Tag Archives: Workplace

What we talk about when we talk about the economy

Recession, the end of fun

Recession, the end of fun

We talk about numbers. Hundreds of banks per month, hundreds of thousands of layoffs, unemployment and unwillingly idle statistics. I theorize that in allowing the corporations to set the tone of journalism, we’ve lost site of the fact that stories should both give us facts and highlight the humanity behind the story. In an attempt to provide this illumination, here’s a story.

As desired entry-level positions are replaced with internships and other “opportunities” slaves wouldn’t consider worthwhile, the number of young people deciding to attend graduate school rather than settle for mind-numbing internet-addicting laze jobs is rising. Well, a lot of that is my theory: the quality of entry-level positions is dropping such that people won’t choose to maintain the position for long, and rather than take another job just like it, they move back into the academy, hoping to bypass the schlock with a graduate degree. Whether the schlock ever goes away or simply becomes more refined I have yet to see.

As the unemployment percentage moves to break 10% and underemployment moves to break 5%, people like my parents fear for their jobs. Articles such as this one, which makes it sound as though the layoffs were lagging behind and have finally caught their stride again, make me worry for my parents. My father is in mainframe software sales support and my mother in middle-management quality assurance, both software related fields. And my mother’s company is military-based, so as we argue over the Lockheed Martin F22s, look to see other military-funding decisions like it that will directly impact my mother’s security. My father has already been laid off four times in ten years and has no fantasies about the security in his current position, though he loves the flexibility of his current job.

Idle grandparents watch the news and don’t know which fearmongering to listen to and which to let roll on by. They fear for their banks, for their children, for their grandchildren. They fear for their savings and for their children’s social security, which they’ll be able to collect on within the next ten years. They watch the news, and a faceless fear that is the abuse of our current media oversaturation takes hold, an ignorance that’s both attacked and perpetuated by the media status quo. In their houses alone, they wait for phonecalls from the people they love that will turn their whole world upside down, that will interrupt the forced peace of their retirement.

Broaching the subject

Broaching the subject

**

“How are you, man?”

The question took me off-guard. So busily did I contemplate how I would make everything work, I didn’t give my status second thought.

I paced the dark, broken street. Construction barrels blocked my natural path, and I dodged them unconsciously.

“I’m fine, Steve. Fine. I got to see Ashley and I side by side with my parents this weekend. That was creepy.”

“Yeah?” His voiced buzzed through the phone, old and tired and needing replacement.

“Yeah. I never realized how similar she was to my mother. I couldn’t deny it, though, not side by side.”

He laughed but didn’t reply.

The broken down Boston neighborhood hovered like a menace. People didn’t linger in the street but to smoke; no sounds of life or celebration. Those were reserved for the bars. How could Ashley do well in this broken down West End neighborhood, lively only when BankNorth Garden held an event? But it was packed tonight, Trivia Tuesday.

I saw her bounce out the door, smiling after all. “She’s coming, I’ve got to go. Thanks for the chat.”

“No problem, man. Anytime, you know that.”

I closed the cell.

“I made a hundred and fifty tonight! Oh, it was so hectic! I ran that whole room myself!” She was all beams and glee, and my world shifted up a notch in brightness.

On the way home, we discussed for the first time not how to make ends meet but what to do with the extra money. We splurged on sandwiches at The Federalist, an expense we could finally afford. Our relationship was filled with expenses we couldn’t afford; clothes at the Goodwill to keep her in good spirits, a brownie for me with lunch, a personal-sized French press for her to use at work, a Virgil’s rootbeer to make my nights a little sweeter. A trip to New York when she just couldn’t stand Boston’s rain anymore, and a trip to the North End when both of us just wanted out of town. We couldn’t afford a dime of it, and yet somehow all our money came together. That night, we discussed Harry Potter; we should buy tickets before they sell out. We didn’t; they sold out.

