Female Pushback

bad boss

The meeting started promptly at 2:30, unfortunately half of the staff were absent from their seats.  On the wall, the minute hand moved towards 2:31.  With each ticking that did not produce another staff member through the doorway, the manager grew more irritated.

He cleared his throat and looked around at those who were present with disgust.  What is punctuality if no one can tell time?  The empty chairs taunted him whispering of his incompetency.  His face turned red; the flush started from his neck and spread outwards like blood in a puddle of water.

“Where are your colleagues?” he demanded of the women sitting at the table.

His blue eyes pierced through the faces in front of him one by one with a laser focus that could have sliced through steel.  He looked at the clock on the wall and then at his wristwatch to confirm the time.  He wanted the room to know that his time was important and currently being wasted on them.

Jill sheepishly volunteered, “Debbie and Jan are off today.  I think they sent you an email about it.”

Straightening the stack of remaining agendas by lining up the edges, Jill looked down, sensing that eye contact may result in an atomic explosion and not wishing to see anyone without a head, she fiddled with the papers until he moved onto the next distraction.

“And Bonnie had to leave early for a doctor’s appointment,” Linda offered with a smirk that nearly gave away the delight that she felt from conflict.

“I knew about Bonnie,” he replied sharply and mumbled to himself as he scratched something down on his notebook and underlined it three times with his red pen.

“Well then, I guess we will start without the others.  They will have to wait to find out that I was able to get the pen request approved.”

He cast his gaze around the room, expecting a round of cheers.  Of course, he wasn’t surprised at the blank faces of his team.  They were all ingrates.  This is what they wanted.  They don’t know what they want, he reasoned silently.

There was one other man in the room, he unsuccessfully tried to catch his attention for a shared eye roll at the lackluster response of the women.  He was disappointed to see the man tipped back in his chair and staring at the ceiling with a blank expression as though just recovering from a stroke.

Worthless.

He’s as bad as the rest.  Women, he shook his head and snorted.  He would have to continue his campaign against female pushback another day.  He ran through the rest of the agenda items at full speed, without allowing for questions or breath.

“Ok and that’s a wrap.  See you next month.”  He grabbed his notepad, two pens and coffee mug and rushed through the door before the first woman had time to stand.

Jill laughed to herself doubtful that there would be another meeting.  An atomic explosion was averted only for the moment and maybe the day, but he was still a man on the brink of certain disaster without a clue about his fate.
Slight

Biological Warfare

germs

Signs were posted everywhere with big red, bold letters.  It was flu season and germs were not welcome.  The usually bustling office restricted visitors and required anyone with the chills or body aches to wear a disposable mask and latex gloves, yet the flu was still spreading.  

More handwashing stations went up, while the news streamed stories about the rising death toll of flu related deaths.  Strangers and friends alike started to eye one another as potential disease vectors and withdrew from conversations at the slightest hint of a sneeze or a sniffle, slowly backing up so as not to startle the germs into action. 

Things were breaking down quickly and not much work was getting done until the genius management put their oversized egg heads together and came up with a three-part solution to the problem.

More signs, they decided, because the first batch was so effective.  Then, they gave the front desk staff unlimited authority to stop and interrogate all visitors and employees.  Lastly, they tightened up on attendance policy so that employees were afraid to use their time off and instead reported for duty, bleary eyed and feverishly punctual.  

It was a perfect plan, seemingly infallible, and still the flu raged on.

Unaware of this change in the flu fighting approach, I walked in from the bitter cold and practically collapsed at the front desk, unable to proceed toward my office.  A red, velvet rope partitioned off the hallways and forced all entrants to pass through a narrow channel monitored by a large woman with heavy braids and long, colorful nails depicting ten tropical island scenes.  She pointed to a sign on the counter with a chubby finger and looked expectantly at me.

My glasses had developed a fog from the sudden change in temperature and my hands shook as they started the painful process of de-thawing after the long walk from the public parking lot.  

