31 January 2008

Please No Children in the Workplace

This morning, the “Today” show ran a story that evoked genuine horror in my mind. It was about companies that allow new mothers to bring their babies to work with them.

I was stunned and speechless. Finally, the only word that came to mind was, “NO.” No, fuck no, absolutely not, no fucking way, no. The mere mention of such a ridiculous idea makes my blood curdle. I do not go to work every day to listen to the breeders’ brats scream all day and to smell their baby poo diapers. And I certainly don’t want to walk past a cubicle to see some woman breastfeeding her baby. NO.

Well, maybe I’d reconsider my stance if you turned the travel desk into a bar and kept it fully stocked with booze. Then we could talk.

I’m sure that a recent article in Time magazine was the impetus for this story on the “Today” show. The article discussed the newly formed Parenting in the Workplace Institute, an agency that advocates companies allow employees to bring their children to work. The Parenting in the Workplace Institute keeps a database of companies that allow this ridiculous practice. So far, there are 70 companies in the United States where I would never work.

Who thinks up this shit? And who then thinks it’s a good idea and lets it happen? Oh, you don’t want to leave your baby, daycare is so expensive, boohoo. I didn’t knock you up, so figure it out yourself. You’re the one who decided to breed, after all. Maybe these people should think things through a bit more thoroughly before they decide to have babies.

The article in Time said that employees who work at companies that allow women to bring their babies to work have a higher morale and more content employees. Obviously they have a bunch of baby-lovers working there, because I can’t imagine I would be content having to listen to the person in the cube next to me cooing to their baby or disciplining their toddler all day. And I can already envision all the people who would just have to stop by to visit the little bundle of joy. People trying to actually work would be distracted by all the noise.

My co-workers and I become irate when the woman who runs our mail room, which is right in our area, allows her grandchildren to scream and screech and carry on during working hours. Her daughter brings the little brats by every week — sometimes she leaves them with Grandma for an hour or two — and it’s miserable for everyone within earshot. One day, I’d had enough. I couldn’t concentrate and I was getting a headache.

I went to the mailroom counter and poked my head around as though I were curious and had no idea there were children in the building. The mailroom lady was holding the screamer and looked at me and smiled. I gave her a sour look and said, “Oh. Wow. That’s loud.” Then I turned around and walked the 15 steps back to my desk. She took the screamer outside.

The only time it’s OK to bring your kid to work is when your job requires you to work with children or at a business dedicated to children. If you are a daycare provider, then by all means bring your kid. If you work at Chuck E. Cheese, then your toddler will have a blast. Moreover, at these places, you and your child will be surrounded by people who like kids and can tolerate them.

There’s a good reason I don’t have children: I don’t like them. When invited to large get-togethers, my first question is will there be small children there? If so, I won't be attending. I don’t enjoy being around them. I don’t think very many kids are cute, and frankly, 99.9 percent of babies either look like monkeys, space aliens or worse. I don’t want to be around their screeching, crying, incessant chatter, spit-up, drool, sticky fingers or stinky smells. I didn’t even like kids when I was a kid. Babysitting was my first job, and I hated it. I preferred the company of adults and books.

Some naysayers commented in regard to the article that if co-workers brought their kids to work, then they would bring their dogs to work. Frankly, I with all the people with allergies, I'm not sure that's the right response, either.

Why can’t people just set a picture of their dog, cat or baby on their desk and be content with that? I don’t understand this need to bring them with you to work. If you absolutely can’t stand to leave the baby with a babysitter, then quit your job until the kid is in school. Work nights when Daddy can watch it. Or start your own effing business. That’s your issue, not mine.

Perhaps I sound harsh, but pregnancy and parenting are voluntary — sorry, I don’t believe in an accidental pregnancy; you’re either using birth control or you’re not — and people need to live with their decisions rather than expect other people to accommodate them. I’ve chosen to remain child-free and I shouldn’t have to pay the consequences of other people’s decisions to procreate and add to our already overpopulated planet.

When someone can logically explain to me why I should be responsible for other people’s kids, then I might consider changing my mind on the issue of workplace babies. Until then, no, never, uh-uh, no way, en-oh, no.

