We want to welcome you to the team. We think you will be a valuable member. We know that your contributions will be important. Take time to read the manual that covers everything you need to know before your first meeting at 10 AM with the team.
At your first meeting with the team, we’ll go around the room and ask everyone for an update on what progress they are making with their projects. When we get to you, and you nervously laugh that it is your first day, and you are sure you’ll have lots of questions, we will look at you quizically because we already told you that everything you need to know is in the manual.
We will use lots of acronyms you are unfamiliar with in these meetings. You will ask a fellow peon later what they mean and he’ll look at you and shrug, and return to his work. You will ask your immediate supervisor in your first one-on-one meeting later in the week what the acronyms stand for, and she’ll ask you, “have you read the manual?”
Well of course I’ve read the manual, you’ll think to yourself. It has a revision date of two years ago on it, and none of the acronyms mentioned in this week’s meeting are in it.
You will be asked to log in to a website that requires a certificate that you have to set up with our IT guy who is out of the office until Thursday, but we will discuss in conversations at cubes near your desk important information that can only be found on this website, and then turn to you and ask you for your opinion, and then when you explain that you don’t have a login set up, we’ll ask you when the IT guy is returning in a way that implies you are somehow responsible for his absence.
Of course, we want to invite you to lunch on your first day. So, at lunch, we will quickly launch into a litany of workplace politics and shoptalk (and more acronyms), and then chide you for being so silent.
After you have worked with the angry IT guy on Thursday, who snarls at you every time you forget to add an uppercase letter, number, special character, space to your password, or not make your password between 11-12 characters–after this, you will log into a website that works only on one version of one browser, intermittently.
Everything not contained in the manual is on this website, can’t you find it? The wiki tells you everything you need to know to do your job. What do you mean the revision history says the wiki hasn’t been updated in two years? Look at Harold over there–he started six months ago, and he learned everything he needed to know on the first day of his job.
Maybe we should send you to some training, since you aren’t catching on very fast. At this new employee training, which we were supposed to schedule for you six months ago, but we didn’t (because all of our other team members didn’t seem to need it), you will encounter a bunch of people ten years younger than you who are hungry and eager to play cutthroat games of corporate warfare in their zeal to become VPs within a year. They already know all of the jargon and acronyms that are important to our business, why don’t you? They are simply at this training because they are good, corporate minions. Why are you here?
Don’t you love our company’s mission and our vision and our values statement? You are so lucky to come here to work. We will remind you periodically of all the people we interviewed who we were considering hiring instead of you. Why did we hire you? Because you got a good reference from one of our friend’s friends.
You are looking over the shoulder of Harold one day, and he has an amazing document in front of him. It provides all of the acronyms, plus specific instructions on how to do your job. “Where is this document located on our network, Harold?”
“It’s the manual,” he replies, disgusted with you and your absolute ignorance.
“But my manual doesn’t have this information in it.”
“Sure it does.”
The manual is 1246 pages long, 1.5 line-line spacing, 10pt Arial. You are reluctant to take his copy and do a comparison between his version and yours. Nonetheless: “Can you email me your manual?” you ask him.
“I’ll try. It’s 10MB. Our email system has a 10MB limit.”
“Can you zip the file?”
“I don’t know how to do that. It’s not in the manual.”
Two days later, you ask him again, and he says that the email with the attached manual is still in his outbox. “Can you print it out for me?” you ask. Harold’s face fills with horror at the idea of wasting so much paper.
You tell your immediate supervisor about your discovery of the discrepancy between versions.
“Really? I thought I set you up with the most recent version of the manual on your first day. Anyway, not a whole lot has changed. Just pages 238-342, the section on UGV Administration for OMW Users.”
“But, that’s my job–UGV Administrator, OMW. Can you not see why I’ve struggled so much these past six months? The entire section of the manual on how to do MY job isn’t in the manual.”
“Calm down. You don’t need to get violent. I may have to issue a warning to you. Three strikes and you’re out, you know.”
“But, I’m not violent. I’m just exasperated.”
“If you don’t like working here, you can always go work somewhere else. I can’t understand why anyone would ever want to work anywhere else, but this is a free country. Nobody is forcing you to come here to work. In fact, you should be grateful you even have a job, really, in this economy. Why, if I could go back and do it again, I probably would have hired that nice Asian man with the MBA. He seemed to know his stuff.”
You seek out an ally. In the break room, strange fellows wearing flannel shirts whisper in hushed voices over brown bag lunches and eye you suspiciously when you grab your microwave dinner out of the freezer to heat it up. Sales guys in crisp, corporate button-down shirts poke their heads into the breakroom and scowl at you. The assistant HR manager who seemed kind to you on your first day occasionally comes in here and makes a comment about there being no more pretzel snacks. She appears to have no idea who you are.
Surely there is someone at this company that hates it as much as you do, that finds their processes and circled wagons and cronyism just as mystical and impenetrable as you do.
Your supervisor’s supervisor sees you standing by the microwave heating up your lunch. “What are you doing?” she demands. “Didn’t you get the lunch invite?”
“No, I didn’t,” you say. She’s got your email address entered incorrectly in her address book, and this is the third team event you’ve missed. Each time you let her know that she doesn’t have your correct email address, and each time she’ll forward you a copy of the invite to the correct email address, with the incorrect email address plainly visible on the forwarded copy.
“It’s Harold’s birthday. And, we are all chipping in. Just a little something. You can pay me later if you don’t have $50 on you. Here, sign the card. And, hurry. We’re all taking your supervisor’s car to our, I mean Harold’s, favorite Sushi place.”
