The Mountain Times

°F Fri, April 18, 2014

Central Vermont's Most Popular Weekly Newspaper

WARNING: This is a touchy subject

We Boomers were raised with an old-fashioned work ethic. Our parents believed in longevity on the job. In other words, you found a job, worked there for 30 or 40 years and retired. During those years, you worked 50 weeks a year and enjoyed the patootie out of your two weeks of vacation. You only used a sick day when you had a near-death illness. You were thankful for your annual raise, you were loyal to your employer and you considered yourself a part of the team.

My friend Janet has this work ethic. She went to work for a very large insurance company many years ago - the same company where her dad worked. He took a transfer from New York to South Carolina to open a new computer center. Janet transferred with him and had the same plan as her dad - work for this company until it was time to enjoy retirement.

But a breakup of this large corporation into two separate entities resulted in layoffs for many, including Janet. Her mid-life crisis now included trying to find a new job competing against a younger work force. But she persevered and found a new job, again hoping to work there until retirement. And then the economy tanked and she was the victim of yet another layoff.

After sending out hundreds of resumes and registering with temporary agencies, Janet found a temp job that she hoped would turn into a permanent position. Like she did with all her previous employers, she showed up early every day, kept her nose to the grindstone, performed the task at hand and proved she was a dedicated, loyal employee.

Last week Janet walked over to speak to a co-worker, a female in her mid-20's. As she leaned down to have a conversation with the girl, she placed her hand on the top of the girl's back. It was a friendly gesture, something she would do with a niece or her godchild - who happens to be my daughter. But this co-worker didn't see it the same way. Long story short, Janet's assignment was terminated the next day because the girl filed a complaint with the human resources department.

I don't know about you, but this story caused me to have a "really?" moment. I was flabbergasted when Janet told me she was once again unemployed and this was the reason. Have we become that cold?

I remember my first job in an office environment. It was a summer job at my mom's electronics firm. I worked in a different department than my mom, but when I took my morning break, I would spend it in her area. I loved the camaraderie. Though they worked hard, they spent a lot of time cutting up and telling jokes. Some of them were a little off-color, but nothing outrageous. A radio was always playing in the background and if a popular song came on, someone might jump up and grab a co-worker for a quick dance. If somebody had a good-looking donut or bagel, you asked for a bite and they gave it willingly. And nobody thought anything of it.

My first "real" job after college was at an office in Manhattan. We were small, about 20 employees, and we were like a family. If you wanted to chat with a co-worker, you sat on the corner of their desk. If you were both smokers, you lit up and shared the ashtray. Three-quarters of the staff was Jewish, but every year we decorated a tree and had a Christmas party. No one was insulted by it and celebrating a Christian holiday was in no way a slight on anyone else's religious beliefs. Heck, it was just an excuse to have a party so we could socialize after office hours.

At five o'clock on the dot, every day, Lou Siegel broke into his bottle of scotch and lit a cigar. Anyone was welcome to join him. Lou was known for telling jokes and stories, some racier than others. But that was Lou and if you didn't appreciate his sense of humor, you simply left the room.

And we touched. We hugged Rose when she told us about her husband's heart attack, we hugged Roz when she told us she was getting married and we hugged Carol when she announced she was pregnant. And no one felt violated.

Today, I work in an office at a job I love, with co-workers I adore. But no one tells jokes for fear of offending religious, political or lifestyle beliefs. We can't wear perfume in case someone is allergic. If you cough outside someone's office, they pull out a can of Lysol. If you use someone's phone, they pull out a disinfectant wipe when you are done. Hand sanitizer is everywhere. And no one touches.

The day I stop being a touchy-feely person is the day I die. In a world that has become cynical, uncaring, violent and numb, some hugging and patting on the back just might cure a few of the ills. I was raised with affection, I raised my girls with affection and my grandchildren are being taught to be primo huggers and kissers. I just hope it doesn't turn out to be a career-ending trait for any of them.