I want to shove everyone’s blackberry up their arse. I have resisted calls to advance to the management ranks owing to my dread of having to wield Satan’s Anvil around my soul after hours. Throughout my career I’ve held positions where an expectation of the job was succumbing to my master’s desire to affix that mobile noose around my neck – thus agreeing to be at their disposal whenever they chose.
Kids? Family? Priorities outside the office? All are subsumed beneath the pledge to put work omnis prius, thanks to the Blackberry. For employees of an organization below the senior executive ranks, it is a completely insidious level of commitment to expect. I have always hated it, and I always will. Yet, because everyone, from low to mid-level managers to line employees is so keen to make this kind of commitment, the rest of us must follow suit, lest we be labelled as “not a team player” – another insidious ploy to weaken the will of the white collar workforce to impose reasonable boundaries on work intrusions into their personal lives.
Inevitably, whenever I have been fool enough to agree to a position that requires me to carry my master’s 21st Century Pavlovian Bell, it only takes a few weeks until I end up regretting it with every ounce of my being. The last straw usually comes in the late evening hours in the form of a snide e-mail; a “did you get my message” text or a witless jab suggesting I am “impossible” to reach. Au contraire, I am not impossible to reach at all, my dear workaholic friend. No, what has happened is I have decided that, since I opened my first e-mail at five thirty this morning and have been responding to e-mails without a break until eight thirty in the evening, the remaining two hours of my day will be mine and mine alone, not yours.
In other words, the wicket is closed. If you have a problem with that, start paying me for all the hours I make myself available without being compensated. I do not think it is unreasonable for an extremely well-educated, highly-skilled, competent, accomplished professional such as I am to draw the line at subsidizing my employer with five free hours of labour a day.
A blackberry is an obvious productivity winner in the right hands. And there’s the rub, isn’t it? People use these devices like they’re a thirteen year old who ate seventeen bowls of smarties. This is especially acute after hours. I often have to tell my fellow blackberry users that the purpose of this thing is to reach me WHEN I AM NOT AVAILABLE DURING NORMAL OFFICE HOURS AND THERE IS AN URGENT NEED TO REACH ME. That’s it. I do not agree the reason for a blackberry is to slither in a few hours’ worth of extra tasks to employees when they’re not at work. Sadly, I am a rare bird in this department.
Anyone who is an underling in a large, hierarchical organization has had their soul crushed under the stampede of elephantine stupidity that afflicts certain people with a blackberry in their hands. For example, a Director where I work, let’s call him Stu, takes his blackberry into the bathroom with him Wednesday evening. There, he gets an e-mail from Joe who says “Hey, did you know that such-and-such is on the agenda for the meeting of the Big Cheeses next Monday?”
After a panicked squeeze of his anal sphincter, Stu responds “We’re on it.” He resolutely flushes the toilet, as if he’s about to storm the ramparts on D-Day, and sends a frantic e-mail to my Manager saying, “Get your minion edmund to get me that that thing by Friday, cuz he writes good and knows stuff. Priority.”
I get to the office Thursday morning, open my e-mail and see the message from my Manager. “Can you do this thing by Friday morning?”
I roll my eyes when I see the times the e-mail exchanges below hers took place. Relieved, I know I can do the thing in a couple hours without imposing too much on other deadlines. It will be tight. It is always tight. I’ll probably have to work an extra hour today because that is now three things due on Friday instead of just two. If I’m lucky I will steal back half hour tomorrow afternoon when things are handed in. I know I am being foolish to believe some Director at HQ won’t be sitting on the toilet tonight delegating urgent tasks that will land on my desk tomorrow morning; that will be so urgent as to necessitate working into Friday evening. I keep my fingers crossed and hope for the best.
For me, the issue is never whether I can do the work. I never get the anxiety of “Oh my god, I am in above my head.” Sadly, I rarely feel outflanked by the work I am assigned. The issue for me is always the unreasonableness of the request; my plantation owners always want an in-depth report in hand the day after they realized they “needed” it. Based on past experience, the need to have the report done under such tight deadlines was totally unnecessary as the “hotness” of the issue always fizzled out and the “need” for the report, if it actually remained, became non-urgent.
Most of those who make these ill-considered, in the heat-of-the-moment requests have very little idea of the effort involved in compiling the reports for which they are constantly asking. Many of them have spent too many of their recent years pseudo-writing on blackberries; time that dramatically whittled away their literacy. If they ever were familiar with it, they have since forgotten the mental energy and effort that goes into writing edifying, coherent reports. Most never had the experience writing long-form reports for inexpert end-users, a fact that makes them ravenous consumers and requesters of such products.
Like an obedient, intelligent slave, I say “Yes, Mem’sahib, I’ll get that report done along with the other ten urgent things on my plate.” I get back to my cubicle, poised for hours of frenzied tapping on my keyboard.
