Saturday, January 07, 2006

Corporatespeak

Flea's post from the other day made me think again about my various job choices over the years. As I noted in the comments section, I've never had a corporate job--working for Burger King at the drive-up window probably wouldn't count as "working for a large corporation" in the sense I mean--and I've come to realize that I'd probably suck at it. If you go by number of employees, the three biggest organizations for which I've worked are two universities (as adjunct, i.e., part-time, faculty) and a non-profit substance abuse treatment organization. The more interesting case, for this discussion, is the non-profit--or, as I refer to them, the junkies and alcoholics. And that tells you a lot of what you need to know.

That is, even though it was a fairly large organization, as these things go, it had grown from mom-and-pop size (as many such organizations do), and it had survived that transition to become somewhat professionalized, by which I mean there is a central office, there are executives for the organization, there's a hierarchy of management, and so on. They probably employ about a thousand people now, though I don't know for sure. They're large enough such that they can pay people decently (for that field, and for human services in general), which also means they have the occasional corporate mentality.

The most striking example, while I was there: For obscure reasons, HR or management of some kind decided to have a required "sensitivity training" session. Rumor had it that someone had said something racist, or had claimed someone had--so the solution was to make everyone go through this daylong session that first surveyed people on their "style" and "personality" and then had people discuss all that shit. I complained pretty bitterly to my boss, and basically said outright that I wasn't filling out any personality profiles--I find that crap really invasive (which already eliminates me from the ranks of most corporations these days). He and his boss were both managing to get out of it, so I didn't feel bad when he (wisely) decided that I was too busy to go to this thing. (One of the reasons I love that man--he's now become a close friend--is that he ran interference for me in these ways.)

The advantage to that organization, though, is that many of the employees, and, especially, many of the people at the management level, were themselves in recovery from an addiction. Many of the top people had been heroin addicts back in the day, but had been clean for 25+ years when I knew them. The negative side of that is that many of the behaviors you see in addicts don't get completely smoothed away by recovery; thus, you get people whose pathologies aren't as well-disguised as they may be in the non-addict world. The positive side of that, however, is that, as I've said here before, in order to break an addiction, the first thing you have to get is honest. That means that the bullshit in the organization, though not eliminated by any means, was (a) reduced and (b) of a particular kind. I loved those guys, and I got along well with most of them, in ways that I probably would not have in another "straighter" organization of similar size. If I had stayed there--and sometimes I wish I had--I probably could have made decent money and even gotten promotions and such, i.e., moved up the management hierarchy. I didn't want to stay there without my boss, though, so who knows.

I asked my new boss how many people he employs, and he said about 20 full-time, which is what I'd guessed. As I've told you, my interview lasted maybe a half-hour (not counting this week's "audition") and mostly consisted of the recommendation from Chef Bob. No personality tests, other than how well I've been getting along with the people who work there. No drug testing (though I suppose he might throw that at me). (I wouldn't fail a drug test, mind you, it's just that I find them, too, incredibly invasive, except for people who do things like drive trains and buses and airplanes--they should be tested daily. Truck drivers, too, but then you'd probably have to pay them more.) No elaborate interview system, with people who have a list of what-if questions. It's been pretty simple and straightforward: Can you make a laminated dough? Can you scale the ingredients for the recipe? Can you adapt the recipe to make 75% of the amount? Can you get along with the coworkers?

And this is more my speed. C tells me that he sometimes sits in meetings and imagines I were there, having to hear the corporate bullshit being spewed. The very idea makes him laugh, because he knows I'd be breaking out in hives, or, more likely, profanity. To amuse himself, he sometimes spews a couple of such sentences, making sure to use the latest buzzwords, just to watch me fulminate.

I've come to realize that my objection to this shit isn't merely aesthetic, or even personal: I find it destructive to the very things I think are important about work and about life. But that will have to wait for later, as it's nearly time to head for handball (yay!).

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