Letter #03: Where puppy pics go on your timesheet
Q: How can you justify the cost of paying for this membership as a business expense? A: Why it'll be your most essential spend this year in: Professional deve, Management/HR, or Market research.
Dear friends and colleagues,
As of last night in a rainy Price Chopper parking lot at 8:46 p.m., our family welcomed a new member!
To answer your questions…
We’re giving the name a couple days…
More pics below, but first—confetti release! We now have two Roberts’ Green Letter paid members. Welcome Lindsay!
We are “scaling up” toward 22,222 members—we’ll hit the hockey-stick part of the curve any day now!
The self-satire is complimentary to all readers, along with this entire issue. Today we answer the question—How can you justify the cost of paying for this membership as a business expense?
Join now and expense as any of the following:
It’ll be the most essential spend this year in that category.
Yes, I’m talking to each and every one of my professional colleagues directly. We are going to have a fun and great journey together this year, and there will be a short puppy video at the end of it.
We at Roberts’ Green Letter offer actionable emotional intelligence for responsible industry.
What do we mean by that? And why is the membership that Michelle and now Lindsay have purchased a steal at any price?
I’ll answer a question with a question.
Why are good people in good, well-paying jobs for good companies and organizations doing so many unproductive things, and feeling so bad? Including me and you, too much of the time.
I have a confession…
Here’s a bar chart I made of my time allocation for the most recent 10 minutes:
You already knew this, but labor costs as much as 70% of your expenses. The most recent statistics show you’re spending about 13% of that on your employees’ social media habit.
I’d say that’s very understated, wouldn’t you?
I love writing. It’s the most focused work activity I do. I work for myself and have every incentive to maximize my productivity.
And I spent the same amount of time in the last 10 minutes taking chewable office items out of my puppy’s mouth as I did “working.”
Not only that, but few of us have any way to measure this or have a conversation about it. Here’s Tristan’s official timesheet for that same 10 minutes:
It’s part of the employment contract, isn’t it? If not spoken out loud, it’s a social contract.
At Roberts’ Green Letter we put it in writing in our Personnel Policy. Let’s review the language.
“I, Tristan Roberts, do solemnly swear to make every effort to do work on work time.”
“But you don’t pay me by the minute, you pay me by the hour. And not quite enough with the COL going up so I’m going to manage my time how I like. When I put a round number on the timesheet we all know there’s a percentage of ‘overhead’ in that for stress-relief, work-life balancing, and texting/DM’ing memes about you to my co-workers while you talk.”
Got that? It goes on…
“Only Big Brother uses software to track employees. You don’t want me to call you out for making me piss in a jar at my desk on GlassDoor when I get recruited next year to work at Apple, do you? So lay off. And when you come and block social media at work, just know that you put our trust level in the toilet and I’ll just find another outlet, like bringing back (updating of course for gender-neutral bathrooms) the fun spot that was the 1980s bathroom. And if you tell me how much time to spend in the bathroom I’ll sue your ass in court and settle for a tidy sum.”
There’s also that unspoken contract with companies offering employees work-from-home.
We work longer hours and are available for even more, but we interlace even more social media, online shopping, and family time. Unless you use a time-tracker, which most people don’t like and/or don’t do effectively, we start to have no idea how much time we’ve spent.
This gets toxic for everyone.
The good worker bee in each of us feels guilty about this and works longer hours to make up for it. Those longer hours are less productive because they’re tired and less focused. It’s the home-office in the bedroom hamster wheel of death.
(Your mileage may vary—Wendy at HPDC has great work/life boundaries as a supervisor, for example. I’m making these statements as an amalgam of the zeitgeist.)
Meanwhile, the good family person in each of us feels guilty about the encroachment of work on life and brings work into more hours and more family activities. Even if you’re fitting a little work in, at least you get to be around your loved ones. And they can learn from the example set by mommy/daddy is working hard! So that you can afford to buy them the newest phone for their social media habit. It’s the work/life strobe-light of death.
What happens next?
Your “human capital” is your most important “asset” (in quotes because of the man-as-machine baggage) so you bring in “wellness programs” that have a machine-like quality to them. Their checklists “measure what you can manage” so as an employer you can look like you’re doing something about how burned-out everyone is.
