In the aftermath of a significant event such as the British vote to leave the European Union, it may be natural for an employer to want to reassure their staff and keep business running smoothly. My employer did this by sending out a mass email on Friday morning which was clearly intended to strike that reassuring business as usual tone, but to me it came across as fatally patronising. “We all know that Britain voted to leave the European Union today, but for the bank, nothing changes, and that means you still have your jobs to do. So get on with it.” The message wasn’t quite so terse, perhaps, but it was clear. Nothing should be allowed to get in the way of us keeping our customers happy, not even a political event that could turn the country upside down. Since I started at the bank I have felt that the thin veneer of joviality and fun that they present merely masks a cold, corporate machine; Friday confirmed this for me.
As long we’re all pretending to love our customers, everything’s fine. As long as we’re all following their rules, it’s all good in management’s eyes. You can’t get away from it. They don’t even let you wear headphones in the office, because they say it makes you look ‘unapproachable’, so you just have to put up with the constant noise of the bank going about its business all day long. There is nothing human about that, nothing caring or compassionate. It just makes it feel more like a prison, which may be what they want. Because when you feel trapped and hopeless in a place, you’re either going to leave and sacrifice your salary or you’re going to stay and follow the rules.
B returned from holiday this week and it’s our last week in the team together (she leaves for her new job at head office next week). I wish I could say I was more sad about her leaving, but I don’t feel a thing. As I may have said before, she can be pleasant most of the time, but I still detect a certain coldness with her, which I don’t like. I don’t know what it is, but it’s more pronounced when all of her friends are around and she’s talking to them like none of the rest of her team exists. Yesterday, I overheard her saying to J that after she’s gone it’s not going to be much fun for J in the office any more. As if the team that J is left with – i.e. us – aren’t much fun. I’d like to give her the benefit of the doubt and assume she didn’t mean it, but I can’t even do that now. She knows we’re sitting right there – why did she have to say it so loud?
It gets to me that people like that are always the ones who do well in companies like this one. While she goes off to her dream job, I’m stuck on the lowest rung until I can work out how to leave. Now that we just have a few days left I don’t feel like making much effort with her any more. In the beginning I used to talk to her about stuff like Game of Thrones, because I know she’s a fan, but I don’t bother now, and neither does she.
The good thing is I’m starting to see that not everyone in the office is cold. I can exchange pleasantries with four of five people there now on a daily basis, and it feels genuine. Yesterday I had a cold, and one of the guys in the other team noticed, asking if I was all right and offering to make me a cup of tea. I had previously thought this guy was a bit of a dick, but that’s only because he’s the archetypal masculine lad with whom on first glance I wouldn’t appear to have anything in common. His kindness came as a pleasant surprise, making what could have been another dreary Monday quite tolerable.
I’ve begun to wonder if coming out as gay would launch me into the centre of things at work, like it has in previous challenging situations (university, my last job). When I’ve come out before it’s always felt like a big risk, and it’s always pretty much paid off. It exposes me and it allows me to stop hiding a part of myself. At the moment, no one at the office knows the first thing about my private life, and I must come across as a bit of a blank to some of them. Some of them may have guessed about me, but I’ve had no real conversations with anyone about anything. We’re still stuck at pleasantries.
Despite past experience proving in some ways that coming out to people can break ice and make life easier, I’m reticent to do it again in this situation. I wonder why I should have to keep doing it again and again, when it’s no one’s business. And after all, you still can’t be sure how everyone’s going to react, even in this day and age.
Today I had cause to be annoyed with management again. The guy who manages the other team is a strange kind of manager. You wouldn’t know he was a manager unless someone told you. He keeps himself to himself most of the time – you rarely see him talking to his team. He’s not one of those motivational managers who walks around regularly to see what’s going on, put it that way. When he does talk it’s to his friends in other teams, who can often be found sitting round his desk having a good old chat. Some days they spend so much time sitting there chatting, it bothers me. Why isn’t it ok for me to put headphones in and concentrate on my work, when it’s ok for them to spend an hour talking about non-work related stuff?
Another frustration today came in the form of a rather critical email from one of the senior managers in the department, who was upset about certain behaviours that she’d witnessed recently in the office. The email told us in no uncertain terms that:
- We’re not allowed to use the internet for our own personal use, it’s for work purposes only
- We’re not allowed to paint our nails, brush our hair or engage in any form of personal grooming at our desks because this is work, not a bedroom
- We’re not permitted to leave papers or food or anything on our desks at night, they are to be left clear and spotless for the cleaners
- We’re not permitted to use our mobile phones during work time, and we are not allowed to have them on our desks at any time
The email ended with a reminder that all of these things are monitored closely and any further breaches in the code will be dealt with in the usual disciplinary manner. I found it highly ironic that sitting around chatting was not mentioned as one of the forbidden behaviours. I guess the managers in the office like doing that too much.
I could have spent the day fuming at the tone of this email, which only adds to the feeling that we’re back at school, that we’re not adults but children who have to be told in simple language how to behave. I could have bitched and moaned about it to neighbours, but I didn’t. It’s just not worth it. They can have their petty rules and regulations. I’m leaving soon, and I know there are other companies out there, good companies who won’t treat me like a child. Come back, former employer, all is forgiven!