your hair. your hair!

I mentioned I had been promoted a couple times at work.

I also mentioned that Sabotage in the American Workplace had become my manifesto.

It wasn’t that I didn’t work hard.  I did.  When I was actually doing my job, I did it well.  I was sincere when I was talking to customers, I worked hard to help solve their problems.  I pitched in so that I was pulling my weight in my department.  I got along well with my coworkers.  There were, at that point, seven or eight of us who worked together in a small section of the building, and we all sort of looked out for one another.

Mimi, the secretary, was a big fan of coffee.  So was I, but she was really a fan.  She had a little one-cup coffee maker at her desk, along with about a dozen different types of coffee, little packets of flavoring, that sort of thing.  She would arrive at work in the morning (at this point I was consistently working from 7AM to 4PM) and I’d be at my desk, zombie-like, and she’d brew me a cup.  Every day.  I never once asked someone at work to make me coffee; it wasn’t like that – she was just nice, and she’d make me a cup, bring it into my cubicle, tell me what I was drinking that morning, and then we’d chat for a few minutes while I woke up. It was like she ran a little record label for coffee – she wanted to turn people on to all these exotic coffees the same way I wanted to turn people on to music.

Everyone in my department knew I was running Dromedary, essentially working another full-time job from the second I walked out of the office until some time every night.  So, occasionally, I’d show up for work 20 minutes or a half hour late – somebody always covered for me.  “Oh, he went to get us breakfast,” they would say.  Or “He just left a minute ago for coffee.”

They were all pretty cool.

My supervisor was pretty cool, too.  She basically left us alone, for the most part.  Once in a while she’d come down on us for something, but we usually just wrote it off as pressure from above – there were so many climbers at that company that it seemed there was always someone gunning for the supervisors and managers.  Usually, though, she was cool.  

One day I got to work and was greeted by my first supervisor – the one who hired me.  I had come in through an employment agency, interviewed there, and then had a second interview with the woman who would become my supervisor.  When I was offered the job, it was made clear to me that the 150-person customer service department was frequently shuffled around, and once I became acclimated to the company I would likely be assigned a new supervisor.  I had three or four – a few of which I liked, a few of which I didn’t – before I landed in the department where I currently worked.

So I had gone through multiple supervisors, and rarely even saw the original one anymore. It was a huge department of people, and each supervisor was responsible for 15 or 20 people. Plus, I had moved into a small segment of the customer service department, so I didn’t even work in her area of the building anymore.

“I want to talk to you,” she said.

“Sure!” I said.  I was Mr. Chipper.

“Let’s go in a conference room.”  Huh.  I was being brought into a conference room by a supervisor.  Must be something important. 

When we got into the conference room, she said “I want to talk about your effort.”

“My effort?” I asked.

“Yes.  Is everything okay at home?”  

What the hell kind of question was that?  “Sure.  Everything’s fine.  Why?”

“Well,” she said, “Nobody has said anything to me, but I’ve noticed a big difference in you over the last few months.  When you first got here, you wore a suit, you were clean-cut, alert, well-groomed.  You were punctual.  You were professional.”

“Thank you,” I smiled.

“What happened?” she asked.

I said “I’m not sure I understand what you mean.”

“Look at yourself,” she said.  I did.  I was wearing a pair of khakis and loafers that needed a shine.  I had on a sweater.  

“And?”

“Did you shave today?” she asked.  This seemed like a really weird line of questioning, but I had to admit, I hadn’t.  “You don’t put much effort into your appearance anymore.  Some days you don’t shave.  You never wear a suit.  Your hair is too long.”

When I was in college, I had a mullet.  Not just your ordinary mullet, no, this was a monster mullet, with hair all the way down my back.  I was SO. DAMN. COOL.  My hair was super-thick, to the point where I occasionally would snap a hairbrush in half, simply by brushing my hair.  The brush would get caught in a knot, and in the process of trying to brush it out, the brush would just snap in two. When the mullet became un-cool, I started growing out the sides and front of my hair as well.  I had crazy hair.  

Before I got married, I realized that some day I would have kids, and that it made sense for me to have short hair in my wedding pictures.  I didn’t want to have to hear my kids saying “But Dad, you had long hair…”  So I had it cut pretty short – maybe collar-length.  But now I was trying to grow it back, so I would slick it back over the top of my head with hair gel, and pull it into a short ponytail for work.

I looked like Steven Seagal.

“I’m not sure what any of this has to do with my work,” I explained.  “I do my job well.  Customers are happy.  I talk on the phone all day, nobody sees me.”

