meant to work in a bank. I was bored rigid. The rules were strict, which did not trouble me for a moment. It was the tedium of process which broke my spirit.The ‘bank’ was considered a fine career in those days; employees were given interest–free homes loans; the salary was generous with automatic annual pay rises; free health insurance; travel allowance; living away from home allowance if you were outside of the metropolitan area; clothing allowance for women; prospects for promotion were excellent; transfers came without warning, and you went where you were sent without argument, even to remote country areas. Also, it was highly discriminatory. The rate of pay was less for women; female employees had to be single – they were forced to leave when they married; advancement was strictly through the secretarial career path. Comptometrists machine posting of the day’s trading banking transactions were all female, and more highly paid. A skilled and accurate operator was much prized. They balanced the branch trading bank at the end of the day. Everyone stood around waiting. I remember one operator, Gail, at the Cottesloe six-person branch, was quite brilliant. She posted at the speed of lightening and never made an error. Most days, she had balanced the bank by 3.30 and we were gone! The bank opened at ten and closed at three, except on Friday, when it was five o’clock. Most days you were out of the place by 4.15, sometimes earlier; and in the summer months, headed for Cottesloe beach.
The staff rules were strict, and not to be broken: men wore long sleeved, white or blue shirts with a tie, a suit, black shoes and socks. Sports jackets and blazers were not acceptable; hair short and tidy; no strong smelling after shave, cologne, or per-fume for all employees; women wore navy blue skirts with anon-shee, preferably collared,white blouse, stockings (not black or coloured) and navy blue or black high-heeled shoes; navy blue cardigan – jumpers were not acceptable; long hair had to be tied-back; no coloured nail varnish, long finger nails, or obvious make-up; most women wore a petticoat; you bundied (clocked) on-and off, regardless. (Bundy was the brand of time clock); categorically, no private phone calls or visitors, except in an emergency; no eating or drinking at your desk – in fact, food was not allowed in the office; no leaving your work station without permission; lunch was 45-minutes, and morning and afternoon tea, 10-minutes – no longer; the staff canteen at head-office provided subsidised meals – and they were terrific.
No-one left until the bank was balanced and the day’s work completed. Staff waited to be told. It was also an era of no flexi-time and you were paid for overtime. Annual leave was taken once a year, and 12-months from the day you started, regardless. Married men with children could apply for summer leave. You could choose to take less than the given four-weeks and allow it to accumulate with your long service.
The accountant, Tom Aram, was a wonderful man. He sat in the middle of the huge office space, on the corner of William and Hay Streets, in a glass portioned office, and watched. He ruled with a rod of iron, and brooked no slacking. He expected a day’s work for a day’s pay. That is not so extraordinary. It was an extremely har-monious workplace.
The standard of dress was markedly different in time past.Your office wardrobe was entirely different from your leisure apparel. Most large business companies provided uniforms for women. In recent times, I have seen clothing which was more appropri-ate for a rave party than for the office environment. Feminists, and some men, would argue that clothes do not make the job. I would agree, except the lowering of standards does, unquestionably, affect general attitude and the ethos.
T shirts are not appropriate for an office environment, and no argument will convince me to the contrary. The Education Department, or whatever it is called these days, was forced to make it clear that shorts and thongs were not an acceptable standard of dress for their male teachers.
Why should an employee pay you while you eat your breakfast, pay your bills, deal with all the dramas in your life, check your emails, send text messages, answer your mobile, chat to your friends about what you’re planning for the weekend, and wander around the office gossiping? I am not suggesting it should be like Scrooge’s office from A Christmas Carol, but I do not think it unreasonable for an employer to expect an employee to fulfil their part of the arrangement.
The total number of lost hours of productivity in the days of yore was miniscule com-pared to the current prevailing ethos. People went to work to work – if that makes any sense. It seems to me some people go to work to rest and recover from a hard weekend. Get on and do the job for which you are paid. If you do not like your em-ployment conditions, open your own business and you can do exactly what you want; slack until hell freezes over! I reckon you would be singing a different tune in that case.
Roland can be heard each MONDAY morning on 3BA at 10.30.