Apparently I’m Not a Normal Employee

I had a good discussion with my manager at work recently during my mid-year review.  It seems my views are different from most of his employees.  I’m not a “normal” employee.  Is anyone here surprised by that?

Much of my current view of the corporate work environment has been shaped by experience with a previous company.  That company opened my eyes to the workings of the typical corporation when they began laying off massive amounts of staff.  I made it through the first several cuts, but by the time round four of the layoffs came around, I was shown the door and my eyes were opened.

I like to equate the opening of my eyes to the removing of my corporate lenses.  I think we wear many lenses in life and these lenses shape the way we see things.  It’s like putting on rose colored glasses to see everything rosy.  If you wear your corporate employee lenses you see things from an employee’s perspective.

Much of that vision is shaped by the company you work for.  Two of the recent companies I worked for cheered the work/life balance mantra.  Yet in reality, most of our lives are still leaning towards the work side of that equation.  With the lenses on you see that you get a couple more vacation days than the average worker… Remove the lenses and you see that they want you to work more hours than the average worker, with the result being that the extra days of vacation don’t typically make up for all the extra hours you work.

Another common corporate lens (not discussed in our meeting, but is one that drives me batty) is the Go-Green lens.  Most companies want to make you think they are doing good things for the environment.  Remove your corporate employee lenses and you will see that most companies only do this to save money.  Going green is often equated to power or resource savings which creates more wealth for the company.  When is the last time you saw a company actually spend money to Go Green?

The big one that got my managers attention was when I said the company’s main focus was on profit and that when profit and the needs of employees clash, employees always lose.  (I didn’t word it exactly like that, but that’s essentially what I said in the context of a longer conversation.)  If that were not the case then companies would never lay off workers, instead they would find other ways to keep their employees.

The truth is, a corporation (as an entity) does not feel.  The people within the company have feelings and emotions, but those don’t play a part in the decisions related to the profitability of the company, thus the corporation does not feel.  When it comes to decisions related to the success and profitability of the company, employees are simply a resource to generate money.  And, as a resource we are expendable when corporate profit is threatened.  It’s a cold hard truth that many of us ignore (because we wear the lenses of corporate employees.)

I went on to say how it’s nearly impossible for me to move from a level 3 position to a level 4 position within our company.  This is widely known among employees of our company, but it’s rarely talked about openly with management.  It would take a huge change in the scope of my work and likely require many hours of unpaid overtime.  He tried to tell me that people do get promoted, but when I pressed him to share some examples of level 3 to 4 positions he could not.  He could only think of level 1 and 2 promotions and could not give me a single example of a level 3 to 4 promotion.  This is the unfiltered reality of the company we work for.

I told him that given the lack of potential for promotion and the fact that I’m nearly at the salary cap for a level 3 employee, there was no incentive for me to improve performance.  (As a side note, I do place personal value in performing well and as such perform slightly above average, so what I’m talking about here is improving to somewhere between above average and super star.  Also, although the conversation was different than a typical mid-year employee review, it was very civil and polite.)

I’m not the only one that has removed the lenses of the corporate employee to begin viewing things as they really are.  Many people like this end up going into business for themselves after they’ve removed their corporate employee lenses.  I was unprepared to go that route at the time of my layoff, and instead chose to re-enter the corporate world with my eyes wide open. I am always looking for opportunities for self-employment and would love to go that route if I can find something profitable.

I now work so that I can have money to do the things I enjoy.  Family and personal life are always the priority.  I am not dedicated to my employer and I owe them nothing.  I provide a service and they pay me for my service, end of story.

My manager seemed a little shaken by my openness and honesty, and wasn’t quite sure how to handle it.  Thinking back on it now, the whole discussion started when he gave me some negative reviews but could not produce a single tangible example of negative performance.  One of the items was “sense of urgency.”

I flat out told him that I had heard this before at a prior job and it’s not something I’m willing to put effort in to change.  I have a very laid back style and this is a core component of my personality.  Additionally the “urgency” that most people look for is a false sense of urgency.  They want everyone to do things for them immediately without any consideration for other projects or tasks that may be more important.  I prioritize, and things that are truly urgent get done right away.  Everything else slides into my schedule.

Sense of urgency is one of the reasons people are so stressed out at work.  They rush and rush to get things done, only to find out later that something changed or that it wasn’t really that urgent to begin with.  Or they work long hours day after day, and find that they still have a pile of work to do.

Wouldn’t it be better to put in a full day’s work, tackle items in order of priority, and head home at quitting time?  Whatever doesn’t get done today will get done tomorrow.  That would be truer to the mantra of work life balance

Of course there are times when we need a sense of urgency, and need to work late or put in some extra effort.  But those times are not nearly as often as management and co-workers would like us to think.

