Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Dear HR Person

Memo to: Human Resources
From: Gilahi
Re: Office Social Gatherings
Date: August 12, 2008

Dear Human-Resources-Type-Person,

To cut to the chase here, why are you so anxious for me to have a social relationship with my co-workers? In case you haven't realized it, I already spend more of my waking hours with these people than I do with my own spouse, and I like her!

A couple of times a year, you send an e-mail message telling us that we're going to celebrate the successful completion of some difficult project or that it's time for some team-building. This e-mail message inevitably includes an invitation for us to join our officemates at some place like Ned's Beer & Bowl-O-Rama or Fat Hannah's GoKart Emporium for a fun-filled afternoon away from the office partying like it's 1999.

You may believe that the sound you hear in the facility after you send one of these messages is some sort of approval. I wouldn't have believed it if I hadn't actually witnessed it, but that sound is in reality 50 pairs of eyes rolling upward accompanied by 50 simultaneous mouse-clicks on the "delete" icon.

You may have noticed how frequently these events actually get cancelled due to a complete lack of interest. You always express some surprise that almost no one wants to spend an afternoon shooting pool with 30 other people they barely know.

Not to put too fine a point on it, but you're kidding, right? Do you honestly, in your wildest dreams, believe that if I spend 4 hours playing video games with Justin the tech writer, then I'll be a better employee, more of a team player? Do you think this is an adequate reward for the past four months of stress, long hours, abuse, frustration, unreasonable deadlines, and unrealistic expectations that the company has put me through? Are you aware that Justin picks his ears, has a collection of "Star Wars" action figures in his cubicle, and smells like Vick's Vapo-Rub?

Just in case you're missing it, here are some of the comments that I hear every time one of these events is scheduled:

  • I don't want to go if I can't take my kids.

  • I don't want to go if there are going to be any kids there.

  • Do they have vegetarian/kosher/low carb/gluten-free options?

  • I live in Virginia and it's miles out of my way to go there and then go home.

  • I live in Maryland and it's miles out of my way to go there and then go home.

  • I telecommute from Sioux Falls, so I never get to go to any of these things.

  • I don't want to go bowling/play pool/ride a ferris wheel/go spearfishing.

  • It's too hot/cold/rainy/smoggy for that activity.

Occasionally some manager will conclude that we all eat lunch, all eat at the same time, and that this would be a good way to celebrate or somehow or another inject some cohesiveness into their team. Have you ever tried to get thirty engineers to plan something?

"Where's Bob? Is Bob going? Fred, go find Bob. Who's driving? Do you know where it is? I can take 4 people, but somebody who knows where it is has to go with me. Oh, there's Bob. Where's Fred? Do we have enough cars? I can take some people but they'll have to find another way back because I'm taking the afternoon off."

It takes 45 minutes to get people into cars.

Then you get to the restaurant. It takes another 45 minutes to get everyone seated, take orders, get food, and eat it. Then comes the bill. Have you ever seen 30 engineers try to calculate something?

"What'd you have? Mine comes to $9.47 but all I have is a twenty. All I had was a salad. What's the total? How much do we have so far? Did you bring a calculator? Is the tip already included? That can't be right. Wait, we're $15.00 short. Let's start over. OK, I had the chicken feet al fredo..." Since you never attend these functions yourself, you have absolutely no idea what it's like.

Please continue to bear in mind that all of this effort is for the privilege of spending time with a group of people with whom, for the most part, we have exactly one thing in common: We work for the same company.

Do you know what we talk about at these lunches or outings? Work. Do you know what we talk about at work? Work. Our teams are built. We know who's working on what, who's good at what, who can offer good advice, who might need some extra help, how we work with each other, and where to go and what to do if there's an issue. An afternoon at Manny's Waffle World is not going to improve on that in any way, shape or form.

I'd like to take this opportunity to once again propose something of a challenge that I've proposed many times in the past, but no one from HR has seen fit to attempt. Since management has told us that you allocate the princely sum of about $20/person for one of these social gatherings, I challenge you to take a poll. I know this never occurs to most HR people, but maybe it's time to ask the employees what they want. Give them several options such as a meal, bowling, pool, a picnic in the park, an afternoon at a water park, a museum... whatever you can come up with. The challenge, though, is to make one of the options, "A nice, crisp $20 bill." If 90% of the employees don't choose the $20 bill, then I will personally eat a $20 bill.

Please don't get me wrong. For the most part, I have a great deal of respect for my coworkers and I have a pleasant, jovial, working relationship with them. Except maybe Justin. I have, on occasion, even spent some social time with some of them outside of the office when we discovered that we had a common interest. However that's the critical part of this whole equation: In my years on this planet, I have developed the capability to decide with whom I will socialize and under what circumstances.

I really don't need HR to set up play-dates for me.

So please, treat us like adults and let us decide when and with whom we'll have social relationships versus business relationships (and they are different things, despite what you constantly try to foist upon us). If you want to reward us for something, surely you can be creative enough to come up with something more creative than forcing us to spend time together as if we're friends.

Please consider the cash option.


bozoette said...

Aw, come on! Mandatory fun is a sacred institution! Wait -- a $20 bill? I'll take it!!

Gilahi said...

See? Offer the people cash or some paid time off and see how well they respond.

Elizabeth said...

Love it.

The only thing that makes these things bearable is bashing them with similarly snarky co-workers, though, right? Well, at my office, they even manage to make these forced group outings WORSE by insisting you sit next to / play on a team with / whatever two people you don't already know. I have one boss who actually goes around and checks to make sure you're not sitting next to people you generally work with, and forces you to move if so.

Gilahi said...

Aargh. I'd much rather be in the office working. In fact, I'd rather go down to Popeye's Fried Chicken, get one of those little plastic sporks, and remove my own appendix with it.

urban bohemian said...

I tend to agree. Our office insists on a seasonal birthday celebration, which has just become a potluck, so even better! They try things like Hawaiian shirt days which fail miserably because only the old white guys in our office seem to have them (and we're in IT, very diverse workforce).

We used to do nice stuff that always involved being around booze. Often free booze. I miss those days.

Gilahi said...

I've worked in more than one place that "automatically" lists birthdays in prominent places and/or has a celebration for birthdays. Every time I've gone to the organizer and told them that I prefer not to participate, they look at me like I have two heads. Everybody loves to have their birthday recognized, right?

j.m. tewkesbury said...

And here is the perfect summation:

In my years on this planet, I have developed the capability to decide with whom I will socialize and under what circumstances.

I couldn't have said it better myself. It's bad enough when you like the people you work with. It's worse when you hate them. Honestly, if I had to choose between attending a company picnic and hearing my grandmother tell me my grandfather "was a stud", I'd choose the latter.

Gilahi said...

J.M. - I love your way with words.

LivitLuvit said...

This is gold- you absolutely nailed it. I HATE going to restaurants with large groups of people- that moment where they look up at the poor, desolate waitress and say, "Oh no, we need 14.5 separate checks!"... my heart just sinks. I used to try to facilitate it, but now I just throw my credit card into the pile and curl into the fetal position until it's over.

Gilahi said...

Thanks. I guess I wouldn't mind it so much if I was the one getting the .5 check, but that never happens. I'm always the guy that's so frustrated and ready to get the hell outta there that I throw in another $20 just so they'll stop calculating and we can leave already.

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