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Work gets weird
Old 12-16-2008, 10:37 AM   #1
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Work gets weird

Anyone else who is still employed seeing their workplace get weird, or at least weirder? We had some layoffs and the people who are left are being "watched" to make sure they are positive and suitably appreciative of being employed. We've had some supposedly anonymous surveys about our attitude towards the company and our jobs, but the responses are clearly tagged with our employee numbers, so they are not anonymous. The fake smiles and phoney cheerleading about how great it is to work here are laid on especially thick, meanwhile an attendance secretary is marking down arrival and departure times for professional staff, as well as logging time spent on lunches.

Needless to say, this is making paranoia run wild and we all expect another layoff. But if the criteria for the next round is going to be "usually eats at their desk" or "stays late most every night" or "really a positive attitude when taking surveys about the company" is unclear, it's certainly making people stressed (and weird). A couple middle managers were recently forced out and described as not fitting in with the new positive company culture.

This happened once before in another company (that went completely bust in the .com era) so I wonder if this is common when the economy turns down. Or is this a warning sign that much deeper layoffs are about to happen here?
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Old 12-16-2008, 10:49 AM   #2
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It depends on the corporate culture, I think. Some employers (or at least many of their managers) feel more emboldened to play the "be thankful you have a job" card, or the "there's the door if you don't like it" card when the job market sucks rocks.

These are the employers and managers who I fervently hope lose all their best people when the economy turns around... and that the exiting employees tell HR exactly why they're leaving in their exit interviews.
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Old 12-16-2008, 02:42 PM   #3
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Something akin to his happened at a company I worked at once. Happened after a new CEO came on board - the guy was all about building morale on the surface, but underneath, a total sociopath.

Another possibility -- management is scared and clueless, and is doing what it thinks it's supposed to be doing in the face of layoffs and negative morale.

Either way, not pretty. If you're thinking about leaving before you get the axe I'd say run, don't walk.
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Old 12-16-2008, 06:26 PM   #4
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It's getting weird around here, too. Three months ago we starting looking to cut next year's expenses by $.5M -- two months ago that jumped to $5M, and now they're talking $8-12M. Layoffs are coming, for the first time in my 27 years working here.

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Old 12-16-2008, 06:41 PM   #5
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The roles and interactional expectations forced on us by the workplace are often exactly the opposite of what our social selves would have us do. I was thinking about that earlier this week.

It can be subtle. And I have done it subconsciously. For example, I said to my assistant the other day something like "I need you make sure those lab tests are back from yesterday. When you get them, please get Mr. Smith on the phone so I can talk to him. Thanks." Innocent enough, though business-like. But in real life without the workplace laws, I probably would have said, "I hate to bother you, but when it's convenient could you do me a favor and see if those tests are back? I'm gonna be tied up at a meeting and can't get to it in time.

In other words, there's a layer of humility and gratitude in the latter situation but not the former. Of course it gets more powerful as the rank and consequences rise. The workplace interaction code creates all kinds of unnatural and forced interactions and suppressed emotions. I think you're better off if you recognize them even if you don't do anything different - they just don't stick that way.

Work can be a lot of work sometimes.
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Old 12-16-2008, 07:05 PM   #6
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when i was with mcfortune5 we had to play nice on surveys and all that. but then civility went out the window along with the real smiles.

now an x-colleague recently told me that she was actually shown the door when she complained about somethingoranother. the manager physically pointed at the doorway and said "you know where the door is". had i not known this person, i'd have thought the story a cartoon. i can't believe people would treat others like that.

outside maybe of extreme military conditions, i don't care if it's a business or a gutter; there is no excusing such behavior.

