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Mona Lisa’s Smile

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Smile Like Mona Lisa

“Move quickly, or, the meat will rot,” shouts the new boss at an undisclosed warehouse somewhere in the Middle East. Well, it’s a little past 10:30 in the morning and already, the temperature is well over 37/38 ºC (100ºF) in the shade. A freight delivery of meat has just arrived from a small specialty prime beef distributor situated out of New York which has its meat processing operations out of Texas, land of the beef experts. It does not matter why the shipment is late, of course, you’re curious. In the future, it would be nicer to avoid these sorts of panicked moments. “Move it, move it, move it,” ushers the boss man as he commands his workers much like one commands cattle.

The food inspector lurks just beyond the chaos wearing sunglasses, trying to show no emotion. Almost smirking as if he has been tipped off about the late delivery? Who knows, maybe he is the cause of the late deliver? There is the inspector standing there watching the tick, tick of the wristwatch he wears as he is impatiently waiting as he counts down the minutes. For the moment, it could go either way, if time runs out in respect to food safety, he’ll be ready to jump in and do what he is trained to do.

The food inspector loses the bet. This race against time went quickly, but, the boss is master of bending time in his favor. All the meat is collected from the docks in record time, transported back to the warehouse in refrigerated trucks and rushed into the proper storage areas of the warehouse.

The boss grins, shouts a few insults that send his workers scurrying and he heads to his private office. Believe it or not, there is a bath tub in his private bathroom and he enters the room weighted down by two sacks of ice. While he could make slaves of his employees and have them carry the ice, he does not. The boss man is fixing to take an ice bath. Yes, you heard right, he is going to take an ice bath to soak off the sweat and heat that comes with being boss. How often does he do this? He won’t tell all his secrets, at least not today.

Ragging on the richness of experience that being salaried provides, about three years ago, a friend of mine,  Fahkr* was working in KSA as a Logistics Supervising Manager. He worked his way up and into this particular title with blood, sweat and tears. Working within a warehouse for a very high profile company that is affiliated with the Saudi Royal family came with its own stresses.

You weren’t just king of the warehouse, you were king of whatever sort of flood or mudslide any of your employees got into. One of the true realities of being salaried as opposed to hourly is that you will have some weeks when you just work forty hours, but, there are also many weeks when you work somewhere between 70 hours and upward to 80 hours a week.

You’d think that the worst of being salaried is when you get called in the middle of the night because one of your drivers got in an accident with one of your company’s tractor trailers. There are a number of problems that go down like a sinkhole swallows everything that comes in its path and if you don’t act quickly, it changes into a natural disaster like a mudslide that devours everything that’s in its path.

Meanwhile, inside your mind is something of a combination of a tsunami and a hurricane combined which both threatens to wash away everything or pick it up and toss it in the air; either way, you’re talking about massive destruction. So, it’s really about collateral damage, how do you manage your sanity while evaluating reality to come up with the best course of action to escape absolute destruction? The answer is, there is no formula to it, but, first, you smile like Mona Lisa, hoping that people wonder your secret and find you mysterious.

Mona Lisa Smiles

Maybe if your smile is mysterious, maybe the people will forget about the problem; delusion, it’s easy to wish for that kind of outlook, but, delusion never helped anyone. The problems are real and Fahkr cannot pretend otherwise. Taking a deep breath he thinks, Mona Lisa smiles, you smile like Mona Lisa. Utter nonsense and blood pressure lowers into a normal range so that you deal with the problem at hand.

On the one hand, you have to stand for the company. On the other hand, regardless of what happened, this is your employee and it is in your best interest to defend your employee first. Maybe your reason is as selfish as my friend admitted, it’s all logistics. The truth of the matter is, the very process involved in hiring a replacement is lengthy and daunting. There is something worse than having a driver with a mark on their driving record and, that is, having a no driver at all. Now, the employee in this company generally would be fired, that is, if you follow the rule book.

The problem is the rule book needs to be updated and each boss that has preceded him as a logistics supervisor has not taken the time to update the manual or the business practices stated in the manual. Thus, he puts himself on the line by going against policy. While normally, the logistics supervisor would fire the driver it just is not necessarily done so immediately.

On a good day, the drivers are a liability. Now, there are resulting fines you’ll have to pay including paying the bail to get the driver out of jail. You do this because each employee has a work contract that is a certified paper which the sponsoring company has already paid the government for. A lesson in business is, there are no shortcuts, you don’t throw away money that’s already been spent, even when it means you have to spend a little more money to grease the wheels so to speak.

The liabilities of the driver continue beyond the short term, the fact that was conveyed to me was, an employee that is marked by the Saudi police is an easy target in the future. The company takes the hit, as they rightly should do in adherence with the laws that are in place.

