With relatively little in my workweek requiring my full intellectual investment, I have a fair bit of capacity left over for wandering thoughts… Say, for example, the kind of capacity that might yield an online diary of musings about office life. Related to that, I spend a good portion of my excess mental energy – as a defense mechanism, maybe – trying to deconstruct what, specifically, about my work environment that I find baffling. In speaking with others who’ve never slogged through white-collar obscurity, I often find it difficult to articulate the types of things you see here that make you want to forward your calls and retire to a simple life, subsisting off as much packaged ham as you can slam into your face before supermarket security takes you down in aisle 3.
I’m happy to report that my speculative travels have led me to a fairly confident identification of at least one problem consistently plaguing corporate paradise, which I will illustrate to you by way of hastily conceived analogy. (Hey – with this blog, you get what you pay for.)
Suppose that, one day, God is eating a sandwich.
[Aside: this is not the moment where you learn that I’ve been sedating you with blather about office life, only to suddenly change tack and lead you down a path of theistic exploration. I have no horse in that race, so I assure you that this ‘God’ is of no particular religious ilk. If it helps your ability to focus, think of him – or her, for that matter – as someone important who happens to like sandwiches. Cool?]
As he eats his sandwich, God browses the front page of reddit, periodically consulting the clock to make sure he doesn’t miss his 1PM. (He’s got a teleconference with next year’s Super Bowl champions, to reassure them that their victory is his will.) The ring of his phone interrupts an otherwise quiet lunch; he reaches for the receiver, half distracted as he glances at the call display. It’s Glen, Executive VP of Natural Disasters.
“Glen! How the hell are ya?!” he opens, tilting his head back to roar with overlaughter at his deliciously ironic greeting.
“Never better, Boss! Never better… Listen, did I catch you at a bad time?”
“Just sneaking in a sandwich before my 1-o’clock, but no biggie. I always have time for you, my good man!”
“Thanks, I’ll be quick. But hey – I gotta know, how’s the sandwich? Is it from that new takeout place on the ground floor?”
“It’s not bad – yeah, from that new spot. The pickles are a little bland, but otherwise – not too shabby a sandwich at all… So what can I do for you?”
Their conversation continues, with Glen getting the information he called about (that I’m too lazy to detail for you). Later, Glen passes Bob, Executive VP of Culinary Affairs, in the hallway:
Glen: “Bobberino! How’s life in paradise treating you?”
Bob: “Heck of a day. Where does the time go? Am I right?”
Glen: “You ain’t kiddin’! Oh, hey – while I have you – I was on the phone with the Chief earlier, and he mentioned that the pickles in his sandwich were a little bland. Probably not a huge deal, but something you may want to keep an eye on.”
Bob: “Shit. Okay, roger that. Thanks for letting me know.”
Glen and Bob part ways, with entirely different impressions from their brief exchange. Glen shakes his head and mutters to himself, not surprised that that whiny sonofabitch Bob took the opportunity – yet again – to slip in a comment about how busy he is. Bob’s head, on the other hand, is swimming with the thing about the pickles. Just what he needs: another fire to put out.
I’ll spare you the gory details of what happens next, but the jist of it is this: Bob calls Reuben, VP of Sandwiches, and gives him a stern talking-to about the pickles. Reuben calls Francine, Director of Accoutrements and gives her shit. Francine calls Andrej, Manager of Vegetable Brining and schedules an urgent face-to-face.
By the time Andrej hears the story, it’s alleged that it was God who called Bob, in a seething rage about the unacceptable state of the pickles. Andrej leaves the meeting with a laundry list of action items, furiously motivated by – literally – the fear of God. He drops everything he had in progress and spends the next 48 hours frantically embroiled in ‘post-mortem‘ analysis of what went wrong with the pickles, and drafting safeguards to ensure this never happens again. For two nights, he’s far-and-away the last to leave the office, poring over documents at his desk until the wee hours, gruffly dismissing a series of worried phone calls from his wife.
At last, Andrej emerges from solitary confinement, bags under his eyes, report in hand. He takes it to Francine who nitpicks about inconsequential elements of his output (“have you considered bolding that section header?”), which leads to a couple of iterations of edits, eventually resulting in something that Francine doesn’t feel grossly embarrassed to present to Reuben. Francine and Reuben repeat the process of iterative revision, as do Reuben and Bob. In the end, dozens of hours of labour, on the part of no less than four accomplished professionals, have been poured into these findings which will surely be enough to assuage the pickle-born wrath of God.
The timing is good; Bob has his weekly recurring one-on-one meeting with God today. Buoyed by the pride of having taken the initiative to order the delivery of this report by his subordinates, Bob’s chest swells as he enters the meeting, taking a seat at the cherrywood table in God’s corner office.
They exchange pleasantries – catching up on what each other’s kids are up to these days, and the like. Then, just as they’re settling in to tackle the items on their agenda, God’s phone rings.
God glances at the call display… “Shit.” [To Bob:] “Sorry, I’ve gotta take this.”
*He picks up the phone, interjecting with brief verbal acknowledgments amid a series of affirmative nods.*
“Yeah, got it… No, not at all… Sit tight. Be there in a jiff.”
Turning to Bob, God apologizes, “Sorry Bobmeister, I’ve gotta bump today’s meeting. Something came up.”
“No sweat,” Bob assures. “But for next time, I’ve got a report on the pickles, to add to the agenda.”
“The…pickles?” God asks, perplexed, as he stands up from the table.
“Yeah, the ones on the sandwich from that new spot on the main level. We’ve got it under control. Won’t happen again,” Bob beams.
Only half listening as he gathers up his things in a haste to leave his office, God casually offers, “Uh, yeah. Look, don’t sweat it. The pickles are fine… Besides, there’s this killer ramen place that just opened up around the corner. Much more my thing.”
When Bob gets back to his desk, he files the pickle dossier in the recycling bin. His subordinates later ask for an update on how the report was received. He assures them that the meeting went well, but seems disinterested when pressed to provide details. Reuben is swamped and can’t be bothered to pursue the matter further. Francine is satisfied to have been spared the worst of God’s fury.
Andrej sits at his desk, exhausted, and weeps a single tear.
And that, my pagan friends, is what you’re missing by not dedicating your life in service of our earthly lord and savior, the President/CEO. Endless hierarchy and reverence for same are the never-ending causes of so many games of Corporate ‘Telephone’, where the content and urgency of a message relayed higher up the pyramid are all but assuredly lost (or – more likely – hyperbolized) by the time they’ve trickled down its many dense layers. And because nobody wants to be seen as questioning the word of God, the pious corporate citizen forges ahead, certain of his ability to deliver work that will earn him eternal salvation and, with any luck, a better parking spot. But it’s okay because – as we well know – once God’s word has been transcribed (and re-transcribed) by his followers, to not interpret that transcription literally is to secure your place among the forever damned.
If Andrej could have had even the briefest of conversations with God, he might have understood there to be little urgency in the casual remark made by the Almighty. But that day, to say nothing of all his other days spent toiling in white-collar purgatory, Andrej’s prayers went unanswered.