Friday, January 18, 2008

"Angels Among The Monsters"

It's been said that misery loves company. And that is certainly true when you work under amoral and desperate conditions. But when you find people that hold you up when times get tough, and you them, it is so much more that that. For every hundred adversaries who are trying to bring you down, you hope to find at least a few comrades who you can walk through the fire with together. So, it's more like the saying that there is strength in numbers, than the misery quip.

I owe my sanity and survival in XYZ Corp. to the good people there. To the coworkers who were a part of the small group of honest folks who always had each others' backs covered and protected. You need people like that, like Mulder and Scully were to each other in the X-Files against the weavers of deceit in the FBI. People in the fray who you know you can trust to keep you from going crazy. When management tries to make you feel as if you are the problem (when they actually are), your buddies are there to confirm that what you thought was the right thing to do, really was. During the times when you feel like you are living in Alice's Looking Glass -- where good is bad, bad is good, right is wrong, and wrong is right -- you need them there to keep you from losing your mind, and they need you for the same.

In every area that I worked in XYZ, there were only a few people like that whom you could trust. Really trust. And we protected each other as much as was humanly possible, against what we were fighting for in the good fight for our lives and livelihood. We worked so hard to help each other. I owe these people so much. Whatever good times existed that can be looked back on now as "the good old days" on the job, it was all because of our camaraderie in the midst of the lunacy. We did our best to make good times out of bad ones. And the comfort in knowing that someone believed in us, someone knew that we were honest and doing our best, kept us all alive in the trenches and able to get through yet another day on the battlefield.

Monday, January 14, 2008

"Give Them Bread And Circuses"

Almost like clockwork, whenever the most people in the project are the most unhappy (that evil "morale" word), the distant first line managers and the invisible upper management types crawl out of the woodwork each year to perform the obligatory morale-boosting festival. That would be either pizza raining down from heaven onto the break area, or flaccid picnics with parlor games. Never decent raises and promotions across the board for all who deserve them and not just for the favorites (who usually don't, for many unsavory reasons). Oh no. Just magical, all-healing, pizza pies, picnics, games and intellectual orgies. Damn those Romans for setting the standard!

And if you don't appreciate the effort on your knees, you will never see that promotion that you've been busting your butt to achieve for the past 10 years. Oh hell no. If you don't pound down the potato salad salted with the tears of love in your eyes, and mix your sweat with your bosses' on the ball field, fuggettaboutitt. Don't even bother to show up. Stay back at the lab and keep working hard. You're invisible either way. If that is not satisfactory to you, you'd better play ball and drink the "kool-aid", brothuh. And when the party is over, don't deem yourself important enough to bother your Friendly Neighborhood Management for another year, thank you very much.

"Some Things That I Learned"

Lessons hard-learned, or learned too late, over the course of 30-odd years at this particular XYZ plant, not necessarily in this order:

1) This is no place for honesty; if you can't lie, cheat, steal, and backstab, you don't fit in.
2) Most people (including your boss) will never, ever, assume the best about you.
3) If you don't defend yourself immediately when necessary, you will be assumed guilty.
4) If you complain about a dishonest coworker, it will only hurt you.
5) If a dishonest coworker complains about you, it will only hurt you.
6) Women technicians without a degree are useless.
7) Women technicians with a degree are useless.
8) Non-Caucasian women without a degree are highly valuable employees.
9) If you don't work for an engineer who will often do your work for you, your work is invisible.
10) If a company protocol or rule is being broken, it will be promptly changed, and then denied that it ever existed. A problem will never be actually addressed and fixed.
11) Plausible deniability will always be practiced by management--Hear no truth, Speak no truth, See no truth. You know, like on the X-Files.
12) Managers are constantly hiding in their offices, terrified that they might have to solve a real problem. Don't ever go to them for help.
13) If They can't control you by bullying you, you will be filed in the dead zone forever and rarely see a raise or a promotion.
14) If you can somehow figure out how to bully Them, you've got it made for life.
15) An honest employee will always fall behind the openly dishonest employees in favor with the bosses for some reason.
16) Management would rather sell their soul by persecuting a good and decent employee, than to correct or punish a bad employee.
17) Morale is a four letter word. Don't ever say it or even think about saying it.
18) First line managers are too busy trying to get promoted to run their departments.
19) Second line managers are too busy trying to make third line, to run their projects.
20) "Deceive, inveigle, and obfuscate", is the only way to get ahead.


On my first glorious day of employment at XYZ, my new manager gave me a pretty extensive tour of the main building at the plant, and the area that I was to begin working in. The only thing that I can really remember almost verbatim that he said was, "This XYZ plant is a city unto itself! Almost everything that we need we can practically make here ourselves. If we need a 'thingamjig', we can build it. If we can't build it, we can at least design it...", etc., and he proceeded to show me all the places where they could do such things. He was very excited, and proud. Back in those days, it was still a company to be proud of for its accomplishments. I tried hard to look impressed. I was also debilitatingly shy way back then, so I didn't say much anyway, I just nodded like a good future drone.

I wasn't really interested in macho industrialism at the time (I learned to appreciate it later). I just wanted a decent wage job that would last long enough to get me out of that town for good. Industry is fascinating of course and the workings of manufacturing plants, very much so. But I'm ahead of myself. That day was my first day (of many, many, more unbeknown to me) as a tiny insignificant cog in the workings of a giant megalomaniacal machine. A machine that would chew me up and spit me out without blinking, like many of my coworkers. And like everyone else who didn't take "Butt Kissing 101" in college, I never knew that I was supposed to supply my own knee pads for any job that I was to hold, for every person of any authoritarian persuasion that I would have to deal with -- be it coworker or supervisor. I did not know that I was supposed to leave my integrity, morals, and honor at home either. If not for the grace of God, I would have been completely destroyed on more than one occasion, but I'll tell those stories later. Oh yes...there are stories.