Team players

I wrote this piece around a year-and-a-half ago and figured I would finally share it.

Have a nice day!

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After watching the thoroughly enjoyable, darkly humourous and right-on-the-nose Office Space, I feel I have been thinking a lot recently. That isn`t to say that I`ve been thinking about many things – nor in any real depth – but that I have been thinking. Well done, Richard.

There is a scene in Office Space with the never-disappointingly unfunny Jennifer Aniston in which she`s working as a waitress at a happy, clappy restaurant chain that takes itself far too seriously. As a way of expressing themselves, employees are required to wear a brown sash that sports at least 15 items of flair (buttons, patches and all that bumf). Aniston`s character is taken to one side by the manager and grilled as to why she is only wearing 15 pieces of flair when there are some real devoted members of the team who have up to 35. She says that she`s wearing the required 15, but the manager comes back explaining that 15 is the minimum and they make it the minimum with the assumption that employees will want to do more than just the minimum. She agrees grudgingly and goes home.

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Next day, she comes in but has forgotten to flair up and so the manager has a word, explaining the case again. Aniston is a bit more firey this time and shoots back asking, if they want employees to wear 35 pieces of flair, why don`t they make 35 the minimum? The manager obviously comes back with “well, we don`t want to tell you what to do. You should want to do it,” but it`s too late, too much and Aniston walks out for good.

A mediocre scene in a much better movie (maybe it`s my utter distaste for Friends that will never allow me to like Aniston et al. in anything), it did however get the old brain working, comparing things to my own life. Countless times in jobs, for instance,a manager has told me that they require me to work extra hours. Not asked nor requested – told. In the past, I would have been far more likely to agree without the slightest sniff of a protest. Nowadays, being older and all (I`m 26, don`t you know?), it`s more often that I will say “no”. When you do refuse though, however politely, said boss or representative looks surprised – shocked, even – that you could have anything else to do on your free morning than wish to come in. Initially, I would react instantly by giving a whole myriad of excuses as to why I couldn`t make it in (however much I would have loved to) as if I had to explain myself to them. I slowly realised that it`s nobody`s business what I get up to in my free time – least of all, my boss` – and so began to answer to answer with a simple “I`m busy”. If I don`t fancy doing additional work beyond my job description, I shouldn`t feel pressured into doing so just to please the company.

How does all this relate to Aniston`s scene in Office Space? There`s this increasing trend in business for employees to really feel the need to “pull” their weight and “go the extra mile”. When you fill out a job application, you`re usually met with questions along the lines of “Please explain a time, in a previous job, when you went beyond the call of duty”. Whatever you answer there is begging to be thrown back in your face one day:

“But Bob, didn`t you always say that you would go beyond the call of duty, if necessary for the success of your team?”

“Well, I guess I did. But, I wasn`t thinking of -“

“Then GET ON YOUR KNEES, BOB!”

There they go with that word again: team. “Do this. Go the extra mile. All for your team. You want to be a team player, don`t you? You don`t want to let the team down, do you?” The Man creates this illusion of a team and then uses it to squeeze every last drop out of you.

“This is the bare minimum but, if you want to support your team mates, you should think about going the extra mile.” Exactly when did one`s job requirements become the bare minimum? When did someone decide that doing what you are employed to do just isn`t enough? Who was the first to see a faceless corporation as an important friend that you never want to let down?

Maybe this is where capitalism has finally succeeded. In a communist state, you would do what is required of you since that is what is needed of you to further civilisation – plus, you know you aren`t going to receive any favourtism if you do any more than your fair share. In an anarchist state, you would do what you need to do when you need to do it and help others for the simple glory of having helped them. In a capitalist state, however, neither of these ideals exist. Instead, the world is filled with blood-sucking vampires who trick their tiny employees into working as hard as they can in order to go a couple of rungs up the infinite success ladder and perhaps be left with the elusive decent pension so they can finally enjoy their lives – if they haven`t already died from exhaustion. The world we live in teaches us to want more and, when we finally have it, want even more. George Carlin summed up our current state of affairs quite neatly indeed, using three main peoples:

“The rich are there to look after the money,

The middle class are there to do all the work,

And the poor are there to scare the shit out of the middle class – keep them going to those jobs…”

A fair point, maybe and yet so many people, it seems, are happy with capitalism and what it does for them. As a child, you`re taught to love consumerism and view communism and anarchism as silly ideas from aimless dreamers who, at the end of the day, simply want a reason not to work. Capitalism gets you working – really makes something of you. With this in mind, by the time you start work as an adult, you don`t find it at all queer to feel a tremendous guilt for not being able or wanting to go the extra mile for your faceless leader.

There`s fear involved as well, of course. These companies scare us with rumours of technicians being ten-a-penny and engineers being freely available – and harder working – abroad but, let`s face it: it`s a hassle having to hire someone else. There are legal papers to sign and pay for and, if they really were having second thoughts, they`d at least give you a firm kick up the backside first. Your job is, most likely, secure (assuming you`re not in one of those dreaded recessions, which is another discussion altogether).

However, I digress. Capitalism is heavily linked – and therefore responsible – with this severe change in attitude. As a 20th century child, I have never known it to be any other way but, with my research, I have found there to be so many ideals out there that one that creates more sadness, greed, violence, hatred and segregation than it does happiness cannot be the right one. There must be a paradigm shift! as my university lecturer used to say. If I ever open a business, I`ll make sure it`s as anti-capitalist as possible. I`m not saying that I`m some messiah of economic modernity or anything but, if you want to follow me: go ahead – it would give my ego a good boost!

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