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Category Archives: Against the Monolith

I recently found out that to my boss, I'm nothing more than just headcount. Headcount in a corporate setting refers to the fact that in order to be a manager, you have to have a certain number of people reporting to you. You could be doing the same work but with one less subordinate, and you'd be making less money. Or in my boss's case, with one more employee, she gets a team leader bonus. I get the dubious distinction of being the guy who fills that last spot.

To be fair, my boss doesn't really feel this way about me. She appreciates my work, and makes that known to me. That's one of the few things that make my current position bearable.

There are two parts to the problem.

1)The work mostly sucks. The official title for my job is "Media Development Specialist," the qualifications require a bachelors degree relating to new media. (Design + Scripting/Coding + Animation + 3D). I was hired with the mistaken impression that I'd be building snazzy Flash or Director-based multimedia presentations, as well as poster and pamphlet design.

The poster and pamphlet design happens (which isn't too bad), but the overwhelming majority of my day ends up being busy work: scoring and folding pamphlets, burning and labeling CDs, making some engineer's Power Point slides look 'pretty,' etc.

2) It's mostly politics. Every once in a while, the Video department needs some help creating a 3D animation or doing some motion graphics work, and I relish those chances. Lately they've gotten to the point where they could use an extra hand full-time. They'd like to get me transferred to their department (which would be major improvement) and they've talked to my boss's boss about it. His response?

We can't pull him out of Jane's (name changed) group, she needs x number of reports

See, in the past, Jane's been a bit of a diva. She uses the word 'usurp' a lot. She publicly screamed at one of our team members for not having enough paper in stock, even though she never told the victim about a pending large-run job (that event drove the lady into retirement). So people tend to tiptoe around Jane. Even her boss. He doesn't want to rock the boat, even if it would provide the Video department with a great, fast solution and keep me sane in the process.

So, the solution to the Video department's shorthanded problem and my tedium-induced insanity is this: wait a year and a half 'till Jane retires and we'll get this all settled. In the meantime, headcount number 383,507 will continue folding and burning. I've got 600 pamphlets and 300 CDs left before I go home today.

 I've really got to get this movie flying.

I got to thinking about overtime yesterday, as I spent a 14 hour day at work. It occured to me that the employeer-employee relationship is a bit skewed towards favoring large companies. See, the standard employment agreement goes something along the these lines:

You work 40 hours a week, and we'll pay you for your trouble. If we happen to need you more than 40 hours in any given week, then we'll pay you even more for your trouble. Unless, of course, we happen to classify you as an 'exempt' emplopyee, in which case, it's important that you work the extra time, but not so important to us that we pay you for it. Oh, and we require that you at least be here for the normal 40 hours per week. We can't afford to pay you the normal 40 hour salary for a 35 hour week. If you can't deal with that, move on, and we'll find someone else who can.

The whole 'exempt' classification thing is where I start to get a bit itchy. Now, I'm only speaking from my experience, and I've only had one job out of college (having only graduated less than a year ago), but at least this is the feeling that I get of corporate America: For an exempt employee, overtime is your duty to the company. The company owes you squat, just be grateful you have a job.

Why is it, that a company can demand that I work more time for the same pay during one week, and yet refuse to pay me that same amount the next week if I happen to need to take a couple hours off? It's because of the nature of the employeer-employee relationship, which is a perfect example of Econ 101. They have a job, along with all it's attendent benefits (salary, medical, etc which is in demand. You have your time (the currency) which you trade to your employeer in exchange for that job. The more people that want that job (high demand), the less they have to give in exchange for the position, and the more others will be willing to pay (in their time) for the commodity. See, basic economics. And companies are very good at basic economics. Large, publicly held companies anyway.

And that's another thing. Officers of publicly held companies have two large groups they answer to. The employees and the stockholders. Only, and here's the kicker, they don't really have to answer to the employees. The pay structure for executives is based entirely on the stock price. So the largest factor in an executive's decision-making process, is "how will this action affect our shareholders." That shouldn't be big problem should it? Except for one minor thing… the interests of the shareholders and the interests of the employees are diametrically opposed.