It turns out that, amidst the thirty-six conversations Joe was having between dinner, his nightly bowel movement, and Late Night talk shows, he mysteriously got confused about the thing the Big Cheeses were going to talk about. The thing was actually needed sooner than expected. My boss stopped me as I was about to break for breakfast and said that thing wasn’t due Friday, it was due in two hours.
“Say what now massa?” I said, stopping in the middle of joyfully humming gospel tunes as I was loosening the chains on my ankles.
“Stu got confused and Joe needs it by noon today. Is that going to be a problem, boy?”
She didn’t say ‘boy’ but she may as well have. Nobody gave a flying fig about whether the request was a problem for me. In a toxic, blackberry-addicted culture everyone’s got problems, except for those of us unlucky enough to be subordinate in the corporate food chain, those seniors’ problems all become our problems. Interesting. I thought being paid double what underlings make and having decision-making authority meant a willingness to assume more responsibility.
Nope, not where I work. Where I work, a promotion means more pay, first-dibs on all operational travel, especially to cushy meetings in interesting locations, and a pool of subordinates to whom one’s responsibilities can be shifted. If the work of subordinates is praiseworthy, seniors can take the credit and use the “deliverable” their subordinates delivered as justification for their next promotion.
Quite clearly, this is a crass, insidious state of affairs. Where I work, it is the norm. That might explain why the place I work has had three Presidents in the last five years, has attrition rates that are skyrocketing, and boasts the worst employee satisfaction ratings in the entire public service by a wide margin. It is more toxic than the fucking meadows of Chernobyl. Misuse, mismanagement, and abuse of Blackberries has been a significant factor in precipitating the toxic meltdown.
“YES IT IS GOING TO BE A FUCKING PROBLEM! I NEED THE NUMBERS FROM FINANCE BEFORE I CAN EVEN START!” I said, among other things that would leave a long-haul trucker beaming with pride. It was a volcanic eruption that singed everyone in the vicinity and burned my boss to a crisp. I dressed her in gauze and sent her to the local burn unit for treatment.
I am usually fairly Zen in the office. I’m the guy who meditates; who does yoga; who doesn’t let work get under his skin. There isn’t a mantra in the world to restrain my warrior spirit when high-ranking people thoughtlessly stir up panic because they’re in the throes of a wicked blackberry overdose. When they’re tripping out, they mete out unclear, aimless tasks in the heat of the moment, using brusque language and terse tone; passive aggressively instilling urgency among underlings. This, they believe, is how they’ll get what they want, when they want it.
When it hits my inbox it just looks like someone believes my life is at his beck and call. We both know his grasp of the thing he is paid to be in command of is far more shallow than mine, so a part of me desires to go Shaolin Temple on his ego. Nobody owns my black ass, especially when folks higher up need it to cover up the fact they have assumed a position that is well beyond their depth of knowledge and skill. That is fine as long as everyone is in tacit agreement about how me helping legions of superiors is going to help me. A pat on the back or a “Thanks!” e-mail do not pay down my mortgage, you know what I mean?
Deep-down I hope Stu, Joe, and others like him are not intentionally trying to be assholes. But they are being assholes, even if they are unaware. I suspect they honestly believe everyone attaches the same degree of urgency as they do to the random thoughts popping up in their mind when they’re sitting on the porcelain throne. They fail to consider how easily an issue might seem to be “hot button” while in the vulnerable position of having their pants around their ankles and their hides laid bare. They should stop reacting to that initial feeling of fear and allow a little time for wisdom to intervene before tapping on the Blackberry “send” button. With time and wisdom, work issues that seem “urgent” while the anal sphincter is in full spasm take on an appearance identical to the other, very real thing emerging in the same spastic moment. Both can be dispensed with in a way befitting of excrement: with a flush.
Alas, I am well aware the sub-text of this affected busy-ness. When people aren’t at the office, leering at their blackberry provides a legitimate escape from the perils of domesticity. At home or in the grocery store, corporate big-wigs are just Regular Joes to their friends, family, and disgruntled wage slaves who bag their groceries without an iota of awe for their rank at the office. Without people to boss around or sycophants to kiss their rings, they feel unimportant, taken for granted, and ineffectual. So out comes the blackberry and within moments of opening the first e-mail the feeling of indispensability to their organization is just the fix of power their ego craved.
“Ahhh, I’ve given a directive to an underling. I AM, quite literally, a ‘Director’, after all! What would they do without me?” the ego exclaims.
I cannot necessarily blame the Stus and Joes of this world for needlessly escalating issues left, right, and centre. I blame blackberry for making it so damn easy for users to withhold their faculty of judgement when ascribing priority to issues. It’s so easy to just “forward” things without a lick of thought, especially for seniors in an organization.
