(Life in the American Corporation)
You drink some every day. At first it isn’t much and it doesn’t taste too bad.
“Here, do this task,” you’re told.
Hey, that’s what you’re there for, right? To work?
But well, what you’ve been asked to do isn’t what you got your degree in, and it really isn’t something you know how to do. It’s not even why you were hired. It’s not what you have a passion for and it’s not in your job description.
But you do it. Because hey, they’re paying you.
A year passes. Maybe two. You think, wow, I have all these things that I have to do each day. They really have nothing to do with the skills that I’m trying to build. The skills that will allow me to compete in the arena that is the American Corporate World. But well, they’re paying me, right? And they say that I’ll get ‘training’ to keep up my skills.
You get training. Diversity training. Sexual Harassment training. How not to take bribes. Why you shouldn’t use pirated software. Why you shouldn’t use the Internet.
Are these skills I need?
No. But they’re paying you.
Wow… look at this pile of work you have to do. It is odd though, as you look over these tasks. You’re an Engineer. You’re supposed to have a part in building something. But what is this? Paperwork. Forms. Plans. Schedules. Presentations. Ah… there it is on the schedule. In six months, you’ll get to be an Engineer again, to build something. Project planning will be over. Project Management has it all figured out.
Five months pass.
What do you mean there’s no money left? you think. Where did it all go?
You look around. Row after row of offices. Planners. Budget people. Managers. Project Managers. Directors. Where are the Engineers? What happened to our project?
Oh, you’re told, the customer cut back. It was getting too expensive. And by the way, you need to find another project, we’re out of money.
You move on, but the managers, planners, budget people, project managers and directors stay. Somehow, they are making money for the company. You wonder how, since they don’t seem to produce anything.
Five years pass.
Those skills you worked hard for in College. The ones you thought would allow you to earn a living. You haven’t used them for over a year — maybe two. Planning, paperwork, metrics, meetings, more powerpoint, more meetings.
When, you think, will you be able to actually use your skills on a project?
Ah… here it is! We’re finally at the work phase of the project.
There are three managers for every section, and one director. You walk by their offices; three times the size of your cube and in a much nicer area. Your cube is surrounded by more than a hundred other cubes. It’s not too bad, you think. I can cut out most of the noise with headphones.
You watch as new carpets are installed in the director’s office. An office so large that it has a ten person conference table in it. You watch as three of your coworkers have to scramble to transfer to other projects. There’s no money for them to stay on. Your workload doubles.
But they’re paying you, right? Don’t you owe them your best? That’s the contract: They pay you and you do whatever they tell you. No matter what it is.
You begin to speak up a little, point out problems and offer solutions. Many of your coworkers agree but well… no one will say anything too loudly. Cut backs could be just around the corner. No one wants to make waves.
There _are_ those who are doing well.
They thrive on the paperwork,the bureaucracy, the legalese and the impenetrable maze of rules and process you ‘need’ to do your work. They are the ones that never really wanted to build anything anyway — just get ahead. Hey, they say, you just don’t try hard enough. The opportunity is there, you just have to grab it! Stop whining!
You try to see what they’re talking about, but you can’t. You look around, feeling like you’re a loser. After all, they’re making it. Why can’t you?
They get promoted. They begin to make decisions.
You must work faster, they say. Do more with less.
But you know that working faster isn’t the answer because you’re already working as fast as you can. And things are beginning to slip. The project doesn’t work the way it’s supposed to. Parts of it just aren’t right, and you have to let people know.
You’re told you’re causing problems. You have a bad attitude. Just do what you’re told, and if the product doesn’t meet spec, no one’s going to care.
Well, the customer will care, you think.
By the time the customer understands the product doesn’t work, the people responsible for creating the problems are gone. They’re successful. They’ve been promoted. Again. You look around and wonder what happened.
And what’s more, ‘they’ were right. The people who ordered the product are also gone and the customer knows they can advertise it using only the barest of truth and people will buy it, realizing only too late that it doesn’t work. By the time it gets out that the product is horrible, the money’s been made. The stock holders are happy.
You’re not. You’ve made something that’s awful. Your name is attached to it. Yours, not the names of the managers who caused the problems.
But they’re paying you, right? So just do your job. What was your job again?
Another three years pass. You have not used the skills you tried to build a career on in that entire time. You fear you cannot compete on the open market any longer. You ask for training.
You are told: There is no money in the training budget for that kind of training!
There is plenty of money for other types of training though.
Information Protection training. Ergonomics training. Ethics training. New types of Diversity training. More sexual harassment training.
