Cubicle Life

So I’ve just finished reading someone’s travel bio of their time spent living in Auckland.  I absolutely loved it and wish I had at least a fraction of the talent she has.  Anyway, a large part of her time was spent working in an office cubicle.  While I didn’t have to endure psychotic rants from weirdo’s (thank god), reading her book did bring back some memories about my time spent working for a certain government department and the crap my colleagues and I put up with in that job.

My office was based in downtown Auckland and the two things that made my job bearable were my awesome colleagues and my 1/16th of a view of the Waitemata harbour.  The job itself wouldn’t have been half as bad if it weren’t for our supervisor who  managed our team with the skill of a cyborg.  Oh and she tortured us in the form of stories about her menagerie of dogs and cats.  I love dogs and cats but seriously, its really really hard to pretend to care about someone’s dog stories when the person themself treats you and your friends like a piece of their dogs crap.

I’d applied for the job after seeing an add in the paper indicating that I might have the chance to marry people (to eachother…… not marry them myself).  I thought this would be an awesome, postively bubbly job that would make me and others happy.

I’d spent the previous two and a bit years working in a highly fulfilling community educator’s role. But once my contract came to an end, I was left trying to figure out what to do with myself.  After having had such an englightening time while in that job, I’d decided to apply for jobs within the community development sector. Unfortuntely I had no degree.  I did have a tourism diploma. I had traversed the South American continent.  I had counselled people through the process of decolonisation. I’d even dealt successfuly with angry members of the National Front (a white supremacist movement) and the Maori Parliament. Most importantly though, I was and still am, a bloody hard worker. But none of my experiences or skills mattered, apparently.  I simply didn’t have the letters BA (or BSC, BCom, LLB or whatever other ABCs that may exist) after my name to show I was worth anything.

After receiving ‘warning’ letters from the bank about my overdue credit card payments, I realised I needed to take any job.  Officiating marriages sounded like a wicked job so I made contact with the recruitment agency.  I was a bit naive at the time….either that, or the guy interviewing me was either really dumb or sly, proclaiming that with my personality and skill set, I’d be great in the call centre.  I didn’t really know about life in call centres.  I asked if I’d be on the phones all day like a battery caged person and he assured me it wasn’t at all like that.  He said that on the occasions he’d visited, employees were happily chatting away to one another and that it was very rare to take call after call after call.

I was sucked in.

Essentially I became a battery caged person.

We had 15 minutes allocated for toilet breaks.  If we were 1 minute over, we were pulled aside and asked why.  It wouldn’t have mattered that we might’ve logged on 1-5 minutes early or logged out 10-20 minutes late on any other given day.  Nope.  We only had 15 minutes for the toilet break. One minute over and you have to answer to the powers that be and explain exactly what it was you were doing and why you were doing it on your toilet break.  Excuse the pun but I’m not shitting you when I say that one of my colleagues actually had to justify this by explaining that it was that time of the month.  Seriously.  Coz it’s all about accountability right?  I don’t know why they didn’t just put all female staff on depo provera. That would’ve been the most cost effective policy ever, seeing as it would cut out menstruating altogether thus leaving us more time to reach our targets instead of going to the toilet for what is deemed too long a time frame.

Which brings me to our targets. I never made target.  And because of this, I became one (a target) for my boss.  Every week I had a talking to.  It didn’t seem to matter that I might have had to deal with yet another crying, solo mother who wasn’t able to receive her social welfare because of unfair policies (on both our part and other agencies).  Nope.  The point was only ever that I didn’t meet the target.  So I was the one at fault.  Not the policy. Not the process. Not the fact that the client might’ve broken down over the phone and I couldn’t just hang up on them. So because of that, I constantly “ let my team down”, according to my team leader.

That wasn’t the only time I let me team down.  The time I (apparently) let my team down the most, was when I calmly explained to my boss that there was no point in me listening to the spiel that I was told I should listen to.  I explained that instead of helping me, it would simply confuse me, given that I hadn’t been trained in that domain.  She didn’t like me using being rationl and told me to pay attention anyway.  I re-iterated that even if I did watch it, it would have no value to me.  But I watched.  And as I’d predicted all along, it didn’t help me. Not even a little bit.  My Team Leader asked me to stay after the meeting to tell me I was ‘unprofessional’ and that I had ‘let my team down’.  But I figure that its more unprofessional to tell an employee that they are one being unprofessional simply because one can’t handle being told they are, in fact, wrong.