28 January 2008

Get a Life

A friend recently voiced her desire to hire a life coach. I laughed because I thought she was joking. She wasn’t.

“Why would you need a life coach?” I asked her.

“Well, to push me to do the things I’ve always wanted to do. It’s someone to answer to so you achieve your goals.”

I told her she could answer to me and I’d charge half the going rate of a life coach.

Over the last few years, life coaching has become one more thing in which the middle-class and not-so-famous have indulged. The “need” for a life coach befuddles me. Life coaching brochures and Web sites promise that a life coach will help you “discover who you are and what really motivates you! Set and achieve proactive, powerful goals rather than just reacting to life! Create the life AND career you want to follow your passions, priorities and talents! Gain a true supportive partner throughout the process to assure that you achieve your goals! UNLEASH THE POWERS WITHIN YOU to accomplish more than you ever thought possible!”

The ads are full of exuberant people and promises and exclamation marks. They are overflowing with happiness in capital letters and boast things like, “Life coaching converts dreams into reality.” Client testimonials reveal that a life coach helped “organize my thoughts — made me realize that I had LOTS of options.” “I liked your vivacity, your sense of humor and especially the way you helped put things into perspective for me.” “ His easy but effective nudging got me to take action that I might not have, if left to my own motivation.”

Who are these weak-willed, unmotivated, needy people? Are they rejects looking for someone to control their lives but couldn’t afford to join the Church of Scientology? If I need someone to make me laugh, then I’m going to go to my co-workers who do standup comedy. They crack me up — for free.

I told my friend that if there are things she’s always wanted to do, then she should do them. She doesn’t need someone to tell her to do something. If she’s always wanted to go skydiving, then she should go. She doesn’t need permission.

I noticed that in all those testimonials no one stated exactly what the result was. I didn’t see any, “My life coach, Bill, helped me start the business of my dreams.” There were no comments like “Because of Ann’s coaching I’ve lost 30 pounds and no longer crave cookies.” Hell, I can offer vivacity, a wicked sense of humor, and easy but effective nudging and claim I’m truly helping people. In fact, I should start charging my friends and co-workers.

I’ve thought about life coaches, and I can’t imagine a situation where I’d think, gee, I could really use a life coach to help me with that. A cleaning lady, maybe, but never a life coach. I think life coaches are to the new millennium what psychiatrists were to the '90s — essentially, someone you pay to put up with your whiny crap so your friends and spouse don’t have to. At least the shrink would help you figure out why you’re whiny rather than tolerating it indefinitely.

If our society has really come to hiring someone to do the thinking for us, then we are in a sad state indeed. If something you want is within your means — unlike, for example, a trip to the moon — then I don’t understand why you wouldn’t do it or would need to be pushed to do it. And I don’t understand how hiring someone to tell you to do it would be effective.

I am the person my friends come to for advice, to listen to their ideas, to offer suggestions and ideas. I’m pretty sure I could double my income if I became a life coach. I’m sensible and logical, and I can surely blow smoke up people’s asses and tell them what they need to do. This sounds really appealing at first. But I’m not sure I could in good conscience accept people’s money for giving them what they should be getting from friends.

Furthermore, I could become a life coach just that easily, since there are no Bachelor’s degrees in life coaching. Sure, there are “schools” and “classes” for people who want to be life coaches, but if you’re going to pay for those, then you won’t make much money life coaching, since the goal is to sucker other people, not to be the sucker yourself.

And what if you hire a life coach and still don’t finish that novel you’ve always wanted to write? Do you get your money back? If after three months, you haven’t organized all the closets in your house, will the life coach come over and do it for you? After all, you paid that person to “convert your dreams into reality.” If it didn’t work after three months, then I’d either want my money back or for the life coach to come clean my cats’ litter boxes for the next three months.

What these people really need is a kick in the ass and someone to tell them to quit their effing whining, sit down and figure out their lives on their own. It’s worked for thousands of years, and maybe if people exercised their independence and self-sufficiency more often, they wouldn’t need to pay someone thousands of dollars to give them that “nudge” to go to the gym.

