Workplace Environment Lockdown

Question to Ask the Workplace Doctors about feeling caged: The workplace has degenerated to a hate filled environment and is psychologically damaging everyone there.

I am a passenger screener at a northern Ontario airport. We aren’t not continuously busy. There is a lot of downtime between flights. Our supervisor instituted an employee lockdown in the Preboard Screening Room in between flights. We literally look like caged animals or fish inside a fishbowl to all other airport employees and passengers. This lockdown came about at the end of May 2006. We sit in this glass bubble for approximately 5 hours per shift. We can only read work related material, which becomes redundant after about half an hour. We read the same stuff over and over again and again.

Morale has steadily gone downhill and I have noticed and experienced myself the demoralizing, regressive, degrading affects of this prisoner type environment. Then she introduced these break coupons, like the hall passes in school that if you do a good deed for her she rewards you with a happy face coupon for an extra 5 minute break. I have never, in my 30 years of working ever been subjected to such oppression in the workplace. Where can we go for help with this issue. I can’t find anything at Human Rights or Occupational Health and Safety to amend this concentration camp mentality this supervisor has. The workplace has degenerated to a hate filled environment and is psychologically damaging everyone there. What can we do? Yours truly, At the end of our rope

Signed, Feeling Imprisoned at Work

DearĀ Feeling Imprisoned at Work:

Hello! Thank you for sharing your concerns with us. I can understand how frustrating that could be.I don’t have a solid answer for you, but I do have a series of questions for you to consider on your own, which might lead you to some options or some new perspectives.

1. Who is in your chain of command who either knows about this and approved it, or doesn’t know but you think they should? Rarely does a supervisor have the authority to take this kind of action on his or her own. Nearly always such policies have been approved by someone else; if not directed by them. If that wasn’t the case there, it may be an appeal higher up would help.If you are able to do so, take a photograph and send that to the person in your chain of command who may not know what the area looks like and how it appears during this lock-down time. Document issues and concerns in case these aren’t known. Show the flight schedules and down-times and the patterns of work, if that would help. Think about the fact that it seems your supervisor is trying to find a way to make things better; even though the idea of extra break time seems like grade-school to you. If she stopped doing that, someone else would probably complain that they want the practice re-instituted! I’m not saying her ideas are the best. But, she may be as unhappy as you are about it, yet knows her job is to support management.

2. What is the logic behind it, from someone else’ perspective? A major policy is never instituted without a series of events leading up to it; if not in your area, in some other area, and this was a preventive measure. You may not agree with the logic for the policy, but consider the reasoning and see if there has been some incorrect information that went into the decision.

That also answers the question: What was happening before? Think about these questions: Were there safety or security violations? Were employee’s leaving without permission? /Did people come in who weren’t supposed to be there? Did it violate some airport policy or the specific airline’s policy? The bottom line is, what was the thought process leading up to this?As you consider those, it might at least help you see the perspective and also help you develop options that would prevent those things from happening, while still allowing less of an imprisoned feel.

3. The third issue for you to consider as you develop a plan of response is this: What would you be doing if you weren’t in the pre-boarding area? Are there other work-related activities in which you would be engaged elsewhere, if you could choose to do so? Or, is your work solely in that area? I ask that because if that’s the only place you are hired to work, there is no reason to be anywhere else anyway. Thus, the choice is either for you to be in that location, ready to work, or to be working part-time, spending those hours off the clock; not a good choice either.

4. The fourth issue: Are there other pre-board screening areas? If so, what do they do? Have you researched other airports to find out what happens in those pre-board screening areas? That might give you some options to offer.As I consider some of the airports I visit that have screening areas for specific airlines, I recall that until about a half hour before we’re allowed to go through screening, I see the employees sitting in the glassed-in area, usually reading or talking. So that might be a standard policy nowadays. In one airport I visit, people are always knocking on the glass asking to be allowed to wait, up to several hours, before departure. The policy is they can’t be screened or wait until a half hour prior. It’s frustrating for employees AND passengers. It would be worth researching to find out if other airports or airlines have developed options.

5. The fifth thing to consider is what you would like to see happening instead of the current situation. Would it help if the doors weren’t locked, but you still had to stay in the area? What if curtains could be drawn over part of the windows? Could there be a partition of some kind, to allow employees to read and relax, out of sight of passersby, but still stay in the area? Is there some activity you could develop that would provide something more stimulating than reading? Even reading personal material could get very tiresome hour after hour.If you are hoping to be able to leave the area at any time for extended periods of time, or to leave when there is no specific activity, that probably won’t be approved.

Essentially that would involve your company paying employees for eight hours pay, while only receiving a few hours on-site. On the other hand, perhaps there could be a rotation between that area and a down-time area, where other work could be done. Human nature is such that likely not much work would be done in that area though! But still, that might be an option. This is obviously a very difficult situation for you and the others, and I can imagine how dismal it must seem!

There are other occupations who go through similar situations and I can feel for them too. I’m hoping that when you fully analyze this situation, you can find some way to work with your supervisor and managers to do something better. You can bet they don’t enjoy the negative feelings that are resulting from this, and would love to have something better to offer employees. Of course, as Doctor Gorden often points out, sometimes things are bad and can’t be made better and the employees have to vote with their feet by leaving. That’s a very tough choice, but may be the only option. Perhaps there are other airport or airline functions you could do just as well, and not have such a restrictive environment. Best wishes as you deal with this workplace problem. If you have the time and wish to do so, please let us know what happens about this.

Tina Lewis Rowe

Tina Lewis Rowe

Tina had a thirty-three year career in law enforcement, serving with the Denver Police Department from 1969-1994 and was the Presidential United States Marshal for Colorado from 1994-2002. She provides training to law enforcement organizations and private sector groups and does conference presentations related to leadership, workplace communications and customized topics. Her style is inspirational with humor.