A while back, I was perusing the submission guidelines of a horror magazine, and stumbled on an instruction that made me a little sad.
The editors informed authors in no uncertain terms that if they wanted a shot at publication, they should stay away from stories about how office life is either figuratively or literally soul-sucking. It seems they’ve been so inundated with this plotline that they just can’t take it anymore.
It didn’t bother me a bit that the publication didn’t want tales of commutes, cubes and meetings turning people into drooling zombies. Given all my work-rants it may be surprising, but I haven’t written that one myself.
What did make me glum was the fact that there are so many writers who HAVE been compelled to tell that tale. I’m pretty sure it takes a boatload of desk-zombie manuscripts to actually get editors to throw up a white flag in their guidelines and beg for no more.
I’d be lying if I said I didn’t understand the urge to write this story. It has flitted through my own mind a time or ten. There is something about a life ruled by traffic, cubicles, dress codes, computer monitors, meetings and business catch phrases that does make one feel dead inside. There have been many days that I’ve been sure my own worklife hasn’t undeaded me only because I have an aversion to eating brains.
Creative spirits tend to rail against structured and scheduled lives in general. So I’m the first to admit that the business world is probably just a little tougher on us than it is the rest of the population. But still, there are a gazillion writers out there who have to pay the bills with something other than their words. Office worker-bees. Retailers. Waitresses, waiters and bartenders. Hotel staff. Construction workers and landscapers, warehousemen and teachers and medical personnel.
Where is the editor’s plea for no more tales about how waiting on snarky, mean-spirited, low-tipping diners sucks away your soul? The one about how serving up a shot to yet another drunk is zapping the life out of the girl behind the bar? Where are the zombies behind the cash registers, at the construction site, or breaking their backs in the hot, noisy warehouses?
They may be out there, but obviously not in the full force of the ODZA (Office Drone Zombie Army). Writers make their livings in all walks of life, yet it seems only the ones who sit in cubicles are uniting and crying out in desperate tales of how they’re becoming lifeless, brain-sucking undeadies in suits and ties.
This upsets me because I am one myself. But it also annoys me because it really doesn’t have to be that way. More than almost any other types of business, the managers of office suites and cube farms have flexibility in designing the world their workers live in 40-plus hours a week.
This is my plea to those of you in charge of those worlds. Save the world from your staff joining the ranks of ODZA. Or at least, save those poor editors from yet another story sparked from their fears that they will. Here’s how:
– Kill the commute, not your workers. Waitresses have to be at their tables. Retail clerks can’t operate their registers remotely, and bartenders can’t serve a beer from their living rooms. But office types with the right setup at home can do anything you need them to do off-site. If you aren’t already part of the growing number of employers who have moved into the work-at-home realm, take the leap. It doesn’t have to be every day. My employer generally follows more of a day-a-week schedule for interested employees. Your staff don’t have to sit in their cubes to do what you need them to do, at least not all the time.
– Minimize your meetings. If you’ve got your staff sitting in conference rooms talking 20 hours a week, then they aren’t getting any work done. Most of them are also bored out of their skulls. If you need to get a group of people together to make a decision or DO something, then go for it. But don’t drag it out. And for the love of God, stop scheduling meetings to plan meetings.
– Codes are for computers, not dress. Seriously. If your employees are dumb enough to come to work in dingy jeans or offensive t-shirts, you’ve hired the wrong peeps. If you’ve got a girl who can’t keep her cleavage from popping out of her low-cut shirts, suggest she explore a career at Hooters. Then give the rest of us a little flexibility. Maybe there was a time when suits and ties were status symbols. But these days, “suits” are just as likely to be seen as people who have someone else telling them what to wear. Personally, I don’t care what someone who is helping me with a business issue has on, as long as he’s washed his butt recently and doesn’t look like a slob. What I do care about is that he knows his stuff. Truthfully, with email and phones, chances are I’ll never see him anyway.
– Give what you get. If you want your employees to be flexible and do things like stay late or solve problems over the weekend, then give that flexibility right back. Get out of the 8-to-5 mindset and let your staff work flexible schedules in order to get the work done. But don’t expect them to punch the imaginary clock with perfection AND give you the extra mile all the time. Trust me, you’ll get much more out of your employees if they are actually allowed to be thinking, living beings with interests and commitments outside of your office.
Easy stuff, office managers. Obviously, quelling the Zombie Apocolypse is in your hands. Not to mention that the combination of work-at-homing and more flexible schedules could potentially cut traffic and road rage in half. Save us all. You might even find you get a more productive workplace for the effort.