At the U.S. headquarters of Self-Abasement, Incorporated, a boss begins to instruct his underlings in the delicate art of business attire.
Business attire, as we all know, is that particular brand of fashion which obscures one’s personality. Business attire offends people at places of relaxation and amusement, and doesn’t look distinguished in one’s workplace, either, regardless how much money one has spent on it.
Business attire, though having been designed to look respectable, handsome, and elegant, fails to do so, because while companies can require that one wear a pinstriped skirt, they can neither require that one should own several such skirts, nor that one should daily press the wrinkles out. The boss can force us to wear a tie, but not to tie a fresh knot daily. These are discretions belonging to the wearer, and this is the irony of business attire.
When one’s silk tie has been in the same Windsor knot for six months, it’s insincere to feel elegant.
Yet the boss, a college graduate of average ambition, has also a boss, and this chief boss is the one telling him to enforce the company’s dress code. The command strikes little boss as odd because the dress code has always been followed with little trouble.
“But no,” the chief tells him. “Following the code is just acceptable; we can’t have our employees looking acceptable. Our employees represent the company, and the company can’t look just acceptable.”
“No,” says the boss, “of course it can’t, of course the employees can’t,” even though he is thinking of the word acceptable, its definition, and wondering why there ought to be a dress code at all if not to define precisely how employees should dress for work.
So the boss bows out of the presence of the chief and makes his way to his own cubicle. His cubicle has a window overlooking the blacktop of the parking lot below, because he has worked with the company for twenty-one years and has earned this luxury. Once there, he reviews the company’s dress code, then clicks his mouse pointer to create a new document. His creation takes forty minutes. Making copies takes three. He delivers them to his underlings in no time at all.
The cubicle creatures have become wary of the boss’s hardcopy memos, so they wait until his squeaking loafers have rounded the corner to pluck it up and take their medicine.
They grimace at the familiar arial font, and they sneer at the bullet points. The tone and content of the memo is no different from any that have come before: heartlessness approximates professionalism; condescension masquerades as magnanimity. Tragic, terrible irony seeps from every typo and grammatical error. The cubicle creatures begin to pop up like gophers. They peer over the walls of their little boxes at one another, holding up the memo and pointing.
What bullshit! They can’t do this to us. I’m going to talk to Johnson right now. Can you believe this shit?
They cannot believe this shit.
ATTN: ALL EMPLOYEES
AS OF 4/25/10 the dress code is being clarified. Some employees arent following company procedure so this should help them dress aproppriately for work. NO EXCUSES! NO EXCEPTIONS!!!!!!!!!!
– Shirt and tie, men
– BLUE or BEIGE blowss, women
– BLACK or NAVY BLUE slacks
TO CLARIFY IN ADDITION!
– Mens slacks must front crease
– NO JEANS on Fri. anymore per Johnson
– Polo shirts are only all right Fri. on floor 3 if they are blue or beige
– EMPLOYEES MUST SHINE/POLLISH THEIR SHOES EVERY WEEKEND BEFORE MON. Mailroom employees must black nylon laces
– No dangly ear rings
– CLEAR or RED only pollished nails
John Johnson wll be reviewing staff Wed. to make sure these rules are being followed.
Thank you for your cooperation,
Sometimes when I’m at my job, tappity-tap-tapping on my plastic keyboard and diddling the little touchpad on my laptop from time to time, it occurs to me that I’m accomplishing work which required hours of painstaking, interminable scrawling on sheafs of expensive parchment not so long ago.
Thank you, Industrial Revolution.
The underlings of Self-Abasement, Inc. do not feel the benefits of that historic occasion, though. They feel the crushing weight of imaginary duties, instead, because the introduction of technology to the workplace has eliminated most clerical work, leaving employees with more time between tasks than ever before, time which bosses must fill in order to look industrious.
Having long ago mastered the art of making two hours of work look like a two-day job, proletariat underlings manage to keep their jobs, and this explains how American employment competes with technology which would otherwise make human labor obsolete.
Bosses know that their underlings cut corners and screw off for large amounts of time, though (because they are very guilty of the same thing) so the bosses spend most of their paid hours playing gotcha! with the rest of the staff, ratting out the minimum of underlings necessary to look busy.
Underlings, bosses, and chiefs all have more free time, but the sergeants to whom the chiefs report have no more free time than previously, because sergeants never did any of the clerical work, anyhow.
