Watch the dove

I’ve been noodling with an essay about work, how the necessity of having to be at work instead of doing whatever it is you’d rather be doing can be made less onerous and about how we all have secret plans for ruling the work world. Right now it’s about 1,100 words and, quite frankly, I haven’t even gotten to laying out my ideal workplace. Part of the reason it’s taking so long is because I’m still trying to wrap my brain around the fact that somehow I’ve managed to land myself in the most toxic, passive-aggressive workplace I’ve ever encountered.

It’s not quite Max Barry’s Company. No, that would require that Management have some awareness of the games they’re playing with staff. As it is, Management not only actively participates but is the principle beneficiary of said games.

So far I’ve spotted the:

  • “conflicting instructions” game (DeputyDirector gives one instruction while UberDirector gives the complete opposite);
  • “no direction” game (You’re told Management wants to have input, you ask for that input, are given none, and then held accountable when you haven’t moved the issue forward.);
  • “your schedule is irrelevant” game (Manifests in two ways: Management summons you without warning for seemingly trivial matters disrupting your work flow or Management schedules meetings then reschedules them at a whim. What these two manifestations have in common is that you have no option to refuse or control your time.);
  • “endless meetings” game (Long meetings that don’t start on time the entire purpose of which is to have the group, and it’s always a group, reenforce whatever decision Management wants to make.); and, of course,
  • “someone has to be a target” game (Management picks someone and decides this person can do no right. There is no rhyme or reason to why this person becomes a target and who is the target shifts without warning.)

The end result of all of these games is a staff completely constrained from any creative thinking or initiative (a cause for reprimand) which does only what it is told (also a cause for reprimand). With the added addition of “there are spies among you” not only does Management not have to do all the work itself, the possibility of the staff banding together to manage up gets eliminated altogether.

The sad part about this is that Management isn’t even very good at playing these games. Usually it takes me a few months to spot that fact that this stuff is going on. This time around, I got it in the first three weeks. And this makes my work day in some ways very amusing and in others completely frustrating: I can see the man behind the curtain but he thinks I can’t see him.

Now I just have to survive my year’s probationary period so I can move to another part of the giant company I happen to work for right now.


  1. It’s an interesting thought experiment you’re undertaking.

    But, ZOMG, that describes my ex-employer too well. Additional games:

    “Annual three-year planning” game (the organization has never, ever been able to execute its annual plan beyond April, but things will be different this time.)

    “We need more visibility” game (also known as “our standards don’t apply to us,” game. Despite presenting biweekly reviews, contributing status to the weekly newsletter, posting plans to SharePoint, speaking at the company meeting, soliciting individual executive input, management can’t quite seem to get the handle on your project’s status and why, for example, taking the three senior engineers in exchange for a new hire and two consultants from a near-shoring experiment “won’t affect anything.” When the inevitable happens, it’s because you’re the complete fsck up.)

    “Speaking in tongues” game (CEO reads a book on the latest management paradigm, his sycophantic underlings follow, soon everyone is talking about “Whale hunting” and “circling back to optimizing our win-win synergies vis a vis Solution Selling.”)

    “Promoting from without” game (discarding employee input in favor of the consultant-of-the-month — often the one who read the latest management paradigm book before the CEO — or, in rare cases, the newly hired consultant)

  2. woodstock says

    “Speaking in tongues” also manifests itself as using terms that exist in the outside world in a personal dialect that contradicts their definition in the outside world.

    We’re doing a version of the “3 year planning game” now but it’s more along the lines of “establish standards but don’t tell anyone what they are” and “develop a project planning and management methodology but insist that it be what management thinks is important not what the staff who do the work think is important” (although that may be less of a game and more of just shitty management).

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