The fact is, the company overloads their trucks because they are understaffed. They are understaffed because they like to keep more profits for themselves. So the cycle goes where the understaffed are overworked and the likelihood for accidents increases. This balance between business best practices and testing the limits of laws results in the need for a fall guy.

It’s kind of like a reenactment of the stereotyped mafia and how they operate. A good boss knows when to bring problems the corporate table and when to handle them personally. Now, the boss, in this case, the first boss in direct command of the drivers is the logistics supervisor. This boss has his own self-interests and he also has the best interests of his employees in mind.

He wants to retain the employees he has because they have become obedient to his unorthodox method of management which is part bark and part bullying. Somehow, this commands the recognition that he is the alpha dog. Firstly, the only person that stands between the warehouse employee’s impending doom of being fired is the logistics supervisor who as the boss uses his own money to pay the jail fine to get his worker back. Then, he docks his employee’s pay. The employee somehow becomes beholden to the boss and is even more obedient than before.

Maybe it says there was some questionable behavior going on between the police where the fine is more like a bribe. As this was never stated directly and I never thought to ask, I cannot comment either way as, I honestly don’t know if that was a fact of daily duties as a logistics supervisor. Hahahaha and, if it was a duty of his job, it definitely wasn’t in writing, but had been passed down verbally through the chain of communication.

Nobody Knows Why Mona Lisa Smiles

This is where Human Resources came in. They loved so much the results of the management in the warehouse, they lay claim to the Logistics Supervising Manager. The only problem was, yes, you guessed it, finding a replacement. So, in the honor of accepting the one job title, he had to carry two jobs in two different places that were on opposite sides of the city. His salary stays the same because the company rationalizes that giving an employee experience is worth more in value and thus should not be paid to learn on the job.

So, Fahkr learns on the job and he pays with his time while searching for his replacement. All the time he is working, he is angling wolfishly with his eyes on the next advancement that could come into place. He is of course out of place, he is far from his home, far from his family and the fact is, his family helped him get in on an entry level job. The way this company operated still required you to prove yourself, but, it’s much easier to get ahead when you have the chief operating general manager as your uncle.

The dignified decorous and dainty men of H.R. quickly realize that they have a gray wolf on their hands, one that is both black nor white but is silvery gray like the fog and as the fog rolls in, they can see nothing of Fahkr’s whereabouts.

This made them feel uneasy because, he’d rush by in silence and they never knew if they were in on the hunt or if he had prepared them as the kill. They felt their own jobs become at stake because he questioned their practices of general operations. After one heated boardroom discussion, it turned into a verbal boxing club which then became between two men trying to jump over the table at the other to choke the other one out.

The thing is, both had good things to say and both had plenty to offer the discussion. As this group had operated formally together for years, they had never established a mediator or named one individual to chair the group. So it was with the introduction of a new person that a standard H.R. meeting turned into absolute chaos.

From what I heard, the most tenured man in the group burst into tears and threatened to quit. The wolfish new one, Fahkr was up to some tricks just for fun. He knew that in the painting of Mona Lisa, she didn’t fully smile and so he tried to lead them deeper into the mystery of this chaos.

He must have been trying to signal that he was no longer wanting to be a team player because, sometime shortly after this episode, he ended up putting in his own fiery resignation which of course included lots of shouting, throwing things about and the slamming of doors. That door closed on him.

While H.R. did everything they could to welcome him back, he refused. Fahkr chose to wear black like the Mona Lisa with her mysterious smile, he left there smiling too. Those that saw him pass out those doors that day said, he looked like the man in black, Johnny Cash and he was whistling the tune, “My Way”.

Well, the legend of Fahkr is nearing its end, but, his story didn’t end there. For the moment, he was still the man in black as he whistled; he got his own black mark. This mark was officially banned him from returning to work in Saudi Arabia for several years.

Where he works now, what he does is another mystery that will remain untold because he left a megalith of a company to be greeted by open arms of an economy that was soft, but, that’s another story. If you see this man that looks a bit like Johnny Cash whistling the tune, “My Way” maybe you can ask Fahkr and find out for yourself how it all ended.

*For the sake of anonymity, in this article, his name has been changed to protect his identity and the name of the company has been omitted as well. While he no longer works for this company, it is in the best interests of all involved to veil the past without pinpointing any particular person by name or the associated company or companies.

Naima Maria deFlorio

Makeup Art & Photography: Aya Nasr

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Articles

Was it Critique,Training or Bluntly Bullying?