She, feet and, I would imagine, cheeks, fell asleep. I checked my email, my blog stats, facebook, and then played Bejeweled Blitz while waiting for my mind to surrender consciousness. In between games, I received the following email:

I am afraid I won’t be sending any more bonds for a while, maybe not till next year.  I have just read in the paper that my bank is losing money and is trying to get some of the “bank stimulus money” from the govt.  I really feel nervous about it and I am not sure how it will affect my checking and savings accounts, so I am going to hang on to the bonds in case I need them for emergency funds, etc.  I am not sure if they will be able to get a loan from the govt. and how it will play as far as getting cash, etc.  I hope it won’t put you in too much of a bind.  The bank is Guaranty and it is not a local bank, I believe the main office is in Austin.  I may have to open a checking account with the local Community bank.  We will see.  I will hang on to the bonds and hope that I won’t have to use them to tide me over.  Love always, Nana

Take our rags, sponsored by Guaranty

Take our rags, sponsored by Guaranty

I turned away from the computer, ashamed. But it wasn’t our fault that we couldn’t make ends meet; we were relying on so many things, banks staying open, savings holding out, social security. I looked at Ray, my husband, and I knew that we were making the right decision, and yet shame permeated my heart, and I could see a similar sadness in his eyes.

My grandson is in graduate school. He went away to Boston, alone to chase his dreams, and we’re all so proud of him. I’m so proud of him. I bought a five-thousand dollar savings bond for him in 1987, when he was four. I had planned on giving it to him when we passed away, Ray and I, and while he’s been in school I’ve sent him five-hundred dollar sections of it every other month so that he doesn’t blow it all at once; youth has its irresponsibilities. He sends me emails every now and again to tell me how appreciated the money is, that it makes the difference between making ends meet and living a comfortable life. I know he appreciates them, and that he loves us, and we love him.

But with my bank on the verge of closing, depending on whether it gets this federal loan or not, how am I supposed to send away the money? We may need it; Guaranty has all of our savings! How could things get this bad again? They tell us about mortgages and stimulus packages on the news, but I know we’re not getting the whole story. I know that something insidious is happening right now to bring all of this back to us again. America the brave, the true. Sure. I’m still scared, and so is my husband.

At least my daughters are alright. Donna and Curt are alright. No matter what happens to us, even if we need the bonds, Donna and Curt can look out for Greg.

**

“It doesn’t make any sense,” my father said, “but there’s no reason to tell her that. It’s all FDIC insured, so she won’t lose a dime.”

“I know that, but I don’t want to confuse her. It does make me wonder how I’m going to make rent in August, but we can talk about it later.”

I heard the conference call he had muted drone on in the background; a symptom of our economic failure is lodged deep in that unrecorded conversation and its hardly conscious participants and all calls like it. I remember something my mother had said earlier in the week, that she wasn’t a trust-fund kid but a work-until-they-kick-you-out kid. My father had laughed, had said that he hoped he could work another four years without being laid off again.

“Yeah,” he said, “let’s talk about it later. 10 o’clock on Friday might be too early, but I think I can work it out.”

“Don’t worry, I can wait at the station. I’ll bring a book or something.”

“Alright, I’ll talk to you later.”

And we hung up.

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Author: Greg Freed

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Filed under Creative nonfiction, Criticism, Fiction, Journalism, Writing

Manager, a character sketch

I read this piece at Emerson’s Graduate Reading Series in Spring 2009, and the audience received it well. Enjoy!

**

Give anger a body, a well-crafted superbly sculpted male, screaming and tense. … In the moments where the veneer of pursuit wears thin, when the film and crust of years of wasted life begin to dry and crack from overuse and abuse, humans revolt, find their lack of faith and their faith’s lack of substance disgusting. Too scared to recognize their dilemma, too overwhelmed to reasonably place blame, they rage. … They will define themselves in terms of their distraction in order to again pull their mind away from their pain. When I craft them, they light themselves afire and scream to heaven, “See? I have virtue, too! I give off my own light, and it is beautiful!” The pain distracts them from the fact that their light is fueled by their skin, the energy is borrowed from a system that is not their creation nor was ever under their control.

