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Doris the Tea Lady – Can you come back?

By John Hargreaves - 19 January 2015 9

good-coffee

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…

What’s Your opinion?


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9 Responses to
Doris the Tea Lady – Can you come back?
1967 1:32 pm 20 Jan 15

Ahh, the coffee run.
Seen by many as a right, and a sign of social standing.
Where I currenly work, we have a fancy, brand name coffee machine and all pods milk, sugar and bisciuts supplied, but people still feel they can just get up and dissappear across the road for half an hour. Certain individuals, who appear to have no shame, will drift into the office late, log on, and shoot straight out to get coffee, often in a large Percolate, (which, I believe, is the collective noun for Coffee Runners).
The worst of them will spend half an hour wandering up the street for their coffee, then on returning to the office, sit in the tea roon for their allocated 15min break.

Wow, thats better.
Thanks for listening.

Maya123 12:29 am 20 Jan 15

We had tea ladies for many years, and one was actually called Doris. And tea lady meant tea. No coffee. There was a tea room and two large pots of tea and cups and saucers would be sitting on the counter for the staff. Then the tea ladies were done away with. The tea room continued, but staff had to make their own tea, or (instant) coffee. We were too far from any place to zip out to and buy coffee. Then the tea room was done away with. If staff wanted tea or coffee they had to make it at their work area; health and safety considered. Most staff stopped taking the ten minute morning and and afternoon breaks and worked on, because there were now no tea rooms.

cranky 8:51 pm 19 Jan 15

Going back MANY years.

DFAT

The ex tea lady (promoted upstairs) who struck dread into any minor dippo who had the temerity to sign on late at the attendance register.

Toes, you are remembered.

John Hargreaves 4:10 pm 19 Jan 15

John Moulis said :

Ah, the tea lady. I remember when I was at Finance in the mid 1970s one of the guys in our office always referred to “the dulcet tones of the tea trolley”. I went for an interview at Education in the old MLC Tower, Woden and I told them back at Finance that the tea lady came in during the interview and had a full selection of cream biscuits on the trolley. The union delegate in our section almost called a strike and demanded to know why our tea lady didn’t have biscuits on her trolley as well.

Ah…the good old days. Have to say that my dear tea lady added a bit of character to the place and was a cheerful addition to the place. Pot plants and drinks machines just didn’t cut it.

Incidentally, when I was a minister, I used to make coffee at our machine for whoever wanted it. very egalitarian but missing that je ne sais quoi!

VYBerlinaV8_is_back 3:56 pm 19 Jan 15

Evilomlap said :

This has absolutely no bearing on my ‘productivity’. It’s not the hours you spend at work, it’s what you do with them. I have colleagues who spend 8-10 hours glued to their office chairs who are less ‘productive’ than those who take a smoko every 2 hours and go on ‘coffee runs’.

In my experience (as a manager) there are generally two types of staff: those who measure hours and those who measure output. Output-oriented people tend to get their tasks done regardless, and should be left alone to get their stuff finished. Clock-watchers tend to be a lot less concerned with achieving anything useful.

If people want to walk for a coffee, I don’t think it matters much. Similarly, providing coffee and tea tends to reduce the excuses for the clock-watchers.

John Moulis 3:11 pm 19 Jan 15

Ah, the tea lady. I remember when I was at Finance in the mid 1970s one of the guys in our office always referred to “the dulcet tones of the tea trolley”. I went for an interview at Education in the old MLC Tower, Woden and I told them back at Finance that the tea lady came in during the interview and had a full selection of cream biscuits on the trolley. The union delegate in our section almost called a strike and demanded to know why our tea lady didn’t have biscuits on her trolley as well.

Evilomlap 1:07 pm 19 Jan 15

I keep instant coffee at my desk. It saves me a lot of money considering take aways are about 4 bucks a pop. This has absolutely no bearing on my ‘productivity’. It’s not the hours you spend at work, it’s what you do with them. I have colleagues who spend 8-10 hours glued to their office chairs who are less ‘productive’ than those who take a smoko every 2 hours and go on ‘coffee runs’.

Genie 10:50 am 19 Jan 15

My former department supplied fancy expensive coffee machines, milk, tea (black and green), instant coffee and even milo.

After getting grilled too many times at Senate Estimate regarding the cost to maintain and stock tea & coffee for the plebs, the supplies slowly dwindled and it was decided once the coffee machines broke – they wouldn’t be fixed or replaced. Staff had to bring in their own milk, tea or coffee.

With no (decent) coffee shop in the immediate vicinity, staff took to then disappearing for 30mins at a time to walk to a better coffee shop, wait their turn before returning. I highly doubt anyone declared this on their flex sheets. I sure as hell didn’t on the off chance I ducked out for a hot beverage.

I was sadly mogged to another department before the milk supplies were cut off, but the new department I was moved to supplied nothing. (No biggy for me, I drink tea – no milk, and supplied my own) But they had the worlds smallest fridges, each day you’d hear about someone stealing someone elses milk, or their lunch got thrown out to accommodate for more room in the fridge for everyone supplying their own 2L bottle of milk each week. It was a disaster !

Personally I’m all for the department providing tea & coffee. I think it increases productivity by having staff go to the kitchen for a coffee and not the coffee shop a 10 min walk away and helps with staff moral by not dealing with milk thieves.

neanderthalsis 9:49 am 19 Jan 15

We (private sector, white collar, professional) have purchased two nespresso machines to do away with the need for regular coffee runs. Sometimes there is still a need to head out, especially for an off the record chat with someone. We have caffeine on hand, it saves the staff a considerable amount of cash (3 coffees a day at $4 each adds up) and while it is difficult to calculate the caffeine based productivity increase, I’m sure we are better off.

Harking back to tea ladies, on a recent trip to Japan was speaking to a corporate executive about productivity and their aging coupled with a compulsory retirement age of 60. He responded that even though many jobs seemed menial, they still were done with pride by the workers, but lamented that with many people retiring and a very low birthrate for the last generation or two, they would have to do away with many of the positions and bring in contractors.

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