You hate these team lunches. Everyone talks for a good two hours from the moment they are walking out of the building, until the moment they are walking back about all of the eateries-for-snobs they’ve tried in the area. These folks hate chain restaurants, and will only eat at places nobody else has heard of, unless that other person happens to be a VP.
They always split the check evenly among everyone, and others usually enjoy more expensive foods and wines than you do. You end up paying $50 for $15 worth of food and drink.
Of course, you are always late to a meeting following a team lunch. If it’s a meeting run by someone else other than your supervisor or her supervisor, you will receive a dozen scowls and five seconds of silence when you enter the room late. The withering look by the presenter is far better than the condemnation you’d get from your supervisor or her supervisor when they hear you were completely absent from a meeting where you were supposed to represent the team.
If the meeting you are late to is run by your supervisor or her supervisor, they will laugh uproariously at lunch several times about how hilarious it is that they are late to their own meeting, but, oh well, we can talk about it here. Of course, the two supervisors will get into a conversation between each other about which VP is moving up and which one is getting fired, and congratulate each other afterward about their productive meeting.
Then, if there was something you actually needed to ask them or present to them, they will look at you with withering looks if you try to enter their office after lunch while they are either checking their voicemail or gossiping with one of the VPs. Of course, they are always ready to let you know that their offices are open and they are always available during those periods where the company hands out employee satisfaction surveys.
At one time, you thought you might try your hand at moving up a corporate ladder, which is one of your big motivations for joining the company. You have some good ideas about improving processes, which friends of your supervisor and her supervisor have all implemented. These friends are now your quasi-supervisors, and your supervisor only has time to meet with you about once every two weeks. Your supervisor, her supervisor, and all of their friends they’ve hired to be your quasi-supervisors, go out to lunch together almost every single day and have dozens of impromptu meetings throughout the day to talk about the latest thing they’ve posted on Pinterest or the latest bargain they’ve gotten in a pair of shoes.
After a fashion, Harold has become a sort of ally, since he is not invited to these affairs of theirs, though he tries valiantly to force laughter at their jokes and insert himself into their conversations. Sometimes he catches them when they are on their way out the door to lunch, and they invite him in a very patronizing manner.
After a year, you’ve finally figured out what all the acronyms mean and what your job actually consists of. “Not much” is the answer to both of these questions that loomed so large throughout the year. The acronyms describe processes that aren’t ever actually implemented, but are thrown about as a kind of special code or secret language at meetings between VPs and those-who-would-be-VPs. Your job, which at first sounded very important and gave you lots of stress, now bores you and receives just enough of your attention to keep you from getting fired.
Your quasi-supervisors routinely make unreasonable requests of you, and throw little fits when you explain how difficult their requests would be to implement. Your own suggestions and ideas are routinely ignored at team meetings, or someone will say, “that would be nice” to pacify you. Occasionally, one of your ideas does get implemented by your quasi-supervisors, and then they take all or most of the credit for it.
Because there have been so many new VPs over the past year, everyone on your team, including you, has received a title change to make them sound more important. They’ve put the word “Director” in your supervisor’s name, and made your quasi-supervisors “Managers” though technically you still report to your supervisor. Your supervisor’s supervisor has been moved to another team, a “special projects” team where she will have more time to strategize and think about best practices.
Harold has been fired, and you’ve been offered a role in which you do both Harold’s job and yours, and get a 3% raise for your trouble. You also get to go out to lunch and eat sushi and pay for everyone’s wine and strange dishes they ordered. Several people within the company you’ve never met offer you obligatory congratulations when the announcement goes out.
The sad thing is, Harold’s job and yours combined do not still make enough work to keep you busy forty hours a week. Oh sure, there is all that documentation you’re supposed to be writing–an update to the manual to describe the “new role.” But, it’s really hard to write up BS like the BS that is already in there. Your new role includes not only copying and pasting, but pushing a few buttons, too.
In your role, you are the grunt who cuts and pastes copy for marketing people to market to other marketing people about your company’s marketing software. You now must push the buttons that make the marketing software actually send the emails. Your team buys giant lists of data that have been dubiously acquired (but the poor schmucks at some point in time accidentally checked a box at the bottom of a ten-page privacy statement saying that they didn’t mind if their data was sold on the open market to whomever), cranks out millions of emails to unsuspecting grunts at smaller companies. Occasionally, one of these grunts has their eyes on their supervisor’s desk, and will recommend your company’s software to their supervisor’s supervisors in hopes of making a good impression. Most of the email addresses you send to either bounceback, are unsubscribed, or simply see no activity whatsoever happen with them.
Then one day they announce that your company has been bought by a bigger company that does what your company does, only bigger and smarter. Leaner, faster-talking versions of your supervisor and her friends come in and promise your team that they will still have jobs when the merger is finished. Your supervisor seems to not care a bit, though her underling friends seem slightly worried about their jobs. You immediately start looking for new work, and you get in touch with Harold.
You learn that Harold has landed at an awesome company where everything is going awesomely, and the snacks in the breakroom are twice as fattening. Harold says that when they take you out to lunch here, they pay for it all themselves. Harold says it’s fun to work here, and that they go bowling and stuff at least once a month. You take a long lunch to drive up north and have a conversation with Harold’s supervisor.
She hires you on the spot. Two weeks later, you are ushered into a room full of people who do random, marketing-type stuff. They all have special acronyms for their processes, and they are having an animated conversation about the “VB9 Email Campaign that is supposed to go to the O_Y11 User Group in Baltimore.” They turn to you and ask how long it would take for you to cut and paste their content into new emails and push the “send” button. You try to steer the conversation around learning about their strategies and goals. Each of your ideas are quickly met and dealt with a “yes, we’ve tried that before, we don’t do that anymore.”
“Isn’t this place great?” asks Harold, with a grin that has no end.
Welcome to the team, you.