Generally speaking, making employees happier is going to cost the company money, which eats into the profits. Lower profits = lower stock price = angrier stockholders. And when the executive's pay is based off of stockholder happiness, well you get the picture.

Large companies…. bleh. I've got to find a smaller place to work.

I've got to start working for myself.

I sparked an interesting conversation at work today. Actually, my sandals did. Apparently I'm brimming with disrespect. That's what my sandals said anyways. Or to be more to the point, that's what I was told my sandals were saying. I didn't hear them say anything.

Actually it wasn't much of a conversation. Mostly I just listened to my collegue's opinions on the subject without offering mine. I had them. I disagreed with a lot of what he said, but I couldn't really formulate them at the time. So, I decided to see if I can get my thoughts on the subject organized. Writing is another way to think out loud.

The gist of the other guy's reasoning was basically this: How you dress is a matter of respect. He then seemed (I say seemed, because I don't want to falsly attribute anything to him) to lament the decay of formality in society in general, stating that we don't dress for church, the ballet, opera, or work with as much panache as we used to. This, to him, was a bad thing.

Two qustions come to my mind regarding this line of thought. First, does the way I dress necessarily reflect my feelings towards my employeer or collegues, or the performers at an opera or ballet? Second, is it necessarily a bad thing that people are (in general) dressing more casually than ten or fifteen (or twenty or fifty) years ago?

I played the trumpet in school, grades 7 through 12. That's a total of six years. I generally sat either first, second or third chair, even where there were those a year my senior playing in the same group. I would say that I have a fairly decent understanding of what it takes to become an excellent musician. When I go to a concert, be it American Idols Live or the local symphony, I feel as though I have a basic appreciation of what it takes for a person to be able to perform to a high standard. And I respect that kind of dedication and talent. Likewise, I understand the amount of work it takes my co-workers to do a good job.

Exactly what is it then that I show my respect for when I wear the corporate uniform? Seems like a bit of empty-headed flag saluting, which to me is rather orwellian.

I respect good work. My personal choice of footwear doesn't change that fact. It is egocentric for a person to beleive that my feelings of respect wear a 3 peice suit just because his do.

But shouldn't I, understanding that it's 'normal' to wear what others expect, get in line and not rock the boat? At the risk of sounding like my three year old nephew, why? Sounds like voluntarily joinging the Borg: "We shall add your social distinctiveness to our own.' Honestly, what benefit does my employeer get from seeing me dress a certain way? Requiring certain employee dress displays more concern for the image of the company than any regard for the individual employee's personal preferences. Why should I sacrifice my preferences to those of the company. As far as I know, I've only sold them 40 hours of my time per week (more on this to come), not my personality.

I suppose it can be documented, that as a whole, we are dressing more casually than generations past, though quantifing 'casual' for the purposes of comparison would turn out to be a fruitless exercise. For the sake of argument it should to suffice to say that back in the day, people dressed more formally. The question again: is this bad?

Though the evidence isn't empirical, it can safely be said that every generation is looked upon by previous generations as having worse [insert value] than 'we did.' Everone can recall some old-timer who fondly reminices about 'the good ol' days while simultaneously lamenting the state of things today. Regarding clothing, it used to be that the accepted mode of dress for men to wear at the opera was a tuxedo. Later it was a suit, and admittedly less formal bit of apparel. Now you'll see all sorts of clothes at the opera house? Who is right, the current generation or the suits? And if the suits were right, where did the tuxedo generation go wrong?

Obviously it is hard to come to a definitive conclusion regarding the 'right' thing to wear, given that the 'right' thing to wear has differed over the course of time. And the institution that requires people to wear what is currently 'right' is the equiviant of the teenager who begs his parents to buy him the latest in fasion. My parents surely didn't buy me that $120 pair of jeans simply because that was what everyone else was wearing. Why do companies (or society in general) ask adults to do the same thing?