I took my glasses off and squinted at the woman, “Good morning. What’s going on?”

Irritated she sighed, “Need to see your id badge, we’re only letting employees in today.”

“Would I be here if I didn’t have to be?” I joked, seeking common ground.

“Don’t know and don’t care, I have to see your id if you’re going in.  Visitors have been impersonating employees to get into the office.”

My hands stopped shaking by this time and I put my glasses back on, catching her bad attitude faster than the rampant virus that was shutting down the city.  I tried all of the positive affirmations I knew to reset my frame of mind, but it was too late.  

“And what does that have to do with the flu?” I asked flatly.

“Visitors are bringing it in,” she said as a matter-of-fact. 

Shaking my head, I dug through my purse, pushing aside my wallet, a pack of gum and a ring of keys; delving deeper into the bottomless pit, I found a hot pink pen with origins unknown, a folded cardboard book mark and a sticky, partially unwrapped cough-drop before latching onto my id badge.

“Aha!” I declared in victory and considered the course of the day that was already off to such a great start.  Was it too late to go home, I wondered for a second before remembering the attendance policy. 

I pulled the id badge out and flashed it at the woman with a frown that I tried to turn upside down, resulting in a weird smirk that was as close to a smile as I could muster.  Meanwhile, another employee had come in behind me, hacking a dry cough with red rimmed eyes and overheard our conversation.  

“I would complain about the cold, but I’ve been feeling so hot this morning,” she explained as she extracted her id badge from her coat pocket with a still-gloved hand.

“Anyways, you know, if anyone is bringing in the flu, its going to be an employee,” she coughed again and shuffled off towards the heart of the building.  She said over her shoulder, “Just trying to be helpful.”     

And still the flu raged on, baffling the eggheads.

Elevated

elevator

While waiting outside of the elevators, a crowd gathered.  I clutched the strap of my purse with one hand, slung over one shoulder, and held my lunch bag with the other hand.  I tapped my foot and looked at my watch.  The work day had yet to begin and already I was impatient and irritated when the doors finally opened.  We surged forward, each claiming space inside of the silver walled box with grungy floors and orange glowing buttons that promised of predetermined destinations.   

A man with a briefcase leaned against the wall across from me, a woman held a coffee in one hand and another woman peered inside of an oversized purse as the doors closed. A couple with dirty shoes stood shoulder to shoulder and stared straight ahead as the doors closed.  Just before the doors slid together, a hand appeared in the empty space and triggered them to reopen. 

“Damn it,” I whispered under my breath, like any normal jerk in a hurry who was running late because of his or her own poor time management.     

The man with a briefcase groaned, apparently not one to hide his emotions, as a blue barrel of trash rolled into the elevator followed by a man wearing a wireless ear piece into which he spoke. 

“Yeah, I’m getting on the elevator, hang on. I might lose you.” 

The trashman smelled like smoke and grease from McDonald’s drive through.  He rested a hand on the edge of the trash barrel, lined with a plastic bag, “No, still here,” he laughed.  “So that sonuvagun just showed up at mama’s place…” he continued.

The elevator was already filled with enough people to equally distribute the available floor room.  There was no fear of bumping into another occupant or violating another’s personal space until he arrived.  Yet, we still moved out of the way to make room for the trash barrel as it continued to move forward, partly out of decency and partly out of necessity to avoid conflict, and the barrel keeper didn’t seem to mind if we were crushed or displaced in the process.  

As I squeezed between the man with dirty shoes and the woman with coffee, the contents splashed over the edge of the cup as the elevator lifted to the next floor, I felt a sense of nostalgia for the time when trash travelled via the service elevator, when people cared about the wellbeing of others, and when it wasn’t so damned hard to get from the first to the fifth floor.

Dancers and Fighters

fire

“The guy was here and you blew him off.”

“No, I didn’t. The guy never showed.”

“Yes, he was here; his name was on the sign-in sheet.”