It was after I told him I wasn’t willing to change my sense of urgency that he told me I wasn’t like other employees.  I said, “You’re right, I don’t think like a lot of people.”  “I sold my house to rent an apartment, I changed my last name because I didn’t like it, and I bike to work.  I definitely don’t think like other people.”

He started backtracking, saying all those things are fine.  He was on the defensive at this point and was ready to get me out of the room.  He looked at the clock and said the hour was up and he had another meeting to get to.  He said we had an interesting conversation and he’d like to pick it up later, but I don’t think he really wants to continue the conversation.

My manager is one of the by-the-book corporate types and my thinking is a danger to his comfort zone.  Oh well, I headed back to my desk with my head swirling about all the silly Dilbert-like things that go on in offices.  I shared a little of the conversation with my coworkers and we all had a good laugh.

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  1. says

    Nicely done Freedom!! This is why I have been self-employed since I “retired” at the age of 32, twenty years ago :) I realized early on – I’ve been working since I was 11 – that I would never “fit in” with corporate culture, no matter the shirt collar (white, blue…) and even though there were times when I was happy to have a job, I still fought it every step of the way. When I decided that I had had enough, I found my calling as it were, which turned out to be, work a bunch of small, varied stress-free type jobs that allowed me plenty of free time to live my life the way I saw fit! Which is why I make a living teaching and playing guitar, doing computer repair, web-designing and working the sound at a local Comedy Club at least once a week.

    I won’t say that it has been easy, but at the end of the day, I am my own boss and I’ve been quite successful. This might not gel with another persons perception of success, but that’s ok ’cause I measure success differently than most. And if I ever had to work another 9 to 5, I ‘d probably get fired for trying to get everyone to quit and work on their own! I think we’re on the same page :)

    Take care and thanks for sharing! My best to all.

    Lyle @ The Joy of Simple´s last blog post ..Small Apartment Living In Montreal

  2. says

    I am so glad to have found your blog and am thoroughly enjoying it!

    I too work in corporate America and have actually been with the same company for over 20 years! During that time, however, we have been bought out three times and I have watched my local offices go from over 1,500 people to less than 100. Can you believe I am still here? At this point I am here for the paycheck, benefits, flexibility, and the severance package that will give me about half a year’s pay when, not if, I am let go. When I started with this company 20+ years ago, they were loyal to their employees and the employees were extremely loyal to the company. That relationship has changed drastically over the years and we all realize we are just a number and very expendable. The joke around here is that we all know we have an end date, we just don’t know what it is yet.

    I do my job and do it well, but also only work a 40 hour week and do not let my personal/family life suffer because of my job.
    Vada´s last blog post ..Why I am Vegan

  3. says

    Been thinking about this one. I have had to do these reviews in the past and been on the receiving end of them myself. On the whole, they are an almighty waste of time. Lots of form filling and box ticking. One thing to have an informal chat with an employee and find out if they have problems etc. but another to do these reviews that really help no-one, especially if one is in a position that is not going to result in promotion. So often it is an excuse for vague scare mongering (like your manager, although when challenged he could give no concrete examples). It is meant to make you feel uneasy, as though you might not be safe in your job. I think the only way of combatting this attitude is to do the best job you can (as you do) and have a safety net of savings to fall back on so that if it gets too bad you can stick a (metaphorical) finger in the air and walk off into the sunset! I did this once – very satisfactory! Why good employees are not valued I will never know. Shortsighted, stupid and a waste of good, mostly well disposed, and hard working people. I had the good fortune to be self employed for the last few years of my working life and I cannot tell you what a relief it was to be free of the endless office politics, gossip, having to take waste of time statutory courses etc. And this was a good outfit to work for on the whole! I just got my head down, did the work, charged by the hour and went out and enjoyed myself when finished. And that is how my early working life was by and large. Not sure when this attitude started to creep into the workplace but it is not good.

  4. carolyn field says

    I love this blog! Unfortunately this corporate culture has begun seeping into my job as a teacher and this summer after teaching for 24 years I am taking a prolonged break(!). I am laying awake at night wondering what I’m going to do now, but just feel an enormous sense of relief that I’ve escaped.

  5. says

    I much prefer being my own boss (sort of) with the kind of teaching and tutoring I do although I am not the main bread winner at our house. Do you think your boss will question your ability to do your job well?

  6. Joanna says


    I think many people are too terrified of losing their job if too honest in those gawdawful performance reviews. You struck the right balance between respectful disagreement and enforcing your boundaries. Did you ever think your decision to start decluttering your home would end up with you having that kind of conversation with a boss? *rockon*

    My financial goal is to have enough saved that I can walk out of an unsatisfying job without fear or reservation. That I can work because I like my job and feel it serves a greater purpose in my life and the lives of others. I already have a job that fits that description, but I would love to have the money not to *need* a job. KWIM?

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