Two solitudes – a poem

Two solitudes….
Two attitudes, two latitudes and two longitudes,
two journeys, from nowhere to anywhere
never bisecting, never deflecting,
never expecting to meet let alone compete for the same grey space between them
Unending parallels, separate white collar middle class hells,
An eternal modularity denting any hope of solidarity,
preventing any chance of breaching the duality
or reaching an understanding….

Which is why one early summer evening
as the city put its chairs on its desks and started leaving,
after another ten rounds of corporate affairs
and rubbed its swollen, watery eyes
another five percent off the footsie one hundred
diddled by another unknown trader
a pinstriped, adrenalin-riddled darth vader,
no longer a surprise and like anyone cares….
two lost sultanas in the fruitcake of life –
wannabe husband and usedtobe wife –
snuffed stomach-lining bananas and headed
from their respective dark satanic clerical factory
at opposite ends of the CBD
To the nearest fusion boozah
Lost in its own confusion,
freeport to every cruiser, loser, muser and battelcruiser
where if you could block out the sherbert waft of stale perfume
and cope with toe-puncturing standing room
it would get you through
till the 7.47 to Gidea Park
and the onrushing dark

They entered in synch, two doors, two distant shores
and as the throng parted like the red sea
two adjacent stools appeared at the bar
Not an opportunity for the complacent and so
in a moment of uncharacteristic serendipity they sat
a secret slapstick comedy
Two mild temporal platitudes,
two gratitudes,
the red sea lapped at their feet and re-joined
Two solitudes, momentarily conjoined….
A shared paralysed ineptitude, a social chasm
Waiting for a reflex or spasm, to ignite –
And then, amid the surrounding chaos
of the hazening night
Two conference papers sent simultaneously and soft thuddingly against the bar,
hands declared in nailbiting revelation
Workplace trends plays connectinghr:
A shower of pins dropped, cronos in his mighty tracks stopped:
Who wins?


We do a lot of rejecting hr, dissecting hr and deflectinghr
They’re a body shop
Registering birth and death
If you get a call between four and five, deep breath, it’s your P45
So what’s the reason for the assassin’s convention,
new modes of career prevention?
Massing to devise new codes for rejection,
with a big sing-song at the end
about how with business partnering nothing can go wrong?
Excuse my cynicism, there’s a mortal schism between what we both do,
We’re focussed on people, and so are you….

Are you in training?
Sorry I don’t mean lycra and step classes
Its just the way you look over your glasses
it’s like you’re making sure its sunk in
A total immersion, like a knowledge dunking
I’m Piers, if I didn’t mention
Rhymes with beers which suits my intention
And my tendency to ramble to break the tension
You may have to scream if you need to attract my attention
Or unscramble the stream….

You’re in OD? Is that a medical emergency?
Oh, Organisational Development, I see
For ours it’s a contradiction in terms, inherently absurd
We’re the Butch Wilkins of consultancy
We need to arrange a Beerhall Putsch to generate a spark of concern
Our business is change
But we’re DIY no-marks, we never seem to learn….

Our hr director is like a ticket inspector,
majored in the psychology of manipulation, must have a scientology fixation
I mean where’s the fluff and blether?
We have more than enough to go around – so
Let me tell you what’s burning in our mind
And you may begin learning that we’re an altogether
different kind…..

for one, we’re constantly wrestling with the future of work
If it changes and we don’t see it was it ever there at all?
Pestling ideas until they disintegrate, saturating from the endless cogitating
An almost catatonic state, a Camusian fall
See our crystal ball pulsate while we contemplate a high-tech state of nature,
a fatal rupture in the establishment,
the demise of the physical structure
and no place for a workplace consultant where there’s no workplace
Of course HR isn’t concerned with high-octane stuff like this,
An altogether higher inventive plane –
you probably think its all retentive guff…

We’re driven insane
by how can we enhance organisational performance
with the physical domain
And trying to design and deliver competitive advantage
when our workplace briefing is endlessly repetitive
And re-write the text so that each project doesn’t look just like the next
Tormented by how can we escape the seemingly endless monotony
of open plan, break-out, meetings and café –a design lobotomy,
So we pin hopes on technology that’s not yet invented
Name our space like our pets
and squeeze acronyms into faded aspirations
no regrets when our pre-occupied scheme wins BCO accreditations
we pour in the people like milk on our cereal and add sugar to taste
and wonder if the dream was all just a waste?

We can’t help thinking that social media
and our dispensation toward coffee drinking
Will be the fragmentation of the workplace,
casting it to the four winds of cyberspace,
How will our people feel connected and engaged
when cast adrift, rejected, dejected, right royally stiffed,
enraged having loyally served, alienated just when liberated
But I don’t suppose matters of this kind shatters the calm of an HR mind….?

So how are you stress levels?
Are you supported, motivated, valued, invigorated
Are you well, and if not how can you possibly tell?
Do you have a place to chill, work out, meditate,
and if you’re ill but don’t know it, contemplate lifestyle choices
Even if all you hear are little voices saying ‘Kill! Kill!” – ?
Can we design wellbeing, are we part of the problem
or is there a panacea we’re just not seeing?

Can a workplace create a normality
that our networked informality may obfuscate?
A home in the wilderness of ephemery
to which we migrate, through unconscious memory….?
Anyway look, I’m spent,
I should relent and let you tell me – what’s your torment?

Workplace Trends?

