A few days ago I had the frustrating experience of having one of my favorite managers (and also one of my favorite people) actually act like, you know, an actual manager. This meant that they would constantly put pressure on me to do things, even if I was clearly disinterested or barely feigning interest. This meant that they would, instead of asking me if I had gotten things done just presumed what I had and hadn’t gotten done so they could say Things to me.
You know, Important Things.
Things I had, as it turns out, largely done. And instead of taking the time to actually communicate with me about any of this, they went by their stressed out brain. When you’re a manager you don’t need to communicate as much because the onus is largely on the worker to perform and not on you to make necessary compromises.
At one point when I hadn’t done a few things they asked (because I legitimately forgot) instead of asking me why I hadn’t done them (I forgot) they started almost pleading with me do the things. These things were scanning almost any item I could just so the store could look superficially better. Items that were mostly already scanned and done with.
But no, I had to spend my day (a day that was very sparse in customers towards the end) scanning merchandise in the store instead of actually taking the time to enjoy the lack of customers. My manager had been working for almost 7 days straight and I’m partially convinced this level of working had rotted some of their usual slacker tendencies.
Because usually what happens with them is that they’ll give me some faint notions towards work. I’ll do them (most of the time) and then go back to reading my book (A Confederacy of Dunces currently). Sometimes they’ll spot me reading but even then they’ll either politely ask me what I’ve done or repeat things they’ve said or they’ll outright ignore it.
But a few days ago, when there weren’t many people in the store, my manager’s reasoning was that we didn’t have a lot of excuses not to do the work. But my thinking is the exact opposite, we have more excuses not to do the work! If no customers are in the store then what do we care what the store looks like? And if no customers are in the store and the managers are elsewhere then why don’t we relax for once?
I’m not suggesting we do nothing but just to be so uptight about the process in a situation like the one we were in seemed counter-intuitive. It was making me feel demeaned, my manager felt like they were acting desperate and overall it was really just so my manager wouldn’t get yelled at by their boss.
As the old adage goes: Shit rolls downhill.
But similar to shit rolling downhill, it’s nearly impossible to stop it once it starts.
And the thing about hierarchy is that the hill is in constant motion. There’s almost no way to make it so that the managers who are above you aren’t going to say something about your performance. And even if it’s positive, if you’re like me, you still probably want nothing to do with the interaction or the feedback.
Leave me alone as much as possible please, thanks.
But instead of recognizing this and trying to do their best at handling that (as they usually do) my manager constantly projected their own anxieties and fears about their manager(s) on me. If I didn’t do my best then that meant that they weren’t doing their best and they could get in some sort of trouble.
Keep in mind that my manager has been working at the store I’m in for over 6 years and so the likelihood of my manager actually getting in serious trouble seems doubtful. Still, I of course understand that it’s preferable to anyone to not get in trouble, especially over the actions of others.
So I get that, but at the same time, if I’m not doing what you want me to do then either punish me in some way or just leave me alone. The core of my message for managers or anyone who has something they feel is important is that being pushy about whatever you want doesn’t make other people want it more.
Usually, it makes people want it less. And managers these days are so fixated on keeping the workplace in a particular state that any disruption to that is a threat to them. And it’s a threat to them not only because it undermines their authority but also because that disruption and undermining of authority can travel upwards too.
Eventually the folks further up top feel some sort of threat and like they have to respond to it now. And so this means that the manager who was doing their best but couldn’t manage to keep the flock in line must themselves be put back in line.
Whether this works or makes them just more resentful (or both) is up to a variety of factors. But ultimately what surprises me so much is when managers do the exact things that other (higher up) managers do to them. And even though those managers know that they don’t like it, they’re going to now do it to the people under them.
It’s a maddening system and one in which most of us have to suffer unnecessarily.
Instead of having a system whereby communication is stifled, people are treated like children (and to be clear, even children shouldn’t be treated like what that phrase indicates) and inequality is the norm, perhaps it’d be worth the time to start (and keep!) building on institutions and organizations based around given employees equality.
And just in case you’re curious, that same manager who I’ve been talking about told me what the new Big Wig thought of our performance from a few days ago. A day in which I was constantly pressured into work and kept ignoring my manager because of their pushiness; to the point that I used the store’s smartphone to browse the internet instead of working.
…We did a great job.
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