On morale, org days, and one size not fitting all…

As you may well know by now, I’m not well known as a joiner of activities. I don’t seek out social events or organizations. I don’t join clubs or rush out to sign up for team events. A million years ago as a student, group projects were an absolute agony… and I like them even less now as an adult. To say I do my best to avoid those situations is an understatement at the least. Anything that reeks with the stench of “group project” is to be avoided at nearly any cost.

The officially sanctioned Large Bureaucratic Organization “org day” is exactly the kind of thing I was built to avoid. The endless rounds of small talk with virtual strangers, the repeated need to refuse requests to sign up for various “team building activities,” and spending hours standing around looking vaguely uncomfortable are rarely the hallmarks of a good time. They’re not, in short, the kind of things I would enjoy doing under any circumstances, let alone when it’s laid on under the auspices of a benevolent employer.

Maybe it’s the kind of thing that’s good for someone’s morale, but I’m not that someone. The sort of things that improve my feeling of well being aren’t generally the ones that lend themselves to being a team event. Give me a comfy chair, a good book, a decent beverage, and a furry critter whose ears need scratching and my morale goes up dramatically. Recruiting me to join in a tug-o-war, not so much.

In this case, the best possible outcome I can hope for is managing to spend a couple of hours showing the flag and being seen by the right people before quietly disappearing to do something that will legitimately make me feel better about the world. I know there is no way to account for every individual preference when dealing in large numbers, but it would be nice, occasionally, if someone recognized that one size does not fit all.

Another pot luck pot luck…

“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.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. I keep a running list of the absurdities of life that I think might be worthy of including in the week’s edition of WAJTW. Because this week happened to include a federal holiday, I’ve spent the whole week vaguely confused about what day of the week it happens to be. As a result, I reached to that list and accidentally used one of the annoyances as an actual fully fledged blog post. That doesn’t seem like it would be much of an annoyance aside from the fact that most things have broken my way this week and there wasn’t much of a list to begin with… which is exactly why the first annoyance for this week is strictly a process piece.

2. Sports metaphors. I’ve seen enough sports in my life to understand most of the metaphors, but I’ve never quite understood our desire to try to take the lessons of the field and apply them to every other aspect of life. Since I don’t generally follow sports in any meaningful way maybe the stories just don’t resonate for me in the way they seem to for other people. I’m just a guy with a hard time applying the relevant lesson of the scrappy underdog team to the issues I’m fighting with on the daily. I realize I’m probably the outlier here, so don’t mind me. If it looks like I’m stifling a yawn, that’s because I am.

3. Prius Drivers. On Tuesday morning I sat in the truck and watched a Prius driver open his door, lean halfway out of the car, and back into a parking space. The next nearest vehicle was mine and Big Red was at least two dozen spots away and in a completely different row. Look, I know I don’t have an unblemished record here, but backing up in an effectively empty parking lot and landing between the white lines just feels like something you should be able to do without needing to nearly exit the vehicle… Especially when your car takes up about as much square footage as my kitchen table. The poor schmuck didn’t even have a pair of passing yoga pants to use as an effective excuse.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Team Building Activities. It’s pretty rare that I run into a topic on which I can’t speak with at least some degree of confidence. I discovered this week while developing and delivering a group presentation titled “How to Change a Diaper” that almost anything related to the care and maintenance of a human baby is apparently one of those topical areas with which I am completely unacquainted. I’m happy to give the presentation, but ecstatic to leave the details and task execution to others. In this case, ignorance truly is bliss.

2. Sleep. Yes, I know this is one that crops up from time to time, but it’s been worse this week than most. In your standard day, you only get 24 hours and to be frank, I’m not willing to give up any more than 1/4 of it on just laying around essentially unconscious. It’s not that I’m exceptionally busy or feel that anything I’m doing is especially important, just that I think there are better ways to spend the day that being quietly tucked into a warm bed. Lately, though, the standard six hours hasn’t really felt like enough. I probably just need to find a way to crank more caffeine into the system to overcome the increased coefficient of drag.

3. The media. Again. For the last week or so, they’ve been filling the television set with the story of an overzealous and potentially crazy neighborhood watch captain gunning down an innocent kid on his way home from the corner store. Other outlets are screaming that the kid wasn’t as innocent as we’re being lead to believe. Either way, it makes a good story and a nifty bit of narrative for the media to run with. What none of the stories do, though, is tell me exactly what happened. Personally, I’m reserving judgement until more than speculation is known. We were once a nation of laws rather than a media drive lynch mob. It’s a pity that’s not still the case.

There’s a difference between being friends and being friendly…

I like the people I work with well enough. By that I mean I don’t generally want to fold, spindle, or mutilate them by the end of the day. After some of the colleagues I’ve had in the past, I consider that a win. We spend eight hours a day with each other and for the most part manage to stay remarkably friendly with one another. That’s where the problem seems to start.

I’m perfectly willing to be friendly with everyone in the office, but I’m not particular interested in being their friend. I don’t want to come over to their homes for dinner. I don’t particularly want to hang out with them in any setting that’s something other than the office. They’re nice enough people mostly, but I’ve got my own friends already thanks. Adding them to the mix seems to blur the line a little too much between business and personal lives and I’m not cool with that at all. Maybe I’m the deviant in the group, but I’m just not interested in hanging out with my boss or the guy I spend 40-hours a week sitting next to. I see enough of them already.

I completely understand that the manager’s handbook says we have to do team building activities, but since it’s building the work team, how about we do it on work time, huh? Picking a random Wednesday and buying pizza for everyone would have been way better for my morale than royally jacking up one of the two days a week I actually get away from the office. Since I don’t detect any malicious intent here, I’m writing this one off as a strong concept hobbled by poor execution… but let’s try not to make the same mistake again.

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.

Office food…

The top dog around here wandered into our office this afternoon and announced that he had descended from the 5th floor because he’d heard that we had pizza. Not only did we not have pizza, but we also didn’t have a clue what would make him think we did. As it turns out, the pizza was for an office on the other side of the building, but hey sir, it was nice seeing you. Realistically, I can understand his confusion. Our office eats. A lot. There’s always a pie or a cake or, strangely, a ham sitting in a conference room somewhere. I’ve never worked in an office that wasn’t run by some arm of the government, so I have no idea if it’s this way everywhere. For purposes of discussion, I’m going to assume that it is.

Maybe it’s just my own proclivity, but most of office food makes me nervous. I’m ok with the bagels and donuts that come from the nice shop down the street. It’s the stuff that people bring in from home that worries me. I mean how well do you really know that cranky old battleax that sits down the hall? Want to tell me the last time her kitchen counters got a good scrub? How many cats did she say she had again? You get the point. Let’s be brutally honest here, there’s a pretty good chance your coworkers can’t even make a good cup of coffee. I can’t think of any legitimately good reason I’d trust most of them to make lunch.

Sure, you say, but most restaurant kitchens are filthy too. But what I have with the restaurant that I don’t have with my coworkers is plausible deniability. Plausible deniability and a certificate from some local government inspector that says yeah it’s dirty, but not dirty enough to kill you. Probably. But come on, you’ve met the people you work with. What are the chances they’re not going to try to kill you?

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.