Looks fascinating, the pictures of those offices are so motivating
not like our shotgun shack,
not even Craig Knight and his flotilla of pot plants would put our place right, held together with saliva and blu tac
the last survivor
renovated just after the cavaliers capitulated

We just can’t afford the dreams of those who think they’re PWC
all that showboating gadgetry would have the competition gloating with glee, another twenty percent on every fee
the ruinous price of sustainability
And what’s the price of that gargantuan anonymity?
When Dunbar says I can only know a hundred and fifty
Why be the Smartest Giant in Town
If all I get is a laptop and a self-reliant frown
Where’s the intimacy
in being a dinghy on the open sea?
Like Brian Szpackowski says, I just want to be happy…..

My name’s Caroline by the way,
rhymes with wine which suits the occasion and pantomime which describes what I do
Not great being white Caucasian
with no distinguishing marks of diversity
when you’re an HR director,
fifty three, thirty years and counting I’ve seen it all me
Used to all be tea and tampax of course
when we were Personnel but now we’re business partners,
Not that you can tell,
sat at the top table but stuck at the end where no-one can hear us,
our own empty shell
at least Personnel sounds like people or personal, the “human” and “resource” just commoditise
hardly a surprise when all we seem to want to be is commercial;
You see you’re nothing if you’re not a strategy
But now no-one trusts us, severed our roots they say,
dead tree standing,
icon of the past and now dispensable
With the hours we work it’s indefensible underhanding,
we care about our flock, but we’re now in executive hock,
grappling with our own image
our loyalty split like a sappling,
if only we could find a way to re-engage…

Our workplace manager runs the place like Il Duce
I know it’s a cliché but clear desks, files away, we asked for fresh flowers for the hours we spend there every day
and got a barbed wire bouquet, its no wonder we feel this way….
Let me tell you what’s smouldering in our mind
And you may understand why we prefer to leave all that property stuff behind…..

Top of the pile is the future of work,
we’re stuck with a creaking model of the tied corporate peasant,
nine to five, five days a week,
expect you present and if you’ve no good reason we’ll consider it treason Job title, role specification, salary band,
and for the lucky few the helping hand of a training plan,
Woe betide anyone complaining
Happy with the structure for decades
we’ve been caught cold by the rupture of social media and changing expectations,
nothing fits our machinations anymore, we’re bust, flat broke –
But I suppose for a workplace bloke that’s all just a bore….

So how can we make the car go faster for longer, with a more comfortable ride
When we’re strapped to the outside?
We can make a proactive contribution
we’re not just a sticking plaster
We want to be the co-driver, orienting, wiping the visor,
Mentoring, the trusted advisor, an insight akin to second sight,
And happy to drive through the night….
It’s a dream we romance
A reality beyond the hype, if we would only be given the chance
But I don’t see your type pondering productivity….

Attraction and retention?
It’s all an invention of the crisp-white-shirted convention,
No, we’re cleaning out the stable for the runners and riders
they expect us to source,
Whatever happened to the job ad, the CV, the certainty of three interviews, a pressed shirt and a psychometric test?
Social recruiting, it’s the latest Trojan horse used in the war for talent
But there’s no Troy, and the only Achilles in this sorry ordeal is our punctured heel
We’re more likely to be struck by lightning than reach the albescent
leaders of tomorrow hiding amongst ordinary civilians,
or working in a beach bar in the Lesser Antilles
we just can’t create the compelling offer – it’s not enough that we can line their coffer – but you’ll spend no time dwelling on this stuff….

And of course with social media everyone’s a personal brand
we’re not sure where we stand any longer, individual identity just gets stronger at the expense of control and direction
everyone’s so connected
they’re facing a different direction contemporaneously
with us, and without, simultaneously –
we’ll need a three-dimensional employment contract next
and a consequential deployment of patrol bots
to know where they are and what they’re doing
We used to worry before about catching them snogging
in the stationery store, a manageable deviance
now its blogging under an offshore flag of convenience
but I don’t suppose you bother with this rapport…..

But even when they’re finally on the payroll
Keeping the seventy nine – no eighty – viral strains of the 2st century apocalypse at bay is impossible
Airborne, waterborne self-induced, psychosomatic or totally obscure it seems its down to us for identification, prevention and cure
We know Doctors like Oseland and McEwan
but quackery isn’t their doing
We need a blanket of wellbeing,
any kind of antidote to the perennial sicknote of the millenial
lock the doors, keep them all in and stop them seeing anyone,
or is that all just a bit extreme?

You started all this, I’m one mouthful away from needing to head to the station and yet approaching hyperventilation
Sorry to unload, bet we’re glad you don’t do what we do
Never work with people and animals unless you’re forced to
Shame our worlds are entirely divorced
We might have found some solace in the descending mist
Shame the evening is ending,
And I’m not even half – drunk….

It was well past eight thirty
When two sets of papers were scooped into the wrong cases, and two happy faces with cards swapped slipped into an empty street
Both pennies halfway dropped
Enlightenment half complete
So this is where the journey ends
connecting hr and workplace trends
two solitudes, one common ground
our circles concentric,
common populations, organisations, aspirations, incantations –
we’re all eccentric, but inherently people-centric
our primal condition,
the fundamental recognition….
So if a poetic refrain is what it takes to explain that solitude is pain –
For those within who are not quite sure,
I’m just going to lock the door – and read it all again…

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