In this way, a blackberry transforms a trickle of pithy, pointless, uninformed exchanges into a cascading wave of collective anxiety. From there it continues rolling down the corporate hierarchy where it gains steam as it hits the inboxes of middle managers and their underlings – those disempowered from applying judgement about the priority-level of a task. Now, it is a flash flood destroying all the unlucky bastard underlings caught in its path. Each successive e-mail elicits a new passing comment, which is sent to a larger and larger distribution list as it cascades downward. It all fuels the fury.
The exponential growth of the distribution list creates a frenzy; recipients are treated to a flurry of pins in their eyes as they open each successive e-mail. The investment of time and ego into the exchanges renders everyone blind as they throw a well-heeled operation into the inferno ignited by the tinder of mediocrity and the spark of thumbs compelled to type something – anything – into the blackberry they have been entrusted to carry and utilize, even while providing comfort to their seven year old daughter undergoing chemo treatment.
The ubiquity of this phenomenon suggests there are too many senior managers incapable of effectively vetting the countless issues hitting their desk. The resort to delegating all those after-hours e-mails without thinking any of them through is a failure to take full responsibility of their role as arbiters of organizational priorities. In the aggregate, such behaviour becomes a budgetary drain. Nobody – taxpayers, shareholders, or stakeholders – should tolerate this management style because it ignores the mandate to utilize an organization’s finite resources effectively, for purposeful ends that clearly fulfill its objectives.
Where I work, too many high-ranking people with blackberries are oblivious to an obvious fact of human nature arising from the asymmetry in pay and level between they and their underlings. Their behaviour suggests that, because they tethered themselves to a little computer that delivers them so many problems at inopportune times, those of us below must deal with the consequences. On this point, their emotions get the better of their common sense. No executive should wish to demonstrate how out of their depth they are by delegating to underlings issues they should easily dispense with – or de-prioritize with a single comment, “this is not urgent, we have higher priorities and will deal with this as a routine matter.”
The act of immediately delegating everything downward by pressing “forward” on their blackberry, they signal how ill-equipped, unwilling, or afraid they are to say, “this is a non-issue, and the buck stops here.” In either case, it is a significant cultural problem and a significant indicator of an organization in a state of serious management decline. Three Presidents in five years. The second a President of my organization smells an opportunity to flee this mess, they run like lazy beach-dwellers from a fast-approaching tsunami.
I grant, it takes intestinal fortitude and good judgement to do what is needed to prioritize, especially in a high-profile organization. Theoretically, this is why executives are so well-compensated. The compensation and benefits acknowledge that the shelf life of a President is limited after holding the role, presumably for more than a goddamned year, because of the significant risk of failure they assume when agreeing to take the reins of an unwieldy beast.
Yet, when reactive, blackberry-induced issues from on high pile up on my desk for ultimate resolution it sends two messages. First, it suggests that others far higher-ranking than I expect me to devote as much time and energy to the organization as they do. There is simply no way I can do all I am asked in regular business hours and they know it because they are sending the tasks after hours. It’s a contemptuous proposition considering I am not paid for that level of commitment and purposely decided to remain in a lower-level position to avoid it.
It makes me fume with rage when I am aware seniors are tasked by executives to manage hot-plate issues and whose most common approach to the mandate is to effectively pass the issue management down to me or my at-level colleagues. At that point, the Directors can breathe easy, knowing underlings have assumed the risks and implications of the file, while they take home the bigger paycheque, can go home to their kids at four thirty – one need not be at the office to press “forward” on a blackberry. All the while, the underlings are toiling at their shitty cubicles into the late hours for days on end – underlings have not been equipped to work at home and they cannot do their jobs on a blackberry; their jobs require access to databases and systems, rather than pressing “forward” on an e-mail to delegate their work to someone else. None of the underlings is properly compensated for the corporate risk they assume in the tasks they are assigned or the hours of unpaid overtime to get the work done effectively. It is offensive in the extreme.
Second, the passing-down of hot-plate issues to underlings indicates executives believe the buck stops with underlings, not them. If that is the case, they can hand me the keys to their office, endorse their paycheque and give it to me. They can also let me make the decisions about priorities. Rest assured I will do it. I will not pester lower-level employees on their days off when they are raising children and building families unless it is absolutely necessary. I will tell people above me to clarify why they think the thing they are asking my employees to do is so important it needs to be done now, because the way I read our mandate and mission statement, this “urgent” thing is back of the bus compared to the things we are doing right now on an urgent basis. The seniors whose job I had to step in to do properly can erase their names from the top box of the org chart and write mine in its place. I will take their blackberry, I will place it under the wheels of my car, and drive over it.
There’s a reason France banned the use of work blackberries after certain hours in the evening. The way people have come to utilize what was supposed to be a time-management and productivity tool has become the epitome of twenty-first century lunacy. If it keeps up, my organization will have to install a burn unit for the infernos created by the urgency-obsession of those whose blackberry use smothers an organization’s most vital resource: the time, energy, and motivation of its skilled employees.