Thursday, September 11, 2014

In which I am asked to do my six-month performance appraisal and am given a form that asks if I go to work as soon as my shift starts

Again - by the time you read this, I should (Lord willing) have started my new job, the job where the hiring manager likes that I am "a bull in Chinatown" because I will "kick butt and get things done." He and the rest of the team like that I am not afraid to say what I think and am not intimidated, but those qualities are not necessarily valued elsewhere, although I would be the first to admit that sometimes, it is better just to keep your darn mouth shut.

Which, of course, is the situation at my current (soon to be late) job.

(When I write "late" like that, it makes me think of the Number One Ladies' Detective Agency books, in which Precious refers to her father as "late." "He is late," she says, to indicate he is dead. It is a sad thing indeed to have a father who is late.)

At my current job, it is better to be seen and not heard and I will not make that mistake again.

But Jennifer Anniston told me today, when I told her the story about Sergio and how I was sent to my room without supper, that she had no idea what he was talking about and she hadn't noticed that I was being hostile or negative or hateful at all.

I am being gaslighted. I spoke to my friend Lenore, whom I have known for 25 years or something like that, and she is experiencing the crazy of a small company, too. We both come from big company backgrounds and have never been in this environment where one person can make so many people so miserable.

We are reassuring each other that it is NOT US.

Ladies and gents, I give you more information as to the craziness of my current soon to be late job.

I give you the form I had to complete for my six-month evaluation.

Yes. Six months.

They do not visit the horror of performance evaluations only once a year at this company. They do it twice a year. And lucky me, I got there in time for an evaluation before I quit.

There are a handful of items. Each has five options, ranging from bad to good. There are examples with each level.

For instance, this:

Requires extra safety supervision. Needs to be reminded on occasions to wear correct work attire.


I am being evaluated on whether I wear the proper clothes to work.

And on whether I show up on time:

Work habits consistent with company policy (e.g., punctuality, attendance, break times). A self starter at the beginning of the shift.

Not sure what I say about this one, in light of the Drama of the Radio:

Excellent ability to get along with team members. Plays in active role within team. Often helps resolve conflict. Works positively to improve ongoing team development.

Here is what I can tell my boss:

I show up to work on time and get myself started once I have had some coffee and have read "Ask A Manager." I am the best-dressed person in the office - not hard to do when some people wear a yellow velour tracksuit on jeans day. But even without that, I dress sharp because I like to look nice and I feel different when I am dressed nicely.

Do you think I'll get a raise?

Thursday, September 4, 2014

In which Primo tries to convince me that because he has acquired the hobby of running for office, he should not have to do his share of the household chores

Primo: I've figured it out. When you weren't working, you vacuumed once a week. Now I am in charge of vacuuming, but I am working, so I should only do it once every two weeks.

Me: Maybe I'll wash your clothes only every two weeks.

Primo: And then there is the campaign. Remember in Teresa's election night speech? She said she didn't do a single dish or wash any clothes during the campaign?

Me: Yes. She was campaigning for a job that would double her salary. Her husband was invested. You are not going to increase your salary. You want to quit your job.

Primo: If I can quit, then I will vacuum every week. Otherwise, I think I should be expected to vacuum only 25% of the time that I am now. So really, I am exceeding expectations by doing it every two weeks.

Me: Nice try.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

In which we find someone who can be in solidarity with Sly in his anger at my bad bacon eating and I wonder if Sly can go to therapy to deal with my bad bacon eating

I saw this on slate.com and thought of Sly immediately:

Q. Ice Cream: My brother eats the strawberry and chocolate part of the Neapolitan ice cream and only leaves the vanilla part. He does it despite our protests. I’m devastated and have received counseling for this. Is there a civil way to stop him?
A: Your brother is dope. My grandparents used to get Neapolitan ice cream and the way you eat it is to devour the chocolate, then toss the telltale vanilla and strawberry mounds until all is even. As much as you may have needed therapy for this situation, consider that if you buy a couple of quarts of chocolate it might divert your brother from the Neapolitan. But if that doesn’t work, try to stay civil while you explore the possibility of a civil suit.

