When I left the ACT public service (and before that, the Commonwealth public service) I had just short of 30 years’ service.
When I started (in the Palaeolithic period), we had to sign on and off in an attendance book, and had one hour for lunch with two fifteen-minute breaks per day. Tea and coffee were served at the desk by the office gossip, the tea lady.
Then, as part of the efficiency drive, the tea ladies were dispensed with and coffee/tea machines installed, but the breaks were maintained at 10am and 3pm. All very regimented.
Then came flexitime, later called Flextime. This meant that one had to record every minute away from the office, but one could extend the lunch break and bank extra time (not productivity – don’t be confused here) so that one could work a nine-day fortnight. All on the honour system of course.
This was all very good until it emerged that folks were getting to work early because they could beat the traffic, have a coffee and a chat with colleagues before actually starting work at the usual time while still earning flex hours. Hmmmm.
Then entered the tea room. Coffee/tea dispensers were done away with and kitchenettes were installed with Zippy water heaters and fridges. One made one’s own beverage and took it back to the desk, after stopping for a chat, of course.
But then the ‘coffee run’ craze hit. Coffee outlets sprang up everywhere and provided ‘real coffee’ in takeaway form (just like stars of the American TV shows who walk and talk while carrying a very large coffee cup at waist-height).
This meant of course that one had to leave the office altogether, walk some distance, wait in the queue, pay the bill, walk back to the office and consume the coffee before getting on with the job. Of course, it took two people to go on the run to get four coffees, and occasionally an enterprising individual would get a four-cup throwaway tray and help three colleagues out.
I wonder, as do many current day managers in white collar industries (not only public servants but bankies, law firms, accountant firms etc.), if the development away from a regimented tea lady system actually delivered the productivity savings it was supposed to deliver. When you add to this “coffee run” to the smoko a couple of times a day, you really have to wonder.
I don’t yearn for the past but wonder if things are just a bit out of hand…