Thursday, 7 June 2007

Dilbert lives!

I’ve always laughed at the Dilbert cartoons because they’re just so, oh you know, ridiculous. It’s simply unthinkable to me that people would really behave that way, and I always assumed them to be loosely based on truth but hugely exaggerated by cartoonist Scott Adams.

Until I began working for a big corporation.

My first shock was discovering that cubicle farms actually exist – the office I was assigned to was as big as two rugby fields, but divided up into literally hundreds of tiny little workstations, just big enough for a desk and a chair, and each supplied with a computer, a phone and a nifty filing cabinet.

I was so disoriented on my first day that twice, having left the office, I couldn’t find my way back to my cubicle, and had to be led there by the increasingly irritated receptionist.

A few weeks in, asked to set up an interview with a colleague, I phoned her. After some chitchat we arranged a time to meet.

‘What sector are you in?’ I asked. The monstrous 12-storey office block (which I call The Death Star) is divided into ‘sectors’ labelled by colours and numbers – without which it is possible that people would get lost and float through corridors, down escalators and up lifts for the rest of their days.

‘Red-7,’ she said. ‘You?’

I looked at the sign above my cubicle. ‘Um, Red-7?’ I said.

‘Stand up and look around,’ she instructed. I did, and there she was, four cubicles away. Until my phonecall to her I hadn’t known of her existence, nor she of mine.

‘Don’t worry,’ she said. ‘I’ve worked here for four years and I still don’t know most of the people in this sector.’

And that wasn’t the worst. One of my tasks was to publish a weekly e-zine – a pleasant enough project, I thought, until the Dilbert-style reality hit home. Each article had to be read and approved by several chieflets – at least three under-managers, two managers and one uber-manager – all of whom felt it incumbent upon them to make at least one change. Not only were the changes often simply wrong (‘Grammar!’ remarked one chieflet, crossly, in one of my stories – although the article was entirely devoid of grammar errors), but they frequently contradicted other changes made by other chieflets.

This time-wasting and patience-testing hurdle cleared, there was still the fallout to be dealt with after the publication of the e-zine. Emails would begin pouring in from the +-10 000 subscribing employees, pointing out, for instance, ‘an extraneous letter-space in line three of story four’, ‘a headline slightly off centre’ or ‘a bad word break at the end of the last piece’.

Worst were the emails from annoyed chieflets who’d somehow been left out of the loop pre publication: ‘WHO APPROVED THIS STORY?’ they would demand shrilly. ‘Why didn’t I see it?!’ Inevitably, the story would be factually correct; they simply felt slighted because their two-cents’ worth hadn’t been given due consideration.

Initially, this drove me to despair. Didn’t these people have lives? Who the hell had the time or energy to lodge such stupid and petty complaints – most of which were spurious anyway. (‘You don’t spell ‘‘correspondent’’ like this,’ wrote one correspondent. ‘Don’t you have a dictionary?’ I itched to write back, ‘I do, indeed, and if you stop by my cubicle in Red-7, I’d be only too pleased to show it to you, up close and personal.’)

Eventually I realised that I had two choices: resign before dementia set in and I ran riot through the building, hitting people with my dictionary; or employ polite philosophy. So I scribbled up a template email which read, ‘Dear xxxx. Thank you for your email. Your complaint/observation has been noted. Regards, The Editor.’

And, you know, it really is amazing how well it’s worked. Not necessarly for the writers of the post-publication emails, but for me. Each time I press ‘send’, and my completely meaningless email goes winging out to yet another annoying complainant, I think of Scott Adams and thank him for providing me with the tools to deal with fools.

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angel said...

brilliant! love your blog!
i used to work in a similar situation- i worked with one woman for 7 years and eventually met her face to face when i went to her farewell lunch!
and there's another woman i still chat to even though i no longer work for the company- we're very good friends- but we've never met in person!

Muriel said...

Hey Angel. Good to hear from you. We have a friend in common. How's Damien?

tonypark said...

My favourites are the ones who change all the singular refereces to the company to plural... ie: "XYZ are pleased to announce.." (because we like to think of ourselves as a "family" not a single entity). Blaaaah.

Actually, I like people making lots of inane changes, and then having to go back and explain myself ad nauseum, as I usually charge by the hour for corporate jobs.

The more running around in circles the better the invoice.