**

Underappreciated. Unappreciated. I had so much energy at the start of this job, this step forward in my life, this salaried position, this point in the American dream. I had so much hate when I was younger, half my lifetime ago; is that the key to it all? Lazily, I watch the walls, my chin resting in the crook of my left arm. Or I watch the internet, same position, trolling websites. People online are so cruel; it makes me laugh. I can’t match their cruelty. I rarely even have the energy to respond. That’s why I’m a troll: I watch and crawl and envy. If I ever do decide to try and join in, the ridicule is so brash that I can’t possibly continue to care or to follow through.

Work isn’t much different. I used to care, young and hopeful and dreamily wet-eyed. My parents were so proud, and so was I. The gap between graduation and employment had seemed like torture, so gratuitously long. I had dreams of walking up to the suits, those people in charge, and convincing them with merely my passion that I was the one for the job. Interviews, though, are so much more difficult than dreams. I went through plenty of them before an offer was made, and when one was, I jumped at it. I was ravenous for work; the desire to prove myself had so much weight, more even than the desire to separate myself from my parent’s pocketbook. What happened to it? I can’t even be bothered to recall; that was years ago, so very long ago.

Exercise used to help. After a long day of mind-numbing work, for no position I have ever filled has required much thought, I’d rush off to the gym. The weights I lifted felt so much more like an accomplishment than almost finishing my inbox, only to watch the work pile up again right in my face. No matter how fast I typed, how efficiently I stampeded through and pushed forward, the mail just kept flying in. Weights were different. One hundred and fifty pounds; one eighty; two hundred: Look at the increase! Look at the progress!

The energy it generated was only mechanical in nature, and the more I exercised the more I wanted to exercise until eventually I couldn’t give it anymore time. I was running, weightlifting, sweating. My body worked until I didn’t really control it anymore, not scheduling my workout around work but working around my workout. But God I looked beautiful! The women I picked up at the gym or out at the bar with friends were nearly as beautiful as me, almost identical in mindset. I wish it could have lasted.

Inexplicably, I lost interest. A void appeared in my schedule, which for all of my late-twenties had been so tight, and it’s not like I was bored for an hour and then had something else to do; I had nothing to do. That’s when my internet trolling began, but my decline in interest at work was already well established. My youthful zeal had spurred me to produce high-quality content on-time and ahead of schedule, but I hadn’t learned how to balance a salaried position and the demands of life: finding a place to live, buying and cleaning clothes, my exercise and social routine, etc. My production came in bursts, mostly when life was calm, and life has a tendency to work in waves, calm only between trough and crest. Slave drivers, my bosses wanted to get out of me all the time what I gave them at my most prolific. I suppose that’s where the burnout began. I fought, trying to reason with them, imploring their sympathy as my apartment lease ran out, as my friends got married or divorced, as life presented many and various obstacles. I shouldn’t have expected their pity, and I certainly didn’t get it.

The hours at work became longer as I tried to make my productivity consistent, stretching like a rubberband where the tension is never released. The exercise compensated for the unfulfilled desire of punching my bosses in the face. Eventually I began to hope that they would fire me, end my necessity to try to please them. I could slouch, then, and complain about the injustice of my termination. Everyone would listen, I fantasized. Everyone would buy it. Instead, I received a promotion. Now I had underlings to produce for me, and it was my responsibility as manager to make them produce. The employees looked so much like I had at first: hopeful and ambitious. I would have quit if I had known at the time that their career paths would have been exactly like mine, if I had known it was my face they would picture punching during their workouts.  I did not quit, however; I watched the drones crawl towards their futures.

Sometimes I see myself in my employees, or maybe I recognize the way they understand me. I know their feelings; I can see them through the salty whites of their eyes. I anticipate the pitiful shaking of my fearful employees, the way their irises contract under pressure. Their legs tremble under their pleated slacks, and they worry too much about whether I can see their shaking, too much over their individual humiliation, to truly listen. The young seem to harbor a perpetual and almost preternatural inability to focus. But that’s alright; my reprimands ceased to help them be better employees shortly after I gained the authority to give them. Tears well in their eyes, washing away the old, bitter salt which deposits anew when they dry. My underlings guarantee their lack of salience with a pool of saline. But no, they’ll not cry, not in front of me; Employees never transgress professionalism openly.

