This past Sunday I checked an email icon on my phone and saw that a work client had emailed me and several of my coworkers at 10 p.m. on a weekend night. The hilarious irony of it is that the email is about email protocols. I was not inspired to read the email of course. It can be read the next business day like most email.
But this email did inspire me to turn off my work email notifications on my smart phone. I can still read work emails on my device, and I understand there are times I may have to, but if some emergency happens people can call me—everyone at work who has ever gotten an email from me has both my work phone number and cell phone number in my email signature. I’ll listen to the voicemail and decide if it’s worth my time.
So the weekend email about email has inspired me in a way I hadn’t thought it ever would. I may be racking up lots of work emails on my phone and I won’t know about them until I check that email specifically. I’m done looking at my phone so often that I’m missing things in the real world. Stop looking at work emails on your phone unless your computer is broken.
I work for a public relations agency. In most jobs, some of the people you deal with are good and some are toxic crap, and the PR game is no different. There is no shortage of self-important imbeciles who seem to make it a point to call you at 5:30 on a Friday evening or send you emails on Friday, Saturday, or Sunday night.
Very rarely will there be something that comes up after hours that requires a response. I can think of only one time over the past two years, and it was not really an emergency and it was already handled by other people before I had a chance to respond. I think the reason some people make it a point to email and call at odd hours is to rattle you, to infect your thoughts and to give them attention they can’t earn legitimately. It’s trying to assert a control and project an urgency that is by its very premise sleazy and disrespectful.
With the advent of services that allow you to send emails at a future date and time, the after-hours and weekend emails are unnecessary if not outright offensive. If you’re sending work emails over the weekend, you’re not telling the world you work hard, you’re telling the world you’re an asshole.
My policy is that if a client’s CEO kills a hooker, then I’ll answer your calls after hours. Otherwise it can wait until the next business day. There are people I know with jobs that require nights and weekends. These are doctors and first-responders. When a fire breaks out or a plane crashes, no one sends an email or a group text about it. They use the damn phone.
Maybe this attitude will get me fired. But if I get fired for not working nights and weekends, I’ll be the better (if poorer) man for it. I refuse to be a zombie answering slavishly to a mobile device.
This short story is now for sale on Amazon, so buy it. It will be the best 99 cents you ever spend. This story was inspired by my year working as a bank teller right after graduating college. I hated that job. I hated dealing with the awful customers who wanted their egos stroked. I hated the provincial attitudes of many of the people I worked with. Looking back on it now, I realize that I was still a bit immature and I could have been better at my job. Luckily I left before going crazy. I thought up a plan to rob the bank, not because I intended to ever rob a bank, but because it would have made for an interesting novel. I still have a lot of notes from my bank robbing novel that I intendeded to write, and maybe I’ll come back to it. It would be a perverse, crime-ridden On The Road (what great American novel since 1957 doesn’t aspire to be the next On The Road?).
But here is ‘Big Plans.’ It’s a funny short story that you will enjoy. If you’ve ever worked a job you hate (and who hasn’t?), you will be able to relate. It also has excellent artwork by Sergio Zuniga.
Though I have been subjected to it for many years, it’s only been in the past year that the language known as “corporate speak” has been creeping into my vocabulary. I must make it stop.
I switched jobs a little over a year ago and moved from the thankless ranks of financial journalism to the thankless but better paying ranks of financial public relations. For years as a journalist I waded through corporate euphemisms and double talk. A journalist’s job is to cut through corporate speak like an explorer cuts through dense jungle. I didn’t loath public relations people, I just knew I could not sound like one when I spoke or wrote if I wanted to be taken seriously.
I vowed to myself that I would not let this nonsensical and vacuous vocabulary creep into my speech, but in some ways it has. There’s no prohibition from sounding like a corporate automaton because now I work in public relations and corporations pay our salaries. Corporations paid my salary when I was a journalist also, but those businesses were depending on me NOT sounding like a corporate mouthpiece in order for my work to me marketable.
Now I AM a corporate mouthpiece, whether I like it or not. None of the companies I serve through my public relations job are ominous monoliths that are trying to cloud the truth or cover up any wrongdoing; they are for the most part small entrepreneurial companies doing some interesting things, but they are companies that expect us to be their representatives to the media. We have to be the bridge between the corporate world and the jaded, skeptical world of journalists and we have to sound the part both ways.
Whenever you speak with someone, you want to sound like you belong, like you understand where they are coming from. If everyone’s slinging the same corporate bullshit, they’re establishing a rapport in some small way. In agency public relations, you are not only selling your clients to media, you’re constantly selling yourself to current and potential future clients. Thus you have to sound like you could fit in at a corporate board meeting, and that’s easier to do when you shovel two-cent words around like so much manure.
So as a writer who takes pride in my ability to find the right works for any situation and a human being who decided long ago to embrace reality-based life, it horrifies me to find myself using corporate speak in any non-ironic capacity.
It’s only happened once or twice, but no matter. Like Ebola or cancer, corporate speak must be wiped out entirely if you wish to survive in the reality-based world.
The one phrase I’ve been guilty of using is “next steps” as in “we’ll discuss next steps” instead of saying, “we’ll talk about what to do next” or “what steps to take next.” Another word that’s lapsed into corporate speak is “leverage,” such as “let’s leverage our resources to gain media traction.” In my own overuse of the word “traction” regarding how to get media attention, I risk making that corporate speak. Now both lever and traction are real words that wouldn’t be corporate speak at all if you were talking about pulleys, debt or driving over snow, but when applied to business situations and overused, they become corporate speak. There are damning lists of useless and pathetic phrases that comprise corporate speak. The list is always evolving.
