Trying To Stay Below The Radar

Today, I have come back from a corporate training course, with a horrible suspicion that word might get out that I actually know what I am doing.

I am – believe it or not – far more competent than I let on. There is a very good reason why I keep that quiet; once anyone with any level of authority within a company gets wind that you are capable of more, you immediately come under pressure to deliver more and to WANT more.

Back in 2007, I was in a bit of dark place emotionally, on top of which I had been made redundant and I was desperate for a job that just didn’t expect very much from me. I started out working for a company called Recruit as a temp in a warehouse, shifting faulty lawnmowers and power tools which had been returned to the stores they had been bought from, and subsequently collected by our drivers to be sent back to the respective manufacturers. I thoroughly enjoyed it. There was no real reason to engage my brain, but there was sorting, and checking off lists, and organising, and tidying. The major downside was that they may as well have paid me in bottle caps for all of the impact that it made on my monthly bills.

Anyway, during the time I was there, the following became apparent;

1) I was able to recognise what a computer was,
2) I knew how to switch it on,
3) I had some interesting ideas about how it might be useful.

I suggested, and had implemented, some changes which sped up my ability to do my job, and help out some other people into the bargain. Eventually the backlog that I had been employed to clear was finished, and I was moved onto something else. When that was also cleared, they asked me to split my time so that I did what needed doing in the warehouse, and then spent the rest of my time helping out in the office.

The girl who did the main administration role in said office eventually found a better job, and I ended out applying for – and getting – her position. Within a couple of weeks of doing so, I had redesigned and improved the processes, so much so that I was able to do the same job in half the time. With the spare hours I had freed up, I started picking up on parts of the job of the manager who was responsible for looking after the drivers, their routes, their accommodation and fixing their kit when it went wrong.

As it happened, he then went off on long term sickness, and so I ended out doing his job, in addition to my own job, and eventually I was doing all of that so efficiently that I still had hours in the day to sit around and scratch my arse.

…all of this for the same wages I was initially employed on.

All told, I worked for them for three years before I finally decided that actually I was worth a little bit more, and wanted to be somewhere which offered me greater security, and while money is really not a priority for me, better wages were never going to go amiss. I vowed never to get caught up in over-working again.

In the job I am currently doing, I have been quietly competent for the last couple of years, with the odd flash of helpfulness escaping. Unfortunately, the events of this week may well have forced me to raise my head above the parapet.

This week, I was put into a half-Nelson and frogmarched onto a 4-day residential training course that I really did not want to go on, for a series of reasons that all ended out being utterly correct.

You know that scene in Aliens, where the colonial marines find the woman, still alive, cocooned inside the wall of the nest under the primary cooling tower, and she pleads with them to kill her before the inevitable happens…?

Yeah. That.

The course was split as follows;

  • 40% Stuff I Already Know
  • 55% Stuff I Never Need To Know
  • 5% Stuff I Could Have Been Taught In A Fraction Of The Time, At A Fraction Of The Cost

We were expected to work really hard, for excessively long hours, and to do so with with interest and engagement.

What happened to the days when it OK to just do your job and go home? When it was a pretty much a legal requirement to dislike working? When exactly did you start having to approach everything that you are only doing because you are being paid to do, with enthusiasm? You’re not allowed to just turn up and do what you are earning a wage for now; you must have a Development Plan. You are not allowed to be cynical or unambitious. They are not Protected Characteristics, see? It’s not like being gay, or believing in a god of some kind.

About 18 months ago, in the company I currently work for, we had a Sales conference which was designed to bring the entire business area together. It was held in a big conference centre in Birmingham, and even the very idea of the place made me uncomfortable. Towards the end of what had been a barely tolerable day, we were surprised by the sudden, and frankly overly boisterous, entrance of a Maori dude – who performed a Haka. He then told us the history of what it meant, the deep cultural significance, taught us the words, then the moves, and then got us to stand in two rows facing each other and perform.

Now, don’t get me wrong, some of the Rugby types threw themselves into it with a passion born from probably wanting to have the opportunity to do this for years. Everyone else just looked utterly lame, exchanging embarrassed but impotent grins, giggling nervously and flapping about like badly controlled marionette dolls.

I quietly retreated to the back of the room so as not to make a fuss and cause bad feeling, but I was horrified for a number of reasons;

1) Someone decided to commercialise the Haka in the first place
2) Someone decided it would be a good idea to book it as a corporate activity
3) Someone was getting paid a lot of money for points 1 & 2
4) My colleagues were just going along with this, largely out of fear of being singled out as The One Who Didn’t Play Ball.

Since when did we become afraid of just being people?

The more time I spend in a corporate environment, the more it becomes apparent that it simply DOES NOT COMPUTE that you wouldn’t immediately want to throw yourself 100% into any and every activity that someone who has been paid to do so has decided is a good idea.

I have no poker face. I have no guile. If I am not having a good time, I have little to no ability to hide it. While I won’t tend to complain about it, if you push me or challenge me, I do not hold myself responsible for the immediate and venomous response you will get.

This week, I have impressed myself with my ability to keep going despite thinking that I would rather to eat my own liver. It was largely because I had a team relying on me to pull my weight, and if there is one thing I won’t do it is let people down. The woman delivering the training course was really good, although it took me a few days to overcome the natural suspicion I have for anyone in that kind of role. I don’t think I had her fooled for a minute, although I think I carried it off amongst my peers. Perhaps I am growing as a person…

We had an American boss a little while ago called Dennis who had a policy on Calling Bullshit. If you saw something that struck you as bullshit, he actively encouraged you to point it out. It kept the place real and honest and true. He left to take a position at a different company, probably two years ago now, and while it may be a complete coincidence, I am in no way surprised that since then, people have been leaving the department like rats off of a sinking ship.

Where’s the honesty? Why is everyone afraid to say when they think something is a bad idea? Or that they are not enjoying it? Just because a person or a team or a Think Tank has put in a lot of time, or been paid a lot of money, or been brainstorming to come up with something, it doesn’t mean it is correct. Or even any good in some cases. Blue Sky Thinking. Solutionising. Leveraging. Words and phrases that make me want to vomit.

And so here is where I have a problem. People are going to start looking at me, and I really don’t want to be looked at. Perhaps I could say I have a mental health condition. Some form of Tourettes perhaps? I wonder what the Equality & Diversity policy has to say about that…

One thought on “Trying To Stay Below The Radar

  1. Tim Lawson

    You’ve described why I am self employed and otherwise unemployable in a concise manner. People are often more incredibly stupid than you can possibly imagine. The Haka. Oh.My.Non.Existent.God. You couldn’t make it up!

    Reply

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