I’ll Do It but I Won’t Like It ~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp
I wonder about people who work in offices, and I especially wonder about people who work in offices and like it. I’ve worked in quite a few offices over the long years and I guess I can say I’m stronger for having done it. (That which doesn’t kill us makes us stronger). I have to admit, though, that most of the time I didn’t like it. It has mostly been my experience that “office” is just another word for “hell” or “prison.” The best offices to work in are the ones where you have lots of freedom and the worst are the ones where freedom, as a word and a concept, is completely unknown.
I’ve worked at a number of contract positions, meaning that I was part of the organization but not “altogether” a part of the organization. I was, of course, expected to abide by all the rules of the company (start times, codes of conduct, breaks, dress code, etc.) but was excluded from company benefits, social functions and perquisites. If the company was closed for the afternoon so employees could attend the funeral of a fallen executive, for example, I would, as a contractor, have my pay docked, while the regular employees didn’t. Also, being a contractor means that one is completely expendable. If a contract employee’s work is in any way unsatisfactory (and even if it isn’t), he can be removed so fast he won’t even know what happened, with as little fanfare as the changing of a light bulb. So, in a phrase, being a contractor means I am a disposable commodity. If I have human feelings, they’re going to be trampled on.
The best contract position I had lasted for three years. I know I was a fool for hanging around that long, but I was promised a permanent position that never happened. I liked the job—or anyway, could tolerate it—because we had a company cafeteria and a four-day work-week, but also because I had a boss who didn’t much care what I did as long as I did the work I was supposed to do. It was a congenial—some might even say permissive—environment and I probably would have stayed until I died in harness, but my boss (the man who hired me and authorized my pay) was fired for some naughtiness or other, and the corporate robot who took his place decided there was no room in the company for me. (He never liked me, anyway, and the feeling was mutual.)
If you are NOT a contractor, of course, that means you are a “regular” or a “permanent” company employee, which in corporate language very often means “slave” or “possession that we can do with as we please.” At company XYZ, for example, I was never supposed to think for myself or make decisions—that was done for me by a person far superior to me, a manager. I almost felt like I was in third grade again because the manager was breathing down my neck all the time, watching my every move, chewing me out for any little thing. (When I was on kitchen duty, for example, I was chewed out for going to the kitchen to clean up too early, because the three of us who were assigned were supposed to do it as a “team.”) We had endless meetings, some of them conducted over the phone, where we had to sit and listen to some blowhard gasbag of a manager (one of those “superior” people) think out loud, sometimes for as long as two-and-a-half hours. (Of course, nothing was ever accomplished at these meetings.) When the meeting was finally over, I found I had fallen behind on meeting my “deadline.” Guess what the solution was to that? I was supposed to catch up on the work on my own time! (Why else did I have that laptop computer that I was supposed to carry around with me all the time?) If they could figure out a way to get people to work in their sleep, they would do it. They’re working on it, I’m sure.
Of course, managers are notoriously cloven-hooved nincompoops who have no clue about human psychology or how to deal with people. (Some of them don’t even know the difference between “there and “their,” let alone “affect” and “effect.”) They don’t seem to realize that if they treat people like shit, they will get shit in return. You reap what you sow. The good manager, and there are a few of them, knows to treat people the way he himself wants to be treated. It’s so simple. If a manager is liked and respected, he will get so much more from people than if he is hated.
The office, for me, is a very unnatural environment that brings out the worst in people. When you are thrown in with a bunch of office people, strangers with whom you have nothing in common, you learn almost by instinct which ones are to be avoided. You are naturally distrustful of the people who “love” their jobs (or say they do) and believe the company is sacrosanct. (I call these people “abiders”—for them there is no other religion.) They have usually been brainwashed to the point where you can no longer have any possible human connection with them. They believe that every company rule, no matter how stupid, is to be obeyed. If they see you committing some minor infraction or other (he took two ink pens instead of one), they will more likely than not tell on you, just like on the playground in second grade. They cringe if you indulge in any kind of bitchy humor at the expense of the company or its management. They take their jobs so seriously that they become overwrought and face potential nervous collapse if something isn’t done the way they think it should be. They are the watchdogs of those of us who don’t give a shit. Stay away from these people. If you ever hand one of them a knife, you will be sure to find it sticking in your back.
A common question that’s asked in job interviews is, “What is your ideal work environment?” One time when I was asked this question, I said to the female interviewer, “Freedom.” To which she responded, “We don’t have any.” I didn’t get the job, even though I was well qualified for it.
And that brings me to my favorite kind of job, the job where there are no ringing phones, no yak-yakking people, no meetings with a nauseating number of clichés and buzz words spoken, no people (mostly women) complaining about how cold they are while I am dying from how hot it is in the place, no getting up extremely early in the morning, no traffic jams going to or from work, no petty jealousies, no backbiting, no whining, no adult babies, no wishing I was someplace else, no clockwatching, no pretending to be busy when I’m not, no pretending I like something or somebody I don’t, no “Sunday blues” because I have to go to work on Monday, no evenings getting ready for—and dreading—the next day of hell. I control the temperature (a little on the cool side, summer or winter). If my phone is ringing, I don’t have to answer it because it is, after all, my phone. I can work in my bathrobe all day, take extra long lunches, and can take a nap whenever I feel like it. I can have music playing (Mozart, Bach, Glenn Miller, Peggy Lee, Paul Whiteman, or whatever) while I work—or not—and I control what kind of music I listen to without having to defer to anybody else’s preferences. This sounds like heaven, doesn’t it? It sounds a lot like home.
Copyright © 2014 by Allen Kopp