Workin' for the man

I’m about to take you on another little voyage into the dysfunctional work place, which I hope will allow you to appreciate your own employment situation, whatever it is. And, on a more selfish note, it allows me to appreciate that my job provides a lot of good material…

The other day at our staff meeting, The Boss handed out copies our mission, vision, and values statement, as a preface to asking us to come up with some new efficiency measures. It’s probably like all the other M, V & V statements in the world, declaring that we take pride in what we do, and it’s a great place to work. Our boss is smart and beloved for being a very decent, kind person, but we were all thinking, wtf? Is he joking? We started making suggestions like, we could get rid of two thirds of the geologists, and let the remaining one do all the work. Oh wait, we did that already. I know, we could eliminate four ecologists and have the remaining 7 absorb their work. Oh wait, we did that already. I know, we could cut back on our hours and pay by ten percent. Oh, done. And so on, until he showed us a list of what one of the other groups came up with, which seemed very suck-upy and ridiculous to us; ideas on the order of, “use the other side of the post-it note too”. Streamline the review process for Holmes Point Tree Retention review. Yep, that’s a cost-saver if there ever was one.

Because, bottom line, we aren’t bitter people, but no one has asked us for any input for months, or given any information about what’s going on, so it’s a little hard to be in the mood to play this particular game under the circumstances. I had had a sneak preview of this game, because the other day when we were marveling about how messed up it is and how unpleasant everything’s become, I said I might go in and talk to The Boss about it.

“What are you going to say?”

“Oh, maybe I’ll actually cry and have the meltdown that’s been on my mind for a while.”

"Cool, I’m coming."

We were going to just vent a bit about how nasty everything has become: all of the homebuilders who are going bankrupt are angrier than ever about land-use regulation, and pretty much, everyone just seems especially cranky and primed to take it out on The Government.

So we went to find The Boss, but discovered that he was in a meeting with the other 20 managers who manage the remaining 60 or so of us. The agenda on his calendar showed that they were going to discuss both cost-cutting measures, and staff moral [sic], which made me curious enough to go back later. When I walked into his office, he asked what I was there for, and I said I was thinking of coming in and crying to emphasize that it’s so Truly Unpleasant at work these days. He said, and this is a direct quote, “Huh.”

The phone rang about then and he answered it, and when he got off the phone he said, “oh, this is very stressful; the person on the phone had an accent that made her difficult to understand, and you’re standing here too. It’s very, very stressful.”
“Yes, I can imagine,” I said, and asked what he had in mind to improve staff “moral”. He gave me a preview of the plan, which was to ask us for ideas on how to become more efficient and save more money, so I wasn’t completely surprised at our meeting.

But the gist of the situation is that the big branches have already been cut from the tree, there’s really not much that can be done to generate significant savings if we’re supposed to keep functioning at all. But after The Boss left, we actually did come up with some ideas that could fall into the category of “let’s call stuff that what we want to do anyway cost-saving measures,” so it actually went pretty well.

When I returned to my desk, there were a few things of note: one was an e-mail, sent with high importance, about the vending machine. The gist of it was that the old vending machine had been replaced with a different may appear to be smaller, but has the same capacity as the old one. Phew, glad we got that squared away. Some workplaces have lunch rooms where staff who bring their lunch might sit to eat away from their cubicle, but, in a strange twist, we rented our lunchroom as office space, so I think the closet that houses the vending machine might have more significance than it would under other circumstances.

The funny little side story about the rentals is this: we’re situated downstream from a major dam that has significant structural problems; the Corps of Engineers announced that they might be forced to release lots of water in order to prevent catastrophic dam failure. Under one scenario, these releases would mean that our building would get inundated with 7 feet of water. The response to this was to move most of the first floor staff to the second and third floors, and then rent out the first floor. I know.

But the other thing I came upon when I returned to my desk was a message from a process server, who said he’d tried to subpoena me, but I wasn’t around, and could I please stick around so he could do so. Which, well, that’s not how it works, is it? Aren’t they supposed to hunt you down?

I commented over the cubical wall, “B., I need a plan. It’s not fun here.” So he tossed me a piece of nicorette gum and said I should take up chewing. It seemed as good a plan as any, so I chewed for a while. Nothing happened, so I went and asked him, “um, is this it?” He gave me another piece, so I chewed two for a while until I started to get jangly and the back of my throat started to itch. “I think I’m getting throat cancer. Is that the plan?” He said I should probably spit it out before I get sick, and I did because it was pointed out to me that the way to get off nicorette gum is to start smoking unfiltered cigarettes. I asked someone if they noticed my sexy new throat cancer voice, and they just looked uncomfortable, so I went downstairs to wait for the process server.

He arrived, and gave me the papers, and I said, wait, aren’t you even gonna ask for ID? He said no, you look pretty honest, and I said, well, you really never know. The real Betsy could have been hit by a comet in the parking lot, or died of sudden-onset throat cancer, and I could be an imposter. He chuckled, and said he was sorry to have to subpoena me, because he knows that no one ever likes that, and it occurred to me that lots of people don’t like their job these days.

The subpoena was about an old project I worked on, where I required some planting, and I use that term loosely, because well, I say it's required, and then it never happens for a decade, and then we claim a bond, and then it still never happens, and then we go to court over it, well, that whole thing takes some of the punch out of the word, "required") It will be a grim and unpleasant legal case, but the best part is the dramatic language in the subpoena, which is something like, “You are commanded to be in such and such a place at blah blah time. Ignore at your own peril.” I spoke to the biggest remaining mucky muck, and said, hmm, things aren’t particularly fun around here lately, and he said, well, you just have to work harder to re-define fun. I am working as hard as I can at it, and each day I feel my muscles in that area getting stronger.

Thanks for reading, as always.


  1. Not to make you any more bummed out than you obviously are about work, but I have to say, based on your description of the place, that I am very, very, very, very (did I mention very?) glad I don't work there.


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