Uh…we have sort of a problem here. Yeah…
“You apparently didn’t put one of the new coversheets on your TPS reports.” – Bill Lumbergh, Office Space
I treated myself last night to a couple hours of laughing at life. I picked Office Space on Netflix, and spent some time enjoying the comedy that is working corporate. It’s a laugh riot, simply because while some of the stuff that goes on in that movie seems ridiculous, it’s really closer to the truth than we’d like to admit.
The amount of time and effort that goes into things around an office that seem so inefficient can be staggering. Waiting for a piece of equipment, for example, to be moved officially from one desk to another – something that requires next to no installation and is light enough to carry under one’s arm – that could be moved in five minutes, which is now on its third week of waiting for IT to move and install. A supervisor ordering that all vendor requests for technical fixes go through him, despite him having no technical expertise in that vendor’s program, nor any relationship with the vendor itself – something that often could be fixed in a single phone call. A boss who disregards the content of a report she’d asked for assistance in producing to comment on how the font had been changed from the original font she’d used in the mock-up.
The corporate workplace brings out weird things in people. People who could normally work efficiently, think for themselves, and get work done in a reasonable amount of time seem to become inefficient, mindless workers who spend so much time in meetings that there’s no way to get work done on time.
“Human beings were not meant to sit in little cubicles staring at computer screens all day, filling out useless forms and listening to eight different bosses drone on about mission statements.” – Peter Gibbons, Office Space
And yet, that’s the normal corporate day. Maybe not every task is useless. Maybe the boss does know something about what’s going on. But often that’s not the case.
From filing alphabetically by customer name items that are not consistent in their customer name format (some last name first, some first name last) – items that have a unique item number on each item, to driving 70 miles round trip for a meeting that was just a set of group introductions that lasted maybe 15 minutes, efficiency does not appear to be a corporate goal, even if management has expressed explicitly that “we want to improve efficiency in our processes this year…”
Bosses that don’t have a clue what their subordinates are doing. Layoffs of key personnel during the busy period of the work cycle and hoping that the remaining folk can pick up the pieces, without finding out if the people left even have the tools or resources to do what the departing person could do. Having to cover work on a project because the people running the project don’t seem to acknowledge what the ability levels of the people on the project are, even if it feels like it’s staring everyone on the project in the face.
It made me wish that I could do just what Peter Gibbons did in that movie – to walk into the office in jeans and a casual shirt, stroll down to my desk, feeling like no matter what happened to me, it’s all good. To know that it’s not this office that defines who I am in life. To not find myself saying “Oh, I work for <company>, doing <job>.”
How many people out there would answer, if you asked them “Who are you in life?” with “I’m a doctor/accountant/clerk/janitor/whatever”? Is that really who we are, what we do at work? I certainly hope not.
I shouldn’t be an analyst. I just am one for my job.
I should be a miniature enthusiast. I should be a gamer. I should be a creative writer. I should be what I try to make time for, not what takes up my time. I mean, if we classified ourselves by where we spent our time – our waking hours – then shouldn’t the answer to “Where do you live?” be “I live at <company> on floor <number>, in cubicle <number>?” for many people out there? I mean we spend upwards of forty hours of our awake time there.
Forty hours a week at work. Since most people have to commute to work, that can add a couple more hours to your ‘work day’. That’s fifty hours a week of awake time spent towards the work process – and that’s assuming no work is being done at home or assuming one isn’t on call. Fifty-five, if you count the unpaid lunch hour. Generously assuming that one is getting the recommended eight hours of sleep each night, that’s fifty-five hours of a 112 hour week.
That’s 49% of the week spent actually in the work process.
Factor in, then, the time spent preparing for work – which could be as short as getting up in the morning, and getting showered, groomed and dressed – and that percentage goes up. If we say it takes one hour each morning to get ready to go out the door to work, then we’re at sixty of 112 hours spent towards work, or 54%. That’s over half the week!
It’s no wonder that people don’t get enough to sleep. It’s one of the only ways to extend the awake hours in order to recapture life.
It’s no wonder people stress out when trying to do things that are supposed to be relaxing – gotta get as much relaxation in that 46% of the week as possible.
It’s no wonder people have problems outside the workplace – work stresses people. Work makes people drink. Work makes people crazy.
Just recently I had the experience of being with a company that had a ‘workplace incident’ while I was at work. Fortunately, it was not in my building, but it was fairly nearby, especially by Los Angeles standards. Our building was put on ‘lockdown’ and we were instructed not to leave the building, and then an hour later, once it was deemed ‘safe to proceed’, we were sent home for the day. How likely was it that the ‘incident’ was caused by work related issues such as stress in the workplace, or on some workplace relationship?
And here’s the main issue for the average worker…
“It’s a problem of motivation, all right? Now if I work my ass off and Initech ships a few extra units, I don’t see another dime, so where’s the motivation?” – Peter Gibbons, Office Space
We tend to stress out at work, but what does it get us? We try hard to do things better, but unless you’re a shareholder in the company – and a fairly major one at that – you’re not making much extra for the stress. Why does overtime seem like a bonus these days? We trade more of our free time for extra money, saying to ourselves that the free time is better spent trying to better ourselves financially.
It’s unfortunate that this world runs on money. I don’t see it running any other way, but it seems like the current generations in the workplace cannot make happen what previous generations were able to make happen on their normal jobs alone. Not too many years ago, people could actually dream about saving for a house and buying one through hard work for a company. Now it seems like just holding a permanent job is what people are hoping for – hoping for medical benefits which are far too expensive without the company help; hoping that they can find a company that they will be able to stay with for the years to come for the financial safety and stability; hoping that the economy doesn’t chew them up and spit them out, discarding them for the cheaper option. It’s a tough world out there.
But it feels like we don’t have a choice. We have to live, right? Lodging, food, utilities and transportation all cost money, right?
We may have to work, but it doesn’t mean that’s who we are. Perhaps it’s time to reexamine that.
Why is it that most people don’t work in the job or field they want to be in?
“Our high school guidance counselor used to ask us what you would do if you had a million dollars and didn’t have to work. And invariably, whatever you’d say, that was supposed to be your career. So if you wanted to fix old cars, then you’re supposed to be an auto mechanic.” – Peter Gibbons, Office Space
I think this is something that we as a society are lacking – the desire to seek out the occupation we want to work in. Some do, certainly, but the majority of us out there do what we must do, personal feelings aside.
It’s time to take control again, and figure out what we want to do, both in our work and in our lives – and that should be the path we walk.
It’s not an easy path, nor one to take lightly, but it’s what we should truly aspire to. We only live once.
“Peter, most people don’t like their jobs. But you go out there and find something that makes you happy.” – Joanna, Office Space
I couldn’t say it better myself. Find something that makes you happy.
That should be Goal #1 for 2012.
My 2 yen,
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