I just find it so irritating that employees are forced into situations that make no business sense, have zero utility and which won’t benefit the staff or organisation in the slightest, simply because superiors believe their authoirty is unquestionable and overrides any reasonable query or objection.  What a complete waste of time, money and resources.  I am proud to say, however, that contrary to ‘letting my team down’ as she tried to imply, I’d like to think that I had their back.  I explained nice and simply that her style of leadership, as in barking orders at people rather than requesting politely, is actually quite disrespectful and that perhaps we would be more receptive to her if she simply treated us with more respect.  From that day forward she pretended to care about what we’d done on the weekend by enquiring into our lives each Monday morning.  It was an improvement,  except that I eventually found out that she’d lied about certain situations when my name was put forward for certain projects.

After one and a half years of justifying long toilet breaks, a totalitarian team leader who only pretended to give  a damn (this was limited to Monday mornings), as well as being told I’m continually letting my team down because I wasn’t meeting targets, I had a little episode.  I’m normally totally professional.  I have the ability to uphold my integrity in even the most testing conditions. But this ground hog day of mine, it felt soul destroying.  I was waking up feeling anxious about going to work and dealing with my sulky manager, who I swear would bring storm clouds into the room with her. That was when I realised that I needed to get out of that office!

I’m a doer and I couldn’t ‘do’ things in this job. Instead, I was helping to uphold barriers in other peoples’ lives and for someone like me, it was quite literally heart breaking. Not only was I the person saying “no, well you can’t do that because of this red tape here and there”, but I was also the reason for everybody’s woes and by default, became their verbal punching bag. I’d take a bow to anyone who has the stealth to do this on a daily basis, but me, I’m just not cut out for that type of job.

I’d always been adverse to the idea of university coz I didn’t think I should need a degree to prove my worth.  And if I’m to be totally honest, I also failed Bursary English. This made me believe I couldn’t write to save myself which by default meant I’d fail any attempt at essay writing, a major part of uni life.  ‘How could I possibly pass university if I can’t understand English?’, I thought. But I didn’t really have any other options.  And there’s no way in hell I could stand being a battery caged person any longer.  I needed out and this felt like my only viable option other than taking down the team leader, which would’ve been no easy feat.  Besides, she didn’t deserve all the energy it would’ve taken to bring her down*.

I enrolled in a Bachelor of Arts programme, choosing to major in Social Sciences and International Studies. While I can’t say it was ‘the’ best thing I ever did (because I’ve been fortunate to live a pretty full life with some amazing opportunities and experiences), it was definitely one of the best things I ever did for myself.

So thanks to my life in an office cubicle, I was forced to discover the world of university which was like a MASSIVE revelation.  For years, people that knew me well enough would say that I’d love uni. I didn’t really know why they said that, not until I finally had the balls to go there myself.  And each and every one of them was right.  Going to university was like re-discovering who I am.  I know it sounds totally cheesy but unless you’re a geek in the true sense of the word, I won’t expect anyone else to understand. Finally I was somewhere where it was not only safe to be curious but it was encouraged. A place where its not only ok to challenge convention but where you’re pushed to do so.  For me, the most awesome thing about university was that for the first time in my life I could talk about what I perceived to be wrong and unjust in this world and instead of being looked at like I was speaking gibberish, my words were considered carefully and with respect. I was provided with feedback and alternative viewpoints to help me consider different perspectives.  It helped me to realise that I’m not actually alone in how I see the world and to feel hopeful about the variety of initatives taking place to sort things out.

So I give thanks to cubicle life for giving me a kick in the right direction. For that, and the fact that I made some great friends with some awesome memories, I am truly thankful.
* I’ve since heard that said team leader has self imploded and embarassed herself at work on more than a few occasions.  All I can say is that karma is said to be a bitch.

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