And here I am. I can’t distract myself from my employees’ fates without the truth of my own progression breaking my concentration and ruining the numb experience of it all. At home, I can’t pick a show to watch, and when I do settle I pay it little attention or far too much. I’ve stopped sleeping well. I get little to nothing out of it, the six to eight hours dwindling away regardless of their productivity. My dreams haunt me.

In one, I am a teenager again, screaming at my parents, blaming them for my future. I reach out to beat my father who assures me that I cannot know what the future holds, yelling savagely back at him exactly what my life is like, tears streaming down my face. My fists won’t hit him; my screams reach deaf ears. I punch and punch and punch, and he laughs at me and my claims of clairvoyance. My mother looks at me sympathetically, but she assures me that if that’s what life has in store for me, I should be glad for it. I could strangle her, but my hands won’t touch her. I grab and grab, but they always miss. I wake up sweating and furious, but the effects are always gone by the end of my morning shower.

Another has me as some gargantuan glutton. I feast on my underlings, their succulent fingers first. I throw the rest to a disposal, which grinds the leftovers and does away with them. I wake with my stomach in knots, and I often wretch. If anything does come up, I’m glad to see bile only.

These nightmares torment me much more thoroughly than my hopeful dreams of employment filled my youth. I rarely go a night without soaking the bed in my sweat. I rarely wake without disgusted chills so severe I nearly lose my feet in the morning on the way to the shower.

Mostly, I hate them. My waking hours are filled with dreams where my nightmares are books. They line the wall behind my desk, elegant proof of my technical proficiency and industrial wherewithal. I unconsciously imagine myself ripping them to shreds. I burn them. If only they’d be destroyed so easily! I hate them. I can’t be rid of them!

What is it I’ve done differently than everyone else that makes me deserve these things? I’m just a man, and I’ve done all the things that are expected of me! But no, I’m not just a man: I’m me, and I’ve lived my life and done my actions, but I’m just a manager among managers. I’ve never heard other people complain of such horrible visions! Why must they plague me? Why? Why me?

I’ve never complained of them. What would people say if I confided? See a shrink, who has a mind for such things. But my war isn’t with myself, but with my dreams! If they’d just leave, I’d have nothing to be angry about!

Ugh, but I can’t stand it anymore! I can’t empty my mind! I can’t live my life! What is this that I can’t avoid? Why can’t I ignore it? I hate it all! I hate it!

I’m too good to be so tormented. I work my job. I pay my way. I have friends. I’m a debt to no one! Why, then, do I feel so twisted and so alone? Why do these haunting thoughts make me see myself so wicked? I’m not wicked! I’m not evil! I don’t force corruption on anyone! I’m a consumer! I’m a worker! I’m what a man should be!

I’m fucking disgusting. But I don’t hate myself. I love myself, unappreciated as I am in this world. If I were appreciated, I wouldn’t dream these horrible dreams. My employees should respect and thank me for the effort I spend on them! I should be proud of the life I lead! I should love my proud parents and be happy that they are pleased for me, but I hate, hate, HATE, HATE these fucking dreams! If only I could sleep.

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A Paradigm Shift in Project Management: Hierarchy to adhocracy

“Sharing power is not the ideal of some ‘utopian’ future. It’s the ground truth of our hyperconnected world.” – Mark Pesce

**

In my search to uncover blogs about copyright issues, I discovered The Human Network. Mark Pesce’s video presentation to the Personal Democracy Forum and transcript both struck me as worthy of the attention of internet community members and people interested in the new organizational structure we’ll see soon; a new structure seems a nearly necessary outcome to the victory of efficiency, a consistent human pursuit.

