Re: Beyond The Collective

an interview with The Salt Miner

The following is a brief bio provided by The Salt Miner.

My favorite thing to do in the whole world is read.  My parents used to read to me constantly as a child, and I remember learning how to read in kindergarten.  Reading got me in trouble in 4th grade, when I stuffed books under my desk and ignored the teacher.  In high school, I often read during Algebra and during lunch.  So I majored in English in college -natural choice.  But I tell people I got my BA in BS.  I loved college – so far they have been the best years of my life (that may have something to do with the lack of “real world” responsibility).  I had various summer jobs:  courier, house cleaner, print shop slavey, tutor, and cafeteria wunderkind.  I took the first job offered to me after I graduated from college, and stayed there for almost 7 years.  I don’t advise people doing that, as a general rule. After a brief breather, where I relearned that I didn’t have to hate, loathe and despise getting up to go to work every morning, I took another job.  In between working and mowing my lawn, I feed my neighbor’s cats, read, adore my friends’ children, read, dream about winning the lottery and traveling all over the world, read, and write letters.  I can rattle off stream-of-consciousness conversations at the speed of light, and I would like to someday hike the Pacific Crest Trail from end to end.

The Salt Miner refers to her current employer as The Salt Mine and her previous one as The Collective.  This was an e-mail interview.

The Inmate: Do you find it difficult to say “No” when asked to work overtime?

The Salt Miner: I find it difficult to say “No” when I feel like I should stay late but really don’t want to (it’s a worthy project but I’m “not in the mood”-type thing).  At this point, in this job, I usually don’t have a good reason to refuse unless I have other plans.  I used to want to work OT, because I was paid for it, but since I’ve been put on salary, the eagerness to work late has completely disappeared.

The Inmate: Why do you feel like you have to have a “good reason?”  What is a “good reason?”

The Salt Miner: If I didn’t have previous plans (and I usually didn’t), I always felt like I couldn’t say no.  And for some reason, I was always surprised enough to be asked that I couldn’t lie my way out of it.  I’m not sure that I’d feel comfortable lying about not working on a weekend – but I seem to be singularly unable to just say “No, I can’t” and leave it at that.  I even worked on the day of the big company Christmas party – and I was pissed off the whole time.  My bosses seem to feel that if they can put in extra time at work, I should be able to also.  So, for me, a “good reason” would be one that is available and irrefutable.  If it’s my grandma’s big annual birthday bash or I’m planning to be out of town or something – that’s a “good reason.”  If I’m planning to sleep in until noon and watch old movies and bake bread – that’s not a good reason.

The Inmate:  I think that’s a fine reason.  What do you like or dislike about company correspondence from Upper management?

The Salt Miner: Most of the upper management correspondence is pretty laid-back, kind of a “Hey, buddy, let’s try things this way” approach.  However, the more anal types up there always proclaim things and enforce them in the manner of a plutocrat.  I don’t personally react well to that sort of thing.

The Inmate: Me either.  Is there anything that your company does that you find insulting or offensive?

The Salt Miner: For the most part, no.  However, I’ve never gotten over the fact that so many family members work here (all related to the CEO and holding high positions).

The Inmate: Has your company instituted any management systems such as TQM(Total Quality Management), HRM(Human resources management) or QWL(Quality Working Life)?

The Salt Miner: No, thank God.

The Inmate: What do you like about your company?

The Salt Miner: I like that most of the people here are young and easy to get along with. The President makes a big point of doing unusual things to appreciate the employees:  day at the races, huge company picnic and Christmas party, bonuses, employee appreciation day (everyone got a 10 minute massage).  I like the fact that the actual business itself is something useful, not some BS conjured up and sold for the heck of it.  Most of the employees know each other – a bit of a family atmosphere.

The Inmate:  Are you treated as a peer by your superiors?

The Salt Miner:  Depends on what I’m doing.  If I’m doing something they can’t do, then I’m treated as a life preserver.  If it’s run-of-the-mill stuff, then I’m treated as though it’s expected of me.  We’re all very kissy-face at non-work functions – a buss on the cheek to say hi even if we’ve all seen each other 2 hours earlier.  If I disagree with a superior, I can get explanations, but usually the attitude’s a bit supercilious.

The Inmate: Do the rules and regulations at your company make sense?  Can exceptions to them be made under certain circumstances?