"politeness is the most acceptable hypocrisy"~~ambrose bierce
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Old 12-16-2008, 07:08 PM   #7
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...and the people who are left are being "watched" to make sure they are positive and suitably appreciative of being employed. We've had some supposedly anonymous surveys about our attitude towards the company and our jobs, but the responses are clearly tagged with our employee numbers, so they are not anonymous. The fake smiles and phoney cheerleading about how great it is to work here are laid on especially thick, meanwhile an attendance secretary is marking down arrival and departure times for professional staff, as well as logging time spent on lunches.
this post...um...spooked me. this exact kind of stuff was all going on before i FIREd from a govt j*b. and there were no looming threats of layoffs.
i'm truly sorry to hear you are being subjected to this high school homeroom nonsense. it is very demeaning.
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Old 12-16-2008, 08:47 PM   #8
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Anyone else who is still employed seeing their workplace get weird, or at least weirder? We had some layoffs and the people who are left are being "watched" to make sure they are positive and suitably appreciative of being employed. We've had some supposedly anonymous surveys about our attitude towards the company and our jobs, but the responses are clearly tagged with our employee numbers, so they are not anonymous. The fake smiles and phoney cheerleading about how great it is to work here are laid on especially thick, meanwhile an attendance secretary is marking down arrival and departure times for professional staff, as well as logging time spent on lunches.

Needless to say, this is making paranoia run wild and we all expect another layoff. But if the criteria for the next round is going to be "usually eats at their desk" or "stays late most every night" or "really a positive attitude when taking surveys about the company" is unclear, it's certainly making people stressed (and weird). A couple middle managers were recently forced out and described as not fitting in with the new positive company culture.

This happened once before in another company (that went completely bust in the .com era) so I wonder if this is common when the economy turns down. Or is this a warning sign that much deeper layoffs are about to happen here?
That being watched stuff is easy to fake. Just take a Xanax or swish but don't spit out all of your morning Listerine. All else fails, hit yourself with a hammer at the door. On a more serious note, I presume by your presence on this board, you have money stashed away, and that's a lot more than what most Americans have done. The dumb antics being pulled by your management is aimed at people who didn't plan, so don't let that stuff bother you.
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Old 12-16-2008, 11:56 PM   #9
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On a more serious note, I presume by your presence on this board, you have money stashed away, and that's a lot more than what most Americans have done. The dumb antics being pulled by your management is aimed at people who didn't plan, so don't let that stuff bother you.
I've been trying to reassure myself of pretty much that since this started. It's true, I've piled up some liquid cash reserves that will see me through any job loss. It will interrupt my dash towards FIRE, but there's never any danger of true financial peril.

On the other hand, it sure does make it harder to face working in a place with such weird politics and tension among employees. And I get the impression it's becoming more common elsewhere too, so it's not just a simple choice to get out of this toxic mess. I'm doing my best to pretend I'm a sociologist or anthropologist studying these people, which does help gain a level of detachment. I do still end up playing the games somewhat though, since I do prefer to remain employed until I'm ready to FIRE - and I'm not yet. I think some may hinge on economic conditions. If there's another sharp downturn, I hear the layoffs pretty close at hand. If things muddle along for a while, it's possible this weirdness will gradually fade.

Thanks for the confirmation that it's not just me in this boat.
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Old 12-17-2008, 12:53 AM   #10
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It can be subtle. And I have done it subconsciously.
As you say, it is the little things that tip us off. I went to the doctor (in a large hospital) last week and he said "I'll talk to my nurses about the way they booked this appointment--it's not right." That single sentence told me he was a jerk. I don't think he owns the nurses. I also don't think telling me that they have displeased him was necessary. He was clearly just reveling in his perceived position of power over them, and wanted me to see it. He made an impression all right.
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Old 12-18-2008, 09:30 PM   #11
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On the other hand, it sure does make it harder to face working in a place with such weird politics and tension among employees. And I get the impression it's becoming more common elsewhere too, so it's not just a simple choice to get out of this toxic mess. I'm doing my best to pretend I'm a sociologist or anthropologist studying these people, which does help gain a level of detachment...
what an excellent coping strategy!
I used to think to myself..."these are the people never went outside and played kickball or softball or went to high school dances. so that explains their behavior."
That mindset helped me through some strange situations.
Hang in there and keep studying the creatures.
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Old 12-18-2008, 09:52 PM   #12
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Yes, I will keep my observations. They've just come out with an exciting new requirement. When people are home, they are supposed to be logged in to email as much as possible from home, so that if an exec sends an important message everyone will get it right away. I guess you are supposed to keep your computer nearby so you hear the beep when a new email arrives and can respond immediately.