The two spar back and forth, dodging shots to the head and heart.

As luck would have it, they are seated next to each other. It’s easier to engage this way. Red spreads across the man’s eyes and brain; he flares his nostrils as he passes the blame to the blameless.

“He was here, he told me you forgot about the appointment,” the woman continues.

Others sat on either side of the pair, secretly hopeful for a Jerry Springer type of escalation in which no less than one chair was thrown by the end.

They are close to yelling now but neither are listening, both firm in their righteous indignation. Still the others watch as curious spectators and cautious observers, complacent with the new status quo of alternative facts and disenfranchised minorities.

The rhythm is off as they dance around the growing fire, unaware of the flames, or of the short and temporary separation from savagery that they have traversed only so very recently.

Rhythmic

The Office Stand-off

stand off

“Elise, we meet again. How unfortunate,” the woman said through gritted teeth.

She narrowed her eyes as she surveyed her adversary.

Both women wore dark suits and heels that clicked with importance when they walked on the tile floors of their office building. Six floors and different schedules was still not enough to keep the two from the occasional encounter.

“Rebecca, it’s been too long. How have you been?” Elisa smiled: white and flashy, with the easy schmooze of a salesperson.

Not long enough, Rebecca thought.  She swallowed down the bile that rose in her throat. She felt nothing but hatred which caused a rather unusually strong physical reaction in her body. Her stomach churned and her chest burned from the seething, hot hate. Rebecca stopped for a moment of clarity and considered that her current symptoms might actually be from acid reflux. In any case, this woman had no business on the fourth floor.

“My key doesn’t work on this floor, anymore. Not to worry, I didn’t have to wait long. One of your kind colleagues let me in.”

“I warned you to stay away from my employees,” Rebecca said, clenching and unclenching her fists at her side.

Elise pushed a pair of cat-eye shaped glasses higher on the bridge of her small nose and raised her eyebrows, “Are you talking about Fresh Meat and Easy Pickins’?”

Blood rushed to Rebecca’s face; she felt a vein start to pound against her temple. She took a deep breath and willed herself to remain calm. Breathe in, breathe out. She practiced the breathing exercises from a stress management class that she just attended. Blood began to pound in her ears; the calming exercise was not working.

“They already told me what I needed to know,” Elise said. She looked down at the files in her arms and flipped through a few pages from a note pad on top.

“There isn’t much I don’t know about your operation now. Tell those two dummies, thanks for the meet and greet,” Elise snickered.

Rebecca stepped in front of Elise, “Whatever happens now, you have brought onto yourself.”

The tension was so thick in the air that after a file clerk scampered past the two and she had to schedule an appointment with her therapist for a mental health tune-up as she started to feel a breakdown was imminently on the way.

They stood like that motionless for a second, directly in front of one another; it was an old fashioned stand-off that would almost certainly end in death and/or serious injury. Rebecca was on the edge of lunging at the other woman to throttle her skinny neck while Elise felt and looked smug. She stood back and crossed her arms, knowing that she was safe. After all, they were professionals in a professional setting.

Rebecca dropped her hands to her side and Elise did the same after setting her paperwork and files down, they both suddenly understood how this would be resolved. It would depend on who had the fastest draw and most accurate dial.
They both grabbed at the only weapons they knew how to use, their Blackberry cell phones. Elise struggled with the clip at her belt and got past the passcode lock. She glanced up to see that Rebecca had already placed the call.

“Yes, I need to report an unethical employee.”

Her smug face fell and her spirit deflated. That was not the call she expected Rebecca to make.  Everyone knew about the report first, report early rule. It wasn’t written in any handbook or on a list of procedures. It just was.

Elise was defeated. She never thought that Rebecca would go to HR.  She didn’t think she had it in her, especially after the last time.

Rebecca covered the speaker of her phone and whispered, “You might want to put in a transfer request. I hear the Michigan branch needs help.”