Perhaps I can send this link to him and recommend that he seek counseling for his problem with how I eat bacon. Blesshisheart.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

In which I start my new job

Here are the things I encountered on Day 1 of my new job. They are the usual things that one finds on one's first day but I did not find at my previous job with Sergio.

1. There is free coffee. (Wait - we did have that at SergioLand, but it was not very good. What is the point of having free coffee if it tastes crummy?)
2. There was a nameplate with my name on it at my workspace. At SergioLand, they had stopped making nameplates as a cost-saving device. I never did get one.
3. My phone was ready. Even though I had not merely moved from one to division to another, moving only one floor, but had never even worked at this company before.
4. My computer was ready. At SergioLand, they had a month's notice that I was coming. That I was moving from one division to another. From one floor to another. And yet, my computer was not ready when I arrived.
5. My new boss took me to lunch.
6. My new boss took me around and introduced me to everyone.
7. There was a welcome sign at reception for me.
8. There is a gym with free towels. This, however, is an unfair comparison to make to SergioLand, as SergioLand was close to a gym that I could walk to at lunch.

Most of all, at NewJob, I have a boss who is interested in having conversations about things that are not work. It will be very interesting working with someone like him instead of Sergio.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

In which I think I am about to be fired but am sent to my room instead

You guys, this is a really hard post to write. It's about a really humiliating experience - a very stressful experience - but it also about an experience where I may have been at fault. I want this all to be about how wronged I was, but it is possible that I was, if not 100% negligent, then contributorily negligent. (I just made that word up.)

How responsible am I for a situation where I know the proper way to act - ie, the way that won't get me in trouble - and don't do it? What if I think (ah! my opinion!) that the proper way to act is bullshit and pandering?

Well. Why don't you guys read this and then we can decide. I will try to be as impartial as possible in telling the story, but realize that I might be an unreliable narrator. However, to put this in context, four people in my nine-person office have quit. One didn't even have another job lined up - he just didn't come back one day after lunch. Two others left for lower-paying jobs.

More than a year ago, one woman had a nervous breakdown, I heard. The guy who preceded my boss apparently developed tremors and twitches that have disappeared since he was fired.

So. You know that the CEO of my company, Sergio, is not my favorite. I find him overbearing and dismissive. When he is in town, he will call meetings at the last minute and then go on for two hours, through lunch. I hate missing going to the gym and I get hungry. But even more, I hate uncertainty. I live and die by my outlook calendar. I don't understand why anyone would just randomly call a meeting. The way it works is you set a time and define an agenda and then you start at the start time and end at the end time, or earlier. You don't just grab people at 11:50 a.m. and tell them to go to the conference room and then keep them there for 90 minutes talking about - what? I'm not prepared because I didn't know there was a meeting!

So that's Sergio.

This week, Sergio and a few of the other headquarters folks were in town. Remember HQ is in Argentina. We had meetings all day, every day. On Tuesday, after we came back from lunch, everyone was just milling around and goofing off. I am a big fan of goofing off, but we were supposed to have started the afternoon session already. I wanted to get going because I didn't want the meetings to run late.

I said, "Let's get started. I want to be out of here by 5:00."

Sergio said, "It will take how long it takes."

I replied, "The meeting norms [that the team had developed! that Sergio had endorsed!] say that we are supposed to be respectful of everyone's time."

No, I should not have said that. Yes, I was stupid. Just because it's in my head does not mean it has to come out of my mouth. Proper response would have been, "Of course, Sergio. You're right. We only meet three times a year. I just want to make sure we are making the most of our time together."

Instead, I tried to use logic to address emotion and that never works.

He snapped, "We've traveled a long way and you need to respect our time. This matter is closed for further discussion."

My eyes flew open. I guess he told me. I resigned myself to getting home late. In the late afternoon, the bus runs only every 30 minutes, so a late meeting can mean that I get home much later than usual.

