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05/03/2005: "the 411 on the 9-5"

I've now been at my new job for all of two days, and boy has it been a two day trip. Despite actually being there, there still exists a great amount of questions as to how long I'm really going to be there. My contract doesn't actually spell out a specified term, but 3 months had been previously mentioned. Of course, I may end up coming on full-time permanent... that is, if I want to work there.

I can honestly say that I've never experienced office politics like I've jumped into the middle of this week. It's almost surreal, and extremely Dilburt-esque. Here's the scenario.

Engineering is a small group, now totalling eight people with myself included. Of these eight, six are just your run of the mill designers like (and including) myself, one is designated as the "team leader", and one is the engineering manager. The manager, I'm discovering, is not a very flexible or accommodating kind of guy. As I had done on previous contracts, I told him that I would be working overtime some days, and only half days on Thursday. Well, that put a pickle up his butt. He likes a schedule (which apparently means the same every day, the concept of a weekly schedule being lost on him) and wants me to stick with it.

That's not the whole of it. I was eating an apple at my desk yesterday afternoon, when he suddenly turns to me and says, "Break time is 2:20. I don't like people eating while working at their desk." Uh, OK, whatever. Very matter-of-fact, almost tactless. Scratch that, entirely tactless. Apparently this is what he's like a lot of the time, bringing people aside and scolding them for extremely petty things, like being an extra minute late for work. There was mention of a notice that he had passed around a few months back, the mention of which was enough to cause one of my co-workers to simply roll her eyes back and say, "Oh, THAT." As the team leader put it, "Kindergarten stuff."

Well, it gets better. Today he was at another location for the morning, so the rest of us got to talk about him. Apparently, nobody in the company likes him, most especially the people that he's supposedly in charge of. To hear them talk, he is pretty much clueless and useless when it comes to what is actually going on in the department at any time. All I've ever seen him do myself is send and read e-mail and make phone calls. So what happens is that people either go to the team leader for instruction, or directly to the president (who seems to be very involved in engineering). The manager gets lip service, and only enough to keep him happy, and that's that. He's an honest -to-goodness figurehead. Truly bizarre.

Hold on, there's more! Today I had an idea for a novel approach to one of the features on the products this company makes. It was a preliminary idea, but I explained it to the team leader and wondered if it would provide sufficient benefits to warrant investigation. He listened and replied, pointing to the manager's chair, "Keep thinking like that and you'll be sitting THERE." Then, somewhat under his breath he added, "I think he's scared of you."

And that has been my first two days. Wow.

So, on one hand I can't stand the rigidity that the engineering manager is pushing on me. I don't even dare ask about bringing in a music device, as I can pretty much guess what he'll say about that. I've been sorely tempted to e-mail the person I was contracting through previous to this and tell him to keep looking for me. Why would I stay in a position that reports to someone that drives me up the wall?

The reason would be the potential here. I may be a designer right now, but nobody really knows what the president is thinking in terms of my long-term prospects. [That's another story - the president went away for a week and a half and supposedly left the details of bringing me in on contract up to the manager. Nothing happened, and when I called the manager he pretty much said that the president will decide. Total figurehead.] I could just as easily stay in the position I have right now, but come on permanent, or I could end up becoming the new team leader (with the existing team leader promoted to manager) or even the new engineering manager. The current one is not short of years, I could see him retiring, or reducing his duties to being engineering manager of only one plant. (Currently, he has that title at two company plants.)

Right now it's pretty early in the game. I have employment, so I'm not going to give that up just because I got snapped at for eating an apple. (Not yet, anyways.) I'll see what happens over the coming weeks and months, and hopefully gain an insight into what the president has in mind for me. If it's nothing more than what I'm doing, I have a plan - assuming they want me after 3 months, I will request to remain on contract, but work from home using a company computer, and come into the office only as needed, maybe once a week. Otherwise, I'll simply be dead honest and let the president know that the engineering manager is a major obstacle between myself and job satisfaction, and if I'm going to choose, I'll look elsewhere.

Curiouser and curiouser.

Replies: 3 Comments

on Thursday, May 5th, Robert Hahn said

hey dude. regarding ""Keep thinking like that and you'll be sitting THERE." Then, somewhat under his breath he added, "I think he's scared of you.""

If the office is a political cauldron, then at least keep yourself open to the possibility that the team leader might be playing you. It doesn't look like you're letting it get to your head, but I wanted to ensure you heard me loud and clear. :)

on Thursday, May 5th, xhead said

this reminds me how much I like our hiring process where I work.

The interview process includes an initial interview with the partners, then a "make him/her cry" interview (tongue firmly in cheek) with members of the team, to check out how well the potential hire would fit with the team, personality wise, as well as a measure of technical knowledge and how the person may appear in front of clients or sales leads.

Part of that interview includes the partners leaving the interview and allowing the candidate ask questions about the company and the work environment. If they don't ask anything, that's a yellow flag for us.

on Monday, May 9th, mr.ska said

If the comments were coming only from the team leader, I'd worry, however everyone is in agreement that the manager is petty and a figurehead. I won't burn any bridges, but I won't jump through any hoops, either.

This hiring process - and that's being generous - has been strange and drawn out from the get-go. I'm leaving myself quite open to the possibility that I simply will not want to work there after 3 months... or 3 weeks. I'm still looking, and not taking anything for granted.

The ability to eat and work is VERY important, in my book. Flex time is another one. I have neither right now.

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