Photo: Jennifer Rock and Michael Voss
Four years ago, my colleague and I quit our jobs, formed our own agency and published a novel.
Sheer courage at the point of career crossroads?
Nah. The truth is, after more than 20 years in Corporate America, the worst kind of 9-to-5 grind had worn us down. We didn’t even realize how much B.S. we had been swimming in until we created a little time and distance between ourselves and our former careers.
In hindsight, we realized we had escaped three specific types of soul-crushing workplace B.S. — all of which we eventually wove into our novel, B.S., Incorporated.
The manager doesn’t trust employees to do the simplest tasks and considers any side-conversation or work break to be a mortal sin against the corporation.
What it looks like: You have to record your whereabouts on a cubicle whiteboard. Your manager insists you cc: her on every email. The office has short (or no) cube walls, so the boss can easily eyeball anyone who might not be nose-to-the-grindstone from dawn ’til dusk.
How to deal: Play by each and every rule, or you’ll be branded a troublemaker. Use a restroom on a different floor — because your manager *will* check under the stall door for your shoes and not be shy about holding meetings with you while you’re indisposed. And get that résumé updated.
2. The emperor’s clothing store
A new leader arrives with impressive credentials and heroic tales of previous workplace successes — then quickly proves himself incapable of managing the basics.
What it looks like: The new boss throws around terms like innovation, “step change” and “journey management.” He eliminates activities he doesn’t understand, and gives you vague direction on his directionally vague vision. He flip-flops on important issues, chalking it up to “managerial agility.”
How to deal: Be a good corporate soldier — emperors don’t appreciate candor, unless you’re telling them how awesomely awesome they are. Gently steer them toward work that will be successful, knowing full well they’ll take the credit. Then kick your network into gear: Schedule coffee chats with people who work in departments or companies that have leaders you can respect.
3. Forced fun
The leadership team intends to make you happy — whether you like it or not.
What it looks like: Eye-rolling icebreaker exercises kick off every meeting (e.g, “If you were sea mammal, what sea mammal would you be?”). Attendance is tracked at “optional” happy hours. Mandatory fun activities, like two-minute afternoon dance parties, are rammed down your throat.
How to deal: Smile and fly under the radar. Grin through the icebreakers, make brief appearances at the unhappy hours, and schedule meetings during the dance-a-thon. Then find your real work friends and schedule an off-the-radar happy hour where you can vent.