[zen and the art of office drudgery]

I don’t like my job, but there are days when I find it tolerable and days when it makes me want to rip the heads off of cute furry things and scream like Howard Dean after a bad caucus. Today was one of those days.

The problem comes down to the fact that I have three bosses. There is the Director of Marketing (we’ll call her Boss #1); then there’s the man who hired me (Boss #2), who is nebulously in charge of the marketing department, but less in charge than Boss #1. And then there’s the woman they hired (Boss #3) who is in charge of my little subgroup within marketing, and who is theoretically the person I report to. (There’s also a Senior Vice-President of Marketing, but she just gives me restaurant tips.) Having one boss is bad enough, as those of you lucky enough to be employed already know. Having three bosses who don’t talk to each other enough is like living one of those nightmares where you can’t find the bus to the airport.

So for the last, oh, three months or so, I’ve been hard at work (between bouts of web-surfing, granted, but still) developing a style guide for the marketing department. It’s been a complex process, but at last it was nearing completion. Two weeks ago I had a draft ready, which I handed out to all of the people in my subgroup, as well as to each of my three bosses, and then I went to work incorporating the edits they gave me.

Then on Thursday afternoon Boss #3 shows up at my desk and asks me how the Style Guide is going. I make the mistake of telling her it’s basically done, which leads into my suddenly needing to print the 200-page fucker and get our production department to make 20 copies for mailing to all marketing staff nationwide on Friday. I spent the rest of the evening and most of this morning in a pitched battle with Microsoft Word, struggling to the death over the matter of cross-references in the headers. But at last Demon Word was vanquished, the document was printed, the copies were made, the envelopes addressed and handed over to the mail room.

Five minutes later I’m paged by Boss #1, who has decided that the Style Guide can’t go out because half of it isn’t a style guide at all, but rather a procedure manual. And we wouldn’t want to mix up our styles with our procedures, would we? Because after all, Boss #1, in her copious spare time, is developing her own Procedure Manual. This has apparently been the case for as long as anyone can remember, though no one has ever seen a draft of this manual. Which is why Boss #2 (remember him?) was pushing throughout this process to get all this procedure stuff in there. (The fine distinction is one I’m still trying to work out, and will probably spend the next six weeks exploring to nightmarish depth.)

And so I rush to the mail room and retrieve the copies.

Then Boss #3 spends an hour in Boss #1’s office trying to figure out what should be in the Style Guide and what shouldn’t. Neither Boss asks me to sit in. Instead, I then spend another hour sitting with Boss #3, going page by page through the Style Guide and deciding what to keep and what to cut. Like all conversations with Boss #3, this one winds up with me questioning her logic and finding out she hasn’t really got any. Still, I’ll give her credit for going in to Boss #1 and taking the blame for having directed my project into a black hole of obliteration. (Okay, a gray hole of 50% obliteration, but still.)

When I started this job, which mostly involves editing engineers’ resumes so they can be added to proposals no one reads, I remember thinking that it was a perfect example of Marx’s paradigm of alienating labor, where the worker is completely isolated from the product. But somehow this particular project has managed to go vastly beyond mere alienation and into the realm of meta-uselessness. I have now spent two months developing guidelines for writing the proposals no one reads, and then it turns out that these guidelines can’t be used because they’re part of a different book that doesn’t exist.

It makes me miss the solid reality of the the dot-coms.