Monday, April 28, 2008

Humor Me: Surviving cubicle life

By MATT WIXON

Congratulations on landing your dream job. You'll tackle new challenges, pursue higher goals and cash a check big enough to make super-sizing your value meal a no-brainer. Make sure to focus on that your first day, when you get locked in a stairwell looking for the restroom.

The second day will be better. But the first day is like transferring to a new school, where the other children stare, nobody sits with you at lunch and you get stuffed in a trash can during recess. Thank goodness that won't happen at work. The people are more mature and the trash cans are way too small.

More important, unprofessional behavior is prohibited by most companies. You would know that had you read your employee manual instead of using it as a coaster on your coffee table.

But don't feel bad. Most people don't read their employee manuals, which rarely reach the literary heights of the instruction booklet to George Foreman's Lean Mean Grilling Machine. And while employee manuals are valuable, they're not survival guides.

So here is an office-life survival guide, with tips never found in
an employee manual:

Cubicle etiquette

The easiest way to create an efficient work space is to locate it in a large corner office with an inspirational view of the city and a door that locks. Of course, if people refer to you not as "The Boss" but as "Employee 4725A-2TI," this might not be possible.

In that case, you probably work in a cubicle. And in that case, you need to remember that cubicles offer as much privacy as a thong bikini. That's because cubicle walls absorb almost no sound, especially when they are plastered with Post-it Notes, calendars and a picture of a kitten hanging from a tree with the inspirational phrase, "Hang in there!"

The result: Sound travels through cubicles even faster than a stolen stapler. So avoid having confidential discussions or making personal phone calls in your cubicle. And if you listen to music, keep the volume low as a courtesy to fellow employees who want to work in silence or are trying to eavesdrop on conversations in surrounding cubicles.

Relating to co-workers

Getting along with fellow employees can be easy if you are friendly, courteous and show respect for your co-workers. Every employee must play a part in creating a cubicle community full of good neighbors who help one another and support the vast differences in employee work styles.

Be sure to remember that when your cubicle neighbor uses his speakerphone to have conversations that include the phrases "the naughty one with the tassels" or "searching for a colon polyp."

Obviously, patience is important. Loud arguments with co-workers, especially ones where personal insults, foul language and office furniture are thrown around, might lead your boss to brand you as "confrontational." A fight could also sever a relationship with a co-worker who might help advance your career in the future.

Every employee is bound to annoy another at some point. The key is to accept, and even embrace, the idiosyncrasies of your co-workers.

For the guy who forwards you a link to every Web site he thinks is funny, try to appreciate his sense of humor. For the co-worker who can talk for an hour about a cat, a ball of string and a pair of broken glasses, admire his or her endurance. For the co-worker with the collection of Star Wars figurines on his desk, reject impulses to topple Obi-Wan Kenobi with an urgent memo.

Memos and meetings

Ah yes, memos. They now come mainly in e-mail form, but they remain the primary communication medium of the modern workplace. Unfortunately, the deluge of memos -- Re: timecards are due, Re: changes to company 401k, Re: lost pair of sunglasses in the bathroom -- can be overwhelming.

But even the most cynical office workers should appreciate the importance of memos. Memos keep employees informed, keep employees on their toes, and when printed out, can keep employees warm in the chilly areas of the office. If you literally bury yourself in paperwork, you'll stay warm while showing your willingness to take on heavy workloads.

It's also essential to bring a few memos to meetings. They might have nothing to do with the meeting, but the memos show that you are serious about your work. They also provide something to doodle on when meetings drag, and that is inevitable.

Then again, who doesn't get fired up for a meeting on how to write
effective memos?

Post-it Notes, squeaky shoes and Brut by Faberge

Another tip for employees hoping to succeed is to never use company-owned office products for personal use.

Sure, it might seem harmless to take home a pack of Post-it Notes or a couple of highlighters. But why risk all the hard work you've put in, as well as an honorable reputation, just so you can make 100 free copies of a flier for your garage sale? It simply cannot be justified -- unless you have confirmation that the boss and the office manager are gone for the day, as well as a minimum of two trustworthy lookouts. After all, you want to be known in the office as a dedicated worker, not a petty thief.

Likewise, you want to be known as an employee with common sense, not an uncommon scent. So go easy on the Chanel No. 5 or Armani for men.

Colognes and perfumes often irritate people with allergies. Almost as important, a distinctive scent allows the boss to track you in the office. "How many times has the Drakkar Noir guy gone to the vending machine today?" he might wonder. "How long was Ms. Lady Stetson chatting at the copy machine? Why is the scent of Jovan Musk so strong every day at the office-supplies cabinet?"

For the same reason, don't wear squeaky shoes to work. You might as
well wear a cowbell around your neck.

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