“The people here see you,” she sighed.  “The recruiter you interviewed with was here the other day, and she saw you across the room.  She looked at me and said ‘Is that Al?  What happened to him?’  I mean, look at your hair.  Your hair!  What kind of example are you setting?  What kind of impression are you giving the higher-ups?  I mean, don’t you want to move up in the company?”

“Of course I do,” I lied.  “I like it here,” I lied.  “I’d like to keep moving up with the company,” I lied.

“I thought so,” she said.  She smiled at me.  “I want what’s best for you.  You have a lot of potential.  You could become a supervisor, maybe even a manager some day.  But not if you look like a slob. Impressions are everything.”

Heh.  That’s what I wanted.  I wanted to be a supervisor.

She continued.  “I also notice you’re often not at your desk, or you’re late for work.  I keep an eye on you.”

I promised her I’d try harder.  We left the conference room.  She shook my hand.  I seethed.  

Here’s an example of big company stupidity.

To rein in on lateness, the company established what they called an “occurrence” policy.  An “occurrence” was a black mark for punctuality.  You were credited with an occurrence if you were more than two minutes late for work, more than two minutes late coming back from lunch, or if you left more than two minutes early.  You also received an occurrence if you called in sick.

If you received six occurrences in any 12-month period, you received a verbal warning from your supervisor.  A seventh occurrence and you’d receive a written warning in your file.  An eighth occurrence, and you’d be fired.

Each employee had six sick days per year.  So basically, if you used all your sick days during the year, all you’d have to do is be late for work twice and you’d be fired.

Now, the loophole was this: if you called in sick two days in a row, you’d only receive one occurrence.  They wouldn’t ding you twice for the same sickness.

You can see where this is leading.  If you happened to oversleep for work, you’d make a value judgement: can I get into work on time?  If the answer was no, you’d be sure to receive an occurrence for oversleeping.

So you might as well take two sick days.  Because you’d get the same occurrence for taking two sick days as you would for being late one day, even by just two minutes. And people did it all the time – they’d oversleep, so you wouldn’t see them for two days. If you took a third day, though, you needed a doctor’s note.

Get it?

Me either.

Anyway, I mentioned earlier in this entry that I would occasionally show up late for work.  It was 7AM, and the office didn’t officially open til 8:30, so I always looked at it as my little secret.  As long as I got in before everyone else started to trickle in, I was okay.

One day shortly after my little pep talk (after which I started shaving every day – still do), I went home for lunch.  When I went inside the house, I heard a noise out on the street.  I looked out the window and saw that there was a drunken lunatic, walking around in the middle of the street, randomly screaming at people and trying to start fights.  He was a big, musclehead, weightlifter gorilla, and he was drunk, and he was raving.

I stayed in the apartment until he went away.  Then I got in my car and went back to work.  Of course, I was late coming back from lunch by about fifteen minutes, and my supervisor was waiting for me.

“Where’ve you been?” she asked.  

I told her the story.

“How come you go home for lunch?” she asked me.  “We have a cafeteria right here in the building.”

“I go home and walk my dog,” I said.  “I live just 15 minutes from here.  Plus, I save money by not buying lunch.”

“You know, you could bring lunch to work and put it in the refrigerator,” she said.  “Then you wouldn’t have to worry about being late.”

“I’m not worried about being late,” I told her.  “I’m never late.”

Her tone got hushed.  “I know you’re almost never on time in the morning,” she said.  “I see what time you log into your computer.  Sometimes you’re twenty minutes late.”

“No, I’m here,” I lied.  “I come in, go through the tech reports, make a cup of coffee.  I don’t always log in first thing.”

“If you’re not logged in, I don’t know you’re here,” she said.  “I’ll assume if you’re not logged in, you’re not here.  It’s the only thing I can assume.”

“Is there any problem with my work?” I asked.

“Not at all,” she said.  “But I can’t have different rules for you than I have for everyone else, right?  Right?”

“I guess,” I said. “But I’m still not sure what I did wrong.  I stayed in my house an extra fifteen minutes so I wouldn’t get mugged by a drunken maniac.”

“You shouldn’t have gone home in the first place,” she said.

“I can go home if I want to,” I said. “There would have been no reason for me to anticipate that a drunken maniac would keep me trapped into my house.  That’s never happened before.”

“Just the same, I’m going to give you an occurrence,” she said.  “Plus I’m going to give you an occurrence for being late for work once this week.  Couple that with your sick days, and that’s six occurrences this year.  I have to give you a verbal warning.”

“Are you kidding?!” I yelped.

“No,” she said.  “I’m serious.”

“That means if I use any more of my sick days, I get a written warning?” 

“That’s what it means,” she told me.

“Fine,” I said.  I got up and walked out.  I was livid.  I had to get out of that place.

~ by Al on January 30, 2009.

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