1. You have to show up for work on time.
For some diabolic reason, they always schedule these torture sessions first thing in the morning. There’s absolutely no legitimate reason for this, because no one, I don’t care who you are, functions their best before 10am. At that time of day, I’m still struggling with basic things like consciousness and breathing. I’m certainly not going to pay any attention to “new visions for the company” or marketing pushes involving cute, furry animals and a singing ping pong ball.
And really, your VP couldn’t care less if you are there or not. She has no idea who you are and probably never will, since she’s going to take the first decent retirement package that comes along and then go live some place where they have dolphins. She’s just here because it’s one of her quarterly objectives if she wants that damn bonus. She will not shed a single teardrop if your seat is empty.
Your direct manager, on the other hand, will snuff out your life if you don’t make an appearance. So you have to initiate drastic measures to ensure that you are on time, like getting up early, not allowing yourself to harvest anything in Farmville, and forgoing the ecstasy of the local Starbucks. Because if there’s going to be a wreck on the highway, it’s going to be on this critical day, and you need the extra time to take an alternate route through a part of town where people get shot for wearing the wrong bandana.
2. They never pick an appropriately-sized conference room.
I really don’t understand this. It’s not like they don’t have any idea how many people will be attending. We have an entire organization devoted to counting things like paper clips and bar tabs, so surely some fool with a forecasting program on his nerdy little PC can project the turnout. How can this be hard?
But no, it always works out one of two ways. There’s the overkill approach, where you find yourself standing in a vast auditorium along with only two other people, your footsteps echoing throughout the cavern as you wait for the other people that are never going to show. Your natural instinct to sit in the back of the room is tempered by the fact that the last row of seats appears to be located in Kansas.
So the three of you huddle together in one of the mid-range rows, complete strangers five minutes ago but now united in solidarity against the ordeal to come. Of course, when you get the big room package, you also get the touchy, feely VP who insists that everybody join him on the front row, where you can join hands and pray for the stock price to recover. God is my co-trader.
On the flip side of the room game, we have the scenario where 212 people are crammed into a space the size of a utility closet, fighting over the one chair that isn’t broken and unable to find a single place where the VP isn’t actually breathing on you. Within the hour, the body heat in the room will cause you to snap and wipe out an entire department using a plastic bagel knife.
3. You will sit near someone you hate.
This never fails. You can try your best to surround yourself with friends or acquaintances that you can at least tolerate, but eventually someone you despise will slip through the gauntlet and plop down beside you. This usually happens at the very last second, as the irritating VP is approaching the podium, so you won’t have any time to make an escape.
Of course, if you’re on the bonus plan, this person you detest will have no clue how much you can’t stand them. So they try to act like you’re the tight sorority sisters that you will never be. They will tell you all about their latest surgeries, display pictures of their ugly grandchildren, and inquire into the latest stats on your sex life, all within 5 minutes of sitting down. It’s perfectly okay to take your copy of the agenda and suffocate this person.
4. Your chair is a prop from “The Exorcist”.
Naturally, your chair will look completely innocent when you first make your selection. In fact, it will even seem to be completely comfy and relaxing as the session begins. But once you have been lulled into a false sense of safety and non-humiliation, the deviltry begins.
First, the seat of the chair will suddenly plummet to the ground, causing your knees to be banging against your ears, looking like Rae Dawn Chong in “Quest for Fire”. When you attempt to rectify this situation, pulling on random levers beneath the seat, you will suddenly catapult upwards, suffering whiplash and letting out a terrified wail of fear and confusion. Finally, the back of the chair will flip down, sending you toppling backwards to your death and causing your uncontrolled, lethal feet to kick the head of the person in front of you. And yes, everyone will focus their rescue efforts on the person you just beaned, while you lay bleeding behind your chair, ass in the air.
5. You can’t see the preso on the screen.
Granted, we’re not as young as we used to be, no longer able to dance all night at the bars and then drive directly to work with no after-effects. Things on our bodies are now decaying or just dropping off entirely. But still, it’s not really our fault that the idiot who is displaying the presentation on the screen has apparently never used the focus setting. Everything is blurry, and nobody but the people in the first row can read a thing. For all you know, you’re looking at a menu for Chinese take-out.