I see life coaches as people you pay to be your friends. Frankly, if your friends are truly friends, then they can help you achieve all the things a life coach can. Bounce ideas off your friends. Ask a sensible friend for advice about how to tackle a situation and help you organize your thoughts. Use your friends as a sounding board for new ideas. If you don’t have any friends and don’t plan on making any, well, then hire a life coach (and maybe a shrink).

21 January 2008

Welcome to the Cube Farm

It was so quiet and peaceful in my cubicle at work until an overflowing department flowed right next to me. Apparently while the company is cutting back every department to the point of areas becoming short-staffed, our human resources department has plenty of money for a bunch of do-nothings. What’s worse, is that the area overflowing is “corporate education.” I don’t know if other companies have corporate education departments or if those people actually do anything, but as far as I can tell, ours just takes up space and holds ridiculous classes on things completely unrelated to work, like parenting and healthy eating.

I’d like to take the opportunity to remind cube dwellers that when you work in a cubicle environment, everyone around you can hear everything you say and do. The rule to remember is that if you can hear them, then they can hear you. Thus, it is unwise to discuss personal information that you want to keep private in your cube. It will no longer be private, and believe me, we’re talking about it. Furthermore, if you’re a do-little, you might want to lay off the telephone conversations because your neighbors can hear you and wonder why they’re working and you are not.

Another reminder is that everyone talks louder when they’re on the telephone, especially a mobile phone. My personal hypothesis about this phenomenon is that we talk at what we interpret to be the same volume as the person on the other end. Thus, if you have the volume cranked up on your desk or mobile phone, you are probably taking much louder than necessary. I tested my hypothesis on myself. I know for a fact that I talk louder than normal when I’m on my mobile phone, and I usually have the volume turned up. So I turned down the volume. And yes, in turn, I was not talking nearly so loud. (Thanks to my co-workers for helping me with this little experiment.)

I once worked in a cube farm with a woman who was either on the phone arguing with her mother, or on the phone with the pediatrician describing the green goo coming out of her kid’s ass or the color and texture of his barf. She made no effort to keep her voice down, so everyone in the department heard about her kid’s oozing orifices.

I am a pretty quiet person. I like quiet. I edit and often write rather boring documents for a living. Since it’s not exciting material, I often have to concentrate on what I’m reading while fighting the urge to fall asleep. The people in my department are pretty quiet, too. Now, however, our department has been invaded by noise, and I’m finding it distracting and irritating.

It started when HR moved Steve into the cubicle next to me. Steve is in his late 30s, married with kids, and reminds me of a nerd trying to be cool. He is a very loud person in everything that he does. The way he pounded on that keyboard made me wonder what the keyboard ever did to him. I’m not joking; even the guy across the aisle from me could hear Steve typing.

Steve also has a loud voice that carries, more so when he stands up and talks, which he liked to do. And he was a chatterbox. If the other corporate education employees weren’t standing at his cube yammering away, then Steve was on the phone with his buddies talking about music that was “phat.” It sounded ridiculous coming out of his mouth, and it made me laugh out loud.

In his cube, he was constantly banging around, slamming drawers and dropping shit. I often wished he would disappear and take the rest of the corporate education group with him.

Steve worked out during lunch, so he would eat his stinky lunches at his desk. There I was, at promptly 1:30 every afternoon, trying to keep down my lunch while Steve ate things that smelled, literally, like barf. Maybe they tasted good, but the odors made me want to barf.

When I say that Steve is loud in everything he does, I am not exaggerating. One day, a friend was in the men’s room when he heard, “BA-BA-BA-BA-BOOM! BA-BA-BA-BA-BOOM!” in one of the stalls. It was the toilet paper dispenser, and guess who emerged from the stall — Steve. My friend said it sounded like he was beating the toilet paper out of the dispenser.

In December, Steve moved on to greener pastures and is making noise at some other company. The cubicle next to me was once again unoccupied and quiet. I thought that with all the budget cuts, they wouldn’t even replace him. I was wrong.

