« Wreck The Malls | Main | Song on "CSI: NY" »

November 29, 2005

Pay No Attention To The Man Behind The Curtain

I haven't read Barbara Ehrenreich's "Bait and Switch". Sheelzebub has, and she's having mixed feelings about it. I was temporarily a corporate slave back in the '80s right after I got out of college. It was mostly clerical work, and I hated it. I hadn't been confined to a corporate cubicle because I don't think that level of Hell had been invented yet. Sheelz described the Corporatespeak you needed to be fluent in to survive in that culture:

A lot of the stuff she points out is already known to those of us who haven't worked most of our lives as full-time writers or academics: enterence into the corporate world requires fakery that Satan himself would have trouble with. It's the weak resume puffing, constantly-networking, glad-handing optimism or die attitude that makes me twitch, but you have to fake it, you have to use the jargon in the industry in which you want to work, you have to adopt the stupid pseudo-spiritual and fake-philosophical platitudes (Sun Tzu and leadership! The Tao of the Career!), and you have to basically play the game. No matter how insipid it is. Some nightclubs don't let you in if you're not glam or hip enough, some corporations won't let you in if you're not blandly bubbly enough.

And her inexperience comes out in other ways: when one of her job coaches asks her to cite her three biggest fears, she lists "being too old to find a job" and "living in poverty" (she couldn't think of a third one). I smacked my hand against my forehead because you never say that. You just don't. You never, ever admit fear about things like jobs or life or money. Everyone in the shiny happy office has no financial woes and no worries about their employability. The things one worries about and speaks of are "being unchallenged by my job" or "spending too much time at home." Okay, maybe not the latter, but you get the picture. It's like talking about salary and being upfront about the fact that actually, you'd like more of it. Can you imagine!

I already knew that you weren't supposed to answer interview questions honestly. "What are your greatest weaknesses?" was code for "Name some normally maladaptive behavior that we in the corporate world would welcome with open arms." I knew to say that I was a perfectionist, and that I would work long hours to solve an especially difficult problems. You never say that you can't abide dishonesty in others or that you can't get along with or don't care to deal with difficult people. If you say anything like that, you just talked yourself out of a job.

Back in the '80s, I was invited by my new boss to attend a workshop based on the trendy "In Search Of Excellence" books. It was all corporate feel-goodisms that set my bullshit meter buzzing like crazy. Even though I knew it was all bullshit, it was hard to ignore how everyone was getting excited about it. Awards were given out after dinner and cocktails. There were lots of pep talks. I felt like I had been abducted and taken to an Amway convention. I dreamt about winning one of those awards some year, but I knew it would never happen.

I had no idea how right I was, but not winning an award was not my fault. The company went out of business a few years later because management mismanaged its funds. This was before Enron and similar scandals. I laughed when I heard the company went belly-up. By the time that happened, I had long since left the place.

Most of my jobs have been in creative fields, so people who are a bit odd like me flourish in that kind of environment. You have to be a little bent to work as a gaffer (lighting) in movies, concerts, and TV. Thank God I didn't have to wear a corporate mask when I worked. Sheelz described the corporate mask as "the bland but cheerful, professional and calm, busy but engaged, schmoozy but focused personna that becomes Everydrone. You don't let your real thoughts or feelings be known. Everything is pleasant. Everydrones have their own language, with dialects specific to their industries and companies. Everydrones manage to promote themselves and be humble at the same time." Everyone I worked with was a little nuts. No one could even be imagined as "Everydrone". Not in the environment we worked in. All kinds of kooky things were expected of us local crew. I remember when we had to go through metal detectors when we came in to strike the set for a Barbra Streisand concert. Bill and Hillary Clinton had come that evening for the concert, which was why the extra security was set up. Everyone laughed about it. Apparently, security didn't want a stagehand walking around with a gun, but all of us stagehands had drills and heavy 9 inch wrenches that could easily be wielded as a weapon. It was nearly required to have a strong sense of irony to work in that field. A sense of humor was another requirement. Being a little bent was perfectly okay.

