I may have mentioned this before but one of my good friends at work retired on Wednesday. She had 39 years in with the company. She turned down the company offered party which – at her level – was just going to be “cheap punch and nasty cake” (her words). Instead, we had a nice lunch on Friday with about 15-20 people including some who had retired just this year. My old boss was in attendance as well.
Before she left, I gave her a card with some shared memories and just some words about how much I had enjoyed working with her and my contact information. We both decided that we must see the world differently than most of the people around us. There were so many times when people were saying something couldn’t be done or making something simple way more complex than it needed to be and we’d start talking and come up with a plan. It was rare because I think we complimented each other and were able to build on each other. Normally, she had the first idea because she always hated it when people were doing something stupid. I’d polish off the rough edges and make some tweaks and then we’d bounce it back and forth and end up with something workable.
Truth be told, she should have gotten a lot more credit than she did. But there are certain realities of the corporate world. She was a problem solver so we’d deliver our solution, go out and do something to fix the problem and then move on to the next one. That just left an opening for others to take most of the credit. It happens. You can go so far on raw talent but it also takes being a self-promoter and being someone who can deal with office politics also helps. She was a little too blunt and couldn’t talk the corporate game and that limited how far she was going to go. Kind of way I got along with her so well though – she was always true to who she was.
The amount of change we’ve gone through at work in the last year has really turned me off to the corporate way of doing things. Most large corporations will tell you how much they value their people and they will have a series of benefits/perks to prove their love to you. But it is all an illusion. You have value only to the point that you produce something that the corporation needs and the perks are there because corporations hate turnover. Turnover requires retraining and it slows things down so you do things to trap people in place.
And I’m not saying this is wrong. My father is the socialist who rails against the evil that corporations do. I’m accept it as part the trade. They give me a means to make a living and I give them a big part of my day and life. The problem is that corporations like to make demands. They like you to think that the corporations problems are your problems and that you should be willing to go above and beyond to help them out. I mean they give you benefits and pay you so why wouldn’t you want to do that. Well because you don’t own me.
I think it used to be true that there was some loyalty both ways. Maybe I’m just romanticizing things but I think it was more true in the past that you worked for one company and the company was more tied to the community. And with some expectation of loyalty, it made more sense to give more of your life away to the corporation. To do the weekends and late nights and to have that kind of work ethic that so many people assume is the only way to go.
Now, I kind of think people who are willing to give their life to their work are crazy. As much as corporations say they value their employees, we are all expendable as has been proven in the last year. This friend of mine left after 39 years and, trust me, there were few who were more driven or worked harder than she did. And the corporation says “thank you very much” now “don’t let the door hit you in the butt on the way out” and there was somebody in her cube on Friday. See because while they claim to value us, we are really just interchangeable parts. Like if a machine breaks down, you put the new part in and get back to work. An employee leaves, you just plug someone into that role and work continues.
Again, I’m not saying this is wrong. It is just reality and sometimes reality is cold. I knew another guy – I knew him vaguely at work but we were connected on LinkedIn. He was full of stories about how great our company was and one of the first ones to post positive things when we appeared in the new. Or to like and offer comments if one of our executives said something of importance. Well, the company decided that his position was no longer valued and he was let go about a year ago in another big reorganization.
To be clear, I’m not saying you should come to work and slack off. I do think every job is worth doing right and to the best of your ability. But I think the idea that you should put work above everything else is a little outdated. Maybe we need a more realistic work ethic model for dealing with corporations these days. I was talking with my old boss at the party and she said she thought she’d miss work but she doesn’t. She misses seeing some of the people every day but doesn’t miss work a bit. Which is good because the corporation has moved on as well and doesn’t seem to miss her either.
I’m not really sure how to wrap this all up or what the point of this rambling was. Perhaps because I’m nearer the end of my corporate journey than the beginning and I’m seeing that the people who aren’t at work seem to be much happier than people who are left behind. I guess maybe it is that if you work for a corporation, you are replaceable and you will be replaced at some point. If you enjoy your work, more power to you. Just remember that there is more to life and you are not just what you do at work.