October 3rd, 2010

Mr CEO, I am an adult, may I pretty please go on YouTube and Facebook now?

I am an adult. I have been for some time actually.

It started when I turned 16 years old, and the government of Ontario decided I was old enough to drive. It continued when I turned 18, and the government of Canada decided I was old enough to vote. One year later, I was deemed old enough to order alcohol in a bar. (Yes, it’s ironic, but that’s Ontario for you.)

Eventually, I bought a car (the bank decided I was adult enough to pay back the loan), a house (ditto for the mortgage), and another (ditto for the bigger mortgage). I got a credit card, then a couple more. I got married, had two children. Together with my husband, we’ve raised these children into teenagers, which is a superhuman adult feat in and of itself.

I pay my taxes, my mortgage and my credit cards. I put savings aside for my retirement. These are things that adults do. I know this because my teenage children do none of these things.

I am a professional who takes her career seriously. When I was pregnant with my first child, I went back to school part-time in the evening to get my MBA. When my second child was born, I took time off from my job, at my expense, to finish that degree for once and for all. Years later, I studied weekends and evenings to get my PMP certification.

And last year, I started this blog. It’s my blog: I bought the domain name, I pay the host fees and I squirrel time away to write it in it. About, what else? Project management.

On my 45-minute drive into work, I listen to podcasts about business, marketing, project management, technology, social media and other head-exploding subjects.

In other words, not only am I declared an adult by various governments and financial institutions, I act like an adult. I act like a responsible professional and citizen. And, you know what? I am hardly special. Most of us are adults, doing adult things.

So please explain this to me: why is it that as soon as we walk through the doors of our employers, we are treated like children?

According to this survey of 1400 CIOs, 54% of companies do not allow employees to visit social networking sites for any reason while at work. It’s done under the guise of promoting productivity: “Using social networking sites may divert employees’ attention away from more pressing priorities, so it’s understandable that some companies limit access,” said Dave Willmer, executive director of Robert Half Technology.

What utter and complete poppycock.

It is in reality all about control. And lack of trust. It reflects the Theory X management style which presumes that the employee is lazy and does not want to work, cannot be trusted, is a potential thief, a child, someone who needs to be controlled, supervised, who doesn’t know any better than the wise and oh-so-benevolent management overseeing them.

How insulting.

As always, Scott Adams puts it so much more eloquently, doesn’t he?

Dilbert.com

Blocking social media sites is equivalent to the company us telling us “Sorry, dumbass employee, you are too stupid to understand how to control your time. So we’ll do it for you.”

At this point, I’m tempted to write about how social media is revolutionary (it is), about how it’s good for organizations to learn and understand social media to grow their business (it is), about how social media actually increases productivity (it does). But I will write that blog post another day.

Because that is not the point. The point is that I do not need a company, a CIO or a CEO to decide how I spend my time at work. I am capable of doing that all by myself. Why?

Because I am an adult.

Lessons from a 14-year-old. I don’t block sites on our home network. Because I refuse to treat my children…well…like children. I figure the best “family filter” is me and my husband, peering over my daughters’ shoulders saying “Whatcha doin’? Whatcha looking at? Who’re you chatting with?” And they answer if they don’t want Administrator (that would be me) blocking their access. (Yes, I do know how to do that. I simply choose not to.)

So, one day, I asked my 14 year-old about her Facebook use and getting homework done. Here’s what she explained to me:

“Facebook is great. I love it for staying connected to my friends. But if it’s on, I get distracted and I don’t get any work done. So, when I have homework to do, I turn Facebook off. And when I’m done, I reward myself by going on Facebook and chatting with my friends.”

So, let me get this straight: she manages her computer time, keeping an eye on her personal productivity. And, when she has work to do, she shuts it off. All by herself.

Gasp! Is this possible? You mean she didn’t need a CEO or a CIO or her Mommy blocking sites on her computer so that she gets her work done?

Wow. Do you think that maybe I, an adult, and a professional to boot, could possibly acquire that skill? Just like my 14-year-old?

Apparently not, according to 54% of those 1400 CEOs and CIOs.

Do knowledge workers only work between 8am and 5pm? Here’s the thing: knowledge workers are not factory workers. We don’t punch timecards. We are not always “on” just between office hours. And we’re not always “off” outside of the office.

Just as I sometimes wake up in the morning thinking about that project problem that’s bothering me, or I stumble on a solution to a business problem while doing tomatoes, or I am struck by leadership inspiration while watching Friday Night Lights, sometimes, sometimes, when I’m sitting in my cubicle, I need a break from work.

Like on those really bad days when I’ve spent the morning in a conference call getting beaten up (metaphorically of course) by an irate customer, when I’ve had to explain to stakeholders why that “itsy-bitsy” change they asked for actually adds six months to the schedule, when my lead engineer resigns and her only replacement already resigned one month ago, when our supplier is late on delivering a critical part for the third time in a row, when that expensive widget with an 18-week-lead-time fell off the truck just as they unloaded it…

…on those days, it’s nice to take a three-minute break and watch a YouTube video of three 14-year-old Italian boys singing a one-hundred-year-old Neapolitan song that used to make my homesick immigrant Italian parents cry.

It uplifts my day, makes everything just a little bit brighter, and sort of makes me believe that maybe tomorrow might be a better day.

And what in the hell is wrong with that?

You’re an adult. You decide.

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