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Artwork & Writing By: Rim Abdelhamid

At one of the call centers I worked in, since day one, the manager and the trainers who were supposed to help us learn and get adapted to the job, they kept telling me how much negative and depressing they think I am. They even went as far as calling me a DEAD person. My manager enjoyed making fun of me by imitating how he thought I used to speak or how I sound, saying that I have speech disorder -because this is “funny”- just a joke! He even tried to get others to join in. It was always the same excuse: they’re “trying to help me get better at my job!” Even though it had nothing to do with my performance and it started the first day I started work.

Let me tell you why -them trying to help me- was a lie? How this is not a critique but in fact bullying? What is the aim of bullies? What are the types of bullying in general? How do they start? And how to stop it?

What workplace bullying is…

When giving a critique one gives it based on actual facts. They could give a certain advice, or simply just tell the person what they’re doing wrong, etc… But it’s never calling them names; that’s abuse. What makes abuse turn into bullying is it not being on all employees but a specific one targeted, and over a prolonged period of time (not just one incident). The harassment behavior could be by one or more colleagues (subordinates and/or superiors), where the one being targeted is unable to defend his/herself. In that case it’s no longer a bad management issue, or a bad behavior by one individual but in fact one person being alienated; BULLIED.

How bullying is like at the workplace?

You might think it is physical? But no, bullies are smart! It cannot be psychical because it could cost them their job and even get them arrested. However, it’s a mental abuse. For example, telling you something hurtful in a way of “joking” or putting you in situations that could affect the quality of your work like unrealistic deadlines. Also, it could be things like yelling, threats or sabotage. Whatever it is, it is an action that could cause stress to the victim. And could cause them to feel trapped and it is repeated over time.

In my case, I was forced by that same manager to work overtimes and on weekends. And even without extra pay. Spending every day, and almost 12-13 hours a day, sometimes with no breaks, with no time to eat and no way of getting good sleep or the rest my body needed. And I couldn’t risk losing my job. Why though? Why would someone bully another at work? POWER AND CONTROL. The bullies in this case just want to feel in control and they do it by bringing others down. In my situation, I was the only one in my team with past experience in that field, the only one who didn’t need training so that was my manager’s and the trainers’ way to “put me in my place”. They didn’t have any real critique so they tried to gain power by verbal abuse, by overwork, by putting me down and stressing me out.

What makes victims not speak sometimes or have a hard time reporting the issue? Because of the charming personality of the bully. You’d think you can tell that the person in front of you is a bully but it’s actually hard to tell. Since bullies manipulate others with poker face. They are self-centered and in some cases sociopaths but likeable.

I was always being told it’s an “advice”, they’re “helping” me. All in the midst of me being bullied. I was made to think I deserved the way I was treated.

In other cases, bullies could come after you in a non-direct way. For example, by emailing a manager telling them you’ll meet a certain deadline when it’s impossible for you to do so, they’re not coming to you directly but instead they’re putting you in a situation where you can’t really decline, knowing you’ll be in a hard and stressful situation. They could work on making you lose your job in that same manner. So basically, they’re not monsters hunting you down literally, they’re just that guy/woman sitting next to you smiling while putting you intentionally in stressful situations. Making you feel stuck all the time.

Well, how to stop bullies?

The thing about bullies is that they test their target victim. So, if you right away push back, you’ll be ok. But if they managed to get to you, they won’t stop easily. You need to always address the situation head on. Call out the behavior and leave the situation, no matter how awkward or uncomfortable it might be for you at that specific moment. Instant action is a must. You should also document every single detail big or small. The reason why sometimes bullying incidents go undisciplined is the lack of evidence. Stick to facts, to what happened and do not allow anger or other emotions to cloud your action. Then reach out to the HR and bring the incident to their attention.

To conclude the key to end bullying is to remain calm, confident and immediately push back, by calling out the action then reporting it if it’s repeated.

If there is anything, I wish I could have done differently is not letting my emotions control me. While I didn’t get angry, but instead I felt stuck, depressed and worthless. I let them put me down and I accepted the idea that I deserve to be treated this way, this is why I never reported what happened. I should have only focused on achieving my target because that’s what evaluates the quality of my work, not what anyone thinks. I wish I could tell my old self that: “Harassment, stress and overwork do not help anyone. Teamwork, respect and positive work environment does. Always know your work duties (targets) and your rights as well.”

If anyone who’s going through the same experience is reading this, I hope you know now what to do.

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Articles

Work Slave

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Written By: Yasmine Gazzarine

Edited & Published By: Mariham Magdy

Nowadays, HR managers struggle with work place ethics. At this critical time where every detail is shared on social media, we, as employees, are not prudent enough to choose what to share and what not to share.

On the other hand, HR is confused what could be the criteria to judge upon or what should be taken seriously and what should not be taken into consideration regarding the employees social media posts.