The next day, we spent the entire day talking about corrective action plans and how to complete a nonconformance report and other very technical things. These are issues that are very important for the audit and operations side of my company, but I am in sales and marketing and my boss is on my butt every single day asking when I am going to close some new business. He tells me almost every day that he is "tired of being beat up by Sergio and the board" and we are "not even covering our salaries," which is true.

So although the training on CA/PA and NCRs was interesting, as it gave me a better understanding of the business, I did not see how it applied to my everyday work. Hence, at the end of the day, when Sergio asked us to rate the day from one to five, with one being "I never want to do this again," after everyone else gave the day an enthusiastic four or five, I, alone, I, stupidly, gave it a two.

I know. I know.

In retrospect - heck, as soon as the words were out of my mouth, I knew.

Sergio does not want the truth. Sergio wants to hear that everything is great. I have seen my boss cross Sergio and have seen how Sergio excoriates anyone who crosses him. I should have known better. WHAT WAS I THINKING? Just because someone asks what I think does not mean he wants to know what I think.

I gave the meeting a two. When pressed for details, I explained that although the information gave me a better understanding of the business, I did not see how it applied to my everyday work.

I thought that was it.

I went home. Went out for a drink with my friend Dawn. At 9:00, we left the restaurant. I checked my phone. A message from my boss. Odd!

I listened to the message. "Hi GD. This is Benedict Cumberbatch." Yes, he gave me his full name. Because I know so many Benedicts that he had to qualify which one?

His voice was really nervous. He asked me to call him.

I thought he had been fired. The last time I had a voicemail like that, it was from a Good Boss who had been fired by a Really Bad Boss. RBB is still at the company and is now the company's chief financial officer. May I note that the company is a Fortune 100 company and that new CFO has never studied accounting or finance? That she was an engineering major? I fear for the company and for my pension.

I called. Ben told me that Sergio didn't want me to come to the meetings on Thursday or Friday.

Yes. I was sent to my room.

Reader, I am not four years old and Sergio is not my father.

Ben was ticked and nervous. He said that Sergio said that "everyone" noticed that I am not a "team player" and that "everyone" felt uncomfortable. He went on for 15 minutes and then told me I could call him later. I asked if I still had a job and he said he didn't know.

More context:

I had a job offer a few weeks ago. There were some things we had to negotiate - I would have had to take a pay cut and I wasn't willing to do that - and I was waiting for a revised offer letter. Yes, I did negotiate a higher salary, but I am still at only 85% of where I used to be. (And that's before bonus and stock options.)

But I didn't have the revised letter yet and what if it didn't come and I have three weeks of unused vacation and don't want to lose that and being fired would not be good.

However, it would have been nice to hear my boss say, "You and I both know Sergio is a bit of a jerk" (indeed, Ben and I have had that conversation behind closed doors more than once) "and he doesn't like being challenged. What were you thinking? Anyhow, I think he's being a jerk. But you know there is no arguing with him. Just lie low for a while." But no. No defense. Just attacks from Ben, who himself has developed if not tremors, then a great deal of fear.

Ben didn't say that. Instead, he told me to come in early so he and I could talk the next day.

I called my work friend Angelina Jolie. She was appalled and told me that I was not crazy, that it was Sergio and Ben who are crazy. She also told me that almost everyone she knows - including her - has been put on a performance improvement plan and that the company looks at PIPs as a way to manage, not as a way to fire people. That is, they go straight to DEFCON five rather than saying, "Let's work on these issues."

I got to work early. Went to Ben's office. Closed the door. Listened to me excoriate me for 20 minutes. How can I be so blah blah blah? Hasn't he warned me?

I asked when he had warned me and he mentioned a time when he and I had been complaining about Sergio. Ben told me that I was cynical and said what I thought.

Does that sound like a warning to you?

I said, "That didn't seem like a warning."

"I was trying to be diplomatic," Ben said.

