Posted by: Kate | July 9, 2008

Downhill

One upon a time, there was a brand new job awaiting a somewhat conflicted woman.  She didn’t want a new job, because she wanted to be home with her babies and her house and herself, but she needed a new job to pay for the small and large things that weren’t paying for themselves.  She struggled and resisted, but in the end accepted that a few years at a job outside the home was worth the long-term plan of moving to her dream home and trying out some other hopes and ideas.

The work itself was unpredictable and exciting, sometimes upsetting, sometimes uplifting, but always gratifying.  Always interesting.  Always an honor.  Other people, strangers, were willing to open their hearts and minds to her, to tell her their deepest secrets and whisper their darkest fears.  They let her help.  It was a powerful thing.

The job, the little details and administration and politics surrounding the work, started off quite well.  The coworkers had an unpredictable mix of personality quirks and opinions, but they were all competent and professional.  They were good enough at their work to be trusted, their decisions to be safely relied-upon even in the absence of direct observation.  Their attitudes ranged from selfish to self-protective to friendly, and the atmosphere seemed safe enough.

The shared office was big, and spacious, and open.  It had windows with a view of a back alley and another office building, but the light was natural and there was the chance for the occasional breeze.  The manager’s office was two doors down, and more often than not, the manager was actually there and approachable. 

Office life, while not perfect, was good.

Then there came a change.  The big, spacious, open office space was needed for… something else.  No one quite knew, and those that did know weren’t telling.  But the space was reoganized, and the new office was 12 miles away, in an open, confidentiality-destroying bullpen setting.  The commute increased from 5.4 miles a day to 24.8, minimally, and the office area was also inhabited by various other employees, with different jobs.  Some of these were interesting and good-hearted people; at least one was boring and wretched. 

Office life, while not good, was tolerable.

The next change was so gradual as to be almost unnoticeable, like a glacier sliding across the face of the annoying and petulant woman across the room.  There wasn’t a need to be in an office anymore; the use of cell phones and computers was allowing more personal freedom of movement, and as long as everyone was responsive and available, they could do their jobs independently.  From the grocery store, or any one of the office buildings, or the living room.  The interaction with coworkers, always minimal because of the intensely independent nature of the job, was whittled down to weekly staff meetings and occasional greetings in the hallway. 

Office life was downright perfect.  Things went smoothly.  People were happy.

Sadly, the manager, who was once right down the hall, received a promotion but refused to let go of her managerial control over this one small department.  It was an amusing break from the rest of her week, she explained; the people there were interesting to watch.  Not unlike trained circus animals, but with more sanitary gastrointestinal habits.  But her new position forced her to focus more on the bottom line, the dollars and cents of things, and less on the individual needs of those under her purview.  She knew things about the long-term trajectory of the company, the strategic plans and the financial demands, and she chose not to share those things.  She became more authoritarian, more cryptic.  She handed down edicts and arbitrary rules, but attended the staff meetings with a smile and a laid-back vibe and tried to act like a peer, as though she was just as baffled and clueless as anyone else.

So the next change came down, like Godzilla’s big, scaly foot upon Bambi’s head.  Suddenly, the individual discretion and autonomy vanished.  Employees were expected, demanded, to sit in the office for eight hours a day or more, with no explanation.  No change in responsibilities, no reasoning behind the micromanagement of location, simply an announcement and a closed door. 

And the new office was in the bowels of the building.  No windows to bring in natural light or outside air, with a location directly outside the staff break room, with constant traffic and conversation.  It had a faulty heating system that made a closed door impossible.  And it had uncomfortable chairs.

Staff morale, never especially high, took a sharp plunge.  Coworkers became defensive and hostile, demonstrating anxiety and irritation in every interaction.  One particularly annoying coworker was transferred out of the department, creating less interoffice politics and whining but more pressure and higher workloads because the job was now only staffed by one person at a time.

Work became an actively uncomfortable place to be, and all of the old conflicts and ambivalence returned to the woman who worked there.  She continued to enjoy the core of the work, to appreciate the clients and feel good about her abilities, but began to count the weeks until she could safely give notice and leave. 

And she tried hard to believe that it wouldn’t change for the worse in those weeks, that it was about as bad as it could get.

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Responses

  1. Work bites!

  2. Oh, Kate, what a rotten place to be. I’m so sorry for everyone in the situation.

    Hang in there. When is N-day?

  3. N-Day being, when can I give notice? Not sure exactly, but sometime next May or early June. It all depends on our real estate adventures…

  4. Kate honey, you were looking for a job when you found that one. Life’s too short to be stuck in a miserable micromanaged hole with no fresh air.

  5. What a bunch of jerks. I’m sure there was one incident, one bad egg, that’s causing the rest of you to be punished.

    I can never go back to sitting in an office for 8-9 hours a day. It makes me feel like I’m suffocating.

    I hope you can hang in there and stay sane.

  6. When the frog is in the cauldron and the water starts to lose its cool, he think nothing of it. As the water gets warmer and warmer, he thinks he can stand it.

    But boiled frog can happen sooner than he ever imagined.

    Just an image for contemplation . . .

  7. (inserts humorous quip about a firebombing that is less insidious as it is incendiary in its insipidness) Alliteration in effect for the next 30seconds,….and go. It is my hope that the environment doesn’t deteriorate detrimentarily to your dogma.

    Good luck Miss Kate, try not to kick puppies.

  8. OH yes . . .the micromanager. I have one . . .I know what you mean about not sharing corporate direction and strategic plans with staff. All the good books say Managers should but they rarely do. I have only a smattering of information about our strategic plan when I once used to be instrumental in creating it. Very frustrating. I used to live to go to work, now I work to earn a living and retirement isn’t that far off! Try to focus on the work and not the politics! Easier said than done!

  9. Mighty downhill slide the place took, Kate.
    It’s going to be so easy to say goodbye.

  10. I surely don’t miss that part of the work…I was involved in a situation where they would promise an office and some privacy to do my work…what did I get a cubicle crammed with 3 printers and everyone’s “extra” stuff. I hada boss who woud complain about forms and I would change them to make them functioal, I nevergt any credit for it, she got a raise and promotion. The only thng I really looked forward to everydy was the volunteers, I worked in non-profit, and the fact that they chose to come in not “drag themselves in” which made the day a bit more positive. I miss them now as a stay at home mom but am happy not to have to deal withthe crap part and the 90 minute commute twice a day.

  11. My husband’s work has become increasingly more unbearable. But, he’s going to ride it out. In his work, things can change for the better in an instant (same as for the worse, but I don’t think it can get much worse…)

  12. That’s supposed to be the end of a parenthesis, not a winky face! Gah!

  13. I don’t even know what to say, other than I’ve been in that place where the actual workplace (and its associated management) is so stifling that I feel like I cannot breathe for another second. I hope it gets better while you have to be there. I hope you can leave sooner than a year from now. I will keep my fingers and toes crossed that some sort of break falls into place for you.

  14. hugs! I hope that the end is in sight very very soon!

  15. Kate,
    You should put up a countdown clock for “The DAY’ you give notice. You say May or June so just pick a date that sounds MOST reasonable, and shoot for it. Sending some fresh air vibes to your dank office.

  16. Hi to all. Im follow at yours forum to ask a little bit of help.
    Im asking for a good cigarette internet shop.
    Where i from, I could not have any.


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