"Let us go forth a while, and get better air in our lungs. Let us leave our closed rooms...
The game of ball is glorious."

--Walt Whitman

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Notes from the Soul-Sucking Cubicle

She was doing nine to life
working for The Company.
--the Levellers, "Outside/Inside"

Hello. My name is Peon, and I work for The Company.

I joined The Company in 1996, when it was small, and casual, and friendly. It has grown quite a bit since then, and become much like other companies. It has also grown a second face. Recently, one face looked very sad and apologetic when it informed us that money was very, very scarce and as a result they were going to have to lay off 10% of the technology peons. The other face was busy making toasts at the corporate managing director conference in Hawaii. Who knew it was cheaper to meet at a Hawaiian resort than in your own headquarters? Perhaps we should re-think our lease.

In the last few years, The Company has been pursuing a program called "Associate Engagement". "Associate" is a nicer word for peon, and "Engagement" basically means a peon's emotional investment in his/her job and in The Company itself. You see, there was a big nationwide study a few years ago that indicated a high level of "engagement" among workers resulted in greater job satisfaction and higher productivity.

So The Company, being duly concerned about its peons' happiness productivity, implemented an annual Associate Engagement Survey to gauge the level of contentment among its worker bees and presumably to try to fix areas of dissatisfaction. This survey is given every fall, usually in late September or early October.

The first few times, after the results of the survey came in around the new year, The Company would exclaim over the questions which received poor ratings, and the issues would be hashed and rehashed ad nauseum for the next six months. The Company would build new informational websites for our benefit, set up anonymous call centers where we could report problems, and gather all our managers together for a conference in a tropical paradise to try to puzzle out why those of us left behind in the swirling snows of Minnesota weren't beaming with pride to work for such a fine and caring organization.

Last year, they gave up on those tactics, and took the much simpler approach of releasing the next survey's questions to management several months before the survey and instructing them to discuss these questions with their team. By "discuss", of course, they meant "prime the peons to rate everything a 5 out of 5".

So our managers give us the questions one by one, and ask us to air any reasons we might have for rating that question less than a five. And then they explain to us, very gently, why our problems aren't really what the question is about, so of course we can't in good conscience consider trifling little difficulties like layoffs when faced with the survey.

I'm going to let you in on a little secret they don't think we're bright enough to have figured out. They don't actually give a rip if we're happy or productive--they just want us to say we're happy and productive on their little survey so they can show the survey results to their investors as proof that not only is their money safe with The Company, but they should invest even more.

I could admire their sheer nerve and Machiavellian lack of conscience if they weren't so ham-handed about it. A little subtlety would go a very long way. It might even be worth a 3.

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