The Salt Miner: A lot of the rules make sense, but we’ve been bought out twice in 12 months, and a lot of the rules that are overtaking us are big-corporate instead of our small-company attitude.  Those are for things like expense reports and payroll, and they often seem redundant and pointless. Exceptions can be made to some things, usually based on this company.  If the parent companies get involved, flexibility goes out the window.

The Inmate: Have you noticed any other changes since being bought out?

The Salt Miner: Well, our accounting department has gone through hell while trying to accommodate the billing cycles of us and our parent company.  They’re different, and the parent company refuses to change.  Also, paychecks and tax forms (and 401K’s) all had to be double and triple-checked because the changeover from being bought out screwed things up completely. Other than that, I’d say any changes are an increasingly stiff attitude towards flexibility.  We have a team that evaluates and prices new programs and ideas, and the person from the Salt Mine’s parent company who listens to these always (I’m not exaggerating here), always shoots down these ideas.  The only thing we can think of is that they don’t fit the mid-west corporate attitude of The Parents, or the ideas are too practical and make too much sense.  I subscribe to the Dogbert view of the corporate world that you’ll move higher in management if you haven’t a clue!

The Inmate: What would be your preference for bonuses or incentives: prizes, money, vacations, time off, gift -certificates?  Is there something else you would prefer?

The Salt Miner: Money works for me, but the things the boss thinks up are pretty nice too.  Incentives don’t work for me in my situation, because I’m one of the non-commission (therefore non-incentive-earning) employees.  Money’s especially good if it isn’t nailed with that 45% bonus tax.

The Inmate: Do you think the culture of your company and companies you have worked for has affected you?  If so, has it been good or bad?

The Salt Miner: Most definitely I’ve been affected!  My present company is still almost small enough to function without all the big-corporate attitudes.  But my last company, The Collective, was like that at first, then became unbearably “corporate.”  As The Collective grew, the rules became more restrictive, and even though we were hiring like crazy, the salaries were under market value, so morale plummeted and the employee turn-around jumped.  I became very discouraged about not getting a promotion, after working on the paperwork for it for 5 months, and had to apply for another job to coerce action from my own department head.  Also, the attitude of the CEO was extremely snobbish.  I heard quotes that he considered anyone under the rank of VP to be one of the “little people,” and he refused to make himself available to the underlings for questioning about any regulations.  I also went through some bad times where I was falsely accused of saying things that were reported to Human Resources without going up the chain of command.  The girl making the accusations was a temporary employee, and, in essence, controlled the emotional atmosphere of the work area where I was in charge.  After that, I lost any respect I’d had for our HR dept.  I’d have to say that the culture of The Collective was bad.  The Salt Mine is rather mixed.  It needs to adopt a more sophisticated culture in order to survive its growth spurt, but hasn’t raised the salaries of the employees who keep the engine running, so has problems adapting to changes issued by the new parent company because it’s constantly dealing with employee turnover.  I like The Salt Mine much more – working here has helped me gain confidence because the president is available, knows everyone’s name, and that attitude is reflected in the other departments.

The Inmate: Has your morale ever been really low because of work?

The Salt Miner: My morale has been so low that I was tempted to quit on the spot and walk out.

The Inmate:  What do you do when that happens?

The Salt Miner:  Depending on the situation, I’ve talked to someone in the chain of command about it, raged about it to everyone I knew, started checking the classifieds for want ads, or indulged in some serious escapism.

The Inmate:  What is “serious escapism?”

The Salt Miner: Well, at The Collective, I used to do a lot of manual work -stuffing envelopes, folding stuff, and there was nothing to do except talk with my coworkers, listen to the radio, or think/imagine.  Back in college, I used to work in the cafeteria, and while flipping burgers or folding burritos, I’d imagine going home to surprise my family.  At The Collective, I used to imagine going back to school to visit my friends, replay basketball games I played in, think up new endings for movies, etc.  Nothing malicious or harmful, but usually effective enough to make me feel that I wasn’t actually at work.  I still can’t believe I managed to put up with that sort of mind and body-numbing activity.  I do recall fantasizing heavily about screaming “Screw you, I quit” and walking out during a particularly nasty episode that turned personal.  At The Salt Mine, if any of us (women) is feeling particularly put-upon, we usually grab one of the other women (we’re way outnumbered by men in my department) and go for a quick 15 minute walk to vent and clear our heads before going back into work.  The fact that we can do this without repercussion is amazing, and I appreciate it.