Laughing quietly, she thought of the skinny woman dealing with the freezing temps and heavy snow.  She tried to imagine her in a snow suit with her perfect hair and heels sticking out of either end.

Rebecca whispered, “Good luck with the lake effect.”

Distractions

At the sound of the approaching voices, Lilly froze in her tiny office. Her body started to shake and quiver. She willed her heart to slow and freeze, like the rest of her, fearful that the thudding would give her presence away.

There was a crowd of co-workers just outside of the room, talking and laughing. She twitched at their unprofessionalism. This is a place of work, she thought with distaste, not a bar or a common coffee house. Her heart hardened against the cacophony that broke the normal harmony of the office.

Then the voices faded and she breathed a sigh of relief. She heard the sound of typing from her office mate. Click, click, click. His pudgy fingers struck the keys of his computer with a clumsy, steady grace. It was a comfort to her, the same clicking and shuffling of papers. No loud noises, just the sounds of working throughout the day.

She stood up, stretched her arms over her head and peeped her head out of her office. Safe, she whispered to herself. Anxiety held her captive, while loneliness slowly killed her. It wasn’t her co-workers she resented, it was the disruption of routine, the interruption from the norm, and their loud voices. On second thought, it was definitely their loud voices that she resented the most.

Lilly’s tightly wound nerves started to relax and her heartbeat returned to normal. It was as though a winter storm had just passed and the blue skies were beginning to return. Birds were chirping again from frozen trees as snow melted onto the white ground. Lilly was refreshed and recharged from her recent scare.

Lilly held onto the edge of the tissue box and pulled herself out. Fresh air filled her lungs and the bright office lights made her squint until her eyes adjusted. She squeaked and scurried over to her office mate who stared straight ahead at his computer screen, still typing the last thing she said to him.

He glanced down at her and asked, “Are you ready, now?”

Lilly squeaked again and ran up his plaid sleeve to rest on his shoulder where she started to whisper the rest of the story.

Small Victories

After taking the zillionth call of the day, I knew that my limit was reached.  A red light flashed on my phone, indicating that a voicemail was waiting with more questions and requests but there was nothing left for me to give.  I simply closed my laptop and headed towards the door for a walk.  The receptionist saw me leave and shouted, “Wait, I’ve got a caller on the other line looking for you.” 

I took a lesson from my clients and proceeded outside, pretending that I never heard her plea.   

At first, I walked hard and fast.  The sun was hot and I wore a long sleeve shirt, which was not great planning on my part.  Beads of sweat started to form on my forehead and I slowed down.  I focused on my breathing, like my husband/stress guru advised this morning.  I felt better about life and could think again.  The stress wasn’t controlling me.

I rounded the corner and headed back towards the building through the parking lot when I was spotted by Ms. E, the mistress of custodial services for the ladies restroom.  She was dressed in an all purple outfit and was holding a bucket of cleaning supplies. 

Ms. E called out, “Baby, why you walking when you have a car?”

I told her that I was having a stressful day and had to get out of the office, thinking this explanation to be justified and straight forward.   

Ms. E nodded her head in a knowing (or pre-Parkinson’s) way, “Baby, there ain’t nothing worth stressing over.  It’s like this, either you have the money for the bills or you don’t.   If you have the money, pay the bills.  If you don’t, then you don’t pay the bills.  It’s simple, see.  Don’t make it harder than it needs to be, Baby.”

Well, yes, that does make sense, I thought and nodded to let her know I was listening.  I yearned to look at my watch, sensing that my absence was soon to be noticed.  The sun beat down on my head and shoulders.  Beads of sweat now started to roll down the sides of my face and neck.

She continued, “See, there’s a difference between thinking and stressing.  I thinks about my bills all the time but I don’t let it get me upset, like you are now.”

Ms. E called me out in a parking-lot-style intervention.  She forced me to realize, while sweating and missing in action from my cube, that there really wasn’t anything to stress over.  If I can take action, do it.  If there’s nothing to do or I don’t have the right tools or abilities, then that’s it.   Nothing more and nothing less but no need for stress.  