For example, the ideal corporate workplace is an hierarchy: you know via network or job title who is responsible for what and how they should be approached, and you also know to whom you and they are responsible. Therefore, when an assignment falls to you, you track down the people you need in order to complete the task under budget and ahead of schedule. You have to negotiate the political struggles that exist in large workplaces as people strive to either make their name or shirk any work possible without standing out as a slacker. If you do this successfully, your project will likely succeed. Situations of this type gave rise to my favorite capitalist maxim: Successful business is not about money; it’s about pooling together the correct assortment of talent to fulfill a need and the money you need to do that.

However, anyone who has worked in a corporation long enough to dry their wet ears and withdraw their big eyes knows that luck plays a larger role in whether you’re equipped to handle any given project than coordination and that the budget and schedule have as much tendency to be unmanageable as they have to be set by someone other than you. You also know that the larger a company is, the more difficult it is to find the person you’re looking for. Instead, you become complacent with your social circle within the company and rely on them to either help you complete your project or to put you on the path to a person who can probably help. Initiative, while praised, is your prerogative, and you learn thatmore often than not its only reward is hours spent tracking down a person who’s too busy to help you anyway.

And while sometimes it’s assumed that the smaller the company the more efficient because people do more tasks than their job title allows, there are obvious flaws that small businesses constantly evidence. Job-title creep breaks the ideal of division of labor and results in shoddy jobs that require more time than an expert would take. In addition, sometimes the relevant expert simply isn’t available, and the financial position of the company makes tracking down an expert either impossible of futile.

Even in the best of all corporate hierarchies, when we let go of the fallacies and human error that plague all communities and look at them at their most sublime, politics, ignorance, and misinformation exist as constant variables in the equation of efficiency that downsizing attempts to get around and networking tries to nullify. Yet they persist.

Adhocracies are communities whose networks are far less structured than hierarchies and yet are more capable of sustaining efficiency for several reasons. Examples include Wikipedia–where a crowd (hence the term crowdsourcing) generates information that, through editing, supposedly reaches an unbiased state–and open source communities such as SourceForge.

First, unlike the top-down hierarchical structures of corporations whose efficiency depends upon the trickling down of responsibility and the ability of the lower castes to find proper function-matches within their own castes (about as reliable as Malcom’s demonstration of water falling down your hand in Jurassic Park), adhocracies post jobs and users volunteer. Whether or not the job gets done on time and according to parameters is guaranteed only by the community’s ability to organize itself around a set of priorities, which, since their communication tool is the internet, specifically their website and whatever design functions are built into the core site, users tend to fulfill reliably.

Second, the pure universality exposure of posts and searchability of online communities resolves the hassle of finding the right member with the right skill set to complement your project. Rather than your cubemate Bill telling you that Janice from tech support might be able to assist you, plop your requirements into a search bar and go–as any seasoned HR personnel can tell you, if you have a specific problem and need a specific skill, you’ll find everything you need is hotword coded, thereby searchable–or let the talent pool come to you.

The end game of adhocracies is a more dynamic community layout able to complete projects more efficiently than hierarchical structures. Some problems will remain.

First, and most obvious, is human error on a small scale, including typos and erroneous information or algorithms. It exists and can only be mitigated by assuming it will occur. Wikipedia, for one, has this angle covered in more ways than by reminding you that they make no claims of accuracy. Many of the tools they have on their website including a cache of previous pages, editor tracking tools, and their editorial team all work to mitigate human error from their site. Also, the flexibility of their project (due largely to their disclaimer about accuracy but also to the community’s commitment to accuracy) allows them to update pages long after a corporate campaign would have to have moved on.

Second are the major snags that that bog down all projects. Scope creep will not disappear due to a more efficient allocation of resources. Volunteers or even whole communities biting off more than they can chew due to ambition or greed cannot be wholly mitigated.