Let me tell you some more about Sergio. The week before Easter, we got an email from the Argentina HQ that they would be closed on Good Friday and Easter Monday. It is already a sore point in the US office that the Argentina office gets more holidays. One of my co-workers, Regina King, emailed a response to the announcement: "Must be nice!"

Sergio fired back an email to Regina: "If you have a problem with the holidays in this office, we can certainly adjust them so they are equal by taking away some of the US holidays."

We were stunned at his vindictive response and confused as well, as the US already has fewer holidays.

Nice, huh?

So after 20 minutes of Ben beating me up and my nodding and saying, "You're right, of course," Sergio came into the office.

I stood and said, "I owe you an apology. I was rude and insensitive and should have thought before I spoke. You put a lot of work into these meetings and you didn't deserve that."

Of course, that was all BS. I mean yes, I should have thought before I spoke and should have lied, but really? I was being punished for expressing an opinion after I had been asked for one?

He said, "Well, I didn't think it fair to do anything without hearing your side of the story."

Which made me think, "Then why did you call Ben last night and tell him to tell me not to come to the meetings today? Why didn't you just pull me aside and ask, 'What's going on?'"

Indeed, BEN, if my HOSTILITY and NEGATIVITY that you cited were SO OBVIOUS to EVERYONE starting on Monday and making you look bad, then why didn't YOU pull me aside and say, "Hey! Knock it off!"

Because there was no issue.

Sergio explained how committed he and the others are to the company. "Madonna had to reschedule her grandson's baptism because of this trip to the US," he said. "She missed her father in law's funeral because of the last trip."

[I would not miss Sly's funeral for anything because I want to make sure he's dead.]

He continued. "I don't ask people to do these things. They do them because they care."

No, I thought to myself. They do them because they fear you. What kind of leader are you not to say, "You cannot miss your father in law's funeral?"

Sergio accepted my apology. Accepted when I said I was committed to doing a good job (which I always am, just because I am too prideful in my work to deliberately not do a good job) and that I would do what I needed to do to mend things with my co-workers. Told me to go to the meetings.

I went over to the meeting rooms. Found Jennifer Anniston, who had put together all the work for the day before, and told her I wanted to apologize for what I said. Jen had no idea what I was talking about. "You know, the 'two' rating," I said.

She raised her eyebrows. "That didn't bother me none," she said. "I thought your explanation made a lot of sense. I wasn't offended at all."

I found Angelina again. "I am so happy you're here!" she said. "I have been so angry since last night. Here we are talking about teambuilding and implementing quality systems but we can't be honest with each other? I haven't seen anything wrong with anything you have said or done this week!"

Then I found Brad Pitt. Brad is the guy who has made sure we have had coffee and bagels and donuts every morning and granola bars and peanut butter cups in the afternoon. I asked him if I had offended him. "Nope, not me," he said. "I'm fine. Sergio asked me on Tuesday evening about what you said about getting done by five and I told him that we all just wanted to know what the plans were so we could make plans for the evening. I don't see how what you said could be offensive except that Sergio takes everything personally."

Three down. That evening, I went for a drink with Enrique Iglesias, who works in the Argentina office and is the person I work with the most. He and Sergio are personal friends. He waved off the Sergio issue. "This is his passion," Enrique explained. "He lives and breathes this stuff. But no - no big deal. You just have to give him what he wants - you can't cross him because you will never win. He won't let you. As long as you can live with that, you're cool. If you can't, then you have to go somewhere else, because he is not going to change."

Four. Four out of the ten had not seen my egregious behavior. I didn't ask Madonna and the others because I don't know them well enough.

Thursday right before we finished, Madonna asked how many people would be going to dinner on Friday. That was the first I had heard of it. Primo and I already had plans for Friday night. I said as much.

Then I thought about Sergio's praise of Madonna for rescheduling a baptism. Going to tennis lessons with Primo was not even at baptism level.

I sighed, sent a message to Primo saying Friday night was off, and told Sergio that I had changed my plans and would be joining the group for dinner.

Did I mention that Brad had asked Sergio two weeks ago if there would be any evening activities and that Sergio had said we would discuss later?