You offer perks like membership at the gym and at National Parks. This is presented as a valuable perk but you bought it with a sweet bulk discount because everyone knows they won’t get used and is pure profit for the gym/park.
You use ratio analysis to get your Program Expense Ratio in line with ideals for your sector, all the while praying that your key funder/customer has the same flexible social-media-policy-at-work “understanding” of your actual productivity for them as we do at Roberts’ Green Letter.
You shift the conversation from hard numbers of widgets delivered or projects registered to harder-to-measure terms like “value” and “impact” and “C’s.”
What’s a C, you ask? Let’s consult the Roberts’ Green Letter Devil’s Responsible Dictionary:
C: Any credit, point, chip, offset, tonne (t), ton (t), impression, like, or other numerable-but-hard-to-understand-and-fudgy “objective” measure-looking thing for communicating your “impact.” Plural: C’s. Synonyms: TRM.
TRM: Totally Real Metric. Well, it’s more of a “metric” in quotations because it’s not a measurable yardstick-like meter exactly, it’s more like a PCR for how we would measure our work—if we were serious. See also: N-a-M.
Nat-a-Meta: Nature-as-metaphor. If you can’t come up with a C or an NRM, construct your organization narrative with a soothing nature metaphor. How about “leaf” or “seed” or “mycelial network”? Not a “fit” at this time? There’s always: Journey.
Journey: Don’t Stop Believin’. Please?
With these tools you can give your customer/funder the best narrative possible given that you didn’t meet their expectations and we all know it.
My son picks up an orange sometimes and calls it “A good snack,” as a parody of his dad.
I feel flattered that he’s parodying me and laugh along with him. I hope that you, dear colleagues, will take my satire with a similar emotion i.e., something like that… might I suggest 🤣 💗🙈?
But I also want you to be a little 🤬 off!
Not with me… Well, okay. Go ahead and be pissed at and with me. Like my puppy a few minutes ago when he let me know that he needed to go out but I didn’t catch the cue and he peed on the floor.
I want you to be pissed off because we’re doing the most important work on Earth and we’re not doing our best!
And that’s why Roberts’ Green Letter exists….
I just walked from where you see our puppy in the photo just above, at the shop door, to our house. He got a few feet on the path and stopped. I encouraged him with sweet talk. He didn’t move further. There was a small hill of ice on the path and I thought he was not used to it, coming from North Carolina. I cajoled him. He seemed calm but did not advance on the path.
We’re getting him used to a leash so he’s dragging it behind him even when we’re not using it. I look back at the loop on the end of the leash and it has fallen in a crack between the steps. He looks fine, but he simply can’t move forward anymore!
That’s all of us—we’re trying to be a good dog but we’re stuck on some flawed, unexamined thinking. Roberts’ Green Letter examines these elephants in the room, these invisible holds on leashes.
One more bit of satire and I’m done with it for today. Are we okay with poking a little more fun at ourselves?
I have two bosses paying my salary right now, so let me just check. (Join here to become Tristan’s third boss.)
“Are we okay with one more line of satire today, Michelle and Lindsay?”
Dang. I think a piece of fog ran over my Skynet-pointing two-way media beacon. Couldn’t hear their reply.
Good thing I have Roberts’ Green Letter member terms & conditions just for this situation.
Lovely colleagues, I’ll always ask forgiveness and never permission with free speech. Wendy, my boss in my part-time role at HPDC, and I went over this yesterday. Colleagues, customers, and readers for the last 20 years have always told me they trust my voice to be independent, supportive of you as a human and as a teammate, and values-first. As soon as I start checking with other organizations what our content says so as not to offend and to match their P.R. narrative, my value to you is lost.
That said, in any one-to-one conversation, including when you come on the podcast, my safe-space promise is to check before quoting. (Exceptions made for asshole behavior—with opportunity given for clarification.)
As I was saying…
Right about when you’re sick of not “moving the needle” and everyone else is a bit sick of you, what’s next?
You get recruited by Amazon or a cooler-sounding-but-harder-to-understand nonprofit with a budget for you to noodle around and fail-forward.
