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Tuesday, November 22, 2011

The Empty Cube


There's something broken about modern business. I can't make friends at work. I can't make personal relationships. Why? Because I might disappear at any time, like in Logan's Run or 1984.

There's probably a term for it. Hiring practices, termination, lay-offs. It's ruining company morale and worker morale. I think it's because these policies haven't changed in decades, even though the world has.

I've been laid off. I've been fired. I've quit. I've been under three month contracts. So I've gotten the full experience from the employee side. They tell you to come to a meeting that's not on your calendar. It's always at the end of the day, about a half hour before you're supposed to leave. Maybe it's in the HR office, where you've never been before.  Your supervisor, or your supervisor's supervisor says, very matter-of-factly, that they are terminating your employment.

No one sees you leave. No one knows where you are the next day. You just disappear, as if you were never there in the first place. People stare at the empty cubicle and wonder. Did you get in a car accident? Did you quit suddenly? Maybe your dad is sick, and you decided to take time off to be with him? Maybe you won the lottery?

Fact is, you don't even know anyone left, until they call a department-wide meeting, uncomfortably pack you in the only space available, and tell you that several people have been laid off (or whatever polite term they use) and not to talk about it with clients yet.

Or maybe you just get an e-mail with the person's name in the subject header, and nothing else. Then you read that "Today was so-and-so's last day at [COMPANY]. I will be letting clients know..." And nothing else about their fate. You go through so much adversity together, so many hard projects. But all that past gets thrown away in a finger snap.

You won't be seeing that person ever again. You don't know what happened to their projects. You won't be able to say goodbye to the person you worked with for more than two years. They've just vanished--their empty cubicle, still with their little knick-knacks, is their grave marker.   Maybe you talk about it on the way back from lunch with some co-workers. "Hey, does anyone know what happened to so-and-so? Did she get laid off or what?" And no one knows.

It's like in The Hunger Games when Katniss and Gale are hunting and see the two escapees get picked up by a hovercraft like a dystopian crane game. They're plucked out of existence and never seen again.

Even if you leave of your own volition, it's like life support. No one ever stayed at a job because all their friends were there. It is a job -- if someone else is offering you better pay, you don't think twice about going somewhere else. The company shows you no loyalty, why should you?

So that's why I don't make friends at work. I stay focused. I stay professional. I stay cold. There's no point to make friends at work because either you or the person you know will get scooped out of time and disappear forever.
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