By Kyle Strickland
“Don’t let yourself get sucked into the bullshit – just write a column about it.”
Offices are hard to adapt to, especially considering they are usually the first place you will ever spend 8 to 10 hours surrounded by the same people and seated in the same seat. Office lighting shies towards the level of one hundred miles from the sun, and the offices themselves are loud and full of drama, complexities and extreme annoyances. For instance, there is one guy near my cubicle who just started working; his laugh is far less enjoyable than listening to a horse fart from five inches away. It’s a terrible guffaw of epic proportions that outdoes Goofy on crack.
And then there is the girl who used to be sitting where Loud Annoying Laugh Guy now resides. Back when she was closer to my desk, I’d hear her sneeze about five times an hour. I started keeping track with little tick marks on a Post-It, and I swear I filled a Post-It a day before she moved her desk around the corner. Even though she is a cute little girl (by that I mean very short and probably older than me), it would ALWAYS throw off my concentration. The worst part is, though, that I still hear her. She’s halfway across the office, and it’s still right there in my ear.
I don’t mean to only focus on the surface-level annoying aspects of being corralled into cubes with other people. The real adjustments that office life forces one to make lie a bit deeper. Most obviously, the stakes have been raised over office life as an intern – your reputation is now affected by how much you play foosball. As an intern, you’re lower than low, but at least nothing really matters. As a new-hire scrub, I find myself anxious about how much of myself to reveal to coworkers and about how much work I am doing. Am I doing enough? Do I come off as a slacker (still)? Are they being honest with me? Are they talking shit about me?
This sounds kind of paranoid, but office politics at the company I work at are the most intense that I’ve ever seen, and this brings me to my next point – offices create competition in strange ways that undoubtedly leads to bitchin’ and moanin’. My office’s trash talk may not contend with that of an Oracle sales team, which are known for being cannibalistic, but I’ve already witnessed plenty of complaining and conniving that goes on behind backs on every team I’ve dealt with. I shudder to think what could potentially be going on around my backside. It may be nothing yet, since I haven’t done much to piss people off, but that day could soon come.
Building off of the sense that office people love to talk trash, I believe keeping your mouth shut is critical to surviving the office. There is a certain amount of common sense to this, of course, but I have to remind myself to take extra precautions because I never had to check myself in the past. Offices are like troops of gossip girls; anything you say will be held against you and transferred on to everybody you don’t want hearing it. Shit talking at work is not smart, no matter how much I know I would love to join in. I can’t stay out of all of it, however; sometimes it’s just too tempting, and I’m only human.
I recently heard a story about an employee who demonstrated exactly how not to exit a company, elucidating the “loose lips sink your shit” policy I’m describing above. We’ll call the employee Hank.
Hank had been putting in zero effort for a while, with no numbers on the sales board and no obvious attempt to fix it. He skipped required meetings and took extra days off and left early on a regular basis. It was too obvious that he was fed up with his job and was on the outs. Unfortunately, he failed to realize that he had no tenure and was slowly shooting himself in the foot in the event that he didn’t secure a new offer before getting axed.
When he finally got an unofficial offer, he acted prematurely, as though he was out the door, telling members of his team and acting free and giddy. When the manager asked what was going on (I assume in a very general manner), he replied, “Oh, so you already know?” The manager didn’t already know, but at that moment he learned for sure. Oops! That was dumb.
At that point, he had no signed agreement and left himself completely at the mercy of the recruiter offering the new job. It took an extra two weeks to seal the deal, but he finally got the offer in writing and was off. It could have ended up very badly, however; the offer might not have come and, had he stayed one more week, he would be fired, burning the bridges and the villagers’ homes at his current company in the process.
I’m not trying to say Hank is dumb, but I want to illustrate that what might be common sense to most from the outside is hard to remember when you’re on the inside of a job. Office life and teams of people are complicated social groups, and what annoys you and makes you pissed off, and what makes you whine and talk shit, can blind you. You have to be smart and remove yourself from the emotional involvement as much as possible, because at the end of the day it’s all about numbers. It’s a business. They’ll drop you just as fast as they hired you if they can make a valid case for it. Hank made that too easy for them, and almost got burned.
This brings me to my last point – something Jeffrey Gitomer wrote in his Little Red Book of Selling. He entitles one of the last sections of the book with an anonymous quote he read early in his career: “Resign your position as general manager of the universe.” It’s essential to uncomplicated life in an office – taking yourself out of everybody else’s lives will enable you to focus on your own. Other than learning from other people’s success and mistakes, it is not smart to actually get involved. Stay neutral, and only get in if you think that your personal values (or your ass) are on the line of being violated. It will disentangle you from the web of craziness that we call office life.
Unfortunately this won’t stop that guy from laughing, so I am going to have to find another way to get him to put a sock in it.