Sergeants do labor which C.E.O.s need done but cannot do themselves, labor requiring certain talents and educations which computers cannot be programmed to use. In addition, companies need creative, educated humans in virtually every area of their industry, so these sergeants find themselves in high demand, spread thin, overworked and under-appreciated.
The sergeants have meetings, at which they give presentations, with which they sign deals, by which they secure work and money for their employers, which also secures the employees below. They are hard to reach, rarely seen in the office, and have little time for shenanigans. Their private time is taken up with anything and everything that could possibly relax them.
— Drug habits and divorces, for instance.
As a very protracted result of industrialization, then: underlings inflate their jobs in order to look busy and justify their positions; bosses inflate their jobs in order to look busy and justify their positions; sergeants enjoy the odd amphetamine here and there and become extra-marital enthusiasts.
What, the reader may ask, are the chiefs doing during all this self-inflation?
Sergeants have no time to police them and must be content with available evidence that the chiefs are doing their jobs — but just what, exactly, were their jobs? Since dividing their responsibilities among the bosses, the job of the chief has evaporated into the delegation of labor amongst laborers who are many times more experienced at accomplishing these tasks than the chief ever was. In physical terms, the chief actually does nothing.
However, nothing is a very difficult job to perform, as it turns out.
In order to earn wages for doing nothing, the poor chief must somehow take credit for the work his underlings complete and build hard evidence of having had a hand in it, as well, which proved an inexorable challenge until the late-twentieth-century innovation of micromanagement.
Some definitions of micromanagement stretch for whole paragraphs, while others curtly name it in a concise six or seven words. Micromanagement describes more than a mere business philosophy, though. It is an undiscovered culture. It is an esoteric cabal.
Micromanagement is a sorcery woven over North America which upholds the global economy, feeds innumerable hungry mouths, and maintains the eminent prestige of the corporate-American business style.
It shares also the unfortunate distinction of the Faustian pact, however, in that it happens to kill everyone who subscribes to it.
When chiefs first aspire to practice micromanagement, they begin by conjuring new requirements to add to existing regulations. This increases the complexity of the rules, and since they must enforce these rules, this inflates the scope of their job, likewise. In the case of the wretched cubicle creatures at Self-Abasement, Inc., for instance, their chief focuses on the company dress code, which had been a perfectly functional dress code except that it was too easy for his employees to follow and therefore did not give the chief anything to do.
By adding a few superficial, superexacting details, chiefs ensure that their cubicle creatures will resist this tyrannical posturing and fail to observe all new regulations. The chiefs then sign a few official documents of reprimand, obtain the signatures of all offending employees, and in this way create a paper connection between themselves and the actual labor performed by the underlings.
Memos, too, serve to solidify a micromanaging chief’s presence in the office. Suggested by the sergeants and articulated through the chief’s invariably horrific grammar, they explode in mass emails like viral outbreaks, or wind up scotch-taped to cabinetry in the staff lounge, stall doors in the restrooms, or any number of surprising locations where one would not expect a memo to lurk, such as inside the silverware drawer in the kitchen:
DO NOT PUT FORKS AND SPOONS IN THE UTENSILS DRAWER!
These officious memos help to prove the indispensability of the micromanager, and also make his or her presence known throughout the cubicle labyrinth, invoking him or her like the summoned incarnation of a corporate Zeitgeist. Without the ostentation of these memos the chiefs would seem incorporeal, because by nature of their work (which does not exist) they toil alone in their offices, leaving them only to use the restroom or drop in on a boss to make certain the chief’s responsibilities are being sufficiently handled.
This, of course, begs the question underlings have pondered since the inception of the micromanager: if we’re out here doing all the work, and all he does is come up with crazy new rules every two weeks — then what the hell is he doing in there all the time?
It is the opinion of many cubicle creatures that copious amounts of auto-eroticism transpire in the office of the chief.
The Industrial Revolution of the nineteenth century put thousands of people out of work, and forced thousands more into new schools instituted to train farmers for life as factory hands. Had those day-laborers developed the sort of industrial sleight-of-hand practiced by micromanagers today, they would have been hailed as geniuses. They would perhaps have spent their working hours in the shade of apple trees, shouting perfunctory instructions to the other hands and winning their contempt, like this:
“Smith, yer gone need ter lift that hoe up t’yer shoulder to keep the furrow nice’n straight, hear?”
