Never let work get in the way of a good meeting. Just ask the public service bosses who subject their staff to long, unproductive catch-ups each day.
Or ask the writers of Utopia, who in the ABC TV comedy's latest episode give their prognosis of what's been called "the public service disease".
At any given moment on a weekday, somewhere in the Australian Public Service, in all likelihood a meeting is taking place. It's nearly as likely someone's time is being wasted and productivity is going down the chute.
We know many Canberrans, especially those in the public service, aren't fans of the charade.
Neither is Utopia's Nat Russell (Celia Pacquola) in episode two, season four, Working With Children.
She gets flown from Melbourne to Canberra after her appointment to the Prime Minister's project advisory council, and the prestige of the gig fools her into thinking it'll give her an avenue to achieve something.
Nat wants to bring policy to the table and asks colleague Ashan De Silva (Dilruk Jayasinha) for some options. The process-obsessed bureaucrat gives her the governance framework outline, diversity policy, and appointment and dismissal policy. He even hands her the staff survey (more on this later).
These probably would have offered enough strategic vision for the board. Nat reaches One National Circuit, Barton to discover that disturbing phenomenon of "the bored room".
The council exists for its own sake, its chairman (played by Peter Houghton) constantly deferring even the most cursory of actions to the next meeting.
Members are more focused on elevating their own importance than reaching an outcome.
One corrects the minutes from a previous meeting, which mistakenly recorded board member Richard as an "AM" when he was actually an "AO".
"Well spotted," the chairman replies. "Apologies, Richard!"
It's acceptable in many workplaces today to "call" in sick with a text message or email. In the Nation Building Authority, a newly-hired millennial helps stoke the reputation his generation has for impatient job hopping. He quits via SMS (replete with "crying face" emoji) after barely starting the job.
"He felt his career arc had stalled," the HR officer says.
"He's only 23, what arc?" an exasperated agency boss Tony Woodford (Rob Sitch) replies.
The departure sets off alarm bells for HR, which believes there's a problem with staff engagement. Tony thinks otherwise.
"How about they engage with their jobs!" he cries, before such commonsense is chided as "sharpness".
The millennials come in handy for the NBA, as it goes. The agency begins to draw on the tech savvy of a 15-year-old work experience kid, who is led to believe the ministerial briefs he's writing about blockchain are in fact school assignments.
Some in the executive of the federal government appear to need guiding. Whiz kid Daniel (Zen McGrath) is asked to write the briefings as if a sixth-grader will read it.
"So not a minister?" he asks. Tony's ambivalent reply speaks volumes.
Government liaison Jim Gibson (Anthony Lehmann) also wants to clear something up. What's 'A1', he asks. He means AI, as in artificial intelligence, Tony explains.
"Ohh. The PM thought it was milk. Better give him a buzz."
Tony soon finds his staff sidetracked as they studiously fill out a survey reaching deep into the minutiae of office life. He gets a "9/10" for "staff connection" after greeting executive assistant Courtney Kano (Nina Oyama). She gives him a "4" for "general workplace awareness" when he doesn't know there's a survey going on.
Speaking of surveys, let's look at what a recent one had to say about meetings. Polling from YouGov released this month showed one in five ACT office workers found meetings "boring", "uninspiring" and "unproductive".
Most Canberrans working in offices attended two or more meetings a day, and only 3 per cent said their meetings were usually less than 15 minutes long. In other words, if there is a "disease", it's an epidemic.
With this in mind, Utopia depicts the fate of anyone who pushes back against these realities. The final straw for Nat is having to return to Canberra - on the taxpayer dime - to sign off on the project advisory board's annual report.
She arrives to find "signing off" means "be in a group photograph" aggrandising all those AOs and AMs.
Nat loses it at the next meeting on video conference, and begins a tirade calling for a decision, any decision. The board finally reaches one, voting for her removal 9-1.
The staff survey makes its mark. Tony starts Casual Fridays. He experiments awkwardly with Yammer videos. And in the end, the Nation Building Authority literally goes to the dogs. Staff bring in their pooches and one relieves itself in poor Tony's office.
The Prime Minister, presumably disabused of his confusion between AI and dairy, calls work experience kid Daniel to Canberra. He wants "to show him around" before an ASEAN summit in Singapore on innovation.
Such kindness sidetracks the teenager from finishing his school assignment. The high school student is working with children, after all. Daniel's teachers end up giving him a disappointing B- for his elective, while the PM gets an A+ in press coverage of his technology speech in Singapore.
"Attention to detail is very important in life," Jim says of the teenager's grade, oozing the complacent wisdom of a fox.
Daniel was taken for a ride. For all he's taught the government, there's much he could learn from it.
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