I am grateful to this strange cleaning angel in purple for helping me to put this Tuesday into perspective.  

I told her so as I walked away and she yelled after me, “Looks like you were meant to run into me.  Be good, Baby.”

She disappeared behind me as I scurried up the back stairs and slipped back into my cube without a stress in the world.   Then the phone rang and it started all over again.

The Demoralization of a Work Force

It starts with asking the employees to sacrifice a little for the good of the company, first to share cubicles. According to the man in the bad suit, “There just isn’t enough space for everyone and not enough money in the budget for a bigger office.” The man in the bad suit does not have a cubicle. He has a very large corner office that he frequents every few days. “Guys, this is a temporary situation that’s going to take team work to overcome. We are looking at two maybe three months tops,” he explained about six months ago.

Next, the sacrifices increase with the pressure of guilt- just a bit off the top of each paycheck to prevent random lay-offs. The man in a poorly fitting suit and bad hair asks, “Reach into your hearts (correction: he meant to say “pockets”) and decide if you are able to come together to save the jobs of those around you. The solution is very simple. It would only take a 10% decrease from each of your salaries.”

It’s too bad the man doesn’t know the names of the employees to whom he continues to gesture with his hairy, pale fingers. It’s also too bad that his salary is not on the line and no one is asking him to look into his heart (correction: I meant pockets). His skinny neck and oversized shoulder pads make him look like a chicken, flapping his way back and forth in front of his employees. “Understand,” he asks, “that your case loads may go up and you may have more work, but hang in there. Think of the clients who will be helped by your sacrifices. Always remember, without you, each and every one of you, none of this would be possible.”

He is right; it does take each and every one of the employees to keep the ship afloat and sailing forward. Dare to speak up and prepare to walk the plank. The lucky dissenters have a life boat (savings, second job, wealthy spouse) patiently bobbing back and forth in the waters below; while the rest are forced to hold their tongues. The ones who are left behind meet in the shadows to whisper rumors and plans of escape or silently accept their fate of sacrifice.

The final blow is in the refusal to celebrate social work month – so as not to offend anyone who is not a social worker. A decision made by a faceless board to prevent hurt feelings or to prevent the unification of the work force in pride of the profession, and to mar the bond over the joys and sorrows of the field. What can be said of this decision? Nothing, silence is golden when sacrifice involves everything.

A Pervasive Problem

“Tell me about this new transfer,” a woman in a long blue sweater asked as she held a tea packet in one hand and ripped it open with her teeth.  Turning back around to the counter, she dropped the tea bag into a white mug and started to pour steaming hot water over it.

An older women with thick glasses and flat, dull brown shoes leaned on a table behind the other woman.  It was just the two of them in the break room, mid-morning, and it was quiet; this was an unusual lull in the usual constant stream of people and conversations around the coffee pot and ice machine.

The older woman smirked, and said, “To start, she has a little bug problem.  The last time I was there I saw at least three varieties of bugs crawling across the floor and on her legs.  There were even a few in her bed sores, which she insisted on showing me.”

The woman in the blue sweater had stopped pouring water and was turned completely around facing the older woman.  “What?” she asked, in disbelief.

Pleased with the younger woman’s complete attention, she continued.  “Yes, the client wasn’t even concerned.  When I asked her about the bugs, she said they were oriental beetles and that’s why they all looked different.”

She reflected for a second and continued, “As a matter of fact, the bugs have been with her for quite some time.  I can remember seeing them at the last two houses in which she lived.  She must pack them up with her wherever she goes,” the older woman laughed to herself.

“Oh, and one more thing you should know.  Her landlord is mad at her,” she added.

“Why?” the younger woman asked, with a horrified expression frozen onto her face.

“He’s mad because the bugs survived the extermination attempts.  Otherwise, she’s very nice.  I think you’ll really like her.”