The new guy — also named Steve, so I guess that’s convenient — moved in last week. He’s in his 40s, married, and I’m not sure about kids. He’s originally from a small town in Nebraska, but he’s traveled the world and moved to Omaha from Chicago for this job after failing at starting his own business. (It’s amazing how much information you can find about someone by doing a Google search.) He’s not so bad. His training was pure torture for me, though. I had to listen as all the corporate education people talked him through how to use his computer, the intranet and e-mail. Another one explained how to order office supplies. Another one talked him through some other useless information. This lasted the better part of two days.

Now corporate education is back to holding daily meetings in Steve’s cube. I want to punch those women. No matter how much I clear my throat, cough or sigh loudly, they insist on talking and laughing loudly. Sometimes I even moan, “So loud,” but that doesn’t help, either.

The new Steve doesn’t eat stinky lunches at his desk, so that’s a good thing. I do, however, wonder if he has ever worked in a cubicle environment because he doesn’t seem to realize that I can hear everything he says on the phone. The way our cubicles are set up, Steve and I are face to face, with only the cube wall separating us. I can hear everything.

I wonder if he knows that I not only know all about his new apartment, where it is, what he wanted the landlord to do to it before he moved in and what was wrong with the apartment when he moved in, but I also know the name of the woman in the apartment management office.

I know all about his banking and credit card issues, and I suppose I could have written down his account numbers and gone shopping if it didn’t seem like his credit sucks. One day he was talking to his bank about four overdraft charges and he thought he had overdraft protection, and he thinks he has $150 in his checking account. And, well, if he didn’t have overdraft protection before, please add it, and I’ll pay the fees with my credit card. The conversation lasted longer than an hour. Later there was another hour-long conversation about his credit card and would they offer him what this other one offers, and would they give him the deal with no fees for cash withdrawals like another card, blah blah blah.

It’s been like this every single day since he started, even on the day he started. Yesterday he was arranging the moving trucks to move his stuff from Chicago to Omaha. Today, he was on the phone all day, and cannot have gotten any actual work done. When I came in this morning, he was on the phone with his bank again about his checking account and credit card. That lasted an hour-and-a-half. Then he was on the phone about something else, but I was in a different cube, so I couldn’t hear what it was about.

For the last three hours of the day — and I do mean three hours nonstop — he was on the phone about his car. Apparently some part of a cart corral in the parking lot at a local store was broken and messed up his bumper and he’s afraid it might fall off when he’s driving. So he called the store to remind them that they were supposed to call him and how do they want to handle this, do they have a preferred body shop they work with or can he just go anywhere, and he needs to get it fixed right away because if it falls off while he’s driving, then that would cause an accident, which would be worse for the store …

After listening to his half-hour diatribe, the store told him to take his car (a PT Cruiser, in case you were wondering) to any body shop and get it fixed. He then spent over an hour on the phone with the body shop. Then he set up his rental car, then he was on the phone with the body shop again, and then he was on the phone with the store again. My impression of this guy is that he has lousy credit and is way too prissy and demanding.

So the next time you’re on the phone discussing your venereal disease, emotional instability or bad credit, remember that the person in the cubicle next to you can hear everything.

09 January 2008

Give Servers a Break

I’m an avid listener of KFAB radio (except for Rush Limbaugh), but two hosts irked me today. Strangely, they were discussing the same general topic.

During my morning drive to work, I listened to Scott Voorhees complain about servers who won’t split checks. During my drive home, I listened to Tom Becka berate his server at lunch today because when she picked up the check she asked if he wanted change. He apparently hates when servers do that and considers it server sin.

I was a server for 15 years. I quit waiting tables two years ago because it wasn't fun anymore. I told the manager when I gave my notice that it wasn't him or the restaurant. It was the customers. People had become ruder, meaner and cheaper than I'd ever seen them. It wasn't worth being treated so terribly for a little bit of extra mad money.

I’ve always said that you shouldn't be able to eat in full-service restaurants unless you have waited tables one night in your life. And on a Friday or Saturday night, not a sleepy Monday. People would be much kinder to servers if they did. Mr. Voorhees would understand why splitting checks sucks, and Mr. Becka would understand a server trying to save a few steps.

