Unwritten rules, expectations and furrowed brows

On the first day in my previous job, I brought my bike right into my office.

“Oh,” my supervisor said, “they’re going to want you to put your bike in the outdoor cage.”

The cage is like a bike rack with police tape around it. “Hey,” it announces, “these bikes might be worth taking a look at.” It offered slightly better security than police tape, of course. If you were using really thick police tape. well, that would be a different story.

I kept my bike in my office.

On day three, an email came from Corporate Services:

Government Services has advised me that bikes are not allowed in the building and have asked me to pass along that message to you.  There is a locked cage/compound off the alley that has been designated for employees to secure their bikes if they are not comfortable locking them in the [non-cage – ed] bike racks.  If you would like me to show you the compound please come see me.

Thanks for your co-operation.

My response:

Is this a written policy? I’d like to know if I can satisfy this policy without removing my bike. I’m concerned that my bike may not be as secure outside. Does the policy specify any liability the employer assumes for damage or theft? Thanks for offering to show the compound. I am aware of its location and the combination lock.

I kept my bike in my office.

There was no response to my email. There’s some funny things about bureaucracy. One of them is that if you practice civil disobedience you can sometimes get your way.

My theory… actually, the theory of civil disobedience… is that if you have a fairly reasonable justification for not following the rules, you might be able to make the powers-that-be engage in a dialogue about the policy. Ghandi said, “First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win.” I’d hoped someone would come and speak to me plainly about their interests and I could express my needs as an employee. We could negotiate and find a shared solution. Not so. I was ignored.

The week before I left, a full-fledged written policy on everything related to our use of the office space came out.  If it has to do with offices, it was in there. The author appeared to have been given a clear assignment: Whatever it is, offload all responsibility onto the individual employee. The only convenience to be considered is our own.

The section on bicycles says no bikes are to be in any government building. All liability resides with the owner of the bike. I’m disappointed with this policy, of course. It is completely organization-centric and has nothing to do with the interests, needs or engagement of public service employees. A sort of a black mark, I’d say, against an organization pursuing a brand of “employer of choice.”

Perhaps, if I was still there, my bike would still be in my office. Maybe I’d have gotten a “fight.” I think I would have enjoyed that.

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  1. Kelly #

    If you were still there and your bike was not… a tiny piece of your soul would have left with it. Thanks for never giving in. (I would have enjoyed the fight as well).

  2. 2

    Can you bring your shoes in the office? Is there a compound for winter boots? Maybe they were worried that people without an office wouldn’t have a nice warm dry place to put their bike. But I know you’d share your office with other bikes.

    SFX: head scratching


  3. Chris #

    HaHa! This is a very interesting situation. It would be interesting to know exactly what drove the need for such a detailed policy on the office environment within the Gov’t. I suspect that it comes down to one thing — they would like to avoid clutter and the janitorial staff is afraid that bikes will track dirt and grime into the buildings. This would then make the job of the janitorial staff more difficult. Even if my assumptions on the reason are incorrect, the powers that be obviously did a piss-poor job of explaining the “why”. Instead they chose to hide behind bureaucratic procedure. Classic! Perhaps they could spend more time and effort on program delivery and cost management than worrying about this particular issue! Sad. It should be noted thought that governments don’t have a monopoly on bureaucracy — lots of large corporations would probably have gone down this same path, depending upon the corporate culture.

  4. Nevin #

    That’s funny David, I was ready with that exact same boot argument. At some point, I quit trying to give them the benefit of the doubt for a rationalization. I’m pretty sure this wasn’t based on reason. This was based on the firm knowledge that bikes have no place indoors, ‘nough said. [spits tobacco]

  5. Nevin #

    Thanks Chris. I think, rather than hiding behind “authority” or bureaucratic procedure, this would likely work better if they simply just didn’t weigh in. 95% of individuals would be happy following the implied expectation that you put your bike outside. In classic big organization form, they made a rule for the exception. It’s a rule that does more to state “we’re not progressive,” than it does help keep the floors clean.

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