Whose Line Is It Anyway? is perhaps one of my favorite TV shows of all time. Despite the fact that I only started watching it later on, have not seen all of the episodes and wouldn’t be able to name most of the main cast by name. It’s a show about improvisation where the host (Drew Carey) often gives the refrain that insofar as the show is a “game” show it’s completely made-up based on humor and the points everyone gets (and why) are completely random.
I got to thinking and work is like that a lot. The rules often don’t make any sense but there’s often no real point in trying to argue against them. You have little power in deciding whether you “win” at the game of work or not and most often you won’t and it will be for the weirdest of reasons.
On the other hand the points do matter, like a lot. And this one-two punch of the rules often not making sense but everything mattering (but only when it’s convenient) is one of the things that drives me crazy about my job.
Here’s an example: As the front cashier I’m supposed to vacuum the store before I leave.
On the surface this rule makes perfect sense to me. I’m the person at the front of the store the most, who else would know better than me what to watch out for in terms of dirt and whatever else? I’m the one closest to the doors and so vacuuming in that area makes sense because my usual task is in that area anyways. So why not me?
But the problem is that I leave at 9 PM and the store closes at 10 PM. So multiple times I have told my managers (in various ways), “This makes no sense. You should have someone vacuum 15 minutes before close, not an hour and fifteen! There are still people coming in the store, tracking dirt, bringing in leaves or whatever else. Why doesn’t it make more sense to have the actual closing employee do it right before close?”
The answer? Well, it’s basically, “Nope. You gotta do it.” I’m sure there’s the additional answer of, “Well they may not have time to do it. They might have to face the store or help me with something.” But almost none of these things ever happen because the last hour when the store is open is almost completely dead. Yeah, there’s still handfuls of people here and there but for the most part, the 5 PM and 6ishPM rush are the big hours for me.
It’s also worth pointing out the obvious: I’m lazy. And I’ve been fairly candid with my co-workers that my “ulterior” motive is just that I’d rather not vacuum at all. Why? Because the vacuum sucks, this job sucks and they aren’t paying me enough money to pretend I care anymore about this stupid corporation, that’s why.
I don’t say all of that, necessarily. But the basic message is that I’d just rather not.
There’s another rule (or set of rules) about the way I handle my job as a cashier. I have to do things like (and I believe I’ve talked about this before) just giving the receipt and bag without first asking the customer. I’m not sure exactly why I should have to do this (isn’t this kind of rude?) but the reasoning seems to be that it streamlines the process a little bit more, requires less questions and thus takes less time.
On the other hand…it still seems rude to me. Sure, people might say, “No, I don’t want those things.” but if you just say, “Here’s…” then they’re less inclined to give your preferences. Many people (most?) don’t want to be difficult in a public area and so they will just deal with things that they’d prefer not to have. Just because they want to be polite.
And I know this seems like I’m thinking about this way too deeply (and maybe I am but whatever) but I’d really prefer to not propagate the sort of social systems whereby people just accept things because it’s “polite”. Maybe it’s because I’m autistic but I just think social situations like that are terrible underwrite people’s autonomy, even if in small ways.
Again, this is a situation where I think things like “microaggressions” (remember when that was a hot topic?) is a possibly relevant term. Of course, not everyone minds these sorts of things and most people won’t even think twice about it, but I wonder if that’s just because of the “politeness culture” that we keep bringing people up in. Stressing our own boundaries or preferences is seen as “rude” because it’s taking up everyone else’s time or something.
Which, okay, it can be annoying sometimes when people are super pushy about their preferences to the point of arguably being rude. But that’s something very different from saying, “I’d rather not have a bag or receipt, thanks.” I think as a culture we’re taught that these tones, are much more similar than they actually are.
These are just some of the rules I can think about. And if you don’t do them (and more importantly you get caught) then you’re likely to get a quick word from a manager. On one hand it’s easy to think things like, “Well they have a manager they need to satisfy too.” A co-worker said, “I just do what they say so the day can go by.” But something bothers me about this logic. Why should we simply do what others say just to make money?
Sure, I’ll do what my managers tell me, but mostly if it fits within what makes sense to me. It doesn’t make sense to me to ask more than three questions (“Do you have a card? Do you want a bag? Do you want your receipt?”). But management wants me to ask about the survey at the bottom and flu shots. The flu shot isn’t my domain cause I don’t work at the pharmacy and no one fills out those surveys or is going to, so why bother?
That same co-worker who I mentioned before said to me yesterday, “You like to question everything, don’t you?”
And I said, “Yeah, well I’m an anarchist, that’s kind of what I do.”
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