Baffling Conversations: The Holiday High

Ah.. a nice summer evening with the family!
Ah.. a nice summer evening with the family!

I was really hoping not to post two “baffling conversations” consecutively, but with the recent holiday, this post really makes more sense to get out earlier. Also,now that I’ve started blogging about the ridiculousness of work around me, I’m finding the craziness and misalignment of values stands out more. Just this week, I can recall several. However, given that the workweek is five days long, I’ll just pick my favorite five:

1. a manager talking about how her kids eat breakfast in the car at 5:30 am when she drops them off at daycare. She brought this up to complain about the food that they spill.

2. an older engineer talking about a great new derivatives investment he just started using, but could not explain how it worked to his colleague in the locker room.

3. one of my better acquaintances telling me that my bike commuting made him sad – sad because of all the modern luxuries (like cars and AC) that I was wasting.

4. one of the corporate planners down the hall telling me how she had planned for this Saturday to be her off Saturday.

5. some friends posting a facebook picture with a fat stack of Benjamins (i.e. $10k), having just arrived for the weekend in Vegas. (Ok, I know this one is not an office conversation, but it’s so egregious, it makes me want to call a “flagrant” frugal foul.

So yes, there’s a ton of these to write about (and if any of the examples sound more interesting, let me know and I can post more description later). However, this week, I’m singling out office culture and…

Office Holidays

It’s summer again in “The States”, and that means long days, warm nights, and… holidays! Yep, summer is a wonderful time of year here in the northern hemisphere. Since starting work, I’ve learned the rhythm of the corporate holiday calendar, and I’ve learned to savor savor these holidays. That’s because once the calendar ticks over to a new year, I, and many office workers like myself, see no scheduled holidays for almost five continuous months. From New Year’s Day in January until Memorial Day in May, my calendar shows nothing but solid blocks of empty white work weeks. While some companies celebrate a Good Friday holiday in April, ours is among a growing number who have removed it under the guise of “cultural diversity”.

The reality of an office is that despite written HR policy about vacation allotment, flex time, and personal holidays, any day the office is open, you there will always be some expectation to login or check the work phone from wherever you are. A common theme among my coworkers is taking a week off then returning to the office with stories of spouses frustrated because the work laptop never really got put away. Hopefully this occurs because my fellow employees are totally excited and impassioned by their roles, energized to work around the clock because they love what they do. However, based on other comments, I’m certain that at some point, the motivation becomes driven by a sense of obligation, a sense of desperation to not fall behind peers and be seen as fully dedicated to the company. All of these factors: the stress, the long endurance game, the diminishing chance to unplug otherwise, means that when the offices do finally close for a day, when we do actually have an excuse to fully unplug, it’s important to make full psychological use of the time to unplug as much as possible.

This Summer

 

Sorry, rest of the world, for every time an American has asked if you have "4th of July"...
Sorry, rest of the world, for every time an American has asked if you have “4th of July”…

With the calendar entering the week of July, last weekend was just such a weekend: the US’s “Independence Day” or simply “Fourth of July”. In the 2015, the holiday feel on the calendar so that we actually got a three day weekend (sweet!). While my office shut down in remembrance of some liberal colonials, I took 72 hours to drink beer, side hustle, and enjoy some work/life balance.

Why yes, a picnic in the park with a bottle of single malt does sound like a good way to celebrate a day out of the office!
Why yes, a picnic in the park with a bottle of single malt does sound like a good way to celebrate!

Overall, I’d have to say my weekend was wonderful. Up until Sunday evening, when I started to pack my lunch and prep my bike for Monday’s work commute, I didn’t think about work at all. As a benefit of approaching FI, I found that I was even less anxious about ignoring email over the long weekend.

Day 1

My first day back started as usual: I raced to catch up on my inbox, I started preparing all the reports for management so that they could catch up on my projects’ weekend progress, and (to help me in the forced-rank) quickly tried to push aside the busy-work make fresh progress said projects. All-in-all, Monday started about as frantically as usual.

However, as the day progressed, I started to realize something. Despite the pace, I found myself feeling more relaxed, more focused, and more productive. I found myself less overwhelmed, and just a little more impervious to the chaos around me. In short, I was still living in a bit of the vacation afterglow. As afternoon approached, I actually found myself surprised at my own productivity. I had managed progress on a few projects I had been stuck on for weeks. Despite this progress, I still found myself staying late. However, I found myself less frustrated about the unexpected fires which forced me to stay, less frustrated about my manager barking out “mission critical” orders and his own apathy toward anything beyond the need to get results. Overall, regardless of the actual events of the day, my shiny perception made it one of my happiest and best work days in months!

Day 2

Tuesday arrived and still the gratifying feeling of Monday and lingering shine of vacation floated me through the turnstile and up the elevator. Due to the phenomenon that more-higher-managers are more-higher-demanding, I try to keep a low-profile and avoid these interactions as much as possible. Nevertheless, all of Monday’s reports must get rolled out first-thing Tuesday at our weekly director’s review. However, this week, even the unpleasant, tense awkwardness of meeting with my sociopathic director was no match for my positive outlook. With my steamrolling productivity and positivity, the day went by like a blur. I even had time to take a real lunch break and go for a lunch run for the first time in almost a month. I could start to feel the office ramp back up and the vacation shine start to wear off most of my colleagues, but even so, I retained my bubble amidst the growing stress around me.

Another Baffling Office Conversation … with Management

Again, on my second day, I wasn’t even bothered when I started to head for the door and saw an email from my manager asking me to stop by. As we finished discussing the project, I took advantage of the timing (time when I should have been heading home,) to show my dedication and positive attitude by maintaining a brief follow-up chat on other projects. As we lightly chatted, the other manager on our asset stopped by, and our conversation shifted toward more general items including the recent holiday. I took the opportunity to mention how nice it was to get a long weekend to recharge and improve my productivity and focus. I expected them to agree and share some of the recent memories made with their families (they both recently had children). At first the other asset manager agreed but then said something weird:

“Yeah, when I got in after the weekend, I was feeling really great. Even when the emergencies started pouring in, I said, ‘No, I have to hold on to this feeling.’ Well, that lasted all the way until 11 am.”

My manager then chimed in, “Seriously, I knew it was over by 9 am Monday. What day is today, Thursday? I feel like I’ve been railroaded straight through an entire week already.”

My manager meant it proudly, as a demonstration of how integral and dedicated he is to the company. I know (based on emails, coworkers, etc.) that he regularly stays past 10pm, and I’ve never beat him into the office (I usually arrive around 6:30), so I am continuously amazed by his tremendous level of drive. I know he gets great sense of purpose from doing his job, but I also can’t help but feel pity for his wife and one-month-old son. I’m sure many managers validate the stress by claiming, “that’s why they pay me the big bucks,’ but frankly, I was completely surprised by both managers’ responses. In the mindset I held when entering my manager’s office (light, happy, productive), I couldn’t imagine subjecting myself to such a level of grind and productivity-eroding stress, when I know that I have a choice. Not wanting to illicit any further awkwardness by revealing that I might not share quite the same value set for my life, I quickly eased myself from the conversation and made a beeline for the elevator home. Along with being baffled, my office exchange was a stark reminder of how you can have anything you prioritize but not everything in today’s modern world of luxury, and again, how the choice really comes down to your money or your life (from the author herself).

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