The Inmate: When your bosses or the company you work for do something you do not agree with do you ever fight back in someway?  If you do is it covert or overt or both?

The Salt Miner: To be really specific about one situation:  I know it’s considered illegal by Human Resources departments to reveal anything other than dates of employment, but I told a friend at another company that the person she’d just hired had been fired for embezzlement at my company, then I defended myself to HR.  The person fired had pled guilty in court and been ordered to repay the money stolen.  Also, he was wanted in another state for the same thing.  Since he’d lied about being a convicted felon, I felt it only right to prevent the same thing from happening somewhere else.  I knew about the situation because of a memo that had been passed around my department, and though I wasn’t directly confronted by HR, my boss was.  She defended my actions because she was the one who had fired the employee.  I was warned, but not punished for telling “confidential” information (that the whole company gossiped about for weeks).  Sometimes the thing I don’t agree with works itself out over time.  Other times there is nothing I can do about it, so I stew a while, then do my best to ignore it.  Most of the time, if I fight back overtly, it’s by accident (said something to the wrong person, for instance).  Covertly, I may cover for someone if I believe what they are doing is not wrong.  Sometimes I do not agree with business ethics vs morals – they can definitely be two different things!  When I can, I may talk to a superior about it, but that doesn’t happen often.

The Inmate: What aspects of business ethics do you disagree with?

The Salt Miner:  Well, I used to disagree with the fact that HR departments refuse to tell other companies if they’d fired someone.  Now, I mostly just think it’s wrong if the employee was caught committing a crime.  If HR doesn’t let on that the person is a thief (or whatever), I think it’s morally wrong to let another company possibly get nailed the same way.  I have the feeling that business ethics and morals are in completely different classes nowadays.  And since I work with salespeople now, I find that some of them push the envelope a bit when offering our services to other companies.  Not that they threaten them but they push hard to make them feel like a loser if they don’t spend their money on our service.  I personally think what we sell at The Salt Mine is a good thing- but I don’t particularly care for salesmen.  I like most of the people I work with, but some of the them get a bit weasely sometimes.

The Inmate: Is your job intrinsically fulfilling?

The Salt Miner: Good lord, no!  At present, I’m bored.  Admin work is only fulfilling when I’m really busy, and the money’s rolling in (for the salespeople).  That’s all that gives me a measuring stick for my work, at this point.  I really like editing specialized proposals and working on formatting and form.  Content is still left up to the salesperson.  At my old job at The Collective, I really only got fulfillment from watching piles of paper come and go.  After I left, my greatest delight was in hearing how many people left or left-before-they-got-fired, especially in upper management.  I temped at a publishing company for 2 months, and the best part there was the compliments I got for being so detail-oriented and quick to edit.  I still live for praise from my co-workers, there’s not really any other reason to feel fulfilled from doing data entry and editing basic proposal templates.

The Inmate: If, basically, you do not like your job, why don’t you get another one?

The Salt Miner: I’ve been thinking about that for some time.  I think I have two answers.  First, I’m inherently lazy about making certain efforts for my future.  I hate going to interviews (they involve dressing up and being nervous – come to think of it, it’s like a first date).  I don’t mind looking in the paper and such, but to actually have to make the effort to send in the resume and think up different cover letters – and the whole reference thing is irritating.  I hated being made to think about college in 9th grade too.  The whole “it may affect my whole life” thing is a little scary, and I’m not the biggest risk taker in the world.  The second reason is because of the dang resume.  I took only classes related to my major in college, although I would have loved to expand my horizons a little.  But I was afraid of blowing my GPA by getting bad grades in Biology or something.  Now I realize that the only people who care about your GPA are the grad schools.  The job thing is the same way – if you don’t stay somewhere for a longish time, they think you’re too flighty.  At least, that’s the impression I’ve been given.  On the other hand, my dad just retired after 40 years of working for the same company, so it’s partly an impression from example.  I was always concerned that my resume should say that I have staying power.  I guess views have changed in recent years so it’s not such a bad thing to move around, although it’s supposed to be better if you’re a hotshot computer expert who can move at will for higher and higher paychecks.

The Inmate: What satisfaction do you derive from your job?

The Salt Miner: I’m always pleased to be able to do things no one else seems to be able to do, although it can feel like babysitting sometimes.  I get a lot of satisfaction from getting a lot of work done, or completing a huge, elephantine project.  Other than that, the most satisfaction is when 3:30 rolls around and I can go home.

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