I once quit a job over a staff meeting. True story. I’m sure it’s documented here on the blog somewhere, but long story short, they made us on the 6am crew stick around for a 5pm meeting. I asked, “Is it important?” Our managers assured us it was. “You have to be there,” they said.
The meeting started and the first item of business was rolling out birthday cake for our safety director. At 5-fucking-o-clock. It’s not like most of us would be consuming dinner any time soon.
Then, for the icing on the cake, the rest of the hour was consumed by our managers reading memos to us. Line-by-line. Word-by-word. Like we were in kindergarten or something. Memos that had previously been delivered to our inboxes. Memos I had already read on my very own. It was worse than an insult to our intelligence. It was calling us babies.
After the meeting I opted to go back to my desk rather than heading straight home. I sat there and wrote out a memorandum of my own. Perhaps you’ve heard of it. It’s a classic piece of Americana called the letter of resignation. I plopped that puppy on my manager’s desk and then called it day.
In another place and another time there was another staff meeting. This one involved the quintessential management tool known as the employee survey.
Why is it when there is vital work to be done management decides that’s the perfect time for a meeting? Is it to demonstrate how truly clueless they are about their surroundings? Mission accomplished. Kaizen!
I got an idea. Maybe if we find out a way to measure this it will improve. And by that I mean they can call even more meetings.
“You know my workload,” says the employee, gesturing at a pile six inches high. “This all has to be done before I go home tonight. You know that. I can’t attend the meeting or I’ll never get out of here.”
“I have to go so you have to go.” Breathtaking boss logic in it’s natural habitat. Where the hell is Mutual of Omaha? They got to get this shit on video.
“Besides, the meeting is very important.” Even the manager doesn’t believe that. But they have to talk the talk and walk the walk. That’s the one thing they do. Make a decision then never show weakness. “Yes, yes, yes. I’m sure driving into a brick wall is the best course of action right now. I’m a manager.”
Why do managers enjoy lying so much? I think it’s because they feel compelled to justify their existence, and deep deep down in the dark place us underlings don’t believe they possess, they know they are not worthy. They know they are dirty little frauds. Above all else they fear being exposed for what they are. They know the so-called “decisions” they make have little to no effect on profit, productivity and the bottom line.
So they call meetings. Lots and lots of meetings.
And, oh yes, the meeting was bullshit.
But, at the end, came a surprise! The CEO himself wanted the opinions of his employees. There was going to be a survey.
The managers assured staff that responses would be anonymous. They went way out of their way to drive this point home.
They said they wanted employees to be “honest” and share their real feelings. They wanted the “truth,” whatever that meant.
The goal, they claimed, was to improve the company and make things better for everyone.
So many lies! It’s almost enough to make you wonder how they do it. (My money is on eye of newt.)
The employees furrowed their brows and put their noses to the grindstones and filled out the little forms. What the hell did they care? It was another paycheck. I’ll pick my nose, I don’t give a shit. Just as long as I’m on the clock.
All of them opted for the path of least resistance. Tell the truth? Hardly! Check little boxes that would float past the watchful eyes unnoticed. Don’t make waves. Stay under the radar. This is a game and we all know how it’s played. Don’t break the rules. Never do anything to stand out.
But there was one who did something different. The Chosen One. They dared to put in their two cents. Make an honest suggestion and/or observation that could be perceived as being critical of the powers that be? That’s the one thing that can never be allowed. No matter what. Even though they specifically asked for it.
Things seemed normal for a few days following The Meeting. Life went on much as it had before. The managers did whatever the hell it was they did. The workers miserably hunched over their toils like they were practicing for the afterlife. The company floundered.
Then, with all the subtlety of a ton of bricks, The Witch-Hunt was on. H.R. people emerged from their caverns, much like trolls spilling out of the Mines of Moria, and began to almost imperceptibly integrate with staff.
They were hunting the employee traitor. They were hot on the trail of traitor spore. The sound of barking dogs shattered the calm of the office. But to locate their quarry they’d also need accomplices. Someone willing to snitch. Turn state’s evidence. Employees who had once secretly cheered the courage and convictions of their comrade suddenly caved and the hero was made into a pariah.
Memorandum: The CEO wanted that traitor’s head on a plate.
As every employee in the outfit watched these events unfold, the moral of the story was reinforced to the Nth degree. The message the company had worked so hard to craft was now etched in everyone’s brain. No doubt it would be a banner hanging on the wall by next Friday’s Hawaiian Shirt Day.
Do your work. And never – ever – speak the truth.
Nothing matters except that managers feel good about themselves when they haven’t earned it.