Thursday, July 16, 2015

tell me something good

I entered the working world a little over thirty years ago, when I graduated from art school. I worked in a small composition house for a while, then another small composition house, then another and another. After nearly ten years, I landed a job in the corporate world — the sterile land of cubicles and departments and a multi-tier system of management hierarchy. It was a far cry from just me and a typesetter doing paste-up and taking turns making coffee. It was structured and regimented and everyone knew his or her place and set of responsibilities. I did however come to appreciate the corporate atmosphere — its rules and its protocol — and I eventually found it pretty amusing.

In my first job, my boss was the owner of the business. She was very nice, but clueless when it came to design. I guess that's why she hired me and she seemed pretty pleased with my work. Over the five years that I worked for her, I was awarded several increases in salary, although not with any regularity. Desktop publishing was just coming into fashion, but it was becoming the industry standard at a lightning pace. The small composition house had become a dinosaur in a short five years and, sadly, closed. (Even more sadly, they closed while I was on vacation.) 

At my next job, my supervisor left on maternity leave, never to return. I took it upon myself to do her work, as the other idiots in that place would have banged into the walls without any sort of guidance. Based on the amount of extra work I was doing, I asked the owner for an increase in salary. The owner hesitated, hemmed and hawed and finally replied, "No one got raises this year." I corrected her, clarifying that I was not asking for a raise for everyone. I was just asking for me." She said she would consider it. My next paycheck included the slimmest of increases and I promptly went on the search for another job.

I dove head first into the corporate world when I was hired to do layout for a national publisher of legal periodicals. For the first time in my career, a computer would be my sole piece of work equipment. My primary responsibility was the layout and production of 45 newsletters — some monthly, some weekly. My work was assessed by my boss annually and I was given an increase in salary accordingly. Such is the way, I would come to understand, in the corporate world.

I eventually left that job (participating in that other corporate ritual — the "exit interview") and soon found myself in the marketing department of a large, after-market auto parts corporation whose mascots are three cartoon guys, one of whom smoked a cigar until 1990.* Once again, my progress and accomplishments were annually reviewed by my superior. After a couple of years, the novelty of the review process wore thin. I found out that, based on an edict from the executive powers above, managerial staff was expected to be extra critical of employees in their review, sometimes required to make up faults and setting unreachable goals to show that there is no such thing as a "perfect employee."

At review time, I was usually very busy and under tight deadlines. Any break in my daily routine would set my work behind schedule. So, when my boss announced that it was time for my review, I said, "Look, I'm really busy. How about I save us both some time. I'll tell you what you're gonna tell me, okay? I'm a hard worker and a conscientious worker. I'm opinionated and I've got a big mouth. Anything you'd like to add?" He looked at me. He looked at the printed pages in his hand. "Nope," he said, "that just about covers it." He went back to his office and I went back to my actual work.

Where the magic happens.
I have been at my current job for eight years. I have had the same boss for eight years. She knows me pretty well — my strengths, my weaknesses, my quirks and, most important, all of my schtick. I guess she knows me very well. Just this year, my sub-department (how's that for "corporate-speak?") has been shuffled and rearranged and whittled down to my boss and me. So, when review time came, I lumbered into my boss's office. She sarcastically said, "Okay. Let's get this bloodbath over with." I replied, "Seriously, what are you gonna tell me that you haven't already told me in eight years?" I silently read the printed assessment of my achievements over the past year. We discussed my job for approximately three minutes and then "bullshitted" for the next twenty. The corporate world requires that she submit a detailed review of her employee's performance. Whatever.

My raise kicks in Friday.

* Have you figured out which company I'm talking about?

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