Date: 15 May 2015.
Location: Piccadilly line. I spend a lot of time on public transport.
I work at a company that goes a bit crazy about its strategic ‘vision’. We set outrageous goals — like positively impacting the health of 250 million people and cutting our carbon emissions by 15% — many of which directly filter down into our performance review and bonuses. Our CEO also has a strong view on what our vibe should be. He wants all 80,000 employees to be able to say ‘I feel healthier because I work here’, ‘I am satisfied that the company is contributing to a healthier planet’ and ‘I love working here’. This vibe is measured by company-wide survey each October. Last year 98% of employees across the globe responded. It’s a big deal.
This week was ‘Thanks!’ week, an iniatuve in aid of helping us all love working here. It’s been one big warm fuzzy hug of a week. Posters everywhere remind us that a simple thank you can make someone’s day. Branded postcards have been strewn about the building and you’re encouraged to grab a handful, write a thank you note and send it in the internal mail to someone to whom you’re grateful. Yeah, it’s naff. But it’s a beautiful idea. And, as with Valentines, it may be cool to scoff at the sentimentality of it all, but it’s undeniably lovely to have one land, shining, on your desk.
The business has gone a bit overboard.
On Monday morning our lobby contained a barbershop quartet in company colours. As I walked in an HR representive whispered my name to the singers who then sung me a personalised welcome. ‘Good morning Alex! Welcome to your week!’. Grinning, I took a postcard and scrawled my first thank you — to my unstoppable PA.
On Tuesday it was giant blue balloons filling the lobby and free coffees.
That morning I found a thank you postcard taped up in the lift. It said: ‘Dear lift, you’re the wind beneath my wings. Thank you for lifting me up every day. Love from a grateful employee.’
On Wednesday, it was free hugs and puppies in the lobby. Yes, puppies. I paused for a quick snuggle (with dog only). It in the lift, I noticed that a response had been added to the postcard taped to the wall: ‘Dear employee. Thanks for this. I’ve been really up and down lately. Regards, the Lift.’
On Thursday morning the senior management were grouped in the lobby playing bouncy house music, handing out green smoothies and tossing around blue beach balls. I quickly escaped to the safety of the liftwell where a distinguished older gentleman was waiting.
“Bit much for a morning?”
I glance up, still waking up. He comes into focus and I agree, “It’s just all a bit much before I’ve had my coffee.”
The lift doors open.
“Four please.” A moment’s silence.
“Where’s your accent from?”
Lift chat is not my forte, but I don’t mind talking about myself (oh go on, if I have to).
“And what do you do here?”
“I’m in the legal team. I was in the Australian legal team — in Melbourne? But but now I’m here. In the UK team.” (Genius.) “I’ve been here about 3 months.”
He glances down at my lanyard for my name. “Alexandra?”
“Oh, yeah, Alex is fine.”
“I’m an Alexander. But a Sandy.”
Apparently we’re to move away from my preferred chat topic. But the lift is coming to a stop anyway.
“Well. Nice to meet you Sandy. And what do you here?” I ask as a courtesy as the door bumps open.
“Oh, I’m the Chairman.” His eyes twinkle.
“I — ugh.” I freeze. Blush. Stumble out of the lift. “Have a nice — day!”
So, I’d just met the Chairman of our board. Baron Leitch. Self made millionaire. Pal of Tony Blair. And my first peer of the realm. Should I have curtseyed or something?
Finally, on Friday afternoon I took the stairs out of the building. Taped to the wall was another thank you postcard. I stopped to read it: ‘Hi stairs. The lifts have been getting a lot of attention this week but I wanted to say thanks to you too. From the employees on the 4th floor.’ And a scribbled response: ‘Thanks employees. I’ve been having a rough week but I’m taking it step by step.’