Morale dipped after a week of working with the drone boss. You wouldn’t have been able to tell at a glance because our faces remained blank as ever.
Our reports, on the other hand, were filled with egregious, unprofessional typographical errors revealing the downtrodden mood wafting across the front lines.
For example, one detailed analysis of a new breed of genetically modified carp – designed with supercharged immune systems to resist the antibiotic-resistant diseases plaguing the species – replaced the word “carp” with “crap” 184 times, and the word “species” with “feces” once.
In another case a worker spliced in the phrases “it just doesn’t matter,” and “you are being watched,” in the footnotes of a study on global interest rate trends.
Both workers apologized to the team for allowing subliminal, and somewhat offensive, sentiment to subconsciously pervade their work. Intentional or not, the boss picked up on the cues and quickly responded to nip the sadness in the bud.
The boss announced, via email, the launch of the Happy Faces, Happy Places initiative, which would require every worker to display a smile on their face for 75% of time spent in the office, with a stretch goal of 85% for happy high performers.
“Science has proven that the expression on your face dictates your emotions,” the email read. “The more you smile, the less sad you will be. I expect productivity to increase and errors to decrease in lock step.”
To track facial expressions during regular business hours the boss would take control of the cameras on our computers, monitors and phones. A few workers hinted at rebelling against the somewhat invasive initiative. The boss suggested these resistors review their employment contract’s terms and conditions.
We eventually found a self-pitying humor in the situation – as a result the team’s smile rate averaged an exceptional 92% for that first day. Our radiating faces even compelled the boss to send a follow up email at the close business, brimming with praise for the team’s uplifting response to the new initiative.
He also correlated the strong start with that day’s excellent reports, which were nearly typo-free, save for one misstep where a worker accidentally used the word “Nazi” instead of “nascent” in a landscape analysis of the emerging autonomous vehicle industry.
On Day 2 of the Happy Feces, Happy Places campaign the smile scoreboard arrived. The installer wore a generic uniform and said the boss had sent him.
He noiselessly set up the smile scoreboard in about 15 minutes. Once installed, the smile scoreboard hung on the large wall opposite the drone’s bookshelf. The digital sign displayed real-time individual daily smile rates, along with weighted averages adjusted for time spent working. It also would break down weekly and monthly sentiment trends as the program proceeded.
We did not receive an email from the boss regarding the self-explanatory smile scoreboard.
For most of that first morning our smile rates hovered just above the required 75%.
Later at lunch we could all feel ourselves losing steam. The team agreed we needed some reinforcement if we were going to make it through the day, so we brought in a puppy – a stray puppy that had been milling around on the sidewalks and alleyways near the office.
In an email to the boss, we acknowledged the new puppy and promised to take responsibility for feeding and cleaning up after him. The puppy would be named Dennis. The boss did not respond and we interpreted his silence as approval.
That afternoon our smile rates shot through the roof.
Dennis seemed to have an immediate and preternatural understanding of the smile scoreboard. He could sense when a worker was on the verge of slipping below 75% and would scamper over to cheer up the individual with a wagging tail or a nudge on the leg with his nose.
In the days that followed, Dennis – a fast learner and hard worker – bounced around the office like a pinball to prop-up employee sentiment. The team never fell below a 79% smile rate, hovering safely above the minimum.
Furthermore, the quality of our reports also improved dramatically during that short span.
This all correlated perfectly with Happy Faces, Happy Places, and the boss frequently touted the initiative as an early success in emails and announcements through the drone’s loudspeakers.
However, the boss did not realize the increased productivity and improved quality was largely driven by Dennis. In addition to cheering up the workforce, the puppy had learned how to sniff out the typographical errors in our reports.
At first he barked at the scent of common misspellings and punctuation errors.
Then he learned to whimper at faults in parallel structure. Many of us kept packets of bacon treats in our bags and rewarded him after editing each report.
Only a week later, he advanced to find buried leads, run-on sentences, inconsistent tenses and overuses of passive voice. He signaled these transgressions by rolling over and playing dead. This also made us smile as we edited, and further boosted office smile rates.
At the end of the first month of the Happy Faces, Happy Places project things were looking up. Our typo rate dropped close to zero. The boss gushed with encouraging emails, the drone fell silent and the smile scoreboard glowed an exceedingly healthy 96% average smile rate.
It was because of this strong momentum that I hesitated to voice my concerns about Dennis.
Despite his uncanny intellectual abilities and can-do attitude, the puppy had developed a bad habit of pooping under the smile scoreboard at the conclusion of every work day.
It seemed the more grammatical errors he uncovered, the more poop he would drop; and he would do so angrily staring directly at the drone boss perched on the bookshelf on the opposite wall.
Fortunately these bowel movements took place after everyone else had left for the day, and the other workers had no visibility to Dennis’s struggles. The drone boss remained silent, dim red lights still blinking calmly.
I decided not to say anything and continued to stay late and clean up quickly before any stains or odors could settle in.
Painfully obvious disclaimer: This work of fiction does not represent my current or previous work spaces, smile rates or colleagues, canine or otherwise.
Photo: Daniele Zanni