“Sho’ is a fine thing we got Johnson ter tellus how ter hoe ‘n sow ‘n plant ‘n scrape. I wonder where he gits his idears from.”
“I reckon those idears o’ Johnson’s come from about the same place as the manure do, but I sho’ wouldn’t mind trading up fer his salary, or fer his shady patch o’ sittin’ over thar, neither!”
That micromanagers work illusory jobs for pay does not seem inherently evil, though, as all the crucial work seems to be getting done, anyhow. Giving people something to do simply because people need something to do hardly appears like the worst thing in the world; mentally handicapped individuals have been employed in this fashion for decades, as have convicts, and even grandchildren (“Do what Nana says and sweep those leaves into a big pile on that side of the yard, and let me know when you’re done so I can show you how to sweep them back again.”). Micromanagers commit but a misdemeanor in duping dimwitted companies into paying them for inventing paltry regulations and decorating the office with memos.
In the innumerable tortures they design for the pathetic, piteous cubicle creatures, though, they betray themselves as the authors of fresh hells, their mass emails sundering the contentment and optimism of scores of people with neither shame nor care. The despair these micromanagers distribute as part of their useless, makeshift jobs horrifies the hapless cubicle creatures slowly, their gaunt faces growing more sallow and lined every day as though forced to watch imperturbable carpet bombs falling over an amusement park in crawling, relentless slow motion. Dress codes, new forms, an additional mite of data entry, an extra stop on the fifth floor to obtain a signature, the straws stack upon the quavering spines of corporate employees all the world over — hourly paid, conveniently quashed like cockroaches.
The proverbial last straw never comes for the cubicle creature, though, because each poisonous favor is only as brutal as the last, and like a cuckolding indentured servitude, they can only endure the apathy of their superiors by the anæsthetic of mindless subservience.
One is not mistaken to also detest the cubicle creature. One must consider that while their financial constraints may convince them to daily demean themselves like cowering, obsequious rodents, the shoe polishers of the world, garbage collectors, sewer scourers, bedpan changers, septic tank adventurers and other dauntless laborers of unseemly occupations go about their business with all the dignity and assurance of a British barrister, the cubicle creature having sacrificed self-love and self-respect for the sake of a dollar or two per hour above the wage that is generally paid to teenagers working in fast-food restaurants.
What course of action, then? When I reflect upon the farmhands during the Industrial Revolution, I imagine them going to work in factories with the same resignation and mental fatigue in their faces I see on those of the cubicle creatures, the bosses, and the micromanaging chiefs. This inheritance of misery cannot be tolerated.
However, the solution is not to stamp out micromanagement; that seems implausible. Micromanagers generally possess few marketable talents and so would not know what to do with themselves were it not for micromanaging. They will defend their philosophy to death. They sink in a quicksand of their own devising, and like Dr. Faustus, they do not believe that it will destroy them.
The micromanagers, themselves, appear doomed.
Readers given to martyrdom may decide to practice the Way of Nice for their respective chiefs, but should one find oneself in the position of the cubicle creature, the boss, the chief, or the sergeant, one would do best to quit the place like a spark leaving the flint.
Corporate offices transform human time and energy into cashola. That is their purpose; they have none other. Unless one could change one’s living days into enough capital to justify such a dark metamorphosis, to take a position in a corporate office is to commit oneself to a sanitarium operated by lunatics.
Most corporate fucks work jobs that they hate in order to feed, clothe, and educate their children, transfusing their very lifetime into that of their offspring. Their personal joy and appreciation for the beauties of life visibly deflate from them with every passing day, and many live in fear of termination like battered housewives clinging to abusive spouses. Self-destruction does not raise healthy children. It were better to live with dignity and pride somewhere in a rent-controlled ghetto and nourish one’s family with ramen.
As the great Al Pacino once said, “There is nothing like the sight of an amputated spirit; there is no prosthesis for that.” No, and there is no salvation for those who commit a daily suicide all their lives, either.
Beware the promise of material happiness or contentment.
Beware the myth of financial security.
Beware the fiscally ambitious and the ones who have it all.
— But most importantly, beware that part of you which dreams of winning lotteries, marrying rich, or retiring in a large, beautiful home.
It’s the part of you the rest of us have most to fear.
With remarkably tenacious optimism I remain,