The Life of Peon: Six Weeks in Corporate Culture
By Al Berrios (contact Al Berrios)
Imagine applying to a corporate job you found through a contact or job board. Your resume is impressive and you feel justified (or appreciative) in accepting that big-time corporate money. You get the job and everything is exactly as stated in the job description. It takes you all of 2 hours to master your job, and now, you're bored. But you brush it aside because it's this great new job and you've got fabulous benefits, and business cards! Honest to goodness business cards! You're a somebody again. You don't even remember the last time you were given business cards. And if the job's easy, better for you, as long as you're getting that paycheck every two weeks.
Three days go by and the older workers have sized you up, felt you out, and marked their territories. The younger workers try to initiate you into their clique. But you alienate everyone because you think your boss actually cares enough to make sure you're not letting any bad elements influence you. The next day, your boss is transferred into another department and you're basically on your own. And since young people attract with their optimism, you're drawn to them first.
In less than a week, you've settled, you've conformed, and you've potentially made it harder for yourself to advance anywhere else in the company because all these new "friends" you've got are overwhelmingly admins or in the tech dept.
First thing the following week, you receive a phone call from your new boss: "I need a deck on all the eService MIS, complete with MTD, YTD, LTD and FYF. In addition to the FYF, don't forget the plan and stretch goals." Sure, it's your job and you're actually pumped because it's your first REAL task. But by this week, you're already accustomed to taking an hour and fifteen-minute lunches at noon and leaving promptly at 5pm. You're not union, it's just that's when everyone else leaves. So you begin to feel slightly stressed when this project starts going past 5pm. You might even start asking yourself what the hell all these acronyms mean anyway, and regret not memorizing that acronym list you were given last week.
No biggie, you get the job done by 7pm and send it out to your boss. The next morning, you've got three voicemails from other folks asking for your report, which is late. You didn't know you were supposed to send it to them, and you didn't know there was a specific time you were supposed to get it done by. So you send it to the three other folks, only to get an all caps email from your new boss 2 seconds later asking you why you sent the report to those other folks "WITHOUT MY PERMISSION". Huh?! You inadvertently got stuck between a power struggle your second week on the job by faceless supervisors.
The third week, your stress is starting to show and your usually cheery, positive, and friendly demeanor turns into reserved, uninvolved, pensive blurbs. You're still trying to find your place when you don't know what the org structure looks like. You're still trying to understand your role when you don't understand the job. You're still trying to get along when you suspect everyone might rat you out for talking too much on the phone or taking 1-hour lunches when everyone else seems to be taking 45-minute lunches. You CC everyone with your reports now, at the same time, even the admins, just to make sure you don't goof up again. And even though you've memorized all the acronyms, new ones just keep turning up daily, and you feel like a weirdo for not using the latest lingo:
"We have invited an SME from the COE to speak, so everyone please try to attend. I know we all have a lot on our plates, but let's get to the low-hanging fruits first, so we can get a couple quick wins."
And then they wonder why obesity is a problem, when even the way they talk in corporate America revolves around eating.
Then there're the new vocabulary words they never taught you in school: monthly flows, reflows, circling back, disconnecting, totalities, monetizing. You start wondering if you're going crazy or if it's just this company. Concepts like quarter-life and mid-life crisis become actual problems for you and you develop this urge to reconnect with your old buddies. You join classmates.com, match.com, xanga.com and friendster.com and hope someone, anyone, replies to your desperate pleas for companionship. Just someone who can confirm or deny your insanity, but could also end up being great in bed. You even start heading out to the gym and going out to parties. By now, you acknowledge that your alcohol intake has increased dramatically since you started working and maybe you should cut it down. Maybe.
The fourth week, you get a blackberry. You don't even know why and don't care, because now, you are connected! It didn't matter before that you had the latest cell phone with a cam and texting and were always on instant messenger. You blackberry all your friends so they acknowledge your superiority. During your lunch break, you finally understand why you got it - your unseen boss sends you an urgent request for a report. You cut your lunch short, run to the office, bang out the report, send it to your boss and finish your now-cold lunch at your desk.
That evening, at your apartment, you get another blackberry letting you know the lunch report was incorrect and you have to re-do it first thing the next morning.
You head into the fifth week convinced your company is run by Beelzebub himself. But on an entirely different change of pace, that Monday, you receive an email from corporate saying your company has been bought by another company. Before you can finish the email, your dept. is buzzing with rumors of lay-offs. Before asking yourself how any of the peons in your department may have come to learn this rumor before you've even finished reading your email, folks you've never spoken to before swarm around your desk to vent frustrations and discuss the way things used to be done around here, the retarded management, and a hazy future. You're only human, and get caught up. Now your faceless bosses are mega-tyrants for teasing you with a blackberry to sedate for the unfortunate nature of "cost-cuts". Your once incredible perks and pay pale in comparison to anything else.
Promotions, hirings, everything gets put on hold. And you can't quit, otherwise, you won't give your company a chance to fire you with severance or a "package". You begin hearing about the fat cats who will walk away with ga-zillions of what suddenly becomes money that could have gone to you instead.
The sixth week, it's pretty clear your department is getting cut. Pink-slip parties, those nostalgic remnants from the turn of the century, make a return in creative ways (i.e. sponsored by vendors, singles mingles). But, before letting go of 100 of their "best" people, the company feels "obligated" to offer you their products, just in case:
Actual email from company to employee in to-be-restructured department:
As a XXXX employee, you may be eligible for discounted rates on your home finance products.
Mr. XXXX, Mortgage Loan Officer, will be conducting a home finance question and answer session on XXXX at XXXX between the hours or 12:00pm-2:00pm.
If you are not able to attend you may call XXXX directly at (XXX) XXX-XXXX
For your convenience, here are links to the employee mortgage rates: via web browser http://XXXX
Please note that the employee rates are entered each day around 10am and will not be available before then. A XXXX Loan Officer can also assist you with the rates as well as get you started on your loan.
Log on to XXXX for important mortgage and home equity program limitations and disclosures.
[This mail is being sent to all employees in your building. Therefore, you do not need to forward this mail to any of your co-workers. However, if you do know someone who is in immediate need of mortgage or home equity assistance, please give them this number: (XXX) XXX-XXXX.]
Actual response to corporate solicitation from employee who received it:
This is spam! Please take my name off your distribution list.
Actual response from email sender to employee requesting to be removed from distribution list:
I apologize for the confusion
This is not a solicitation. We are obligated to let all XXXX employees know when a mortgage loan officer will be on site to answer questions about the employee mortgage benefit.
We are on site once a month which is why you got this e-mail.
As the week comes to a snail-like pace in anticipation of "restructurings", you begin tapping all your contacts, posting on all the job boards, and scheduling interviews furiously. But it turns out your boss doesn't seem to be aware of the big changes and piles more work on your "plate".
Due to the nature of corporate hierarchy, your boss has only one immediate subordinate: you. He's got a boss, who's got a boss, who's got a boss. And that's still within your "low-hanging" department. Rather than making plans and setting goals, your boss basically takes orders from his boss's boss that gets passed on to you. And because your boss's boss isn't getting fired, you're stuck doing all the work.
To any normal person, this set up is ridiculous; maybe if you lost two layers of bosses, the company wouldn't be in such bad shape that they had to sell out. Ultimately, you're so tired and stressed from the senselessness of your company, you end up post-poning interviews. Something about not having gotten fired yet has turned you into a monkey, and you simply keep working, almost mindlessly until
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