I don't know what will result from this, but I doubt people will function well under the strain of being "on call" 24x7 with no breaks.
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Old 12-18-2008, 09:54 PM   #13
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I don't know what will result from this, but I doubt people will function well under the strain of being "on call" 24x7 with no breaks.
It works for the military - it should work for you...
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Old 12-18-2008, 10:01 PM   #14
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Yes, I will keep my observations. They've just come out with an exciting new requirement. When people are home, they are supposed to be logged in to email as much as possible from home, so that if an exec sends an important message everyone will get it right away. I guess you are supposed to keep your computer nearby so you hear the beep when a new email arrives and can respond immediately.

I don't know what will result from this, but I doubt people will function well under the strain of being "on call" 24x7 with no breaks.

I suppose you could start leaving "fight club" rules in the copiers the execs tend to use.
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Old 12-19-2008, 09:08 AM   #15
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I suppose you could start leaving "fight club" rules in the copiers the execs tend to use.
That's beautiful!

Almost makes me want to get a job to try that out. ...Almost
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Old 12-20-2008, 07:34 AM   #16
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We have a round of cuts coming up in Q1 and the RIF count has recently grown due to deteriorating business conditions.

Needless to say, the ass kissing barometer reached an all time high this month .
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Old 12-20-2008, 10:25 AM   #17
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Anyone else who is still employed seeing their workplace get weird...
To keep my sanity, if I were in your shoes I would abandon the idea that I'm an 'employee'. Instead, I would consider myself a consultant running a small business. Your current (only) client is your current employer. This viewpoint would allow me to view the corporate madness with a certain detachment unavailable to those folks still using the employer/employee master/slave mental model.

I sometimes wonder what would happen if we (in the U.S.) abandoned the 'employee' legal status and made everyone into an independent contractor. This would merely be an acknowledgement of the trend already well underway in America, where the traditional social contract between employer & employee has almost completely broken down. We would suddenly have XX million new small businesses in America, and perhaps a healthier approach to personal money management. This is another half-baked idea that would need much more thought by folks more versed in economics than I.
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Old 12-20-2008, 10:26 AM   #18
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I think some of these measures are a way to see who's willing to do the most kissing. This week, we had two meetings called on short notice that started just before closing time and ran well over an hour after we usually leave. Neither was very important and either could have been handled in way less time and at much more convenient times the next day. I think they are another kind of litmus test.

People missed their trains and bus rides home. A few had to make emergency day care calls to make last minute (very nearly literally) arrangements for their kids. It's starting to feel like an ugly game. Who can prove they have the least life outside of work or maybe who has the least resistance to any kind of request, no matter how pointless or ineffective. I think the intention is to take advantage of the economy to somehow "get more" from the employees, but it seems designed to drive away the best people, since they are the ones who can likely land another job in tough times.
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Old 12-20-2008, 10:35 AM   #19
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Getting people to quit is a lot cheaper and easier than laying them off or firing them.
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Old 12-20-2008, 10:45 AM   #20
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Getting people to quit is a lot cheaper and easier than laying them off or firing them.
In some cases, I do think this is the idea. The thing is, a lot of times it's hard to convince the ones you want to get rid of to quit while not chasing away the employees you want to retain. That's especially true when, at least in theory, the better and more qualified/experienced employees are more likely to find another job -- especially in a craptastic economy.
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