Therefore, what’s truly at stake in the discussion between hierarchies and adhocracies is the way in which projects are managed. This situation is not, though I enjoy Mark’s rhetoric, a meeting of the finite and infinite, but rather a clash between an old paradigm and a new one where the business world is awaiting a widespread shift from one to the other. If we assume that these stated management problems will continue even after the widespread adoption of the new project management paradigm, are we left with the cataclysm Mark discussed in the linked entry? No; rather, we’re left with an old question which wants to guarantee security in an endeavor (That is, Who is responsible for completing the project?) to a question that seems to have less though actually implies more security (Namely, Can the project be accomplished?).

Having said that, I must admit that I see the inherent power shift to which he’s referring, and I must assume that those in power will resist the necessary transference. For all the badgering about Communism that techies and internet junkies receive, the paradigm into which we’re moving is community-based. However, when you hear about the power of communities to organize themselves and complete a task, do not think about Stalinist Russia, which was in itself an hierarchical power structure where responsibility trickled down from, well, Stalin. Instead, imagine a thousand separate and independently functioning Craigslists where DNSs define the national lines and Google checks all the passports. Somewhere in one of these communities, someone posts, “I need y” and a multitude responds, first from within the community and then from without, “I can supply y” and the poster is left to pick out of the responses who he’ll trust to fill his need including but not limited to accepting all offers for help.

Money, along with other project limitations, will and must exist and sets limits to the amount of effort a community contributes to any particular project. For nonprofits, which most adhocracies are today, the community acts on passion and does all things at all times. As the paradigm shift occurs, however, money will become a prime concern for adhocracies as people become professional rather than volunteer, as we can see occurring with Amazon‘s Mechanical Turk and on Craigslist itself. In these instances the efficiencies of adhocracies remain and yet the community’s desire to do all things is severely limited by their desire to eat and to guarantee such necessities as housing.

Because adhocracies will accomplish tasks more efficiently than an hierarchical management structure, money will become an issue. I will not engage in the folly so early on as to think that such communism will mount outside the bounds of the internet; we have seen that it will not. Also, such communism is not done in the name of communism as an ideal but rather, as it stands now with nonprofits, for passion, and later, as corporations adopt adhocracy as a management style, for money.

This exact issue will demand the power shift that Mark mentioned, a shift of power from the hands of managers into the hands of the community, or, for rhetoric a lay readership may more readily appreciate, a shift from facetime to efficacy. The community will demand and have the power to secure absolute transparency within corporation as they have with the current nonprofits, especially when their efforts are combined with other communities whose sole stated purpose will be to establish said transparency; the adhocracies currently in existence have already set the tone for what users will expect from new communities in the future. The power and efficiency of adhocracies come from hyperawareness and hypervigilance spawned by a community’s open access to all relevant information, keeping account of all aspects within a company; thus, force will shift from the hands of managers, who for the large part will cease to exist, into the hands of the communities crunching and reviewing the numbers.

I have no doubt, as we have already seen, that managers will fight the elimination of their class at large. However, the shift of business from a worse to better solution will facilitate the shift over and despite their moaning. But don’t get me wrong: I don’t begrudge them their moment of complaint. Managers are people who have spent their entire lives developing a set of skills that in one fell swoop will become obsolete, and I pity the frustration that moment must cause. But happen it will, if only in the pursuit of efficiency.

I expect a class of community analysts to rise up in place of managers. Their main function will be–rather than spurring workers to get the project done, for that will happen of its own accord do to the nature of an adhocracy–to make sure that the resources are available within the community to solve the problem put before it. This will not be a source of governance but rather a source of publicity, or rather of recruitment. Multiple communities with the same aim already exist, and competition between online communities will rise as management structures shift into the new paradigm. Community projects will be posted and completed with little or no oversight, drastically reducing the overhead cost of corporations in addition to the simple benefit of efficiency increase brought about by shifting from an hierarchy to an adhocracy.

What will happen to governmental hierarchies… well, that’s another fun question. But that’s for another time and another post.

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Youth in the workplace

An issue that’s close to home was revisited by my girlfriend Ashley the other day. We’ve both worked in offices where our youth made us stand out from the rest of the work force. It reminds me of one of my favorite analogies of the workplace: A corporation is like a tree full of monkeys: the monkeys at the top look down and see a bunch smiling faces, and the monkeys on the bottom look up and see a bunch of assholes. What the analogy doesn’t say is that monkeys are known to throw feces at each other, and in my experience, the whole treeful will aim for the lowest monkey most of the time.

