My boss asked to see me in her office Friday. This is far from an everyday request so – considering the state of the economy and particularly concerns about the so-called “jobless recovery” we’re experiencing in which the unemployment rate still hovers near 10% and new job creation is at a virtual standstill – I was, like, freaking out.
A manager who wants to discuss potentially bad news with an underling is at a distinct advantage if they play their cards right. In this environment, the employee automatically assumes the worst is about to happen. Anything less than a pink slip, a box to collect your personal effects and a security-guard-escorted walk to the parking lot becomes welcome news.
If they put enough drama into the meeting, closing the door behind you as you enter and remaining grim-faced as you settle into your chair, you’ll accept almost anything else they have to say with enthusiasm.
“Dave, I’ve called you in here today to discuss some new directions we see your career here taking,” they can say.
“New directions,” you hear. As in, make a left as you leave the building, then a right at the second light, and you’ll see the unemployment office on the left? you wonder.
“We’ve got some new duties we want you to add to your current skill set,” they can continue.
“New duties,” you hear. A sign of hope?
“We need someone to scrub the floor of the men’s room each day using only their tongue,” they can offer. “And we think you’re just the man for the job.”
“I still have a job!” you think. Relief floods your mind. “That sounds like something I can handle,” you answer. “I’m all salivated up and ready to go. When can I start?”
So when my boss started talking about the reorganization our department is about to undertake, and how it will affect the hours I work and the place where I sit, I was more than happy to listen respectfully and nod my head in an affirmative motion at all the right places. I was not losing my job after all. That was what they call in the corporate world my “key takeaway.”
But now that I’ve had a few days to think about what she said, in the context of not having to trade my comfortable suburban house for a homeless shelter, I have some concerns about a few of these changes.
I’m not going to have to get used to a new chair, am I?
We all have the same type of chairs in my office, but after several years of use, not all of the features still work on every chair. I need more than just a flat horizontal surface to place my can. I need a certain level of lumbar support. I don’t like the armrests to be so high as to interfere with my typing, or too low to provide rest for my arms when I’m reading. The wheels need to work properly so I can scoot to the coffeemaker with a single thrust of my legs.
What about mousepads? Can we keep the ones we currently have?
I like the kind that has the little mound of gel you can rest your wrist on. I don’t like the kind that advertises Office Depot or the pharmaceutical industry’s latest anti-depressant. My wrist tends to get tired after a long day of clicking and dragging, and I’m not sure I can put in a full eight hours with a weary forearm.
The carousel of supplies at my current desk is organized just as I like it. Can I take it with me to my new desk?
A few years ago, in the throes of another reorganization that saw us sticking labels on everything that didn’t move, the different storage slots on my carousel got signs for what goes into each area: “staple remover” reads one, “red pens and pencils” reads another, “black/blue pens” reads a third. This seemed silly at the time, but I’ve grown used to it since then. When I’m through using a rubber band or a paper clip, I want to know where it should be returned to. These labels are the lifeblood of my sanity, and my whole worldview will be affected if I don’t know where to put the medium-sized sticky notes when I’m through with them.
Will I have a stapler and scissors at my new desk?
Right now, I don’t have ready access to these seemingly essential tools of office work. I don’t know whether we just have a shortage, or whether there might be some safety issue involved. I feel I’ve demonstrated a level of responsibility during my 30-plus years with the company to show I can be trusted to handle sharp instruments. If there is some training involved in how to properly attach one piece of paper to another, I’d be eager to learn. I believe learning is a lifelong pursuit and am always eager to gain new skills.
Can I be positioned directly beneath an air-conditioning vent?
Most people in my office seem to be suffering a chronic hypothermia that requires them to constantly fiddle with the thermostat until the room becomes a sauna. I’m originally from Miami, and grew up there in the days before air-conditioning. I appreciate a nice draft as welcome refreshment. You can even put me near the door if you want to; it’ll make it that much easier to slip out five minutes early at the end of the day.
Please don’t make me sit next to Kelly. Please. I beg of you. Have some basic human compassion.
Kelly is our office loudmouth. She chatters endlessly about every detail of her personal life. I don’t want to constantly be hearing about how her son has done at soccer practice, how she has a new cat, how her husband is going back to school again instead of getting a job, how she has this lump on her side that she needs to get checked out. If I want to know these things, I’ll sign up for her online newsletter.
Finally, I need both a recycling bin and a trash can at my new desk.
I’ll often work through lunch, eating a sandwich at my work station. When I’m done, I’ll usually save the Zip-Lock bag I packed it in, unless it’s been stained by mayonnaise dripping out the side of my turkey sandwich. When this happens, I’d like to be able to throw it away without getting up. I don’t want to put it into recycling, because that would destroy the Earth.
Oh yeah, and one more thing: Don’t make me share a desk with Edwin on second shift.
Edwin is notorious for eating three-fourths of an onion-packed Subway sandwich and tossing the rest in his desk-side garbage can instead of — as we were specifically instructed in an email dated September 27, 2003 — putting any smelly trash in the breakroom receptacle. The maintenance people usually empty the office trash cans at mid-morning, so whoever shares a desk with Edwin has to smell old onions for half the day. This, I will not abide.
Somebody in management needs to have a talk with Edwin. Let him think he’s getting the ax, and he’ll be more than grateful to stop putting his onions in the regular trash.