First, the matter of separate checks. Voorhees stated that when businesspeople go out, they typically need separate checks so they can each put the tab on their expense reports. That usually only occurs when businesspeople from the same company go out. When a businessperson is taking out a client, the host pays. That’s relatively irrelevant, though.

As a server, I didn’t mind separating checks for businesspeople. First, they generally tell the server right away that they’ll need separate checks and why. Second, they aren’t asking for separate checks because they’re cheap, so they still tip well.

Ninety percent of the time, however, the people asking for separate checks are A) bitchy women lunching together, B) old grannies lunching together, C) couples dining together or D) an extended family dining together. In each case, they want separate checks because, god forbid, someone might pay 25 cents too much or end up paying for half of their friend’s glass of wine. In all these cases, servers dread separate checks because the people are cheap.

I’ve worked in restaurants with handwritten tickets and with computer systems. Either way, separating checks is a tedious, time-consuming task — especially if they don’t ask for separate checks until the end of the meal. Then the server has to sort through the one long check and figure out who drank and ate what, then go back to the table and ask who’s paying for the appetizer because most computer systems don’t split the cost of an individual item. It would be fine if the process was nice and quick. But it’s not.

Some restaurants automatically add the gratuity on split checks. This is because they know that most people who want split checks are cheap, and if the server has to go through the splitting process, they sure as hell want a decent tip. Generally the guests get pissed off about the added gratuity because ... they’re cheap and would have undertipped.

Frankly, I’ve never understood why people think they need separate checks except for expense reports. You’re telling me that you can’t look at the check and add up the cost of your items in your head? I’m horrible at math and even I can manage that. If your wine is $8.95, call it $9 and move on to the next item. Are you really that worried about overpaying by a nickel? If you have a regular group with whom you dine, can’t you just split the check evenly? Sure, Susie’s entree may have been $10 and yours and Beth’s $8, but there will be a time when yours is $10 and theirs are $8 or when you have more drinks than they do. It all works out in the end. Mostly, stop wasting time acting petty.

Consider this: The table next to you wants four separate checks, and they announce this after the server drops off the check. (Unfortunately, this is usually what happens.) The server then has to go figure out who had what and write up new checks. In the meantime, your water glass is empty and you really want more butter for your baked potato.

Ten minutes later, the server finally drops off the separate checks and makes it back to your table. You’re parched and your potato is cold. Don’t blame the server. Blame the jerks who needed separate checks. Don’t feel singled out, either; another table will also have empty water glasses and no butter when the server has to make change and run credit cards for the jerks. The moral of this story: Don’t be a jerk.

On to Becka’s gripe. His knickers are in a twist because his server picked up the check and asked if he wanted change. His bill was $40, and he put down $50. Plenty of people would leave the rest for the tip. It’s not like he put down $60 for a $40 check, in which case, the server most likely would have assumed that he wanted change. Very few people tip 50 percent.

The most outrageous part of Becka’s complaint is that he intended to leave the server the change all along. He didn’t want change. However, because he considers making change part of a server’s job, he made her bring his change. Then he left it for a tip. Even though he left a great tip, I would have been ticked off that he made me bring change while Table 10 needed refills on their sodas.

It was the lunch rush. She was busy. She was just checking to see whether he needed her to run to the bar and get change or if she could go fill the water glasses at the next table. She wasn’t trying to get a bigger tip. She wasn’t trying to cheat him. She just wanted to think ahead and determine whether she would need to ask someone else to fill the water glasses.

Becka said it makes him feel cheap when a server asks if he needs change. That’s not the server’s intention and he’s unusually sensitive about feeling cheap. There’s a good chance the server didn’t even look to see how much money was in the book and just asked. Honestly, it’s not a big deal.

The overwhelming number of callers found nothing wrong with the server’s question and said Becka was too upset about it. One caller did call in to the show with the best solution: When servers pick up a check, they should say, “I’ll be right back with your change.” That gives the customer the opportunity to say, “No, I don’t need any change” without offending people like Mr. Becka.

Most servers truly are trying to give their guests great service. After all, they make less than $3 an hour, so they rely on tips to pay their bills. Diners can do one small thing for a group of people who work hard for their money and for whom timing is everything: Don’t waste their time.