So you have to wing it, listening carefully and straining to decipher even one of the images, because you sure as hell don’t want to be the first one who complains about the quality of the VP’s dog and pony show. No sir. You will never get a promotion the rest of your life. You just sit there, nodding your head from time to time, and praying to the religious deity of your choosing that nobody calls on you to answer a question of any kind. If things become ominous and you feel direct verbal contact with the VP is approaching, quickly reach down and jerk on one of the chair levers. Hopefully it’s one that will quickly put you in a non-responsive coma.
6. They try to belittle you with fancy buzzwords.
I’d like to be the person who sits around and comes up with the latest catchwords of the day. Seems like a really good gig, because there’s obviously no thought or effort behind the choosing. It’s just whatever sounds catchy and hip, and you’re allowed to completely change the traditional meaning of the word if you see fit. Today’s word is “precious”, which supposedly means the facets of our company that are most important. I’m guessing the VP hasn’t seen the movie or been around Mo’Nique when she’s in a bad mood.
7. You will have a coughing fit during the one interesting part of the program.
You know this is going to happen, so you might as well prepare for the shame. You can quietly sit through two hours of monotonous crap that no one cares about, but the very second that the VP utters something like “and on the compensation side of things”, your throat will dry up like an 80-year-old hooker, dust will billow out your ears, and you will start choking on pure air. If you’re really lucky, your hacking will be the especially pretty kind that involves mucus.
Sadly, because everyone is basically self-centered these days, even if you try to discreetly leave the room, you will fail miserably. People in your row will only grudgingly get out of your way, so you spend considerable time clawing toward the aisle and gasping for air. Eventually you will collapse on your stomach, wriggling toward the exit, only to have your head stomped on by the VP as she retrieves a laser pointer from her Gucci briefcase.
8. The awards presentation goes on forever.
They stopped including actual bonus checks with these recognition awards years ago, so no one really cares about getting one. (Who wants another lousy piece of paper or a cheap-ass trophy when the light bill is due? You want to make me feel appreciated? Give me something I can cash.) Making the awards distribution process even more slug-like is the current corporate “trend” to reward everybody, even if you have to make something up, so the company can claim they are diverse and all-loving, and thereby they receive a higher ranking from the Human Rights Campaign.
Things start out okay, with the first few recipients getting generous applause and hearty handshakes from the VP. After 100 names have been read, and we’re down to awarding the cleaning staff a certificate for creative toilet-paper-stacking, the thrill is completely gone. Hardly anyone is clapping, half the audience is dozing, and the VP is shoving people across the stage like somebody just spotted the Po-Po pulling up outside the crack house.
9. No one in the audience EVER has a valid question.
There are only two kinds of people who ask questions at things like this. We have the life-long brown-nosers who will do anything to get noticed, even if it includes public nudity or transactions involving firstborn children. They will ask the most inane queries, somehow managing to blow smoke up their own butt yet still giving the impression that they would lovingly drop to their knees and wash the VP’s feet with their hair, given the chance. The sucking-up noises can be heard by orbiting satellites.
Then we have the renegades, the people who dare to ask the “questions you’re not supposed to ask”, like why the hell are you laying everybody off and yet expecting us to double the output? You know, tiny little issues such as that. Of course, the VP, because she’s been fully trained in double-talk during all those fancy, high-level, closed-door meetings where they determine the fate of the planet, professionally avoids giving a direct answer. Then she quietly whispers instructions into her hidden Bluetooth microphone to have the renegade arrested when no one else is looking. And she will handle the subsequent “interrogation” personally. Jackie Bauer in da house.
10. Stupid, lazy people will not get out of your way when it’s time to leave.
Here’s a news flash, folks: When the VP says we’re done, then we’re done. Get your ass up and walk out the door. Don’t sit there like you can’t remember how to do this. Don’t rearrange your purse. Don’t talk to your neighbor about the excitement of winning an award that everybody got. And under no circumstances should you just stand there and paw at yourself, trying to readjust foundation garments that have slid out of place. You should only do that in the privacy of your own home. Or never.
And as for you brown-nosers? Now’s your chance for some quality time with the power person of your dreams. Don’t hold up the line while you stand there meekly, hoping to receive an invitation to the royal court. March right over there and do what you do best. Pucker up and go for it.
But she still won’t remember your name in the morning…
(Originally posted in “The Sound and the Fury” on 06/02/10.)