Am I being harsh? Let's be real.
We all have the sneaking suspicion that even while more smoke is coming off of the dumpster fire that is environmental regulation and progress in this country and worldwide, there isn’t the fire in the belly of the public to do any more for the planet than what is convenient and stylish. If the other half of the country disagreed with you on something as basic as masking during COVID, there are real questions about how you sustain or grow progress on the environment.
The “scaling” and growth of the shiniest innovations in responsible industry isn’t in most cases doing much more than pacing with overall economic growth and tracking with better-managed companies spending heavily on quality in the work environment. How much progress in environmentalism in consumers simply tracks with spending power? Wealthier people buy Teslas and build fancier all-electric eco-houses, and that’s considered progress. Wealthier companies with healthy margins (think Google, Home Depot, Chipotle) invest marginally more in green policies than competitors to stay ahead of consumer/worker expectations, and that’s considered progress.
Humans all over the world are simply living their lives. Traveling is such a good reminder of this—especially if you go internationally, like we did last week on spring break. There’s something about seeing other human beings in living conditions you’re not used to simply living their lives. At every level of human existence, we’re all doing the best we can, and no more. The IPCC models and U.N. SDGs that we’re already behind on tell us that doing what we can is not enough to save the environment. It’s not on a pace to attain a just planet before we go extinct.
Do I believe that we will fail and go extinct in some “Mad Max” scenario?
No. This is not our future.
I know this because of Roberts’ Green Rule #1:
Any projection of the future worth paying attention to is double-vision, and is always wrong.
That goes for:
You name it. The further in the future, the uncertainty increases exponentially.
Green Rule #1 describes our “projections” as “double-vision” because we build models of the future out of:
economic data and other TRMs that are made up but look objective;
and the fears and traumas we carry in our hearts and project on the uncertain and scary canvas of The Future.
As Dar Williams sang:
When you live in a world
It gets into who you thought you’d be
Green Rule #1 is a paradox, a Catch-22 (in the true sense of a Catch-22 that gaslights you and makes you feel insane) because non-interesting metrics are more predictable and less controllable.
How much sunlight hits the Earth is consistent year-to-year, and doesn’t matter, and you can’t control it anyway.
What we do on Earth with that sunlight is all that matters, and has so many variables with respect to carbon and health that projections of the future around this are useless.
How you feel today is all that matters to having the day you want to have, and we spend decades trying to feel good, and productive.
What is the optimistic-but-pragmatic path through all this?
What are the simple tools or questions you can include in your thinking today that will reduce your burnout and increase your awareness of better strategies?
How can you have more fun, say YES more to what makes you, you—and help your team/organization?
Roberts’ Green Letter will answer these questions and more, with humor, sass, and honesty.
I put my own name on the letter because of the values and emotions that I stand for.
No one can describe you better than your own customers. (Remember from Letter #02, you don’t get to control what other people say about you.)
On Monday, I gave a 60-minute guest lecture for a sustainability-oriented group.
Today was the discussion. I had to look away from the zoom and grab a pen as people said the following:
“Tristan’s talk was heartfelt and soulful and took me time to digest.” – Ashley Colby, Ph.D. Environmental Sociologist, @RizomaSchool
“I did not expect that presentation from Tristan at all and it was great. An excellent, surprising talk.” – Jordan Hedberg, Newspaper Publisher, Grass-Fed Beef Rancher, @JordanHedberg
“I love Tristan's vulnerability and openness and it makes me wonder about a lot of things.” – Greg Nelson, Ph.D., University of Maine faculty, @GregNelson
“This whole lecture was so inspiring. I really appreciate your honesty, and you’re an exceptional storyteller.” – Hannah Cramer
Roberts’ Green Letter membership will be all of the things those folks described, and more.
Thanks for reading! Please join me here in the ramp-up from 2 to 22,222 Roberts’ Green Letter members. If you’re already in, great choice! Leave a comment below to lmk how I’m doing.
Quill Nook Farm
P.S. As promised…
If you like these, join the Letter for more. Or less—you’ll be my boss and get to tell me.