Your project is overdue, and it’s full of problems. You now have to work mandatory overtime. You were never consulted about the schedule, never asked if it was remotely realistic. You are still responsible to it though.
You roll over and look at the clock. It’s just after midnight. There are five hours left before you have to start your ten hour day. You will only get paid for eight of those hours though. The other two are ‘free’. They are called ‘professional overtime’.
More than ten years have passed. You have choices to make. Do you continue to drink the poison?
They are, after all, paying you.
You know you can no longer compete in the work place. What’s more, the thing you loved to do, that you wanted to do out of college? you hate the thought of it now. You were never really allowed to do it anyway and now it comes with so much extra paperwork that the thought makes you ill.
Total Quality Management. Capability Maturity Model Integration. CORE Values. Quality. Metrics. Process.
You watch as the parade of paperwork inducing initiatives trample your ability to do work. You still define quality as something that means the product is good. You go to meetings with managers, those same people who, years ago, Made It, and listen to what they say. Their words have nothing to do with building a product that is good. One that works. They have everything to do with schedule and cost. You meet the knowing eyes of others who can translate, as you have, what the manager is saying.
Just do what you’re told. The produce will be fine. Everything will be fine.
They’re paying you, right? And now, it would take you years of hard work and energy to make up the skills your company has kept you from using.
More years pass. You’ve given up trying to change things. You realize there is no point. What you need, you think, is to find something else to fulfill your life. You have hobbies, a wife, perhaps a child. You have a house and a car, and some years the money’s good enough that you can forget the bitter taste of the poison you drink more of every day.
It’s enough, you think.
The people who ‘got ahead’, they are now CEOs, CFO’s COOs. Directors, VPs — movers and shakers. They make Important Decisions. They are rich and powerful.
They have no skills other than the ability to climb the ladder. They cannot build or design, but they don’t have to. Their skills command literally hundreds of times the money you make. They have power, and they use it to make sure they stay in power. That their money keeps coming in, that their jobs are secure.
You look at the news, read the papers.
Companies folds — but the men responsible aren’t hurt. While hundreds lose their houses and families are crushed under the burdens of medical bills and taxes, these men have Golden Parachutes. They are protected. They Made It.
People cry out. YOU cry out. You are not heard. Not by your managers, not by your government. Only by those who, like you, have not Made It. Didn’t have What It Took to Get Ahead. Who are inferior.
You didn’t try hard enough. You didn’t work hard enough. That’s why they made it and you didn’t.
Besides, they’re still paying you, aren’t they?
The decisions of these Movers and Shakers, of the Captains and Moguls of Industry, those who run the government, these decisions have consequences. The people making them are insulated from the results. You are not. You weren’t smart enough. You weren’t good enough. Didn’t have enough of that American Spirit.
The money you though would be there as a cushion, the money you were forced to put aside because the company you’ve worked for for twenty years got rid of your pension, it disappears almost over night.
You lay in your bed. The clock changes from one am, to two, then three…
Costs are too high, your company cries. You must pay more for your medical insurance. Oh, and we can’t give you a raise this year. And now, you must work at least five hours overtime, and of course, it’s Professional Overtime so you don’t get paid.
I’m sorry, we’re going to have to cut back on our work force. Must pay the share holders, you know. We’re responsible to them.
But there’s work! You think. A lot of it! Why can’t we keep people?
Can’t keep ’em because it’s not profitable.
But letting them go means the project will surely fail!
No it won’t, they say. We have the paperwork to prove it won’t fail. Stop complaining. And find another project — you’re no longer needed on this one.
There is no next project. Not unless you’re a manager, and you’re not. You wanted to build something. To produce something. But it’s too late.
You misunderstood the new American Dream.
You didn’t understand that what you were really producing were profits reaped by those far above your lowly status. Those people that Made It.
They are people who made the decisions that crashed the economy, that destroyed the industrial complexes, decimated industries that your country was once proud of. They are the people who decided that you cost too much, and foreign workers must be brought in so the Company can remain Profitable. So they can continue to make hundreds of times what you make per year. So they can get bonuses each year that you could live off for a life time.
There are no projects left. After twenty years, your skills cannot compete with a college kid who has no mortgage, no wife, no children. You feel you are still young enough to contribute, to do good work, but are being told you cannot.
Your health is bad — stress and over-work have taken a toll.
With no project, you have no job. With no job you have no insurance, and you fear your health will get worse. Perhaps your spouse or child will suffer as well.
You wanted to work. You wanted to build. You wanted to contribute to the American Dream. You feel as if you are a failure.
But they paid you, right?