I could never function as a Corporate Drone. I'm too mouthy, I'm easily annoyed, and I can't just ignore bullshit when I see it. That's why I've always been much happier in more creative fields. They have always been much more appropriate for my personality. If I had to work in a cubicle I'd go out of my mind.

Posted on November 29, 2005 at 02:34 PM | Permalink

Comments

Many in our society would agree with you....and I have found a simple solution...
----------------
AS Consumer spending represents two-thirds of the economy, and the frantic month between Thanksgiving and Christmas is prime time for retail sales -- for some merchants, up to one-quarter of their yearly total. It has penetrated the national consciousness that how well the nation's retailers do during the Christmas season is seen as a powerful indicator of America's economic health....

For more on this story go to: http://fatherswhocare.blogspot.com/

Thank you Countess - You are GREAT and I respect and enjoy your BLOG...very much!

Stephen Rene
www.ParentsWhoCare.us

Posted by: SRene at Nov 29, 2005 2:44:29 PM

Many in our society would agree with you....and I have found a simple solution...
----------------
AS Consumer spending represents two-thirds of the economy, and the frantic month between Thanksgiving and Christmas is prime time for retail sales -- for some merchants, up to one-quarter of their yearly total. It has penetrated the national consciousness that how well the nation's retailers do during the Christmas season is seen as a powerful indicator of America's economic health....

For more on this story go to: http://fatherswhocare.blogspot.com/

Thank you Countess - You are GREAT and I respect and enjoy your BLOG...very much!

Stephen Rene
www.ParentsWhoCare.us

Posted by: SRene at Nov 29, 2005 2:45:22 PM

"I'm too mouthy, I'm easily annoyed, and I can't just ignore bullshit when I see it. "

Hah, I'm the same *and* I work as a "corporate drone". Some of us work here because we're not quite fortunate enough to have marketable creative skills.

Posted by: Sheena at Nov 29, 2005 4:14:28 PM

Sheena, even in creative fields, some skills are more marketable than others. My favorite creative skill was prosthetic make-up, but there wasn't much call for it where I lived. I loved making a bloody mess out of latex. I did get to do that kind of work on "Homicide: Life On The Streets", but that gig didn't last long. Most of the work in my locale was in the part of the field I liked the least - lighting. I have a fear of heights, which doesn't work well with a career in stage lighting. It's strange, I would get vertigo being ten feet off the ground on a ladder, but I felt fine (if a bit light-headed) in a cherry-picker two-hundred feet off the ground.

I wish there was more support of creative people in this country. What a waste of a lot of talent.

Posted by: The Countess at Nov 29, 2005 5:11:00 PM

I really feel for the Dilberts of this world. Although I don't have a house or car to show for twenty years of working as a room-service waiter in chain hotels, I have a pension, fully employer-paid H/W and a union that would happily have management spend thousands on grievance procedures if they tried to fire you for no reason. Plus, I have a job that can't be outsourced. Not that I'm bragging; without UNITE-HERE, my life and the lives of thousands of others would be like that described in Ehrenreich's previous book. It does seem as if most roads will lead to a job in the service sector. The silver lining is that maybe militant labor will raise its head if that turns out to be the case.

Posted by: DP_in_SF at Nov 29, 2005 5:39:25 PM

Very few people can't be easily replaced in the work force. Reguardless if it's a corporate position or a creative one. Over the years I've had the misfortune of working in several different
fields, always at the bottom rung. And I learned one thing, not everyone can get to the
top. It takes certain personality and b.s. like sheezebub points out. The sad thing I
learned is that character has very little influence on people. One can be the most
hard working honest intelligent person in a company and get over looked because they lack
personality. But if someone has a lot of personality they can end up playing golf with
the boss and screwing his daughter! Ok, usually you have to sleep with the boss's
daughter before he hires you. But, the point is personality will get you a lot farther than
character and integrity and all that.