Pressures run high in small business environments, especially new offices under seasoned overhead and low-budget not-for-profits. Directors feel the need to cut corners in order to make the book as black as possible, and one of the easiest corners to cut is to hire a novice to fill an insubstantial role. At first, the young and bushy-tailed worker looks for all the world like an anime schoolgirl who just had all her dreams fulfilled: wide and wet eyed, and jubilant.

One error continually recurs in all-to-common for us young-professionals situation: the pressure stored up in the older coworkers suddenly has a pinhole through which it finds release, and no one has the time or initiative to provide protection for the weakest link in the team.

Take Ashley’s situation, for example. One week she’s sick and isn’t in the office; the next week she’s in Florida. Her boss has agreed heartily to both absences, having been aware far in advance of the trip to Florida and nearly commanding that Ashley stay home when she was sick. During her absence, one of her coworkers places a piece of inter-departmental mail on a shelf above Ashley’s desk with no note specifying what type of mail it is or what department it needs to go to. Upon Ashley’s return, the coworker asks why the mail hadn’t been delivered yet and berates Ashley for not being vigilant about her workplace.

It could’ve ended there, but Ashley complained about her coworker’s rudeness to her boss. At first, her boss presented a mail-drop solution that the coworker could’ve used to specify that her parcel was inter-office mail without having had to speak to Ashley directly. No communication took place with the coworker to reach a better communication solution.

That also could’ve been the end of the situation. But Ashley’s boss has a lot on her plate this week and so is also under pressure. Later in the week, long after the situation had been at least partly resolved, Ashley’s boss pulled her into the office and told her that complaining about how a coworker treats you is unprofessional. She also went on to talk about how Ashley was obviously “losing enthusiasm for her job” and that she hoped and knew that one day soon the duties of an administrative assistant would just “click” (as if an administrative assistant’s responsibilities are so heavy that they’re not just a matter of training).

Take into account that Ashley’s boss made no specific complaints about Ashley’s work, schedule, or attitude. When Ashley asked for a specific criticism so that she could make an effort to improve her boss’s opinion of her, her boss said that she didn’t have any specific complaints.

Now let’s make a move I’ve made before and compare workplace politics to relationships. If a guy or girl you’re dating and comes up to you saying, “Things just aren’t working out. It’s not really anything specific, I’m just not into it,” what’s your response? Fucking bullshit! Why? Because if there is no specific complaint, then there’s no complaint at all. The person is just hurting you; you know it, they know it. The symptoms of using obviously poor communications to wound are undeniable.

Second is the fact that Ashley’s boss is a social worker with over twenty years experience under her belt. I’ve met the woman: she knows how to talk. Talking is her job, and you can be sure if only by her years of professional experience that she knows that in order to properly communicate to fix a problem, specifics need to be mentioned and addressed. If she’s aware of that, why doesn’t she mention specifics when Ashley asks for them? Simple: they don’t exist. Ashley’s boss is using an unprotected workplace peon to relieve her stress.

It’s not uncommon, and one of the main reasons corporations employ human resources, aside from taking the responsibility of paperwork away from people whose jobs lay in other areas, is to handle poor office communications, to act as mediators in disagreements in order to make a workplace more amenable. A harsh reality comes sharply into focus for a young employee at this point: you’re easily replaced, and HR doesn’t give a fuck about you.

When in a directly parallel situation, I complained to my boss about the way a coworker was treating me. My coworker was in her early thirties and in charge of a large data-entry project worth a lot of money to the company. I, on the other hand, was a young copyeditor who had foolishly drained my workpool and, when eagerly looking to help around the office, had been placed on the data-entry project as my coworkers’s working subordinate. Therefore, my boss told me to can it and get back to work; it’s unprofessional to complain about mistreatment in the workplace.

