Just another day in the salt mines.
July 7, 2010 3:16 AM   Subscribe

What are your strategies for girding yourself against the chaos or banality of the modern office workplace ? How do you manage to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous requests, insanity-induced decisionmaking, and mass amounts of meaninglessness? For sure, those who are gainfully employed at this moment in history are more fortunate than they might know, but perspective is difficult to achieve, or keep, when the pile of unfinished TPS reports on the desk is about to topple over & shred your soul by a million tiny papercuts. What thoughts do you keep in your head, or spirits do you bring into your heart (or substances into your body?). Quotes, movies, books, blogs, etc.. -- all are welcome. Extra points for recommendations that are particularly geared towards 'life' in a tech / software company.
posted by armoir from antproof case to Work & Money (25 answers total) 25 users marked this as a favorite
I don;t work in a tech company and I like my job (we have piles of toys around rather than reports, which helps) but you could do worse than the UK series The Office - shot in verite and tragic in a way the US series is not - Microserfs by Douglas Coupland, or Matt Beaumont's E, an epistolatory novel told through the e-mails sent across an advertising agency (the sequel, E2, is also very good). I also liked The Temp, by Serena Mackesy.
posted by mippy at 4:00 AM on July 7, 2010

Company by Max Barry - Zephyr Holdings is not what it seems; the company is actually conducting psychological experiments on the employees through the ridiculous requests and tasks they put them through and sells the results to other companies so they can increase their productivity.
posted by AnnaRat at 4:52 AM on July 7, 2010 [1 favorite]

When you need a laugh, read Clients from Hell. Yeah, you're company's clients are probably crazy, but it could always be worse.
posted by rancidchickn at 4:56 AM on July 7, 2010 [2 favorites]

Good headphones, Fugazi, and a "no you fucking can't bother me right now so fuck off" attitude.
posted by the noob at 4:59 AM on July 7, 2010 [1 favorite]

I'll watch a documentary or movie about someone far worse off than me -- refugees, immigrants, sweatshop workers, people living under authoritarian regimes, women living in oppressive countries, etc.
posted by unannihilated at 5:04 AM on July 7, 2010 [1 favorite]

There are three strategies I've found that are helpful for getting through office life:

1) Do not join the complaining group or participate in bitching sessions; nobody feels any better and the negativity is draining. The office culture can absolutely make you feel worse; if you go out after work and simply bitch about work the whole time, you bring that negativity into your personal life too. Take steps to eliminate the amount of dwelling you do on the bad stuff.

2) Do the best job you can. Seriously, I think part of the problem sometimes is feeling powerless against a lot of meaningless stuff, but in reality, you can take pride in doing everything well, even if its meaning isn't apparent to you. At some point, you'll achieve enough to be able to perhaps remove some of the cruft for the people below you. That's a pretty great goal.

3) Have a meaningful life outside of work. Don't let the stress of work drain the energy out of you; after work, grab a smoothie and head out for a run (or whatever exercise you fancy) and re-energize yourself. Kiss your significant other with some passion when you see them, spend time with your kids and make lists of fun projects you want to work on. Tackle them every night instead of vegging in front of the TV.

I go to a job that's fairly mundane (government drone), but I take pride in being helpful to others around me, doing a good job so that my superiors get value from having me around and I go home and make my life great by being kind to the people I love, kicking athletic ass and last weekend, building an outdoor tiki bar with my friends.
posted by Hiker at 5:10 AM on July 7, 2010 [20 favorites]

The most depressed people at see in that sort of environment are those who are too heavily invested, emotionally, in the situation. As in, they've bought into the "We're all a team here" propaganda, want the company to succeed, and do their best to make that happen. But, when they come up against the inevitable bad truth, such as that internal politics or ineptness are preventing all the right things from happening, they crash and burn. The happy people are the "Eh, it's just a job" folks who quietly do their thing, don't take it upon themselves to save the world or the company, and don't place too much of their identity into what they do at a job. They leave, physically and emotionally, at quitting time and don't take work home. They take vacations. They define themselves as some else, such as a snowboarder, athlete, actor, or whatever they do outside of the office who works to pay the bills and enable their true identity, not as an office worker.
posted by LastOfHisKind at 5:19 AM on July 7, 2010 [22 favorites]

Wow what a difference a generation makes...coming up through the idealism of the sixties--my generation was taught that we were here to make a difference. What I have noticed is that the people who are good at office politics are not the ones who excel at whatever the company does. This is why everything seems screwed up. Decisions are based on political realities not common sense.

