back to the Black Table

I love my job. I really do. Sure, I don't imagine doing it for the rest of my life, and even though it's magazine journalism, the subject matter I write about isn't one matter that I'm inherently passionate about. But it's open-minded enough that I feel at least partly creatively fulfilled, I'm learning more about the industry I cover, it pays well enough and I enjoy the people I work with. I don't dread coming into work on Mondays, my co-workers are fun people and I have no desire to look for another job anytime soon. I'm pleased with where I work. Few people can say that, and I'm lucky.

So, now that's out of the way.

My magazine is owned by a large corporate entity. Like all corporate entities, everyone in the office, the people in the trenches putting out the magazine, tries to avoid anyone from the corporate money side if at all possible. They're not bad people, far from it; everyone


is nice and wholesome and well-meaning, perhaps too much so. But like most companies during these difficult economic times, my company has been forced to keep a close eye on the bottom line, cut some corners and slash the budget a little. Like anyone who has seen co-workers laid off, this can be demoralizing for the people left behind - though, of course, not as demoralizing as it is to the people who, you know, lost their jobs.

Now, because corporate entities are, well, entities, they can't really go around to each individual employee, pat them on the back, tell them they're doing a good job, that they're appreciated, that their job is safe, that they shouldn't worry, everything will be fine. But they have to do something, right?

The other day, our entire office received an email. It pointed out that the business was going through some restructuring, a small little "Excuse our dust," type of thing. But then they added a little wrinkle: They were announcing what they called "rewards" for being a part of the corporate team.

They involved Fridays throughout the summer. Essentially, each Friday would be a special day, where the ordinary way of doing business would be turned on its head, in inventive and clever ways.

For example:

Friday, June 27, was Ice Cream Social Day. From 3:05 p.m. to 4 p.m., as strictly stated in the schedule, all employees were invited to the conference room to eat ice cream and, I dunno, be social, I guess. (This worked real well. Everyone just grabbed the first scoop of ice cream they could find and then bolted back to their desks.)

Friday, July 18, is Shorts and Sandals Day. All employees will be allowed to wear both shorts AND sandals, or one, if they wish, or neither, if they don't mind having people come by their desk all day just to say, "Oh, no sandals, Will?"

Friday, August 1, is Favorite Team T-Shirt or Jersey Day, where employees can wear clothing that shows their love for their hometown team. Those who do not like sports are presumably encouraged to pretend for a day, or, at the very least, claim their favorite sport is boxing and just go topless. This will, at the very least, provide an opportunity to find out which dork in the office has a Yankees jersey with his own name on the back.

Friday, August 8, is another Shorts and Sandals Day.

It goes on and on like this. As if summer weren't long enough. I mean, are there people out there in the corporate world who still haven't seen Office Space? I hate to be the bearer of bad tidings, but I'm quite certain life was not meant to be lived through an Excel spreadsheet.

The sad part is not that I'm not making this up … it's that your office has probably done something very similar. The highlight was a friend of mine, whose office had one of those dopey retreats where everyone stands in a circle and does trust exercises. He actually had to stand on a block of wood and fall backwards, "trusting" his co-workers to catch him. Unfortunately, they did. One suspects office camaraderie would be increased if they had dropped him. I mean, it would have at least been funny.

It seems amazing that people, adult human beings, not only come up with these ideas, but that they actually think they actually have some hope of being effective. On what planet do people respond to such condescension? Do people who work in human resources take their son aside and tell them, "Boy, I want you to know that I appreciate your productivity this month. On Friday, you will be allowed - no, encouraged! - to part your hair on the right set of your head, rather than the typical left. Enjoy! You deserve it! If you have any further suggestions, please feel free to contact me or your mother during normal business hours."

Listen. I know these people mean well, even neither the word "human" or "resource" is likely to make anyone feel like a unique and special snowflake anytime soon. But we are grown men and women who long ago accepted that to have the things you want in life (money, love, sex, home, alcohol, sex, clothes, sex), you have to work a steady job for a larger company that, by its very essence and structure, really doesn't care for you individually one way or the other. We know this. We've known it for a while. We're not even mad about it; we really don't mind. We're just not particularly fond of being reminded of it through empty platitudes and obviously forced attempts to "relate" to the workers.

People who work in "personnel management" often seem to know the absolute least about managing people. Listen, I can help here, OK? Leave us alone. Tell us when to show up, tell us what to do, tell us when we are supposed to go home, and leave us be. The only time we don't like our jobs is when people try to artificially make us like our jobs. If we don't like our jobs, we'll leave. I mean, we're here, aren't we?

We are all happy to be employed. Thank you for that. Now, please, go away. Though leave some ice cream here, if you could.


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