Writing about how much I used to hate Halloween-in-the-workplace recently got me thinking about all of the other things I used to hate about working in an office.
Actually, scratch that: “hate” is probably too strong a word, isn’t it? (Answer: nope, not for me – I genuinely hated office work, but I know there are tons of people out there who love it, and who thrive in the office environment, and I don’t want to offend any of them, so…) Let’s just go with “things I don’t miss,” instead. Because that sounds WAY more reasonable, right?
Here’s a random list of things I don’t miss about working in an office…
Other people’s birthdays.
Because, let’s face it: other people’s birthdays just aren’t that exciting, are they? (Unless they provide an excuse to leave work early and drink champagne, obviously: THOSE kind of birthdays I can totally get on board with…) Especially when it’s that one colleague who starts counting down to her “special day” three months before it, and then just won’t stop talking about her “birthday week”, as if she’s the only person in the world who ever had a birthday. Because there’s only so many times you can say, “Sorry, how many days to go now? Oh, one day less than the last time you talked about it? Fascinating.” before you want to staple your head to the desk in frustration, isn’t there?
There’s only one thing worse than having to listen to people obsess over their birthdays, though, and that’s…
Being the person who has to organise other people’s birthdays.
I was ALWAYS that person. The one who has to drop everything to roam endlessly around the office, asking people to contribute to the birthday gift of Eileen in accounts, who most people have never met, but whose “special day” must be celebrated anyway. The one who has to remember who put money in and who didn’t, and to chase up the ones who said they’d contribute but mysteriously keep “forgetting” their wallet. The one who has to spend their lunch hour buying a gift for someone they don’t really know, and then wander round the office again, getting everyone to sign the card. The one who knows that next week she’ll be repeating this process, only this time it’ll be a housewarming gift for Tim in I.T., or a ‘Get Well Soon’ card for Alison-from-reception’s goldfish. And so it goes on…
(You’re starting to understand why I was never popular at work now, aren’t you? It gets worse, though…)
God, I HATED Secret Santa. I mean, I find gift-buying pretty stressful even when it’s someone I know really well, let alone when it’s someone I’ve spoken to at the photocopier twice, you know? And I could guarantee I would ALWAYS get the name of someone whose identity had to be explained to me. Every. Single. Time. So every year, when Christmas rolled around, and someone said, “I know! Let’s each spend £20 on a gift for a colleague we barely know!” I always had to resist saying, “OR we could all just spend £20 on OURSELVES? That way we all get something we actually want, and no one has to spend their lunch hour in Boots, looking at gift sets the person they’re shopping for will probably be allergic to?”
And I still think that’s a better idea.
Constantly being asked to sponsor people.
Working in an office can be pretty expensive, huh? Quite apart from all of the birthday gifts, Secret Santas and whatever else someone would randomly decide to do a collection for, I found I was constantly being asked to sponsor people for various stuff.
Look, I can see you over there rolling your eyes and thinking how horribly mean I am, and honestly, I … well, I AM horribly mean, actually, but I DO happily give money to charity, and I think it’s great that people want to raise money for the causes they believe in. No, really. It’s just… does it have to be every second day? Because I’ve already given money for Eileen’s birthday, Tim’s housewarming gift, and Mr Fin’s ‘Get Well Soon’ card, and I still have to go to Boots and buy some bubble bath for Arthur the security guard’s Christmas gift. And now you want me to sponsor you to walk from here to the coffee machine? Speaking of which…
The coffee run.
We didn’t actually have a coffee machine in the last place I worked: just a plain old kettle, and fifteen jars of instant coffee. (We all had to supply our own. Woe betide anyone who took a spoonful of coffee from someone else’s jar! ) Now, I’m something of a coffee addict, so I get through a lot of the stuff, but it’s rude to just make a drink for yourself, obviously, so every time I wanted a coffee, I’d have to go around taking everyone’s orders, and then spend the next thirty minutes in the kitchen trying to remember who wanted milk AND sugar, who wanted milk with NO sugar, who wanted sugar with no milk, and who it was who asked for three-and-a-quarter sweeteners, plus milk drawn by hand from a baby goat. Nightmare.
Of course, the upside of this was that it got me away from my desk for a while AND I got to drink more coffee while I waited for the kettle to boil for the second time, so silver linings people, silver linings…
Maybe I’ve just been unlucky, but every single office I’ve ever worked in has had only two possible temperatures:
a) Hotter than the surface of the sun.
b) Was that my nose that just dropped off from the cold?
I can’t tell you how happy I was when I started working from home and could control my own temperature. Well, I COULD, but this post is already long enough, so I won’t. You’re welcome.
And then meetings-about-the-meetings. Then meetings-to-recap-the-meeting-about-the-meeting. Then meetings about the… I’ll stop now. I just wish I could have stopped back THEN, seriously.
I touched on this in my Halloween post, but one of the offices I worked in was constantly having theme days, in a bid to “motivate” us. The funny thing was, wearing a ‘hilarious’ witches’ hat for Halloween, say, didn’t actually “motivate” me at all: I was my usual grumpy self, except now I had a stupid hat to prove it. I once had a stand-up argument with a boss who tried to insist that I go out and buy a red sweater to help “motivate” myself on some red-themed holiday she had in mind: I said they weren’t paying me enough to buy clothes I’d only wear for that one day, but I was really just thinking about how horribly it would clash with my hair…
You know when you have to log how much time you spend on each project, so you can bill the client/department for the appropriate amount of time? You’re supposed to just more-or-less make those up, right? Right? Oh GOD…
From all of this, you’ll have gathered that I am Not a Team Player. It’s how I used to introduce myself in those “let’s go around the circle and everyone can introduce themselves” things: “Hi, I’m Amber, and I’m Not a Team Player! Please don’t make me do role-play, or I will literally die!”
And they ALWAYS made me do role-play. And I literally died. I’m dead now. And it’s all because of those terrible team-building days I used to be sent on every few weeks, in a bid to teach me about “blue sky thinking” or whatever other buzzwords they’d managed to come up with to torture us all with…
I realise I’ve made myself sound like that person in the office that everyone secretly hates, because they’re always complaining about the team-building, and the Ugly Sweater days, and the fact that they spend more money AT work than they make FROM work. That’s because I WAS that person: no point in denying it. I did, however – and this WILL surprise you – make a few good friends during my office days, and some of them even still speak to me and everything. There was a lot I disliked about office work, but I DID mostly like the people… I just didn’t want to see them outside work all the time.
I mean, every so often was fine. The office Christmas party was a blast, and meeting up for the occasional drink or whatever? No problem, count me in. But when it got to the point where every single weekend there’d be yet another work social event arranged, to the point that I was spending more time with my colleagues than I was with my fiancée? Nuh-uh.
That’s when it hit me that office work was not for me: and OK, it took me a few more years to actually do something about it, but now here I am, and no one’s asked me to sponsor them for… well, since the last time I looked at Facebook, basically. So working from home isn’t THAT different in some respects. Ah.
Still, it might not be perfect, but working from home basically saved my sanity, which is something I like to remind myself of on weeks like this one, when I’ve been stressing out over various things, and feeling like I’ll NEVER catch up with all of the things on my ‘To Do’ list. So this post is mostly for me, really… but it’s also for anyone else who’s ever worked in an office and who wants to let off a bit of steam about those petty little things that can get on your last nerve.