You're supposed to become jaded and cynical...that's what makes retirement seem so golden.
posted by AuntieRuth at 5:31 AM on July 7, 2010 [1 favorite]

Seconding The Office, although I like the American version better than the British.

It's hard, but I think the key to surviving the workplace is to try and detach from it as much as possible. You are not what you do. Make sure you develop your life outside of work, whether it's hobbies, relationships, exercise, whatever. I go through periods where I feel really dragged down by my job, and it's usually because I've let my identity get wrapped up in whether or not people like me, or whether or not I got a raise or a promotion. I try to remember that I am the same person no matter what; those things are all external.

I used to really develop close friendships at work, but since I started focusing more on having a career and not just a job I am more careful about that.
posted by cottonswab at 5:36 AM on July 7, 2010

I know this is a bit of a dodge...

Find a new job! You don't have to walk out and quit this second, but you also don't have to suffer the slings and arrows of mediocrity, idiocy and TPS reports for time eternal. There is a job out there that fits you better that's hiring (especially in the tech/software section).

That's my coping strategy anyway. 2 months into a quickly-revealed-as-soul-sucking-Sisyphean-swim-upstream-all-day job in 100,000+ employee megacorp and I was interviewing again. It took a while (yay economy!) and a couple of canceled job offers (super yay economy!) but I found a better-fitting job. Aside from the permanent scars left by megacorp (as evidenced by this comment) I am a million, billion times happier.
posted by wrok at 5:54 AM on July 7, 2010 [1 favorite]

Managing Humans by Michael Lopp is something I came across in Google Books and laughed all the way through. My dad's been in computers literally since punch cards so I've been exposed to the complaints my whole life. But this book also applies really well just to life in cubicle farms on the whole, worth a look. Certainly helped me find a bit more humor in the daily monotony and maybe handle a few irritating people more gracefully.
posted by lizbunny at 6:00 AM on July 7, 2010

You have to stop caring. After that, life is bliss.
posted by Area Control at 6:17 AM on July 7, 2010 [3 favorites]

Clock in, clock out. Make that your mantra.
posted by WeekendJen at 6:37 AM on July 7, 2010 [1 favorite]

Hmm, I'm the opposite. I got through it by actually caring. Also, I started out as a consultant, so after working in cafes just to get out of my bedroom for at least one hour a day, after troubleshooting my own printer problems, after dealing with clients and contracts myself, I had endless gratitude for the office (someone bought me a desk?? the printer just works??), and the steadiness of my paycheck. Having tried to do everything myself made me appreciate that we were all just people (generally) doing the best we can. It probably helped that I worked at a small place with smart, motivated people on projects we really cared about.
posted by salvia at 6:51 AM on July 7, 2010 [1 favorite]

I work in the flower mines.

A sense of humor is what you need. Look for the humor in the madness. You will find PLENTY. Then laugh.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 6:58 AM on July 7, 2010

I remember something my coworker's girlfriend said, back during the retail days, when we were sitting at the bar bitching about our boss: "it's when you're thinking about it after you've left is when they got you." It doesn't get me any closer with my coworkers, but I don't really hang out with them after work. Why? Because hanging out tends to be drinking at a bar across the street from the office and talking (complaining, bitching) about work. Don't get me wrong, if it works for them it works for them but it only ever makes me feel worse. Why? Because I'm wasting time I could be doing something fun on sitting in a bar in a neighborhood I dislike and complaining about what happened across the street.

I agree with the "do the best job you can" idea. Whatever job I've had, I've always tried to make the best of it, whether I was cleaning toilets or creating databases. It helps, on the ride home, knowing that no matter how pointless the duty, I used and trained my faculties to their highest extent and made myself a better person for it. That being said, don't overextend yourself unless it is life-or-death. Do a good job, don't go for a Nobel Prize in paperwork.

If you work in software, the book lizbunny links to should be a mandatory read. It's written by this guy (he also wrote/writes, of all things, for filthy-mouthed webcomic Jerkcity.) He's got a lot of helpful tips for surviving the workplace in that blog. While it's management-centered, I've found it useful anyway.
posted by griphus at 6:58 AM on July 7, 2010

1. Do not confuse coworkers with friends. They are not your friends, now or ever.

2. Do not go in for self-revelation at work. Anything and everything you say about yourself in a moment of weakness can and will be used against you; count on it.

3. Until you are compensated at the same level as your manager/CEO, you are under no obligation to care as much as they think you should.

4. The project/TPS report is their concern, not yours. See number 3.

5. Frowning at your computer screen while tapping a pencil against your temple connotes busy-ness. The bosses actually fall for this.