Friday morning, I got an email with my revised offer letter. I pulled Angelina aside and showed it to her. She smiled.

We finished the meeting at 3. Sergio reminded everyone we would be eating at 7:30. My face fell. I had thought dinner would be at 5, after the meetings were supposed to be over. I shook my head. I just couldn't do it.

I remembered the revised offer letter. Told Sergio I had not realized that we would be eating that late and that I had transportation issues. He told me not to worry about it. Now that I have a place to escape to, I am not worried about it.

The End.

PS By the time you read this, I will have been in my new job for almost two months.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

In which Doris tells Primo that I don't need to "prove" myself by riding my bike to work

Primo had his weekly call with Sly and Doris today. He has to call before 4:00 because they start drinking at 4:00 and

1. do not answer the phone
2. are too drunk to remember they have spoken to Primo so he doesn't get any credit for the call

But he called at 2:00 and they told him they were busy watching tennis and would have to call him later.

I guess it doesn't matter that Primo might not be able to talk later.

They called him back, eventually, as Primo was ironing his shirts.

No, he is not asking me to iron any more.

Which is a smart move, because I am not inclined to be too supportive with the ironing these days.

Have I mentioned how much I hate politics? And how I never ever ever wanted to be a political spouse?

I really do think there should be an escape clause in wedding vows that you get a do-over if your spouse suddenly decides to make a huge midlife change to get into politics.

Primo told them he was busy - about to go to a campaign event - which you would think they would support as their entire life is politics and talking about how Old White Men are Ruining Things. I guess they have not noticed that Sly is an Old White Man.

But he spoke to them for a few minutes. Told them about my new job and that I am riding my bike to work.

I am riding my bike to work because

1. The bus does not go to the new office
2. I hate driving
3. I want to forestall any discussion of buying another car
4. It's good exercise and by God, I want to be in shape just once before I die.

Doris told Primo that it is not "necessary" for me to "prove myself" by riding a bike to work.

I asked Primo what she thinks I am trying to prove and to whom but he had no idea.

Should I mention this to her in my next letter to her?

Thursday, August 14, 2014

In which we have a teambuilding exercise only nobody trusts the feedback not to get back to the CEO so we all lie by omission

Dear Managers of [my company]

I look forward to facilitating your team development session. 

We are beginning the meetings with a focus on team and relationship, because everything
depends on the capacity of leaders to be aware of their strengths and blind spots and to recognize, engage and support the strengths of colleagues as well as direct reports.

While some of you have been with the team for quite some time, others are new to the scene!

Regardless of your experience with this team, I would appreciate your response to the following questions:

1)  What is working well?   
                Respect?  Communication? Trust?  Energy?  Innovation?
2) What opportunities do we have to strengthen our working relationships with one another to advance the mission of the business?   What are the barriers?
3)  What are you willing to contribute to the success of our time together?
4) What is one thing that you think I should know about you, your team, [the CEO], etc?
5) What excites you about your work?
Anything else?

Please feel free to respond to this e-mail and include your responses  in the body of the message.
Thank you in advance for your thoughtful consideration.  Be assured that your responses will be kept in confidence. Should there be themes that emerge (ex:  communication is challenging …)  I will offer the themes for our consideration during our time together.

I will see you soon!

Best Regards,

Judi Dench


That's the email that came to me and my co-workers the week before the management meeting.

My boss came into my office and confirmed what I had thought: that over my dead body would I give honest feedback to the facilitator.

"It would probably not behoove you," he said, "to be honest."

I spoke to my colleagues Jennifer Anniston, Brad Pitt, Angelina Jolie, and Regina King. "Are you going to give honest feedback to Judi?" I asked.

They laughed. Hahahahahahahahahaha!

No.

No, they had no intention of telling the truth, ie, that the CEO is a little bit jerky and we are all scared of him and he says he wants honest feedback but then when you give it to him, he gets angry.

"If we could give honest feedback," Brad said, "we would not need this teambuilding meeting."

He speaks the truth.