There are a lot of things I am willing to do to provide for my family. I’m willing to read work emails on the weekend, endure mind-numbing meetings and phone calls that should have been emails, write trite crap about boring topics and be courteous to asshole clients. But I won’t become a corporate speak user. I have my limits.
So I resolve here and now to avoid corporate speak and expunge it from my vocabulary. I will be a better person for it.
Labor Day is a day when most American workers have a day off and spend it being thankful that we have a job, if we have one. Any power the day once held to fire up a meaningful organized labor movement in the U.S. has long been stripped away. For the vast majority of us, work is something we do because we have to do something that makes money.
I’d love to be able to say that I’m an independently wealthy writer who can generate income through the genius of every creative whim, but the truth is I work in an office doing work that doesn’t really interest me. I like being good at my job because I refuse to be a lazy slug and need to make a living. But I’m working for The Man like everyone else.
I find it to be a benefit to have worked many different jobs over the last two decades. I have been a grocery bagger, house painter, video store assistant manager, immigration inspector, security guard, line cook, telemarketer, retail sales clerk and financial journalist.
By far the job I hated the most was as the assistant manager of a video store. This was in suburban Atlanta in the late 1990s when I was living a miserable, impoverished life among the relative wealth and ease of the Atlanta suburbs. Even though I love watching films and getting to rent movies for free was a chief perk of the job, having to answer to the entitled whims of overfed suburbanites grated on my nerves unmercifully. There were a few very nice customers there, but I hated that job so much that when I saw a bug skitter across the floor one night, I couldn’t bring myself to kill it. If a bug can find happiness in this miserable place, then good for him.
Having worked a large variety of jobs has given me a lot of different perspectives I otherwise would not have had. I like to think it shows in my daily interactions with people. I was that awkward teenager pushing his Dad’s lawnmower. I was the pimply kid behind the counter at McDonald’s on Labor Day. I was the unlucky immigration inspector stamping passports on Christmas and getting stuck working overtime.
Sometimes, even among very intelligent and good-natured friends, it becomes startlingly clear those who haven’t worked many of these jobs. The way someone treats a waitress or a bartender will tell you more about their life and attitude than any online profile or paper trail.
There’s a missing value that hasn’t been instilled in much of the population: that there is dignity in work, all work. Just because you don’t like your job or don’t like the people you work with or have to serve doesn’t mean you should feel comfortable behaving without dignity or purpose. All working people have dignity and deserve respect. Working for a living is beneath no one. And when you think about it, we are all a lot closer to the unemployment line than we like to think we are.
It’s a wisdom I’ve come to more recently and wish that I had had when I was bagging groceries and fielding the nonsensical complaints from entitled suburbanites. I felt the anger and resentment that comes with being treated like a servant. I let the opinion of others get to me, and it reflected a low opinion I had of myself. But dignity is not anything that anyone can grant you. If you’re in the right state of mind, you’ll have as much dignity shining shoes as you will being a movie star.
This Labor Day, resolve to take dignity in whatever job you do, and remember that no matter what the job is, everyone working for a living deserves your respect.
Happy Labor Day.
This past Easter Sunday, my family ate heartily and discussed some of the current political and economic issues of the day. There may be better ways to wash down a tasty Easter ham than a lamentation on the state of the republic, but we haven’t found it yet. Our conversation settled on how many pension holders have been screwed by their municipal or corporate overlords.
The unofficial conclusion we reached over our Easter meal was that the United States is long overdue for a resurrected organized labor movement.
Labor unions represent only about 11% of the American workforce, and a majority of union members today are government workers who can’t strike. The upside to this is that a lot of government workers have very good, stable jobs that are safer and more lucrative than their non-government worker counterparts. But most workers are continually getting screwed.
The labor movement was spurred on by the large impact of industrialization and it was designed to protect industrial laborers and tradesmen. It has not adapted to the changing economy. The majority of American workers today are not industrial tradesmen.
If there was a viable labor movement in the U.S., I would have a real union to join. I work as a financial journalist. The company I work for actually cut our salaries years ago during the financial crisis. They technically restored the salary cuts years later, but haven’t given raises since and continued to cut our pay in other ways, such as stopping all matching 401k contributions, gutting healthcare benefits, and the like. They’ve also done a lot of outsourcing. Employees with many years of service to the company under their belts were shown the door, their jobs shipped off to India.
A labor union would have fought all of those things, but there is no labor union representing us. We are considered too “professional” to join a union, though not professional enough to be tossed aside like yesterday’s garbage if someone outsourcing shyster can save the company a few dollars. But we don’t have much recourse since there is no collective bargaining going on. People vote with their feet and while people are leaving the company in droves, the rest of us are there are spending our energies looking for other work rather than fighting a good fight (and since I need my job and have four mouths to feed, I’ll kindly not mention the name of the company I work for here).
I dream of the day when the outsourcing C.E.O. gets a brick through his living room window and four flat tires on his way to work. There should be real unions to contend with when companies want to cut pay, cut benefits or cut jobs. This isn’t because I think the answer is some kind of socialist worker’s paradise. To paraphrase what Winston Churchill said about democracy: Capitalism is the worst economic system there is except for all of the others.
There seems to be a great illness of myopathy among our current class of capitalists. They think only in the short term and only in terms of the bottom line. I have no problem with businesses making hard decisions and scoring a healthy profit, but a lot of executives are not thinking ahead much farther than the next quarterly report. Sure, the slash-and-burn fiscal ass-fucking they’ve been giving American workers has increased profits now, but what kind of company are they going to have in five years?
But our companies have pursued these policies and the results are predictable. American capitalism no longer means industriousness and hard work, but rather golden parachutes and amorality.
Just as democracy doesn’t work without real political opposition, real capitalism doesn’t work without American workers having some kind of say over their working lives. Labor unions were once the source of that power. They can be again.