Area Control posted:
"You have to stop caring. After that, life is bliss."
6. Along those lines, remember: Unless you are an emergency professional/E-unit worker, the work they give you to do is not important. Don't let it take up residence in your brain after hours, or even during your breaks.

7. Snag a few Post-It Notes on the way out.
posted by BostonTerrier at 7:02 AM on July 7, 2010 [6 favorites]

Honestly, the only thing that can really save is you is reaching full realization that if you want to be happy and satisfied in your work, it's got to come from inside YOU. Do the best job you can, not because you might get a raise or because it's what is expected, but because it satisfies YOU to do a good job. Forgot earning the respect of your peers or bosses. Respect yourself.
posted by rhartong at 7:29 AM on July 7, 2010

If you haven't read Charles Stross's Laundry novels-- The Atrocity Archives, The Jennifer Morgue, and The Fuller Memorandum-- I recommend them. Cynical IT guy/ sorcerer/ British secret agent fights the forces of the Cthulhu Mythos and the bureaucratic nightmares of his office.
posted by fairytale of los angeles at 7:38 AM on July 7, 2010 [1 favorite]

1. Take an interest in what you're doing. I have a fairly typical office job, maintaining manufacturing schedules. But rather than just do the bare minimum to clear the work off my desk, I learn as much as I can about the whole process, not just my job. My job affects others in the office, and vice-versa. If I know basically what they do, and the information they need, it makes problems a hell of a lot easier to solve, and when a customer calls with a question, I know the answer, or at least whom to go to. I get a bit of a charge solving sticky problems by getting together with the folks from shipping and the lady from invoicing, and fixing a major screwup before the shit hits the fan. My job started as a drone job, but it's turned into something a lot more interesting.

2. Cover your ass; document everything, and I mean everything. So when the shit does hit the fan, it doesn't get all over you.

3. Take mental breaks: bring a book or surf the net if you can, to get your mind off whatever insanity is getting you down that day.

4. Don't let your job define who you are. Don't be a drone outside the office, as well as inside.
posted by Koko at 7:55 AM on July 7, 2010 [1 favorite]

Rotate your morons. I have taken this one to heart. If you rotate your morons every 18 months to 2 years (laterally in the same company works), you are too busy learning to get pissed off and overinvested.
posted by crazycanuck at 8:19 AM on July 7, 2010 [1 favorite]

Care about the work that you do, but don't care about the job itself, if that makes any sense. Practice the zen attitude of non-attachment.

When things get really bad, remind yourself that you don't get paid to do X, where X is your official job title and the way you explain your job to strangers that you want to impress. To the contrary, you get paid to do the things you are told to do, even if they are stupid and annoying and useless.

Calculate how much money you earn per minute. Periodically spend one minute doing absolutely nothing, and gloat in the $X you just earned for that.

Focus on what you need to learn for your next job. Find a way to incorporate that into your current job. Take on other duties, sign up for classes, help out another department with a project that relates to your long-term plan.
posted by ErikaB at 10:56 AM on July 7, 2010 [2 favorites]

I'm just as jaded as the next guy. I've had a new job every year to year and a half since graduating college (2002). Places I've worked have been from 2-3 employes to a being a cog in a multinational corporation. What I've learned is every job has it's own unique flavor of bullshit, but it's all bullshit.

For example, the small companies could change directions on a dime. That led to poor company focus and chasing dollars. The big companies couldn't make minor changes in weeks let alone major changes. That led to frustration and poor job satisfaction.

I've learned to embrace what others have said about letting go. I'm paid to show up and do the work handed to me as best I can. That mentality helps, but doesn't clear up everything. One can still get a little depressed with that attitude. It's rough to always think what you're doing doesn't really matter.

What's really helped is changing my point of view of that I work for myself and not the company. What does that mean? It means that doing well on those useless projects is good for me and my career. Putting my time and effort isn't for the company's benefit, but mine. I do well here and I can do well another place or position. It takes the focus of what you do (and it's value) and turns it to how you do it (and what it can mean for you).

Then it doesn't really matter that I spend all week working on a design that got shot down by a guy wearing with white socks and black shoes and breathes through his mouth. What matters is that I did my best at the job I was assigned.

/I stole that philosophy from somewhere, but can't attribute it. Sorry.
posted by damionbroadaway at 12:15 PM on July 7, 2010

Unless your working in a communist country, no one is going to die or go to jail because of your actions or lack thereof.
posted by jasondigitized at 4:24 AM on July 8, 2010

The long-term solution is to find a job where you don't NEED most of the advice in this thread. Life is too short to settle.
posted by Jacqueline at 10:06 PM on July 8, 2010 [2 favorites]

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