Offices Turn Us All Into DicksApril 7, 2012 No Comments
“Hell is other people,” as the philosopher said. And nowhere is this more true than in the office.
Most of us work, have worked, or will work in an office at some point in our lives; and most of us will have experienced the hell that other people make them.
I’m not talking about the battery-intense cube-farm layouts of these pits of despair. Of course, they don’t help in any way, but I think that, even if all offices were laid out to the very highest free-range standards with individual rooms and plenty of space to roam, they’d still be places of misery and we’d all keep to our individual rooms like hermits with bad haircuts and leprosy. And why would that be? Yes, because of the other people we wouldn’t be able to contemplate the chance of bumping into.
Offices make people act like assholes. They produce behaviour that just wouldn’t be tolerated anywhere else. Imagine getting on a bus, asking for a single into town and saying you wanted it “yesterday,” threatening to issue the driver with a written warning if he didn’t act on those instructions immediately. Or going to a barber at closing time and demanding that they stay behind to cut your hair instead of going home. Or refusing to pay your local shop any price increases on your shopping for three years in a row because they hadn’t met a contrived and arbitrary set of “performance criteria.” That sort of behaviour would be given pretty short shrift in “real life,” and by all of us – yet put us in an office and we all start doing it to each other, taking it seriously and not questioning its reasonableness or necessity.
Now I’m going to say something not very uncontroversial. I think it’s men who really indulge in and encourage this type of behaviour – not just because there’s a male majority in offices (or because this sort of jackassery began long ago when offices were almost exclusively male) but because it’s really a male thing to do, to act in this ridiculous fashion and pretend without remission that it’s a professional and reasonable way to behave.
However, here’s something maybe more controversial: I am always disappointed when I see a woman acting in the same, male-office way.
When I see a woman, for example, indulging in tough talk about budgets or strategy or rivals or whatever, using the relentlessly mutating bullshit lexicon of the office lad – going on about “challenging the future” or “taking ownership of an issue” or “stepping up to the plate” or “pinging off an email” or any of the almost infinite range of bowel-squeezingly awful terms that have been swamping our offices for the past fifteen years – I am disappointed. Not just in the use of yet another turgidly stupid expression, but in the woman herself, because (and here’s the controversial bit) I think that women should generally know better than to get into that sort of office behaviour.
I think that women generally have more common sense and self-awareness of everyone’s own potential ridiculousness than to adopt this truly male pattern of behaviour, with its posturing and self-importance and its desperate herd-like clubbishness. Maybe it’s sexist of me. I don’t believe that women should be at home, or anything rubbish like that, and nor do I want to deny women their right to behave in this sort of way.
It’s just that, in today’s office world, where women are so much more respected and better protected against the old-style bad behaviour of men, I find it unnecessary for women to stoop to this level any more.
Of course, it’s everyone’s right (to a fair extent) to behave in such a dickish way – both men and women. I just wish people wouldn’t. And men started it and it seems to me to come a bit less naturally to women, and now there’s less of a need for women to do it to get on, I wish they wouldn’t. And so, when they do, I don’t like it. That’s all.
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