Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Things I Don't Miss About Working for The Man

Yesterday was all about the strange sayings that bothered me when I was in Corporate America. Today I have a much less narrow topic... I'm going to vent about what bothered me most about working in an office environment overall. While some of these gripes are probably pretty specific to me and my strange quirks, I'm sure there will still be at least one complaint on my list that everyone can relate to.

Ten Things I Don't Miss About Working for The Man

10. Performance Reviews

Before all of my HR peeps get up in arms, let me state that I do understand the importance of feedback and setting aside time to dedicate to reviews to ensure that everyone knows where they stand with their managers. But it was just the process of pulling together these reviews for employees, and then receiving my own, that I found very arduous. I think it may have to do with the fact that usually you have to put down a specific number of "strengths" and "areas for improvement." That felt kind of forced. I would've rather thought it through and then written up more of a free-flowing document. That, however, wouldn't allow for much standardization across reviews, so I understand why there has to be a template that everyone needs to follow.

Additionally, I always tried to get others' opinions of my employees and then would put specific quotes in the review (usually only for the positive comments). I felt that doing so added validity to the points I was making and let people know that they were appreciated. But that was hardly ever done for me or a lot of my co-workers, so it just added to the sinking feeling that not everyone was taking the review process as seriously as they should, and despite the standardized form, your review was going to reflect not only the mood your boss was in the day he wrote it, but also the amount of time he had to spend on it.

Some companies do much better with this sort of thing, with not only "360-degree reviews" but group sessions where management talks together about each employee so that there can't be a strong bias from any one person.

Despite the fact that I took the process to heart and spent a lot of time on reviews for my employees, and despite the fact that--believe it or not--I always received good reviews, I still couldn't help but let out a groan whenever those emails from HR came out reminding everyone that it was "review time."

9. Unnecessary Meetings (and/or meetings where no one was in control/there was no agenda)

There are definitely people out there in the world whose mantra is, "When in doubt, call a meeting." Other variations are, "If you don't want to do the work yourself, call a meeting so that you can get someone else to do it" and "If you want to make it look like you're busy, call a meeting and/or ask to be invited to other meetings that you have no business being in."

The worst are meetings that are held frequently but solely exist to "review status." Guess what, if I didn't need to keep being in meetings to review the status of my projects, I would actually be able to change the status of my projects and get something done!

It's also bad when everyone gets to a meeting and then just kind of stares at each other. If there's no agenda, you should refuse to attend. And if no one is leading the meeting, you should jump in and say, "So what is the point of this call?" That, of course, might make others who are less busy than you very resentful, because being in a meeting makes it appear that they are earning their paycheck, even though they may just be rehashing their recent vacation to everyone else in the room or on the phone.

Luckily, in the age of technology, if the meeting is really worthless and it's being held over the phone, you can usually put yourself on mute and multitask by responding to emails or whatnot. But that doesn't change the sad fact that the meeting shouldn't have been held in the first place.

8. Bad Lighting

What can I say? I have extremely sensitive eyes. I wear sunglasses until it's pitch black outside. I've been accused of being a vampire. And therefore I really, really, really could not stand the awful overhead fluorescent lighting in most office buildings. Especially when one bulb would go on the fritz and start blinking erratically. That crap gave me migraine headaches. That's why I'm sitting here right now with no lights on and just my front shade down in order to work by the natural light. All of you who have desks near windows should be very thankful!

7. Needing a Business Wardrobe (which includes shoes)

While I no longer pull in a salary like I did when working for The Man, I think the money I'm now not paying at the dry cleaners has partially made up for it. Over the years, I spent thousands of dollars on suits, dress shirts, skirts, jewelry and shoes for work, just like most everyone else in a corporate setting does. I am one of those people who wishes I could wear cargo pants, a t-shirt and gym shoes for the rest of my life, so getting ready for work every morning was truly a painful experience for me. And I mean that literally when it comes to shoes. I've broken all sorts of bones over the course of my existence so far, including a vertebrae back in 1988, so wearing heels just kills me. I can do it, but that doesn't mean I have to like it.

That was one good thing about the Internet Boom Times, you must admit... totally casual work environments. I'm trying to relive those days now in my kitchen -- er... "my home office."

6. Uncomfortable Chairs

While we're on the subject of uncomfortableness (yeah, I don't think that's a word, either), let me mention my hatred of those awful hard chairs that find their way into conference rooms, or the "ergonomic chairs" that your company buys to make you think they care about you, but since the rest of your set-up isn't correct, the chair doesn't actually help matters. Or it may be a cheaper knock-off of the high-end chairs and they're just hoping you don't notice.

That's one thing I splurged on for myself here at home, and one day I'll do a post on everything I learned about ergonomics. But in the meantime, I'll just whine about all of the bad chairs I had in jobs past. It got so bad at one of my companies that when someone quit, if they had a good chair at their cubicle or in their office, a remaining employee would swipe it as soon as the coast was clear. I actually wheeled one of my chairs across the city of Chicago when moving buildings once, because I had finally found a semi-decent chair and was scared to lose it. If your body is prematurely old and achy like mine is, don't underestimate the importance of a good chair!

5. Déjà Vu

There were some meetings where I would be able to guess--or rather, know--everything that everyone in the room was going to say before they said it. Person A would bring up Project X and how everything is running behind. Person B would get all defensive and blame the delays on Person C. Person C would say that Group B in another division was holding up progress. Everyone would shake their heads about that damn, good-for-nothing Group B who always screws things up for everyone. Person C would silently sigh in relief that he was able to deflect criticism. Person D would try to lighten the mood with a joke. Person A would then try to get things back on track and bark out "to do's." Persons E and F would just be checking their blackberries and nodding their heads every once in a while to make it look like they were paying attention. Etc., etc.