Posted by: Buddy at Nov 29, 2005 5:56:16 PM

Well, "Buddy" (aka Pete Kaplan, my Since-September troll), you don't have personality, character, or integrity. That's why you haven't been able to rise past the bottom rung of the fields you've worked in. It's interesting that you've subtly admitted that you lack personality. I've known that about you for ages. ;)

Posted by: The Countess at Nov 29, 2005 6:36:07 PM

DP, I haven't read the book. Could you comment on some of the more important points that it made that you agree with, if you don't mind? I'm so behind in my reading. I still have to read "Nickel and Dimed".

I have my eye on some books about the apocryphal texts of the New and Old Testaments, but they're a bit pricey. I have too many books to read.

Posted by: The Countess at Nov 29, 2005 6:39:07 PM

I work in a lower level mgt. position (GS-11) for the federal gov't in an engineering organization. The hiring and promotions are based on applicants addressing 6-8 job specific criteria in writing in detail. No oral interviews, no used car salesman bs. As a result of these practices the organization has a majority of competent employees at all levels. In my opinion several of these people, including myself, would have never been employed or promoted at an organization using oral interviews. We seem to have a quite a few useful mavericks or whatever you want to call them.

The organization is not perfect of course. Upper mgt. selections are usually made from those who can bark the company line with a straight face, but they are selected from a pool of capable workers, not drones.

Friends who work in a parallel state organization that promotes excusively with oral interviews claim it is full of glad handers, ass kissers, etc. who over time become the interview panel. That leaves that organization in a position where it eventually promotes only bullshit artists, many of whom are completely incompetent.

I guess my point is that hiring and promoting on personality or the ability to parrot the latest management theory is really very counter productive to an organization and to our country.

Jan

Posted by: at Nov 29, 2005 7:32:10 PM

Bwahaha, I loved how you handled that troll.

Posted by: anashi at Nov 30, 2005 8:10:10 AM

Anashi, it's too much fun to poke at him. He's been trolling my blog since September, using various names. He's a cretin.

Posted by: The Countess at Nov 30, 2005 9:23:53 AM

And on the other hand, some of us have learned how to suck it in and deal with corpo-crap in exchange for a steady paycheck and health insurance, something that doesn't exist in the "creative" world (the one in which my husband works).

Posted by: Elayne Riggs at Nov 30, 2005 10:21:24 AM

Countess: I am referring to "Nickel and Dimed". It's a smooth read, though I think most peole know almost instinctively what characterizes work in the service sector: poor pay, mean management, wretched conditions.

Posted by: DP_in_SF at Nov 30, 2005 12:22:29 PM

Is the academia considered creative or not? On the one hand, the academia doesn't have the sort of corporate drones you describe. On the other, grant proposals and letters of recommendation sound very corporate to me.

Posted by: Alon Levy at Nov 30, 2005 12:56:40 PM

My experience, 9 years at my company, is in between drone and creative. I work in education publishing at a (mostly) creative job. But like the countess, it's not my favorite creative endeavor, so sometimes I feel like a worker bee. I've sucessfully avoided totally mind-numbing, soul-sucking jobs for some time now. It's just not worth it. Sometimes I wish I could suck it up for a few years to bank some money, but I can't do it. Thankfully I got married fairly recently and that's taken some of the pressure off.

Posted by: Ron O. at Nov 30, 2005 5:19:44 PM

Bleh. Bleh!
"...glad-handing optimism or die attitude that makes me twitch, but you have to fake it, you have to use the jargon in the industry in which you want to work, you have to adopt the stupid pseudo-spiritual and fake-philosophical platitudes (Sun Tzu and leadership! The Tao of the Career!), and you have to basically play the game. No matter how insipid it is. Some nightclubs don't let you in if you're not glam or hip enough, some corporations won't let you in if you're not blandly bubbly enough."
It's so true.
I have a friend who goes to meetings and writes down the egregious jargon that people use, and then she and others have contests over the worst phrases.
She can do this because she's an administrative assistant and not trying to play the game.
Sigh.

Posted by: SF Knitter at Dec 1, 2005 10:05:29 AM