“Sooooo… not many people have signed up for the pot luck next week.” Because I somehow managed to be anointed Keeper of the Pot Luck Sign Up Sheet, this fact wasn’t a surprise to me. The fact that a week before this kind of officially designated team building mandatory fun event, almost no one had signed up to participate shouldn’t have surprised anyone, really… but it does, time after time.
You understand going in to this line of work that it’s not Silicon Valley. We’re never going to have a water slide in the lobby and a full bar in the break room. Our bosses aren’t going to rent out a beach house or ski lodge. What we end up with, then, are events planned to “make do” with whatever minor leeway we do have in terms of building team spirit and morale. Of those, the pot luck lunch is the staple.
Maybe there was a time when this kind of thing was popular – make a dish, bring it in, pass it around. Smoke, joke, and relax for an hour or two. Now that we can’t smoke, no one can take a joke, and a long lunch is looked on as the ultimate form of slacking, I just can’t imagine why it’s not drawing a bigger crowd. Face it, I cook for myself in the evenings out of necessity – making another dish to carry along on the commute is just another layer of hassle I’m ok with avoiding.
The only thing I can tell you is that my morale has never been significantly improved because of a plate full of lukewarm and/or over crock-potted food offered up in some drab, windowless conference room. I’m willing to stipulate that the intentions here are probably good, but the execution is something between bland and ineffective. Sure, if it makes anyone feel better, I’ll send out another reminder, but you can go ahead and mark me down as a hard no.
1. Warehouse fires. You know what warehouses are good for? Storing large quantities of things. That’s what they’re designed to do. You know what they’re not good at? Letting large numbers of people get out of them quickly when something goes wrong. They aren’t designed for that. Trying to push a large number of panicked people through a limited number of available exits is the working definition of a death trap. Sure the building owner has fault. The event promoter has fault. But the individuals who found themselves caught in the trap are not guiltless. If you walk into any building or room, particular one that is stacked to the rafters with flammable material and don’t immediately identify two or three (or more) exit routes you’re as culpable for what happens to you as anyone else – even more so since no one has more responsibility for your personal safety that you do yourself.
2. Staff Meetings. Two hour staff meetings are about a 110 minute waste of time under the very best of circumstances. Jamming one into the very end of the day on Friday reeks of desperation, or need to feel in control, or just trying to give everyone a giant douche-tastic start to their weekend. In any case, late Friday afternoon staff meetings fall very far short of the best of times. A good leader might be tempted to say, “You know what, this week the meeting was just overcome by competing events so shoot me an email of no more than five lines and tell me what you’re up to so I can look at them over the weekend.” Of course that would require the person making the decision to fall into both the “good” and “leader” category. If it turns out to be just another manager, well, we’ll see you for your Friday afternoon meeting.
3. Stop fucking shouting. Walk your lazy ass to the other side of the room. Or pick up the phone if you’re really that lazy. Maybe try out an instant messenger app. Since the gods on Olympus decided we need need to be packed in to the office at a density that no sane person would consider reasonable, the very least you can do is try you use your goddamned indoor voice, show a touch of courtesy to those around you, and pretend, even if just for a minute, that you have the sense God gave the average Christmas goose.
Ten people sit in this room on days when we all happen to be here. This morning six of them are on the phone, three of them are engaged in a heated yet pointless conversation, and then there’s me sitting here trying to keep my head from exploding while listening to the whole cacophony grow louder and louder with each passing minute. I’m sure at least 50% of what’s going on is more or less work related, but really what I need them all to do is just STFU for a few minutes. As good as I usually am at blocking out whatever chaos is going on around me, they’re getting on my last nerve this morning for some reason. It’s good that my desire to stay out of prison is so strong, because otherwise I’d probably go on a wild 3-hole punch swinging rampage.
Sometimes I wonder if the bosses think that lots of noise equals lots of things getting done. It could be that I’m just the outlier here, but my work tends to be better when I have a nice quiet place to work on it without too many superfluous interruptions. If I had skills that were marketable anywhere other than to other big government agencies, I’d strongly consider just hanging out my own shingle and then only accepting work via email. It’s a real pity that landed gentry in England stopped hiring hermits to live on the grounds as part of the scenery round about the time the Victorian style passed from fashion. I think I’d have been exceptionally talented in that field of endeavor.
Editorial Note: This part of a continuing series of posts previously available on a now defunct website. They are appearing on http://www.jeffreytharp.com for the first time. This post has been time stamped to correspond to its original publication date.