I knuckled under this coworker for months. She made me and several others on the data entry project cry through her sheer abuse, and yet nothing could be done to get around it. The business was small and had no real HR program, and my only real boss told me to suck it up. When I asked my parents for advice, they told me to look for a new job and in the meantime suck it up. So I did. I sucked good and hard until I was purple in the face, until the sound of her boot heels thumping down the thinly-carpeted wood floor gave me heartburn.

In the meantime, my coworker complained to my boss about me, about my work ethic, about how slowly I worked and how many errors I inputted into her system. I had no defense against these complaints when my boss pulled me into her office to talk about it. Then my boss had me sign a sheet of paper that told me if my coworker’s opinion of my work didn’t improve in thirty days, she would fire me. I asked my parents what to do again, and my father told me to take notes about the amount of work I was doing versus the other employees and the harsh and unprofessional feedback my coworker was giving to me and others. I took notes.

After two weeks my boss pulled me in to tell me that my coworker’s opinion of me hadn’t improved and that she was preparing to fire me. This time I fought; I pulled in all of my notes about my hours, my productivity, my coworker’s rudeness. My sense of injustice had become so inflamed that I was sure my boss would finally move me to a different project, would finally confront my coworker about her inhumanity. Lolz: doesn’t that prove how young I was then?

My boss told me to go back to my desk and to prepare myself for what was coming in two weeks. I did, thanking my fucking lucky stars that they would finally fire me and force me to move on. Like Strong Bad says, “Oh, that’s it! I am so totally not going to quit this job but complain about it a little bit more!”

The off-site seasoned overhead found it prudent to fire my boss in the midst of all this and hire a replacement in a less-powerful role. My coworker immediately complained to this new boss about me, putting me again on thin ice. However, the paper stating that my old boss was going to fire me got magically lost in the sudden turnover. My new boss pulled me into her office and asked me about my coworker’s complaints. I told her that they were totally untrue and that I had documentation showing that my her were unfounded. My boss laughed at the documentation and had no interest in seeing it, of course. Still, Mom and Dad, it would’ve been a good idea if the dynamic hadn’t stunk so thoroughly of abuse.

I told my new boss that I would prove myself if she would just put me on a different project, which she did. The move didn’t improve my situation with that coworker at all, but it did make my job measurably better. When I completed my work on the new project, my boss took me under her wing to help her organize all of my old boss’s notes and to database freelance editors’ resumes and even contact some. I almost began to like that job again.

One day after she had been there about three months, my new boss pulled me into her office at the end of a workday to tell me the following: “I know that your coworker’s complaints about you are unfounded. I’ve been watching you like a hawk ever since I got here, and you’ve worked like a dog on that other project and for me. But now you’re doing the work of an administrative assistant, not a copyeditor, and we’re paying you to be a copyeditor. We’ve decided to terminate your position: I have to let you go.”

And that was that. It didn’t matter that I had thwarted my coworker’s complaints about my work ethic; it didn’t matter that I was so efficient at my job that they couldn’t keep me in work. All that mattered was that I was young and dispensable. After months of suffering under that coworker and months of reproving myself to the office, it ended.

I see in Ashley’s position exactly what I saw in mine, a young professional with no umbrella to protect him(/her) from the abuse of stressed out coworkers. Sometimes (Is it just sometimes? Usually?) people will shit on you if they can get away with it. They think it makes them feel better; you can’t do anything to get even (except maybe set their lawn on fire).

So to all the older coworkers and bosses out there who pick on the young worker in the office because you can, this post is a big fuck you. To all the workers who are considering taking a job where they know that their coworkers will be older than them but still think that age shouldn’t be an issue, it is; don’t take that job. To every young worker who is now in the position and suddenly realizing that there is no protection for themselves from this shitstorm, you have two choices: knuckle under and deal with it, or stand up for yourself. Either way, it’s likely you’ll be fired, and best to leave with your head high than covered in corporate-monkey feces.

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Author: Greg Freed

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Filed under Criticism, Workplace