Name Plates in the Cube Farm

I once worked in an office environment that was a vast array of cubicles, and every cubicle had a name plate to identify the cube’s inhabitant. There were two kinds of name plates available; one type was a free-standing A-frame of the type you see on executive desks that say “The Buck Stops Here” and the other type was a flat frame that clipped to the cubicle wall.

From my perspective, the free-standing ones were more useful. You could put it on top of your cubicle’s shelf unit, and anyone within 50 feet could see it and know where you were sitting. That’s very useful for helping new employees figure out who’s who and who’s where, and for locating someone in a part of the cube farm that you’re not familiar with.

The flat ones were less useful, as you could only really see them when you were within a few feet of the person’s cube. In other words, you had to begin your search with pretty tight parameters, such as “third floor, north wing, fifth row” which is a lot more complicated than just “third floor, north wing,” or “near where Bob sits,” or even “over there” if you’re already in the north wing.

Given that I’m in the business of helping people figure things out and do things, I much preferred the free-standing name plates that could be seen from afar. Imagine my surprise when I discovered that some of my colleagues–in some cases people in the same line of work as me–preferred the flat ones. I thought about this for a while and eventually realized that name plates perform another function that I hadn’t considered before. They are territorial markers.

Not being one to lay much territorial claim to a cubicle, this had escaped me at first. After all, I didn’t put any personal photographs or art projects or any other significant “me” markers around. (Exception: I pinned a cartoon that I’ve been carrying around for 15 years on the wall, along with a slip of paper on which was written my verbal mantra, “smooth seas do not make skillful sailors.”) Because really, I’m happy to show up every day and to do good work, but I don’t want to move in.

However, some of the cubicles around me were overflowing with photos, children’s doodles, plants, gizmos, knick-knacks, and other personal detritus. (There’s a good article on CNN about this phenomenon.) Whatever. It’s your cubicle dude, you can decorate it as you like. But the name plate is there to help people find you.

What really drove home that these were territorial markers was when I noticed some people had their name plates inside their cubicles, where only people in the cubicle could see them.

Nobody’s perfect, and sometimes people just don’t think things through. But I brought this up a few times with a few people–doing so casually so as not to raise defenses–and the response was always along the lines of “whatever, it’s how I like it,” as if the location of your name plate was purely a matter of personal preference, like the color of your socks. When I pressed them on the issue of people needing to find them they’d say something like “if people want to find me all they need to do is ask!” (Insert mental “GONG” sound here…)

I’ll let you ponder that. In the meantime, I’m deleting a lot of text that I had written–stuff along the lines of this being so territorial it’s like a declaration of war–because I try not to be judgemental. Let’s just say that if you don’t understand what the purpose of a cubicle name plate is, you probably don’t understand a lot of other things you need to know to do your job right, especially if you’re in the same line of work as me.

Here’s a picture in case you were reading too fast.

Update:

Due to overwhelming demand in the comments, here is the cartoon that I’ve been carrying around for 15 or so years. OK, maybe it’s eight years. Or nine. No, at least nine. Maybe 12… It’s my “justify your existence” mantra, and in a way it relates to the name plate issue:

(For more like this, check out Ted Goff’s website: www.tedgoff.com.)

Taglines from Hell

Because I am a masochist at heart, I sometimes spend my lunch break eating at my desk and reading discussion threads on Linked In. In a recent thread, some poor sap was asking for help coming up with a promotional tagline that connected the idea of volunteering with the concept of “winners” or “winning.”

Having been charged with creating taglines in a previous job, I have a special appreciation for the challenges involved. It’s way harder to come up with a good one than you might think, and one of the biggest hurdles is deflecting the tin-eared suggestions that come from your co-workers and colleagues. It’s an especially big hurdle if the sour notes come from your boss (or client, if you’re a freelancer).

I knew what to expect when I saw that person asking for help in a Linked In discussion. I knew it would be bad, but the part of me that loves a good train wreck had to click through and read the suggestions.

Below are a few of them, verbatim. Imagine any of these painted on a tall banner at a flashy trade show, presented as the cornerstone to a volunteer recruitment campaign:

  • You can’t win, if you don’t volunteer to do so!
  • Winners say no to drags
  • Winners join us because here is where cream always rises to the top!
  • There aren’t any winners without losers. Choose your side. (Ed. note: the guy who came up with that one is a CEO.)
  • Winners have volunteers on their team
  • Premiere as a Volunteer – Begin and Win
  • Oh I wish I were an Oscar Meyer Winner, that is what I’d truly like to volunteer!
  • Let the other person win, volunteer.
  • Winners…..get up one more time than they fall down!

And the Pièce de résistance:

  • Winners do not compromise the position, Leaders fo not compromise the goals adn Volunterrs do not compromise the causes. (sic)

Vacation Time

“The older I get, the less vacation I take.” I hear this from a surprising number of people. Many of them are middle-aged white middle-managers for mid-sized companies. Their offices are painted a middling beige.

That odd sentiment is understandable if the person holds high stakes in the business, or has a clearly defined path up the corporate ladder and is handsomely rewarded in bonuses and company equity for all of their sacrifice. But an alarming number of the vacation-averse people I’ve met are not that way at all. They’re middling white collar workers who seem to be addicted to their jobs. And they are all, to a man, men.

Frankly, if some office dork in his beige dockers wants to be like that, fine. It’s your life, buddy. It becomes a problem, however, when that person is your boss, or your boss’s boss. Then it trickles down. Or more precisely, it is expected to trickle down.

Um. No. I’m very fortunate that I’ve never had this kind of thing thrust upon me directly, but I’ve come close a few times and I’ve seen other people fall victim to it. It enrages me.

It’s not just that as time marches on and the years seem to get shorter that vacation time feels more and more precious. No, I’m enraged at the sheer ignorance of the people who take this kind of work-inspired martyrdom for granted.

I am angry at the drones who fall victim to it, and I am particularly angry at the executives – the stakeholders – who don’t understand that for most of us salarymen these are just jobs. We don’t have the same dedication to the company as they do because we don’t own it. Yes, we want to succeed in our “careers,” and we want to do good work, but we want that for ourselves, for our own self respect. We know that none of us are going to get rich off of these gigs. None of us will be renowned in the company annals. None of us will retire gently into our Spanish villas bought with the generous stocks and bonuses that we’ve earned through our tireless devotion to the success of the company.

No. We work until we retire, and if we retire with money it’s because we saved it ourselves from our salaries and (if we’re lucky) the company’s meager 50% of 5% matching bonus. And that’s assuming we survived the periodic swinging of the layoff scythe that so regularly and indiscriminately reaps its bloody harvest.

So I’m going to take that vacation, and I’m going to take as many days and weeks of it as I can. As much as I might like my job and my career, and as keen as I am to see the company succeed, I also like my friends and family, and I want to see those rolling golden hills of Spain and the deep blue sea of the Mediterranean while I can, before the fixed income and the bad legs set in.

If you want me to sacrifice on the altar of the corporation like you do, then there’s got to be something in it for me. Something big. But I don’t own part of the company, and a cash bonus does me no good if I can’t leave my desk to spend it. About the only thing I have to negotiate is more vacation time. That’s right. I’ll work those long days and ruin the odd weekend for you, but not because I’m addicted to work or enamored with the company logo. I’ll do it for more vacation time.

Heaven and Hell

Next week is going to be Hell week at work. My team will be rushing to make an important deliverable by Friday, so it’s going to be a heads-down crunch every day.

Too bad, because look at the heavenly weather forcast for next week:

nice weather if you can get it

And yes, I’ve noticed how the decline coincides with the end of my project. I think I am the king of bad weather timing.