I’ve never tried to keep it a secret that I’m a curmudgeonly sort. If you rattle off an inspirational quote, I’m naturally inclined to look for a way to destroy it. Tell me about the altruistic activities of any person, group, or company, and I will hunt down a litany of abuses they’ve committed. Enjoy a film, show, or book? I will peel back the shell and point out every conceivable flaw in it, just for shits and giggles.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not a complete shitheel. Most of my counterpoints and observations will be safely stashed away in my head, kept well away from my fellow human beings. I’m not an overt buzzkill, so take that for what it is. But also understand that I can’t block these thoughts out of my own head’ they’re bouncing around in there without brakes. Inevitably, one or two of them are going to come out of me with the velocity of a bullet and about as mch love as a dildo. Whoever gets hit with one is no more intended to be a target as anyone else in my life is.
This issue very nearly got me into trouble at work just the other day. The company I work for had a kind of annual town hall for its employees, held over several days at verying times (they needed to do that, there’s too many employees). Most of the runtime was devoted to telling us all how the place pulled in more money this last fiscal year than the year before, and how they intend to expand. The very tail end was opened up to inquiries from team members’ this is a bold and stupid move with someone like me lurking in the crowd.
You see, the company had, a few months earlier, conducted this week-long event wherein they put a number of surveys to every team member. And by every, I mean every; the whole thing was mandatory. Anyhow, there were a handful of essay-style questions, and lots of people’s input ended up producing these word clouds they put up on the projection screens at the front of the conference hall the meeting was held in. The end result, per our VP of Operations, was a new company Guideline-
“We Value Everyone”.
You can’t hear it, but there’s a goblin just howling with devilish glee in the back of my skull. We value everyone? I couldn’t help myself, and when one of the event staff came around with a microphone, I put up my hand, and he brought it over to me. I waited for two people to go ahead of me with one of the other mics before being recognized as having the floor.
There are moments, sometimes, when being a smartass, enjoying having the stage, and being in possession of everyone’s attention is a dangerous combination. I had initially thought I might pose a brief question about getting some new equipment to do my job in my department, and that did end up being part of my delivered words to the Ops folks up on stage. But what came out of my mouth was the following:
“We Value Everyone, that’s a concise three word slogan, but so were ‘Read My Lips’ and ‘No New Taxes’. Anyone too young to get that, turn to a Gen Xer or Boomer near you and ask what I’m talking about later. Also, it’s a great, zero calorie phrase, I think. I value my dog, my wife, and my children, but I value them all very differently and at different levels of effort, keeping it vague and unspecified’s a good call. Anyhow, is there any chance we might get some new [equipment] for my department? The ones we have are functional, for now, but they’re getting on in years and keep having to get patched back together.”
Being in text form here, I must convey to you, reader, that I paused twice for laughter/reaction from the audience, and the tone I employed was one of mild sarcasm in those first two parts. Were it not for the delivery, things could have gone quite poorly for me, and who knows if I would have even been welcome to keep working there after my little stunt.
It was a risk, using the opportunity that way, and it paid off insofar as it got a laugh from about a third of the audience, including three of the four Ops folks up on stage, the VP among them. When she snickered at the ‘Read My Lips’ quote, I felt a surge of elation, because in that moment, I knew I could go into the second portion comfortably. I read the room, and knew that I could go just a little bit further before coming around to my genuine concern and inquiry.
You see, from my perspective, every company needs someone within its roster who is willing and able to give the higher-ups the business, to give them a hard time and try to keep them honest. It’s a fine line to walk, though, because if you step even one toe too far, your arse is out the door, thanks for playing, no prizes for you, please try the home game. And it isn’t that I think there’s no company that couldn’t use such people, though I suspect the vast majority of these employees are held back from advancement, denied raises, and constantly reminded that they can be replaced.
I also believe people like this, like me, only get so many at bats for remarks of this nature. Companies, the smart ones, at least, recognize the utility of having a couple of folks like this on their staff. They serve as lightning rods for the workforce, individuals who can serve as a kind of tuning fork for how relations are between the regular crew and leadership. For the purposes of morale, they’ll be allowed daily jabs of a minor nature, and three or four major swings at the company and its upper echelon.
But if the employee hits a home run, or brings down too much heat with their commentary, you had better believe they will be shown the door. I flirted with that during the town hall, and as such, have used up one of my big at-bats. I maybe have two or three left before I have to put my head down and wait for the coast to clear.
If you think I’m being paranoid, bear in mind that I have witnessed this cycle take place in no less than four different employers over the course of fifteen years. It happened at Amazon, it happened at Zerorez, it happened at Shred-n-Go, and it happened at my current employer (which I will not name so long as I am working there).
You can rock the boat a little, but the moment you have more admiration from your peers than the company has their fear, you will be walked out. I got away with a shockingly high volume of this kind of cynicism and sarcasm during my time with Kwik Trip,and that is why I still say, even now, that that company was one of the best I ever worked for. The only reasons I left were needing higher pay and the terrible benefits package. If they could have matched my current employers’ offer and brought the cost of health insurance down, I would never have left.
But that’s not how companies operate, especially when they can’t afford to. I am not naïve enough to say they don’t need to make as much money as they do, because every company strives to grow year after year. The basic economic theory of ‘constant growth’ is one that just about every corporation aims for. To that, I only offer this in closing- do you know what else grows constantly, and spreads? Cancer.