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Watercooler: I want to be alone!

Some years ago, just as 'spa experiences' were becoming fashionable in the UK, I witnessed a male executive in my organisation suggesting to a female colleague that she should invite all her female clients on a spa day. I found his stereotyping and blithe assumption that everyone would find the invitation irresistible rather appalling.

I slipped away from the danger zone quickly to reduce the risk of getting roped in to represent the home team. It might be the perfect day out for some people, of course, but the thought of sitting around barely dressed with colleagues or clients could not appeal less to me. I don't possess the greatest body confidence anyway, but I've also had an unfortunate experience: I once visited a thermal bath house on a trip abroad only to be greeted by a sign banning swimming costumes--followed by a parade of mixed bathers sporting towels around their necks, rather than their middles.

Don't get me wrong: I couldn't be happier receiving a massage or a facial treatment, just preferably in peace and quiet. When I emerge, skin-stroked, soul-soothed and mostly incapable of coherent speech, I prefer to remain in this uncommunicative, semi-meditative fug for as long as possible before being dragged back to conversational reality.

Of course, times have changed and the downturn has given organisations rightful pause for thought on the hospitality front. Client and staff entertainment budgets were sliced after the financial crisis of 2007-08 as companies re-examined their costs. When the going gets tough, employee motivation is particularly important and, as headcount and desk coverage thins out, it's hardly appropriate for managers to be seen to be growing fat on corporate hospitality.

Today, as we dare to suggest a semblance of economic recovery, savvy managers are intensely attuned to keeping a lid on costs. Smartphone technology and the increasing ease of connectivity have stoked hot-desking fever and few employees can claim a piece of office real estate for their own. First-day introductions of "this is your desk and here are your new neighbours, Jane and Miguel" are a thing of the past.

I don't believe that this is such a terrible trend. The very idea of sitting at the same workstation, day in, day out, for years to come was an energy-sucking prospect for me ("this is Jane, your mentor; this is your desk, your dementor"). Of course, my fears were utterly unfounded, because only a few months will ever pass before there's another "office reorg"--or, as I call it, the fight for natural light.

A plastic crate with a jaw-like lid is delivered to your desk and you diligently promise the office manager that you will purge as you fill it, only to leave the task until the last possible moment. With one wholesale sweep, you empty the contents of your desk's drawers into the crate, which will be regurgitated--sorry, I mean unpacked carefully--at your new location on Monday morning.

One of the big benefits of hotdesking is that it enables you to move on when the need arises. Since so many of us dine "al desko", I think employee appraisals should be adapted to consider how noisy an eater you are. Loud mastication is becoming a serious workplace gripe, right up there with the state of the toilets and the use of corporate jargon. I'm fond of apples and my family tells me how unbearable it is to listen to my incessant crunching. I used to eat them at my desk every day, so I must have been incredibly irritating to my fellow office-dwellers.

Hell is other people

Throughout my career I have travelled both alone and with colleagues. As all diligent organisations should, when a number travel together, my employers have sought group rates, which would normally result in our sitting together. I've endured that only once. Before online booking was possible, I'd ask my PA (or even arrive at the check-in desk very early) to change my seat. When it comes to long-haul travel, I relish the chance to read, write, think and catch up on films. No matter how much I've loved my colleagues, it has never been enough to make small talk for hours on end.

Notwithstanding my selfishness, in-flight entertainment has improved so much. One of my favourite findings is the rather irritatingly named Wellbeing Channel. Eye mask on and wrapped in a blanket, I doze off to the sounds of relaxation. It's almost like being in a spa, so why on Earth would I want any colleague with me?

Julia Streets is the founder and CEO of Streets Consulting (www.streetsconsulting.com), an international business development, marketing and communications consultancy. She is also a writer and stand-up comedian. Her book The Lingua Franca of the Corporate Banker explores the "idiomsyncrasies" of business and includes a glossary to assist anyone who is baffled and frustrated by corporate jargon.

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Title Annotation:analysis of employee motivation
Publication:Financial Management (UK)
Article Type:Column
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Feb 1, 2015
Words:828
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