Let me take you through my personal experience; I’m a consultant and trainer, in addition to my full time job, out of my bigger aim to influence the new generation. One day I found my personal photo among my trainees printed by the work printer. In a way or another, I knew who printed it.

The surprise was that it’s my dear beloved boss who did so, I confronted him in front of the section head and he just snapped shooting “I’m your boss and I’m free to do whatever I see appropriate, you’re my subordinate and I got unlimited authority to investigate you”.

For a moment I saw myself wearing prison outfit in dark dungeon dragging these feet cuffs and this big metal ball. Is working in an organization means being deprived from your free days? To cut it short I took my action to condemn this act as freedom trespassing which is illegal and unethical.    

That drives us to the concept of work place ethics, does that means policies and procedures within the organization?!, or is it a personal factor depending on the culture, behavior and heredity ?! Going through some search we can easily find that the work place ethics definition is “the ability to maintain proper moral value within the workplace”. It is an attitude that shapes the way an individual performs his/her job duties with high moral standards.

This leads us to a more important question “Do you want to be a boss or a leader?” supportive or frustrating? In my point of view, every boss should or better be a leader. If you recognize that one of your staff has a potential or a sparkling skill, please win this employee, benefit from him, make him or her your ambassador.

As he/she demonstrates his/ her skill inside or outside the work environment he/she makes the organization image very good. As he/she delivers the level of professionalism within your organization outside…imagine what would this add to you later on?

Moreover, the competition between work-mates should be healthy and for the best of the organization. There is nothing wrong if your subordinate excels you in some skills or in some domains. Work environment is all about integration.

May be if we put clear fine-tuned policies and procedures this can enhance or guide the existence of preferable work ethics and their application.

In the Egyptian work environments there are always written policies in the background but what really rule the situation are norms. Egyptians are emotional people who are prone to consider anything you post on social media a direct projection on somebody or a certain situation.

But as HR, shall we take what’s posted on social media seriously?! or am I supposed to monitor every post of every employee?! In my humble opinion if a post contains bulling sentence against a colleague or the organization I shall take it seriously only in this case.

Anyway to avoid such problems, simply set rules, communicate it and apply it over all the organization. Be aware not to encourage ever an employee who spread rumors or snitches even if it’s for your own benefit cause Karma always gives you back what you give.           

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5 Reasons Why Smoking is Good for your Employees and Workplace!

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Written By:
Mahmoud Mansi

The average number of smokers consume around one pack of cigarettes a day or less. During their working hours they will take at least five short breaks in order to smoke. During these short breaks there are various unnoticed benefits for the concerned employees and for the organization. No doubt smoking has its harms as a habit, however we can see a different perspective…

1-Back, Neck and Eye Pain Release

Continuous working on the desk causes back and neck pain, same goes with staring at the screen for a long time and forgetting to rest. Nonsmokers in most organizations tend to spend more time on their desks forgetting all about taking short breaks.

2-Brainstorming and Communicating

Many smokers would agree that during their “short breaks” they mingle very well with colleagues or managers, talk about KPI’s, discuss concerns related to work, suggest ideas, share solutions and communicate more freely than inside the office environment.

3-Meditation, Less Fatigue, More Focused

If not mingling with others, some of the smoking breaks are all about solitude, spending time with the self, breathing slowly and contemplating the view or some ideas. This solitude and quick meditation gives the person the chance to take a mental and emotional break from the stress environment then return back recharged and ready to complete the day.

4-Fresh Air and More Exposure to Sun

Employees are almost trapped all morning and evening at the office, they forget that they need to breathe fresh air instead of the air conditioner and be exposed to natural sunlight. Many employees suffer vitamin D deficiency because of that reason.

5-More Connected to Personal Life

Usually spending most of the time answering office calls, emails and delivering tasks on the laptop or doing some paperwork, employees forget to check their social media updates, call a family member or answer a message sent from a friend. Work keeps them detached from the community and it might cause increase in stress or anxiousness. With breaks employees tend to check their personal messages and have a chance to connect and fulfil their social needs.

Solutions!

Healthwise, smoking is harmful, and smokers – like all other people – are attached to a habit. Every person has a different habit that they wish to change or not!

The purpose behind this article is to see the other side, and how professionals can change the system of the organization in order to provide the discussed five benefits to ALL employees (smokers and non-smokers), and therefore have a working environment that cares about their employees’ backpain, neck pain, eye dryness problems, providing channels of informal communication and innovative ways to brainstorm, caring about employees’ fatigue and nourishing their souls and minds with meditation, giving a chance for employees to be daily exposed to the sunlight and nature, and giving some measured space for them to connect with their families and community.

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