This kind of repetition got really old really quickly. And it led to...

4. Nothing Getting Accomplished

Now, of course, things did get done, and continue to get done, at every place I've ever worked, or else the companies would go under. So I am just being facetious with the heading for #4... though my point is that so often it seemed like nothing was getting accomplished. Meeting after meeting, call after call, document review after document review, quarter after quarter, year after year, many of the same projects lingered. The bigger the company, the slower the progress... or at least that's been my experience.

3. Ridiculous Administrative Issues

Remember how I said I couldn't deal with the crazy lighting in most offices? Well, once I tried to remedy the situation by keeping all of the fluorescent lights in my office off and ordering a standing halogen lamp with a dimmer knob instead. You know, the kind you probably had in your dorm room back in the day. I was allowed to order this lamp and my company had no issue with paying for it... but it took four MONTHS to get this damn thing?!?! And this was at a relatively small company?!?! First they ordered the wrong lamp. Then the lamp order was correct, but somehow got "lost." Then it was delivered to the wrong building. And on and on.

Other examples of things I'm lumping into this category are when a printer or copy machine breaks. There were like two people who knew how to fix these monsters, and one was always on vacation and the other could never be found for hours. There was no way I would ever try to fix any of these machines myself, because they could totally chop off your hand if you messed around in the wrong area.

Heaven help you if your computer, laptop or blackberry broke, because you were going to be up the proverbial creek without a paddle for quite a while. That seemed fun at first ("Yay! I can read the newspaper! I can clean my desk! I can do all the things I never have time for!"), but when you realized that no one was going to allow any delays in the things you were responsible for in spite of your lack of equipment, you started sweating every minute the repairs took.

Here's one thing I learned after so many of these snafus: make friends with all of the people who order things and fix things. Seriously, send them a thank-you note or bring them in some chocolates or something like that, because it will go a long way and you will be their priority the next time you have to call them.

2. Lack of Control

Ask any of my friends or family members--I am a very controlling person. I totally admit it. I don't like to depend on others for very much, and when I have to, I have a very hard time with it if I feel those people don't live up to my, uh, standards. So if I was leading a project but had to rely on ten people across three other groups in two different divisions, panic would set in the minute I sensed all was not going according to my plan. I can deal with this sort of thing in a lot of other situations (or, I should say, I've gotten better at dealing with it--still a long way to go), but when my reputation is on the line, which feeds into my #($)(*@##$ performance review, which ultimately would determine my salary and bonus, then you can be sure that there were many sleepless nights where I would be staring at the ceiling in bed, trying to come up with Plans B, C, D, E and F if Larry, Moe and Curly didn't come through for me.

1) Evil People

It's really strange... the vast majority of people I've worked with since I started having "real" jobs in college have been awesome. As in, 99.99% of the people I've met through work have been great. I keep in touch with a ton of them for this very reason. And I'll cover more on this topic in the "Things I Miss" post coming up on Thursday. But for now, my focus is the evil people. The people who are just miserable, who have bad auras, who put negative energy out into the world, who aren't happy and who therefore can't stand if anyone else is happy. They don't want anyone else to succeed, but they also don't mind if you work really hard so that they can take credit for your accomplishments.

These are the people who, by and large, drove me to leave The Man. On top of being controlling, I'm a fairly sensitive person, and those two things aren't always the best combination. I would take it pretty personally when I encountered any Evil People.

But there is a silver lining. All of the people I considered Evil eventually left or were fired (I know this because I keep in touch with all the Good People). Even The Man wants to spit out the bad seeds, it seems. So my advice to you if you're dealing with a not-so-pleasant co-worker is to be patient. Chances are that The Powers That Be are taking note of the Evil One's actions, too. Things might not be working as quickly as you'd like them to, but I would bet that one day in the near future, that person will have moved on and you'll be able to breathe a sigh of relief.

So there you have it... those are the things I don't miss. But working for myself at home is no party, either, so that's what I'll talk about tomorrow. And lest you worry that I've grown overly bitter by reminiscing on all this stuff I didn't like, know that Thursday and Friday I will cover what was great about working for The Man and what I currently enjoy about working for myself.

Until then... don't you have a meeting to attend?

- e


Anonymous said...

Thankfully ... I'm vacated this week ... and it looks like you are writing top ten lists. Nice.

The Other E

Anonymous said...

What about "successories" artwork? I noticed that you had some of the mock artwork. Now that you are working from home, do you feel compelled to go buy motivational framed prints to keep you going?

Anonymous said...

I always got a kick out of the mock inspirational poster titled "Never underestimate the power of stupid people in large numbers" - Kind of thought it should be put in meeting rooms. I got a kick out of the others you had in your post.

maikib said...

this was awesome-- i know i shouldn't be relishing in the fact that this nonsense exists across every company, industry and trade, i can't help but take comfort in the fact that i'm not alone in my corporate america misery. but especially related to #1-- what is UP with those people?!? oh, i've known my fair share (i can think of two in particular that i work with)-- all i can think of is that it's sad to be them.

Anonymous said...

LOVE these recent posts. A.T. needs to read this and comment - she had a great 'event' at work this week that fits right in with this theme.

Elisa Shostak said...

Great postE. Keep 'em coming!


Anonymous said...

I really hate when people/departments make up new acronyms for every little thing. You could be reading a report and there are more letters than actual words. I also hate projects with "cute" names.

The worst is when a project has a cute name that derives from an acronym!!! I don't want to post examples or I will probably get fired. :-)